You've Changed, Man
At the risk of seeming self-obsessed — or perhaps finally revealing in public my deep-seated, thinly-veiled self-obsession — I’ve been reading over some of the older content I worked on here at GWJ. It began, frankly, with the revelation that Vanguard is going free to play, and by that I don’t mean that the FTP model is a revelation but rather that Vanguard is still a thing that exists at all. This was news to me.
Some five years ago, I wrote what I called an anti-review on Vanguard, and to this day it remains the third most commented-on feature on the site and, last I checked, one of the top ten articles on the site for traffic. It was a blunt, some might say openly hostile, account of my experiences with the launch of Vanguard and, looking back at the words now, probably more than a little inflammatory. The me of five years ago, however, would have argued that the content was written to entertain, and that what I was writing was genuinely and honestly in appropriate line with the scorn I felt for the game. In other words, I just hated it that much.
And, that’s the heart of what I started thinking about, because the truth is that I don’t think I would have written the Vanguard Anti-Review now. At least not like that, packed as it is with dripping disdain and mixed metaphors. And it leaves me wondering: Man, what happened to me?!
The lesson that I feel it has taken me the longest to learn professionally, personally and emotionally is the sort of thing I think is taken for granted as common sense, but is rarely demonstrated in practice. It is this: Not every problem or injustice is equally important.
I think this is a relatively easy concept to digest logically, though perhaps there are individuals out there who would reject the very notion, but I think it’s also a hard thing to actually practice. If nothing else, look at road rage. The idea that people would put themselves and their family in danger by driving hyper-aggressively over a perceived slight on the road is, in a word, stupid. From a wholly logical point of view, if someone cuts you off in traffic, the instinct should be to slow down and let that person get far away, because he or she is definitely going to kill somebody driving like that. What usually happens though, is that the offended driver will make wild gestures, or aggressively tailgate, or — in really genius moments — leap forward at reckless speed and return the cut-off favor. Again, though I think many of us have taken similar action, can it really be argued that these actions are anything short of, again, stupid?
I assume there are volumes of psychology on why people overreact to the small stuff and let the big stuff slide by, but at the core of it all the basic problem seems to be that our brains don’t do a great job of measuring response in proportion to the severity of the incident. Or, in other words, we’re not really good at implementing the practice of not taking every injustice as a significant threat.
This is not, however, a professional opinion.
What all of this has to do with Vanguard, is that ultimately I feel like my article was essentially a form of road rage. To be fair, if any game that year was going to inspire that kind of response from me, it was going to be Vanguard, but there’s no way to read that article — and others like it across the spectrum of games writing — and not get the sense that there is some kind of personal affront implied. I remember feeling it, this sense of Vanguard eliciting a response within me that went beyond “this is bad” and ventured into “this is insultingly bad”.
Some might consider that a good, appropriate thing in games writing, and I actually tend to agree. I think there is room for all kinds of different voices, and I certainly don’t feel like I framed the article in a way that deceived anyone. I just don’t have that voice as loud inside me anymore, and I am left wondering if that, for me, is itself a good or bad thing.
The fear is that I’ve become so desensitized to the bad — be it games, companies or policies — that I just have run out of indignant ire to raise. These days the thought of unloading both barrels on a bad game or policy, of taking a radical position, sounds more like an overreaction than a strike against the machine for the little guys. Like watching someone berate a fast food clerk for putting pickles in their burger when they explicitly said no pickles. Dude, the guy is working a dinner shift at the A&W, not operating on your spleen. Get some perspective, clown shoes.
But I’m still torn, because people are passionate about video games, engaged in the industry and energized by resisting some of the inherent unfairness. And I don’t want a group of gamers who shrug everything off, and just float along until something finally makes them decide not to play anymore, to be the non-voice of disaffection.
It would be a complete cop-out to say that my perspective has changed because I’ve matured. Not only is my age irrelevant, it’s little more than a straw-man superiority angle that says, “You don’t agree with me because you’re a big baby.” At the same time, I don’t accept the people who shout of me and my ilk that we’ve sold out. For one thing if that’s true, then there’s another lesson I never learned: buy low, sell high. Also, I’m not even entirely sure what that means; who is it that I’m supposed to have sold out to, exactly?
The thing I’m left with is achingly pedestrian but probably closest to the truth. I have indeed changed, because between then and now a lot of things have happened, and I am influenced by my experiences. I think this also explains a bit why there is a growing perceived disconnect between game journalists as a group and the reader base, and it’s because we’ve all changed a bit, but not the same way despite playing the same games. Different things happen to games writers. It’s rarely insidious or even explicit, but you’re part of different conversations discussed in different ways because it’s a different group. As a result, we’re going to run across situations where we perceive things in very different ways.
For me, not allowing myself to get worked up over things that I don’t think deserve the attention is an extension of who I’ve become since 2007. Getting worked up over Vanguard probably made sense at the time in the context of my life. Doing so now doesn’t. The only thing I can say for sure is that someday I will read this article, and I will say, “I’d never write that now.”
I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.