Fighting the Wrong Good Fight
I feel for Warren Spector when he says that reviewers are misunderstanding Epic Mickey; really I do. I feel for him the same way I felt for Tim Schafer when people misunderstood the RTS elements of Brutal Legend. And, when I say that I feel for them, I don’t mean that in the backhanded way that sets up the classic “but it’s all about the results” fatality move. I mean it in the “I’ve (kinda) been there and it sucks" kind of way.
There are few things as frustrating as working diligently on a project into which you have poured endless aspirations, heaping dollops of ego and unwavering, if unwarranted, confidence, only to discover that when you put it before the madding crowd they don’t get it. It’s almost impossible not to get mad at the consumer, whether that be a player of video games, a watcher of movies or a reader of your words, for looking at your work through the wrong lens, from the wrong angle and with all the wrong kinds of attention.
As a writer, it’s one thing to have people just not necessarily like what I say. That’s easy to deal with. But, when someone takes away the wrong point entirely, or spends their entire time hyper-analyzing a single sentence out of 1000 words that doesn’t even really impact the main point anyway, well that is almost physically painful. It can keep me up at nights, irrationally, illogically scowling away into the darkness. I can only imagine how that must feel magnified for a designer who has poured heart and soul into a project over a span of years, only to end up feeling like the keepers of the gate have missed the point entirely.
None of this is to say that my sympathy is moving the stone-hearted ways of my wallet, or that anyone is actually in the wrong for criticism delivered to Warren, Tim or anyone else who puts a product on the shelf. What I can’t criticize, however, is the desire, even need, to advocate for one's own work, hopeless though the effort may be.
Much as I think Warren Spector and countless others before him might want players to get on point and recognize the direction that they intended to go, the truth is that you have exactly one chance to impact a player’s perception and that’s when the game is on screen. Warren can tell us until he’s blue in the face that we are seeing things through distorted eyes, but he has no solution for correcting our vision. He might as well try to convince us the color red is a D Flat as played by an asthmatic on a Sousaphone.
The futility of the effort, however, is noble. I like a developer who stands up for his or her game. I like to see that kind of passion, misplaced though it may sometimes be, in the industry. In an age where things seem so packaged, prefabricated and product driven, there is something endearingly personal about such an emotional reaction. Speaking for myself, had I invested three years and millions of dollars into a single work, I would have to be physically restrained from not accosting anyone who even vaguely appeared to want to drag my work through the mud.
That Warren Spector doesn’t randomly lob bombs from a moving vehicle at those who dare besmirch his good name -- like, say, a David Jaffe might -- is a credit to his even temperament. Maybe it’s easier for me because I waited on Epic Mickey, and so I don’t have a $60 stake in Warren’s vision, but I do think it’s easy to lose sight as consumers to the fact that real lives are wrapped in the boxes and streams of data that make up games. I'm not saying that should be a factor in the buying decision, but it can be taken into account when we decided how to interpret the talking points that filter into the news.
In an industry that often seems perfectly content to take the safe route and distribute the intentionally mediocre, where the best path to profitability is to release games built by committee and formula, I ache for the team that strives to exceed and fails. Even as much as I condemned the catastrophe that was Elemental: War of Magic earlier in the year, I was torn by the certainty that people genuinely passionate about trying something different had fallen far short, even if it was clearly a failure of their own doing.
It’s easy to indict the highly visible for standing up for their work, for being completely biased against the litany of reasonable charges being brought against them. Frankly, I kinda like having those people around.