Odd Thoughts: Optimism in Gaming
I miss when video games were fun.
Oh not the games themselves – they still are fun as heck – but more so everything surrounding them. In recent years, gaming has been something of a ‘problematic fave’ to borrow a term. You can enjoy the product but damn if the dubious ethics of the publishers, the foaming rage of the fandoms, and the all out tug-of-war over artistic merit doesn’t sour the whole experience a little bit. When its gotten back to the point where people are backing away from being labeled “gamer” again (albeit for wholly different reasons) you know things have gotten bad.
I don’t get it. I really don’t. I don’t know if its something about my experiences or upbringing or when I got into gaming or anything but a lot of this stuff doesn’t seem that complicated to me. Enjoy games. Treat other people with respect. Don’t assume your view is the only valid one. Sesame Street taught me this stuff. But even I’ll admit that there were periods in my life where I let them slip. I suppose none of us are without flaws.
Still it’s weird to be an outsider because of things like ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’ and ‘being optimistic about games’. For instance, I really liked the original ending to Mass Effect 3. I may have mentioned that on this blog a few (dozen) times. But I really did. It felt like a solid science fiction open ended ending that you would find in like an old Heinlein novel or something. I never got the whole ‘your choices didn’t matter’ thing because really, the entire game was a culmination of your choices. I bumped into faces that I did a side mission for back in ME1 and helped out or let live. Not everything got a big dramatic cutscene but if you read all the things (Note: This was before Final Fantasy XIII taught me that gamers don’t like to read apparently. Put down your torch, that was a joke.) your previous choices DO have an affect on things. Like the Rachni. If you take the Rachni back with you in ME3, the outcome is dependent on whether you saved them in ME1. If you did, then these Rachni will remember you and benefit the war effort. If you killed them, these are artificial Reaper controlled rachni and they will go nuts in your labs and you’ll lose precious resources from the war effort. Yes. That’s in the game.
So how is all that the benefit of the doubt? Well, generally I don’t just discount something because it’s obtuse or doesn’t make sense right away. I was a fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion after all. I suppose it got drilled into me back in film school. There’s meaning and purpose behind things we create. You just might not see them right away. Take the previously mentioned Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. Is it flawed? Very. Is it difficult to understand? Can be. But if you take the time, savor it, and take in everything that it offers to you – I found it to be a magnificent game with a wonderfully fascinating story.
Even outside of game plots, there are things like DLC. Downloadable content has been viewed almost universally as a blight on the gaming landscape. Assumed to be lazy cash grabs or content ripped out from the finalized game in order to sell later to make additional cash. While I can’t argue that those things have never occurred and certainly can point to a few examples where they most definitely have, there are some positives to DLC that I don’t ever think get given the time of day. Take that “content ripped from the final game” concept. I see that one a lot. Especially with games like RPGs. People argue that they should have just included it in the final game and not sold it separately, that in ‘ye olden days’ of gaming that you would get the full product at a single price. Which isn’t really true. A lot of the stuff that ends up being DLC is stuff that is planned for the game, but can’t be finished by date they need to go gold by (the date the game needs to be finished so they can send it to be mass produced and packaged for the actual release day). A lot of times, studios will keep working on polishing the game after that point and push those updates out as a big ‘day one patch’. But a lot of times content that was planned like that would just be cut or dummied out. That happened A LOT in the old days. Heck, there’s entire plotlines to the original Knights of the Old Republic that got dummied out, and a romance plot too. Games can have massive unexplorable areas that were going to be used for something but there was no time to finish it. Going back to Mass Effect, a lot of the complaints about the DLC being “on the disc” were only partially right because yes, these planned for expansions were planned for and thus their bare bones were already in place but incomplete. All the dialogue and scenes where Kasumi Goto in Mass Effect 2 interacting with the existing missions/story were on the disc, but her model was a generic placeholder and her recruitment mission and loyalty mission where absent.
DLC is something that can – and often is – used as a second chance to save ideas from the scrap pile without having to sacrifice a release date window. But people often assume the worst, greediest, and most scummy practices imaginable. Again, I can’t say those horrible views are based somewhat on fact. There have been cases of that happening. I just think that its awfully pessimistic to paint the whole concept of post-launch content with such a negative brush based on those incidents. Now whether you don’t think the price is worth it is a whole other debate, and really that always comes down to personal taste. No different than ‘Is this game worth X dollars?’. Sometimes it isn’t. No I don’t want to spend $1.50 on a swimsuit I personally won’t ever use in Final Fantasy XIII-2 (I do have the swimsuit outfits, but that’s because they came as part of a bundle.)
I suppose a lot of this can be viewed as the ‘gaming fandom’ going through its cynical teenage years of being a long term fanbase. But there’s always those who buck the flow, and Indy gaming being embraced so wholeheartedly is just one sign of that. The fact that games made by small teams that don’t just become best sellers, but spawn entire fan followings solely around their games can just so that people can find something positive to enjoy in gaming still. It’s not just a bunch of grumps spouting witty cynicisms like a bunch of jaded critics. Gaming is something that should be enjoyable. Be that conquering the hardest difficulty if that’s your thing, or playing on ‘Story’ difficulty because you’re interested in the story and lore. You should play what you enjoy and how you enjoy. Be it Braid or Boy and His Blob, Tetris or Tekken – just enjoy your games.
Of course, that’s not that there isn’t anything to be concerned about with gaming in general. I mean, from the online threats to the unethical pressures publishers have pushed on developers, gaming as an industry and as a medium has a long way to go. And yes, there are plenty of valid criticisms that can be discussed about games. But if there was one thing I learned back in art school, it was that criticism is healthy for growth, and not everyone is going to like everything. Heck, my own writing was often berating for having ‘no substance beyond being entertaining.’ I personally believe that the important thing is to keep looking forward at how games can improve, how we can enjoy our entertainment to the fullest, and be considerate of other viewpoints that will help gaming grow into a vast and diverse community where we can all enjoy things.
Then again that’s all just me. I said I didn’t want to preach and I meant it. I’m not going to demand that my view is the right one, or the only valid one. It’s just mine. I just miss when games were fun.