In Defense of Critics

Hello, my name is Erika, and I have a passion for literary criticism and metatextual analysis. But you’ve probably figured that out and accepted it if you’re a regular reader here. I’m a compulsive proofreader and proud of it, I’ve taken writing classes, I read crit blogs for fun, and my major in science makes me try to pick on the reasons for everything. That, and I consider critique to be the most valuable tool in my attempts to become a better writer and GM; if I can figure out what I don’t like about someone else’s work rather than just saying I don’t like it, I’m that much likelier to be able to see it if it crops up in my own.

The problem, of course, comes when this passion of mine runs into other people. For some reason, critics tend to be seen as spoilsports, trying to tear down other people’s work and spoil other people’s fun out of some sort of jealousy or inferiority complex or what have you. (The fact that I’m something of a terrier when it comes to activism-critique doesn’t exactly help.) So, for my own sake and that of others like me, I’d like to point out two major misapprehensions that people dealing with metatextual hobbyists like me have.

Misapprehension 1: The critic’s main goal is always to tear down the thing that she is critiquing. I’m not going to say that most of us don’t tend to take a certain amount of glee in ripping apart the things we don’t like. But that doesn’t mean that everything we find flaws in, we hate. Many of us are as likely to find the holes in the things we like, and discuss how we’d fix them; it’s how we improve, and it’s something we can use to improve our own skills and maybe if we’re really lucky to talk to the creator and make this thing we love better. (Sometimes, we even are the creator and are testing our own chops; I spent about half an hour this evening applying an article I’d read on emotional intelligence and gender stereotyping to my own game and finding I didn’t like the results much.)

Misapprehension 2: The critic is addressing flaws in the creator and not the creation. This one seems to be applied really strongly to activist-critics, the ones who are looking at privilege and how it shapes the narrative. (I run beside and about five steps behind that particular pack; they’re better at that than I am.) But just because someone is pointing out a potentially problematic element doesn’t mean they consider it emblematic of the creator’s viewpoint. Heck, one common thread I’ve found among activist-critics is that many of them have had to train themselves to see the things they’re pointing out now, and that’s why they’re pointing them out: because they know perfectly well the creator didn’t mean to, and want to help her not make the same mistake next time, both for her sake and for the sake of the people who didn’t have to be taught to notice it. (You would not believe the number of things that I didn’t notice I wasn’t noticing until the last two years or so.) In sum, there is a difference between “This could be interpreted as a [insert prefix]ist element” and “THIS PERSON IS [insert prefix]IST!”

I’ll grant that some people actually do fit both of those patterns, ad-homming against a creator and trying to tear down work because they dislike it. And even the people who are doing their level best to stay reasonable under most circumstances do occasionally slip and go into full snark mode against something (yeah, guilty as charged, no throwing stones here)–though in my experience we do try to keep that to things that are so bad they’re horrible and to do it mainly as a way to have fun with other people who agree with us.

In short, critics like me aren’t as malicious as they’re made out to be; most of us just want more of a chance to make the constructive part of our hobby work and build a better world through metatextual analysis. So cut us some slack, ask questions instead of assuming the worst—you may even find you enjoy yourself!

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