Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gamer Entitlement

This is something I've seen popping up quite frequently recently and I myself have always been on one side instigating the conflict. That is of course, the notion of gamer entitlement.

If you'll note, I recently posted a rather distasteful view on PC gamers being specifically guilty of it, but now I'm willing to admit that coming at the idea from that angle is somewhat problematic as it's not like like the issue is exclusive to them, merely predominant amongst them---which is only in my personal experience (hopefully). With the recent mess of EA, Bioware, and IGN, I keep seeing a counter-sentiment popup that seeks to demonize 'the misuse' of the term, going so far to bring the political instances in concerning the term's 'inception' and how it's applied particularly amongst gamers. This is foolish because even if one believes the term is being misapplied (which it really isn't), it's more or a less a defensive stance to take for any number of reasons concerning gamers as a whole (e.g. insecurity about how we're viewed as a community).

My stance is easily predicted as one of this entire blog's rules of thumb hinges on the concept that gamers are not the special little somebodies we often make ourselves out to be and are frequently the most problematic parties in the gaming community at large. Now the aforementioned Bioware/EA deal is not one I'd personally lump this argument on (this one particularly reads more as a publisher/development name-calling gamers as a defensive maneuver in favor of a lazy/questionable development choice), but it did present few things to me that I've either ignored or never bothered to muse over until now:

I. Reactionary responses are not typically the proper responses here, especially if they're based off things like emotion, subsets of morality, or nostalgia. That's nothing new. The main focus with this is that it's a reactionary stance, not necessarily a proactive one.

II. Games still have no place as far as a cultural sense of self is concerned. Yeah, little SnakeLinkSonic believes games are art and maybe they've been deemed as such by a few 'official' arenas, but still---very few people actually address them in this mindset and this outdated mode of thought is beginning to eat its own tail.

III. Because of point 2, the subjective variables widely vary and spin out of control when examined in any type of forum or discussion. People ready to take on a Che Guevara outlook when it comes to purchasing a game and pretending as if they're out to change developer practices really need to have their head examined as they're essentially throwing cotton balls at a brick wall and sincerely expecting it to fall over.

The one useful thing I've seen in this attempt to fight back against the use of the word entitlement is highlighting that the term in itself isn't inherently negative. The connotation is what these gamers are reacting to. Though I believe it is a serious issue amongst us as a whole I rarely find myself using the term in earnest these days. I often throw it out just to see if it will get a rise out of some players---and it always does (and I'll instantly plead guilty to playing troll towards PC-centric players in particular here).

Sometimes I actually do see well-thought out criticisms, stances, and voices of reasonable dissent on certain 'issues' gaming is currently having but it's never around when a topic is intertwined with the notion of entitlement, as it directly incriminates the gamers themselves. People have a vested interest when it comes to talking about things they've purchased or want to purchase. So, it's not that much of a leap to say that their judgement in situations such as these are just as much subject to criticism (especially when it's manifesting itself en masse like the way it is these days), and even moreso when gamers have a history of trying dogmatically to rationalize their purchases.

It's never been about trying to 'hush' voices of dissent here (which is a popular stance these arguments attempts to take). It's about questioning where some of us draw the lines in terms of things like 'consumer morality'. Some people are quick to draw a huge-ass circle around themselves to which no amount of logic or reason can penetrate without directly cutting through said person's highly individual areas of comfort and world views.

Where I specifically have a personal interest in the matter here is the above 'point II', as 'Games as Art' are rarely treated as such and are still for the most part a consumer product. People only acknowledge the romantic part of this notion. Developers wish to be called artists but buck against any kind of warranted criticism (which is a cornerstone to what being an artist is about), Publishers want it because it lends some sort of exploitable gravitas to the medium (but they won't admit to their business-minded interests), and gamers want it because it validates their poor little hobby on a number of levels; yet we can't handle conflicting opinions and let our passions run disgustingly rampant. Many gamers protect themselves on the entitlement issue by grandstanding or stretching the concept of videogames as a consumer product rather than an artistic piece in a medium and therein lies where I personally stand on the issue.

Of course it's much more complex than an 'art or not' binary, but I've yet to come up with a better path that doesn't involve me picking a side and staying there; since I regard mostly every game I play now as a work of art, that means I'm willing to accept some drawbacks as far this outdated mode of approaching them is concerned. One of them is the entitlement issue and I always logically arrive at applying the negative 'spoiled child' connotation to the term as I see it's warranted most of the time. Even if a player has legal right to a certain product, the points of quality and its value as a product will dirty up the stance considerably, because as much as I hate to admit it, nobody really TREATS games like art when it comes down to simple results and effects.

Gamers want to be apart of the process without any of the danger and the reviews they so circle-jerkingly denounce as so biased and compromised are nevertheless useful when examining the game for potential purchase, so is its community, developmental transparency and plenty of other relevant factors weighed in with their own critical thought. Raising standards to impossible levels and expecting developers to miss or meet with no-room in between is really the problem here; even strictly as a consumer---coming at a purchase as if you deserve an overwhelming amount of quality for a certain amount of money is rife with issues (some gamers really do believe they are above playing a game that's seen as a '7' by the already-problematic mainstream gaming outlet/review mindset). Gamers themselves have twisted the meaning of a word---and more importantly a concept; people wielding it as a buzzword to denounce others as overly-demanding consumeristic brats are symptomatic of a much larger problem here.

And at the end of the day, even those problems are just the die being seen from one side (e.g. journalism, development, publishing, mainstream media, etc...etc...