Recently, I was watching a review of a new movie when I heard something odd. This was, let’s say, a citizen critic YouTube channel guy, which is a label earned exclusively by his sudden insistence on “critical objectivity” in the year of our Lord 2018. Apparently, the gamers of 2005 are old men, and a new generation is taking their place, enjoying zero institutional memory. This old line is stereotypically trotted out in response to others’ disagreeable opinions, that if you, professional critic, didn’t like the movie I liked, you need to be more objective.
I’ve also recently become a fan of game critic Austin Walker, and Waypoint, Vice (and Danielle Riendeau, who’s got an especially interesting career for a media critic), and he mentioned on an episode of the podcast that possibly his favorite game is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, a game so epic it’s punctuated by two colons. This enthusiasm for the underdog sequel is something I know is shared by Katherine Cross. In this discussion, I get the sense he’s written something about it, so I google “austin walker knights of the old republic,” and pull up this article: “KOTOR II Update Brings game to Mac and Linux, Adds Steam Workshop Support,” from 2015.
It’s a news announcement and a technical rundown, but does contains a beefier paragraph of opinion in which he says, “Like Metal Gear Solid 2 or Dark Souls II, KOTOR II is a sequel that plays with (and often subverts) many of the assumed truths about the setting and narrative, and it uses the player’s knowledge against them to surprise and teach.” It’s worth reading, and it’s a quick read, unfortunately. I guess I was hoping for more, something like a definitive statement of opinion on the title, even if it would’ve been subject to obsolescence later. And then, I was hopeful even for its future obsolescence.
Media criticism, among many things, can be a window into a mind. I’ve been drawn to a number of critics over the years for their opinions, their personalities, sensibilities — I’ve witnessed the analysis of movies and games provide the bridge, sometimes uncurated: on the page, I have to look for patterns, but on podcasts, it’s an unfiltered explication of the self. The work that sticks with me is tactile; I can sense the emotion driving it, whether it’s Claire Napier’s “The Major’s Body” or Maddy Myers’s writings on Samus Aran or Dave Riley’s various defenses of “7/10” games like Lost Planet 2 or Lightning Returns. It’s criticism that stems from personal experiences and histories, and the arguments contained, the ideas explored reach me in part because I see a bit of myself in them. “Wow, this person really thinks like me,” is never not profound, and has helped expand my mind and my tastes.
Behind the scenes, this blog has been maybe two different things about twelve times each. One of the many reservations about going forward is the prospect of my repeating myself, that the first episode of The Utopia Blueprint podcast is tentatively “The Ghost in the Shell Committee,” on a subject I frequented with The Battle Beyond Planet X. Other reservations notwithstanding, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a useless exercise. I may be leaving an endless breadcrumb trail of “my definitive takes on Ghost in the Shell,” but maybe it’s more like building on something. If that something is merely “truth,” it could be grounds to connect with you.
And I hope you had some mixed feelings about my dismissal of the YouTube guy at the top of this post (it is, in part, self-hatred), but it’s not the platform I object to, it’s the attitude. When this objectivity-minded guy has a media crit career long enough to look back on, will he rediscover a stable of opinions? Will there be a narrative of snapshots charting his growth on issues, demonstrating how his tastes and worldview’s developed through his cinematic gaze? I can’t accuse the guy of being just a hobbyist, so he can’t take that excuse. In his writing, he ought to be more honest.
(I’ve also been thinking about how dogmatic criticism of media critics is probably a step in the critic’s development, one before maturation)
Originally published June 29, 2018 on The Utopia Blueprint