Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pick up eggs, cheese, milk.

I hate lists. Something about them drive me up the wall. If I were to pin down the Top Five Reasons They Get Under My Skin, they would have to be :

1. Lists can cobble together information without extracting any useful insight.
2. . Lists can be used to present subjective opinion through a lens of false objective value.
3. Lists can be a crutch that stand in for actual writing.
4. Oh God, no.
5. I've become everything I hate.

Don't get me wrong. Often lists can be helpful and serve a purpose. A grocery list, for example, is often more practical than a grocery pie chart.

You win this day, Cheap Cheese. But I'll be back.

But more often than not, you have either opinion masquerading as data, or data masquerading as useful. I'm well aware that I'm in the minority on this one. List-based comedy abounds on these treacherous tubes, and we've begun to chart the merits and failings of art through increasingly listy groupthink. It may be that I'm preparing myself for a future in which everything on the internet is something I dislike, in which case I suspect I'll need a new hobby.

But then there that occasional list that takes my breath away. A list that attains that trifecta of listdom: One that somehow manages to be pointless, irrelevant and inaccurate all at once.

Newsweek has decided to dabble its toe into the the murky waters of games journalism, with a List of the Top-Ten Best-Selling Video Games of All Time, a piece that begins with the priceless observation that "Playing video games is serious business."

Serious business.

For those interested, Newsweek outlines the top ten games as follows:

Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto
Guitar Hero
Madden NFL
Grand Theft Auto
Madden NFL
Madden NFL
Call of Duty
Grand Theft Auto

Congratulations, Grand Theft Auto! Your pluck and determination have won you first, second, fifth and tenth place. This list stands as a helpful reminder to the world that we still like cars, rock music, football and war. I notice that Barbie Horse Adventure didn't manage to crack the list. I hope there are still horses out there, somewhere.

You'd think in light of the franchise dominance at work here, they'd opt to sort them in terms of sum profit, or gross.You also might imagine that they'd be drawing from a complete set from information: However, some of the games listed as 'top-selling of all time' are not sorted by posted profits, but rather by units sold. And, if that's the criterion they're going by, they're not just confusing. They're wrong.

Even if you slice the pie another way, and conclude that gamers instead prefer saving princesses, playing with cute animals, solving brain teasers, and putting around on go-karts, what does this tell us? Even a completely subjective "Best Whatever" list stands as a statement to what succeeds, and what doesn't. Everything else just boils down to them most basic Boolean splat: Popular Things Are Popular!

If we're hoping for a better games journalism, both as a more intelligent investigation and a more meditative look at why we play, this is exactly the type of empty fat we've got to trim. No matter how you break it down, counting to ten is kid's stuff.

Nightmarish, horrifying kid's stuff.

- Rook

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