Media conglomerates are capturing everything. Soon Disney will be god, and HBO Max will be our daddies if critical discourse is stifled. True to their name No Escape recently published a fantastic essay “The Spectacular Leviathan” on their cohost! that lays bare a modern affliction in criticisms – the complacency of “critics” and the onslaught of the oligopoly. This is a salient topic that recently the good folks at the Brooklyn Institute of Social Research (BISR) made this a primary topic of their recent (Pop) Cultural Marxism podcast where they “consider the cultural imperative du jour, ‘Let People Enjoy Things’.
Since this is Aguas’ Points, I will speak primarily to the current situation in the video games’ press. Though much of what is said applies to other media. “Let People Enjoy Things” is a faux statement masquerading as positivity. The idea that because someone or a group critically examines something, or god forbid dislikes something, some average individual will be soiled from their experience is ludicrous.
The consolidation of mass-produced media, the omnipresence of fandoms, and the emergence of Large Language Models (LLM) like the lazy students’ best friend ChatGPT has made the criticism landscape primed to be hijacked by the very corporations that create the media that many of us consume. Corporations like Disney can achieve vertical integration of the discourse. This can be done further by establishing and cementing the oligopolies as the market structure. These same oligopolies mobilize and empower fandoms built around the media that they control. And the cowardice of “critics” and the press that are just advertisers and propagandists for the oligopoly does not help either. It is not enough to just pan a game based on mechanics if there is no context or critique that speaks to video games as cultural artifacts. IGN for example makes money if the big video game companies make money. Not that IGN was ever the home to the high-water mark of video game criticism. At best they were a few notches below Consumer Reports. But now they are among the biggest sites that cover video games and have aggressively expanded to cover adjacent media, mainly Marvel films and other multimedia franchises owned by the few American zaibatsus.
No Escape asks a simple question “How can critics – who are, as a reminder, less institutionally supported than ever – or criticism even contend with Content™ backed by the most well-funded mega corps on earth and supported by hegemonically anti-critical fanbases?” They provide their own answers through guerilla criticism. The call for has to be answered by a collective of individuals that are willing to organize and when needed financially support one another through innovative means. The financial precarity of those looking to work in the video games’ press is a major factor in why coverage and criticism have remained stale within the major publications. A new guerilla discourse that is “capable of performing criticism that disappoints everyone in delightful ways” should not be exclusive to only hobbyists who can write and critique without fear of reproach or potential destitution because they are financially secure due to having another means of getting paid.
The oligopolies are creating a vacuum. They are creating a contradiction within current media ecosystem that they are hope will benefit them (excuse the Marxist dialectic). This is where guerilla criticism lives and will strive.
Thank you, No Escape.