The Biggest Problem with the Gaming Industry (amongst others)

Let me begin with a parallel. Ms. Rowling wrote 7 Harry Potter books. Their popularity made her one of the richest people in the UK. But that’s the aside. The real story is how she made a mockery of every pundit predicting that the age for children and adults consuming printed books and literature is truly over. Every new Potter book created more mayhem outside the stores on book launch day than any film ticketing window could ever imagine.

Why do I say “any film”? I could have said, “any modern substitute for books today”. I could, but film is also symbiotically linked to that unique phenomenon of our times: the online review ratings scale.

I have no issue with film critics. They help popularize films and bring dimensions to an experience that may otherwise be just be a viewing. The good critics (and there are very few) are honored by the film fraternity as people who understand film and contribute to its interpretation. But Manhola Dargis does not go about like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes reducing commercial art to a rating point.

What does 10/10 mean anyway? Or 1/6? And its not even a “Films by Coppola” rating scale. Its a broad, “I cover everything rating scale”. The viewer’s inherent need for: “Will it be worth my time and money”, has been used to spawn an entire ecosystem of ratings, endorsers for those ratings and the fallout of ratings for films on popular websites. But all said and done, people see them as barometers of what to watch or what to leave for DVD. And if you have time on your hands, chances are you will ignore the rating and go watch that Tom Cruise movie just for the special effects.

But the increasingly commercial, increasingly transactional gaming industry does not stop at that. Game pundits extensively review all kinds of games. Its a prolific output. Games of every genre, on every platform – its as if the game is incomplete if it hasn’t been reviewed (and if its a big franchise – hasn’t been previewed). Here too, game trailers keep teasing you on YouTube for months on end. What is different from the film industry is, however, the ratings system. A review doesn’t count if you haven’t rated it out of 10!!! And if you want to earn true street cred for your review, break the game down further – gameplay, graphics, “presentation”, sound, “storyline” and so on and so forth. And then, at the end of the year, you HAVE to bring out a top 10 and worst 10 games of the year, and set out little mini-tasks like best graphics, best gameplay, best pftt…

We make a huge deal of how we have finally managed to break out of the old “Big Boss – Bigger Boss” approach to games because we transformed them into “sand-boxes”. And then we missed the point altogether. When are we going to let this industry breathe a little bit? When are we going to stop falling into the same traps 20th Century businesses fell into – of churning out stuff that we think people want, when actually they are waiting for you to blow them away? I don’t want a Fifa every year. I don’t need a Modern Warfare every year. Don’t kill yourself selling stuff you know will sell when you do so much better.

And when the odd developer does get it: When they make something the world has never seen before, don’t reduce it to absurd levels every fucking day by giving it rating points on graphics, gameplay and voice. And then comparing that with a completely different game and saying the latter trumps it on all counts.

Because the point you fools, is not that Assassin’s Creed did not introduce dramatic facial expressions, a totally cool interface or beat every graphics output out there this year. The point is that they helped bring an extremely complex science fiction narrative to a close, while giving you hours and hours to do everything that you loved about the franchise in the first place.

Because every Harry Potter book is not rated on a 10 point scale and then ranked on sentence construction, character de-lineation and reader delight every fucking time it comes out. Because what drives the commerce is the art. And if you keep reducing the art into measurable little boxes and numbers, you will end up in the same place my current proffesion has. And I don’t want a second life which mirrors my first.

End of rant.

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