Electron Dance
24Mar/15Off

Counterweight 16: Leaving Las Videogames

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It's the final episode of Counterweight which also means it's goodbye to Eric Brasure, co-host of Trekabout and the award-nominated (and defunct) The Next Stop Is... podcast.

As Eric hangs up his videogame cape for good, we take this moment to reflect on why anyone should bother in the videogame space. You won't make money and everyone will hate you. Our last conversation lurches from topic to topic but the common theme is a lingering, sad sigh over everything videogames.

It's been two and half years since Eric joined the site and I'm sad to see him go, but it was my decision to end the podcast. I like the way Counterweight turned out and I think our best podcasts were the ones on Bioshock Infinite (oh the anger) and Banished (how technical can you get), but Counterweight was one of the few dissenting voices on Papers, Please (we felt it had problems).

Thank you to the devoted few who enjoyed listening to Eric and myself talk into the mic.

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  1. A somber but brilliant finale to the only gaming podcast I ever cared about. Thank you you wonderful people. Oh, and if you do a podcast on the economy & politics of Greece I will be hi-jacking it.

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Gnome. I’ll be honest – I am sad to see it go and I’ll miss trading insults with Eric over a game (although we’re still going to keep in touch on Skype regardless). But with time so squeezed, it’s just not reasonable to spend time on it :(

    I remember Eric once talked about doing a politics podcast so who knows…

  3. I should also add I miss Dialogue Tree more than Counterweight. That’s why I invited Eric in the first place.

  4. I always enjoyed the podcast (and I generally enjoy Eric’s podcasts). But I can totally see where both of you are coming from.

  5. Eric would’ve been happy to carry on but I don’t think it had the interest to warrant the distraction from my writing which is what pays the bills here.

    (ha ha)

  6. Some really astute points in this cast, which makes it all the more sad that it’s the final episode. Yes, I absolutely got something out of it. I think there was only one episode I didn’t listen to (because I hadn’t played, and wanted to experience fresh, the game under discussion).

    You guys particularly struck me with how easy it is to lose sight of the bigger picture, the context, of what Kickstarter is and means as a mechanism of technocratic late capitalism, and I completely agree with critiquing it as the ‘democratisation of risk’ (nice parallel). When I see a Kickstarter project my default response is “does the game look interesting” rather than “why is this being funded like this, who are the people involved, why don’t I feel uncomfortable about this” which are probably more salient questions. It’s good to be forcibly kicked out of the uncritical comfort zone I often find myself settling into without realising.

    I’m on the fence regarding discussion of the Molyneux interview, because while I believe I understand where Eric’s coming from I’m not sure how useful or interesting a subject Molyneux would prove to be if grilled on the systemic usage of Kickstarter, on what it means in an increasingly neoliberal world, its usage / exploitation within th games industry, on why Molyneux should be using Kickstarter at all, etc. These are important questions and I wish there was more writing or reporting that tried to tackle them. However, I’m unconvinced that this is a reasonable critique of an interview which explicitly set out to challenge one man on his failure to deliver on multiple promises, following years and years of similar behaviour, during which time he has rarely been significantly challenged.

    Put another way, I thought the interview important because it was not fundamentally supine as most game developer interviews tend to be. Given that what you appear to be agitating for – more rigorous games criticism that is less a part of or wholly uncoupled from the marketing cycle; audiences and writers that expect more and think about their entertainment more broadly? – it seems a step in the right direction.

    Eric, if you see this could you unpack “criticism is dead” for me a bit? I am assuming that you are referring to criticism as a commercial package, e.g. review journals and the like, and perhaps criticism within newspapers and broader magazines, and you’re referring to it being dead as a commercially viable endeavour. This makes sense to me given the volume of hobbyist criticism that has been easy enough to find for a long time (via zines and societies in the pre-internet era), but I’m not entirely clear.

    If I’m on the right track there then… commercial criticism is clinging on in the UK, but I get the impression that arts funding and the occasional endowment or trust left by wealthy patrons is all that’s keeping some of them alive. I don’t particularly read film or music criticism (any more) but I still read a small quantity of literary criticism, so I’m interested in your perspective on where US criticism presently stands.

  7. Yes, that is exactly what I meant Shaun. There was a vibrant and culturally important criticism scene (art, music, film, books, whatever) where people got paid to write criticism and so the criticism was, y’know, relevant and just better.

    Amateur criticism is mostly horrible for the reasons that most amateur whatever is horrible–there’s no accountability, no audience, and no winnowing process.

    American criticism, well:

    Film criticism: mostly dead.
    Book criticism: almost entirely dead.
    Arts criticism: not doing terribly I guess all things considered
    Music criticism: dead, dead dead.

    The internet has been great for a lot of reasons, but we have also lost an entire generation of critics that can no longer make a living, and all the upcoming generations of critics are stillborn.

    And this is a problem, because as the landscape is more and more flattened, criticism serves a vital purpose that tells people what is worth paying attention to.

    Good luck, everyone. I’m not optimistic about the future of the arts.

  8. Thanks for the reply. I see where you’re coming from, and I can hardly argue that criticism is far less commercially viable than it once was, but in whatever better days you hearken back to I imagine most critics did it on the side of, say, writing books or teaching. And with that in mind I’m not as short on optimism as you are.

    Where I’d be more inclined to agree is that quality criticism in games is struggling a lot more because there is so little history of it. Nor is there much in the way if tradition to anchor it, or established venues in which to publish. Although games academia has grown tremendously over the past decade I don’t feel that much of that has translated to criticism directed at a wide audience, and even where you do have venues that are self-consciously highbrow (let’s go with Edge as an example, for better or worse) the majority of its writers are going to be jobbing freelancers having to balance income vs. time invested, which is not conducive to quality, thoughtful criticism.

    I actually feel more optimistic looking at the critical institutions that have grown around niche interests such as science fiction; a huge amount of quality criticism has been produced over successive generations and mostly published in non-commercial contexts. Part of the reason for that is that there was no commercial context for it (which is a little improved today), but the fact that it has thrived and has produced healthy criticism where the only plentiful resource was passion and interest gives me a little hope.

    Of course, a genre of written fiction is apples and oranges when compared to something as amorphous and encompassing as “games”, and the inevitable march of late capitalism will probably eat us all anyway.

  9. “but in whatever better days you hearken back to I imagine most critics did it on the side of, say, writing books or teaching.”

    Perhaps, and I’ll concede that for sake of argument, but: even if that is true, there was a path to make a living writing criticism, there was a support system of editors and publishers and other professional critics, and there was a model for what professional criticism was supposed to look and read like.

    Even more importantly: criticism was out there in the culture, easily found for the average person. Now? Go read blogs, I guess.

    It’s the same thing with “democratizing” reporting–covering city council meetings in countless small towns across America isn’t glamorous or exciting or interesting work a lot of the time, but it’s vitally important for the health of democracy. Now that most newspapers can’t afford to pay a reporter to cover that beat–what’s going to happen? Who knows? Who cares, right? We’ve got Google and Amazon and Uber.

  10. I can hardly argue with the reportage comparison. It’s the same in the UK: most papers are now almost entirely dependent on a few aggregation services for the bulk of their newsfeed, don’t cover the majority of trials at all, and there’s limited, mostly terrible, local news coverage. Not that this can be wholly blamed on the web and people accepting shittier news because £free; in the UK, at least, we can thank Murdoch, Thatcher and the breaking of the print unions for beginning that process of decline.


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