March 28, 2012

Let's Talk About: Fanboys and Art

This post might not have anything to do with movies. I don't know. We'll see where my thought process takes me.

So, being confined to this speck of land in the Hudson Valley for the majority of the year does deny me certain privileges. A bevy of top tier restaurants to choose from (though there are a few winners here), at the mercy of whatever is playing in the local theater (it's usually pretty good), but the big one that a procrastination loving 20 year old feels the sting of above all others?

No XBOX 360.

It's been tough, man.

That's only partially a joke. True, I do long for my time at home so I can dive back into Skyrim or whatever is currently at the forefront of my mind, but it really isn't that big of a deal. If anything, my time away from the interactive entertainments has made me realize that they are kind of a waste of time.

My mother will be so thrilled when she reads that part.

However, there is one franchise that I will devote all my time to, one that will never be considered a waste of time in my book.

Mass Effect!

Earth comes first. Fanboys come second!

Oh boy, just the timbre of those two words gets me all hot and bothered, which brings me to the point of this article. Now, I don't know if you've been following gaming news or read IGN from time to time, or if you have no idea what the hell a mass effect is, so, just all inclusive, I'll bring you up to speed.

The third game in the Mass Effect franchise, the final installment of the epic trilogy, came out a couple of weeks ago to the usual acclaim that the franchise is used to. Mass Effect is an epic space exploration RPG where you take on the role of Commander Shepard as he/she fights to save civilization from an impending doom. What makes this franchise so damn excellent is the level of choice and customization at your disposal. No two people will have the same experience when they play Mass Effect. This is doubly impressive when you discover that your choices will carry over through all the games in the franchise, and change the events in those games. So, choices made in the first one will have consequences in the second and so on. It's really friggin' incredible. Couple that with gorgeous graphics, addictive combat, and superb voice work and... well, there's a reason Mass Effect has been heralded as the greatest game of all time by some.

So when the third one came out, everyone was all excited, and played through the whole thing on day one. And they found something odd. Now, I haven't played the game yet, as it's sitting at home in San Francisco and I'm still here in sunny Annandale, so I'm only going off what people have written/told me. The ending to Mass Effect 3 is being received as the biggest cockslap to the fan base since... really almost ever. Apparently your decisions have very little outcome on the ending, and the fans are pissed. Now, this make some sort of sense, as the makers of the game, Bioware, stated that your decisions would have big effects on the ending. Apparently, this turned out not to be the case. So, the fanboys did as fanboys do, and took to the internetz, petitioning to Bioware to change the ending, even going so far as to file a complaint with the FTC. And then, about a week ago, Bioware came out and said that they were working on downloadable content which would address these issues. Essentially, they said that they would make a new ending for those who pined for it.


Now, this development has me ticked off for two reasons.


Reason Number 1: I haven't payed the game yet, so all this bitching has effectively ruined the outcome of everything for me. Thanks tools!

Reason Number 2: Despite what they many think, fanboys aren't entitled to shit! Ok, maybe Bioware did advertise false information, but who doesn't these days? The advertising for The Hunger Games focused exclusively on the glitzy first half and the budding romance, and spent no time on the shocking levels of violence to found within, but nobody cared. It was just a product of a lame ad campaign. And Bioware should be called out on false advertising. That's just business. But to take to the streets demanding that they alter a product that they clearly spent a crap ton of time on, well... that's just going overboard mate. The people who worked on this game are artists. The writers of the game are artists. That game is their art, and they, without a doubt, are proud of it, proud of the time they put into it, and proud of the positive reception that it received, ending aside. It's a little insulting to them, not gonna lie.

I mean, sure. They did come out and say they would address the problem for y'all, but you have to assume that they're a little pissed. The Mass Effect series has always boasted exceptional quality, Mass Effect 3 included. These guys have spent that last five years creating from scratch one of the most celebrated and original franchises in any medium. For all we know, the ending is exactly what they had in mind from day one, and to spit on that and declare the entire game a failure because of the last ten minutes is just wrong. It's minimizing the work that the writers put in, and it's blatantly ignoring the other aspects of the game, which, from what I hear, are outstanding. Mass Effect is a long ass game, with 20-40 hours of gameplay to get through. A weak, final 10 minutes is not going to ruin the other two days worth of game.

More over, this development has forced Bioware to sacrifice their integrity as game designers and as artists. They have been forced to alter their work after an overly-entitled consumer base took issue with it. Just gonna go out on a limb here, but that sounds a bit like something that would happen in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, not so much 21st century America where the artist is a valued member of society.

Now, personally, I don't think the ending is all that bad. True I haven't played the it yet, so I don't know how it fits within the framework of the game, but in terms of the story as a whole, spanning Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3, I could see it working. Now, just because I don't have a problem with it doesn't mean other people are wrong to have a problem with it. Not at all. But the guys making this game are storytellers. Yes, the story they are telling is one that can change based on how you decide to play, but all good stories eventually come to an end. It would be, quite literally, impossible for the people making the game to create an ending for each and every person. And it's not like this is new to the franchise. Mass Effect 1's ending wasn't even really affected at all by the choices you made, and the ending to 2 hinged on a choice made in the final ten minutes.

We are going to need bigger guns!

Now, if I'm the artist, and I am an artist, (a storyteller, no less) and someone saw a play that I wrote, didn't like it, and came up to me demanding I change a certain element of it to better appease him/her, I'd punch em' in the face and walk away. If people want to offer me constructive criticism on how I can make my art to make it better, then fire away. I'm all for that. In fact, I encourage it. But demanding I make a change to something I toiled away on and am proud of simply because you did not like it, that I will not tolerate, and neither should a respected and successful company like Bioware.

So, fanboys, I ask you. With this new found power you suddenly find yourselves with, will you use it again? Will you take issue with the handling of another popular property because it didn't fully please you? For example; I guarantee you that the The Dark Knight Rises will not live up to your expectations. It is impossible to live up to those expectations. Will you take to the streets and demand that Christopher Nolan change the film to better suit your wants?

That's what I thought. You would never demand that a director change the ending to a movie, or a writer change the ending to a book. But games are a different matter. And they shouldn't be. Just because the advent of downloadable content has ushered in an era in which the game developers can keep adding new things to the game and update old things after its initial release, it is not an excuse for demanding drastic changes to a game's story.

I mean, do you know how angry I was at the end of JAK 3? All the expectations I had built up over the course of the franchise came crashing down as the big reveal of who the Precursors were was proven to be nothing more than an elaborate joke, and, on top of it all, Jak ended up with the wrong girl. I was FURIOUS!!!!! But, I got over it. It's a fucking game!

You know what I wish? I wish that all this talk of Bioware changing the ending is total bullshit. I wish that the DLC they put out asks you a question when you download it, inquiring whether or not you fought for a new ending. If you say yes, I hope it erases your saved characters and has you start over from the very beginning of the first game, only everything is set to the hardest difficulty. That would be fantastic!

That's all. Questions?

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