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Criticism != Elitism, Culture != Metrics, Gamers == All Grown Up.

A response to Nicholas Lovell's Gamasutra blog post on 'elitism'.

Slade Villena, Blogger

September 10, 2010

7 Min Read

[A response to Nicholas Lovell's Gamasutra blog post on 'elitism'.]

Elitist is an easy word to throw around. It's easy to toss, just like 'Infidel', 'Heretic', 'Enabler', 'Communist' or worse, 'Terrorist'. But first, I'd like to define some words, before I start throwing them around;

  1. 'Criticism' -> The entire field of commentary, opinions, analysis, forum posts, the entire literature of buzz-words targeting a game or game company. And yes, this includes the sour remarks of trolls, all the way to the unwarranted comments made by Roger Ebert (in all it's ignorance, all of it). That's the entire realm of 'Criticism', for better, for worse. With courtesy, or without. Arrogant, or not.

  2. 'Elitist' -> This seems to fit a generalized ideal.

Let's move on the beef I have with 2 critical statements made by Mr. Lovell.

{ Lovell } : "But that's not what made me angry. 

It was the sneering attitude to social games that pervaded the story.


When will gamers grow up?"

  1. Just about every part of this industry gets a salvo of sneering. Part of the territory.

  2. Destructoid sneering at 'art games'. Ebert opening his mouth about games. The Console Fanboi Wars. WRPG vs JPRG. WoW vs FFXI. DRM vs Common Sense. TifaXCloud vs TifaXAeris. Insert-Big-Studio-Name-Here. Bobby Kotick's 'joke'. Everyone. Everything. Every widget, and every line of code. 

  3. In fact, I'd like to think of it as a prerequisite; you aren't a gamer until you've had your first X vs Y sneerfest, for fun or profit. This is an integral part of the territory; hardcore gamers have all grown up having their own opinions, misguided or otherwise, including all those nasty comparisons, calling things 'cretinous', developing a vocabulary and art for it. Gamer culture has grown up to include debate and refinement, and yes, it also means putting things down, and talking smack.

The fact that social games are now being targeted for such scathing commentary doesn't make them 'less'; this should be a barometer telling us that the 'casual' world is starting to get the arse-kicking it needs to evolve; are social games going to take this criticism in stride? You're gonna be taking a licking on every aspect; from artwork, to production, to creative integrity, to market practices, to ethical conundrums. Yeah, you're gonna get bitched at in all directions; because gamers are demanding MORE. Because we have grown up, and you should all listen.

{ Lovell } : "Zynga (and Playfish and Playdom and 6Waves and Crowdstar) have found ways to make games that appeal to a broader cross-section of society than traditional approaches have ever done. They have done more to make games mass-market than anyone other than Nintendo. They are the true mass-market of gaming. And this article sees no merit in their achievements. I think that attitude sucks."

  1. Really? Spamming my Facebook page, including viral mechanisms, and having a porous player base; the refinement and mutation of SPAM, is this your crowning achievement?

  2. In what context of achievement/s? An achievement being a game company, the achievement of the game itself, or an achievement as a corporate entity? You will need to check your premises. What do you mean by 'mass-market'? If you're gonna throw numbers around regarding average user stats and sales, than you need to refine you're definition of 'mass-market'. It's a pervasive fact that social games rely on metrics for everything. Metrics drive design. Metrics drive your business model. Metrics rule your lives. 

  3. But metrics do not rule the lives of Gamers. The fact that I have 250 million other users on the same game shows nothing of value to the 'market it reflects'. It's also a vacuous context; what the hell does 250 million users mean? I don't logon to EVE Online because a billion Goons are in Jita, I logon because I wanna kill every single one of them. Ian Bogost said it best in the article ; "That sort of attitude is the sort of thing you usually hear about from oil companies or pharmaceuticals. You don't really hear about it in arts and entertainment." So what exactly has social gaming achieved? A wider market that has been untapped? Sure. That looks good on a spread sheet somewhere, or a PowerPoint. In your context, the BP oil spill would be a massive success, because of those gaziillions of gallons per minute.

  4. To provide further context, lets look at the 'mass market' for the Final Fantasy franchise. It has games in almost every platform, from the original PlayStation, down to today's current gen consoles. It has a global following of Cosplayer's, fan art, fan fiction. It's chief musician, Nobuo Uematsu, has his own festival, which includes orchestras from all over the world, playing Final Fantasy music, selling out tickets weeks, if not months, in advance. Final Fantasy has also produced 1 MMO, and has been the most prolific MMO in Japan. When we say 'mass-market'; we mean that. A market in different aspects of culture, fandom, community, music, art, games, cosplay. Everything. Notice that I didn't mention numbers, stats, or daily average users. I didn't even mention any cash involved; but you can tell that Final Fantasy makes a hell of a lot of money. 

  5. Can we honestly say the same for FarmVille? I'm sure the numbers Zynga pulls from that enterprise are astonishing, maybe even mind boggling, and worthy of the financial equivalent of the Pulitzer? But that hardly means anything to me as a Gamer. What kind of cultural achievement, outside of these financial pyrotechnics, has Zynga earned? If it means introducing games to a wider 'Average Joe' market, I think you guys already missed out on being first. Monopoly has achieved this, at the direst of times during the Great Depression. Imagine that.

  6. I think that's the main disconnect we see; the marketroids, quants and suits will flash these behemoth numbers, like it's some exploding oil well, and say 'look, we rule the games industry, look at those numbers fly!" And they all demand the same kind of respect we give to Nintendo, or Squeenix, or Nobuo Uematasu, or John Carmack, or Gary Gygax. Hell, even the respect we give to Daigo Umehara. Personally, I think it's presumptuous to even ask for that kind of respect. Gary Gygax created a 'social game', far ahead of it's time, before the 'social game' buzzword was invented, before anyone even respected games as a cultural force. So you have a lot of users and money, I mean, that's great? I can understand a billion barrels of crude oil feeding our infrastructure, but I can't see the same result for gaming culture. It's not the same picture or narrative. What you see is financial success, what we see are numbers that have nothing to do with the 'success' of the game nor anything to do with it's defining experience.

  7. Let's tie this in with the 'elitist' tag being thrown out there. I think that's an unfair and ignorant assessment. 'Elitism' implies that core gamers, critics, and ilk do not partake in the full experience of social games. We do. We have. And we don't like what we see.

  8. Does that make us elitist? Hardcore gamers are the stewards of this craft, we stretch every spectrum of this industry, from independents to Will Wright. If making these kinds of critical responses puts me in a position to be snobbish, arrogant and elitist; I will happily embrace those marks. But that doesn't make my arguments 'elitist', it doesn't make my concerns 'snobbish', and doesn't make our assessments 'arrogant'.

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