BrE3thing out

Over the span of several weeks I’ve been contributing a series of E3 retrospectives for the Features section over on Gameranx. The last finally went live today –thank you, Ian– and with it, I feel like a bit of weight is finally off my chest.

I won’t say they were difficult to write or to commit to– better writers than me are writing more incisive and heart-rending pieces every day, and at some point, doing this series just felt like I was reiterating an already well-articulated personal stance. If these pieces went live at Kotaku or IGN, I could potentially wake up to an inbox full of death threats and comments about my weight, but at Gameranx I’m pretty well insulated from the fanboy vitriol du jour. Although surely an exaggeration, it feels like even more of an echo chamber than the sort of feedback loop I’m criticizing. It doesn’t feel bold, no. Not compared to the writing of folks like Katie Williams, Jenn Frank or Mattie Brice, women who truly stick their necks out there fully expecting the unsavory elements of the internet to go for their throats. Me, I’m cowardly, compared to them. I don’t feel I have much of a right to call what I wrote difficult. It was very easy, in fact. Arduous at best.

But it’s still nice to have it done and over with. It’s August now, a full two months since E3 wrapped, and it’s a relief to finally have the subject behind me since, you know, I really do not care for it, nor do I care for discussing how much I don’t care for it. That may surprise you. In point of fact, I chose to write a negative series because 1) no one else seemed to be paying E3’s atrocities the attention they warranted and 2) honestly, negativity is easier to write, even if it’s much harder to sustain. So it was a matter of taking a path of least resistance, once again.

Because positivity is tougher, it really is. I told my E3 photographer Jennifer Roy –who is a personal friend of some 12 years; I even tend to call her family my own– that I was lucky to have her around this year because I could enjoy the event vicariously through her. As a critic, it’s not even a matter of being paid to be negative; it’s that positivity is bred out of you from a very early point in your critical education. Everything comes to be viewed through a lens of spotting the flaw, or developing a problematic, and that’s a nice academic way of doing things but tends to rain on the parade of average fans. Which is why I envied Jenny during the conference. Jenny, as one of those average fans, could simply embrace everything that she saw and did, no strings attached. E3 would be a perfectly fine event, if it presented itself as for fans like her.

On a funnier point, around the same time as my E3 retrospectives were coming out, CTRL-ALT-DEFEAT ran a piece of mine in its “Addiction” issue on a way more personal (and consequently tougher to write) subject. It was a little baffling to see it held out as “a good example of New Games Journalism,” since what I was doing didn’t seem new or journalistic in any way. It’s really just an essay on a confrontation I had with the big dark abyss in the back of my own skull. The same one that’s currently telling me that none of this work is adequate, and I could be doing so much better, I could be bolder, I could be more abrasive/cutting/insightful/wise. That could be why I prefer the curatorial role Critical Distance offers me: it lets someone else be the brave one; the negative or positive one. I’ll just be hanging out back here in the great sweeping wastelands of neutrality, thanks, where I can’t disappoint myself with my own impossible standards.

On that note, in a last bit of State of the Kris news, I’m on the judging panel for this thing. I couldn’t be happier about that. It’s an excellent team of critics to be part of and I’m flattered for the opportunity. It’s also just a little overwhelming. By creating “winners” we create “not winners” and I’m not certain that’s the single most productive way to go about advancing what we might, at a stretch, call a discourse… On the other hand, I suppose the first necessary step to dismantling canonization is to have a canon to dismantle, so bring on the prizes, I say. And regardless of any long-term ideological goals, I think it’s great that we’re openly rewarding great work, point blank. If it convinces even one person that we do, actually, have work worth acknowledging in this field, then surely it’s a positive step in the short term.

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