Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Game Over for Creativity"

The following was an article from the Hoya (Georgetown's student newspaper), and was featured back in late April.  All text featured in brackets after most paragraphs is my current opinion on the matters I discuss here.  Either my opinion is changed, or had been somewhat modified by the Hoya's editors to make the viewpoint of the piece seem more pointed.
      .            .            .
Subtlety, thy name is Internet.
For a video game that involves shooting a lot of things, “Mass Effect 3” has come under heavy fire — from an army of dissatisfied fans and critics. [I would be wrong if I gave the impression that Mass Effect was ONLY about shooting.  For the uninformed, the gameplay of Mass Effect not only features a widely varied shooting gameplay that includes more technological powers known as "biotics"; however, the game also features a number of dialogues between characters, placing a rather heavy role on story and character interaction.]
Since its release last month [March 2012], “Mass Effect 3” has caused an uproar for its questionable design. The game, which is the last installation in a series usually known for providing strong interactive elements and extended player choice, fell short of expectations. Fan anger has reached the point where movements have started to “Retake the Ending,” parodying “Mass Effect 3’s” famous tagline, “Retake the Earth.” There have been protests, petitions and even a filed complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. 
One protest involved cupcakes.  All of them had vanilla flavoring, the taste of disappointment.
It seems that these movements have been successful, as video game developer Bioware announced earlier this month that it will release downloadable content this summer that will, as Bioware co-founder Ray Muzyka promises, “[maintain] the team’s artistic vision for the end of this story arc in the ‘Mass Effect’ universe … [while also] delivering the answers players are looking for.” [The new endings have somewhat satiated the fan outcry, yet the dissatisfaction with the endings has continued in the most passionate of fans, who claim that the endings, while more detailed, still avoid the problem of having the choices of past games not mattering in the ending, as I will detail later.]
But such a change is detrimental to video games as both a business and an artistic medium. [Now, I'm not so sure.  While some choices, such as the ending, might be considered interfering with the artistic medium, however, there have been other fan outcries that I have felt have been widely beneficial to the video game medium.  Say, the outcry against Hitman: Absolution's trailer featuring "Sexy Nun Assassins" supposed sexism.  A controversy against a trailer like that can be considered trying to promote more gender equality in the industry.  It may effect the artistic integrity of the promotion of the game; however, the benefit of an outcry may promote a better industry.]

Fans are primarily upset with the game’s ending, and I must admit that they raise valid arguments. Since the “Mass Effect” series has always prided itself on encouraging player choice, this ending to the series betrays the interactive element that makes the video game medium special. [In particular, the Mass Effect series has often prided itself on the power of choice.  In addition, Muzyka had claimed when Mass Effect 3 was in development that the ending of the game would reflect the choices of all previous games.  Needless to say, the game did not live up to these claims.]

But should the developers change the ending due to the fans’ request? Despite my previous complaints, I still do not believe that this is the right approach, because the implications of such a change would be worse than keeping the ending as it is. [Eh...not entirely sure on this one.  I think this one might have been edited.]
Being a fan of video games does not give one creative control. A fan’s only voice in a product or series is whether he decides to buy it. If he had any input on the creative process, game development would become only more geared toward pleasing the majority and would be void of the boldness and experimentation that inspire and stimulate writers and artists. [THIS, however, I still hold to be true.  Video game developers should of course give SOME attention to fan clamors and listen to what is praised and criticized, and the Mass Effect team has definitely followed this philosophy quite well.  BUT, should fans be the sole force in what makes a game?  Would a series then end up like the Silent Hill series, which has fallen to the point to making games solely for fans and for everything they like that they forget to actually make a good, original game?  When fans gain too much power in what makes a game, THIS is where problems can arise.  And with a BIG decision like the ending of a game, this where the balance of creative power can slowly tip toward fans, and the creative teams will be so afraid of not appeasing them, that the game's development can only be widely affected.]
"Hey, you like Pyramid Head?  How about we put in him in every game, whether he is relevant or not."
As a result of the protest in response to “Mass Effect 3’s” ending, I fear creative directors will be less willing to take creative liberties in the future, or they will be severely limited by their publishers, who might be concerned that such uproar could occur again. And in a medium where originality and creativity are already becoming jeopardized, gamers should find Bioware’s rush to appease its fans unacceptable. [This was the point I just emphasized.  Developers are already limited by "what sells" and "what the mass audience wants".  While the promotion of games can be debated, the game itself is more of a grey area.  I'm not saying NO ONE should complain about the ending, or anything about the game (God knows I complain about a lot of things about Mass Effect), but to DEMAND a new ending seems a bit much!]
We need to maturely show that we care about our games, both as entertainment and as an art form. Throwing a temper tantrum, as some “Mass Effect” fans have done, would not influence the industry according to the protesters’ best interest. [I still find this is true.  Even with the most recent controversy I was involved in, the Bioshock Infinite cover fiasco (I may write a post about this later), I would still hold that the proper reaction is not childish anger (which, admittedly, I did have), but calm, collected criticism.  Petitions are fine, if done with a calm manner.  We need to remember that we need to show that our medium is mature by ACTING mature.  I need to improve this as much as (if not more than) anybody else, but hopefully we can make the change.]
Yeah...less of this.
(Grey Carter and Cory Rydell's "Critical Miss" from the Escapist)
I understand fans’ frustrations with the designers of “Mass Effect 3,” but their protests may affect the industry with a result far worse than a disappointing game — they may change the nature of the video game industry itself. [Whether this change is beneficial or not is yet to be seen.]

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