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What Matters and What Matters Last

This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #109. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Revisiting stories, old and new.

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It’s a difficult thing to write about videogames when one doesn’t play very many videogames.

I keep, in my rather nerdy fashion, tabs on such things. The trend has not been good in the past few years. I played, according to my spreadsheet, 63 games in 2015, 49 in 2016 and 42 in 2017. This year, on the other hand, I’ve played 12 games.

Not God of War, not Spider-Man. Neither Fortnite nor Red Dead Redemption 2. I own Detroit: Become Human, but I haven’t loaded it up. I played a couple of sessions of Monster Hunter: World, but I sold it.

I have played both episodes of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, but it’s impossible to talk about. As a media object, it’s incomplete, and I have nothing to contribute to the discussion of TellTale’s labor practices that Julie Muncy hasn’t already said.

It’s easy and not particularly useful to declare that games don’t matter. I don’t buy into the idea that critics are parasitic things, looking to latch on to (or tear down) “true” artists in the hope of significance by association. Art is not a magical thing produced by magical individuals in singular discrete units with no context but their own genius. The production of art matters, but so does its reception. If the job of the critic is to help define context, to help artist and audience speak to each other, then it’s probably wise to err in favor of being on the side of the context and the audience. Even if it’s not terribly useful to declare that games don’t matter all that much, the fact remains that the nature of media criticism is to spend a lot of time with a lot of things that won’t last very long.

They say memory is the first thing to go.

I like to joke in conversations with my colleagues that I’m old, but that joke is less and less amusing, even to me. I don’t remember where I first encountered the observation that videogame criticism seems to run in three-year cycles of new writers and publications starting and then finding the business unsustainable.

I am approaching the end of what feels like my second three-year tour. And I’m not playing very many videogames.

This is not meant to be a good-bye. I’m not planning to go anywhere. I am simply in search of something that lasts, and trying to figure out in this context — games and the people who read about them and write about them — what that could even look like.

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Gavin Craig is a writer and critic who lives outside of Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @CraigGav.

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