So in the middle of moving house this past week, I nearly forgot to mention that I received a copy of my first ever published piece of writing. It’s paired up with the simply amazing photography of Daniel Purvis, who went to quite an effort to go out into the landscape I was writing about and get them. Reflecting on his road-trip, Purvis encapsulates a valuable point:
If you want to experience Australia, you can’t just look at a photograph, you need to move through it – preferably at high speeds in a reliable car with air-conditioning and a copy of Unkle’s ‘War Stories’ drowning out the engine.
Which, unfortunately, is an aspect that I think doesn’t come across in my actual piece – the aesthetic and kinesthetic experience of playing FUEL. I managed to cram a lot of historical context into the piece, which I’m really proud of (and everyone should absolutely read Robert Hughes The Fatal Shore if they found even one jot of it interesting – he does a much better job that I), but I’m not sure if I conveyed any of the actual sense of what it’s like to play the game. But maybe that’s not such a huge problem – if the point of my piece is to sneakily teach some Australian history related through the device of a videogame, then I’ve met my goal.
But I’ve been thinking lately about what is the goal with videogame ‘criticism’, or whatever it is that I usually end up doing when I write about games. And I’m beginning to think that it’s time for a new goal. We’ve been analytic, we’ve made plenty of strong, logical arguments about games function and role, both particular and general, but we’ve never exactly been… persuasive. And here’s the key difference – ‘logical’ does not equate to ‘persuasive’. That’s a key point I’m taking away from Graham Haman’s Prince of Networks at the moment (which I’m nearing the end of). I’ll avoid spoiling any future essays I write about the issue, but here’s a key point from Harman. He’s talking here about the differences between Analytic and Continental philosophy, but I’m thinking that the same divide could be applied to videogame writing and criticism (but with much more lopsided an equation):
“For [Alfred North] Whitehead, as for me, any statement of a philosophical argument is always an oversimplification not just of the world as a whole, but even of what the statement itself discusses. Rhetoric is not the devious art of non-rational persuasion, but the best tool we have for exposing the unstated assumptions that lie behind any surface proposition. The analytic contempt for rhetoric and metaphor must not be emulated – not just because this attitude leads to boring results, but because it is philosophically false.” Harman, Prince of Networks, p.169
To apply the same point to videogames, ‘we’ are exceptionally good at the analytic mode and extremely poor at the rhetorical persuasion. As a cohort, we’re remarkably analytical. There are not many writers, bloggers, critics, etc of videogames who are either committed to the persuasive communication of the veracity of their feelings, moods, and strange hunches about videogames, but there sure is a lot of people willing to point out the textual or dramaturgical features of XYZ latest game. I’m beginning to think that a) we’ve got enough of that sort of analysis, and b) that it’s not really getting us anywhere we particularly would like to go anyway.
But we’ll come back to that. Go check out Daniel Purvis’ excellent photos and pick up a copy of KillScreen Issue #2 to read the full article about common visual landscape of FUEL and the Australian Outback.