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.

Comments

It's not a cop-out to say one's perspective has matured if you don't imply that your perspective is superior.

When I was younger, I reacted with greater extremes, just like...everybody? Then again, my suffering and joy were both more extreme. It makes no more sense to blame one's younger self in issues like this than it does to blame one's younger self for not enjoying spicy food: one might even say that the process of maturing is a step back, not a step forward. Maybe my taste buds AND my sensibilities are not what they once were. Maybe that just opens up different--but not necessarily better or worse--ways of experiencing the world.

I also think a lot comes down to perspectives changing as we get older because we are more capable of appreciating our own mortality and how short our lives are, and we realize our generation will not FIX ALL THE THINGS!

Recognizing that lack of power also means the liberation of being off the hook for not preventing every little imperfection in the world from escaping our attention.

So...um... will you be playing free-Vanguard?

The Vanguard Anti-review is pure genius.

Don't go all Lucas-ruining-my-Star-Wars-infused-childhood on me now.

Han shot first and Vanguard's 6 months prior to a year post launch was horrendous.

Think of all the members we have now that would have passed us by? Did you know your anti-review is still in the list of reviews (top entry) for wikipedia?

I think it's a quantity of rage versus quality of rage thing. I think one of the things about getting older is that I have less patience for those that waste my time, and I don't want to spend more time than is necessary on something I don't like. That doesn't mean I won't have my entitle gamer moan about something, I'll just be concise about it, Orwell said some things I agree with that help with this.

I just reread the Vanguard anti-review and thought, "wow, I liked that," and then I saw in the comments that I liked it just as much five years ago. Unlike you, apparently, I HAVEN'T CHANGED.

CheezePavilion wrote:

It's not a cop-out to say one's perspective has matured if you don't imply that your perspective is superior.

Yeah. The reality is that experience changes your perspective, and getting older does make you a different person. Some people change more than others, but everybody does change. "Mellowing out" is a pretty common symptom.

Also, it's easy to forget the context; Vanguard was supposed to be something special. This was the masterpiece of several EQ alums who got away, and there was a ridiculous amount of hype surrounding it. The game was released in a different market, when nobody really knew where MMOs would go; all WoW had proven is that the market was way larger than anybody could have realized. The sky seemed like the limit.

As for myself, I didn't yet know that disappointment would become the rule for MMOs, rather than the exception. Why would I doubt that Vanguard would be awesome? It wasn't treading on the corpses of dozens of failed WoW pretenders back then.

It was this atmosphere in which this failure of a game delivered such crushing disappointment. It wasn't just that Vanguard was bad... it was a wakeup call about where MMOs were going as a whole. I think Vanguard is when the truth really sank in for me: no, there will not in fact be a WoW killer. Not then, maybe not ever.

So yeah, it was a perfect storm for internet rage. I liked the article at the time, and I don't think it's unfair as I re-read it now. Vanguard got what it had coming to it.

It was kind of weird to read an article only five years old explaining that consumers should not be treated like investors in a video game's development cycle.

That was so 2007. These days the developers don't even wait until they have a good beta.

Elysium wrote:

who is it that I’m supposed to have sold out to, exactly?

The Man. Duh.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I also think a lot comes down to perspectives changing as we get older because we are more capable of appreciating our own mortality and how short our lives are

This.

There is nothing wrong with "passing the torch" to the younger, more rage-induced generation in this case. That said, you have to know your audience, and I would posit that the majority of the GWJ audience has sold out aged right along with you in the last 5 years.

I used to work for an indie gaming site where for every triple A title I got to review I volunteered to review 2-3 bottom-of-the-barrel shovelware. To be honest, the only reason to slog through those games was to come up with creatively insulting metaphors. I'd also admit that I'd just started working in high tech and had never worked on a project that went south despite the best efforts of many of its project team.

Too things happened since then. One I've grown up and had a kid. Two, I experienced the humiliation of being on a sinking ship of a software project where my friends and I did our best but still couldn't save anything. In the end, we were all laid off right as the recession was kicking into high gear. So suddenly I had a lot more empathy with those who make horrible games.

I don't know whether or not I can agree with you wholly here, Sean, but one thing I can get on the boat on is that I have changed as well, and I have been aware of it. The thing that made me aware is, appropriately enough, road rage, and while I could say that it was age that did it, it's probably experience that did it. It just so happens that I gain more experiences as I get older.

I used to calm myself down from road rage by thinking logically and breathing hard. I don't even have to do that now because I unfortunately had first hand experience of letting a bad driver go ahead and witnessing a terrible car crash occurring, just as I drove by. The metal crashed on metal with a horrible crunching sound. I know what the driver would have been like there - T bone collision with a truck. I'm a doctor - I know how that driver would be like. If he was lucky, he'd die fast. That could have been me.

A growing sense of my limited time in this world and a greatly enhanced ability to just get what I want has led me to enjoy expectation, but not linger in disappointment. I like experiencing the hype surrounding a game for its own sake - the excitement is enjoyable. And if the game turns out not to be good? Well, there are better games to be occupying my time.

These days, I spend my time talking about games I like rather than games I don't. Even if I seem to be down on a game, if I'm talking about it, that means I like it. I don't have enough life on me to waste moping around doing things I don't want to do.

Primarily, I play games for fun. If the game is a train wreck, let me know, but I no longer need to read a review eviserating it. Any reviewer can do this. The reviewer voice I want to hear is the champion of the unknown gem, and my trust in that reviewer only comes from experience. Keep up the good work Sean and continue to trust your voice.

This reminds me of Charlie Brooker's farewell to Screen Burn column, when he decided to save the hate for something really worth hating instead of for just trying to be funny with it.

Ranty invective is often used to paper over the cracks in a review piece and you have to be very, very observant with it (Brooker, Croshaw) to pull it off. Hell, ranty invective is often used to paper over the cracks in just about anything you care to name.

I'd say realizing you wouldn't write something like that Vanguard review again now is as much about being a wiser writer as it is about being a wiser person.

Elysium wrote:

Get some perspective, clown shoes

That's gold. I'll have to remember that

interstate78 wrote:
Elysium wrote:

Get some perspective, clown shoes

That's gold. I'll have to remember that :)

If I were a big badge factory, I'd make badges out of that, and give them to the tiny people around me.

First off, the age thing is completely relevant.

Violently antisocial people tend to become significantly less so as they get older. There's something in the brain chemistry that says "You can't keep this sh*t up forever."

That's true not just for the violently antisocial, but for everyone. We mellow as we get older. It's a survival mechanism. The old men in the tribe can't go running down wildebeasts anymore. They serve the tribe better by teaching the young ones how to do it.

Further, your experiences get fuller as you age. When you're young perceived slights hit harder because you don't have the experience to know what's important and what's not. There's a reason why kids can't vote or drive cars. Impulse control is not something that young people have a lot of.

On selling out: In my experience anyone who accuses people of selling out is really just angry that the accused decided to take money from people who disagree with the accuser. To the guy holding the sign in the picture, I can only say "Sorry dude, my family can't eat your respect."

Selling out is the battle cry of someone who never had to worry about money, and either never will or is angry that he now has to.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

First off, the age thing is completely relevant.

Violently antisocial people tend to become significantly less so as they get older.

Unless that violence turns to fester beneath the surface.

LarryC wrote:

These days, I spend my time talking about games I like rather than games I don't. Even if I seem to be down on a game, if I'm talking about it, that means I like it. I don't have enough life on me to waste moping around doing things I don't want to do.

I think this is becoming easier to do, now that there are so many options in media. As easy as it is to find a news outlet that resonates on your outrage frequency, it's just as easy to stick to the things that you can support, endorse, and praise.

I like oldie old Sands.

Keep it classy, man.

Sean, just keep writing. I don't need you to have a mid-life crisis were you wonder "where you went to" and start buying hipster jeans and loose cars and fast women...

On a completely different note, would it surprise anyone if i said I feel more angry at the world as the increasing reams of injustices appear over the horizon as I age? Maybe it's just the times I'm living in when there's a level of transparency we never had before... or maybe it's when a lead designer can say to me "The designers took their time to create something amazing for you, so you shut your face and enjoy it." and I know it to be entitled whining b*llsh*t...

wordsmythe wrote:
LarryC wrote:

These days, I spend my time talking about games I like rather than games I don't. Even if I seem to be down on a game, if I'm talking about it, that means I like it. I don't have enough life on me to waste moping around doing things I don't want to do.

I think this is becoming easier to do, now that there are so many options in media. As easy as it is to find a news outlet that resonates on your outrage frequency, it's just as easy to stick to the things that you can support, endorse, and praise.

This kind of phenomena frightens me, because I see it as basically saying 'confirmation bias is totally OK'. While I won't dwell on something that I don't like, I also try to actively seek out differing opinions on subjects I am interested in, to make sure that I'm getting the most well rounded picture I can.

Forgive me, it's March, and I see everything in basketball-colored glasses right now...

But yeah, I still live and die with my Louisville Cardinals sometimes. I haven't mellowed yet, despite passing the big 3-0 a while back. My dad is over the big 5-0 and somewhere along the way he did mellow. He takes a Louisville loss in stride, breaking down analytically reasons we lost, and reasons we can win the next one. I still lose my mind, yell at the refs, and get in a funk for several hours after a defeat.

But the highs I get after a win... You should have seen the roller-coaster I went through on Saturday. Down 8 at the half, down 11 with 10:56 left in the game, after the refs have called some ghost fouls and a ridiculous technical on top of it... the anger, the hate, god knows what my blood pressure spiked to at that point. But then the comeback to win, the 18-3 run to close the game. Pure ecstasy.

Sometimes I don't want to "grow up" Sometimes I think it'd be healthy if I did. But what's life without a little passion?

I pretty much decided I'm not going to be aggressively negative about games anymore. After being on the receiving end of so much negativity in the 2006-2007 era I decided that it was better to try and be positive about gaming as much as possible. (PS3 release timeframe, everyone was taking a shot at the PS3 and I felt like a lone voice defending it many times... Even on Sony's own forums.)

I find myself slipping occasionally though...

Stele wrote:

Forgive me, it's March, and I see everything in basketball-colored glasses right now...

But yeah, I still live and die with my Louisville Cardinals sometimes. I haven't mellowed yet, despite passing the big 3-0 a while back. My dad is over the big 5-0 and somewhere along the way he did mellow. He takes a Louisville loss in stride, breaking down analytically reasons we lost, and reasons we can win the next one. I still lose my mind, yell at the refs, and get in a funk for several hours after a defeat.

But the highs I get after a win... You should have seen the roller-coaster I went through on Saturday. Down 8 at the half, down 11 with 10:56 left in the game, after the refs have called some ghost fouls and a ridiculous technical on top of it... the anger, the hate, god knows what my blood pressure spiked to at that point. But then the comeback to win, the 18-3 run to close the game. Pure ecstasy.

Sometimes I don't want to "grow up" Sometimes I think it'd be healthy if I did. But what's life without a little passion?

If it's any consolation, I'm a Louisville native who now lives on the West Coast. I used to root for UL against my dad's Wildcats, but honestly I'll be tickled pink if either team goes all the way.

So many Coffee Grinders for that one.

nel e nel wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
LarryC wrote:

These days, I spend my time talking about games I like rather than games I don't. Even if I seem to be down on a game, if I'm talking about it, that means I like it. I don't have enough life on me to waste moping around doing things I don't want to do.

I think this is becoming easier to do, now that there are so many options in media. As easy as it is to find a news outlet that resonates on your outrage frequency, it's just as easy to stick to the things that you can support, endorse, and praise.

This kind of phenomena frightens me, because I see it as basically saying 'confirmation bias is totally OK'. While I won't dwell on something that I don't like, I also try to actively seek out differing opinions on subjects I am interested in, to make sure that I'm getting the most well rounded picture I can.

It's great to challenge your beliefs on the things that count. But when it comes to things you do because you appreciate them, there's nothing wrong with a little complacency.

wordsmythe wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

First off, the age thing is completely relevant.

Violently antisocial people tend to become significantly less so as they get older.

Unless that violence turns to fester beneath the surface.

The clinical studies that I read back when I was in school suggested this wasn't the case.

However, so long as the violence never manifests itself externally, from a practical standpoint it's six of one, half dozen of the other.

nel e nel wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
LarryC wrote:

These days, I spend my time talking about games I like rather than games I don't. Even if I seem to be down on a game, if I'm talking about it, that means I like it. I don't have enough life on me to waste moping around doing things I don't want to do.

I think this is becoming easier to do, now that there are so many options in media. As easy as it is to find a news outlet that resonates on your outrage frequency, it's just as easy to stick to the things that you can support, endorse, and praise.

This kind of phenomena frightens me, because I see it as basically saying 'confirmation bias is totally OK'. While I won't dwell on something that I don't like, I also try to actively seek out differing opinions on subjects I am interested in, to make sure that I'm getting the most well rounded picture I can.

Considering that practically everything I've ever written in a forum has been denied, discounted, or dismissed almost instantly (see the response earlier in this post-- was it really necessary to pick at an admittedly imperfect metaphor, or was my point really not clear?), I'd disagree with the statement that it's easy to find a community of like minded people.

If anything, my experience with the internet is a great big lie. There's something for everybody, diversity is great. Except if they're a freak like me, in which case I can sod off.

wordsmythe wrote:

It's great to challenge your beliefs on the things that count. But when it comes to things you do because you appreciate them, there's nothing wrong with a little complacency.

Everything in moderation, amirite!?!?!

doubtingthomas396 wrote:
nel e nel wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
LarryC wrote:

These days, I spend my time talking about games I like rather than games I don't. Even if I seem to be down on a game, if I'm talking about it, that means I like it. I don't have enough life on me to waste moping around doing things I don't want to do.

I think this is becoming easier to do, now that there are so many options in media. As easy as it is to find a news outlet that resonates on your outrage frequency, it's just as easy to stick to the things that you can support, endorse, and praise.

This kind of phenomena frightens me, because I see it as basically saying 'confirmation bias is totally OK'. While I won't dwell on something that I don't like, I also try to actively seek out differing opinions on subjects I am interested in, to make sure that I'm getting the most well rounded picture I can.

Considering that practically everything I've ever written in a forum has been denied, discounted, or dismissed almost instantly (see the response earlier in this post-- was it really necessary to pick at an admittedly imperfect metaphor, or was my point really not clear?), I'd disagree with the statement that it's easy to find a community of like minded people.

If anything, my experience with the internet is a great big lie. There's something for everybody, diversity is great. Except if they're a freak like me, in which case I can sod off.

I sometimes get the impression that you really enjoy being that one who disagrees with everyone. I get that; I've been there myself for extensive periods of my life.

What's strange is that people around here usually tell me to sod off FOR picking at imperfect metaphors.