Review Symposium in Review
Hmmm. I’ve been walking the razor’s edge these past few days, teetering between opening my big yap or just letting things play out as they will. Seeing as how I’m off to parts unknown tomorrow – meaning the haters among you will have to find me first! – I figure now’s as good a time as any to speak my mind.
May as well get straight to the point: I’ve got some issues with Shawn Elliott’s Review Symposium. I have nothing but respect for the assembled players, but I think the indigestible length of Part One proves there’s a real need to re-examine the current approach. I can only hope Elliott is treating this as a constantly evolving entity, so that we might see some changes implemented before this golden opportunity to explore the divisive topic of video game Reviewing-Slash-Criticism reaches its end.
For starters, I think there are some conspicuous absences in the roster of collected speakers. The participating players are almost exclusively professional critics/journalists. Necessary cogs no doubt, but the end result after Part One has created a decidedly limited perspective on things. I find it incredible, for example, that Part One of this Symposium – in which the value of review scores was questioned – never once touched on the distinct aura of mistrust surrounding mainstream game criticism. That example isn’t even my observation, but rather an idea presented by a commenter on the Neogaf gaming forums. I had a nice little facepalm after I read that; of course there’s a lack of trust. Look at Barrington Harvey. Gerstmann-Gate. Any number of other, similar incidents.
And that’s kind of my point. I think this discussion would be strengthened considerably by a more diverse selection of speakers. People like theoriticians Espen Aarseth or Henry Jenkins. Industry analyst Michael Pachter. A ranking PR/publisher rep or two. And definitely some articulate gamers, as in people with no connection to the industry beyond an intense love for its output. All of these people spend a significant portion of their days thinking about games in some way, but not necessarily with the same point of view. Having their input would provide an invaluable counterpoint to the generally like-minded roster which is currently in place.
I also think the straight-up presentation of the Symposium is far too imposing. There are nearly 15,000 words in the wall of text comprising Part One, the first of eight sections. There’s no convenient way to navigate through individual responses in the current setup and a single comments section at the bottom is hardly ideal for granting readers a place to respond and discuss. Perhaps the Symposium should have been broken up into a series of smaller posts? Maybe even posted piecemeal on a range of different blogs, all linking to one another? Hell, each contributor could create their own Symposium-specific blog – it is free after all – and share thoughts in a discussion staged across a whole network of web pages. It’s rough idea and I’m sure that plenty of holes could be poked in it, but it sure sounds like a more approachable arrangement doesn’t it?
Again, I have the utmost respect for the assembled players and I really do think they’re pushing a solid agenda. The fracas over video game reviewing/criticism has been raging for far too long; clearly, a large group of people are not content with the way things are. That said, I think the current format of the Review Symposium has so far accomplished little more than pushing the dead horse ideas around in a vacuum. Even if you put aside the unwieldy presentation, the absence of input from the full spectrum of the video game industry has thus far condemned what could have been an enlightening, provocative discussion to a whole lot more of that same-old, same-old.
What do you readers think? Did you walk away from Part One with any valuable new insights, ideas which haven’t been discussed at great length over the past year or so? Were you able to read the entire thing? Did you skim, or perhaps skip around to read your favorite writers’ words? What do you think is lacking, if anything, in the format or design of this ambitious Review Symposium?