Playing Games

Posted on 11 April, 2013


I’ve loved video games my whole life, and this is easily the most exciting period of game development I’ve lived through.  For whatever stupid reason, I swore to myself I wouldn’t write about games, even though they have been occupying a significant amount of my attention (both intellectual and recreational) these days.  This has led to a frustrating writers block.  I suspect I will have much more to say about video games, though… It’s in me, trying to burst out as I type this.  Also, other stuff where technology intersects with creativity, philosophy, sociology, and/or psychology, as well as the normal stuff.  I hope everybody enjoys reading these words.

Traditional video game publishers are a problem.  Whether you are screaming it in the form of frothy gibberish in the comments section of your favorite games website, or articulating it with the fine prose of a seasoned games journalist, it remains an immutable truth.  These thoughts are inspired by a Facebook discussion (I know, I know) that I had with someone after they posted a complaint about a complaint about something to do with EA.  I actually don’t know what the original complainer was ranting about, but it sounds like he was pretty angry.  My friend, on the other hand, thinks it’s in everyone’s best interests to only voice dissent when it’s articulate and constructive.  Because I’m so smart, I cleverly yet counter-intuitively started to wonder if it was really important for everyone to be so articulate?  There are a million reasons to be upset at what parasitic video game publishers do to the industry.  Why does every aggrieved person have to justify themselves?  That kind of exposition is what games journalism is for.

Inarticulateness of ranting is inversely proportional to the level of control someone feels over what they’re angry about.  It’s still a valid grievance, though, even if people aren’t spending a lot of effort understanding how to communicate it.  For instance, I think it’s valid to look at something like EA’s acquisition and subsequent demolishing of Bullfrog – hoarding the acquired IPs, only to abuse them at a later date for no discernible reason – and feel inarticulate anger.  For whatever it’s worth (not much, in my opinion), I have the time and inclination to reflect on all the reasons why that anger is justified, but the feeling that some creative atrocity is being committed comes first.  And given we can’t turn a world of game players into philosophers and psychologists overnight, I’d rather people express inarticulate anger at being abused or diminished by their chosen medium of entertainment rather than accepting it as fate or, even more counter-productively, attempting to craft complex justifications for their treatment, as I’ve seen some people do.

Every publisher is different, obviously, but it seems like the ones who shift the most units have the most contempt for the craft of game making, the creative endeavors of the artists and programmers involved, and video game enthusiasts themselves.  If a techno-fascist themed manshooter with cyberpunk gimmicks is a good game that sells well, fine.  But why abuse the Syndicate IP like that?  The only people interested in Syndicate these days are interested because it was so vastly different than games at the time (or even today), so you’re likely ONLY losing sales when at least some of those same fans who would have bought it on its merits choose not to because it drops a glowing cybernetic deuce on something they got sincere enjoyment from.  Why tie yourself in PR knots just so you can give a finger to your customers with the SimCity debacle?  You’ve irreparably harmed a franchise that could have printed money through semi-annual iterations – much like The Sims – pretty much forever.  All of this for what?  No one involved in either project has yet put forth a serious response to either argument, so it stands as a pointless and ugly monument to EA’s contempt for their customers: believing them to be tasteless and mnemonically challenged morons on the one hand, and on the other, treating them like amoral thieving parasites who can only be cured of their destructive and powerful addiction to piracy with DRM cynically disguised in the barest of sugar coatings.

I suspect it’s natural for people to innately pick up on those kinds of cues without consciously understanding why they’re so filled with loathing.  I think this is key to the revolution in video games happening now.  It’s not just because people are coming up with articulate rationalizations for a move to independent- and self-publishing.  It could never only be about that; Not enough time, not enough inclination.  It’s because many people are discovering that they feel so much better about the fewer dollars they spend on an independent video game that caters to and respects them than they do about the $60 they spend on a game that panders to them instead, whether they can articulate the reasons or not.  And that’s the only way this works- people feeling those ineffable feelings.  All the writing and rationalization is purely descriptive.  With video games, the feels come first.