This past month has been a very interesting month in gaming. The Mass Effect 3 controversy didn’t just open the door on the state of the relationship between the player and the game critic, it drove a full speed sports car through it. The gap is far and wide, and it’s not looking to get any better…
A very vocal amount of gamers have given their opinion, with valid reasons for disliking the ending to ME3. Instead of just raging on forums, some tried to contribute to charity to show their dedication. Others sent 100s of cupcakes in 3 different colors, all the same flavor. The results are in, gamers don’t like the ending. So what was the reaction from the press?
Journalists scoffed at all of this, calling gamers entitled little brats, telling them that changing the ending is the equivalent of putting lipstick on the Mona Lisa. Yeah, they’re used that argument: GAMES ARE ART, DON’T QUESTION IT. Once again, a topic that just didn’t seem to die rears its ugly head again.
I have a serious problem with people throwing “art” into the discussion. First off, if games are art, then the game should be COMPLETE, because I don’t recall a pay window to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. I give a pass on expansion packs (Fallout 3 for example), but when I see Capcom and numerous companies locking up content ON DISC and forcing you to pay more for the game, I DON’T see art, I see extortion. Don’t give me that “used games is killing the industry” bull, if people are buying more used copies than new, then it’s time to for the industry to rethink it’s bloated business practices, let alone the quality of their games.
Second, the excuse that an artist can’t change his piece despite public outcry is stupid, because there’s this little thing called reality that gets in the way. When a book is published, it’s not put out in one go, it goes through multiple editors, for proof reading and for helping in creative input. Yeah, Twilight broke English literature a new one, but it doesn’t count because it’s not a good book/movie series, in any life or universe.
When a film is in development, there are test audiences to help see how the film is shaping up. In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s original ending, Scott rekindled his relationship with Knives Chao; audiences HATED IT. The ending undermined EVERYTHING in the film. Scott fights to the death with 7 people to win Ramona’s heart; only to change his mind and go with the girl he didn’t feel a bond for?
So what’s my point in all of that? Art is subject to criticism, and always will be. Artists have every right to ignore that criticism and publish their work, but if they think they’re going to sell their art, they’ll wind up begging on the street corner and thinking people just don’t “get it”.
When you make art your profession, the rules completely change. Films and literature both undergo many revisions, and the reason is because someone is looking at it from the view of a consumer. People can cry foul at that all they want, but there could be 100’s of millions of dollars at stake, nobody is going to take constant chances. If games are truly art, then they’re subject to criticism and input on necessary changes. Of course, that sort of input can often be damaging, especially with thick-skull publishers feeling the need to turn every game into a shooter. If games are art, then they are still held to the standard that films, and books are put to.
I’m sure that plenty will interject and talk about George Lucas’ original vision of his movies, blah blah blah. Well, let me tell you something, the ORIGINAL Star Wars films were based on a collaborative effort, not one man, no matter how much Lucas and his studio try to rewrite its history. In fact, the original Star Wars film was originally planned out as a American rip-off of Akira Kurosawa’s the Hidden Fortress until MAJOR rewrites were conducted. Don’t forget, that one man (an “artist”) took it upon himself to destroy what was good in the original films with “his vision/art”, as well as making a second trilogy that made things even worse.
None of these arguments seem to be going into any thick skulls in game journalism. You see, they’ve been parroting the notion that games are art, and that criticism of “AAA” games is complete heresy. Most on the internet are well versed in how game journalists and critics have to work. They build a relationship with a developer, do interviews, and are encouraged to have friendly relationships with developers. While it’s not fairly often, game journalists go and review games in often plush hotels or at private events, fully catered to their whims.
This is all part of the industry, and game journalists have become nothing more than PR mouth pieces. Hard hitting questions are rarely asked for fear of losing ad space and “scoops”. Reviews are massaged to have a higher score than deserved. Heavily read game sites post things that have NOTHING to do with games, and are offended when people call them out on the nonsense posts. It’s like watching a spoiled 6 year old telling an educated responsible adult to grow up, while telling them how hard their life is.
I can immediately name several websites that are big offenders of this sort of thing: Kotaku, who deletes comments on their articles that cut the editors down to size. Destructoid, who on a regular basis gets into arguments with their readership, while having a banner on the page, “For Gamers, by Gamers”. IGN, who can’t rate a big budget release game below a 9, and is about as straight on their opinion as a wet noodle.
As of recent, Forbes’ Dave Their has been running circles around journalists on this ME3 ending debacle. He’s wrote some very pointed things about journalists in their perfect little bubble with publishers, viewing their readership as little scabs roaming the streets below. Those articles struck a nerve; journalists on Twitter have been “banding together” against the criticism. Some of these same journalists have admitted that there are problems with game journalism, but choose to do NOTHING about it, other than to complain about their readership.
The Hall & Oates song, “Out of Touch”, is ripe for application. Game journalists have no one to blame but themselves for this. They’ve bred their audiences to gobble up the big reveals and first reviews. They’ve bred gamers to soak into hype with game after game after game, calling it the Second Coming of Christ, only to admit that it was mediocre in subsequent months. Game journalists think in a completely different process when it comes to their job. A good portion of gamers seem to be waking up to this nonsense, and are questioning ethics, and motives, and thus you have journalists railing against the backlash.
Of course, there are also lazy “journalists” (Destructoid), who’ll use the excuse that they’re just bloggers, not journalists. I’ve heard plenty of lazy, limp arguments before, but that’s probably the worst. Even if your “just a blogger” and this is more than likely your job (as a professional blogger), you have a responsibility. Hiding behind that excuse of “just a blogger” is like an unemployed father of 5 scoring a good job and not working, “cuz he don’t wanna”.
Nobody should expect a journalist to hit the right note every time, they can be wrong, they are human after all. And nobody is expecting them all to nod in agreement on all games and news. But game journalists, bloggers, and developers can’t expect to just call games an art form with fancy prose, call it a day, and then not be held up to those high standards. If that’s your only vague argument, your only “trump card”, then you do a disservice to your profession, and continue to make that profession a joke. The only way to improve the medium (and God knows it has PLENTY of room for it), is to promote feedback on all levels, and challenge it. Companies have forgotten that the consumer is the one who can dictate what’s quality, but the game journalist has to ASSIST that decision, to help look out for the consumer, not go against them. To do otherwise, makes you look like a petty tool.
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