The Problem with Games…. Is gamers.
There. I said it.
Gamers are the root of the problem. They’re my problem because I’m a game designer and I’m part of the problem because I’m a gamer myself.
It’s a terrible state of affairs.
Here’s why gamers are such a problem. It comes in the form of this quote, a tweet passed on by a friend of mine. The origin doesn’t matter.
“New Syndicate - now I’m excited. Syndicate FPS - Go fuck yourself”
We really need to talk about this…
Deeper into the deep damp hole…
Forget that this is about Syndicate, it isn’t. And forget that this is a tweet, 140 characters is more than enough space to be articulate. The problem is at this comment is far too representative of the tone and sophistication of gamers in general.
It is terse, it is inarticulate, it is aggressive in tone. It reveals a deep, deep fear of change and an almost childlike level of assumed ownership over games-we-have-loved.
Check out the user comments following the reviews of Space Marine. We have complaints that it’s not more like an RPG and plenty of whinging that the dev studio are not a 3rd Person studio so how could this be good?
To be honest, you can check out just about any review, preview, interview or news story relating to video games and they they are, the gamers, covering themselves with glory. This game isn’t like that game and I like that game so this game MUST be awful, they squeak. And thus runs the basic template for so many comments and posts.
Template 2 follows a converse system. This game is almost identical to that game, and I like that game, which means that this game is awful. The corollary being that this game is by different people, people who WOUNDED MY FAMILY HONOUR, or something… You know the score.
Yep, as a group, gamers are a pathetically conventional bunch. Terrified of new ideas or unusual twists on old ones.
It’s not just Gamers are that are idiots
Now, a swift spin through any comments section on the supposedly enlightened Guardian news site, and we swiftly see that this sort of infantile foolishness is not the sole preserve of the game sites. It looks like all internet commentary attracts a healthy dose of viscous,vacuous, aggression and ill-considered simplistic extremism. So that puts video gamers back on same playing field as everyone else, yes?
Well, no. The problem is that there is very little counter balancing to this extremism. It may be because this sort of internet output has grown up alongside the games as an industry itself. Worse still, when you indulge in online gaming, you discover that far too many XboxLIVE players are a bunch of honking, furious, homophobic nut jobs. A fine advert for gamers? Not really.
Okay, so some gamers are almost reasonable…
The true counter balance lies quietly in between the foul mouthed lunatics. Posting quiet little thoughts that lack incendiary sentiment is no way to get noticed but thankfully they are there. Those idiots that attacked Relic for not being a 3rd Person action studio did get a fair amount of grief in return. And actually, much of that was reasonably articulate. The furious old fuddy-duddys who simply couldn’t bear the thought of a Syndicate game that wasn’t EXACTLY like the one they played as furious teenagers were balanced by some far more interesting retorts like the one from Danthat at SizeFive games who noted that the brilliance of Syndicate was that incredible setting and atmosphere, not the bloody viewpoint.
It’s a first world problem. You give people a game they’ve been clamouring for for over a decade and the first thing they do is explode in hilarious apoplectic rage. Everything is amazing and is no-one is happy. The fear of change, the fear of something different. Just give me something just like something else, squeak half the people. No! Yelp the rest, you’re copying the wrong thing! Copy my favourite thing instead. Sometimes a few crazy fools ask for something new or surprising, or simply offer their trust to the creatives making the game but they tend to get ignored. The cranks.
In search of The Good Gamer
We need some wisdom. Something to help us out of this hole, I’ve got two quotes.
“You could say that the audience is the enemy, but any general that ignores the enemy is doomed to defeat.”
It was my animation teacher that said that. Thanks Chris, it helped me start getting my head in something of the right direction in university, animating short films by myself. Ultimately, I’ve come to believe that although this is true, it’s not a great attitude to have. We need to do better.
The second quote is more valuable to me today. And it also comes from the film world.
“No, people are dumb, a person is smart.”
That was Tommy Lee Jones in the lovely movie, “Men in Black”. You might think that this is a strange place to find wisdom and inspiration, but I don’t care. It makes a lot of sense to me and is a reminder that you should not confuse the underachievement of a population with the potential of a single person.
You don’t have to like them, but you do have to love them
I’ve had a few experiences that have really helped shape my feelings of gamers in a far more positive direction than those unfortunate internet opinions and vile, online aggression. The first came from a photograph (sadly one that I can no longer find). It was a shot from E3 the year that the Xbox first launched, Fuzion Frenzy was one of the launch titles and I was having a frankly wonderful time working on the game. And this photograph showed someone playing Fuzion Frenzy, probably Sumo, although I can’t be certain. This player had his fist raised in triumph, his grin broad, eyes gleaming with the thrill of winning the round. He was, quite simply, loving it!
I remember the tingle that shot down my spine. The pride of seeing someone genuinely enjoying a game that I was a big part of creating. We do all the work in the hope that this is what happens at the other end. The player is the most important thing we have.
More recently, I have spent some time at the Vertical Slice user testing lab. It’s a great service and I recommend it very highly. We were taking the Kinect version of Yoostar through its paces. I spent many hours watching people playing the game, sometimes having a great experience, sometimes struggling, sometimes being completely stumped. This is something that every designer should see. A player stuck, frustrated, becoming angry, becoming bored, probably wishing that they could get their hands on your throat. It is a humbling experience. See this, and you don’t think, “Bah, what a dick…” you just think, “Maybe I screwed up there.” And when you see numerous players make the same mistake you know that you have made a mistake and you HAVE to change that part of the game.
There is no sharper way to focus your attention on the player than to watch them with your game. And when you do, this is when you realise that the player is everything. The most important piece of the puzzle. Your intellectual aims, your theoretical arguments and your own dogmatic beliefs about challenge melt into nothing when you see a player just wanting to walk the fuck away. All that matters, is simply making game better.
Just a Human, nothing more
So gamers can be foolish, boorish, mean spirited and wilfully biased against years of your hard work. Often ungrateful, conservative and terrified of change, but without them, your work is meaningless. They say some ridiculous things, but, just like most people, they often don’t really mean half the stuff they say.
And we need to paying greater heed to those quieter, more thoughtful and intelligent commenters. People who might wish a game was different, but don’t express outraged hatred. There are even players who may love your game, but who can relate their experience with appreciative articulation, not just zealous interweb superlatives.
Extract a gamer from the war zone of Call of Duty or the NEOGAF forums and what’s left is a normal human. And when they are in front of your game, they are your audience. And the audience isn’t the enemy, it’s the most precious thing in the world.
Jogosity would like to remind you about the wisest thing he ever read about being a author, and he thinks this is just as applicable to games.
“When your audience tells you what’s wrong, listen to them, for they are almost certainly right. When they tell you how to fix it, ignore them, for they are almost certainly wrong!”
Wise bloody words!
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