Friday, November 27, 2009

King of Aughts: Preamble

I am a believer in lists. And not just the exuberant catalogue-- no, I am a believer in rank. A lot of sane people will tell you that pleasure in general and the pleasure of videogames in particular is an irreducibly private phenomenon, and that definitive judgment has no place in our commerce with art. De gustibus non disputandum. I am not one of these people. I think that video games are things, and that there is a difference between good things and bad things. This is why we make lists about them.

However, I also believe that it's madness to affix numbers to a decade's worth of creative effort. Why? Well, it's because I am a pluralist, and I have think there is more than one kind of excellence in this world. Just as there are diverse virtues that belong to human beings-- one can be a good soldier, or a good scholar, or a good politician, or a good husband, though rarely at once-- there is more than one way to be an excellent work of art. The heterogeneity of goodness is one reason we are inclined to think that artistic taste is only subjective.

This heterogeneity is especially critical when it comes to games. The video games are a hybrid medium-- they're both systems of rules and systems of representation. It's entirely possible for either element of this alloy to be independently magnificent. While I think the happy marriage of these two members is the manifest destiny of the artform, as critics we should find it our duty to appreciate both artistry and design.

So, in the name of these principles the good ship Clu is going to steam out of drydock and praise the shit out of some video games over the next few weeks. I've been thinking about doing an end-of-decade list for a while, and I've ginned up some categories designed to capture the manifold ways that games are good. At this point, I am also prepared to promise some blurbs. Blurbs as far as the eye can see.

Bear in mind: I am a total charlatan when it comes to video game criticism. For about four out of ten years in this decade I didn't play many video games at all. I don't own all the console systems and I've probably played less than a dozen PC games to completion this decade. (Baldur's Gate II? I barely knew 'er) My frame of reference is not to be trusted.

Finally, dear readers, I entreat to you distrust anything anybody ever says about art. Stephen Deadalus advised us rightly: “Beauty is a blank wall with Post No Bills.” Play, in particular, is the most anarchic of human pleasures. What kind of fool goes about trying to yoke joy under laws? Iroquois Pliskin, that's who.