You gotta love it when you stumble upon a blog or video series and discover that it fills a hole in discussion that’s been bothering you for a while. This happened to me today when I discovered the Extra Credits video series.
With the massive amount of research I’ve been doing on video games lately, I’ve read a boatload of essays on the nature of gaming from a ton of perspectives. I’ve learned a great deal from everything that I’ve read, but I always feel these writers have only seen a few pieces to the puzzle that is the nature of video games. Each of them raises great and valuable points, but turns around and lets their intense bias cloud their vision of other puzzle pieces. Sometimes, it’s quite frustrating.
I’d go into more detail about individual authors and what pieces they’ve got, but I don’t have to anymore, because I think that the Extra Credits team has all of the pieces, or at least a significant number more than everyone else. What I mean by this, I guess, is that I agree with them more than I do with everyone else I’ve read, and I feel that way because I strongly value reason. The Extra Credits team are extremely reasonable, and if they have their biases, it very rarely shows. What makes the show work so well is the depth of appreciation that these guys have for every aspect of gaming. They understand all of gaming’s problems, but they also recognize all of its strengths, and they never manage to miss the merit in a game. They understand what makes the problems problems and the strengths strengths.
They get that while there is an extremely dire need for real female characters in video games, this does not mean that sexualized women in other games are an inherently bad thing. Variety should never have to come at the cost of losing something. There is value in sexualization that need not be sacrificed in order to present real female characters elsewhere.
They get that while the games industry needs to further innovate and take less of a follow-the-leader approach to gaming, this doesn’t mean that every game which capitalizes on the success of another is a bad game. In fact, they criticize publishers constructively, while taking a very optimistic outlook on what can only be an inevitably bright future for video games.
I guess what I’m getting at is that these guys utterly lack cynicism, and since I really, really, really don’t like cynicism, I really, really, really like their show.
The reason I’m talking about all this, besides promoting Extra Credits, is because after watching it, I finally feel I’ve seen my personal niche of, “show that covers gaming as a concept perfectly,” filled. While I’ll inevitably continue reading articles by other people, because otherwise my learning would stagnate, these guys have made me feel that there is a true voice of reason and sound, constructive criticism speaking out somewhere in the world.
Shifting gears, I’m now going to address a yet unfilled niche, which I feel the need to fill myself. That niche is thorough game critique on an individual basis.
Talking about broad terms of what makes games great is fine and all, but I want to get into the incredibly nitty-gritty and identify exactly what elements form the experience of the individual game.
If someone out there is doing this already on a regular basis, I haven’t found them—and trust me, I’ve been looking. I’m desperate to read breakdowns of games that are as intricate and thorough as the episodic breakdowns that I’ve seen done in the best anime blogging, and I really don’t want to be the only one taking the reigns.
It sucks that with all the game journalism out there, barely anyone is doing this. Getting past news and reviews that are functionally previews, most of the opinion pieces out there aim for general ideas, or for current events in gaming. Only new and topical games come under heavier review, but rarely in a centralized, in-depth manner.
I’ve seen people who come close. Yahtzee, who’s work I follow obsessively, comes so very close. In his videos and weekly posts, he often breaks down one or two elements of a game and really analyzes them, but it doesn’t happen often or thoroughly enough, simply because he’s too damn busy. His videos and posts are short and meant to entertain, and it’s hard enough to even get into the nitty-gritty of a game when you’ve got another one shoved in your face on a weekly basis.
One of the best, most in-depth reviews out there is Egoraptor’s Sequelitis series, most notably his video about Mega Man and Mega Man X. This video was what inspired me to start writing about video games, and it’s very frustrating for me because the bastard has only done three episodes of Sequelitis. It’s understandable—his videos have a heavy amount of animation and effort going into them, and he’s also working on a ton of other projects, so I wouldn’t expect him to pump out weekly or even monthly videos.
All across the web I’ve read reviews that are almost what I want. I’ve seen passionate and lengthy reviews that, while not imbued with a ton of game theory, at least do an excellent job of detailing what the author likes about the game, if not going the extra step into why.
That’s the step I want to take. Not just describing what I like, but why I like it. Why the game made me like it. This isn’t something I’ve fully accomplished in my AARPG series yet. I touched it at parts of the Nier review (I’m quite proud of that one), but I’m sad about how much I didn’t say in the Minish Cap review. I was a little too ready to gush about how much I loved that game when I went into covering it. (The Dungeon Explorer review is a complete failure, btw.)
The first four episodes of AARPG have been very experimental. The result, I suspect, will be cutting the video element entirely. So far, I haven’t managed to make any of the videos interesting visually or audibly, and when I ask myself, “what is the fat in need of trimming from my videos?” the answer seems to be, “all of it.” My intentions with including video were that being able to see the stuff I’m talking about would further understanding of it, but it’s become increasingly apparent that trying to show the many concepts I describe in a meaningful way is difficult and at times impossible. I actually suspect that some of my videos have lessened the viewer’s understanding of what I’m talking about, which is hurtful to the experience.
Moreover, the review style that I’m going for has little need for video in the first place, because I’m not necessarily trying to sell people on the game, nor am I trying to entertain. They can go a number of other places for that. What I’m trying to do is explore the game on a conceptual level. Footage from the game at best helps those who haven’t played it, but again, I don’t think it’s doing enough. Also, the way that I write sounds awkward when read aloud. The few seconds of extra processing time and once-over of editing and simplifying makes for a weird-sounding video, and I don’t want to make weekly hour-long videos wherein the listener has to hear me babble incoherently, saying, “um,” way too many times just to sound natural.
Therefore, going into the future, AARPG will be text-only reviews, and if I decide to incorporate a video element, it will be game videos placed in-between the text.
Anyways, that’s my statement of intents. It’s probably not very valuable since not many people are reading my video game reviews anyways, but for some reason I seem to love this brand of self-indulgence.