It’s odd of me to write a response to something without babbling about how the original author is an idiot. But occasionally I see something like this, something which makes me agree entirely with its conclusion. Michael Lowell’s need for intelligent criticism is laudable and his argument is unassailable. I forgive him for linking to internet superstar Maddox because Maddox was also right on the money this time. A Top 10 list implies necessarily that the author knows everything about everything related to the subject on which he is writing to the extent that he can accurately name the ten best of them. But in reality these Top Whatever lists typically have no criteria given and no research performed and exist merely to attract search engine hits and get readers arguing about whether or not Halo 3 really is the seventeenth-best game of all time. It’s an utterly pointless exercise for someone searching for the truth. It’s marketing.
Lowell said, “Based on what I’ve seen, read, and heard, there are currently zero individuals on this planet who have the acumen and authority to create a Top X Games List, and that number will remain constant for the foreseeable future.”
This was the truest and greatest part of that article.
Say you have a guy who has played every beat-em-up from Karateka to God Hand to Growl at the exclusion of all else and can lecture in universities on the subject and can write a series of encyclopedias about the genre from memory. His articles are brilliant, his deductions are mind-opening, and he is universally agreed to be the best beat-em-up authority in the world. This guy, obviously the best at what he does, is still not qualified to write the Top X Best Games list unless it’s narrowed to his area of expertise, and even he probably hasn’t played every single beat-em-up ever to be found on the dark corners of arcades and the internet.
And even if you mashed him together with every imaginable legendary scholar on every video game genre and series, experts equal to him him every way in their own fields, you still wouldn’t have a cohesive 250,000 Best Games Evar list. So a wise video game reviewer who wants to be remembered for their actual content should probably quit screwing around with Top Whatevers and just concentrate on writing individual good reviews rather than trying to get more Twitter followers and links from pointless aggregate sites (though I do appreciate every fan that I get).
A “My Top 10 Favorite Games” list might be worth reading if you already respect the author’s reviewing skills, but if they don’t speak with the implied authority that comes from claiming to know the top 10 best of something (in exact order, no less) then the average reader will be less inclined to listen. That’s just, like, your opinion, man. I want someone to tell me what to think so I don’t have to!
On his message board, Lowell added, “If you want to tell me what games are good and bad, go ahead. If you want to tell me what your favorite games within a genre are, go ahead. If you want to recommend some games to me, go ahead. But just like lists, whether one should read those things are generated by the writer’s level of authority on the topic. I’m going to value Roger Ebert’s end-of-year movie list over some random on the internet, because Roger Ebert has reviewed countless number of movies and can articulate his point of view. But when you say ‘I think these are the best games’ of the year, or on the game console, or made during the last decade, you had better be able to provide that level of authority on the topic. That’s all I’m saying. If every list was ‘My favorite games of all-time’, that would be okay. Putting your foot down and challenging the body of history is not.”
Again, he is correct. An expert’s opinion is necessarily more noteworthy than an apprentice’s simply because he knows more about the subject. I would add that this is different from an slavish appeal to authority; an alleged expert could be entirely wrong about something they claims to be a master of, when they’re not obviously trolling. But when I find myself lacking in knowledge, I defer to the analyses of those who have proven themselves worthy of my respect. Ebert is the standby when it comes to movie reviewers; he is sometimes wrong, hilariously wrong, and he often rants about junk unrelated to the movie he’s reviewing, but he’s still more accurate and correct more often than, say, Harry Knowles or Gene Shalit. I don’t even care that Ebert thinks video games aren’t art because I’m not an entitled pedantic internet whiner. He’s quite good at what he does, but even he (or someone a hundred times as good as he) wouldn’t be qualified to create a Top 10 Best Movies Ever Made list because no one on the planet is. I would, however, pay more attention to a My Top 10 Favorite Movies list from him than any other film critic, for the aforementioned reasons.
It’s hard to just say “listen to people who know what they’re talking about” and expect that to solve anything because the people who need to listen to them the most are those who lack the ability to discern between right and wrong. Bill Cosby (a fantastic and underrated comedian who did more to help black people in the U.S. than Al Sharpton ever did) said, “A word to the wise ain’t necessary – it’s the stupid ones that need the advice.”
I plan on writing a My Top 10 Favorite Video Games list myself sometime. It might even be good, who knows. I can be stupid and wrong sometimes, too, and I hope I will respond with humility and acceptance when presented with the truth. Everyone should.