So I'm one of those video game nerds who grew up in the 80s. Zelda, Mario, Mega Man, Ninja Turtles... you know the games. I'm still a gamer all these years later, currently using valuable time on my PS3, PSP, DS, GameCube, Dreamcast and Saturn. My favorite genre is probably RPGs, which is no surprise since as a child I enduring the punishing torture of Final Fantasy I and Dragon Warrior I. I also love action/adventure, puzzle, FPS and pretty much every other video game genre out there, except for sports.
When I'm not wasting time with video games, I'm wasting time as the webmaster of the Mecha and Anime HQ, or recording podcasts. I also have this annoying thing called a day job, which by the way is a reporter.
Some infidel reviewer has committed the grave sin of giving your precious game (which you haven't played yet) a review score that's lower than what you've arbitrarily decided is proper.
Good lord, what is one to do?!?
Obviously, the answer is to bitch and moan about it on and on. But I'd like to offer my own humble suggestion, if I may: SHUT THE FUCK UP.
Now, this post was inspired by the seemingly endless stream of moronic comments following the 6/10 that Nick gave to Brutal Legend. Now tell me, seriously, is this the end of the world? I know it can be hard for rabid video game fanboys to see things outside of their narrow tunnel vision, but is it really important that Nick didn't like the game and dared to give it a score lower than other sites? Given that reviews are subjective opinions, does it really matter what Destructoid thinks in comparison to IGN, GameSpot, or whoever? And seriously, does IGN have any credibility to begin with?
While the Brutal Legend review is the most recent example, this is a trend that's been developing for years. Any time that some high profile game comes out, angry fanboys invariably have to mention how some other site gave it a certain score, or that the review average on Metacritic is whatever number. The question here is, who cares? We all know that a 9 on IGN is not the same as a 9 on Destructoid. I laugh while reading Fanboy Fridays how there's always some idiot bringing up Killzone 2's IGN scores somewhere, but Brutal Legend has convinced me that Dtoid isn't immune from this stupidity, sadly.
Follow me back in time to 2006, when then-GameSpot editor Jeff Gertsmann DARED to give The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess a mere 8.8/10, and not the 1,000/10 that it clearly deserved. It was the very definition of a shitstorm, with angry fanboys proclaiming that he was wrong, that it was at least a 9.5, etc. Then, as now, there were people complaining that it shows how number ratings on game reviews are flawed and shouldn't be used. It's funny how that complaint only comes up when it's a score someone disagrees with.
Which brings me to the whole point of this rant: why are people so hung up on review scores?
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge video game fan and will play games until the day I die. But I don't see why people react so strongly to negative reviews of games they like. Often, it's a game they haven't even played yet, but are simply excited about. If that's the case, where do you get off saying that a review is "wrong" when you haven't touched the game yourself? If someone reviews a game and is being a troll or is being contrarian simply for the sake of being contrarian, speak up. But just because someone's opinion is different than yours, it's no excuse to fly off the handle. For whatever reason, some fans react as if a negative review of a game is a personal attack against them. It's really quite stupid, and I wish more people were mature enough to realize this.
Maturity and video game fanboys in the same sentence? Surely I must be mad...
Since Monthly Musings has moved to the topic of sacred cows, I figured there was one that I just had to make a stab at slaying: the silent protagonist. You know who I'm talking about. That guy, mainly in RPGs, who says absolutely nothing during the course of the game because he's supposed to be "you."
I really hate that guy.
The common refrain we hear from video game developers is that the "silent protagonist" never speaks because it's supposed to help with the immersion and make you feel like you're part of the game. Sorry, I have to call shenanigans on that. Personally, I find that nothing breaks my immersion in a game more than having characters interact with a mute. There have been plenty of them in many genres over the years, but one that strikes me as particularly annoying is the Hero from Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. What annoys me about this guy (aside from the silence) is the lengths Square Enix goes to to shut this guy up. Throughout the game, there are simply parts where this guy HAS to talk. So what do they do? They show him from behind talking and moving his hands. It really sticks out to me every time that it happens, thus breaking my immersion. Big surprise, right?
Another more recent example is the Ghostbusters video game. It doesn't bother me that you don't get to play as Venkman or any of the other established character. However, you play a literally nameless rookie (your uniform's name patch actually says Rookie). When the other Ghostbusters interact with you, you either look flabbergasted or throw up your arms. I guess this guy is a mime or something. What I'm about to say is very lame: breaking the immersion here is a case where bustin' doesn't make me feel good.
Why does this bother me? I guess I reject this whole idea that the video game character is supposed to be an avatar for me. Playing a game is no different than watching a video game or reading a book. I don't watch Blade Runner and pretend that I'm Harrison Ford, or watch 24 and imagine myself as Kiefer Sutherland. I play a video game because I want my main character to interact with other characters and be a part of the story.
Of course, there are times when immersion and characters aren't really necessary. When I'm playing Unreal, I just want to shoot people. In a game where the characters and story don't matter, this is fine. But it just really bugs me in a game where a named character who is part of the story doesn't say a word. One last example that sticks in my mind is Isaac Clarke from Dead Space. Here you have a really creepy game where a bunch of crap jumps out at you from everywhere, and all you get from this guy is some text on a log screen. As scary as the game can be, it really stands out that this guy just walks through the game in silence, and you don't get a sense of his fear or the tension in the atmosphere.
So my message to developers is this: kill the silent protagonist. It doesn't help the "immersion" and serves to do only the opposite.
If there's anything that's been a bane to gamers in this seventh generation of video game consoles, it's DLC.
Like many people, I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, I remember when you could play games and unlock new content with codes or based on your performance. On the other hand, I've been happy to dish out money for expansion packs that add significant amounts of new content. With console DLC, that's not always the case. You've got companies like Namco Bandai, which like to nickel-and-dime you with character customization pieces in Soul Calibur IV or plane parts and paint jobs in Ace Combat 6. Then you've got Epic Games delivering the massive Titan Pack for Unreal Tournament 3 on PS3 (though I suspect that may be because the game sold so poorly and hardly anyone plays it).
You've got companies like Sony that are completely schizophrenic. On one side, they too want to nickel-and-dime you with overpriced fake clothes and furniture in Home. But then they also made the map packs from Resistance 1 free, and they have a pretty good sale running right now for the Warhawk booster packs (jetpacks FTW). Then you've got Capcom - and this is the point where I don't know whether I should love or hate DLC.
As a longtime Mega Man fan, I of course instantly bought Mega Man 9 when it was released last fall on PSN. It's interesting that with this game you download a demo that's about 60 megs, and then you have to pay $10 for an unlock key that's a few hundred kilobytes. This in itself isn't surprising, since many other digital download titles do the same thing. It's when you get to the DLC that things get interesting. Although Mega Man 9 looks like an NES game on the surface, under the hood it definitely isn't. When you buy DLC like Endless Attack, Proto Man and the Special Stage, you download files that are again several hundred kilobytes. Given how big the demo was, I'm sure the new levels weren't that small. Which leads to a pretty obvious conclusion: the content is already there, and you're just paying to unlock it.
Maybe I'm just angered here over semantics. I don't like the idea that there's stuff in a game that you can't access unless you pay for it. Is that significantly different from if it wasn't in the game and you had to download it afterward? I'm not sure. I'm also troubled by what Capcom considers DLC territory now: difficulty modes. Why would I pay for something as minuscule as a difficulty mode? Whatever happened to the days when you would beat a game and then unlock new difficulty modes? By the same token, I'm apprehensive about Resident Evil 5's versus mode, which is launching so soon after the game. Despite Capcom brushing off concerns from gamers, I think the issue raises questions. If this versus mode includes new maps, weapons, etc, I'm happy to pay the $5 for it. If it's just a new mode of gameplay that Capcom decided to block off, they're not getting my money.
There's been plenty of bitching back and forth on DLC at tons of websites. I can see things from the publisher's perspective too: developing games for this console generation is more expensive than the last generation. They want to recoup their costs, and who doesn't want more money in this bad economy? However, there has to be a balance in what developers decide to charge for and what they don't. No gamer wants to be pulled along buying tons of little pieces of content here and there, and I think developers would do well to realize this sooner rather than later.
Looking back at Saturday's Dtoid party, I think it showed me something that I always knew but never really put much thought into: video games are an amazing form of social media.
Of course, not everyone is in on this. Like comic books and movies before them, video games are still struggling to find mainstream acceptance. You've got critics like Roger Ebert opining that video games aren't art. You've got the mainstream media and the likes of Jack Thompson itching to blame every social ill on video games. And you've got this common stereotype that video game players are sweaty fat guys who live with their parents.
But we all know that none of that is true.
Over the years, I've seen that video games are one of those rare forms of entertainment that you can enjoy alone or in numbers. Growing up in Miami with an allergy to mosquito bites, you can imagine that most of my childhood was spent indoors. Thankfully, I was able to spend that time with all sorts of great games, from Mario to Mega Man. Sometimes I'd have friends over and we'd rock out to Contra or TMNT II. But whether I was alone or not, I always had fun playing video games (except of course with those horrible movie tie-in games Acclaim suckered me into buying because I was a dumb kid and didn't know better at the time).
Being at the Dtoid party really laid it all out clearly though. You had people from all parts of the country coming together not just out of love for a website with a robot mascot, but out of a love of video games in general. During that party, my friend Cristian and I discovered while playing a MAME cabinet that our nostalgia for the 1980s Ghostbusters arcade game was entirely misplaced (although it was still better than the horrible NES game). We also watched in amazement as a Dtodier used amazing skills to plow through The 3D Battles of WorldRunner (if you're reading this, you know who you are, but I never got your name). Of course, you also had people rocking out to Rock Band, and who couldn't be impressed by Street Fighter IV projected on the side of the building?
Of course, there's more to video games than just playing them. Spending as much time as we do on games, we know a lot about them and like talking to people about them. What better icebreaker is there at a large video game party where you don't know a lot of people? It's a great way to get a conversation going and make new friends.
Kind of like this random encounter I had last year at a Japanese restaurant with two amazing people named Colette and Niero.
It's not surprising that the release of Resident Evil 5 has spurred renewed criticism of the game and accusations of racism. We've been hearing about this ever since the game was first unveiled. So front page readers can see Jim discussing the commentary on The Huffington Post, but I'm sure there will be many "shocking" stories on your designated cheesy local news station about the evils of this game. After all, it's on your designated cheesy local news station that we learn things like Pedobear using the DS to stalk his prey.
But it's not just Resident Evil 5 that is under assault with these accusations of racism - just look at any GTA game. To me, these latest salvos in the war to call anything racist illustrate a larger point about race relations in America: so many people quick to run around and label everything as racist, but no one is willing to have an honest discussion about racism any maybe do something about finally putting an end to it.
This is an issue that affects all of American society and goes beyond just video games. Racism is America's dirty little secret. It's the thing you talk about in quiet whispers and just hope will go away. When Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, a bunch of people were happy to declare that it was the end of racism, so maybe we should stop talking about it. Far from it. I think people in America view racism too narrowly, as something only directed at black people. This obviously isn't the case, as it's directed to anyone of any skin color or ethnicity. Racism can take any form, whether it's the disparaging comment you make to someone in the mall, or when you think to yourself that a particular person is successful or got that job just because of their skin color.
So what's the answer in dealing with this pesky issue of racism? I don't know. If I did, I'd probably write a book about it and become fabulously wealthy. In America at least, we have to recognize that racism isn't just a bunch of redneck Klansmen putting burning crosses on lawns or lynching people. It's institutional, it's personal. If we can recognize this and honestly discuss the issue of racism, perhaps we can make some progress.
But what we don't need to do is jump on every single thing and call it racist, and then pat ourselves on the back for doing a good job in identifying something as racist. That's just self-serving and doesn't really help. That's not to say things that are blatantly offensive shouldn't be called out, but there's more to it than just calling out. Manufactured outrage from the media or family groups doesn't help either and should be ignored. Until the day comes that people want to honestly face these issues, no aspect of our society will be free of this inanity.