Don't Bring Me Down

Even as a long, card-carrying member of the cranky-faced cynics club, I can’t help but notice that optimists have become a tragically endangered species of late. I feel like there should be legislation passed by Congress that protects the rare, spotted, techno-savvy optimist, and then that legislation should immediately be challenged by ranchers in western states with claims these optimists left to roam wild will decimate their cattle herds. Such is basically the kind treatment optimists already should have come to expect in this dismal modern world.

At least it would be if they weren’t so irrationally sunny with their brightly colored clothes, their well coiffed hair and their stupid positive outlook on humanity.

It’s hard to be optimistic in the age of economic crashes, global climate change, Tiger Woods knee/marital problems and a television network dedicated exclusively to Oprah Winfrey. It’s even tougher if you are a citizen of the internet, where angst and grief seem to be the ebb and flow of a perpetually disaffected society. I realize gloomy words such as these make the whole thing a self-fulfilling prophecy, but you’d think that as gamers who are in many ways defined by play itself, that we would be at least a little more positive as a group. And yet, sometimes I feel like we are collectively one of the most unhappy, dissatisfied and victimized collection of malcontents since the cast of Two and Half Men threw a Charlie Sheen going away party.

This isn’t actually a criticism. It’s an observation; a large, grand, blanket, possibly flawed observation that I am every bit as guilty of perpetuating as the next sad sack. And, yes there are small oases of still waters and pleasantness that hold fast against the malaise, but to me they seem like rare beasts. A happy, largely satisfied gamer is the modern day unicorn, and if you see one you should immediately tranquilize it, saw off the horn, grind it to a fine powder and snort the hell out of it, because that is pure-grade, uncut, happy-dust.

Even the people who seem to be positive, often those who most vociferously espousing the relative merits of some game, company or console, when actually engaged in conversation become foul-tempered and ugly in a way that Rosanne Barr only ever dreamed. These people are as much optimists as my cultural references are timely and relevant, which is to say not at all. When I speak of the happy gamer, I am talking about the person who is largely satisfied with the state of the games he or she is playing and who does not get what all the fuss is about. And, honestly, I have no concept of how such a person would exist with all the downward influences swirling about.

Whenever I wonder whether marketing influences the decisions I make, I remember—should remember—how quickly I can be influenced by a tightly delivered payload of negativity. I am a tree caught in a storm, leaning whichever way the wind blows. You can tell me that it’s because I am made of softer material, perhaps some kind of poly-cotton blend, but I notice that the wind is blowing because a hell of a lot of people are all moving in the same direction. Even the guy pointing at everyone and calling them sheep has to follow along with the herd to keep pointing.

The other night I bought and played a few hours of Brink. I was enjoying myself, had a pleasant time and thought I might pop onto Twitter to share my contentment. Within 15 minutes I felt the sandy foundation of my initial opinion slipping, and after reading a review or two I was in an entirely different and less desirable mental space. It’s not that my thoughts are so ephemeral as to be non-existent, it’s just that once someone points out that the FedEx logo has a subtle arrow between the E and the X you can never again see the logo without seeing that arrow!

This isn’t a criticism of criticism though. I’m not saying a bad or mediocre game shouldn’t be called to the mat for its sins against truth, art and beauty. What I am saying is that there seems to be such a revelry, a glee in finding the new thing to skewer, and the culprit is often not the people whose job it actually is to critique. No, it’s the gamers themselves that seem to find the most enjoyment from reacting almost violently to the offerings of a sometimes equally cynical industry.

I must admit, there have been a number of times recently where I’ve thought, “Man, gamers sure do hate video games.”

And yet, even as I make that pronouncement, I have the equally sneaking suspicion that my own view has itself become twisted and distorted by my own pessimism and cynicism. As I said at the start, I’m no optimist. I’m no font of rainbow-colored puppies. So, when I turn my cynical eye from scowling at games and back on the gamers themselves, maybe all I’m seeing is an illusory reflection of what I least like about myself. (Also, if you’re stoned, you’re welcome for that last sentence.)

Because, obviously there is a silent majority of gamers that just go about the pleasant business of buying, playing and enjoying video games. Rare is the occasion when a gamer is compelled to furiously craft a strongly worded screed entitled, “Ya Know, I Don’t Know What The Fuss Is All About; I Thought Homefront Was Pretty OK.”

So, I am left with a question that I’m not entirely prepared to answer. When I look out and see a flawed industry trying to serve what appears to be an angry mob of disenfranchised gamers, am I seeing reality or only the broken parts of a larger functioning whole? And if it’s the latter, what does that end up saying about me?

Comments

When I speak of the happy gamer, I am talking about the person who is largely satisfied with the state of the games he or she is playing and who does not get what all the fuss is about.

Hi, that is me! I like video games and am happy with where they are at. Let's be friends.

Best article picture ever.

Damn, now I've got ELO running through my head.

Tanglebones wrote:

Damn, now I've got ELO running through my head.

Seconded. Nooooooooo!

This article makes me just want to sit back and play a game and have fun. I think reading so much about video games sometimes encourages me to be critical of a game instead of just trying to enjoy it. Or writing about them, or talking about them, etc. If I just sit back and play games and enjoy them, I have a good time. It's when I have to join the conversation that I feel like I kick into cynical mode.

On another note, I can't think about ELO without thinking of that weird Doctor Who episode where that one guy who really likes ELO has sex with a sentient chunk of concrete. So there's that.

I ran into this with Homefront. I thought it was a fun game and enjoyed the multiplayer a lot. When I stated this on the forums I felt outgunned.

All the haters were screaming louder than the people that actually liked the game. This turned the the people that did not play the game off. All this while the people enjoying the game were actually spending time playing it rather than vocalizing that they "wasted their money" and this and that sucks.

I got a good 20+ hours out of that game and enjoyed my time with it.

SallyNasty wrote:
When I speak of the happy gamer, I am talking about the person who is largely satisfied with the state of the games he or she is playing and who does not get what all the fuss is about.

Hi, that is me! I like video games and am happy with where they are at. Let's be friends.

You know, some of my snarky comments aside, that's actually where I am, too. I get hyperbolic in my reactions to some games (hello, Darksiders and Mass Effect) but mostly that's because I think it's funny. I play the role of curmudgeon and encourage people to view me as a perpetual grump (a bit of roleplaying that I think you indulge in, too, Elysium), but I honestly can't tell you the last game I played that I genuinely thought was awful and had no redeeming qualities.

There are so many wonderful games released every year that I can't even begin to play all of them or even know about them. I'm quite happy with my platforms of choice, and I'm happy with the quality of the games available for them. There are titles I find disappointing and some industry trends that are a bit worrying, but by and large I'm pretty excited about what's out there already and what will be coming soon.

As to the larger question of whether or not gamers are actually that unhappy, I think it's illusory. We wouldn't still be spending hundreds of dollars each year on games if we didn't like what we were getting. So why is there so much snark and so many complaints? Partly it's that the internet doesn't reward kindness. You don't really get retweeted and pinged back and reposted for eloquently writing about something you love; you get it for kicking something in the teeth and coming up with epic one-liners. I think the other part of it is that people are simply more likely to vent negative feedback than post positive praise. So if you're disappointed in the latest entry in your favorite franchise, or the decision to not release this or that DLC pack on your platform, or that games aren't grown up enough in the way you think they should be grown up, then you're more likely to vent that than to say, as you put it, “Ya Know, I Don’t Know What The Fuss Is All About; I Thought Homefront Was Pretty OK.”

I love reading reviews of games, but unless I'm really on the fence about something, I try to only read them after I've played the game. Sure, sometimes it helps to have your expectations low going in, but more often I just notice the things that people are complaining about more. I had a lot of friends who recommended RDR to me, but I also saw it on some list of "2010's most disappointing games" before I played it, and I can't shake the feeling that that must have had some effect on my overall experience.

Interesting read Sean. I'm actually finding myself getting involved in conversations around games less because I don't like how people get over critical, and I don't like that it makes me either over critical or defensive.

There's also something about the nature of internet discussion that forces the people taking part into an extreme position. You can't kind of like something, or be a little circumspect. Everything has to be totally binary, you're either a fanboy or a hater.

A more appropriate image?

IMAGE(http://kriscarter.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/futurama-seymour.jpg)

Spoiler:

Sorry, Lara.

I find myself typically liking games that a lot of people thought were total crap for some reason or another (oh hi there, FFXIII!) so I guess I'd be in that camp as well. It's odd, though; I have the potential to voraciously consume all reviews/media about a game or genre in which I'm interested. Typically the happy gamer is the one less connected to the gamer "culture" (probably best left to Zacny's recent article), who's just oblivious to the majority of game reviewers, twitter monkeys, etc. The ones who are more steeped in that sub-culture are the most pessimistic. Then there's an even smaller sub-sub-culture like me who has maybe descended through that to still sit entrenched in the morass of gamer culture while enjoying most things because they're just fun.

Also, I'm not an angsty FML-posting 14-year-old. I think that has a lot to do with it.

Elysium wrote:

I must admit, there have been a number of times recently where I’ve thought, “Man, gamers sure do hate video games.”

So why do you keep allowing Rob to be on the podcast?

In actuality, I'm a happy gamer. I wonder if my rather intense schedule over the last few years, which has precluded me from getting neck-deep in the usual gamer morass of opinions, has shielded me from discontent. I delight in being able to play games, rarely have any issues, and couldn't care less about the various textural merits on 360 vs. PS3 that seem to consume some other gamers. Ignorance is bliss? Has the meta-game surrounding gaming (the editiorials, reviews, opinions, forums, etc.) sucked the joy out of the pure act of playing games?

I know we've had the context discussion before here in the forums and on the podcast. I can't help but feel that if we're tired of seeing gaming through a distorted lens, perhaps we should stop putting on the damned glasses.

Thanks for posting a still from the saddest cartoon episode in the history of cartoons.

I've been feeling like the lone optimist a lot lately. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of everything, but I think that things generally do and will work out OK. Even gamification.

I know.

So while I was editing this for Sean, I got followed out of nowhere by someone I don't know on Twitter. I generally try and see who these people are, in case I just don't recognize their name or picture. I wanted to share this because it lead me to click the link in her bio to the last third of Stephen Colbert's commencement speech at Knox College a few years back. And I really like his improv-inspired "yes and" philosophy toward life.

I don't read reviews anymore simply because I am too easily swayed towards negativity. It's a character flaw I guess, but there have been games I enjoyed that I subsequently read that I wasn't supposed to like and I found my enjoyment a bit diminished upon reflection. It's an odd phenomenon.

If you want to stay positive just read previews of games you think you might like, play them and ignore the reviews. The same could be said about movies and books.

One of the problems i think there is is that you cannot put forth a criticism of the game without people interpreting that criticism as you hating the game.

It's one thing to decry the reused areas in DA2 or to discuss the merits of the story but it's another to actually dislike the game.

As for negative opinions... i think both the positive and negative opinions get shouted down if they're not the popular consensus and i've been finding this more and more. It started off with the negative things (like trying to discuss DRM or whatever) and then has possibly moved to cover everything..... though i've never seen anyone get shouted down for liking something or stating a positive opinion on GWJ.

You're only seeing the outlying 2% (or whatever) of attention-seeking noisemakers, just like in politics or any other subject where people have an opinion in a large, well-connected community. It seems to be a universal truth: the more noise/bile/fuss, the more attention. Since everyone has a global audience now, so to speak (via forums, etc.), the attention-seekers are conforming to the downward spiral of reporting/repeating negative information that pervades social discourse today. I confess I don't know if this race-to-the-bottom phenomenon is inevitable in well-connected social systems, but it is arguably manifest here.

Ask yourself -- is what you're seeing any different from the reporting of, and public discussion about, politics, policy, world events, economics, or even science/environmentalism in the public eye? I think you'll see many, many flawed industries trying to serve what appears to be a (very very small!) angry mob of disenfranchised people. But as you say, the vast majority of well-functioning people (and gamers) are reasonably happy with most things (games), just living their lives (playing their games) and quietly trying to make the world a better place.

(There is the additional nerd factor (cf. a bit of Rob Zacny's article yesterday) with gaming, which tends to exacerbate the toxicity of any discussion potentially including socially-awkward participants, combined with the general problem of the semi-anonymity of the internet (cf. the Greater Internet f*ckwad Theory)).

So the answer to your final question is "both". I don't pretend to know the way out of this, but we (and game companies) must keep in mind that the "angry mob of disenfranchised gamers" is very very small, percentage-wise, but very very noisy. This is a many-subject, pan-internet problem, and gigabytes have already been written lamenting the state of affairs.

Ugh. Now I need to play a good, simple, lighthearted game to shake this off. Good thing there are zillions of them!

Edit: PS I'm definitely a happy gamer.

Know thyself as a gamer. It'll take care of a lot of things.

It means I can dismiss lots of games as things I Don't Care About. They're not bad, dumb, evil or anything, I just Don't Care About Them. They might have nuggets and ideas of gameplay I adore, but I'm not going to torture myself with the rest of the game just to say Look I Played That Bit I Think Is Cool.

Examples: the resource gathering in Monster Hunter; doing levels inside of equipment in Disgaea to upgrade them (coming soon to Android as a standalone game woo!); the most recent Sims game goals and aspirations systems.

As with any other medium, there's stuff I love and stuff I can't stand in terms of gaming genres and mechanics.

Love the Seymour image from Futurama. A comic I read recently started measuring sadness with units of measure being Seymours.

That said, I always try to be optimistic even in the face of so many other gamers saying things suck. This week I've defended PSN, Xbox Live Silver, PSP Go, and Stardock against the cynical masses.

I've often wondered why games get people so easily upset about stuff that doesn't effect anyone in any profound way.

See the Diablo Technicolor debacle, the outrage that Fallout 3 wouldn't be a carbon copy of versions 1 and 2, the marketing disaster at GOG, the sh*tstorm that ensues anytime a game service becomes unvalailable for longer than 2 minutes, ...

One explanation I've heard is that after our stressful daylives, where we are prepared to deal with adversity, we feel we deserve to get everything we want. Any additional setbacks, real or not, seem like the coming of the Apocalypse.

But another explanation might indeed be that we just enjoy complaining, enjoy laughing at positive people, enjoy the faux feeling of superiority for detecting flaws where others see just simple entertainment.

I must admit, there have been a number of times recently where I’ve thought, “Man, gamers sure do hate video games.”

I don't think that's really the case. For sure, part of it is that there are some jerks who just enjoy complaining. And it's also true that the (potentially, anyways, vast majority of) people happy with their games are too busy playing to be complaining loudly about them. So part of it is a perception issue.

But that aside, I don't think it's about hate. If gamers complain about games, I think it's because they want them to be better (that gamers often disagree on what's "better" is a whole other issue), and that's because they care about them, not because they hate them.

This doesn't really address every part of the phenomenon of negativity around video gaming, but it applies my situation, and that might be the best I can do.

As a gentleman with a few decades behind me, I find nostalgia to be as insidious as it is comforting. I recall in some vague way the self-centered pleasure I felt cracking open the box of some long awaited for game, playing it until the moment where my parents had enough, and finally told me I have to CLEAN YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW. And when I was done with that experience, I was simply done. There was no guilty-sounding internal voice telling me that I didn't possibly get my money's worth out of this product or that I should have spent those few hours doing yard work instead of playing a game. Now that I have that voice inside me, every moment I spend with the pastime I still love seems like a precious jewel that must be polished to brilliance or it will simply go to waste. I have to be very careful not to focus on the flaws in the jewel, lest I never be satisfied.

What this means is that I have to take the hobby for what it is - a light-hearted pastime, an enjoyable form of escapism. I can certainly find some kind of twisted enjoyment in venomous criticism, but must remember that my feelings don't always just reveal flaws in the product I am critiquing but also reveals the difficult task of not trying to chase that elusive ghost of nostalgia and just embrace the time I do get. I'm never going to experience the same excitement I felt when typing LOAD "*",8,1 and hearing the opening beats of the Maniac Mansion theme for the first time, and as we age we all have to realize that is OK. I am old enough and mentally refined enough to make my own choices in entertainment and be discerning in the use of my time. I might never recapture that innocent old-time childhood feeling but also have the wherewithal to use any past negative experiences to try and better inform my choices in the future. If I can no longer find any enjoyment in this hobby, it signals a time that I should probably just let go of it altogether.

PS- Minarchist, you bastard.

I'm happy with the games I'm playing. I mostly ignore the whiners. I find that by avoiding certain types of articles, blog posts, and forum threads, gaming is pretty freakin' awesome.

Portal 2, L4D2, Rift, Nethack... life's pretty good these days.
No, you can't "snort my horn" - I'm spoken for.

People tend to communicate more when they're unhappy. If they're happy, they're often too busy enjoying whatever it is that made them so to communicate about it.

I'm enjoying my brand new PS3 with Uncharted, Uncharted 2, Killzone 2, Resistance, and Metal Gear Solid 4. I could spend time posting about how much I'm enjoying it, or I could spend that time enjoying it some more. See?

Hans

Elysium wrote:

...“Ya Know, I Don’t Know What The Fuss Is All About; I Thought Homefront Was Pretty OK.”

TempestBlayze wrote:

I ran into this with Homefront. I thought it was a fun game and enjoyed the multiplayer a lot. When I stated this on the forums I felt outgunned.

All the haters were screaming louder than the people that actually liked the game. This turned the the people that did not play the game off. All this while the people enjoying the game were actually spending time playing it rather than vocalizing that they "wasted their money" and this and that sucks.

I got a good 20+ hours out of that game and enjoyed my time with it.

I would like to think that I wasn't one of those haters; although I did hold my tongue on occasion, out of respect for a fellow Goodjer who worked on it.
You can find me most nights on the 360 playing Homefront with my friends, now that they have most of the bugs worked out.
In summation: "I thought Homefront was pretty OK."

I'm loving Brink so far, I think Dragon Age 2 was marvelous and it's flaws were more than outshined by it's strong points, I even love 3D movies (yes, even with glasses)!

I do often wonder if I'm starting to get a reputation as the guy who likes everything, I can remember numerous occasions where I've ducked into a thread to post "Aww, I thought it was pretty good!" I feel like the Reverse Devil's Advocate sometimes, and I do get a little worn down by the negativity.

But at least it's well thought out and literate negativity here in goodjerland!

PS: I think we can all at least agree that Deus Ex: Invisible War sucked, that's a universal thing we can all get behind.

It’s hard to be optimistic in the age of ... a television network dedicated exclusively to Oprah Winfrey.

I don't have cable TV, so I did not know that. Thanks for bringing me down!

I was enjoying myself, had a pleasant time and thought I might pop onto Twitter to share my contentment.

There's your problem. IMAGE(http://planetsmilies.net/tongue-smiley-8879.gif)

Because nobody has done it yet: ELO

Excellent article. I find myself dealing with "haters" on a daily basis and can agree with disliking some of the aspects of that type of behavior in people.

I think it is that the folks enjoying the game are having too much fun to take time to post. Back to Mount and Blade: Me, Floris.

I loved ME2, and I like to think that my contribution on the thread helped some to enjoy their experiences with it a bit more. Ditto for DA2.

Generally, I don't continue to play or comment on games I didn't particularly like. This includes games like Dead Space 2 and now, Crysis 2. In general, there's just something about the modern FPS campaign that just doesn't hook me in. The more Diablo-esque open-worldish Borderlands - that's what I'm all about, and I've played all but the Tank class to level 69.

There's not much to talk about in Borderlands, though, which is kind of a shame. I'd wax more poetic about Sudoku, but you might shoot me and saw off my horn.

Elysium wrote:

Even the guy pointing at everyone and calling them sheep has to follow along with the herd to keep pointing

Awesome. I love it!

Just to break the cycle of cynicism, I really enjoyed that article