For years now I have steadfastly, and some would say childishly, refused to plug a controller into my PC. As a result I grappled with ports of games like Assassin’s Creed, Bulletstorm, Dead Space and Deus Ex: Human Revolution which, while functional with mouse and keyboard, were clearly designed with a different input in mind. There was some deep-seated, purist, nonsensical part of me that felt like using a controller on my PC meant I was just turning it into an overpriced Xbox, that I was conceding some core concept of purity and sanctity.
This was, of course, utter poppycock. I’ve known that for a long time now, and so this week I gave in and plugged in a 360 controller to play Warhammer 40k: Space Marine. It was so very much the right decision, and got me thinking about what other brick walls I had been needlessly throwing between myself and having fun with my chosen hobby.
I thought of quite a few.
As a result I’ve found myself reconsidering, reconciling and compromising a lot like this lately. For years I’ve taken up arms in minor gaming causes, but after too many boycotts because of DRM and too long indignant rants over DLC I find that what I’ve most accomplished is stealing the joy and the whimsy that gaming is supposed to be about in the first place from myself.
So, I stand before you a man prepared to begin shucking the trivial principals and naive idealism that has informed my approach to video games for the better part of a decade. And I have a feeling that I may just be a happier gamer for it, in the long run.
That’s not to say I’m never going to get annoyed at some hidden clause abused within a terms of service agreement or find fault with the actions of ill-informed executives at major publishing houses again. But, the thing is you don’t have to work hard to find something to be unhappy about in the games industry, and even if you don’t try, it’s a certainty that someone else will and then actively pursue you to let you know what you’re supposed to be pissed off about. If you spend your time even casually watching for something to be annoyed about in this enthusiast industry, you’re not going to have much time left to actually play games.
Day-one DLC, always-on DRM, anti-piracy measures, rising prices in video games, corporate shenanigans, online passes, digital distribution and a score of other issues dominate conversations and the increasingly dour debates in dystopian forum communities. I use the word “conversation” loosely, and only in the sense that people pick a side and then spout the platitudes and well practiced talking points of that side ad nauseum. If your past time is participating in circular arguments, then this is a boom time for you, but less and less do I find that the discussions of gaming in the less well-tempered corners of the web actually make me want to play games.
It is a practice I am familiar with because I have spent years allowing myself to be sucked in to the trap of if not actively participating, at the very least reading and pondering on these issues. It’s not that there are no discussions worth having in gaming, it’s just that some of them are long since settled and dead. And, yes, in a lot of them gamers — at least old-school, inflexible gamers like myself — got totally screwed.
Thing is, when you lose, the best way to make sure you keep on losing is to go around whining about how bad that last loss was. And, let’s face it, gamers are on kind of a losing streak when it comes to issues like preorder bonuses, rising game prices, microtransactions and those other things I mentioned before. But, if I had to hazard a guess as to why we keep losing, it’s because we are still fighting the fights that are long-since lost, rather than the ones that matter tomorrow.
Or maybe even more importantly, we are wrongly seeing them as fights worth having in the first place.
Let’s say video gaming was skiing instead. If someone came up to me and told me that makers of skis were screwing over skiing enthusiasts because they were limiting the way bindings on skis worked to make sure that people had to buy the most expensive boots, I’d probably shrug the least interested shrug possible. From the outside looking in, the math is painfully simple. Is the cost of entry into skiing still lower than the value you get from skiing? If yes, then keep skiing. If no, then maybe this isn’t the place for you.
Of course, it’s almost an insultingly simple response and one that completely fails to address the underlying corporate manipulation at play, but again we’re just talking about skiing. Or video games. Either way, what I most certainly never want is to do the math and realize that the enjoyment I get has dropped below my threshold of cost. And, the more I participate in the dialogue of dead horses, the less I actually like playing games. For me, I can’t separate the angst from the action, and I realize I’ve just got to start letting go.
I hate when people tell me to get over it, I do, but honestly sometimes it’s just the best possible advice. Maybe it’s that as I get older, I just don’t have the energy to be insulted by every slight any more, or maybe it’s just that I’m beginning to realize the more I focus on what’s wrong with the industry the less I’m actually enjoying gaming, and that seems like a crappy deal. Ubisoft has really crappy DRM, but in my math, playing a fun game like Driver: San Francisco and getting over it is more fun than storming around the internet shaking my fist at the wind for blowing.
I can’t speak for the rest of gamers -- nor would I have the temerity to tell you that what’s right for me is right for you -- but I can tell you that I’m done waiting for gaming’s Norma Rae to come stand on a table and organize us into a collective bargaining force, in part because I don’t like Sally Field as much these days and second because no one is going to do that. The industry will go on operating as a self-involved, profit-driven force that will push the envelope on customer service every chance it gets for as long as they keep making money at it, and I can either try to play what’s fun or I can’t. The choice is actually mine.
Do I fault people for having a conversation about the direction of the industry? Not at all. Do I think everyone should adopt my “just get over it” model? Not really, though I think there are a lot of people like me who will find a lot more fun in letting go. Do I think gamers tend to make the biggest waves on issues that have long been settled? Yeah, actually I do. And I think by doing so they are already ceding the decision on the issues that will matter today and tomorrow to the industry.
But, the most important question I’ve been asking myself lately is, for once, a totally different one. Despite all these things that are wrong with the business of gaming, is it more fun to spend my time feeling like a marginalized gamer or playing the games? Then, when I have the answer to that question, I ask what I’m going to do about it? The answer is usually to play a fun game.