I strolled into the office just a swingin my hair; coffee in one hand, determination in the other! I sat down in the cockpit of my ship of the imagination and started to level some wordsmithing in PageMaker when I noticed a person behind me. They watched over my shoulder observing every key I pressed. Nevertheless, I persisted until I had finished another hard-fought column. Five hours of work for some Cheez-Its and beer money, not a bad trade for a creative outlet relating to the hobby you love within the niche you can’t live without.
I printed it out then handed it over my shoulder to the gawker. They began slicing it with their sword leaving streaks of red trailing behind the point of their blade. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the red pen is mightiest of them all. They handed my now saturated column back then began to critique my work telling me what I should have said and how I should have said it intermixed with a variety of random accusations and assumptions. My truth didn’t matter to them. In the era of the social internet truth comes from faint echoes of reality, not reality itself.
I sat back in my chair sporting a wolfish grin. “Are you the new editor?” I asked allowing my grin to grow into a full smile, one that showed my teeth for the most primal of reasons. “No, I’m a fan, I am a critic.”
That scenario, while slightly exaggerated, is an example of the dichotomy I write with. I’m not just the writer in the scenario above, I’m the fan as well. When I write columns for MMORPG.com and Gamespace.com (shameless plugs) I am the writer, and you the reader. Upon finishing a column, I turn back into the fan and game developers become the writer. It can be an uncomfortable paradox, one I often wish I was less cognizant of.
I am a fan, ok a super fan. I love MMORPGs and I’ve been a super fan of them since 2003. Before that I was a dedicated gamer and before that a child raised by a Nintendo. Does that qualify me to critique someone’s art? Does being a dedicated observer qualify me to critique the work done by others, many of whom have worked directly in their field longer than I’ve been a fan? Sometimes longer than I’ve been alive! My past certainly qualifies some of my opinions. Is this fun? Does it work as intended? Will it retain? How is class balance?
Most uncomfortable is when I must assign a number, an artificial construct to a game. How can the performance of others be distilled down to something as soulless as a number? I am an 89. I am a 70. I am 3 stars. I am 5 likes and 2 shares. Those things create a disconnect that removes empathy and deconstructs reality all in the name of clicks and purchases.
The internet, P.T. Barnum incarnate, has found ways to monetize such things, thus began the great push to rate every object in existence. Don’t believe me? Wake up. Soon AR glasses will have the entire planet scored for marketability. Do I want to contribute to the bastardization of existence?
People, games, projects they are so much more than a number but humans are obsessed with perfectly defined black and white digital existence despite reality being shades of gray...or an array of vibrant unique colors for you optimists out there. It’s a lot to consider, maybe that’s why these things take me so long. I consider you. I consider me. I consider the game, then the studio and lastly, I re-consider everything I wrote ad nauseam before exchanging my words for currency, turning back into a fan and starting the process over again.
They say nothing depletes love like obtaining it but my love for MMORPGs hasn’t decreased with this role that I’m still not comfortable playing even after multiple years. It has changed. My view of MMORPGs, of development, of fans and critics and the circles we all move within, it collapsed only to be rebuilt anew as my paradox became more obvious. Similar but different.
My reservations and respect have made me ever more considerate. What I say has been weighed heavily and often that weight is felt well before and beyond the last sentence. I stand by that declaration. I’ll keep writing about these social experiments disguised as games as long as you keep reading. My words are only as good as the numbers associated with them after all.