Comments on: Review: Killing is Harmless, by Brendan Keogh Wed, 10 Sep 2014 18:53:13 +0000 hourly 1 By: Hypnosis in the Sand: Why Spec Ops Fails « Electron Dance Thu, 28 Aug 2014 23:54:14 +0000 […] Keogh’s book-length critique Killing is Harmless but I found the critiques of the critique by Darius Kazemi and Shaun Green interesting. Similar to Kazemi, I groaned when I discovered the alleged antagonist […]

By: The Incomplete Revolution of The Last Story | bigtallwords Mon, 05 May 2014 16:07:01 +0000 […] Spec-Ops: The Line was manipulative and its delivery was pretty crude (Kazemi, Darius. “Review: Killing is Harmless, by Brendan Keogh.” Tiny Subversions. Nov 27 2012.) but at the very least it never tried to justify the […]

By: Games of the Year 2012 Tue, 01 Jan 2013 20:57:59 +0000 [...] Ops: The Line. I go into more detail here. While I regretted every moment I spent playing it, I even moreso regretted every moment I spent [...]

By: On Killing is Harmless | this cage is worms Mon, 17 Dec 2012 17:14:29 +0000 [...] that, I think that the general comments that I have about Killing Is Harmless are well-covered by Darius Kazemi’s review. I share the same problems that Darius does–Brendan buys into the narrative so much that he [...]

By: The Average Gamer – A Critical Reading of Killing Is Harmless Wed, 05 Dec 2012 23:00:31 +0000 [...] point is brought up pretty effectively in a review of the book from Darius Kazemi. Keogh talks about a body being reflected in a mirror, but not being able to discover where [...]

By: Brendan Keogh Fri, 30 Nov 2012 23:20:21 +0000 Thanks for your response to my response to your response to my book on Yager’s game, Darius!

I agree with essentially all of these points! So I won’t ramble on any more here. But just wanted to say thank you again for your commitment and engagement with this!



By: Darius Kazemi Fri, 30 Nov 2012 15:13:17 +0000 OKAY, finally responding to this.

“I suspect (and please correct me if this is wrong!) that you would prefer game criticism to really be about the game object itself, separate from any one player’s engagement with it. Like, in some kind of object-orientated, platform studies kind of way. Or, even further, that game criticism is at its best when it is a game itself (or a piece of carpentry, I guess). Is that a fair thing to say?”

That’s a good guess, but I’m not trying to state that we should have only some kind of objective critique or anything like that. I do think the player’s engagement is important: I mean, I make games, and I certainly consider the player while I do it, so to ignore the player in criticism is folly. However, I’m glad you mentioned platform studies, and I’ve been thinking about it for a couple days. I do think that more criticism should look like platform studies, provided that the player is also considered as part of the platform. In a real sense, the game runs on both the computer/console and the player’s brain. I think we need to engage with both.

I’m not against pure subjectivity and interpretation, but I do think it’s different from a “close reading” and perhaps even distinct from criticism itself. I do *like* subjective writing about games. One of my favorite pieces of game writing is your Kill Screen Issue 3 article about GTA: San Andreas and anorexia. That piece is wonderful, but I hesitate to call it criticism. (And let me be clear: I think Killing is Harmless is criticism on the whole, but at times it does veer into purely talking about what you’re feeling internally.) The GTA article is a great look at how games in general can mean things for players (by looking at a specific example from one game), but it’s not a close reading or criticism of GTA: SA.

“What I think I am talking about in essentially all my writing about videogames is a player-game hybrid, and as the only player I can really talk about with any authority is me, that’s the particular player-game hybrid I talk about.”

I was thinking about this part too, and my conclusion was that if the subtitle to KiH had been “A Personal Travelogue Through Spec Ops: The Line” or similar, my blog post would have been something like “Hey everyone, check out this great book that looks at Brendan’s experience with Spec Ops.” When I say I enjoyed the book, I absolutely mean it, but I enjoyed it as something other than a close reading.

“I loved the articles that made me go, “Yes! That is totally what I felt in that game but I didn’t have the words for it yet!” For me, that is what I want my criticism to do: give people a vocabulary with which to understand their own experiences with a game. [...] I think it is telling in this very review, that you note that for all its flaws, the book helped you understand why you hate the game. If that’s true, then I think that makes a case for this being criticism worth doing.”

I am still thinking about this, because there is clearly value in what you’re doing. I think my core problem with Killing is Harmless is that the way it’s written, you’re unwilling to acknowledge the game’s obvious flaws, instead contorting to interpret them in a positive light. I mentioned it elsewhere in the comments here, but when I talk about The war of the end of the days, I acknowledge that it is a terrible game, but then I go on to describe what it causes me to feel subjectively, and then–crucially–I make a case for how the materiality of its terribleness helps prove that what I’m feeling is grounded in some outside reality. I would like to see more of parts 1 and 3 to back up part 2.

My favorite segment of KiH is where you look at the pivotal white phosphorous mission, and compare it to the AC-130U mission in Call of Duty 4. It’s no coincidence that it’s also one of the few times in the book that you reach outside of the nexus between yourself and Spec Ops. I think you do a great job of addressing what is actually happening in the game, reaching out to the world for wider context, and then showing how that context and the game and what’s in your head all combine to form your internal reaction. That’s great game criticism.

“Then there is the whole issue of intentionality and what Yager intended to mean what. This matters to a degree, to be sure (at the end of one of your footnotes you say “Yager were told to make a shitty game, and made the best of it”. I totally agree with this and it is why I find the game so fascinating) but I don’t think it is absolute. I think the meanings I drew out of things means far more than the meanings Yager intended them to have (at least, from a player-response angle, anyway). But authorship and intentionality is a whole different can of worms!”

So I really don’t want to be seen as the person going “we need to take the author’s intent into account!” I’m the last person who believes we should do that when looking at the work itself. That’s actually why I’m so intent on calling Spec Ops a terrible game. Because it seems to me that all of the justifications for Spec Ops being brilliant lean on interviews with the writers and that sort of thing. I think the game itself doesn’t stand up to that. When I talk about how it would be interesting to look at the developers and how they did what they did and what their various external limitations were, that’s because it’s relevant to the *project* of Spec Ops, which to me is the interesting thing here. Not the game, which, well, we all know what I think there.

Again, thanks for commenting here!

By: Chris Bateman Fri, 30 Nov 2012 13:30:54 +0000 The fact that any game critic is willing to write about a game they didn’t love is already a gigantic step forward for game criticism.

By: Miguel Sicart Fri, 30 Nov 2012 09:12:23 +0000 Darius, what’s your email so you can receive the text? (mine is namesurname at gmail dot com)

Re. phenomenology, Husserl was fairly explicit about how to do phenomenology (the science of the experience). I like to see phenomenology from the Ihde/Gadamer perspective, as a technique for explaining the world systematically and coherently. But phenomenology has always been questioned in some circles for being something like a pseudoscience.

By: Darius Kazemi Thu, 29 Nov 2012 19:12:15 +0000 “But, that future will only exist if works like Killing is Harmless normalize having thoughtful reactions to games, even games that don’t deserve it.”

If I were smarter, that would have been the main point of the last section of my review.