Jackals and Idiots
This morning I had this post in my head that I was going to write, talking about my present funk with World of Warcraft, and how I would not be still subscribed were it not raiding. I was going to talk about the ramifications of this expansion and how it is weighing heavily on my guild and the activities of its players. While it feels like I had written this same post numerous times in the past, I thought like maybe I had new things to say about it. I said I “was” going to write it because at some point yesterday I started reading a post linked to me by a friend. While it took me several tries over the course of the day to actually finish it… I am glad that I did. In the post a blogger/journalist/whatever you want to call it interviews someone who makes games. We don’t know what role they play, or what company they worked for… but as the interview unfolds none of that really matters since they are largely talking in generalizations.
As a blogger, and podcaster, and now writer for a professional games site… I could find a lot of offense in what the person had to say. He calls folks like me Jackals, and the folks playing the games idiots… but I can’t hold any real venom for the person because were I in their shoes I probably would feel exactly the same. I am not really sure how it happened but over the years I have met and become friends with a lot of people that work in the industry. I have listened to horror stories of working in the trenches, and tried to be a positive ear to turn to when they knew layoffs were looming over their heads. I’ve heard just how personally some reviews effect them, and how helpless they felt as they had to make this or that decision for the sake of getting a product out the door. While I don’t think that I would feel the “press” were Jackals per se, I would definitely have an opinion that many of them are opportunistic and prone to their own flavor of “band wagoning” as a game is taking on water and sinking. After years of having your livelihood depend upon the good nature of strangers, I am sure I would have a pretty poor opinion of the enthusiast press in all flavors.
Hip to be Mean
I feel like one of the root problems is that somewhere along the line it became hip to be mean. If we are operating in the gaming space it is a fact of life that we are nerds and geeks or at least former nerds and geeks. You don’t spend your time writing about a very intricate and detailed thing without being at least at one time in your life… extremely devoted to it. I feel like each of us are in some way vying for some undefined “street cred” in the things we say, and there are absolutely times where I have to stop myself from falling into that trap. There is a quiet game of one-ups-manship that happens when you get a bunch of gamers together in a room. It starts as simple as nostalgia… when someone starts reminiscing about the games of the past… and someone else has to throw down that they started in an earlier era… and the instinct is to escalate from there. So if you started in Nintendo, I feel obligated to point out that I started with the Atari… and then someone else will feel obligated to point out that they played pong. This literally happened casually in the course of five minutes the other night in our WoW raid, without any of us really realized it. No one meant anything mean by it, but there is this constant and subtle battle for relevance when you get gamers together.
When you take this natural instinct and magnify it, I think you end up with rant bloggers and you tubers that seem to like nothing at all in the world. It is like being mean and ranting about a subject is a “cruise control for cool”, and frankly I am tired of it. I used to be a pretty negative person, and in fact it is deeply rooted in my core to be pretty pessimistic. I expect the worst out of most situations and am pleasantly surprised when things do not go horribly wrong. About three years ago I made a conscientious effort to change this, to focus on the joy we should all be feeling while playing games rather than the mountain of negativity that is so damned prevalent. Even if you are bitter and jaded, at some point in your past you had to have felt the spark of sheer magic the first time you played a game. I remember being absolutely transfixed by these shapes dancing across the television screen, and being in awe when I realized that my hand on this crude object could control what they did. There is magic in the process, and as someone who has tried to make a game I still have a sense of wonder when I realize just how much work went into the creation of even the worst title.
People Make Games
We have this modern tendency to think of the people that make the things we use as nameless faceless corporations. So we think of Electronic Arts for example as this evil company that is trying to fleece us for our money and give his horrible games in return. When in truth Electronic Arts is an assemblage of hundreds of really hard working and well meaning people who just want to make something awesome. They grew up on the same dreams we all did, wanting to make video games for a living… and unlike most of us they held onto those dreams and chased them rather than accepting something else for their fate. The people that make video games are my equivalent of a professional athlete, they are the people that fought hard enough to achieve the goal of creating that thing they love so much… for a living. So having known developers in all forms over the years, and listening to them talk about what they are trying to do… and the games that they are trying to make. I have a hard time viewing these companies as the evil empires they are made out to be. No one sets out wanting to make a horrible product, and no one deserves to feel like they are hated by the people that are supposed to be their fans.
So knowing that there are people and families depending upon the games I play, gives me a slightly different perspective on what would otherwise be a failure. I find it harder to rage about this game being horrible, and everyone who created it being horrible by association. The irony of this post was that I had originally planned on writing about my frustrations with a game, a post that could very much feed into this same cycle of hatred. The difference is I try my best never go indulge in the rant, or at least not fully indulge. I’ve been told that my angry posts are nicer than some peoples regular posts, and while I have a hard time believing that… I have heard it enough times to assume it is largely true. In part I have to think that the empathy I have for the people who are making the experiences that I still very much do find joy in… is the difference. So if I talk about Blizzard being dumb for not doing something… I know that behind the scenes there are countless heroes struggling every single day to try and create the best possible game they can given the struggle of working with what is now a fifteen year old code base. We started playing these games because they made us happy, that they gave us a bit of joy… and let us indulge sometimes in a bit of escapism. I try my best to focus on that, and the tingly feeling I still get when I play something really good. Maybe it is simply that I am now staring down the barrel of 40, and that I don’t want my legacy to be that of a raving asshole. In any case I am going to still struggle to remain a positive voice in an otherwise sea of negativity… and I am hoping over time more people will join me in my lifeboat.