How We Review Around Here
I. No Ratings System
Sorry. No stars, no rows of little CD icons, no thumbs up or down or sideways.
Don't worry. You'll know whether we recommend something or not. But you'll also know why. And have some basis for agreeing or disagreeing. Instead of looking at a numerical rating and wondering who chose it and how.
So you'll never have to stare, with your jaw dropping, at a page with a four-star review of a product that you know is a boring, ill-conceived, glitch-plagued turkey. If we're praising something you hated -- or panning something you liked -- you'll know where we're coming from. Maybe we'll change your mind. Or maybe you'll argue with us and change ours. That's what good criticism is about.
II. The Art of Description
Too often, today, criticism is understood to mean consumer recommendations. While there is surely a place in the world -- and in criticism -- for such information, it is the barest shadow of the critic's true function.
BERNARD SHAW: A true critic
People today still read the drama criticism of Bernard Shaw. They are no longer interested in the least in whether he recommends that they see a particular show, and of course there is no longer the slightest possibility of acting upon his recommendations. We still read Shaw because he makes us think, he entertains and provokes us, and he records moments in the life of art that he witnessed and we did not.
Multimedia, interactive art and CD-ROMs are all part of an emerging field for which no critical vocabulary yet exists. That's just fine; the more arcane a critical vocabulary gets the less likely it is to be useful.
What might be useful is descriptive criticism -- writing that reports on what the experience of encountering a digital work is like: what it looks like, how it works, how it feels. The model here is the kind of movie or book or music review that tells you enough about the work itself, as well as about the critic's judgments, that you can come to a conclusion of your own.
III. Some Questions From Goethe
The most helpful definition of the critic's job that I've ever come across was formulated by Goethe. He said that every critic should ask:
The third question, of course, is the one most critics play around with. But the first two help keep a critic honest.
- What was the artist trying to accomplish?
- Did the artist succeed?
- Was it worth doing in the first place?
IV. And Some Questions From Us
In the reviews in Kludge you can expect to find a couple of corollaries to Goethe's questions asked and answered, too.
- Does it work?
Not a question at all, normally, when you're dealing with a book, say, or a movie. It's an extraordinary event to find the pages all stuck together or to have a projector break down in mid-film. With so many multimedia products today, though, one of the most important issues is the simple matter of functionality. (See our Multimedia Horror Stories for some examples.)
- Does it need to be digital?
Why should we encounter this work on a computer screen? Does a work take advantage of the capabilities and properties of the new medium it appears in? Or does it seem to suggest that being digital alone is sufficient grounds for cool?
V. The Future
With the World Wide Web, we're already able to link a review to the publisher's own page. Ideally, this will allow for a real back-and-forth dialogue between critics and creators. Even if it doesn't, it means that publishers will always have a chance to present their case, even in the face of a very negative review.
In the longer term, as bandwidth increases and the Web's own organization grows more sophisticated, we hope to offer readers demos and try-out opportunities as well. That way, you don't have to take the critic's word. And you can compare your own reactions to a reviewer's, on the spot.
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