Editorial: A Gamer's Responsibility
I'm not about to step on a pedestal and proclaim that all gamers live by a particular code, or that they should adhere to a particular lifestyle. I'm not going to place the gamer on an exalted, unreachable plateau that sits high above the hobbies and chosen entertainment modes of all others. This is more about logic and common sense, both of which are admittedly dying out these days, but nevertheless...
Anyway, after looking at the theater listings for yet another weekend, and yet again realizing there isn't a single film that seems even remotely promising, I'm once again struck by the declining quality in movies, music, books, and just about every other form of entertainment on the planet. I won't go into the reasons behind this decline (let's just say it goes hand-in-hand with declining intelligence), but it seems clear to me that, thus far, gamers are doing their duty. They're continually forcing developers to take the next step, and even if there's no innovation or revolution involved, we gamers still demand a certain level of quality. Over the years, the best sellers in history are also the best games in history, and it's almost a 100% ratio. Occasionally, the errant Matrix game will sneak in and garner high sales, but for the most part, the best of the best sell the best, and that's a feather in our cap. Let's face it.
However, as gaming gets bigger, the dark, downward cycle brought about by mega-global corporations begins to rear its ugly head, and we have to be ready. Just like in anything else, if we begin to tolerate mediocrity, developers will - even if only subconsciously - take that into consideration, and everything will begin to stagnate. Hollywood has been benefiting from viewer stupidity for years, and things are only getting worse. Heck, just about anything that's flashy will generate big sales, which doesn't paint a pretty picture of the avid movie-goer. In fact, it seems that, based on recent ticket sales over the past few years, the movie going public is comprised of little more than man-children who, like a month-old kitten, will bat at anything shiny and can't sit still for more than three consecutive seconds. Dialogue is now "boring" and plot now just gets in the way of all those scenes with stuff gettin' blowed up real good. I'm using movies as a direct comparison for the purpose of this piece - for obvious reasons - but music and books aren't faring much better.
The consumer will indeed dictate the quality of the product in the long run, but big business has a way of manipulating the weak-minded and convincing them that "just okay" is good enough. So gamers, as proud as I am of you guys for almost always rewarding quality and typically punishing poor efforts, a new day is rapidly approaching. Just as an example of the future: this year's Madden was great, and deserved to be rewarded with high sales. And despite the drawbacks over the years, there has never been an entry worthy of something less than a 7 or 8. However, as popular as that franchise is, as quickly as the football fans will flock to that name without questioning and without researching, what would happen if Madden 2011 was a mess? ...would it still sell millions of units? We get the feeling that, yes, it probably would. And what about the other huge franchises that have always been excellent?
Think about it. If Grand Theft Auto ever waned to the point where the production isn't even worthy of a 5, would it really matter? With the influx of casual gamers continually increasing, many so-called "gamers" are only going to identify with a name brand, and the real gamer can't condone this. Therefore, while we're all 99.9% certain that the next Gran Turismo will be amazing, we owe it to ourselves to be vigilant; to hold the line and continue to do our homework; to - yes, I'm sorry - put faith in the reviewers that don't often recommend something of poor quality. The instant we start buying titles based on the name itself, or even on the name of the developer or publisher, we begin the vicious circle that eventually leaves us floundering in the wake of expanded mediocrity. It's like ripples in a pond, and it starts with the consumer. It always starts with the consumer. Developers continue to give us great games because we reward them on a consistent basis.
And yes, I am aware of many gems that have gotten lost in the shuffle (Medieval, Psychonauts, Beyond Good & Evil, etc.) over the years, but it remains a fact that the masterpieces sell extremely well, and appropriately, better than any other games out there. However, I do not want to reach the point where someone like Hideo Kojima no longer has the resources to make Metal Gear Solid 8 because everyone ignored the dialogue-heavy and intricately plot-laden MGS7 because everyone was rushing to buy the watered-down, dumber-than-ever piece of licensed trash that every casual gamer recognizes. The latter doesn't really exist right now - and if it does, it flops - but it will if we let it. Get my point? So no, I'm not doling out some egotistical ultimatum, sparked by the incessant need of the standard hardcore gamer with a superiority complex to "rule" others. Video games aren't a religion (don't let those weird MMORPG freaks tell you otherwise).
It's entertainment. But it's also big business, and unless the individual stands tall, gathers with other like-minded individuals who quite simply won't tolerate a poor product, and remains firm; back straight, eyes clear, and jaw set, the whisperings of the snake in the underbrush are liable to entice us. So damnit, whatever you do, fellow gamers: don't...look...down.
10/24/2008 Ben Dutka