Finding Lester Bangs

So anyone who’s familiar with the subject matter of this site is probably wondering why I haven’t said anything about Chuck Klosterman’s recent Esquire article decrying the lack of serious game critics on the order of Lester Bangs. Well, I considered posting on it as soon as I finished reading it, but I decided I wanted to take the time to write up a well considered, thought-out response. Then Jane Pinckard went and made a post that covered most of the points I was going to make. Then Clive Thompson wrote a piece for Wired that covered most of the rest, and some I hadn’t even considered. Then Chris Kohler went and made the whole thing moot by declaring himself the Lester Bangs of video games.

I still have one point left that was not taken by any of the above articles (I think) and that is this: there is no Lester Bangs of video games writing because there has been no one to tell us who it is yet.

For all the fond remembrances of a guy that Klosterman calls an “authoritative critical voice,” a writer for the Village Voice noted in a review of Bangs’ biography that “when I knew Lester I didn’t take him very seriously or pay very much attention to him.” Personally, I’ve never read a word of Pauline Kael’s writing, but I know she’s a great film critic because absolutely everyone says she is.

My point is that even if the Lester Bangs of video games exists right now, most of us wouldn’t know it if we tripped over him. For all the talk of how ill-developed video game criticism is, video game criticism criticism is even less developed. This site is an effort to help on that count, but I don’t claim to have enough expertise to declare any one person the authoritative critical voice in games journalism.

Thompson talks about the physical inability of any critic to play even a signifigant portion of the available games to completion. Similarly, with the explosion of writing on the web, it would be more than a full time job to really dig into all the game criticism available these days. It might be doable if you filter out the smaller, less-respected sites in favor of the big names, but who’s to say today’s Bangs of game writing isn’t languishing in some lesser known backwater? Bangs himself was eventually fired from Rolling Stone for being “disrespectful to musicians.” Maybe today’s Bangs of games is similarly ill-fit for the PR machine of the mainstream specialist press (an oxymoron if I ever wrote one).

This is where the power of the ‘net comes in. The communal link-to-and-read-only-what-you-like nature of the Web allows for the consensus “good” writing to rise from the chaff and be recognized by the larger community. Unfortunately, many popular outlets would rather link to the latest rumor about a new Smash Bros. character than take note of a good feature about flower-picking in Oblivion. I’m guilty of this myself, but… well, I’ll try to remedy that going forward, I guess. (starting with that flower-picking link. Good stuff there via the latest Carnival of Gamers)

Having a well-recognized critic of games will require people to start… well, recognizing good game criticism. Now taking nominations in the comments or in e-mail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *