September 2, 2003

Critical of Game Criticism

by Andrew Stern · , 11:58 am

Check out these notes from a speech given by Matteo Bittanti last week at Europe’s Game Developers Conference, suggesting the future of game studies and game art “looks extremely promising”, but with a warning that they must avoid being perceived as “mental masturbation” by the game community at large. I agree. (via

2 Responses to “Critical of Game Criticism”

  1. William Says:

    I have one concern about internalizing this sort of complaint from the game industry – it discourages critical distance, and risks making the academic game theorist too beholden to industry. Too often, “mental masturbation” is a catch-word for “critical of the industry,” “not edifying for the bottom line,” or “not part of the business of making games.”

    In fact, what is and is not considered “mental masturbation” by the ‘gaming community at large’ may say more about the gaming community than it does about theorists and critics. It’s a defensive posture, and one is oversensitive to that charge at the risk of critical vigor.

  2. andrew Says:

    I agree with your concern, with the perspective of having sat on both sides of the fence (I worked in the game industry for about 7 years, and have been doing academically publishable research/art for the past 4.) I’m not sure a game developer’s potential wariness of academic critical study is so much a defensive posture, of fear of being criticized. Game developers are already accustomed to dealing with harsh criticism by gaming magazines, game players and fellow developers. I think the wariness of academic criticism would be more like “hey, we’re the ones actually *making* the games, what the hell do you know about this”, or, “where do you get this from? you’re reading in too much here”. Typical practitioner vs. theorist stuff, I suppose.

    Also, the game industry has long had a forum for analysis and discussion of games — the Game Developers Conference, which seems to be improving over time. Sure, it could be even better, but the discourse there is lively, current, and, of course, practical. For anyone who hasn’t been to one, I recommend it.

    I think game developers would welcome useful, accurate, in-depth analysis and criticism of games. But if the analysis becomes overly-theoretical, incomprehensible or just plain useless, that’s where the “mental masturbation” charge comes in to play. I interpret Bittani’s warning as a handy reminder to the emerging field of game studies to stay grounded.

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