Many who look at the current landscape of video games come to two very different conclusions. Some say the games are sub-par, unimpressive, and disappointing, while others say gamers are self-entitled, whiney, and can’t be satisfied. In a similar vein to the way political debates break down into party allegiances and talking points, both sides hotly criticize and blame the other. I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on the problem because I see validity to both views. Games are regularly launching fraught with problems, and gamers are the most vocally negative group of people I’ve ever interacted with. But how did it end up this way? A lightbulb went off when I read David Thier’s thoughts on how the reviews of The Order:1886 prove that something is changing in video games.
The Louis C.K. Problem
There are two significant things that have caused what I call the Louis C.K. Problem: Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy. I’m going to break these causes into two sections, and I’m going to start with what the games have done before I talk about how gamers are part of the problem. I’d like to win some good will from players who may think I’m just another industry fanboy wagging my finger at them.
Death by Disappointment
It is undeniable at this point that many big AAA video games have been disappointing at best and embarrassing at worst. Gamers are more than just trepidatious, they are justifiably skeptical and somewhat cynical after numerous rocky and lack-luster launches. I have already written quite a bit on how different approaches to development and testing could help games launch better, and I’ve also put forward a solution to AAA games making less and less profit. So rather than offer solutions I’m just going to show how this relates to the issue at hand: Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy. To put it bluntly, players are sick of feeling screwed over and lied to. It’s almost psychologically damaging to keep building up our hopes only to dash them on the rocks of another sub-par glitchy game. It is because of this consistent disappointment that gamers have become somewhat jaded. When I read David Thier’s thoughts on The Order:1886 I couldn’t help but sigh and feel a little bad for him. And I don’t say that to demean him, I say it because I resonate with his sullen dissatisfaction with yet another well-polished well-marketed game. And I had a really hard time not rejecting his opinion because the commercials and in-game footage have me convinced the game must be better than all the negative scores and reviews. See how powerful the marketing is? But while the jaded feeling of gamers is partially the fault of the game companies, part of the problem is that we have unattainable expectations…
Whether you have been gaming since 1981 or 2001, we have gone through an insane level of advancement and improvement in gaming technology and experience. From Galaga to Goldeneye to Gears of War, it’s been a wild and fast ride. Going through this metamorphosis along with video games as they progressed has, in part, created our present problem. We now associate video games with having our minds blown by the innovative advances within them. So in our minds gaming has become synonymous with the jaw dropping experience of playing something we’ve never seen before. The experience of going through this gaming metamorphosis has set the expectation that every game should push the boundaries because that’s largely been what we have felt. Maybe it was the first time we experienced a smooth third person shooter like Gears of War or an engrossing intense campaign in Call of Duty or your first stealthy takedown in Assassin’s Creed. These experiences made an impact, and in many ways, made us gamers. I believe this causes many people to expect that feeling with each new title. Now, not only is this expectation completely unrealistic, it’s foolhardy. We are approaching games more like a drug that we keep hoping will have a stronger and stronger effect, instead of seeing video games as a hobby to be enjoyed and invested in.
As I said, the other side of this coin is that big AAA titles over hyped themselves and under-delivered. So many gamers are sitting with their arms mentally crossed, scowling at any new game with skepticism, whispering, “Yeah, just try to impress me.” This is compounded by the heightened expectations from the metamorphosis I outlined above. All of this is cyclical because the cynical gamer has their pessimistic predictions confirmed when almost every big launch the past year was bumbled in varying degrees. And like a downward spiral… lots of hype, under-deliver, unrealistic expectations are dashed, gamers grow more cynical, now companies need more hype to convince the more cynical, greater chance of under-delivering and not impressing, down, down, down we go. Basically everyone just needs to settle down. Even if one game manages to pull of the perfect game and satisfy the masses, then what? Can we honestly expect every company to produce a mind blowing ten out of ten game every 24 months? Yes, companies need to tone down the marketing and think of new ways to deliver content in a steady and more stable stream. But gamers need to temper down our expectations because, quite frankly, we can be our own worst enemy. If you sit down to every new game with expectations in the stratosphere, you are setting yourself up for consistent disappointment. Sure, it enables you to sound smug and elitist when talking about “another boring game”, but you’re hurting an experience that might otherwise be enjoyable.
Everyone keeps talking about the experience, and I’ve written quite a bit about that. But the experience of a game is a two-way street. You will get out of a game what you put into it. That’s part of the reason I’m taking a break from Destiny. Grinding through the raid each week with the hope of getting one last piece of armor I need for one of my characters was ruining my view of games and my experience in Destiny. Each time I sat down I had less and less patience, and the slightest thing would set me off. This is just one example of how our outlook and approach can have a negative effect on our experience. Because I was coming to Destiny with a very narrow hope and expectation, I was limiting the game’s ability to be enjoyable. We all do the exact same thing when we sit down to a game like The Order:1886 and expect it to blow our brain out the back of our head with “something new”. That partially what I think happened with all the negative reviews of The Order: 1886. Gamers are so jaded that what should be impressive and fun is looked at with sharp and unforgiving criticism. It isn’t fair to game makers and as I said, it’s foolhardy. So, please, let’s all just try to calm down and enjoy how far games have come and help them improve in a healthy and positive environment.
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