Friday, July 14, 2006

cyclists want to run me down

You never know what's going to piss people off, at least I don't. Otherwise I would have expected all the angry e-mails in response to my comment in my review of MotoGP 06 (along with World Tour Soccer 06) that motorcycles are, to quote myself "insanely dangerous."

I soon learned from outraged readers that riding a motorcyle is no more dangerous than having a pillow fight in a marshmallow factory, even if a 2001 report by the National Highway Safety Administration reports that in 2000 "motorcyclists were about 21 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and 4 times as likely to be injured."

Well, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. I think the world would be a safer place without motorcycles, but then, in the words of Three Dog Night, "if I were the king of the world ... I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the wars," so really, I'm ready to take everyone's fun away.

The emails that annoyed me the most were the ones that said something along the lines of, "keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself and just tell me if the game is any good." Those seeking impersonal, dryly written game reviews can find them in myriad game publications that will speak at length about frame rates and bonus extras and supported resolutions and controller options and all sorts of useful, uninteresting stuff.

But that's not what I do. My idea of a great critic was Dorothy Parker, whose best work was a series of theater reviews for The New Yorker. She would go on about herself, talk about her day, go off on tangents, and be very witty and insightful. Was she the most informative, detail-oriented critic at the time? I suspect not. But her reviews are worth reading as prose,even though without access to a time machine I have no way to go back and see the plays she recommends. In fact, who I read is not tethered to who is most useful. Years ago I used to love reading Andrew Sarris's film reviews in tea Village Voice. He wrote intelligently about film, about what it should be, about what it was, about what makes a film great. I also disagreed with almost every opinion he gave on specific films. For game reviews I tend to go to Gamespot, even though I often disagree with their reviewers, because they have better writers than most of the gaming sites. (Although I may have to start paying more attention to Eurogamer after reading this hysterical panning of Gene Troopers.)

What I aspire to is reviews that people would read simply because they are interesting to read. And I believe to do that you have to bring yourself into the article; interesting writing does not come from dry analysis, it comes from finding an interesting take on a subject allows people to understand where you're coming from and how your perceive what you are writing about. I may not always succeed in my goal of entertaining, but if someone's going to complain, I would rather they complain that I wasn't witty than that I didn't discuss frame rate flutters.


  1. Charles, take the feedback and do your job. Does your employer know that you are writing to an imaginary audience of Dorothy Parker fans? You flaunt the sincere feedback of the gamer audience and claim that it is not your intention to write a useful product review. Serious gamers and insulted motorcycle enthusiasts will do well to take your advice and read reviews elsewhere. That will lower the readership of your column, is that what they want at the Times online? Maybe motorcycles are too tough and too technical for you and you don't mind antagonizing the readers, but it is bad business for the Times sponsors isn't it?

  2. I never said I wasn't interested in writing useful product reviews, and over the years many people have written to thank me for the advice I've given in my reviews and tell me how much they enjoyed games I suggested. I simply said I am not interested in sacrificing style and personality for a drab technical review. And if you read other reviews in the Times you will see that there is a lot of personality in their reviews, so I am not outside of the Times style. I don't ask anyone to read me who doesn't enjoy my column, but it would be a disservice to the people who do enjoy it to change it because of a couple of emails about one specific column that rankled a few motorcycle fans.

    As for motorcycles being "too technical" for me, allow me to remind you that I am not writing for a motorcylce magazine. I am writing for a general readership, the vast majority of which are not motorcycle enthusiasts. I played the game and wrote about the game for those people. Hard-core motorcyle race fans will buy MotoGP regardless of what I say, but I think it's good to let other people know that the game can be fun even if you aren't into motorcyles.