“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
Let me get this off my chest: this article isn’t about an upcoming indie-darling with Bruno Mars inserting himself into Corrie Ten Boom’s memoirs about helping Jewish refuges escape Nazi-occupied Poland… though, come to think of it… that would make for some interesting game mechanics…
This is family meeting time. No, you’re not in trouble - we all are. I’m not going to yell at you, but this going to be like eating your green beans: you may not like it, but it’s good for you and might make you a wee bit gassy.
As gaming journalists, it is our responsibility to observe and investigate trends and news within video game culture. We write and report on these things because it is something that both we (the writers) and you (the reader) care dearly about. This is usually pretty exciting with all the conversations about games and lore and patches and new content on the horizon.
However, this trend is not so fun, but we need to talk about it; for the sake of gaming culture and the future of something that, no matter where you come from, we all love.
There is a very loud part of gaming culture that takes to the comments sections and down-voting thumbs of articles and games themselves which neither lend to productive conversation, nor help us become better as a community. Typically, we have seen this surrounding games which fail to deliver on promises made in development, buggy content, we do not like an IP, or simply because I don’t share your opinion.
One might argue that a response like this means that a company or developer cannot take criticism. However, there is a vast difference between critique and criticism that is important to distinguish. A critique seeks to examine faults for the sake of improving the thing, while criticism simple picks something or someone apart without providing any solutions.
What makes matter worse is that the internet has provided everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion. Opinion often find themselves in a similar category as excuses: they’re like armpits; without the proper care, most of them stink. And we all have to check our pits…
It’s like tossing a hand grenade into a room. When we hurl vitriol at an IP, a developer, manufacturer, or each other, we are causing damage to not only the target but everyone within the proximity. This is very easy to do from our hiding place (the internet), especially when we don’t have to deal with the damage that we cause.
The degradation usually goes something like this: “I have a problem with…” > “This is whole thing is the problem…” > “You are the problem.” > “Now I’m your problem.” We have all watch the devolution of a debate go from logical argument to general mudslinging to personal threats and, finally, to trollish, childish behavior.
What does this look like? Three words: No Man’s Sky.
You had that thing well up in you, too, didn’t you? That progression from hopeful to disappointed to angry to delusional. We all went through it as a community and felt the same things. We wanted that game to be everything that it was promised to be, but it wasn’t. We were angry that we spent ~$60 AND hung on every promise that was made, but never delivered. For me, the burn was so bad that I haven’t pre-ordered a game since - even from franchises that I could count on delivery.
Like many of you, I played a bit and then I shelved the game for a year. It was off of my radar until a few weeks ago. I wrote what I thought to be a very fare critique of the 1.3 Patch. I highlighted the disappointments, but celebrated the fact that Hello Games has listened to the outcry of their player base - even those who have rejected them - and improved their game. I commented that they had our money already, but instead of running with it, the kept patching it. It wasn’t perfect, but it made me reconsider No Man’s Sky’s legitimacy for my time. Unfortunately, most will never get that far.
You see, I have this theory about us gamers. We’re a fickle bunch with humble beginnings that often forgets where we came from, we’ve been spoiled, and we’ve all gotten a bit lazy.
What do I mean by that? Think back to your early years of gaming. What gripped you? What story made you see the real world in a different light? What character first “got” you? What moments imprinted on you?
You know what I bet we all experienced alongside those things? That moment when you tried to passionately share those feelings with a friend, a parent, or a teacher - someone you looked up to - and you got brushed off. Your voice was silenced because no one wanted to hear about you waiting to evolve your Charizard or how helpless you felt when you couldn’t save Aerith.
Now, the tables have turned. Video games are more en vogue with eSports receiving mainstream coverage and traditional media outlets losing to the “new media” of YouTube, Twitch, and social media. Now we have a voice… we hold the scepter, we have the power… and it’s gone to our heads.
We forget that those early days that games shipped to our brick and mortar stores… that was it. If it was buggy, it was buggy. Exploit the glitch and move on. No “Day One” patches, no beta testing, no early access. And you know what happened? We enjoyed some video games. Sure, we griped a bit with our friends about the ones we didn’t. We may have gotten frustrated and had legitimate grievances, but we kept playing. Broken games made for creative problem solving. But we’ve moved on.
In the era of pay-to-play Early Access beta tests and crowd-funded titles, we end up paying for the IDEA of a game. We were sold fantasy that fails to meet our expectations - think Mighty No. 9 and, as mentioned before, No Man’s Sky.
In the frustration of now having something that barely resembled the originally promised product, we lash out. Since we now have a voice, our collective voices merge together to create a cacophony of noise that our wonderful community, in our laziness, listens to the loudest as though it were gamer-gospel.
Yes, bad products exist and shady practices need to be exposed in the light. That part is on us to keep developers accountable. They will hype their product - it’s their job to sell us on it and I hope that when they make promises to us, that they will make good on them. But, let’s at least be honest, I’m a product guy and they’re a producer. I control what I consume and the volume and rate at which I consumer it. At the end of the day, we are the shareholders of our gaming habits.
So, before you comment or down vote, can we agree to do a few things? Just take a second to do a few things.
Thing #1: Examine our motivation for commenting and up/down voting.
Is there a legitimate grievance AND will my comments be constructive for the developer and the community at large? Perhaps your suggestion can either help the developer or someone struggling with a similar issue with the game. I always appreciate seeing someone who is struggling with a game come alongside others to solve the problem together.
If your motivation is driven purely by preference or opinion, please remember that you are entitled to your opinion as I am mine. We don’t have to agree and sometimes we are wrong or unfair about things. Remember critique vs. criticism. If you pick something apart, please do so with the intention of seeing it put back together stronger than before.
Oh, and if you know a game is terrible, don’t up vote to troll people.
Thing #2: Take ownership.
I want you to look back through this article and notice that I am not point blame at anyone other than myself. When you and I adopt the language of “we” then we take ownership of our part of the legacy that we lead and leave. You, the gamer, create the atmosphere that we all game in. Toxicity will only destroy the thing we love. It begins and ends with you.
Thing #3: Be gracious.
I’m going to go preacher (my day job) on you a minute here, but it’s ok… no one is going to burst into flames. There is a concept about graciousness that I try to help people understand in their dealings with each other - to “love their neighbor as themselves.” Grace is defined as “unmerited favor”. In other words, I did nothing to deserve it, but it is available for me to receive it freely. One huge problem facing gaming culture - and humanity at large - is that we forget in our moments of frustration with each other or over our circumstances that I need grace, too. And if I need “unmerited favor” on my worst days and I am able to receive, I need to learn how to give it, too. A little grace can go a long way.
See, you’re fine. Except for Bruno over there… poor guy… but that one was all him. Julio, help him out…
Thing #4: Slow down.
I get it. I want to be quick out of the gate, too. I want to earn those sweet bow hunter skills before the next guy. But slow down for a minute. We get so excited for release dates that we don’t stop and wait to see if the game is actually any good.
This is where the internet is an amazing thing! Watch some Let’s Plays on Twitch/Youtube/Mixer Live Streams. And (shameless plug) this is what we here at GameSpace.com and MMORPG.com are for - we’ll play crappy games so that you don’t have to!
There is a value in helping to support indie developers that are trying to push their games out the door just as much as franchise loyalty, but let’s not get caught up in the psychology of exclusivity or in the fear of missing out that we rush into a game that isn’t ready yet. The game will still be there… and you might save a few dollar. A little waiting never hurts.
So what? Why does any of this matter?
Because, like you, I want gaming to be around for a long, long while. Not just so that I can write about games for a long time, but so we all can continue marveling at the art of it all - the landscapes, soundscapes, and stories - that we creative human begins are inspired to come up with! I want good art that elevates us and challenges us to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. I want to be the cool uncle (not the creepy one) that can school my not-yet-conceived-nor-thought-of nieces and nephews at their current generation console titles and introduce them to classics which shaped me. I want to be able the role model for the neighborhood kid whose parents lost their love of the art form. That’s why it matters that we course correct.
So, let’s stop chucking hand grenades from our hiding places. Bruno only caught one before he realize that was a poor life decision.
Family meeting adjourned… someone let the pup out… he’s had to pee for the past hour.