Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, Old Man Murray published game reviews and commentary. They are remembered for being scathing and often hilarious. Everyone in the game industry (everyone who wasn’t a mindless suit, anyway) read the site regularly. Sometimes the pieces bordered on the profound, despite every attempt to be otherwise. Old Man Murray was funny because it was so painfully true.
A major element of the site’s relevance was that they just called things like they saw them. They weren’t drinking the game industry kool-aid, and you knew you’d find something fundamentally different from the stream of drivel published by the mainstream review sites or the paste-and-link fan sites. Murray & Sons actually expected games to be good, and not just the what passes for good that we had been numbed into accepting over time. When things were not good, they would not hesitate to point out why, and how much that totally sucked.
Eventually, the site stopped updating, and we were left without our premier voice for game criticism. The big sites were still there, pumping out the same previews and reviews, endlessly, and getting lots of traffic.
Since then, there have been some game writers who write good stuff. You could do much worse than to read a Kieron Gillen review or a Tom Chick piece. Unfortunately, often the pieces by these writers are not presented in an easy-to-find place, or are updated infrequently.
But now ActionButton.net has appeared. Printing the work of a variety of writers, ActionButton makes the case that there is an entire school of thought asking more from games than the mainstream reviewers do — and that these aren’t crack-addled academics or Serious Games People, but rather, just gamers. Gamers who want good games.
I don’t mean that everything on the site is gold. Some of the reviews are trying too hard to be smart, rather than showing real insight. One or two of the reviews are outright stinkers. But most of the reviews are good, and some of them are great.
If you want to see what ActionButton has to offer, I recommend starting with these:
ActionButton is not the new Old Man Murray — they’re not as funny (but then, they aren’t usually trying to be). But ActionButton could grow into something greater. Applying that same kind of demanding irreverence, but in a more discursive direction, they may hollow out space for a new kind of game criticism to thrive.