This is Not a Video Game Review: 2May 22, 2009 · psu · 3 minute read
The title of this piece will give astute readers a sense of deja vu. You will recall that more than a year ago, disgusted with the state of writing about video games, I called on the industry to do a better job and find something interesting to write about our beloved medium. The response has been decidedly tepid. I guess people were confused about what I meant by “interesting writing” or “an enjoyable review.” While one can find the occasional example of what I am after, I don’t think the situation has improved that much.
But I have moved on. Video games are no longer the subject of my obsessive internet browsing. I’ve been reading reviews of cars instead. Yes, I promised that I would not write about cars anymore, and I’m not. Instead, for all you aspiring video game reviewers out there, here is how it should be done. Watch and learn from what is perhaps the most inspired and sublime review of a commodity consumer object that I have ever seen. I give you the Top Gear review of the Ford Fiesta:
This review, it seems to me, is structurally perfect. Instead of just droning on through a mechanical series of objective tickmarks, the piece turns the whole scheme on its side. While appearing to discuss the car’s practicality, or gas mileage, or performance, Clarkson actually lampoons the whole notion of measuring a car by such shallow and useless single numbers. Then you get to the delicious sequence where Clarkson, being chased by “baddies” in a Corvette, drives the car all over a shopping mall. Inside. Through the stores. And it just gets stranger form there.
In addition to all this, the piece is filled with interesting photography, good writing, humor, and increasing evidence that the insurance laws in Britain must just be fundamentally different than in the USA.
Top Gear has always excelled at this sort of thing. The reason the show is so good is because while its subject matter is “cars”, the show really isn’t about cars. Cars are boring. Cars have basically been the same product for the last 30 or 40 years. What more can you really say about cars? Top Gear is really about other interesting characters or tasks or ridiculous challenges that happen to be related to cars. Therefore, even if you really have no interest whatsoever in cars (and I, until recently, certainly didn’t), the show keeps you coming back for more because you know it will be fantastic anyway. This is why it’s one of the 10 best shows on television anywhere in the world.
This is also what I want video game reviews to do. No, I don’t expect them to be able to film an actual military landing with live ammo and gunboats and stuff. But I do expect them to realize that while their subject matter is video games, the video games by themselves are really not that interesting. I want to see a video game show, or magazine, or weblog, or something, that is compelling enough that people who are not interested in video games won’t be able to turn away. That’s something that will keep me coming back for more. Because if you don’t do that, you can say practically everything interesting that there is to say about video games in about two years of semi-regular writing. There really isn’t that much new under the sun.
Still, it would be awesome to see Adam Sessler jump out of an airplane, wouldn’t it?