Monday, May 20, 2013

An Addendum to Black Noise

Where we go from what I described as incessant noise looks to have been bolstered by a very key development in how media content is presented to users in video games, chiefly videos. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine thing to have as an option to supplement content, but recently I've seen the general sentiment that borders on actively willing it to replace the methods we already have to deliver information. Change is a painful and inevitable process, but its not always necessary and innovation is never any guarantee of efficacy or effectiveness.

We've seen a lot of change in this generation of game consoles. A lot. How much of it has been for the better?

Detailing that change would be a waste of my and your time, so I'll cut to the relevance here, videos and what they mean going forward.


The recent hubbub over Nintendo looking to muscle in on property rights concerning Lets Play videos strikes me as yet another issue I find a bit silly for both sides of the argument and a good entry point to this discussion. The only reason Nintendo could possibly have to claim rights and push advertisements onto these people is a reason that simply will not fly. These people were essentially already doing what they wanted anyway (i.e. advertising).

This creates a situation where both sides lose as Nintendo will not see any monetized value and the creators of the videos having advertisements essentially forced onto them is jeopardizing their audience and integrity (making them seem as if they're something they're not).


"In their arguments for Nintendo's actions, several people have wondered why Nintendo would be so willing to affiliate their company with the awful crassness of a Let's Play video. What value can a terrible Let's Play video contain anyway?"
"They provide commentary and critique and, of course, yelling and cursing and giggling. In no way does the content of a Let's Play video represent the ideals of, say, Nintendo. Why would Nintendo want to slap their name onto such a video, indeed."[1]

The second part of this is most relevant to the current post however and that's the value of Let's Plays to begin with and more generally video content overall. These videos are more or less about the people making them and less about the game, which is why I've rarely found any of them worthwhile outside no-commentary playthroughs (as---I---don't---like---people). I don't view them generally as a necessary addition to what I see as worthwhile content. Certainly there will always  be people who sit  above the pack and make the occasional insightful video review or helpful video guide yet it should never be replacing salient impressions or even the written FAQs. For the former, written articulation serves as a better method to convey thoughts not only from the creator but for how the audience will interpret it. For the latter, technique and nuance in styles of play can be better communicated by a written FAQ than it will by most  'how to' videos. And even for the Indie titles for whom I've seen sound arguments expressed for why these videos help more than hurt, I can see a sort of sick irony of both sides being distilled down to basically "well someone is making money while someone else isn't, better get pissed".

There's an extreme defense of these people as well, holding them on par with commentary for a DVD or replacements for demos. Neither of those excuses has firm ground to stand on with only the latter being worthwhile if a game is 'broken' to the extent of madness (in which case we'll all still hear about it with or without videos showing us).

And again I should emphasize: exceptions do not disprove the rule. In this case most just highlight how problematic the rule was to begin with. A terrible FAQ doesn't mean that a great video walkthrough should elevate the entirety of its ilk to the norm. What I will say is that I have seen a very worthwhile increase in quality video content from average users but it was to be expected by such a huge rapid increase in use anyway. That this means we should go barreling forth into uncharted territory full of piss and vinegar is another story entirely. 

That's what I see represented here. Mass catering to people escaping having to read---perhaps not for the easy low-blow attention span reason, but because it gives them even less of a reason to do what written words still do better: communicate. Videos are far easier to consume than written text and this is a result of that[2]. We'll see what Microsoft will bring to the table tomorrow but I'm willing to bet it will attempt to reach parity with what Sony is prematurely trying to do with video and streaming content if not outright trying to one-up them. It's being used by all sides of the media now and that's what makes my ears sit up on end. The media reports to me now through video, so do publishers and even developers. Criticism and analysis is peeking its head out more and more through it and now even gamers are expressing themselves by the likes of Youtube. I don't like direction this current just took and I'm not about to just wide the wave either.

Tomorrow's X-Box reveal is in itself a mascot for this shift, as all three of the big wigs have effectively started holding their own video events to showcase hardware, software, and the value we should have in their brand going forward and this is odd because in a sense it's always been like that. Now we have a more hands on relationship with it. That publishers have to address us directly would be something I'd be more in favor of if we didn't all fall for their lies just the same. Before we had the media to filter it out (when they did their job well anyway). Now it seems plenty of players are just at the mercy of anything a good spin doctor can provide them with[3].

This has already started taking its toll on the media for video games in a big way. Previews on games are more or less dying out entirely, being replaced by videos ala Giant Bomb's Quick Look. That alone has its drawbacks and perks. I recall when I thought IGN video reviews were stupid and superfluous, now they're practically the norm.

And like I said, this wouldn't as much of a problem were we getting the best of both worlds, but we're not. People think one is an effective replacement for another when its not. What happens? They start pandering hard to the one that gives a material return in some form or another. Perhaps that speaks to the original written content by most mainstream gaming sites though, making this stacking one problem on top of another like a goddamn lego set. Even with the proliferation of the tools  (hell even I'm streaming through Twitch now), it doesn't explain the alarming rise in its popularity. Between esports, video impressions, and just general laziness, I'm not gonna pretend 'video' is a positive force for the landscape anymore than I will try to profess it being an overwhelming detriment. It's just indicative of problems, and simply by existing, we're introduced to even more issues than we had before (and as we know---there were quite a few).


1. Let's Plays, Nintendo and the Audacity of Monetization [Link]


2. Writing is history? How video is changing games journalism [Link]


3. I saw this earlier this week and the sentiment although only tangentially related, it does remind me what I'm referring to here. Extra Credits, Season 6, Episode 10 - The JC Penny's Effect [Link]