On the Topic of Criticism

Originally published on Trevor Trove on March 18, 2016

While I spent much of the past couple days, enjoying GDC coverage and seeing a flurry of coverage on Indie games and VR, I caught wind of a story that I knew vaguely about. While I don’t typically play on PC these days, I occasionally tune into Jim Sterling’s work and if I had to identify an arch-nemesis for the man, it’d be Konami and his #FucKonami mantra. But if I had to name a second, I’d say Digital Homicide. And sure enough, Digital Homicide has apparently reached their breaking point and filed a $10-million lawsuit accusing him of “assault, libel, and slander” (I overlooked that Patrick Klepek made the same nemesis argument as his opener until I linked the article. But he identifies Digital Homicide as the nemesis instead so we differ ever so slightly). And not that it means anything but I was also slightly interested to find that the suit has been filed here in my home state of Arizona (actually, I’m pretty sure I begrudgingly slapped my forehead with an “of course it is” shrug).

Long before I was ever writing about video games, I’ve been studying and critiquing theatre and I’ve always been fascinated with the relationship between creators, critics, and the audience. The company I consider to be my “home” theatre – Stray Cat Theatre – has a long-standing policy where, out of respect for the actors who don’t want to read reviews, talk of reviews are banned from backstage. Good or bad. The argument even being that sometimes a good review can do more harm to a show than a bad one if an actor becomes complacent or an over-inflated sense of self. On the flip side, there are other theatres in town who will hang up reviews backstage in an attempt to validate themselves.

I am of the belief that the creators themselves are not the critic’s intended audience: the readers/listeners of their given publication are. When the critic for the Arizona Republic wrote up his thoughts on Stray Cat’s latest play, Stupid Fucking Bird, he’s not writing for the cast and crew of the show. He’s writing to inform his readers his thoughts on the show so that they can be a bit more informed on whether they might like to see it or not. And while I often agree with him, there are occasionally shows where we have drastically different responses to the work. But over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying from his writing whether or not I might enjoy a show, regardless of his feeling towards it. And I’ve often found the same kind of cadence with video game critics.

Now, the problem is a relatively small population see games criticism as that nuanced. I imagine if you’re reading this or a regular visitor to the site, you’re more educated and informed than most. Bringing it back to this Digital Homicide case, I’ll be very interested in following it. Right now, it very much comes across as a petulant “artist” unable to accept criticism as anything other than a personal attack. That they are seeking $10 million in damages actually offends me less than the fact that they are also requesting that all videos and articles criticizing them be replaced or amended with an apology “for a period of no less than five years.” I can’t fathom an experience as a creator or performer where I would have the gall to make such a demand. If someone gave me a negative review of every role I’d ever played, I imagine I’d just stop reading them. Or hell, I’d probably be cheeky enough to leave flowers on their seat one night with a card saying “For my biggest fan…”

As a layman, the fact that they moved forward with this case representing themselves seems like an act of desperation rather than confidence. I wonder what my lawyer friends would think about the case. Regardless, I will be interested to see where this story goes in the coming months.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: