A Gamer's Guide to the Internet: Prologue
By Alex Kierkegaard / April 6, 2010
He who criticises others, works at the reformation of himself. Those who form the secret habit of scrutinizing other people's general behavior, and passing severe judgment upon what they do and leave undone, thereby improve themselves, and work out their own perfection: for they will have sufficient sense of justice, or at any rate enough pride and vanity, to avoid in their own case that which they condemn so harshly elsewhere. But tolerant people are just the opposite, and claim for themselves the same indulgence that they extend to others -- hanc veniam damus petimusque vicissim. It is all very well for the Bible to talk about the mote in another's eye and the beam in one's own. The nature of the eye is to look not at itself but at other things; and therefore to observe and blame faults in another is a very suitable way of becoming conscious of one's own. We require a looking-glass for the due dressing of our morals.
As if the world's videogame blogoroids and forumroids did not already harbor enough fear and loathing towards me and this website, I
hereby embark on yet another project that's sure to pique them even further: to seek out, catalogue, contemplate, and above all criticize
all of the world's major gaming sites, and as many of the minor ones as time and my patience will allow (-- the designations major and
minor, please note, having nothing to do with traffic rankings). Fingers will be pointed. Harsh words will be spoken. Prodigious
quantities of ridicule and contempt will no doubt be lavished all around -- and now and again a few appreciative, pleasant words to break up
the endless litany of errors and perversions.
My goal with this column will be twofold: on the one hand to identify and highlight the handful of websites which are against all odds still producing quality work in our blighted, beleaguered little hobby -- and more importantly to explain why and how they are doing it; on the other, to expose and shame the stupid, petty, narrow-minded, and often enough even nefarious practices of everyone else. In each installment I will be discussing ten websites, a few of which may be chosen by readers. If there's a particular site you'd like to see me cover please let me know by posting in this article's forum thread and I'll be sure to include your suggestion in a future column on a first come, first served basis (one suggestion per person please; once I have covered your original suggestion you are free to make another). You are also perfectly welcome to suggest your own site, as long as you promise not to cry after you've read my comments. All websites will be ranked on the same one-to-five scale we use to rank games in order to make it easier for new readers to pick out the most worthwhile ones from amongst the dozens, or perhaps one day even hundreds, that will eventually be covered.
Given, then, that my task is one of strict selection, I think it would be fitting to devote the rest of this prologue to discussing my number-one favorite website. It even seems appropriate to devote an entire article to it, not only because it is the very best, but also because it stands so far apart from everything else that to even speak of it in conjunction with and on the same page as any other site -- let alone a number of them -- would seem to me highly improper.
Let us then take a few moments to examine carefully the site which (Insomnia aside, lol) is in my estimation the very best the internet has to offer. It is an extremely obscure Spanish-language site called Postback, written entirely by a single person, Raúl Sánchez, alias "el Recapitulador" (or Recap for short), a native of Spain and Madrid resident, who as far as I am concerned is the world's foremost game critic. I could write no better introduction to him and to his work than the one he himself published on the occasion of Postback's inaugural issue, translated here for us courtesy of Emmanuel Fernández Noguera.
THE GREAT RECAPITULATION
A new space on the Net dedicated to video-games is born today. One more. Our goal is clear: To document all the interesting chapters in the still brief History of the Japanese video-game. We want to go slow but steady. There are many titles that deserve to be reviewed in detail, and many which weren't easily available for the Western fan; to relive them is our challenge.
This is not just a caprice for returning to the past due to the retro fads of late; it is a matter of intellectual justice. We firmly believe that the state of the video-game industry today is the product of an evolution gone wrong, a repetition of patterns subordinated to and conditioned by sales potential, where the artistic component is reduced to the bare minimum. Of course, there are exceptions, and they'll be kept in mind. But the dictatorship of the polygon is so firmly entrenched that we are continually forced to go back in search of the authentic values of the video-game.
This intellectual justice we mention leads us to focus on the Japanese market. It is the Japanese who have owned the concept of the video-game, even if some Western countries still pretend to resist this notion. Reality speaks that, save for a particular sector of the industry (related to those genres associated mostly with the PC platform), those who impose their mandate, those who offer true quality and become the model to follow, are and have been (since a little after the beginning of the industry) the titles born in the Japanese archipelago. The true culture of the video-game is there. In no other place can you feel the exquisite consideration video-games receive, understood even as a mere consumer product. Experience leads us to reject any kind of localizations of Japanese software for the Western markets. Some day we'll account for all the atrocities committed during this labour, as delicate as it is failed, of the adaptation and translation of video-games; for now, we'll just mention the inherent lack of professionalism and respect towards video-games that Western editors and distributors have been showing since the beginning. Suffice for us to ignore non-Japanese markets.
On the other hand, thanks to the (many) years elapsed since the appearance of the titles that will be reviewed in these pages, we can guarantee truthful analyses, made with deep knowledge of every game and its context. How every release fits in its historical context, its predecessors, its technical innovations, will form a fundamental part of the Reviews. We don't want, however, our retrospectives to contemplate aspects like storyline or character descriptions, since we believe these are aspects the player should discover for himself.
Postback is, first and foremost, a space made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. We apologize for the austerity of the design, but we want to emphasize the art of the video-game before the design of the site. So there will be no abundant logos, images, animations or typography. Screenshots will be given maximum priority, but never forgetting the original illustrations which were part of the artwork created for each title. We are not going to be austere, however, in the quality of our write-ups, not only in relation to content (our promise is to speak only about what we fully understand), but also in form. We can't, on the other hand, promise a regular stream of updates, although we will try to show signs that the Site is always alive.
So, the cards are now on the table. Postback is a term used to designate the way in which an item is sent back to its origin for not having a real, external recipient. That was the origin of the Project, conceived as a feedback database, with ourselves as our only recipients. But endogamy is not too natural. Our wish today is to be a reference point, a nexus for all Spanish-speaking classic Japanese game aficionados. Do not hesitate to be part of a community endeavour. Your hobby is our hobby. We are here [ > ].
It is difficult to communicate the effect this editorial had on me when I first read it; few other writings on videogames have moved
me as much: perhaps Raphael Azcueta's "Violent Knee Attack, Bitch" or Matt Warner's review
of Deus Ex, but certainly not many more. In a world inundated with gaming sites whose writers seem
incapable of composing a single sentence that is not full of the worst kind of trivialities, banalities and blatant misconceptions, and
as beggarly in language and expression as they are vapid and insipid in content, discovering someone who could produce such a magnificent
mission statement was for me nothing short of a revelation. The style itself said everything even before the author had managed to say
anything: in his earnestness and concision, in the perfectly logical succession and coherence of his thoughts and his extreme
self-confidence, even while making the boldest claims, Recap displayed all the qualities of one who is operating in a field of knowledge of which he has
become master -- and knows it. Who else can write
about videogames like this? When one comes to realize that the competition consists entirely of
cretins and dimwits, casual simpletons, industry sycophants and lickspittles, limp-wristed fagots, hysterical
little women, rickety children, physically and mentally stunted teenagers, and posers and pseuds of all kinds,
the question itself begins to seem even ludicrous; before Recap such writing was not even imaginable in the field of
videogames; the word "writing" itself would in fact be grossly inaproppriate to describe what everyone else has actually been doing, the
technically correct term for it would be scribbling.
But Recap knew the difference between writing and mere scribbling. Consider, for example, this statement of his:
"Our promise is to speak only about what we fully understand."
And then compare it with Nietzsche:
"One should speak only when one may not stay silent; and then only of that which one has overcome -- everything else is chatter, "literature", lack of breeding."
And what in the last resort is that which one has "fully understood" if not something one has overcome? Isn't every object, every process,
every idea, nothing other than a problem, a puzzle, a riddle, which demands to be understood? to be tackled, wrestled with and finally
overcome? Baudrillard pinned down the vast majority of the human race -- practically everyone in fact -- when he said that "People
have the desire to take everything, to pillage everything, to manipulate everything. Seeing, deciphering, learning does not touch them".
Well here, then, at last, writing about videogames of all things, was an exception to this rule: someone determined to take the time to look at
something long enough so as to see
it; examine its inner workings so as to decipher it, all that it entails and presupposes and all it necessarily leads to; and
finally learn from that experience all that can be learned from it before moving on to tackle the next problem.
What I then at length came to realize, while slowly becoming more familiar with his work, was that Recap was the first genuine scholar of the videogame -- the term "scholar" here used in its highest, most positive sense. For it is precisely this quality of his, this absolute commitment to rigorousness and thoroughness, that distinguishes and separates the true scholar from everyone else. A difference discernible not only in the content and form of his writings, as so dramatically demonstrated above, but just as much in the structure and layout of his site, a site meticulously thought out and carefully constructed, full of nuances that are completely lost on those who've grown accustomed to the blog-dominated internet of the past five or ten years. All these little blogoroids, all these pitiable little posers and pseuds who are nowadays flooding everything with their repulsive nonsense in a pathetic effort to pass themselves off as scholars, in fact betray themselves to me before they've said a single word: the moment I see a blog layout its author immediately forfeits to me all claims to scholarly pretensions. Because a scholar is above all passionate, and at the same time methodical -- a born librarian and systematizer -- someone who'd be appalled at the idea of a site full of text on random (and often entirely off-topic) subjects, thrown together in the most abysmally haphazard manner, which is what all blogs are -- and necessarily must be. The lack of flexibility inherent to blog layouts prevents their authors from carrying out any kind of thorough and methodic examination, from properly categorizing, systematizing, making connections, keeping track of new developments, and all those other modes of thinking and working that are indespensable to the true scholar. Blogs were meant as fancy versions of diaries, not as tools that can be used to get any work done, the only reason they've come to dominate the internet so thoroughly is because of their extreme ease of use and maintenance, qualities which match perfectly the laziness and indolence of the navel-gazing loafers who use them. But when did scholarly practices have anything whatever to do with those of navel-gazers or loafers? From time immemorial, indeed, they've been diametrically opposed. By opting for a blog layout these people thus plainly betray their complete lack of scholarly spirit and discipline, and even worse: their lack of passion, lack of sheer joy and enthusiasm in these things. Passion is elsewhere, in unique and uniquely designed sites such as gamengai, System 16, TAFA, and sites of this nature: for wherever one discerns the librarian mindset one can safely infer extreme passion -- which is to say the absolute minimum requirement for good scholarship. A lust for comprehensiveness, a pedantry without equal, a fetishism for detail which to an outsider seems insane -- these are and have always been the marks of the true scholar, whether he be a fungus specialist or an entomologist, a film expert, or indeed a videogame one.
That's not to say the blog format is entirely worthless for videogame-focused websites -- only for those aspiring to examine games with any degree of seriousness and thoroughness, as scholarly sites are supposed to (and by the way also for news outlets, as I've already explained). There are worthwhile blogs written by knowledgeable gamers, namely the blogs of enthusiasts such as Dave_K. or undamned, sites whose requirements are indeed well suited for the diary-like nature of the blog format, and are by no means scholarly, nor do they pretend nor aspire to be so. These are sites meant to document and share the author's accomplishments, acquisitions, musings, and so on and so forth, sites made entirely on the author's free time, without compulsion nor expectation of reward, and consequently entirely fuelled by passion -- passion overflowing from every page, dripping out of your monitor into your very room -- and always wonderful to scroll through on a lazy evening. Sites like these are simply priceless, unique, irreplaceable -- a short browse through them even suffices to rekindle one's interest in gaming if for some reason one has at some point become burned out -- they have, that is to say, the exact opposite effect to that of the pseudo-scholars' wretched, miserable blogs, those repulsively ugly, mind-numbingly boring little abortions of blogs filled with nothing but pages upon pages of vapid, shallow chatter that no actual player would ever bother to read, not a single screenshot or piece of artwork anywhere, flooded with reams of links to other pompous loud-mouthed imbeciles -- all of them trying to ape the manners of scholars in other fields while being completely ignorant of their essence, in a pathetic effort to appear scholarly, while lacking every single quality required to be scholarly -- the simulacral scholars, the fake scholars, the pseudo-scholars -- whose effect on whoever makes the mistake to spend any length of time reading them is invariably at the very least a mild nausea, if not indeed outright disgust.
Or do you perhaps think that the text-vomiting pseudo-scholars do not build databases and review archives because they are beneath them? -- for that is certainly what they would have you think! -- but you'd be wrong, for the exact opposite is in fact palpable: these things are a great deal above them. For if they were really beneath them then their theorizing would actually lead somewhere -- this is the test they'd have to pass in order to earn the right to claim for themselves superior status, above such plebeian and mundane activities as playing games and writing about them -- yet it never does. All their theorizing leads to dead-ends, if it does not in fact begin at dead-ends, as it usually does (e.g. at "narratives", "meanings", "messages", and the like): the pseudo-scholars are the masters of the cul-de-sac. And this is the price they have to pay for their lack of passion -- they have never bothered to become true scholars, that is to say experts, in any given genre, they have never felt the urge to delve deep into a genre and discover what makes it work -- how could they ever hope to infer its rules? Not to speak of the rules of videogames as a whole, to infer which requires expertise in a great number of genres, not just one or two. -- And on top of all that they are also uneducated, the lazy bums, a fact which simply bars their road to knowledge once and for all (-- a point which I'll side-step for now in order to take it up with thoroughness and rigorousness in an upcoming article, like the good scholar that I am).
Recap's site then is where one must make a start in order to understand the fundamental characteristics of the genuine game scholar. And as the film scholar is above all a film viewer, and indeed the most fervent, most passionate one there is (for if it were otherwise why would he ever bother becoming a scholar?); as the music scholar is above all a connoisseur of music, and indeed among the most refined, most sophisticated ones there are; as the literature scholar is above all an ardent reader of literature, and indeed the most ardent, most erudite one there is; so too the game scholar is first and above all a connoisseur of games -- which is to say A GAME PLAYER, and indeed the most avid, most knowledgeable and most demanding, most difficult one to satisfy there is -- in the language of our hobby the most hardcore one. The game scholar then -- and this is something the pseuds and the fags will never manage to wrap their heads around, not in million years -- defines hardcore -- which is precisely what Recap does. There simply exists no other person currently on this planet more hardcore about games than him -- and I should know, for we are on the same level. There's simply no end of amusement to people like us when we see all those casual fuckwads enrolling in "Game Studies" courses, buying themselves a PS3 and a Microsoft box, signing up for Blogspot and Twitter accounts, and then proceeding to render themselves ludicrous by flooding the internet with mind-bewildering babbling on the "messages" of third-rate puzzle-platformers like Braid or the "meaning" of interactive screen savers like Heavy Rain. And could anyone, after all, with the most insidious will to maliciousness, with the most boiling and seething hatred against these people, possibly ever come up with a more damning condemnation of them and their "work" than that which they themselves are not ashamed to so blatantly advertise? I mean their unfathomably ludicrous insistence on the value, the higher value, the supreme value even, of all things casual? This loud, unceasing, relentless, this imbecilic championing of casual games, casual playing, casual reviewing, and finally, as their retarded little abortions of blogs again and again plainly demonstrate, even of CASUAL THINKING? A "casual scholar", lol -- now that's what I call half-real. There's got to be a whole chapter devoted to them in Jesper Juul's book, right next to "casual passions", "circular squares" and other real dragons.
But let us say a few words here about the difference between the philosopher and the scholar, by way of an explanation of the differences between Recap and me. What must be grasped is that a philosopher must necessarily pass through the stage of the scholar, so he knows all about filing away, categorizing, hoarding, pedantry, and all these other qualities and ways of thinking and working that will eventually come to prove themselves invaluable to him. The philosopher and the scholar therefore have a lot in common (which is why I am the only one who can really understand Recap, what with him being the only videogame scholar there exists, and therefore lacking peers to value and understand him) -- the difference between them is this: that the latter limits himself to a particular field of study, whereas the former doesn't -- this is their fundamental difference. But let no one suppose that this limitation on the part of the scholar is something inherently bad, something reprehensible, something that should perhaps somehow be rectified, for, after all, where would mankind be without scholars? Still living in caves probably, crapping on its hands and rubbing it in their faces. And where would people like us be in the field of videogames without people like Recap? Still thinking that Sonic 2 is a good game, probably, and no doubt utterly ignorant of such underappreciated gems as Daiku no Gen-san, Magical Taluluto-kun, Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban, Lup Salad, Magical Pop'n, and so on and so forth. Let no one be so stupid then as to view the scholar's decision to limit himself to a single field as reprehensible -- it is as little reprehensible as an athlete's decision to limit himself to a single sport -- for what other way after all is there of becoming champion?
And in the twin and inextricably intertwined fields of videogame criticism and scholarship that's exactly what Recap is. He stands there alone, so far apart from everyone else he might as well be on a different planet. To list all the asinine tropes Recap is completely free of would almost amount to listing the titles of all my essays. He simply never bothers with "messages", "meanings", "emergences", or any other smarmy pseudo-intellectual bullshit. He cares far too much about games to reduce them to their "values for monies" -- to play shopkeeper and bean counter and place a work of art on a shopkeeper's scales; to judge, for example, a painting on how much it may be "worth" at any given moment. He declares right away, from his website's inaugural editorial, what no one else six years later HAS EVEN BEGUN TO SUSPECT, that "We don't want our retrospectives to contemplate aspects like storyline or character descriptions, since we believe these are aspects the player should discover for himself" -- which is to say that he places so little importance on a game's narrative, THAT HE DOESN'T EVEN DEEM IT WORTHWHILE TO MENTION IT IN A REVIEW! He has a healthy natural disdain for anything that comes prefixed by the words non-, mini-, indie-, casual-, as well as a great deal of repugnance for the plague that is handheld gaming. He basically adhered to all my game reviewing principles before it had even occurred to me to sit down and create them. Years before I wrote my article on ports and compilations, for example, he knew perfectly well how to handle them, as is clearly evident by his Ys I - II review (and note that Ys I - II was both a port and compilation, so it was a doubly delicate business to review it...) In that same review we see him stating that "[Ys'] first instalment established many of the conventions that helped the genre flourish". Here was at last a man who understood that conventions HELP a genre to flourish, they do not hinder it! -- Unlike corporate journlolists, he knows to stay away from crappy games so as to avoid becoming disgusted with the hobby (much as a healthy human being knows to stay away from bad-tasting food so as to avoid losing his appetite), and consequently manages to keep his enthusiasm fired up at all times, and above all WHILE he's actually playing games and writing about them -- which is why his criticisms are never manufactured but always pertinent, insightful and worthwhile to read. He never falls into the artfag trap, for he has no need, neither financial nor psychological, to attempt to praise shit games -- he knows that the only art that exists in videogames is the art of the videogame, and that this is naturally divided into mechanics and aesthetics. He knows that the only meaning, the only message of this "medium" (apart from the message of the medium, which is another story) is to be found in and measured by the amount of enjoyment one gets from engaging in it. He has no use for lameplays either -- he knows that a cutscene is an integral part of the experience of playing a game, one that cannot under any circumstances be thought away or separated from the rest. -- Recap knows that a cutscene is part of the "gameplay"! Who else knows this? Show me someone else who knows this!
It is astonishing to me how many things Recap knows, and since when he has known them. In 2004 I had no idea what a "scanline" was and still played games in MAME's default settings while wondering why everything looked like shit, while Recap had already started a website featuring game reviews with screenshots taken and developed according to an elaborate and painstakingly devised process which aimed to mirror as closely as possible what the player actually saw on his screen while playing -- or, to be more precise, what he should be seeing on his screen while playing if he knew what kind of screen he should be using and how it should be set up. (A process, by the way, that he was happy enough to take time out of his day to patiently explain to me, and then let me steal it, as he let me steal his forum layout, his review template, and so many other neat ideas -- this by way of reply to those who see Recap as an "asshole" or a "prick", and who are too dumb to understand that just because a person has treated THEM badly (nine times out of ten because they mistreated him first -- and the tenth out of pure exasperation at what happened the other nine times...), it does not mean that he treats EVERYONE badly -- only the fuckfaces and the retards.)
On the subjects of web design, review layout and screenshot-taking -- on the aesthetic part, that is to say, of game journalism -- a part whose very existence we in the West have nowadays entirely forgotten (though at one time we used to be pretty good at) -- Recap is as far ahead of everyone else as in the principles by which he analyzes games. 99% of the fagots who pretend to write about games on the internet can't even be bothered to set up a real website, whereas Recap, though he started out knowing absolutely nothing about web design (he specifically began studying the subject in order to create Postback), not only made a custom site unlike any other, but came very near designing and publishing AN ENTIRE MAGAZINE, ALL BY HIMSELF -- and by "magazine" I do not mean the crappy fanzine toilet papers that are so popular with bohemian hipsters in America, I MEAN A REAL MAGAZINE -- and in the Japanese style no less.
He basically does the work of a magazine's entire staff all by himself (minus of course that of the PR and marketing scum), but without
this having any negative impact whatsoever on the quality of his output -- quite the opposite in fact. Recap probably puts more effort in a single screenshot than
anyone else does in an entire review. From the extensive playtime he allows for every single game (he never reviews anything unless he has first
mastered it), including as many of its predecessors and contemporaries as possible; to his extensive research into the background of the
companies and people who made all these games, including the hardware manufacturers, as well as the general industry climate of each era; all the way down to
ensuring that the screens in every review contain a little bit of everything: the start screen as an introduction, the first couple of stages, some
two-player action if the game allows for it, and finally one or two cutscene or dialogue moments -- but WITHOUT spoilering the game by plastering screens of the
final boss all over the place, as the trailer trash who run fansites like HG101 or Shmups.com do. All this compared to the corporate whores
who, even though there's an entire army of them and even though their resources stand in the same relation to Recap's as the US government's to those of a destitute
Afghan child, DO NOT EVEN BOTHER TO TAKE SCREENSHOTS AT ALL, but simply recycle, in review after review after review, the same five promo shots (more often than
not touched up or even entirely CG) handed to them by their PR contacts in the game companies, to the point where every freakin' review for any given game looks
almost identical across the top twenty or thirty sites, all the way down to stragglers like Kikizo or GameCritics, which, though they pretend
otherwise, in fact follow the lead of the top sites in every respect -- ONLY SLOWER, lol.
-- And then there's Postback. One could take a magnifying glass (which is part of Postback's logo, by the way) through the entire site, and one would discover every last pixel -- almost literally, every last pixel -- to have been meticulously considered, studied, contemplated, and finally carefully placed at the right spot for maximum effect. To visit Postback for the first time is to be struck right away, from the very frontpage, by the vast distance that separates this site and its author from everyone else. From the clean, extremely elegant, almost entirely empty white page that has been placed at the beginning to greet you, to the complete lack of superfluous graphics, flashing banners, sensational headlines, reams of links to overload your senses and bully you into clicking them, one gets the feeling that this site belongs to an entirely different internet, perhaps an extra-terrestrial one, which could not possibly have any relation to the botched abortions of b(oring)logs and forum gutters that we today collectively designate by the word "internet". And in all seriousness, can anyone point me to a cleaner, more elegant gaming site than his? And if everyone else is so utterly incapable of designing -- OR EVEN JUST COMMISSIONING, SELECTING AND APPROVING -- a visually pleasing site, but instead proudly goes on exhibiting their little aesthetic abortions of blogs and sprawling news behemoths, all of them without exception sporting the most atrocious layouts and garish color schemes imaginable, how could anyone possibly expect any of these people to do a good job evaluating a game's all-too-important aesthetic aspect?
-- And then there's Recap, who comes as close to being the ultimate game critic as anyone has or perhaps ever will (excepting of course me, lol): with all the positive qualities of the most hardcore fans, that is to say their passion, patience, perseverance, thirst for knowledge, attention to detail, but without the retarded "I love everything" or "Different strokes for different folks" mentalities; with the intelligence to figure out what works and what doesn't, AND the analytical and writing skills to break these things down and communicate them; with the aesthetic sense to put even colors and sounds on the scales and pass judgement on them, and all of this combined with the conviction that his taste is superior to everyone else's, and therefore deserves to impose itself on those of others and dominate them. Put simply, Recap as a critic lacks absolutely nothing. He has written 58 reviews, every single one of which is the definitive verdict on the game in question. When Recap has spoken that's the end of it -- his taste is virtually flawless -- that's what passion does to a person: passion coupled with intelligence -- there's no more fearsome weapon; also of superior criticism. For the critic does not discover what is good -- this a misconception, as if "goodness" were a quality that existed irrespective of those doing the evaluating, and all one had to do was to "discover" it -- no, the critic does not discover what is good -- he determines it! he in a very real sense creates it! It is his special privilege, the special power one unlocks when one has reached a certain level of expertise and critical ability. -- But who really understands any of what I am saying here?
But back to scholars and their eccentricities. To take, for example, Recap's absurdly awesome system libraries, or my own genre chronologies, the random gamer (and this includes the pseudo-scholars) will no doubt be extremely puzzled by these lists, and will be completely at a loss of what to do with them. What is the point of all these lists, they ask? Especially today, when lists have somehow come to be frowned upon, to the point where whoever dares to start a list thread in a gaming forum is guaranteed to be paid back with several pages worth of insults for his trouble. Everyone has basically become infected by the journalists' devaluing of the past, and their cunning, systematic overvaluing of the future (because that's where the money is), and they've at length come to view the past with a mild contempt, if they indeed seriously bother with it at all beyond some lip service to "rose-tinted lenses" or "retro" nostalgia, and other such blatantly hypocritical nonsense. But whoever fails to understand the scholar's passion for lists and list-making fails to understand the scholar. For the gaming scholar, as we've seen, cares first and above all about playing games; he is, that is to say, above all a player, and not just any player, but the most hardcore of the lot -- the most enthusiastic enthusiast -- and as such database projects, categorizing, list-making, etc. are tools that help him find the best stuff, make sure he misses nothing, discover all the hidden gems, AND ABOVE ALL PLAY THEM. It is only later, much much later, once he is through not only with one or two games but with an entire era of them, that he sits down to analyze them and draw people's attention to them -- and then finally, a long time after that, once he has played and exhaustively analyzed a really absurd number of them, attempt to gather together all of his observations and bring them into a system by inferring from them generally-valid rules, thereby drawing from them far-reaching conclusions, which are then expressed in essays such as my RPG or Arcade Culture essays, or Recap's various editorials (see for example "I Don't Give Credit", "The New Technocrats", and others). It is no accident then that Recap and I agree on so many points, indeed on almost everything, any more than it's an accident when two mathematicians come up with the same solution to a particular mathematics problem. List-making, then, to get back to our problem, constitutes the very starting point, the very foundation of the scholarly enterprise, and not only in gaming but in any scholarly pursuit (one should consult Aristotle on this point; Aristotle, who was by no means a philosopher as is generally believed but the world's most multifarious scholar). A true scholar then simply laughs at whoever sees anything reprehensible at all in his list-making antics; he simply has no time for such incorrigibly lazy bums and navel-gazers. He is too busy downloading the entire MAME romset (legality be damned) AND GOING THROUGH EVERY SINGLE FUCKING ROM IN IT, INCLUDING REGIONAL VERSIONS AND BOOTLEGS -- something which Recap, incidentally, has plainly either already done or is in the process of doing, otherwise there's no way to explain how he knows all the things he does. And by the way, there's no essential difference between all of this and the schoolboy who draws up "most wanted" game lists on the back of his physics textbook -- both Recap and I were once such kids, and in a way we still are (-- and come to think of it, what have the greatest scholars through the ages ever been if not such great children?) The only difference is that back then there were only a couple of systems and a handful of games worth getting, whereas nowadays there are several dozen systems and several thousand games, so our lists have simply got longer -- that is all. There's nothing bad then about lists per se -- only about bad lists, and about pseudo-scholars who are shameless or naive enough to think they can waltz in out of fucking nowhere, grab a Wii and a Wii Fit board, play ten minutes of Wii Masturbation or Wii Sleeping, and then pretend to solve all the greatest problems of the field that people like me and Recap have been working on (mostly unconsciously at first, of course) ever since childhood.
And here, finally, is where the true value, the higher value of the genuine scholar becomes apparent. For one might ask: "And so what if this Recap dude, after a lifetime of obsessive list-making and button-pressing, has managed to unearth Obscuro Importo III, the finest example ever of the real-time strategic turn-based action-adventure rhythmic role-playing sub-sub-sub-sub-genre? Who really gives a fuck? Is this really so valuable a feat that makes him worthy of receiving such unqualified praise for a dozen fucking pages?" Answer: If you care about finding and playing great games, it certainly is a worthwhile feat. Why else, after all, would anyone bother reading criticism? -- But there is quite a bit more to it than this, for Recap's more general observations, as they are expressed in his editorials, and sometimes even in casual conversation, go a great deal further than mere criticism -- in contrast to the observations of the pseudo-scholars, WHICH GO NOWHERE; which are not, properly speaking, even observations at all, for in order for a sentence to qualify as an observation it must first POSSESS MEANING, something which tripe such as "videogames are half-real" most certainly do not. -- But Recap's observations, to get back to our point, are nothing of the kind. When he denounces handhelds, for example; or when he expresses distaste for selectable or adjustable difficulty levels, which are all the rage these days, and are bound to become even more so; or when he even goes as far as to flat-out claim that "Gears of War is not a videogame" -- statements that the posers and the pseuds would not so much as acknowledge, let alone examine carefully with the seriousness they deserve, he is giving expression to unconscious value judgements acquired from a long and passionate involvement with the hobby -- value judgements which, most of the time, when called on to justify, he is simply incapable of doing. But though to him such judgements are somewhat worthless, since he lacks the knowledge from other fields which is required to make sense of them, and therefore justify and communicate them to his readers (and if he can't justify them he will of course not bother trying to formally communicate them, which is why the wisest things I've heard from Recap have come from a forum context), and he finally draws back from them and goes back to playing Obscuro Importo IV, just in case it happens to be 1 or 2% better than its predecessor -- to someone who does possess this required knowledge, Recap's utterances, even the most seemingly outrageous ones -- and in fact especially those -- are quite simply invaluable. And this is the gist of all this, that the genuine scholar, though he lacks both the interdisciplinary knowledge and the tenacity of the philosopher to follow a problem wherever it may lead, still manages on occasion to creep up, even though mostly unconsciously, to wider-reaching conclusions which are indeed truly profound, which hold up under the most protracted and rigorous examination -- in contrast to the pseudo-conclusions of the pseudo-scholars, all of which, one by one, without exception, turn out eventually to be exactly antithetical to truth -- if, that is to say, they actually end up making sense at all.
We will have several occasions then to discuss in future essays, and to discuss seriously, Recap's more theoretical ideas (more precisely: his intuitions), which is another reason I went into so much detail introducing him here. The idea is that, when I say "Recap" from now on, I will expect the reader to know exactly who I am referring to. Recap himself would never bother trying to follow up on any of these ideas, on the one hand because he can't, and on the other because he is too busy going through all those romsets of his to have the time for that -- and God bless him for it, for that is how real scholars are -- you know, the kind whose work one can actually use. His theoretical ambitions then are fairly modest. He has a list of misconceptions regarding games that he wants to clear up, and that's about it: His passion is in reviewing, not in theorizing. The motivation behind his articles then is fundamentally the same as that which originally launched me on my own set of essays: to clear up some basic issues regarding games, in order to avoid having to repeat myself over and over again, in one review after another. Both Recap and I at bottom set out to accomplish the same thing: to create the ultimate gaming site: he in the summer of 2004, whereas I about a year later. The difference between us was in the kinds of games we aimed to cover: Recap restricting himself to 2D games, and particularly Japanese ones, whereas I giving myself free reign without any such limitations. So Recap -- and pay attention now, for this is the most important point I'll make today -- who undertook to analyze only 2D games, eventually reached his certainly very interesting and worthwhile, but fundamentally modest collection of editorials; whereas I, on the other hand, who did not place any restrictions on myself whatever, eventually arrived -- at philosophy. And here one is compelled to ask: What could be responsible for such a great discrepancy in the results of our investigations? Answer: The stunning fact, dear readers, and this is something that took me a while to figure out, that contrary to popular belief, Gears of War is not a videogame...
Recap then is a person worth examining closely -- the only such person, I would say, that is currently involved in the videogame industry (and this includes designers, who are without exception even less interesting, psychologically-speaking, than the journalists and pseudo-scholars). It will then be a matter for gratitude that we will soon be presenting the first issue of Postback translated entirely into English, with further issues following in the coming weeks and months. Pay attention to what he says: Postback is not merely my favorite gaming site: that accolade would hardly mean much considering how pathetic the competition is -- it is my favorite gaming publication ever, and seeing as I've grown up on legends such as CVG from Britain, CGW from the US, Joystick from France and Pixel from Greece, and later on in life from back-issues of Gamest and Famitsu, that is the highest praise I could bestow on him and his work, without even going into any of the benefits I have derived from some of his most far-reaching intuitions.
Is Recap perfect then? Not by a long shot: He is as obstinate as a mule, as childish as... a child, and as narrow-minded and occasionally infuriating as only genuine scholars can be. The two of us have had several ugly arguments before, and even now, as I type these words, I am still fuming from a recent verbal abuse session after which I promised myself to never again engage him in direct discussion. But all of that means nothing, for I wouldn't change Recap for the world -- I know better than to desire him to change in ways he doesn't want to change himself. And that is how it has always been with those who are of any worth. It is short-sighted to desire him to be anything other than he is -- for then he wouldn't be what he is, and what he is is something precious.
... for men who think and have correct judgment, and people who treat their subject earnestly, are all exceptions only. Vermin is the rule everywhere in the world...