Criticism is inherently cynical.
A critic’s job is not to just blindly praise a work, but to analyze it and discuss both positive and negative aspects of it. This is how art criticism has worked for a long time, and has been seen in criticism of movies, books, TV shows, music, paintings, statues, and just about any form of art. And yet, video game criticism is often not just cynical, but toxic and overwhelmingly negative. Many self-proclaimed video game critics view criticism not as a means to analyze a game and discuss it, but to punch it down and ruthlessly mock it for the amusement of others.
Now, this form of criticism exists in other mediums. But most of these critics are open about what they are: comedians. Their job is to make fun of things and joke about it for the amusement of others. But this doesn’t mean they don’t like a thing. They are simply making fun of it for the amusement of others.
Video game criticism often does not have this distinction. Those who seek only to ruthlessly mock a game often view themselves as “true” critics, and feel that their opinion should be trusted and used to influence purchasing decisions. And this is where I have a problem. This style of criticism is toxic and serves only to overemphasize faults in games and beat down games that hardly deserve it. It’s destructive and detrimental to game analysis to only focus on the flaws in games, and to treat this like some kind of objective analysis of a game.
And yet it is so prevalent in video game criticism.
There are many toxic aspects of video game culture, but this one stands out to me. It’s the type of toxicity that people who normally don’t ever condone toxic elements of gaming culture will readily defend. “It’s just a joke, it’s just their opinion” I’ll hear people say. But it’s not. It’s needless cynicism passed off as genuine criticism and analysis of video games. And it simply encourages the type of toxicity and hostility that is so prevalent in the video game community.
The game industry is still in its infancy. Games are still maturing and growing, and it’s important that people analyze and critique games to discuss their flaws and strengths in order to spur further development and maturation. But the relentless negativity and cynicism in video game criticism simply serves to hinder this development, and draws attention away from earnest analysis of video games.
Do not confuse critiquing and analyzing a game with beating it down for comedy. And just remember that it’s okay to genuinely enjoy the things you like, regardless of the flaws present in it. Being cynical about everything doesn’t make you look cool, it just makes you look like a surly asshole.