MovieBob - Intermission
Grand Theft Objectivity

Bob Chipman | 20 Sep 2013 12:00
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The new Grand Theft Auto came out this week, expected to sell millions of copies and earn millions more dollars. The releases of hotly anticipated AAA video games have become bugbears for Hollywood movie studios in recent years, capable of swallowing up both the entire weekends and ticket-budgets of teen to thirty-something males the industry has come to rely on for the bulk of their earnings - hence why the only things hitting theaters today (unless you're in New York or Los Angeles, in which case you can see the new Formula 1 melodrama Rush a week early) are the disposable teen dance programmer Battle of The Year and the decidedly older-skewing thriller Prisoners.

For movie critics, on the other hand, these can be morbidly enjoyable occasions. A time for us to look upon the sheer volume of hatred and bile slung at our cousins-in-arms who dared to give The Greatest And Most Important Game Ever Made Since The Last One a score lower than 10 and smile quietly to ourselves with the same collective thought:

"Whew! Well, at least we don't have to deal with those monsters!"

Not that the notion of a bitter divide between film audiences and film critics doesn't exist, it most assuredly does. And yes, sometimes the blowback gets a bit heated when we're talking about audiences for certain specific movies or movie properties: Any critic who dared to pan Titanic in 1997 will tell you tales of the white-hot rage they incurred from the film's teenaged fanbase, while more recently hellfire rained down courtesy of fanatically-devout fans of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy on any dissenting voices who wouldn't acknowledge The Dark Knight Rises as the very reason motion-picture photography was first conjured into being. Heaven help you if you also gave a pass to The Avengers a month or so earlier.

So yeah, we get our blowback, but it just doesn't come nearly as strong or as forceful. Part of that is simple longevity: film criticism has existed long enough that the subspecies of filmgoers prone to being that reactionary long ago stopped paying us any mind to begin with. Also helpful, to be brutally honest, is a broader diversity of culture: Sure, there's the "I hate critics" audience and "I seldom agree with critics" audience; but there's also a sizable cinephile intelligentsia that at least appreciates criticism as a form unto itself (and critics themselves as fellow-traveler movie lovers) whose pleasantries can soften the blow of rage spewed elsewhere.

Basically, game critics? It'll get better. Eventually the audience grows up. Right now gamer culture is still feeling out its surroundings in newly-acquired "screw you, Mom and Dad!" teenaged rebellion stature, and will mature with time and understanding. Besides, some aspects of the otherwise banally predictable GTA V review score backlash are actually somewhat encouraging, in a roundabout sort of way.

One of the new threads that has quickly emerged in the alarmingly well-organized campaign by (some) GTA V fans to take down detractors of the game was the notion that some of those lower-than-perfect review scores had been awarded unfairly; that the accusation was not of critics having the incorrect opinion but that said opinion was based on shoddy work - or worse, intentionally misapplied standards. Basically, that points had been taken away "unjustly."

Now, to be certain, a lot of that was simply the same old rage-against-disagreement dressed up in a fresh coat of righteous defense. The nature of organized gamer-rage tends to be large groups of ill-informed marauders wielding whatever rhetorical weaponry is gifted them by a few sharper wordsmiths within the ranks in the manner of cudgels - "unprofessional!" or "agenda!" simply being a more sophisticated (sounding) evolution of "BIAS!"

To understand why this was a new development one has to look at it directly. One of the most visible (and unpleasant) flashpoints this time was the video review by GameSpot's Carolyn Petit, which managed to draw furious ire even though the piece was frequently glowing and ultimately awarded it a 9/10 score. The rationale of the attackers? That missing 10th had apparently been lost because the critic found the game's frequent misogyny and consistently unflattering depictions of women to be off-putting and detracted from her enjoyment of it... a method of critique that they found to be an improper intrusion by personal subjective taste - or worse, politics (or worse than that: feminist politics!) into what should be a review solely about game mechanics and aesthetic presentation.

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