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

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?

You're not seeing the customer base the industry is trying to serve. Nothing motivates people more than the desire to gripe about something. A happy customer won't think to go online and write good reviews - he's busy being fulfilled by whatever he bought. An unhappy customer is feeling unfulfilled and tries to get some strange sort of vicarious fulfillment from spreading the misery around.

It's one of the main reasons I believe that most companies ignore a lot of the feedback they get on their forums.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
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'm with these guys...

Spoiler:

AND I've played Hannah Montana the Movie.

Guess I just like living the best of both worlds.

Pawz wrote:

Nothing motivates people more than the desire to gripe about something.

Actually, a better motivator, scientifically speaking, is a perceived threat from outside the group.

Hey, guess what.

I have to keep myself away from the majority of game communities out there because of the negativity. I start up a game, have some fun, visit the communities, then have my enjoyment tainted by those niggling rageful comments as I play. "Oh, the camera is a bit wonky sometimes. Yeah, I guess there are a lot of cut scenes and quick time events. Huh, I never noticed the poorer voice acting until now..."

Not only that, but I find other gamers can impact the way I play. For RPGs, I start to lose my devil-may-care attitude towards character building in favor of the cookie cutter build. I might stop using that SMG I love so much in favour of the (apparently) better assault rifle.

And to think that all I wanted was to jump on a forum and share my enthusiasm by saying, "Man, this game is fun! Are you guys having fun or what?"

However, I'm not a lost cause. I still prefer ManShep over FemShep, I enjoyed DA2 more than DA:O, I played a Paladin from the word go in WoW and enjoyed every painstaking minute of it, and I'll always play Ryu even if he's never been as competitive as Ken. Most importantly, I'll try anything that piques my interest if it's part of a Steam sale, no matter how terrible the reviews are.

DareX2 wrote:

I still prefer ManShep over FemShep

Heathen!

I think Brink is pretty ok. It's a rough release, but honestly what isn't these days? With the advent of online patching to consoles, game releases on all but Nintendo platforms have gotten more and more buggy these last few years. "Just get it out and we can patch it later" seems to be the SOP for most game developers/publishers lately.

It seems impossible that the Brink sound bug that seems to affect 100% of us on the map refuel could have been missed in QA. But I'm sure it, and some other issues, will be patched in a week or two and those of us still playing will be having fun.

Once again I'm thankful for finding GWJ. This little corner of the internet seems shielded from the greater negativity and fanboyism out there in other "gaming" sites or communities. I mean sure, you don't bring up Darksiders in the Video Game Deals thread... but overall this is a negative-free zone.

Complaints in catch-alls or recommendation threads seem pretty valid. Nobody outright destroys a game. Criticism != negativity. Here is a good place to be.

And as pointed out, people who are busying having fun don't stop to post about it maybe? Heck that's probably why the Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 catch-alls are only a handful of pages. The games are just too fun and everyone's too busy having fun and there's nothing to poke at.

I avoid negativity towards games by only playing the good ones.

Makes me think of this:

Sonicator wrote:

Makes me think of this:

Louis CK

That could be linked so many times all over the internet.

"These graphics are s***"
"YOU CAN SEE THE STITCHING IN HIS PANTS!"

Generally I'm with the above fellas. I'm a long-time gamer, going back to Pong and the 2600. Overall, the industry has flourished into this amazing platform of unlimited expression and possibilities. Unfortunately, the business end has also corporatized a lot of our pasttime. The business of games has to claim some responsibility for this attitude. By treating gamers as nothing but brainless losers who live in their mom's basement, you are either going to attract (or in extreme cases, mold) a good chunk your audience to that image.

Regarding Brink, overall I've heard it's a pretty good game with some flaws. Unfortunately, the marketing blitz for this game has been pretty extensive, and has been done with an attitude of "gamers will play anything with a gun." If a publisher's marketing team is going to be as cynical towards it's consumers, I think we've earned the right to return the favor and critique a flawed product.

I love smaller, flawed games where you can see the love put into the product. There was this game called Europa 1400: the Guild, which was a sort of distant cousin to the Sims Medieval. You basically run a business and a family in a medieval village. It was nothing special, but it was just such a quirky title that had so many cool little aspects going in it that it clicked with me. Then there's Love, Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress and similar games, where you have cool ideas realized by a team of one or a few. If you're going to critique the games with a boatload of money behind them, back up your words and play a smaller indie title made for all the right reasons.

Sometimes I think there's a line to be drawn between beating on a product because it's objectively got flaws (for example technical problems) versus beating on a product because it's not what you expected or like, which is a far more grey area involving expectations and what the marketing was portraying the product as.

There's the hyperbole factor with all this too, rather than using the full spectrum of how much you like something, too often only the extremes are used. For example I'm playing the PC release of Hydrophobia, it's definitely not perfect, but it's also definitely not the offence to every sentient being that some comments around the web would have you believe, it's just kind of good. You could tie in the whole 7-9 game reviews scale problem here, and the people who mentally invest themselves into review numbers.

Also worth noting is those who will defend their favourite thing zealously, which I think comes back to whether you can find good objective rather than subjective reasons to criticise a certain product. To go back to the Louis CK video, when the airplane wi-fi goes out, it's hardly the end of the world, but it's still disappointing (just don't get too hung up on it).

Scratched wrote:

You could tie in the whole 7-9 game reviews scale problem here, and the people who mentally invest themselves into review numbers.

Yeah I've always preferred the 4-star movie review scale, that Ebert and a lot of others use. The 10-point thing equates in people's head too much with the 100-point grading system in schools, where a 60 is an F, and so on with the letter grades.

4-star is a simpler but more effective system. 1 is crap, 2 is ok, 3 is good, 4 is great. That's all you need.

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!

My more recent comments notwithstanding, I'm pretty much the opposite on this.

I have long been a champion of the unfairly maligned game. I've played a number of movie tie-ins that were just fun, dammit, and nobody is ever going to tell me different.

If enjoying Iron Man on the PS3 was wrong, then I don't want to be right. Because I got a whole lot of value out of that $20, and who doesn't want to fly around in a metal suit blowing up terrorists? You who doesn't want to do that? Communists. And I don't want to be one of those either.

Ditto for Spiderman 2 and (more recently) Spiderman: Web of Shadows. I hate Spiderman. He's whiney, self pitying, melodramatic; he's an emo super hero. But swinging around kicking dudes in the head and wrapping them up in webs and watching them hop around is freaking fun.

I could go on and on with my list of B and C list games that make me happy (The Club, Mercenaries 2, any game featuring the Incredible Hulk, Infamous, Gungrave: Overdose, Graffiti Kingdom... the list is as long as I am.) But they all have one thing in common; the more other people complain about them, the less I care what other people think about them, or anything else.

If anyone is going to look down their noses at me for playing Spiderman: Web of Shadows, then they can take their opinions and shove them of up both nostrils until it pierces their brains and finally kills that part of themselves that actually wants to be happy.

For my part, I'm just going to have fun. Because I'm not curing cancer, I'm just saving a world that exists only as an arrangement of binary data.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

I have long been a champion of the unfairly maligned game. I've played a number of movie tie-ins that were just fun, dammit, and nobody is ever going to tell me different..

I think hyperbole is an enemy of this too. I'm reminded of the 'fun menu' comic (minus the dwarf fortress part), and if I twist it's meaning a bit, where a it's possible for a game to be a bit fun, but not the extremes of "RAAAAR, this is the best game ever" or "RAAAAR, this is the worst game ever".

Going back to hydrophobia again, it's definitely not the best game ever, it could use a few more patches, but I feel better off for playing it than not. I'd be sitting at the table, playing my game and enjoying it, I'll play around with it a little more, then uninstall it and move on.

Not everything in our lives have to move mountains to be good.

To me I think it comes down to my ratio of time : games.

When I was a kid, I had far more available time to play games than I had access to games to play. That meant that I was free to play, replay, perfect my skills at, and otherwise wring the absolute maximum possible enjoyment out of each game in my collection. A competent but unremarkable second-stringer like B.O.B. or E.V.O. (man, what WAS it about acronyms that didn't actually stand for anything in the 90's?) might not have been objectively very GOOD, but darnit, they were what I HAD, and so I honestly had a lot of fun with them. Being overly critical of them was counterproductive.

These days, I could buy myself a new video game darn near every week if I wanted to, but I'd never finish them all even once let alone multiple times. (Given the popularity of Pile threads around here, I'm guessing I'm not alone.) Therefore, it's not enough for any given game to be good: they need to be the best, or else why am I using my time, which will only become more valuable as I creep ever closer to death, to play them? Every game needs to be amazing, groundbreaking, a masterpiece, or it's just not worth playing. Being overly critical becomes a necessity: I could probably have a lot of fun with a Spider-Man: Web of Shadows if I sat down and really gave it a chance, but why bother when I could spend that time playing Arkham Asylum, which is the same thing but better?

Being generally positive allowed me to have the most fun possible with a limited number of games in an unlimited amount of time; being generally critical (or "negative" if you must) allows me to have the most fun possible with an unlimited number of games in a limited amount of time. Either way, the goal is fun. I don't think I enjoy the games I do play any less than I did back in the day; if anything I probably enjoy them more. I just need to be choosier about which ones I put my time into, which means putting a lot of thought into examining their flaws and being willing to chuck one into the Outgoing bin as soon as it quits being fun.

I also agree with Infinity about the importance of recognizing the difference between something that's "bad" and something I Don't Care about. I'm sure Generic Modern Combat War Fighter of Honor: Brown Edition is a ton of fun for people who are into that sort of thing, but I Don't Care. Even as I typed the above, I realize that I expressed that in a snarky manner which entirely contradicts the point, but that's something else I Don't Care about, because darn it, it's FUN to get a little snarky sometimes. A little snark is okay: the sort of honest heartfelt nerd rage that you sometimes see people indulge in because something They Don't Care about is more popular than they feel it should be is no fun for anyone.

I just spent a few hours last night with Transformers: War For Cybertron. It's still awesome.

wordsmythe wrote:

I just spent a few hours last night with Transformers: War For Cybertron. It's still awesome.

Cool. Glad you like it. It is indeed awesome. On its own but especially if you were a fan.

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

I would not be surprised if a few people stole that quote for their signatures. Brilliant.

It is true what they say: You don't know how bad you have it until someone points it out to you. It's like being a five year old with a stick in the woods. To you, it's the best thing ever, until your cousin gets a Nintendo. Suddenly that stick looks pretty lame compared to Super Mario Brothers.

I get this way about movies. Bad reviews can and do drive me away from the theater. I was all set to see Sucker Punch until the reviews called it shallow and pointless. Had I not read the reviews and just saw the movie with no expectations, would I have enjoyed it? Probably.

What about games that get great reviews but end up boring me? DC Universe Online falls into that category. It received great reviews across the board, but after a couple of hours my brain turned into Homer Simpson saying, "Boooooring."

Some people say you should wait for the review before buying a game. Maybe we should buck the trend, buy what we think we will enjoy and make up our minds?

burntham77 wrote:

It is true what they say: You don't know how bad you have it until someone points it out to you. It's like being a five year old with a stick in the woods. To you, it's the best thing ever, until your cousin gets a Nintendo. Suddenly that stick looks pretty lame compared to Super Mario Brothers.

>use stick on cousin

wordsmythe wrote:
burntham77 wrote:

It is true what they say: You don't know how bad you have it until someone points it out to you. It's like being a five year old with a stick in the woods. To you, it's the best thing ever, until your cousin gets a Nintendo. Suddenly that stick looks pretty lame compared to Super Mario Brothers.

>use stick on cousin

I don't understand that command. Try pairing a verb with a noun, like EAT APPLE or OPEN DOOR.

I'm satisfied with my gaming, I have a pile as tall as myself.
I own 20 games on steam and my wishlist is 30 items.

The skeptic in me thinks that Elysium is pitching positivity only to build on his monopoly of cynicism. What's your angle, sir?