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Every year the staff of the videogame review site Giantbomb get together for a series of podcasts to determined which games are the 'best' in many categories. It is a totally ridiculous exercise, that at the same time, produces some of the most entertaining criticism I experience all year. How so?

Well, the first thing I should be clear about is that I think the best of the year, top-10-style lists that spring up around this time of year are dumb. By forcing a number of very good art-things (using films as the example here) into a ranking, and then saying one of them is 'best', the critic is having to compare multiple films attempting to achieve incomparable things. Saying Nightcrawler is 'better' than The Lego Movie or The Raid 2 is weird because it's effectively me saying 'this experience of visceral disquiet is better than laughing or admiration at skill'. I can tell you my favourite movies of the year easily [1], but the 'best' one would require me say one experience offered is greater than all experiences offered. That judgement, for me, runs counter to the one real goal of the critic - to be as appreciative of as many different experiences as is humanly possible.

What's more, criticism is a largely subjective, personal activity. Not wholly so - I maintain that are limits on interpretations of an art-piece set by the boundaries of said art's subject matter - but largely. Criticism is opinion, advocacy journalism of the arts. The judgements it makes are worth taking on board only if you have some familiarity with the mind making them. Because the beautiful thing about talking about art is that the conversation is not really about the art itself. It is about the values you have and the beliefs you have about the world, which make up the lens through which you see the art. Even if that value boils down to 'I really enjoy it the stylistic hitting of people with baseball bats' [3]. So for that reason, the Giantbomb game of the year decisions, critical judgements that are communal, that are often compromises, have very little worth at all as facts. It is the process that leads to them that is worthwhile.

See, while all I said above about criticism aspiring to even treatment of multiple different types of art-thing is the end of the day a critic is going to have their favourites. And in the Giantbomb game of the year discussions you have (I think) eight critics, each with very different tastes, each vying to make sure their favourite games get recognition, when other people in the room may think their favourites are total garbage. This leads to arguing and anguish (though all on a very friendly level), but best of all, it forces that art-love-as-reflecting-values aspect to the surface because goddamnit if the others are not totally convinced that this game is important something that is truly loved is not going to get the recognition it must have. The end goal of a communal ranking of video games is dumb. But the stress it places the critics of Giantbomb under to advocate for what they believe to be the truly great games of 2014 produces some of the best criticism I get to enjoy all year.

Because criticism in the end is the articulation of emotional response. If the emotions are intense, well, that articulation is all the better for it.

[1] Noah, 22 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, Under the Skin, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hercules, Mr Turner, Nightcrawler, Boyhood, The Raid 2, The Grand Budapest Hotel
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January 2016


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