Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Games Coverage and its Network of Ambivalences

Foxman, Maxwell Henry; Nieborg, David B.

It's as tough a time as ever for game critics, who seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place—an industry that acts as gatekeepers to most of the information they cover and an increasingly combative readership. Because of these tensions, an exploratory study was conducted first of the emergence of game criticism and the historical role of critics in creating the conception of gamer identity and, second, the effect of that identity on critics’ self-perception of their profession. We find that throughout the late 1980s and the end of the 20th century the game press was complicit in reinforcing the notion of the hardcore, primarily male “gamer,” while at the same time wrestling with their role as mediators between the industry and audience to which they were beholden. Through a subsequent study of articles and public meta-criticism by prominent figures in the field, we describe a network of ambivalences over the basic elements of their practice—particularly style, content, and format—as well as what motivates their daily work. In order to cope with these ambivalences, game critics, in recommending changes to their craft, rely not on the occupational ideology—or a common set of shared professional values—but instead their personal background and ancillary careers. Finally, after reviewing this network of ambivalences and its effect on games writing, we suggest critics make efforts toward establishing a common critical authority for their field, particularly as their occupation enters the mainstream.


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Journal of Games Criticism

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February 3, 2016