‘The Arcade Review’ Lights a Critical Fire

New Web Magazine Seeks To Elevate Video Game Criticism

What do you get when you cross serious critical theory with video games?

Just ask Zolani Stewart, one of the co-founders of the online magazine The Arcade Review, which wields an analytical approach to the video game medium.

Unlike well-known outlets such as IGN, The Escapist or MMOChamp, The Arcade Review seeks to publish criticism on smaller, avant-garde games often not discussed in mainstream circles.

Presently, most video game journalism focuses on larger-scale, triple-A and big name independent games.

“A lot of the publishers like IGN and Polygon—the way they write about games are like product reviews,” said Stewart.

Instead, The Arcade Review has turned to art criticism as its basis of critical theory.

“[Current] games writing [is] focused on game evaluation that tells you whether it’s worth playing,” Stewart said.

Rather than pay lip service to the giants of the industry, The Arcade Review sets out to expose the artistic side of games to an audience that may be oblivious to their existence.

With this tactic, Stewart wants not only to change the face of game reviewing, but also to give the smaller games a so-called one-up.

“There are games out there trying to communicate complex ideas and feelings but [are] not getting noticed by the mainstream. There’s no push behind them.” Zolani Stewart, co-creator The Arcade Review

“There are games out there trying to communicate complex ideas and feelings but [are] not getting noticed by the mainstream. There’s no push behind them,” he said.

According to Stewart, this push/pull phenomenon is a result of the industry’s marketing capabilities and strategies.

After all, it’s hard to take a serious microscope to an industry whose basis is ‘just-for-fun.’

“Game reviewers tend to be kind of boring and sound the same. But when you talk about the weirder games, it’s more interesting,” Stewart said.

A student at Vanier College, he first got the idea to create The Arcade Review when he discovered a blog on freeware games.

He reached out to the blog’s creator Alex Bieschel and together they set out to create a digital magazine.

To a non-gamer, studying video games may seem like a waste of time. However, their importance and impact on pop culture and society are just as influential as literature, film or music, said Stewart.

“There isn’t a lot of criticism in the industry. It’s characteristic in the way it exploits,” said Stewart. “This is something [you see] in larger publications […] These business cycles are normalized instead of criticized.”

Perhaps this is due to the industry’s relative youth or its niche appeal. But according to Stewart, this is exactly why video games should be scrutinized more closely.

“There are these larger journalists who talk about the same games in the same way. But do we really know how to talk about games? No one knows how to approach it.”

Like many gamers interested in the industry, Stewart is well aware of the problems within, and thinks it would be interesting to use different methods of critique to expose these issues.

“I’d like to see Marxist criticism applied to the industry and games,” he said, “[The video game industry] represents […] a lot [of] instability, exploitation of technology work.”

His main focus, however, remains trained on creating open, honest critiques in contrast to the current mainstream literature on gaming.

“What is really important for me is creating a critical base. To think about games in a new way that is useful. It starts with talking about smaller games. It challenges critics, and that’s exciting to read.”

The Arcade Review will be published bi-monthly, and you can check out the first issue here.