Ed Halter, whose book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games we'll be discussing at BookCourt in Brooklyn tomorrow night (y'all come!), referred me to this discussion at Henry Jenkins' blog about video game criticism and the topic of "why don't games have their Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael?" You could substitute "electronic/digital art and music" for games in that discussion and most of it would be relevant: that the critics will emerge in a generation from the ranks of kids consuming the products now, that criticism does exist but mostly on blogs and chatboards and not the established print publications, etc. Games have a different problem in their climb to mainstream acceptance, which is that, as one commenter pointed out, the experience varies so much from one consumer/player to another--and not just for the usual reasons of "the squishy subjectivity of art" but because the game has decision trees that could result in completely unlike experiences for the novice and the advanced player. In an earlier post I described the pleasures of watching my nephews playing Super Mario 64. They're experts so I got more out of being a spectator than I ever would have gotten as an inept player. The "game art" Halter describes in his book that I think I'd like best are the pieces that take apart the games and reassemble the fragments as "objects of contemplation," for example, Workspace Unlimited's Diplomatic Arena, which consists of world leaders and villains indiscriminately slaughtering each other to a montage soundtrack. Some earlier thoughts of mine on the "problem of interactivity" are here and here.
When you ask "why don't games have their Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael?" I think immediately of Jim Munroe who is of course not famous like those guys, but could be someday if he wasn't so completely dedicated to indie culture. His writing on games is about the genre and its cultural relevance, and he's good. He used to write a column on games for Eye magazine in Toronto, You can read his stuff here at Cultural Gutter, of which he is a founder (scroll down for Jim's stuff). He also makes art about games. His newish movie Death Match Yoga will be screening at Rooftop Films in New York on August 5th, and he will be there if you want to meet him, which I highly recommend!