Jay Castello
Freelance Writer
jaymcastello@gmail.com
@jayplaysthings

“A critic first and a gamer second”?

Recently I found a delightful website that described itself as being for male gamers concerned with the invasion of those pesky SJWs who just want to ruin everything with their equality.

It is, obviously, an almost infinite source of topics for this blog. But one in particular stuck out to me immediately. A certain reply to a comment accused the original commenter of being a “critic first and a gamer second.”

The comment stuck with me because it raised a lot of personal questions. My initial reaction was to scorn this person, like those who claim that “SJW critics” don’t even play games. But this person wasn’t saying that; they were saying that gaming came second to critical engagement. This is what I couldn’t get over – is that true for me? And, if so, does it make my engagement and enjoyment of games any less valid?

Engaging with these questions has been really interesting for me, so let’s go through them together. Firstly, am I, personally, a critic first and a gamer second?

Well, chronologically, certainly not. When I was a kid and I chose Xenia in GoldenEye for the N64 as my character and dubbed her “metal boobs” (so much so that, as I write this first draft, I had to put in a placeholder for her real name, because I forgot it), I wasn’t analysing why her ridiculous costume was quite so ridiculous.

 

You see what I mean.

Anyway, whilst I wouldn’t expect pre-teens to engage critically with their media, its possible that the original commenter was disparaging people who have gotten into games more recently and primarily due to their desire to critique them. Whilst I think this is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, the chronology point serves to demonstrate that its not what I did.

But what about now? Under the cut: what about the chronology of how I approach a new game?

Firstly, I certainly make decisions based on “SJW” considerations. If a game doesn’t interest me, I have no reason to play it. Whilst a huge variety of games do interest me, those which I tend to gravitate towards are those with female characters, MOGAI characters, and characters of colour, whose narratives treat them in nuanced and engaging ways.

Second, when playing a game, I do have my feminist lens in. Its difficult to take out, but even if I could, why would I want to? I shouldn’t be forced to consume shallowly and without consideration in order to enjoy a game (looking at you, BioShock Infinite).

But these two aren’t necessarily because I’m a critic. That consideration only comes in third, when I decide whether I’m going to, you know, critique the game here on FGR (or, I guess, less so, in conversation with friends etc). My consideration of whether I want to play and then whether I’m enjoying a game doesn’t come from being a critic. It comes from who I am. Just like certain people prefer RPGs or FPSs, I prefer games with diverse characters.

It occurs to me that its commonly acceptable to prefer RPGs to FPSs, and vice versa. It’s not commonly acceptable to prefer bisexual black women as playable characters to straight white men. Caring about diversity is the fall of the games industry, but caring about genre isn’t ideologically charged. And thus, caring about diversity makes you a critic first and a gamer second, or so I surmise from that commenter.

So it turns out that I’m not a critic first and a gamer second, but that my criticism and my status as a gamer one and the same. They’re both parts of my whole self: a gamer, certainly, but an aware, queer, female gamer. I’m not a critic first and a gamer second, I’m a critical gamer. They’re not separable.

But either way, our second question: does it matter? I know it matters to that commenter because of these pesky critic-then-gamers who are taking over their video games and ruining everything, but like, over here in real life, does it matter?

I actually think it does. But I think it does in the opposite way to the original commenter. I think us critic-gamers, (and critic-then-gamers too) are important. Thoughtfully consuming the games we play is vital to developing an engaging, progressive, and equal industry.

And that’s why being a gamer and being a critic are both equally as important to me.

On Life is Strange and Validation