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?