Feeding the hand that bites.
Image by Daniel Horacio Agostini, licensed under Creative Commons
Just when you thought the word ‘fanboy’ had gone away and gamers could have conversations without throwing trite slurs at each other, there’s a new villain in town: ‘entitled’. It crops up so frequently and in such differing contexts that it has lost all meaning. It’s a bit like saying “the the the” repeatedly until the melted brains dribble out of your ears.
‘Entitled’ is like ‘fanboy’, acting as a literary klaxon: a word of warning to the reader that things will get ugly. It has appeared in Edge, Forbes, GamesIndustry and even Nightmare Mode, and it’s time we look at what we mean by ‘entitlement’ before we continue branding gamers with it.
I hate to resort to the old ‘dictionary definition’ essay cliché, but ‘entitled’ means a legal or just right to receive something. With that in mind, it’s clear that gamers are entitled to certain things: that is, if we find ourselves on the favourable side of an odious end-user license agreement. What can we expect from developers and publishers, what do we deserve, and what is just wishful thinking?
I feel a growing philosophical tension as a gamer. Games are experiences: art we enjoy, where the value we place is emotional rather than financial. Yet we usually pay for them and often enter into a contract with their creators (think of online gaming subscriptions and Xbox Live). We are art appreciators, yet also art consumers; while I don’t want to talk about games as ‘value for money’ and prefer to focus on their artistic or entertainment merits, the monetary investment is still on my mind.
It’s not unreasonable to request a fix for faulty goods: technically we pay for a license to play a game rather than a physical item, but in practice we still treat games like any other tangible product. We are entitled to complaint resolution. I took a lot of flak for proclaiming Skyrim my favourite game of 2011 due to the buggy code, which actually made it quite funny to play. I was even accused of being paid by Bethesda- maybe I missed a trick there. Since its launch last November, Bethesda have continually patched and improved Skyrim. It’s not unfair to say that many of the issues shouldn’t have made it into the allegedly finished product, but at least they’re fixed now.
What if the bugs never get fixed? Konami recently cancelled a patch for Silent Hill HD Collection on the 360 due to “technical issues and resources”. I hope you know what that excuse means, because I don’t. Konami have offered American gamers an exchange for another Konami game: just make sure you don’t choose a buggy one, eh?
I was an ardent PC gamer in the late 90s and games often didn’t work due to a greater variety of hardware and immature graphics APIs: I love Outcast, but I would have loved it even more if it had installed on my computer. I remember scouring the web for patch news so I could try and get the game working within its 28 day return period. A patch was released on time, but the game didn’t work with my next computer either, which necessitated downloading another separate patch.
Now all modern games are as complex as those PC titles and there’s nowhere for console gamers to hide. Bugs are more difficult to hunt because games can be played for hours before encountering an adventure-halting glitch. Maybe we should be more demanding of developers, rather than hacking a game’s code and patching it ourselves.
There’s a further complication with rights and refunds, though. Steam’s Subscriber Agreement has incrementally eroded rights that barely existed in the first place: if you don’t agree to a change in terms, you can deactivate your Steam account. Oh, but you would lose all of your games forever. OnLive laid off most of their staff in a sinister debt-erasing exercise this week, with initial reports claiming they were out of business completely. What would happen to the games you had bought if OnLive folded? They would just fade away into the binary aether. And don’t even get me started on the tenuous world of Kickstarter, which Ian Bogost described as a form of entertainment akin to reality TV. We are entitled to a lot less than we think.
Yet do gamers really think they are ‘entitled’ to everything the pundits claim? I don’t think so; rather, it is an expression of emotional investment in the games we play. We’re not great at expressing ourselves- a quick look at the forums or comments of any gaming website will tell you that- and reasonable discussions quickly degenerate into name-calling. Whenever we demand a new ending to Mass Effect, something I felt pretty reasonable given its bizarre illogic, the developers should take it as a compliment that players are so engrossed in their game worlds. After all, no one gives a hoot about the ending of Darksiders II. I’ve not even finished the first Darksiders, but I’m pretty sure it will end with me stabbing a large monster in the eye. No spoilers, please.
The merest hint of Half-Life 3 sends fans into a frenzy because they love the series and its characters. Undoubtedly for Valve, a mass ‘protest’ of online Half-Life 2 sessions is better than people not caring at all. Personally, I’d love to play Half-Life 3: so much so, I’d consider building a time machine and risk being trapped in an apocalyptic future ruled by killer cyborgs. Yet while I can express excitement as a crap joke, not everyone can. What gamers lack in articulation, they make up for in passion.
However, it should go without saying that there are good and bad ways to express your passion. Fan fiction, art, interpretive dance based on Mass Effect: these are good ways. Harassing developers, death threats, ranting about problems without solutions: these are not. It’s not a thin line between constructive criticism and destructive expression; it’s actually a pretty thick and well-defined one. Even if a game is so buggy that it blows up your Xbox and burns down your house, that’s never an excuse to intimidate or threaten people, whether it’s online or in person. You are entitled to an opinion, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a dick. In fact, not being a dick about it is the best way to ensure your opinions are heard and respected. Positive attitudes are so rare among gamers that you might shock developers into listening.
Given how immature, iterative and insensitive modern games are, publishers and developers should consider themselves fortunate that gamers care about them so much. Whenever Reggie Fils-Aimé complains that Nintendo fans are “insatiable”, or Tekken director Harada tells Tekken fans to “stop whining and complaining about everything”, that’s not just biting the hand that feeds: it smacks of unjustified entitlement.