Home > Gaming, Media > The Problem of Calling Gamers Entitled

The Problem of Calling Gamers Entitled

I realize, as you probably have, that I am talking a hell of a lot about Mass Effect 3.  The thing is, I’ve never enjoyed a video game as much as I have these games.  I’m currently doing another full play-through of the series, making different decisions than before.

But I think, too, that the Mass Effect series has a lot to teach us as gamers, and that we’re just brushing it to the sides to quickly.  While this will be one of the last few articles to be really heavily featuring ME3, I cannot promise I won’t reference it again in the future to help prove a point.

Colin Moriarty Being a Douchebag

Who the hell decided giving this hipster an outlet for his opinions was a good idea? IGN? Well that makes sense.

Before Mass Effect 3, the idea of gamers being entitled was something I seldom heard talked discussed with any seriousness.   Once people started complaining about the ME3 ending, shit hit the fan and everybody had to weigh in.  A crazy amount of people think that gamers are showing how entitled they have become by demanding a different ending to the game.

The funny thing is, I think there are really only three arguments that exist as to why gamers are entitled.  Thanks to Colin Moriarty summing up the collective douchebaggery of the video game media (in the link above—the word “think”) I’ve figured them out. They are:

  1. Who are we, the gamers, to tell BioWare how the game should end?  It’s their artistic vision, and we have no right to interfere in it just because we didn’t like it.
  2. You wouldn’t demand someone change the end of a TV show or movie, would you?
  3. If this bothers you, don’t buy the game.

The thing is that these two arguments (sometimes provided together, sometimes separately) are completely at odds.  That is the problem of gamer entitlement, and that is what I’ll be discussing today.

As a final note: Colin Moriarty is a gigantic piece of garbage.  That man sucks at his job, which is to play video games and talk about whether or not they suck.  His video response to the furor over ME3 was incredibly contradictory, and made clear that he just likes to hear his own voice.

But, that said, I hate the guy.  In fact, this post basically started as a point-by-point breakdown of his video on ME3 that was going to call him out.  I decided not to go with that format, but don’t be surprised if I put up a “bonus” post outside of my normal scheduled posts to call him out.  After seeing that video I did more research, and this guy is as pretentious as pretentious gets.

Anyway, on to the fun.

Game Developers are Businesses, Gamers are Consumers

Right now, when you buy a game, you are a consumer.  As a consumer, you have something called an “economic vote”.  Hopefully you’re aware of the basic idea, but if not, the idea is that every dollar you spend is basically a vote for the company you give it to.  If you dislike a company, you withhold your money.  If you like a company, you spend your money.  Economic votes have a lot of powerespecially when people get mad enough to do something like boycott the company.  If a boycott takes off and a lot of people join in it can really damage the company.

If you purchase a GPS and it doesn’t work as advertised you have every right to make your displeasure at this known.  Chances are you will return the unit and not purchase one from that company again.

If you bought an iPod expecting to get an MP3 player and you got this, you could return it. But you can’t return a video game. I hope that heavy-handed metaphor for ME3 makes sense.

With almost any other product that you can purchase there is an understood guarantee behind the product: if it doesn’t work as advertised, return it. (In some cases, it’s to the store while other cases its to the manufacturer.)  Bought a GPS that doesn’t work right? You’re able to return it.  Bought a vacuum cleaner that barely works?  Return it. Bought a video game and find out it is nothing like what you expected?  Too fucking bad.

Anybody who has ever owned a video game knows one thing:  no returns.  Once that bad boy is open, you can never return that game—unless it were defective and in which case you’re given a new one. When you purchase a video game you are stuck with that game for better or worse.  You do not get to return it if you weren’t satisfied, as you would with almost any other product.

What this means to the gaming industry (and EA in particular, as they seem to thrive on this business model) is that companies can, in effect, release sub par products and yet still keep their money.  In an “all sales are final” model of business you don’t have to worry about the quality of your product because nobody can return it.

But the thing is, if you do get stuck with a sub-par game and you feel you’ve been ripped off you probably aren’t just going to file it away as $60 you lost and will never get back.  No, if you purchased a game that was barely playable from all the bugs in it, you’d let other people know.  If the company producing the game doesn’t patch it to fix it, chances are they’ll permanently lose the business of every person who bought that subpar product.

In that way there is even a kind of model that corrects issues of video game publishers trying to take advantage of that “all sales are final” model.

This is exactly what people are doing when they raised all this stink about ME3: they’re making their displeasure known, and letting BioWare know that if they don’t get their shit together we will not buy their games again.

So is that entitlement?  No.  It’s being a consumer.  And for all the people dismissing gamers as crybabies, what it really comes down to is that we are pissed off consumers trying to get what we paid for.

A Little Background on Mass Effect 3

(Spoilers here.)

In the case of Mass Effect 3, I purchased the game and expected something other than what I got.  I won’t go into a ton of depth, but basically BioWare advertised that every decision we made in the prior games would build up to ME3.  For those of you who haven’t played the game, the way BioWare handled this is through something called “effective military strength”.  Effective military strength is part of what dictates the ending of the game.

Perfect.

So, let’s say you decided to spare the rachni.  Well, in ME3 you have to do another quest at which point you can again decide whether to save them or not. If you do decide to save them, there is a console on theNormandythat you can access that shows that you got a bonus in your effective military strength.  If you chose not to, you don’t get that bonus.

Beyond this, however, it seems like half the decisions you made were unimportant in the game.  For example, the Rachni.  If you saved the Rachni Queen in ME1, you get to decide again if you want to save her.  Or take the Geth Heretics, who you can rewrite or destroy.  In ME3, the Geth Heretics are still an issue, despite that you previously dealt with them.

These two choices are some of the biggest issues I had.  Why did I make a decision in the other games, only to be forced to re-make that decision in ME3?  Then, when all is said and done, the only impact of the decisions I made in regards to the Geth are numbers.  Which fleet (Quarian or Geth) gives me more EMS?

When I first realized that BioWare decided to make sense of all my prior decisions via numbers added to a console, I was pretty damn pissed.  The only other acknowledgement that I made this huge choice was an e-mail in which some guy tells me how weird it was seeing the Rachni work on the Crucible.  I tried to tell myself that the big decisions got some lip service and counted, but really they didn’t.  They got quests that I had to re-make decisions I’d made.  It was some bullshit.

In terms of the actual ending, BioWare again made it seem like every decision would change how that ending played out.  In the end, we got three choices with three different colored explosions and, effectively, the same ending.

So as a consumer, it makes total sense that I am not pleased that the product I got wasn’t what was advertised.  I was told my decisions would have a greater impact, and I got numbers.  The equivalent would be to purchase an iPhone and find out that it’s actually just a walkie-talkie.

 

Video Games, TV and Film

In many cases people want to compare the furor over the ME3 ending to television or film, and point out that when we don’t like the way something happens in those forms of media, we don’t demand changes.

The comparison between video games and film or television is not quite apt for a few reasons.

No, seriously. This image is so awesome I figured I’d use it again.

To start with, movies and TV shows exist solely as mediums in which the audience is not engaging the media actively, but rather passively watching.  While we may get quite drawn into it, that does not change that we do not have input on how the show plays out.  That’s a big difference and a big deal.

But also, film exists as one “dimension” as it were, namely the visual.  When we watch a movie we do not hold the filmmaker accountable for our surroundings, or how the remote works, or how the image looks on our TV screen.  Those are outside influences that the filmmaker cannot control.  I don’t blame poor image quality on the filmmaker, I blame it on my shitty TV.

Games, however, are a total experience.  The gameplay, graphics and story mesh to create the total game experience.  If some portion of the gameplay is bugged in such a way that it makes enjoyment of the game impossible, it is the duty of the developer to fix that bug. Because games are a multi-“dimensional” experience, the game developers are responsible for ensuring that all of those are cohesive elements.

If the gameplay insists that we—the players—make consistent choices and then the story robs us of the payoff for those choices, I consider that a problem on par with a gameplay bug.  As a result, it is the duty of the developer to fix that problem.

In this playthrough, I know none of my decisions matter so I’m just being an asshole.

Some of you may have a problem with that extension, but I think it’s totally fair.  First off, the nature of decision-making in the Mass Effect series was heralded as one of the major gameplay elements.  Regardless of what decisions you make the story still follows a certain path.  Your decisions do not change the fact that the story is still about the reapers.  It just changes how smaller events play out.

You see, in most games before and since Mass Effect, you took on the part of a character.  Story scenes were guided in the same way as a movie, where the player has little input and control.  In effect, we were watching a movie where the drama was played out as cutscenes and the action was the gameplay elements.

Mass Effect, as I said, decided that they would turn decision-making and the story into a gameplay element.  In doing so, they promised us (repeatedly) that our decisions would have an impact in the outcome of the story.  When we were robbed of that outcome, we got pissed and said something.

It’s Not Your Story

I understand the consternation with which people view this whole issue.  I really do.  I understand that the idea is scary that we set a precedent for people not liking a story and then demanding it be changed.

While I do not agree that video games are art, I do believe that the developers often have a vision for their game and what they want from it.  I can understand the concern that caving to fans about the ME3 ending opens up a lot of doors any time someone doesn’t like the story.

I seriously wanted to cry just seeing that picture.

The problem with the idea of saying “it’s not your story” is that, really, it is.  As gamers, we spend countless hours in these games during which we effectively become the characters we play.  The attachment I felt toward the cast of characters in the Mass Effect universe was bordering on the absurd.  I cried a few times, I laughed at Joker’s…jokes.  (I especially loved when you pull up to the Geth mothership and he jokes about taking advantage of them not having windows…for a second time.)  When Ashley almost dies on Mars, I almost cried.  When she got better I jumped out of my chair for joy.  When Mordin went down, I did cry a little and spent so much time staring at his name on the memorial wall.

One of the reasons Mordin touched me so much is that his character arc is probably one of the best in the entire series.  He is one of the best characters I’ve ever seen in video games, and stands among some of the best characters in anything I’ve been exposed to.  His death, to me, was not just pixels on a screen.  It was the loss of someone I spent 5 play-throughs–at 35-45 hours each–of ME2 getting to know.

This is similar to how people come to love characters in books and on television.  The main difference, however, is again the interactivity.  When you watch a movie or read a book, you identify a protagonist through whom that story is told.  You identify with that protagonist and (if the film or book is any good) hope he achieves whatever it is he is trying to achieve.  With that said, the audience of those books or films does not choose the actions of the character.

But then I found this picture from him singing “Scientist Salarian” and it made it all better.

The point I made above—that we become the character in the game is what’s so vital to this and why it is our story.  When we choose what that character does, wears, shoots or doesn’t shoot, who he loves or doesn’t love, we gain an attachment that is beyond any other medium.  I can honestly say that Mordin’s death meant more to me than any event happening to any character in film or literature that I’ve yet come across.

(Keep in mind, I love books and film.  I am not saying these books don’t touch us, but I think the depth of something like Mass Effect is unmatched in those mediums.)

Many people pointed out that BioWare was trying to tell a story and we paid to be told that story.  Thus, we don’t really own the story.  That is wholly untrue—I paid to “live” that story, to become Shepard.  I paid for a game, not a book or movie.

If I wanted to just be told a story, I’d have watched a movie or read a book.

Again, I’ll point out that Mass Effect was unique amongst most games as it treated the story as one of our choosing.  That was, time and again, provided as a major selling point for the game.  Where in Metal Gear Solid you just watch 30 minute cut scenes and shoot someone, in ME3 you drove the story forward with every action and dialogue choice.

 

The Larger Implications

While I’ve talked about ME3 almost exclusively in this, I hope that the implications for gaming at large have become apparent here.

You see, the problem of gamer entitlement is that those who call people like me entitled want to have it both ways.  They want a world in which the game developers can do what they want with their games and I, as the gamer, have two options: don’t buy it or accept it for what it is.

I hope if you’re a gamer that statement bothers you as much as it bothers me.  After all, the furor over ME3 is almost like a Supreme Court case for video games.  What BioWare does next will undoubtedly set the precedent moving forward for all video games.

Really, what is at issue here is whether or not—moving forward—the story will be treated just like any other part of a video game, or if it will be treated as some untouchable piece of art.

I think I’ve made my case for it quite clear, but in the case of Mass Effect, the story was considered a part of the gameplay.  In making the story part of the gameplay, BioWare now has to decide whether or not they’ll live up to their responsibility as a developer, or if they’ll set the precedent that story—whether advertised as part of the gameplay or not—will always be above reproach.

What should not worry any of you is what happens if BioWare really does change the ending.  This does not open us up to a world in which any book, TV show, movie or video game with story elements the audience dislikes will have to be changed.

Rather, all this does is assure us that if another video game comes along that blurs the line between story and gameplay in the same way as in Mass Effect, that the developer of that game will be expected to live up to whatever promises he or she made.

I sincerely hope that BioWare does the right thing and provides us with the ending to the game that as consumers we paid for; as fans we hoped for; and as gamers we deserve.  The only dangerous precedent to come out of this would be if they don’t, in which case it just confirms that video game companies can advertise falsely, release sub-par products and manage to turn it around by calling us entitled.

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  1. Nachtigallerator
    August 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I think the idea of all decisions factoring into the ending (if it was put that way by the developers) was just another case of bold advertising. Factually, your decisions factor into the story right *before* it ends: They determine if you get to see Mordin, Tali, Garrus, etc. again, and (if you’ve done *everything* right) if you can negotiate peace between quarians and geth, cure the genophage, things like that. But the ending itself? Difficult at best. It *is* possible to make every choice matter to a large degree – you see that in ME by the geth & quarian situation, or by the possibility to persuade TIM to commit suicide – but that sort of design makes people angry: They feel that they need to buy a game guide to get the ending they want to see. I’m quite happy with leaving the nature of the ending *mostly* to decisions you make in the final game, and honestly, I’m also quite happy with the impact of the player’s decisions being limited. You can only fit so many possible endings on a release shedule and on a DVD. If you want the kind of storytelling where every individual can really direct the story with their decisions, that story is not told by a videogame.

    That being said, the story Mass Effect set out to tell was too big. There was never way to defeat a Reaper army until the third game, and the third game didn’t want to break the suspense on the Crucible early. That’s not the kind of story that ever *could* be resolved by anything that wasn’t a huge, trainwrecking Deus ex Machina. I’m very curious to hear your suggestions for a better ending, though.

  1. May 22, 2012 at 7:18 pm
  2. May 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

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