Suggestions for Videos of Critical / Thematic Analysis of Games on YouTube

Those two in particular are kind of the poster boys for how not to do criticism. The mario odyssey video by anderson and the dota video by matthew are genuinely probably some of the worst crit ive seen on youtube that isnt randos literally reciting the plot of something and calling it analysis. Also anderson brings up dark souls in every single review because he literally doesnt seem to have any other point of reference lol

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Agreed! Anderson’s essays (I haven’t really watched Matthew’s) often feel so mechanical. Both figuratively, and because he’ll literally deep dive into the mechanics of a game and pro/con them all, without any cohesive argument connecting his assertions.

He’s not horrible, just not very stimulating.

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I’m gonna be the contrarian here and say that I actually really like most of Matthew’s essays in choosing to do in-depth examinations of mechanics, the implications of certain design decisions, and looking at whole series from a broad perspective.

The latter-most of those is evident in his video “The Lost Soul Arts of Demon’s Souls”. A fair reading would be that his thesis is “it’s popular and therefore not as good” considering this is a dude who did multi-hour commentaries on Demon’s Souls and the first Dark Souls, but I would argue that this video makes a valuable point in demonstrating how the series became single-mindedly obsessed with arbitrary metrics of “challenge”, which it tries to pursue through testing the player’s grasp of dodge-roll timing, to the detriment of creating an immersive atmosphere which Demon’s Souls excelled at.

Just today he did a short essay on the Sonic Dreams Collection (which I would REALLY not recommend watching at work since he uses several Sonic erotica pictures as examples) that centers on the overlap between the Sonic fandom and the myriad of very specific fetishes that fanart often gets into. This isn’t used for yet another passing jab of “woah how weird, right?” but rather making the point of “there’s nothing wrong with liking heavily fetishistic Sonic fanart, though it can lead to a certain degree of social alienation, and the levity that a game like Sonic Dreams Collection brings to the subject helps to contextualize the feeling for people who do fall into that specific category”.

Some of his essays do show a very clear bias toward heavily complex action games, to a fault. His Dustforce review insinuates that mainstream reviewers didn’t possess the skill capacity to make “proper” judgments about the game, where I’d argue that the game just has a very poor difficulty curve. He did a dual-essay contrasting Papers, Please against VA-11 Hall-A in which he makes some very flimsy arguments about mechanics needing to serve a purpose in a heavily narrative-based game.

But his long-form writing on series like Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls, helped a lot in identifying the parts of those games that I really enjoy, while also pointing to faults in them that I heavily agree with.

Also Joseph Anderson belongs to the canon of knee-jerk “first to the punch” video reviews which deliberately belabor their points to an absurd degree, preventing anyone from being able to meaningfully engage critically with his points because it requires skimming through needlessly-long videos full of capital-C Content™.

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ok this response got way longer than i was expecting but

Hey, you’re allowed to like his videos! I will say that the Demon’s Souls video posted is markedly better than the other content I’ve seen by him, and I actually enjoyed it a good bit (though I have disagreements). Again, I don’t watch his videos very much at all, but it’s very hard for me to come across with anything better than a sour taste in my mouth when I look at any of his video “Critiques” or “Reviews”. I find that not only are these videos unnecessarily granular, but more importantly don’t really have any meaningful critique. By which I mean, he will often outline a mechanic, and I won’t know his opinion on it until he outright states it. I actually find his actual analytic abilities of mechanics to be good, but he doesn’t take this beyond analysis. They normally miss a step: “This is the mechanic, this is my opinion on it”, but misses “this is the Why”. As result, his critiques come off as in-depth but, to me, feel shallow because they don’t contain any expressed reasoning. This is somewhat the case with Joseph Anderson, but for me, the issue is more: “Your Odyssey video is two hours long for what could have been said in five minutes.” Both, I think, could improve with editing down their thoughts and analyzing more aesthetic qualities of mechanics. Also, for the love of god please stop reading everything so monotone

It occurs to me now that there isn’t really a clear framework for mechanical critique of games, so it makes sense that the current prototype is analytic breakdowns lacking reasoning. (I oughtta look at some of Frank Lantz’s work and see how it stacks up.) Narrative analysis has existed for a long time, and while it differs for games, story critiques have a longer canon of criticism and theory to draw from.

I really don’t want to, again, try to yuck anyone’s yum. I totally understand if you value these videos, but I feel like I’ve outlined my issues. I am also, importantly, of the opinion that negative criticism needs to be very much justified. I feel positive criticism is valuable inherently, but negative criticism of art I honestly find… kind of mean-spirited? I remember I watched a video where Anthony Fantano (who does videos once a month on why he won’t review certain albums) dismissed Emily’s D+Evolution (my favorite album of that year) with the joke “Remember to get your NPR tote bag!” This really upset me, because it dismisses all the hard work a group of artists put into something on an extremely surface level judgment, and I actually stopped watching his reviews after that. (I have similar issues with his critique lacking reasoning as well). Of course, this is a little different with, say, a blockbuster film or a Triple-A video game.

So, here’s an example: I don’t really like the game Axiom Verge, and I get a little antsy when I hear people sing its praises. That being said, I don’t think it’s that valuable to tear down someone’s positive feelings directed towards art or Thomas Happ’s hard work just because it doesn’t match my aesthetics. As a counterpoint, I constantly get into a frenzy over Bioshock Infinite, and I don’t feel that much remorse because it is both a large game and also fuels caustic social narratives.

Hopefully, this explains some of my aversion to those two critics. I’m also honestly just not a fan of most “Youtube Critics” in general, so I may be biased in this way.

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I feel like you may be projecting some of Joseph Anderson’s tendencies for meandering, contrarian essays onto Matthew there.

The most incisive essays I can think of from him were the Oddworld remake, Dark Souls 2, and Skyward Sword, all of which were already pretty divisive games.

As a general sampling of his best work, I’d recommend the videos on the mainline Mario games. Particularly Sunshine in illustrating how the game falters on certain big picture design goals, but nails all the little details.

I would provide another channel to recommend, but Noah Gervais and Chris Franklin were already mentioned.

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I love the fact that you brought up Chris Franklin.

I’m here to say that Errant Signal is the channel that got me into the whole mindset that video games can be analyzed critically. His stuff is some of my favorite on YouTube and I cannot recommend him enough.

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Okay, but real talk: why are Youtube Video Game Critics so bad at editing down their videos? Like, Chris Franklin is probably the only one of these creators who keeps his videos under half an hour. This seems really counter-intuitive to me…

(…though again, I don’t really think I’m the person to say. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Errant Signal but never really “got into” his videos. The only critic I ever really “got into” was George Weidman (superbunnyhop) but don’t really keep close tabs with his non-Youtube stuff nowadays.)

It is a shame Extra Credits has… diverged from the socially conscious side of video games criticism/discussion in spots (contrast indie developer chatter and previous Waypoint coverage with EC’s recent episode defending gambling-like activities or the previous pair backing the case for higher consumer prices rather than dismantling ideas that scope isn’t something set by projects; that that’s not just a choice by development leads and executives at AAA publishers).

That caveat out of the way (maybe call it the Bogostian disclaimer - sometimes the takes will require a bed) there are hundreds of episodes in the archive and some of them are some pretty great explainers on topics throughout gaming.

A few more I didn’t see already linked above:

Mumbles (LPs & shorter editorial eps)

Red Angel

Spoiler Warning (LP show so very long form crit which often include Chris Franklin)

This is a line I’ve seen floating around that I can’t buy, because that art almost always involves child characters. Most every recognizable one that’s not Rogue or Vector is underage. Amy is supposed to be 12, according to stuff Sega posted not too long ago, and both Sonic fans and a person doing journalistic research on the sexual side of the fandom should probably know that, even if it’s a bit obscured/not talked about. I mean, it’s literally listed with citation on the fan wikia.

Like yeah cringe culture and kinkshaming are damaging as hell while the social dynamics of how (and whom) you might alienate with inappropriate expression of kink is a constantly evolving & engaging topic, but being sympathetic to the pornographic side of the Sonic fandom is super not the lens to look at that through, and I say this as someone that likes reading into AK’s games a whole bunch.

Hate to harsh the buzz but I’m even less endeared to matthewmatosis’ whole deal from that alone.

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I don’t know how relevant or accurate it is these days (though some things like watch hours are still significant), what with ads being worth a fraction of their former value, but I’ve heard that in the past YouTube incentivised creating longer content not just because of an increased amount of ad space, but increased ad quality too. There’s reason to think that longer content was also favoured for promotion, perhaps due to the content getting a high number of watch hours simply due to length.

Short, high-quality videos also suffer from a channel growth perspective because the amount of time spent doing video editing (rather than just talking to a camera or playing the same clip of gameplay on loop) vastly outweighs the money coming in, which relegates them to hobby status for a lot of the creators mentioned in this thread.

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Ah, now the ball’s in Farnsworth’s court!

You would be shocked how much of this stuff is made by minors. I mean hell, just go glimpse around fanfiction communities. Sonic is also a franchise where most of the fans don’t give a patootie about canonical ages because Sega stopped caring eons ago themselves. Nobody has a particularly mature or immature design anymore, especially Amy once Adventure hit and implied some sort of in continuity time skip that pretty much made ages a moot concept, they’re all just furries and of course that would be attractive for a lot of people. I mean, this is a franchise where a bunch of furries toppled a fascist regime and LEAD ARMIES (unlike the SatAM continuity).

There’s definitely times where pointing out creepy underage stuff is called for, but definitely not with the Sonic franchise outside really obscure fetish stuff you have to dig around for. I also noticed there’s a huge problem with yuri games because of how much of yuri explores characters in high school and use cutesy art, resulting in people not at all familiar with the medium declaring it all child porn and other such nonsense. A 30 year old character clearly designed like a little girl who gets panties shots, absolute shite worth getting called out, but when you start entering into stuff like this, you really need to stop and think for a sec because human sexuality is the most confusing puzzle in nature, and I think there’s so little research because nobody wants to figure out weird stuff about themselves in the process of exploring it.

This is a really deep rabbit hole of human psychology in habits of projecting sexual imagery onto heavily abstracted characters, and it’s probably not one that anyone wants derailing this thread. I’d recommend the video in that it isn’t a whole-bodied defense of this material, but rather an examination of what it says about that fandom, and how that reflects back onto the games themselves.


Chris’s most recent video on Getting Over It seemed to skim over a certain pervasive attitude in the developer commentary track, one that was encompassed in a particular analogy Bennett Foddy made, along the lines of “watching games is a lot like a mother bird chewing up food for their young”.

While I like the game’s messaging about the worth of what is essentially the accumulated detritus of games culture, there’s also the continual reinforcement of tired ideas about how a game is lesser by not challenging its players enough, or that a person is “cheating” by choosing to watch a playthrough instead of playing it themselves (which isn’t getting into how often that desire is driven by poverty rather than laziness).

I find it a really archaic mentality, and was disappointed that Chris didn’t talk much about that angle of Bennett’s thesis.

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That’s true! Though, if I recollect, the ideal length was about ten minutes, not an hour, and it generally benefited from high release frequency (see: the popularity of LPs.) I also remember hearing that the average viewer stops around halfway through a given video before leaving the webpage.

I will stand by saying, regardless, the length of these videos can get pretty obscene, and usually do not justify their length.

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Shout out to fellow soy boy H Bomberguy, when he’s not making fun of misguided alt. right youtubers he makes pretty good long form videos about video games.

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You misspelled “consciously fraudulent neo-fascist propagandists” there.

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I stumbled upon one of his rants about Anti-Feminism vs Fact and it was REALLY good. I really like this guy so far, so I went ahead and watched his Undertale video too. S’goooooooood

I guess I still have hope that they’ll one day have this realisation that everything they’ve been saying has been wrong and hanus and they’ll turnover a new leaf and become better human beings and at least attempt to make amends by making the world a better place…

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They won’t, but I can’t blame you for that perspective. It’s actively encouraged by how these leftish response videos are set up and their dependance on interaction with and normalization of the fascists. (Hbomb even says that one GamerGate supporter is not a bigot in one video.)

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I need to thank @ligeti for posting about Innuendo Studios in this thread, his videos are so good, especially his recent one about The Secret of Monkey Island

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I started making videos so I figured I’d toss that out there.

As for others I follow, I really like Ross’s Game Dungeon, EmceePropit, and SuperLowlander. First makes long videos every few months on either old or obscure (usually both) games (it’s how I found out about Strife) (and yes he’s the Freeman’s Mind guy), the second started with symbolism videos and now does whatever and generally has a wide range of interesting points, and the last guy is still pretty small but has promise.

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