Idiots, all of you.
This happened weeks ago, before I wrote a blog post called I am a Hardcore Casual Gamer about the silliness of overvaluing video games (someday I’ll have the balls to write about how overvaluing any leisure activity should be a bad idea yet how doing so seems to have become the coutume du jour), before the Any Number of Currently Ongoing Gaming-Related ‘Controversies.’
I happened to eavesdrop on a few tweets exchanged, as I do. I do not even remember who the two people were. One of them had mentioned their complaint about a modern gaming industry practice that had something to do with how the product is sold to consumers. I do not remember the exact game/issue, I do not remember whether it was on-disk DLC or microtransactions or releasing a game episodically or Sony’s weird new 4.5 console or what it was, precisely, only that the original tweeter had a general “this kinda sucks” type of complaint and linked to an article.
Then came the responder, someone who multi-tweet-ranted about how the industry has become predatory with their anti-consumer practices, and has gotten “greedy” and that it’s all such B.S. and it’s so wrong and…
And, I dunno, I just kinda thought, can we unpack these ideas a little?
I am the old man who yells at clouds. Hello, clouds.
This whole buzzwordy online dialogue of the Consumer Vs. Industry idea is funny. Like, the way gamers get all pissy-whiny about this stuff (yet, lo and behold, usually end up buying the game anyway, right?) makes me wonder: If you get this way about a $60 purchase, how do you react when something goes wrong with your car? Have you ever tried to buy a house? Is this really the pinnacle of your outrage, or are you just one of those angry-all-the-time people that makes for absolutely dreadful company?
Or maybe, hey, everything else in your life is going well and the game thing is the lone thorn in your side, in that case I hear ya maybe, but that’s besides the broader point.
Can I talk about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the Nintendo Entertainment System? Some of you are likely familiar with this one.
Gosh, I loved this game.
I was already a fan of the Ninja Turtles, so this was a real treat for my boyhood self. I could choose different Turtles, roam through big 8-bit levels, and use sweet ninja attacks to dispose of familiar enemies in a relentless action fever dream.
I put so many hours into Turtles II. I played through it over and over. It was its own little Thing To Do. “Hey, let’s play Turtles II!” I played it by myself, I played it with my sister, I often played it with my mom. In fact, it was totally a source of bonding between me and mom, something we would play into long hours of the night way past when my bedtime should have been. We played it with the code, without the code -- sometimes we beat it altogether, but usually we would get to Shredder and lose all our turtles. We would fight playfully over stealing each other’s extra lives (remember when you could do that?), we would argue over which Shredder is the real Shredder, we would debate the proper pathways through the stages.
And while I have no doubt that many hours of craftsmanship were spent on the pixel art, the music, the programming, and other elements -- Turtles II is a dumb game.
Turtles II (NES) is a stupid game that I love utterly.
I mean, this was not exactly a culturally enriching experience. This was a button-masher. Every single area had the same objective: Kill every enemy on the screen, then move forward. That was it, over and over, again and again, repeated and repeated. Attack, attack, attack, maybe with some jumping and walking in between. This was a blunt-force object of a video game. This was a caveman’s club of a video game.
Yet I enjoyed it greatly. I mean, it was better than the actual Turtles arcade game, which people seem to remember with nostalgia-tinted goggles. In actuality, that thing is a quarter-chugging slog, an overly repetitive grind, as was the trend at the time (see: Simpsons, Captain America & the Avengers, X-Men, etc.). When is the last time you played the genuine Ninja Turtles arcade cabinet? It is terribly difficult, with an absurdly skewed ratio between how much damage you deal to enemies against how easily they can kill you first. The NES port is impressive enough, by managing to summon the spirit mostly (as many other 8-bit arcade conversions failed to), but even actually added content to the game that never appeared in the original cabinet.
Back in my day...
People complain about microtransactions today, but I am here to tell you: Arcades had the original microtransactions. Twenty-five cents to start playing, then again if you wanted to continue? That sounds like a microtransaction to me. Hell, in many sports games, you could get suckered into paying a whole dollar’s worth of coinage to begin -- only to discover, once the first quarter ended, you had to keep paying just to finish a single complete match. That sort of scheme has been going on for decades.
The console scene was not much better, prior to the Information Age of the internet. You could waltz into a store and select a fine-lookin’ game on the shelf, only to get home and discover that it was utter garbage. I hope the place had a nice return policy, because the experiences that today we would regard as “antiquated” and “horrible” and “diarrhea” were still the same full-priced $50 and $60 packages.
Isn’t that crazy, too, how prices on a new game have remained so insanely level? No wonder companies have had to come up with ways to squeeze out extra income. If they jacked up the price of a new game to $110, it might be defensible by some measures, but gamers would riot in the streets.
I don’t mean to sound like I am completely defending The Industry, though; sure, they have their share of sins. They have shown time and time again that they clearly make bad decisions, terribly misjudge what people want, and cannot execute plans to the quality you would expect. I just think many of the people complaining about their attempts at increasing revenue may not quite understand how business works.
Components such as subscription programs and pay-to-win and all the other tricks of the trade are to be expected. Sorry, Western world, but that’s capitalism. The nature of such an economy is one that rewards selfish predators and greedy swindlers. That is the system we live in, largely. It has been that way for a while, and it is not something that will change any time soon.
Even my beloved Nintendo is guilty of some head-scratching moves. You will never convince me that “Wii U” is a good name for a gaming system, or that it makes any sense for a company that size to release a social-networking app with a broken friends list and such inefficient navigation. Nintendo, like any other organization, is comprised of human beings -- and human beings are awful.
Once you understand that human beings are generally awful, everything will make sense and nothing will ever surprise you again.
Internalize this: People suck.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should burn every corporate executive at the stake, nor should we not have compassion on our fellow members of humanity. We sure like to jump to extreme judgements though, don’t we? It is so much easier to paint every issue in black-and-white terms, with a Good Guy and a Bad Guy. Everything is either Awesome or The Worst.
After all, in today’s Outrage Culture, we have incentivized the Hot Take. All those precious views, clicks, likes, shares, favorites, and retweets are going to go to the person with the most obnoxious voice and the loudest, most extreme opinion. What else would we react to, if not the outlier, and thus form the next link on the unending chain of the ‘conversation’ cycle?
I am guilty of adding to the problem, sure. And many of my words here are not new insights. I just think it is disappointing to see people continue to think in these ways about their games, like everything happens in a vacuum, like the entire universe is somehow obligated to grant them some kind of sublime experience, as if they are the Glorious Exception to everyone else, chosen divinely to receive a brand of joy that nobody else deserves.
That’s another thing I want to explore further someday: This modern idea that it’s offensive and unacceptable to have to undergo any kind of struggle or hardship. That is so dumb. I will leave it at that, for now, but it is… just so dumb.
And it works both ways: You have people decrying any kind of disagreement as harassment, and then you have the kneejerk other side of the equation who think that you shouldn’t block anyone on social media who disagrees with you because “being open to opposing ideas is the only way anything changes,” and all the even-keeled rational-minded people in the middle are never paid attention to in the first place.
In fact, if you look hard enough, you may discover that gamers love self-defeating contradictions. We like to decry publishers for pushing out the same iterative titles, then turn our noses up and ridicule the result when someone really does try to do something truly different. We go insane when another delay is announced, yet complain at the same volume if a game is released unfinished. We place reviews (of video games, of all things) under the biggest, brightest, most scrutinizing microscope to make sure none of the scores are unusual (?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!), yet wonder why the ‘average’ game gets such a lofty mark.
Actually, let me riff on that last one, just a little bit more: Why do people care so much about review scores? More specifically, why do people read reviews with an expectation of a specific score -- then flip out if the score doesn’t match their expectation? At its simplest: How can you disagree so strongly when you have not even played the game yet?
Then this is the catch: If you know your own tastes so well, and you know what you like, and you have an understanding of what your favorite franchise has to offer, and you can quickly identify whether or not the latest title is something you would want to purchase… then why the hell do you care so much about what exact score some rando writer gives the game?!
I am confident that nobody can give me an answer to that question that makes any sense. Let’s have some more intellectual honesty in this discussion: I’d love to hear someone say, “You’re right Eric, of course there’s not a good reason for that. I just love getting mad about stuff -- which is another behavior that I cannot explain rationally!”
And yet… slivers of optimism?
Overall, though, life is just so much more colorful and rich and complex than making every issue black-and-white, judging someone by one thing they say, or assigning an out-of-ten score to an item. We exist within a world where millions of different influences all collide with each other in every moment to affect a vast organic tapestry. Each of us makes hundreds of decisions throughout our day, and by sheer mathematics, we are likely very often choosing courses of action that are worse than an alternative. We are meat bags, filled with water, piloted by ghosts, slowly deteriorating.
You’re dumb. I’m dumb. But maybe the next time you encounter a situation or person you disagree with or dislike -- you can take a minute to actually consider your words and your reactions, you can consider the fact that being a vocal angry idiot is much worse than being an encourager elsewhere or being quiet altogether, and if we all just do that sometimes then the whole scene will be a bit less moronic.
That probably sounds like real sunshine-and-roses thinking, but here is my parting thought. No, seriously, I promise, this is my conclusion.
I used to be an angry guy. I am much less angry now. Between “angry guy” and “much less angry,” there was a lot of personal growth. Yes, people suck, but they are capable of greatness. People can be smart enough to identify specific ways they can improve, then do it to become better in their future than they were in their past. Change happens when you acknowledge a problem and take real steps to alter it.
I may not be able to convince every angry gamer to be a more constructive member of the community, but if I can be part of the impetus to get one person to grow personally, then I know it is worth it -- because it has been worth it in my own life.
Thanks for reading!
Guest post written by Eric Bailey [ @Nintendo_Legend ]
Admin of [ skirmishfrogs.com ] [ @SkirmishFrogs ]