My Problem with Games Blogging in a Single Article
Warning: This article has spoilers for Red Dead Redemption II.
A numbingly bad article from Mashable has breathed life into me, simply because of an unfortunate trend that I’ve grown tired of humoring: shallow observations with the complexity of a Buzzfeed article being drawn out with large words in the pretense of intellectual depth.
I’ve seen examples of this kind of writing from a variety of sites, so I’m not particularly singling out this writer or website. This happens to be the one I saw that incensed me the most, and that did so most recently. It’s an article from Mashable titled “The Enormous Disappointment of ‘Red Dead Redemption II.’"
In said article, the author makes a series of simple observations, sandwiched between two truly random thoughts, and ends with a faux-profound short sentence. It’s a formula that’s served many a poor writer well. With this bad taste in my mouth, I’m going to keep this as brief as possible, because succinctness is one of the greatest virtues a writer can demonstrate.
This is key to my point: the more confident a writer is in an idea, and the better their understanding of the language is, the quicker they can communicate thoughts. To be a good writer is to be a good communicator. The primary sin of this article is that it doesn’t manage to make a single argument across a nearly 2500 word count. I don’t mean a coherent argument, or a good one. I mean to say that it doesn’t actually make a single argument. The article is a series of observations and a smattering of snarky one-liners. Like verboseness, snark is a fantastic cloak for those who with to sound intelligent without actually saying anything.
So, with 2,500 words to fill and nothing to say, the write deploys both, ad nauseum, to explain that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a bad game with no point.
Let’s break this article’s key points down.
Arthur Morgan is purposeless
John Marston+ his family don’t do very much
Dutch is depressing?
There’s a lot of stuff in this game, but there’s no point to it.
Despite the hefty promise of four bullet points, there isn’t much to say about any of them, because the writer says very little about any of the points, much less constructs examples or arguments around them.
“Poor Arthur Morgan, the most purposeless protagonist to ever grace a box art cover, was retconned into existence solely to die” the article opens.
Forgetting the factual and/or grammatical error made (Arthur Morgan isn’t retconned because the first game makes no reference to him not existing, and retconned means to erase a previous story statement/thread in later fiction.) This thought is followed up with…nothing? It merely reiterates his pointlessness in a full paragraph by listing his surface character traits: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, a down on his luck outlaw…”
In the story, Arthur Morgan is a character who’s grown up in the gang, does a lot of morally icky stuff, slowly loses faith in Dutch’s promise of a better future, realizes he’s wasted his life chasing an empty lifestyle via Dutch’s empty words, before using his last days alive to help John Marston escape and fulfill his own life. Marston gets everything Morgan threw away: a family, an honest living and a morally respectable lifestyle.
This is essentially the rough, un-editorialized beat of the game’s events. At no point does the author actually dig into the story’s events, or even acknowledge the rough beats, to make the point. It’s as simple as “He’s got no purpose.” There’s no attempt at analysis, just a simple rephrasing of the same thought –-a nauseating four times—and they intend us to just take them at their word.
It’s the same level of thought you’d expect from a friend after seeing a movie after a few beers. Just with the number of words you’d expect from someone who’d consumed more than a few beers. Beyond that, it’s insulting to the reader and shows a complete disregard for argumentation. They’re not arguing Arthur Morgan has no story, they’re reporting it. I’d argue it’d take but a quick look at the story’s basic outline to prove otherwise, but there’s no point in arguing…because they didn’t actually make an argument.
There are then three paragraphs of explaining that John Marston and his family don’t do much, apparently.
Is this bad? Why is it bad? The author can’t even make the effort to explain if or why this is a bad thing, it’s just—similarly—reported.
I instinctively want to argue that they’re not the main characters, they’re side characters. And John Marston, contrarily, grows up from being a childish man who ignores his family, to one who casts off his outlaw vanity when he realizes their love and support is there when the gang betrays him. He grows as a human being, I’d argue, but then again, that observation is wasted, since the author hasn’t even argued far enough to meet me half-way.
The author then moves onto Dutch, who they describe as being “portrayed only as an omnipresent, villainous specter in the first game, fruitful and unexplored ground remained in telling his origin story.”
For starters, this isn’t a superhero/comic-book movie. “Telling his origin story,” isn’t something serious stories make a priority of doing. Beyond that, we actually get enough of Dutch’s origin that this shouldn't matter. We learn of his parents, his father’s death and how that inspired his uniquely strange philosophy on life that eventually drives him mad. We hear of his exploits before the game’s events. All of this fills in exactly what we need to know about him to experience him as a character.
Do we really need a story flashback a la "Better Call Saul" to explain that Dutch Vanderlinde is actually the reincarnation of failed potato farmer Thomas Hyde?
From that bizarre point in the article, we essentially get a beat by beat retelling of Dutch’s story in RDR2: he’s good, and then he goes crazy as fortune tilts against him. Throw in some examples from the story, and a lot of snark commenting on it, and it closes with a truly godawful sentence: “We're subjected to (I repeat) a minimum 60 hours of a shitty dude getting shittier, leaving me to wonder whether the people around him are just that stupid.”
It was around this point that I was completely fed up with the article and felt actively stupider for having engaged with it. If you’ve made it to the end of the game, you’re aware that the game shows literally every member of the gang doubt him about half-way through, then abandon him in the final third.
At this point, the article is operating outside the realm of facts just to deliver its nasally snark. Beyond its outright mechanically abysmal writing, it’s no more substantive than a drunk guy trying to explain the plot of the movie he just saw. It’s factually barren, and argumentative uninterested. With nothing to say, it just repeats an extraordinarily simplified version of events, padded with lame humor and a worse attitude.
The article has the audacity to continue its rambling for another 900-ish words, over the course of which it doesn’t even make real statements so much as comment on their appreciation for the first game and disappointment with the second. And then it ends with a stupefying and outrageous closer:
“Red Dead Redemption 2 has succeeded in capturing the large majority of our cultural zeitgeist. For many, its escapism is a gift that keeps on giving. But I can't shake the feeling that its failures and breathlessly glowing reception spell out something sinister for how we judge the art of video games.”
People who play games, review film and other stories for a living –many of whom have done so for decades—have written both deeply analytical reviews with detailed examples, arguments and conclusions, measuring the title against itself and other titles. Yet the author has the audacity to call their conclusions “sinister.”
The author has written an incredibly sophomoric, poorly constructed rambling review of a game they’ve no time to understand. They have such a low opinion of the reader that they feel no obligation to make actual arguments. I could take this and ignore it, simply casting it aside and concluding: “well, they shouldn’t quit their day job.”
But, aloof in their cloud of arrogant self-aggrandization, they’ve come to the conclusion that they—alone—have found the truth, and all else are corrupt, whether by malevolent intent or by sheer lack of skill. I have never read a single reviewer of any stature, not at IGN, Polygon, GameSpot or anywhere else, who had the sheer arrogance to measure their review against all others, and attack them.
The author has produced one of the most pathetically vapid reviews I’ve read in some time; showing poor English, argumentation skills, story analysis and understanding of videogames, all simultaneously. And this pile of excrement is scooped up the writer’s hand and shown off as some profound remnant.
In the current age of bloggers –I don’t pretend I’m anything different—I’ve become callous to lazy, bored and inauthentic writing meant to fill a quota or social media post time slot. I’d yet to see such a writer come to life with such self-confidence. It’s like watching an earnest YouTuber explain that Justice League is a cinematic and philosophical masterpiece and that all reviewers are paid shills.
It's some truly post-Apocolyptic storyline we live in where we have capital-B Brands who are willing to disseminate such childish, unprofessional writing with their stamp on it.
I suppose there’s some grandeur in being a contrarian, being the only human being to understand the cinematic masterwork that is Zack Snyder’s Justice League is second only to being the only human to understand that Stanley Kubrick is a derivative hack, or that guy whose pick-up line is how he figured out the entire plot twist of The Prestige while watching the trailer.
“Ah,” I imagine these people think to themselves, “it is so very difficult to be very smart amongst a world of morons and yes-men.”
But when, in their drunken stupor, they swing on everyone in sight, humoring them becomes less fun than waving a nearby cop down.