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Dutka says I mischaracterized the general critical response to The Last of Us, which referred to a struggle between "killers and poets."
"The way your piece is worded, it sort of makes it sound like critics and journalists drool over anything violent and aren't necessarily rewarding the aforementioned poets," he wrote. "And although I do agree that everyone these days is far too impressed with things that have no substance or redeeming value, I have to say that in regards to reviews, critics almost always reward the artistically accomplished."
He pointed to high-rated titles like Mass Efect 3 and the completely nonviolent fantasy Journey as examples of role-playing games that the critics tend to prefer over the more popular bloodsport shooters.
He also suggested another difference between film critics and game critics: The game critics are more powerful, in relative commercial terms.
"We are a bigger driver of industry sales than critics in any other entertainment industry," he wrote. "Thankfully, unlike movies - where the worst, most mocked films can be box office smashes - games don't sell if critics hate them. Bad games almost never sell well. This is why one of the world's biggest publishers, Electronic Arts, continually says during interviews that they strive to put out '90+' games all the time. That's a 9+ on the traditional review game scale and those are the products that sell. Publishers know this very, very well."
Reading Dutka's comment, I thought about Electronic Arts' SSX snowboarding series, the latest version of which I'd played recently. What a thrilling and beautifully rendered sports game. When you soar into the air high above snowcapped mountains, your heart doesn't just race, it leaps, in the child-like way it did when, long ago, the Millennium Falcon jumped to lightspeed.
Carolyn Petit, game critic for Gamepot, also looked on the bright side: "I could be wrong, of course, but reactions to this year's E3 give me reason to think that the direction of the wind might be changing a bit; there will always be violent video games but what was once shocking and electrifying is becoming expected and rote, and I like to think that developers will take note of this and find reasons to get people excited about their games that have nothing to do with violence. Thank goodness for Nintendo; the most delightful experience I had at this year's E3 was a wonderful cooperative game of the charming side-scrolling platformer Rayman Legends, which uses the upcoming Nintendo console (the Wii U) to create new kinds of multiplayer experiences. I love a visceral, savage action game now and then and I think that some such games do have moral centers, but it's Nintendo's all-ages appeal and innovative multiplayer experiences that keep reminding me why it is I love games so much."
Listening to creative watchdogs like Dutka and Petit, I almost wonder if I'm projecting the sins of film critics onto the game industry. In film criticism there has been entirely too much equivocating, and too much devil's advocacy for prevailing corporate trends that are thoughtless and profit-obsessed. As is often the case with the media's coverage of politics or big business, there is a tendency to focus too much on the success or failure of the mission and not nearly enough on whether the mission was worthwhile in the first place.
Film critic Michael Mirasol, a soulful game critic himself, described the stakes to me this way: "Video games reach into kids' lives and tell stories or evoke wonders/truths that can't be understated. When great and nuanced, they are able spark something in the heart. At their worst, they can deaden empathy."
It made me think of something documentarian Layna Fisher once told me about her "amazing" encounters with children in Sierra Leone. She said these kids displayed keener emotional intelligence than most adult urban professionals she knew back in the United States.
"They look you in the eye and take real interest in you," she said. "Other people are a source of excitement and wonder for them."
I wonder what kind of movies these children watch, and what kind of games they play.