I took some time composing a thoughtful response to the question for the letters page of James Romenesko's Media News site. The last two paragraphs were cut (for space reasons?), and are published here for the first time.
Who is the Lester Bangs of videogame criticism? I nominate SeanBaby. His distinct invective raised the bar for disdaining bad gaming concepts. (See "Based on Crap" and "The 20 Worst Nintendo Games of All Time")
SeanBaby was discovered online, and now currently writes game and movie reviews for the Bay Area's alternative magazine "The Wave."
I think to look for the next "Pauline Kael" is to misunderstand the medium. As activities - rather than passively-consumed works - today's videogames offer a SPACE for the audience to bring their own responses. Yes, amid the social interactions there are sophisticated renditions of adrenaline-pumping action, but there often isn't a uniform experience to review. The gameplay itself depends on what the users do.
Maybe that's why the best game reviews are - like much of SeanBaby's work - of games gone past. Possibly the best videogame review ever was Electronic Gaming's "Child's Play" series, where classic video games of the 80s were dissected a generation later by sharp-tongued teenagers.
It lends the ultimate critical perspective. Perhaps future generations will NOT judge our sacred cows so kindly.
Current games come in so many different mediums that, unlike music, there isn't even a clearly defined universe for a cultural arbiter to review. Instead, each game has its own micro-community somewhere, with its influential early-adopters. So I'd argue that just because you haven't heard of a micro-community's most influential critic doesn't mean they don't exist.
Here's another way to say it. Who is the way-new video game critic? The same person who's ABC's Person of the year.
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