I’d been meaning to write a reply to Ben Kuchera’s “In gaming, everything is amazing, but no one is happy” all week, and I’ve finally had enough tea and enough of a break to think about what he said. Go and have a read of it, please, and then come back. I’ll be here, typing away. Read it? So you can probably see why it didn’t sit quite right with me. Yes, games are pretty amazing, and yes we complain a lot. And the implication of Ben’s piece is that… we probably shouldn’t complain? That things are much better than we imagine? That we are too fussy? You know, in this age of fear and fundamentalism, when the media does little to promote satisfaction or optimism, it’s hard to disagree with anyone who says that we should just take a look at what we do have. It is pretty amazing.
The flipside is, well, it could always be better. If people didn’t strive for better then we wouldn’t have all that amazing stuff in the first place. And the first step in striving for better is often the complaint. “This isn’t good enough. Something has to change.” And that is why gamers complain: they are smart, imaginative people, who can quite easily imagine how things could be better. Whether those imaginings are right (or even feasible) is another matter, but no one should say that they are unacceptable.
When we started RPS it was our mission to focus on how splendid the multitudinous things of gaming could be, especially in the realms of my beloved PC gaming. This meant that we, as a hivemind, were going to act as advocates for the platform. We were going to point out that the PC needed its own blog, away from the noise of the Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft circus, and something that took as much delight in big triple-A shooters as it did in scrappy ASCII abominations. What is amazing about the PC is democracy and diversity, anyone can do pretty much whatever they like with the platform, as long as it works within the occasionally constraints of Windows. The problem with this is that people are free to do things badly, or exploitatively, or even rudely. This means that we have to even more vigilant, and even more careful, when we look at what PC gamers are actually getting for their money. More often than not the bigger companies look at the control – and it is so often about control, rather than money or anything else – that the console platforms have, and seek to emulate it on the PC. That has become a key battleground for us, as has shoddy porting, and anything else that is to the detriment of our platform. We are advocates, therefore we must exult the good, and warn against the bad. It’s the only fair way for us to work. To say “games are amazing” is totally true, and we do say that, but when things are less than amazing, we say that too.
And internet commenters? The Angry Internet men? Yes, the same is true for them. They are advocates for a platform or a game, often, but moreover they are advocates for themselves. People want life to cater to their happiness, and they are right to fight for it, even if that fighting is little more than noise shouted into more noise in the noisiest environment ever created. If there are no turn-based RPGs of the old school, it should be your right to argue that there should be. Hell, someone might even listen.
The net result of all this is that that RPS is, and will always be, a champion for ease of use, for polish, for complexity, for innovation and cleverness. And it will always be a bit of a complainy site, because you know what? Sometimes complaining works.
Mr Kuchera’s specific examples of the things people complain about couldn’t have been less appropriate. The bosses are dreadful in Deus Ex, and there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t decry bad game design. We are gamers. We play games. We talk about games. Should we skip over the bad bits? Are you sure? Because it is best to pretend nothing is wrong? Suppress that dissatisfaction and face the world with a smile? “No, really, everything’s fine.”
Worse, if racism or other prejudices come tumbling out of games, however piecemeal or fragmentary or unintended, we are absolutely entitled to challenge them, too. As for “I wanted Battlefield 3 on Steam” versus “Steam is horrible DRM” being contradictory, well, I suspect those arguments are being made by different people.
Sorry Ben, but actually I think it’s our job, as exciting internet professionals, to complain. Also, it’s absolutely the right of consumers to demand that what they pay for actually be amazing, and not a piece of crap.
Everything is amazing, and sometimes people are happy. That’s how it will always be. And we should probably make the most of it, and then strive to make it better.
[As a footnote to all this, I’d like to point that while you are welcome to complain about things in the RPS comments, actual insults are another matter. Be civil, or be deleted.]