Yet You Live in a Society

Social media exposes some of the deep issues in the gaming community

The day started well enough. I woke up early for a change, had a lovely cup of tea then left the house to take care of all my errands. By the time I came back and sat at my desk I had bought some freshly baked croissants from my favorite bakery alongside a can of cola, my only guilty pleasure. All in all, quite a good morning. Then checking Discord notifications I found out I was tagged in one of the servers I acted as a staffer on. Curious, I checked the message and kissed my pleasant morning goodbye.

The message was quite short; a simple taunt of “hey dumbass” and a link to a reddit thread concerning Apex Legends. I didn’t dig too deep but apparently there is a current controversy regarding the newest season, its monetization and the way its community team and lead developers had been addressing community dissent. I say these things because I really, really, and I don’t know how I can stress this enough, really don’t care. I don’t care because I’ve already been burnt out from the previous season and am currently not playing Apex Legends. Since the end of that season, I have been alternating between cRPGs (Pathfinder:Kingmaker) and grand strategy (Hearts of Iron IV, Europa Universalis IV and a bit of Stellaris) games and haven’t kept up with things.

I don’t hide the fact I love Apex Legends. It is my favorite game in the battle royale genre. I like the characters (especially Wraith), mechanics, feel and visual of the game. I enjoy playing it; alone or with friends and though I haven’t touched it in months, I may go back to it at some point in the future. That said, that doesn’t mean I agree with or have to defend the game and its creators, especially when they misstep or are just plainly wrong.

Like I stated above, I haven’t dug deep into this new controversy. I just read the titles of some of the videos I saw in my feed and listened to one or two of them briefly. Since I have no interest in the game at the moment, I have no interest in hearing about it either. From what I did gather, Apex Legends’ playerbase is up in arms after being squeezed for extra dollars during the current season since Electronic Arts is desperate for some cash and Respawn Entertainment is getting the much deserved backlash, prompting its lead developer to rant about entitled gamers. Am I right? Am I wrong? I don’t really care as I wrote before. It doesn’t really interest me at the moment and I don’t have much of a voice or influence to do anything about it. Sorry folks, I have other things on my mind.

So why was I tagged? Well, I’d assume part of it was because in that discord server (which is an EVE Online discord server mind you) I’m known both for loving Apex Legends and being a salty asshole who often calls out people for well-deserved reasons. I am not going to defend myself. I wish I was a nicer person but I am quite the unpleasant individual when it comes to EVE Online and its byzantine politics and tribalist mindset. I’m certain the individual saw an opportunity to piss me off and frankly succeeded. I did tag them back later on and wrote a litany of profanities just to clarify my stance on the subject. Setting that aside, this whole event made me think a little about the reasons behind tagging me to begin with. What was their grand design?.

I am guessing the person thought linking the reddit thread would act as a “Gotcha” moment, that rare proof that obliterates the opposition – the smoking gun, the vial of poison, the killer’s gloves. The reality though, is quite different. There was no “Gotcha”, since I didn’t read the story nor was in the loop. It did annoy me enough to illicit a response but not a constructive one and my stance regarding Apex Legends hasn’t really changed. I enjoyed the hours I put into the game so far. Whether or not the game developers are literally idiots who don’t understand how to foster good community relations is not going to change my mind about my past experiences. So why link it? Why try and antagonize me? The question kept bothering me.

I pointed out before the tribalistic nature of EVE Online, but in reality the same can be said for gaming in general. Many people will have their favorite games, games they may not be good at, but still feel are part of their identity. They build communities around them and incorporate them into said identity. I read and often hear “I am an X or Y player”. This denotes their “allegiance”, their “loyalty”. This declaration will often precede a defense of a game or an attack on a competitor or some other game that perhaps encroaches on the territory of their chosen game. That identity is important to them after all, and they must protect it.

In a way it does seem silly. After all, a game is a game, not real life. Yet these people derive some of their self worth from those games. After all, they are key parts of their identity. They are gamers who in the gaming culture are part of a “tribe” be it first person shooters, grand strategy players, or your run of the mill fast clicking simulators also known as real time strategy games. Some of these games though can be quite bad. Some of them, especially due to the state of game development and publishing in our current time, can be downright broken. Fallout 76 and Anthem are just two recent examples and there are sadly more I could probably find if I tried looking at previous years. I don’t think it’s a crime to love these games. After all people like The Room and that is a terrible movie whose appeal I never understood. Some people can like bad art. It’s a matter of personal taste and if they can derive enjoyment from it. I don’t see a reason to look down on them for liking such games.

The problem starts when people attack others for highlighting the flaws in those games. Fallout 76 is a bad game on every conceivable level, and yet some people defend it so vehemently to a worrying degree. They dismiss any criticism as being biased or unprofessional. They refuse to reckon with reality because it doesn’t just threaten their enjoyment of the game, but their whole identity. They invested their self worth in the game, being fans of the series and accepting its awfulness would be tantamount to admitting their own diminished status. They can’t accept it so they attack the sources of criticisms. When you don’t have a defensible claim, attack the legitimacy of the critics. It’s laughable, for sure but sadly all too commonplace. I see it everywhere in the gaming space. Because in gaming, you must have a winner and a loser.

This is the other part of the equation. Identity and self worth are derived from the game, but that game is in competition with others in its genre and the general gaming landscape. It’s an artificial competition created by publishers who wish to sell more copies of a game. Seeing these nascent communities, publishers and their public relations firms recognized their potential and hijacked them. They turned them into marketing ploys, supercharging the player base by using the games themselves against them. Skinner boxes and achievement bars, collectables and collector’s editions, not to mention the foisted sense of competition with other big named franchises. They created rabid fans by rewarding the most loyal, the most determined, and released them to the wild.

It’s no wonder these fans now see attacking one another as acceptable. The woes of the fans of one game is the joy of the fans of its rival. Especially in oversaturated markets, often in popular genres like battle royale currently is, the rivalry is quite mean and destructive. I remember playing Playerunknown Battlegrounds and seeing many deride Fortnite players as being children or childish due to its flashy graphics and cartoony art style. Even though Playerunknown Battlegrounds is a grey buggy mess that for me at least, was a tedious and frustrating game to play. Not that Fortnite enticed me either. In fact, I wrote the whole genre off until Apex Legends arrived on stage.

This brings us full circle. Apex Legends, let’s be fair, combined the hero shooter genre with the battle royale one to make a unique game that had plenty of energy and style. Unlike some of its competition it was free to play and launched in a perfect technical state which had sadly become an outlier rather than the norm. It was fun for me to play and I even reviewed it favorably. Do I regret that review? No, I stand behind it. At the time it was exactly as I described it and the memories I have of it are filled with tense firefights and hard won victories. That said, I can love a game and critique it. I can enjoy it and acknowledge its developers’ abhorrent behavior.

This is the crux of the matter. After showing my love and devotion to the game, it became, at least for others, embedded in my identity. They never asked me if I defined myself by the game, instead they assumed so. The moment the opportunity presented itself they couldn’t stop themselves from trying to “humiliate” me for my preferences.They thought they were “showing” me how hypocritical I was for liking a game whose developers and monetization had gone out of control. In their mind, admitting to this, accepting this was tantamount to betrayal. It was conceding defeat and thus making them morally superior to me because their games, thus their identity, wasn’t tarnished by a recent controversy. It is as childish and infantile as it sounds. Which is what really infuriates me.

Because it is these people whose fanboy mentality helps maintain the status quo in gaming, one where publishers hold all the cards and us players are but cattle to be exploited for the real customers – the investors. It’s those people that engage in fanbase wars that help no one and only further entrench developers and publishers into certain niches to peddle the same game over and over year after year. It’s those people who tried to silence critique of their favorite games by claiming various things from media bias to reviewers not being “good” at the games. It’s this slavish devotion to franchises that helped normalize many a horrible practice in video games. From microtransactions that “support the developers” (citation needed motherfuckers), the explosion of useless tat in collectors’ editions that themselves became tiered, incomplete products that would be patched later but were forgotten because “road maps” (ask the Anthem fanbase how is that working out for them, the whole two that are left) and so forth. Any criticism, any dissent and you were labeled anti gamer. You had to accept these practices or else these frankly inferior products compared to previous generations would cease to exist (good!). If all else failed, if all the excuses were brushed away for the flimsy webs of deceit they were, they’d turn the responsibility back to you. How can you critique the industry if you take part in it, by either consuming its products or earning money from writing about it. How can you critique society if you are part of it?

This conjured in my mind the famous comic strip. It is infamous to say the least and often used to bash anyone whose defense against a critique of a system is the fact those who levy that criticism participate in it, either blinded or willfully ignoring the fact that there is often no alternative to that system. I’ve seen it plenty on social media, and sadly in real life as well. Time after time these people think themselves clever for pointing out that since we participate in broken systems just to survive or enjoy the few things in life that can actually give us joy, that any critique meant to improve them is meaningless because “You live in a society!” like the clever kids they are. It is a self-assuring nihilism. If you point out such things, then nothing can be better and thus doing nothing is justified. Why struggle when the result will be the same regardless? A sickening justification of doing nothing.

In the end though, the reality is that these people had surrendered from the start. They weren’t, and still aren’t willing to fight for what is right because that is troublesome, risky not to mention unpredictable. They either benefit from the system (their so called status and mediocre games) or learned to tolerate it like the sheep they are and any danger for this status quo threatens them as well (how will I be an elite gamer otherwise!?). They are the worst part of the community for telling the rest of us to stop struggling, stop complaining, critiquing and striving for better video games, better work conditions for developers and actual legal oversight on lootboxes.

To these people, sorry but I am part of society, which is why I fight to make it better, because I care about it since I participate in it. This is why I’ll keep critiquing, keep calling out things and obviously support any action that teaches Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts that they can’t abuse their community with shitty monetizations. If you aren’t going to help me then stay out of my way because I have no time for your cowardice. Why don’t you go and buy more lootboxes, maybe one of them will contain your balls/ovaries. Also next time explain WHY YOU TAGGED ME TO BEGIN WITH. Maybe then I won’t have to write 2000 word articles like this!

Featured image taken from The Nib and is the property of Matt Bors

BioWorn Out

Anthem is shaping up to be the final nail in BioWare’s coffin

In the last week YouTube has been flooded with Anthem videos detailing the experiences of various players and outlets with the timed demonstration. Watching these, I couldn’t shake the feeling of apprehension. I felt as though I was watching a general rehearsal for Anthem’s, and BioWare’s funeral.

I am not going to lie, as intrigued as I am by Anthem, I am also acutely aware of the baggage it carries. A game published by Electronic Arts, one of the worst publishers in the industry and made by a developer that had more misses than hits in recent years. Add to it that it tries to enter a crowded niche that already has several prominent titles to compete with such as Warframe, Destiny 2, The Division and with The Division 2 just around the corner. All of these make for a difficult start.

The demonstration itself didn’t help things. The myriad of technical issues from logging into the servers and instances of lag, random disconnects and characters getting stuck on scenery marred an experience that frankly, as an observer, didn’t exactly wow me. In all fairness, as nice as Anthem looks and as interesting some of its mechanics are, the feeling I got was of a heavier Destiny with a tad more aerial maneuvering. Worse yet, from all reports, it lacks even the basics of social interaction required to give a bit more life to hub world. This is the point where a difficult start slides into very challenging, and sadly the hits aren’t stopping.

2018 was a terrible year for Electronic Arts, and like many gamers, I am not shedding tears about it. The company lost a great deal of its share value, caused legislators world wide to look into loot boxes and micro transactions and even had several European countries demand, and succeed in removing them from games. It managed to rile up large segments of the gaming public with its poor launch of Battlefield V, a game that also caused controversy in various ways which could populate an article of its own. This of course, coming on the heels of the horrible monetization and mangling of Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that was supposed to be Electronic Art’s apology to those that purchased its predecessor and received a rushed, half baked product then.

Not surprising, the gaming community at large is carrying a grudge against Electronic Arts, quite justified considering the long list of crimes it committed against gaming as a whole. However it does mean that anything associated with it, even remotely, will be under a cloud of suspicion and outright hostility. This is already putting Anthem in such a disadvantage that I scarcely believe it could overcome, not even with an 80’s montage. So damaged is the image of Electronic Arts, and to a lesser extent, BioWare’s.

People seem to forget thanks to the relative success of Dragon Age: Inquisition just how damaged BioWare truly is. The studio that brought us classics such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect also produced some of the greatest duds in those same franchises. Dragon Age II pretty much single handedly killed my interest in the entire series after being nothing but a poorly written, lazy, repetitive and obvious cash grab of a game. People may rightfully pillar Mass Effect: Andromeda, at best a mediocre game with atrocious writing that was further dragged down by a plethora of bugs that served to immortalize it but it wasn’t a true BioWare game. That said Mass Effect 2 was, and it also served to alienate me from another franchise by the same developers. The stripping out of many role playing elements, the plot holes and obvious retcons, not to mention the transition into a mediocre squad based third person shooter all contributed to create a disappointing sequel. Had it not been for the characters themselves and some of the side stories, I would have written off the entire game.

Which is why I was surprised when people were shocked at the original ending of Mass Effect 3 and some of the other issues that cropped up with the horrible downloadable content carve outs Electronic Arts had experimented with in the series. The seeds had already been sown in the previous title and were finally blooming into a great big flower of disappointment and crushed expectations. I have to admit I did enjoy sitting on the sideline watching the entire fiasco go down. That said BioWare at least addressed some of the issues, but the fact remained that the overall trend had not been reversed. In some ways it was accelerated.

Departures of prominent staff members are not uncommon in large companies, doubly so in the computer game industry which is relatively young yet extremely profitable (if you hit it big). Yet when the people that were considered the heart and soul of the company call it quits, you should take notice. Add to it the constant pressure from Electronic Arts that had been riding the loot boxes and microtransaction high from its sports games and slowly polluting the rest of its products with that toxic garbage, and you have a recipe for disaster.

First and foremost, Anthem is a departure from BioWare’s usual style. BioWare is known for creating universes from whole cloth with deep character writing and in the past, interesting and complex stories. These experiences were always delivered in a single player game. Now Electronic Arts is making the studio create an online experience, where players cooperate together to grind missions for equipment and loot in what is known as the looter shooter genre. Basically a style of gaming that can be considered anathema to the studio. Though it does have some experience in the massive multiplayer online field thanks to the Star Wars: The Old Republic title, in reality that game still played more like a regular BioWare role playing game.

BioWare only has to look at Bungie and the mess that is the Destiny franchise to realize just how dangerous this leap of faith is. Unlike BioWare, Bungie had a lot more experience with compelling shooters. After all, its Halo trilogy is still held as some of the best first person shooters in gaming history. Yet even with all that experience, Destiny had a lame start and an okay finish, with a sequel that was somehow even worse than its predecessor. Bungie also had a 10 year contract for the game. Does this ring any alarm bells yet?

This would have been bad enough if it weren’t for one last horrible fact; Electronic Arts needs Anthem to succeed. It had burned so many bridges, lost so many sales that the company is desperate to have one huge financial success. That means it will put impossible expectations on the game that will ultimately disappoint. We saw how shareholders react when a game fails to make 10% more profit than its predecessor a la Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. What will happen when a game falls far wider off the mark? I shudder to imagine.

At this point some of you will be certain that I want Anthem to fail. I’ve been ragging on and on about BioWare’s many failings, the hurdles it must jump over and other difficulties. You couldn’t be more wrong. The reality is I want Anthem to succeed because I don’t want to see a developer that created some of the best games that I truly enjoyed and was even were inspired by go under. I don’t hate what I saw from the demonstrations. I don’t think that the hard work of hundreds of developers should go down the drain, considering their passion and abilities. That said, looking at all things objectively, I just can’t see Anthem succeeding. The deck is stacked against it to such a degree that its just plain tragic.

I wish circumstances were different. I wish Anthem had been given more time to be polished and had a much better demonstration. I wish I could care about a BioWare game like I did when I was a teenager. I wish Electronic Arts didn’t own and control BioWare. I wish and I wish and I wish. But as Gurney Halleck said, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets into the sea. Reality is, there is nothing I, or anyone else outside of Electronic Arts and BioWare, can do to make Anthem not just successful, but worthy of that success.

Thus, after seeing all of this, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that BioWare is doomed. Anthem will not be a smash hit. Electronic Arts will once again fail to meet shareholders’ expectations and the consequences will be dire. Sadly, a lot of good people will lose their jobs due to the greed of a few who refused to see the damage they were inflicting up to the very end. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the urge to open a bottle of whiskey and down it.