How To Freak Out About A Video Game

By Gus Mastrapa in Pretension +1
Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:00 am
Not too long ago I used this column to suggest that gamers try looking at video game reviews in a new light. Turns out my column "How To Read A Video Game Review" struck a bit of a chord with certain open-minded folks. I continue to see the story shared and re-shared on Twitter, which is really encouraging. 

So to try to quash any goodwill I've earned with the more sensible gamers among us I'd like to offer an antidote to that column -- a step-by-step guide for going absolutely ape-shit over a bit of video game news. Lets say you're a Diablo fan and you're really ticked off about the zillion things they're doing wrong with that game. I'm going to lay out some tips to help make sure that you're flipping your lid to the best of your abilities. 

I will admit that freaking out at the drop of the hat comes quite naturally to many gamers. Mention DRM and these savants will explode into venomous tirades peppered with fabulous words like "draconian." I suppose there's something in the DNA of the modern gamer that makes us particularly talented at getting irate over the smallest misstep or game marketing faux pas. 

If you want to see some truly artful shit fits look no further than the kerfluffle inspired by the recent Diablo III press event. Gamers found three major issues to take umbrage with. They're mad about the real-money transactions in the game's auction house, they're upset that you need to be online to play the game and some are ticked off about the game's simplified skill system. It takes a certain, single-minded focus to find that many flaws in a video game you've never played. But gamers have a certain talent for going ballistic at the drop of a hat. All it takes is a headline. Reading the article is optional.

Our penchant for going apoplectic comes, in part, from the fact that we invest so much in the games we love. This is a vital tactic for truly blowing your top over a video game. In order to really get pissed about a video game you have to pour all of your being into that game. When all your hopes and dreams hang on there being another Jak & Daxter video game and you're sure to experience a special kind of disappointment.

Make sure that your reaction is extremely emotional. Investing every fiber of your being and identity into the franchise in question can really add fuel to the fire. I spent a good part of my childhood weaving the mythology of Star Wars into all the vacant spots in my emotional life. By the time George Lucas finally got around to making The Phantom Menace I had so much riding on that movie touching my soul that disappointment was inevitable. But I have turned out to be poor at maintaining said anger. My hatred for Lucas eventually guttered out. And the other prequels (not to mention The Matrix 2 and 3) totally extinguished whatever fire inside me fueled that rage. That's part of the reason I can hear news about Diablo III and not feel anything. I'm totally inured to the whole affair. I sit back and watch your fury with blank curiosity, like Dr. Manhattan.

Another valid approach to video game outrage is to make it a matter of principal. The folks upset about the always-on-Internet requirement for Diablo III (read DRM) and the real money auction house (read capitalism!) have the benefit of high moral ground. The key here is to be unflinching and unbending in your beliefs. That's another reason why I'll never be as skilled at the self-righteous anger thing. I used to be the guy wearing the DeCSS t-shirt. I was angry about encryption and region locking on DVDs. Even more recently I spent a lot of energy griping about Apple and their walled app garden. That was until I got a Droid and found the Google market to be mired with garbage. Eventually I betrayed all of my Apple ire and bought an iPad. And I haven't looked back. There are too many great games in the App Store to stay angry about Apple's questionable approvals process. I am, like Detective Murtaugh, too old for that shit.

Thankfully there's an army of people willing to step up and take arms against our corporate oppressors. If nobody stands up to these video game companies then who knows what kind of fun stuff they'll try to shove down our throats? The times they are a changing. And so are our relationships with the people who make the games we love. We were once customers of products. And, like it or not, we're become customers of services. It might be tempting (especially for those who have ever worked in retail) to forget the old saying, "the customer is always right." Because if you've ever dealt with customers you may have come to the conclusion that customers are impetuous, ill-informed babies who think that their five dollars makes them king shit of the universe. Don't go down that slippery slope. It's your money and you're entitled to make all the demands you please. Your opinion matters, no matter how myopic. If there's a way to get what you want that doesn't involved waving your cash in the air and stomping your feet on the ground don't pay it any mind. That way madness lies.

And lastly, if all else fails, if every petition or angry message board rant fails there's always the nuclear option. Blame Activision.

Pretension +1 is a weekly column by Gus Mastrapa that explores the culture of video games. It frequently deploys extreme, Swiftian sarcasm to potentially disastrous effect.

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