Lester Who?

Esquire magazine's Chuck Klosterman says that a Lester Bangs of video gaming "doesn't exist," but according to 1UP's Jane Pinckard, he might exist, but it's just that "nobody cares." Henry Jenkins, however, does care and has many, many MIT professor-ish things to say on the subject, most of which center around the current necessity for such a figure. Like Superman, or Jesus Christ, a Lester Bangs of video games, one supposes, would save us all from the horrors of ... what, exactly? No one is sure. Yet Clive Thompson claims that a Lester Bangs of video gaming does, in fact, exist, but the mainstream media is looking for him in all the wrong places.

So let's get the important question out of the way first: Who the hell is Lester Bangs? To quote Louis Armstrong, if you have to ask, you'll never know. But I'll try to explain anyway.

Original Comment by: rijit
Mainstream media are lost in this world and will, more than likely, will never find thier way. They are remnants of the past such as network television. A dying breed clinging to their heyday as if anyone cared. I am an older gamer, meaning 30 something, and I have to say I lost interest in mainstream media along about the time I found the Internet almost a decade ago. Interactivity is what people crave. We are a "right now" society. No one wants to wait through the commercial so they get DVR. They can watch things at their leisure and skip the commercials. No one in my group of friends watches anything as it airs anymore, except for maybe live events. So, I say why would one even care about things of this nature. With more and more new innovative companies coming up through the Internet, who really needs mainstream media. Also, since the current Internet generation outnumber the older mainstream audience, who is to say mainstream is still mainstream? Sound like a forgotten era to me.

Original Comment by: a

That was the lamest thing I've ever read on The Escapist. How about you avoid self-analysation and stick to writing about games.

Original Comment by: Ian
Great read, as always.

Original Comment by: Mo!
All good points. One thing I'd like to add: Andrew Sarris created auteur theory, which changed film criticism in that the director was seen as the author of the film. In noticing great directors, directors were pushed to be great.

So perhaps a journalist will need to create game designer theory. More often than not, bloggers and critics (present company excluded) talk about the game itself, and do not look at the designer. Miyamoto, Wright and even Ferry Halim are designers who are so unique, you know who made the game just by looking at screenshots.

The problem is, WAY too many video games have received acclaim while having a very unoriginal design. Lester Bangs and Pauline Kael discovered unique voices.

Same happens in comedy (on my blog I ask who's the lester bangs of stand-up). The precious few critics who review comedy albums say it was "funny" or "great." Pitchfork, in reviewing two David Cross albums, has the only insightful comedy criticism. It looks at David's voice; his philosophy, his

styles; underlying assumptions.

Except for this site and a few bloggers, most "critics" simply say whether a game kicked ass or not. In fairness this is true for critics everywhere - for every J.Hoberman, there's a WHGG radio hack.

But we need critics who give their highest reviews ONLY to those with a unique design philosophy.

Original Comment by: Ethan Knoop

All I know is that when I first heard about the Esquire article two weeks ago, two names immediately came to mind: Russ Pitts and Sean Sands. Then about half a dozen others quickly followed. Of course, your analysis of why there is not Lester Bangs for video games is dead on, and paradoxically enough, this is the perfect example of why your name was one of the first to cross my thoughts.

In any case, thanks to the miracle of the internet, we don't really need a Lester Bangs. So keep on just being Russ Pitts, and I'll keep on reading your work (along with those other six or seven folks as well).

Original Comment by: Chris Dahlen
When someone like Klostermann complains that there's no "Lester Bangs" of game crit, he's not looking for a tastemaker, an encyclopedia of game info and history (that would be "the Robert Christgau of game crit"), or an authoritative voice; he's really saying, "Nobody at a party has ever said, 'You've gotta read THIS WRITER. I could give a shit about games but whoa, s/he writes like a house on fire."

Bangs' writing survives because he was engaging. He was in the gonzo tradition, which is usually a bad thing (if only 'cause it gave so many college paper writers an excuse to write badly), but it made him a compelling read. Serious game writers usually try to be authoritative, if they try to be anything at all. A lot of people pull that off. But I think with the Bangs reference, Klostermann's really saying that he's looking for a writer who's just UNDENIABLE. Not cutesy, not "funny," not geeky except insofar as it "works" in the piece. Self-indulgent, but only in a way that makes you think he or she just can't help himself. In other words, someone who people just can't put down.

Not many people hit that bar. A lot of "voicey" game writers, sorry to say, sound like geeks, and that only plays to other geeks. But - and here's the other thing that Klostermann's implying, or maybe I'm just reading it in - there are a lot of non-gamers who want to show gamers what a writer is. As much as we make fun of the mainstream media's coverage of games, there are plenty of mainstream writers who are waking up to this new opportunity and thinking, "Oh shit - I could be the 800th guy to write a feature on the new U2 record, or I could freelance in the gaming space against a bunch of people who can't even write? Where do I sign?" (And as someone who's clocked more time at Pitchforkmedia.com than in games magazines, I'm somewhere in this camp too.)

These carpetbaggers are the ones who are thinking, "Gaming needs a Lester Bangs - might as well be me!" I'm not saying these folks aren't "gamers." Most of them have played games all their lives, 'cause who under 30 hasn't? But the game writing field is split between people who come from game writing, and people who are coming into it - and the latter people are the ones who will wave their Kaels and their Bangs and their Agees around, thinking they can tell the locals how it's done. But at least they have one good tip: write stuff that nobody can put down - gamer or otherwise. 'Cause believe me, that's the only reason anyone still remembers Lester Bangs ...

That's a good point, Chris. I think that I was peripherally aware that what we are seeing here is, essentially, a writers' measuring contest, but it didn't occur to me to put quite that name to it until now.

I think the fun will come over the nex few weeks as we watch to see how many of our brethren are tempted to unzip and apply the ruler. You can read my measurements above. I'm curious to know who the casual readers think is in the lead at this point.


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