Book Review: The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games

Why Gaming Culture is the Worst

Reviewing The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games presented a bit of a meta problem for me. Once I finished the introduction, a thought popped into my head and refused to leave. I had been asked to evaluate on its merits, including the skill of the author, a book that is about the toxicity of games that “valorize skill and technique” (back cover copy). One of the major points of the book is that meritocracy is a flawed concept. Identifying meritocracy as a system in which skill is measured and outcomes tracked, with a mixture of talent and hard work rewarded, the author states that “meritocracy isolates, individualizes, and strips out context” (13). Continue Reading

Room to Reflect

Video Games, Meritocracy, and Toxicity

Content Notification: online harassment/abuse

When I wrote my new book, The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst, I knew that I would be poking at a soft spot and would get a response. The title alone is designed to provoke and the content within it encourages readers to consider a variety of issues related to game culture, meritocracy, and structural privilege. All of these things get a reaction from people, but the primary argument I want to advance in this essay is the need for all of us to reflect on game culture, game studies, and on how the choices we make reproduce the defensiveness that is so readily seen in discussions around video games. Continue Reading

Wordplay and Video Games

Designing Words, Design, and Play

‘In the wake of ‘big rhetoric’, the tools of rhetorical analysis offer a perspective for scholars interested in studying how knowledge and situated truths are established in and surrounding games. Rhetoric can address the entire discursive environment of gaming as virtually everything can be described as rhetorical’ (Christopher A. Paul p. 6). Continue Reading

The Binding of Procedure

Procedural Rhetoric and The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac has generated a lot of discussion in blogs and podcasts. It is the discourse surrounding the game, however, that demonstrates the limitations of that view, and, consequently, the limitations of procedural rhetoric. John Teti, at, follows a similar argument to the one I’ve posited, that the game’s random unfairness is, ultimately, what it makes it seem fair (though he characterizes this appearance not as the game being more fair, but more real than one with predetermined events, a definition of videogame realism that perhaps is worth discussing on another day)… Continue Reading