So imagine yourself having a particularly agonizing experience with Candy Crush. You’ve got two moves left, and three Evil Jelly Packs standing in between you and Sweet Redemption. After praying for a sign, divine inspiration hits, and you complete the level with two decisive sweeps.
Feels good, bro. Now imagine a friend of yours – the one who has been watching your progress with bated breath – praising you for it. “Wow, you’re such a gamer!” Now, imagine this moment of victory interrupted by a derisive side comment from a nearby “real” geek: “As if.”
At this point, some of you might be wondering why this is even an issue. People can always stay in their own corners and stick with the games and the gaming company that they like. Live and let live, let bygones be bygones, you keep your opinions and I’ll keep mine. In the meantime, our favorite companies will keep rolling out amazing titles, suited to our individual tastes. Everyone wins.
The trouble with this is that more often than not, the “tastes” of today’s gamer are pretty poor. That should be obvious in the sad proliferation of irritating stereotypes, tired rehashes of the same set of plotlines, and sloppy writing that we see on the market.
Gamers, please excuse my French: a lot of you need to grow the fuck up. We ought to look for fair gender and racial representation, well-written stories and intelligent social commentary in our video games. Most of us just don’t bother. Because most of us don’t bother, game designers are going to keep putting out the same things because they think that it’s what the majority wants. If the majority, however, had better taste… well, you get the idea.
The development of good taste means a change in attitude. Here are three traits that definitely need fixing.
A Vehement Need to Possess “Gamer Street Cred”
Any geek who happens to be a little left of the “normal” gamer geek (straight, male, 16-30 years old, plays console and/or PC games) has at least one story of a Close Encounter with Hardcore Geek Kind, where they have found themselves “tested” for signs of intelligent life.
The criterion for “intelligent” often constitutes extensive knowledge of the trends in the gaming community, an impressive repertoire of already played games and a set idea of what constitutes for a “real” game (again: PC and console) versus what is “fake” (i.e. app games). Not fitting the bill often results in stares and judgmental comments and – in a distressingly large number of cases online – insults. Nobody gets cookies for being an asshole, guys. Just sayin’.
Buying wholesale into the idea that having “street cred” in geekdom is important is tantamount to beating a dead horse given how “geeky” practices are widely recognized as a part of mainstream culture now, and let’s not even bother going into why it’s just a stupid and immature thing to do. Exclusivity is the fastest way to kill a community, and pretty much ensures a lack of growth. If all gamers continue to think the same way (that is, stupidly), expect all games to play the same way (that is, stupidly).
Gamer Privilege and Delusions of Self-Importance
A lot of gamers, especially the ones who spend more time online than they do living in the real world, feel that they ought to be catered to hand and foot by game designers. This is probably because gaming in itself requires a horrendous amount of personal investment. Of course gamers want to be rewarded for their efforts. Still, that isn’t an excuse to throw a toddleresque tantrum when a game doesn’t fit one’s standards.
A game’s story doesn’t “suck” just because it did not end with your character living happily ever after (this is a common quibble about the ending of the Mass Effect series, and one of the most ridiculous complaints I have heard about the third game), nor does it suck because it has a female lead instead of a male lead, or because it has gay or lesbian characters (if you want to see a stellar example of somebody being an idiot about this, click here).
If you still don’t believe that gamers can be snot-nosed babies, go on any article that talks about topics like gender or race in relation to games and gaming. Scroll down to the comments section, and you’re sure to see a glaring lack of comments that have something meaningful to return to the discussion.
Let’s not forget, as well, how unkind the internet was towards Anita Sarkessian when she attempted to analyze negative tropes against women in video games. Nuff said. Yes, our opinions matter. At the end of the day, though, they’re only opinions. Furthermore, if they are stupid ones, I hope I will not be the last one to tell you to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.
A Tendency to Settle for Less
Tom Bissell alludes to this issue several times in his book Extra Lives. He states that video games often have sloppily written storylines in favor of pervasive gameplay, and that gamers seem to have the tendency to ignore very real flaws within their favorite titles if only because they’re content enough with the fact that they had fun playing the game. I think, though, that we should start working towards including a sense of taste as part of our criterion of fun.
Interestingly enough, this issue seems to go hand-in-hand with ridding ourselves of our need for exclusivity, and of our overblown sense of gamer’s privilege. Gamers tend to get incredibly defensive about their top picks, and reviewers have the tendency not to give incisive, critical reviews of games but choppy accounts that focus on why the game was fun for them, all on the premise of “well, it’s still fun because of blah blah blah”. We’re also too easily swayed by fanservice.
Game designers don’t need to know whether their game was “fun” or not, and simply leaving your criticism for a game at “it sucks” does not help either. They need to be told, in an intelligent fashion, what made their games good, what made them bad, and how they can improve their titles. Else, we’re going to keep seeing wonderful projects shelved all because game designers were convinced that it will not sell, or that it did not sell enough. We’re also going to keep seeing projects that had a lot of potential get ruined because their backers were afraid that the gamers would not react kindly to change.
Let me name two examples. Tomb Raider 2013, for one, is probably going to get discontinued because its developers set an incredibly unrealistic goal for its sales. Final Fantasy 12 could have been one of the only Final Fantasies with an older, edgier main character (yes, I’m referring to Basch), but Square Enix rehauled the entire game and made Vaan its new lead because they were afraid that their players would be unable to relate to an adult lead. The list goes on.
Too often do we apologize for video games, telling ourselves that as long as we had a bit of fun, we can forgive just about anything. Too often do we turn a blind eye towards the rampant stupidity within our community, convincing ourselves that it’s only on the Internet and has no real bearing on what goes on in the real world. Too often are good video game ideas scrapped because game designers are convinced that they need to cater to the wishes of the so-called majority. Why do we have to be happy with how games and gamers are now when we can push towards what games and gamers could become?
Who knows? We might just end up with better things.