Wired has suddenly got a bee under its bonnet about the idea that video games need a critical vocabulary before they can begin to be any good, or at least taken seriously. Annalee Newitz argues that film didn’t flower till the 1940s and it was the publication of French film-crit magazine Cahiers du Cinema in 1951 that allowed audiencesÂ to truly understand and discuss how films work.
She’s wrong, for three reasons. First of all an artform that had produced Greed, M, Sunrise, Gone with the Wind, The 39 Steps, Duck Soup, The Wizard of Oz and Snow White is an artform that had clearly already flowered, and certainly didn’t need another ten years and aÂ bunch of French critics to tell it how to do things right. Secondly Cahiers du Cinema has never had any real influence on mainstream American cinema because mainstream American directors have never paid it any attentionâ€”not because it’s French but because it’s in French, something that most American film directors believe is a type of mustard or a way of kissing.
And thirdly, narrative games already have a perfectly serviceable critical vocabulary, if they choose to use it. It’s been developed over the last fifteen years or so and is used to describe and discuss those other narrative games, the tabletop roleplay types, notably at places like The Forge. It evolved naturally, is quite developedÂ and I rather like it.
You want Cahiers du Cutscene, go ahead, publish it. Don’t expect to make any money, don’t expect anyone to be grateful, and don’t be surprised when people tell you half the work’s been done before.