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Gamer Entitlement and the ending of Mass Effect 3

When I read this piece by Marsh Davies I didn’t like it. I though that it was dismissive of the demands of honest gamers who just wanted their voices to be heard. Over the days after I read the piece though, I began to notice how accurate it was. I was wrong and Marsh was right. Everywhere I looked, on every site and in every comments section, in every forum and on every blog, there was an underlying attitude of entitlement. In the past few weeks since Marsh wrote this feature things have actually gotten much worse. I refer of course to a number of events including the ending of Mass Effect 3. As things have deteriorated the points made in the article have been proven prescient. I wasn’t clever enough to spot it, but Marsh was. Now I’m beginning to realise how brilliant the article is, and although I’m late to the party I am ready to chuck in my tuppence worth. So here it is: gamers today are a bunch of spoiled, whiny cry-babies who whinge and moan and throw tantrums like a teenage girl who got the wrong colour of Ferrari for their 16th birthday.

Of course I don’t believe that at all. “Gamers” is a meaningless term. Everyone plays games from your Granny on Wii Bowling to highpower CEO’s playing Bejewelled on their i-thingies. And even if “gamers” were an identifiable group, its not all of them that are too blame. Its a small minority of entitled, spoiled brats. The problem is that this small minority are loud, organised and growing. Worst of all, their arguments can seem rational and covincing if you are willing to turn off the part of your brain that asks “am I being a dick about this?”. If you are willing to give in to the all consuming id that is within all of us you might be tempted to join in with the cacophony of whining. Like squawking baby birds demanding sustenance be dropped in their constantly open mouths, we can easily give in to the part of the brain that “demands”. I demand that if its on the disc I should get it! I don’t like this ending so I demand it be different! I demand to know when Half Life 3 comes out! I demand dedicated servers! I demand you listen to my demands!

It seems likely that Marsh Davies is a fan of Doug Stanhope, who viciously and accurately lampoons modern attitudes to choice and opinion prevalent in entertainment today within the domain of television. To paraphrase badly, in a world of X Factor voting and viewer interaction and “press the red button to have your say”, everyone vastly overrates the importance of their own opinion. The truth is that no one cares whether you liked the ending of the Soprano’s, or if that guy who done good singing got voted off too early, or if your show got cancelled even though it was the best thing since Firefly. All they care about is if you watched, and if you sent them money. In televeision you vote with what you watch, and if you have a complaint about a show but you keep watching it anyway, you don’t deserve to have your complaint heard. By all means, tell people why you don’t like something, but know this: your demands are worthless. Program makers only care if you watch and you pay, no one cares what you think.

The same is doubly true of games. Tom Bramwell is brilliant on this point. As he says, (and again I paraphrase badly), when Publishers say they are listening to the gamers, it means they are looking at what they buy, not what they “say”. If 10 million people buy a game, they couldn’t care less if 7 billion complain on forums that they hate it. After all, surely our actions are much more important than our words. If a gamer says they hate a decision made by a developer, then they buy a game anyway, who cares what they said at first? They made their choice and put down their money. Actions speak louder than words, and words are worthless when they’re not backed up by actions.

The clearest example of this was the Modern Warfare dedicated servers debate. Reading the bile and vitriol of PC gamers before the game came out, it seemed that not a single one of them would buy the title. Activision had upset the notoriously touchy PC crowd, and the promises were present on every thread on the internet: I WON’T BE BUYING THIS! Wow, look how that turned out. I guess Modern Warfare is a dead franchise on PC then.

In all cases it is the PC gamers who feel the most aggrieved. PC gamers have a perpetual short-man complex, where they feel like they are treated poorly compared to their console cousins and constantly want to fight with publishers to get what they “deserve”. While its true that many developers don’t give the PC ports the love they deserve, this is down to market forces. Its nothing personal. The truth is that the constant upgrading of PC’s required to play modern games put the platform out of the price range of the casual gamer. As a result the PC became an enthusiasts platform, but the smaller size of the market meant that Publishers couldn’t justify taking more time to make PC ports as good as they could be. When PC ask for better quality titles on their system they are right to do so, but when their forum bravado isn’t backed up by their purchasing decisions then Publishers have no incentive to pander to them.

The worst displays of gamer entitlement came more recently though. The first is mentioned in Marsh Davies article, and relates to the petition from Half Life fans. They “demanded” more information on the release of Half Life 3, going so far as to organise an online protest. The online protest of course is only second in effectiveness to the dreaded online petition.

The problem with this is simple, why do the Half Life fans deserve to be updated on the progress of the game? No really, think about it. Why? Because Valve said they would make one? Well boo hoo. Maybe Valve changed their mind. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they are doing what all humans in the whole world do in their jobs, putting it off for as long as they can before finishing it the night before its due and doing a half-assed job. The point is no matter what Valve choose to make is up to one dude, the decision maker at Valve. Lets be clear, gamers hand over money and they get a game. Until money has been handed over you don’t “deserve” anything. No matter how much you really really really really love Half Life, Valve don’t owe you shit. You paid for Half Lafe 2 and it was really fucking good. Valve did their part. Who cares if they “promised” another game and didn’t make one? Companies (and people) break their promises every day. If you’re really annoyed at them you could show it by….. you know what I’m going to say…. not buying Half Life 3.

Of course not every gamer is this bad. In fact when it comes to dedicated gamers who love the hobby, almost all of us are rational, reasonable people. The danger is in the minority who “demand” things, and how their arguments can seem appealing to even the most balanced amongst us. When we hear the crazies demand Half Life 3 news, we could easily fall into the trap of thinking, “Yeah, I want Half Life 3”. What we want and what we deserve are two very different things though.

Gamer entitlement hit astronomic levels of stupid with the recent uproar about the ending of Mass Effect 3. I’ll try to avoid spoilers completely, but essentially the gist of their argument is that in some way Bioware promised something they didn’t deliver. Untangling why Mass Effect 3’s ending was unsatisfying for many is very complex and I think a book could be written on the subject. Perhaps a Ph.D. thesis with a social or psychological focus would be even better, because I am sure that if we understood exactly why people are so mad about the ending of Mass Effect 3, we would also understand a great deal more about how people think generally. In my opinion its the fact that players were invested in a character across three games – and in a series where choice was important – that they didn’t like having their choices narrowed down to only a few options and the future of their character set with such finality. In Mass Effect 1 or 2 there was always another game to come so the quality of the ending mattered little, but the end of Mass Effect 3 is the end of the series and it concludes Sheperd’s story. Maybe if Mass Effect 3 had a giant T-800 like ME2 did it would have been ok….

I think in this respect the ending of Mass Effect 3 is both brave and praiseworthy, if not necessarily of the same quality as the rest of the game. Perhaps its compounded by the sheer quality of the rest of Mass Effect 3 – which I confess is one of the finest games ever made in my opinion – but I do agree that the ending could have been better. In particular the choices given to the player at the very end could have been more different. Despite any criticism I may have, I accept the ending of Mass Effect 3. The story has been written by someone who was absolutely trying to make it as good as they could. Mass Effect (like every game) is a work of art and despite the fact that it will make EA lots of money, it was made by some incredibly talented programmers, artists, writers, designers and musicians who poured their heart and soul into the game. The pressure on the writers to create a satisfying conclusion must have been immense, and it would have been easy for them to turn in a half-assed effort that was 100% fan service. Instead they stayed true to a vision, however good you judge that vision to be, and wrote a proper ending. A lazy ending that was more open would probably have made more business sense, but instead the art won over the finance.

The recent kickstarter to change the ending of Mass Effect would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so pathetic. Meanwhile, the gamer who is trying to take EA to the FTC has moved the whole situation into such a ridiculous realm its beyond parody. At this point gamers are being so unreasonable they’re on a par with Evolution denialists as the most deluded people on the internet. “My game didn’t have an ending as good as I hoped and now I haz a sad. I deserve something better. Wah wah wah!”. Boo-fucking-hoo.

The truth is that for every publisher that you hate, there are a hundred developers just trying to make the best game they possibly can. Games are made by people. These people are talented, hard working and often not very well paid compared to their equivalenst in software development that make…. oh lets say spreadsheets. Most of them are trying their absolute best top make an experience that you will enjoy and that will help you to escape to another world away from traffic jams, hoodie gangs and poisoned monkeys. When you demand they do what you tell them – when you haven’t yet thrown them even a couple of quid to pay for a sandwich – you align yourself with the aforementioned X Factor generation of couch dwelling, selfish, entitled, spoiled, sweet-16 brats. You can be better than that. We can be better than that.

Look what we did for Double Fine. Lets have more of that please. And for the love of God, if you aren’t happy about something in a game keep your money in your wallet. Why not buy something else that you should have bought first time round, like Beyond Good and Evil or Ico or Psychonauts or Abe’s Odyssey or Journey or…..

*Update: the debate rages on: Mass Effect 3 ending: BioWare admits fans needed “more closure”*

Published inEditorial