Retrograding 12.14.03

Wow. Been an entire month since a Retrograding (Mailbags don’t count). Sure we did the Sega CD thing and I whipped out a few reviews, but in the past few weeks I’ve been through a cross country trip, dealt with pneumonia, cut off 15 inches of my hair which was then donated to Locks for Love, saw my family for the first time in nearly two years (That whole England thing kinda puts a damper on visiting relations), and been so thoroughly addicted to Pokemon Channel I’ve gotten friends of mine addicted as well (But at least Jennifer and Madeline are happy in their Pokemadness).

So it’s been a while. And even weirder is the fact that this Weds is the year anniversary of Retrograding, so I’ll have column up then as well. Seems appropriate, no?

For my first week back, I thought I’d look at something none of us here at 411 have explored yet. See, whether we like to admit it or not, Humanity as a whole are a very emotional people, with the English of course being the very obvious exception. And we attach emotions to things often times only tangentially connected with what triggered those emotions. Here’s an example: You are serious about a girl. You have”a song.’ You break up. But forever more, that song reminds you of said relationship. The song wasn’t the focal point of the relationship. Nor was it some magic elixir that caused you two to fall in love. It was merely something you personified with the passion and after the relationship was over, the memory and emotion correlated to that object remained.

And often times emotional attachment occurs with video games. Not necessarily for the above reason, but things similar. A good example is how many people freaked when Aeris died in FF7. When EGM did an April Fools joke about a code where you could keep Aeris alive, tens of thousands of people bought it. Because somehow they got emotionally attached to the video game AND the character and wanted her to live. Same happened with older gamers (who had a hell of a lot better taste in video games I might add) when Nei died in Phantasy Star 2. It was a shock to the system and people found they had really grown to care about the characters and one dying was something gamers were not used to back then.

And don’t get me started on the countless people that have a massive love for the LUNAR series.

Now I’ve noticed in general that gamers are stereotypically overly macho idiots who sadly have a lot of sexism and delusions of grandeur running through their skull. People who base their coolness level on how quickly they can complete some video game, say the word wang as many times as they can in one sentence, or try to act bad ass over the internet with their fellow geeks while in real life, they shower with their underwear still on in gym class or have seen the inside of a locker or trash can far more often than they’ve seen what lies under a girls clothing. And yet these same people that YOU KNOW go home and write horrible poetry or get together at LAN parties and bitch about”the cool kids’ are anything but the faux version of themselves they try and build up around themselves on the net. And thus they deny their emotional attachment to video games that they have found themselves caring about, if only because they have no other friends IRL other than the humming console attached to their TV.

Yes, the above paragraph was slightly tongue in cheek. But it was written to prove a point. That for some reason it seems to be the IN thing with gamers nowadays to bash games because everyone else is. That they hide their emotion and actual enjoyment of a game because the Net has finally given them a place to feel cool or to build self-esteem and they’re so scared of ruining it that they act like sheep and jump on the bandwagon.

Another good example is Pokemon Channel. Even though no one had played it, people were saying it was going to be stupid and lame and only for kids and that all you would do is watch TV. Then IGN released a”review’ where it is VERY obvious to anyone who has actually played the game, that said reviewer at best played the game for an hour, or at worst didn’t play the game at all. But people saw the review and decided that because a major website bashed the game, it must suck. And the bashing increased. Except in a few pockets. I remember a thread at Penny Arcade where people actually said they were waiting for my thoughts on the game and that is what they’d use as a judge. MY thoughts.

Now that’s pretty heavy. I’ll be honest. I am very proud of what we have built at 411. I think pound for pound we have the best writers in the industry right here. And yes, that includes the other places I freelance at. And that’s because the Kliq is uncorrupted by intercompany politics and ass kissing to ensure previews and debugs. Except Pankonin. He’s a corporate tool. ;-) I am always flattered by the emails and IM’s I receive from actual creators and publishers of the games I talk about. I am very glad to know that even though 411 is an indy site, that Retrograding has become a cult favorite, spawning translated versions of itself onto foreign web pages, and that people take my commentary seriously. But it’s also a big responsibility. And It’s very hard at time to not do the selling out thing such as giving games good reviews simply because I am given free copies or because the company doing the game has praised me in the past. I’m not even going to get into the things done for GTA games to ensure they get incredible reviews because it makes me sick to my stomach that writers would sell out their journalistic integrity for a 50$ game/to be popular with a company that will forget their name ten seconds after the review comes out.

And so came my review. I gave it an 8 out of 10 and praised the game because I in fact, had actually played the game and loved it. It was one of the first reviews out on the game throughout the entire internet that actually reviewed the game. Over at gamerankings, 3 of the reviews were done two months before the game was released. One was written by someone who obviously hadn’t played the game and was attempting to protect their”coolness factor’ by bashing a game simply because it was Pokemon. And the other was Gamepro who gives the game a 4 out of 5 rating even if Gameranking somehow overlooked that and put down a 3 out of 4 (hint to Gamerankings: 4+4+4+3 divided by 4 is 3.75 or rounded up to 4, not down to 3. Basic math here people. Unless you’re rigging the scores. But you wouldn’t do that now, WOULD YOU?) and said a lot of what I did, albeit it in a much more concise fashion.

And what happened? After my review, people started talking about how great the game is. How those earlier people were vidiots for judging the game before hand and how Pokemon Channel kicked ass for all. I got a letter from one of Lee’s Game Crazy friend apologizing for his earlier mocking of Pokemon Channel. I didn’t even know this had occurred? (Column was probably written while I was on the coast or bed stricken with lung butter)

It was, in a word, INSANE. Pokemon Channel went from being a”Stupid game for kids where all you do is watch TV’ to being considered”the beginning of a fully interactive Pokemon world and experience.’ Literally overnight. I have over a dozen emails in my inbox from people saying they bought Pokemon Channel simply because I praised the game. People who I KNOW have never been to 411mania, and most likely read my review someplace else.

And again, as much as I am flattered that people trust and respect my opinion as completely neutral and unbiased and thus give a game a score it deserves, it’s still a bit eerie. How many of those people who now love the Pokemon Channel love it because I said so and because my word is considered”cool’ amongst gamers, and how many bought it because my review was ten pages long and went into extreme detail about the game allowing people to actually know what the game entails, instead of 5 paragraphs of babble and graphics talk?

I really, honestly hope it is the latter. Otherwise I’m not doing my job right. I write reviews because I want people to be so informed about the game, they can picture the game being played in their minds. I don’t ever want to do reviews to make someone buy a game that I like, or to force my opinions down someone’s throat. That’s what this column is for. For my bashing of Square and my praising of Red Company and Atlus. And assorted other babble.

I remember I had a talk with Pankonin a while back about my reluctance to do reviews. That I was afraid I’d let my emotions get in the way and give a game a better score than it deserved because I loved the franchise. Or gave a game a bad score because it was made by a company I generally despised (Ie Square games).

I learned from the old VC magazine, that I had a lot of influence. Whenever a guest came and contributed to the hodge podge of vampire crap I’d put out each week, sales of their work would increase by at least 10 percent immediately after appearing. I worked with Amazon to actually track those numbers. And let me tell you, in the world of books, ten percent is a big ass jump. If I bashed a writer or their works, sales would drop by about the same number. That was a heavy responsibility and eventually I refused to give my opinion on an author or their works, instead giving a cold clinical analysis of their works in order to prevent people from merely taking my opinion on as their own because I was THE Alexander Lucard. When you have a ravenous almost obsessed fanbase, you really do have to watch what you say, because your opinions become almost immutable fact to these people. And that is a heavy responsibility that most people abuse in very large doses.

Which is why I’m glad Retrograding, although cultish in popularity, is nowhere near the levels of insane fan gibbering that the VC was at. Because RG is strictly an editorial, not a dissertation or collection of essays and papers. It allows me to express my opinion without having to give a crap about what kind of influence it has on the readers. RG is entertainment first and education second.

The point of all this is, that in the Video Game community, whether it be via the Internet or in magazines, the focus is not on educating gamers, but instead on trying to be cool by spout obscure pop culture references, swearing like a drunken sailor, and putting some down for having the audacity to actually form an opinion other than their own. God forbid! And that’s just pathetic. Like it or not, those of us with an audience have a responsibility to not only make the readers laugh and connect with us in a way that makes them want to keep coming back for more, but we have an even higher responsibility: TO BE A BLOODY JOURNALIST. To give in depth information about a game explaining the pros and cons as to whether the game is a worthy purchase or not. Sorry EGM, three reviews on a game, each a paragraph long is NOT a review. It’s three short turds on a piece of paper with a numerical score next to it. We have a responsibility to educate about the history of companies, games, franchises and to make sure the gamer is aware of the actual MEAT behind the games being produced. Keep the Transformers and Evil Dead and porn references secondary. If gamers honestly wanted that, Maxim would have a large video game section.

Now that’s not exactly true, some gamers do want entertainment first, and actual product knowledge second. And that is totally fine. It really is. It’s all a personal choice. But that’s not the majority. Why do you think VG forums are filled with people asked whether a game is good or not? Because the actual webpages and reviews are generally crap. The writers are enjoyed for entertainment value, but not respected as an actual journalist. And it’s about time we as a community of writers became more concerned with the latter than the former. Where we stop bashing readers who disagree with us in a public fashion and where we start adding depth to what eventual crosses the readers grubby little hands.

At the same time readers have to realize they have a RIGHT to demand content over claptrap. That it’s okay to speak up against the majority of bandwagoners and state how they really feel instead of being afraid of massive flaming for standing out and being different. Allow those emotional connections with games you have truly enjoyed to be something you comment on. Who cares if everyone hates Tomb Raider. If you have some special connection with it (Hopefully not in the masturbatory kind) say so! I generally hate everything Square produces, but I will firmly admit the MANA series is one of my all time favorites and deserves a hell of a lot more attention than the FF series. Same with Threads of Fate, Incredible well written game that got no loving because it was never meant to be a franchise. Just a single good game. Be passionate because you love a game, not negative for the sake of negativity. Speak up and thank a company or developer or writer for giving you something you connect with and enjoy and love. Don’t bash for the sake of bashing or because you think some people you talk to daily in a chat room or on a forum will like you more.

Get rid of the negativity, start reading reviews as opinion pieces that should be taken with a grain of salt (Yes, including mine), and demand quality of writing over comedy from your journalists. Let them know you’d rather have an honest opinion on a game from someone neutral instead of someone who was forced/bribed into writing an asskissing review of a game because a company gave them freebies/interviews/etc. If a column is nothing but crappy fluff, write the author and tell them you want substance, not crap. Even me. Again, if I write something you disagree with, TELL ME. I’m adult and secure enough in my self esteem to take some negativity. Just because a lot of industry people like what I have to say doesn’t mean YOU do. The letters I love most are ones where someone disagrees with my opinion or commentary, but respects my work and writing ability. Yes, I’ll get the outright flames from fanboys about hating a certain game, but those too I welcome. Because it prevents all the positive letters and praise from going to my head and making me into an egomaniac. I know a lot of writers freak at the first sign of a negative comment. But in truth, that means they probably shouldn’t be writing for the public to begin with.

As a reader, be passionate and enthusiastic about games. Focus on the positive and the reasons why you enjoy video gaming. And don’t allow your opinions to become attacks on those that don’t share them.

Journalists? Keep that emotion. But also keep in mind that you have a responsibility to be informative and educational over entertaining. Give the readers what they need to know to make an informed decision first, and THEN make them smile or spew coke out of their nose.

And no, it’s not a double standard. It’s the difference between being a professional and a fan. A person who watches movies and bitches about them is going to have a far different level to carry themselves at than a screenwriter or director or actor. Sadly though, the field of video game journalism has yet to achieve any real sense of professionalism by in large. Let’s all work together to see that change. Let’s make it so Bebito can write his hate filled review of Project Gotham Racing 2 which he detested playing without Pankonin censoring it because we got a buttload of free games from Microsoft and god forbid we be honest if it costs us free stuff. ;-)

Passion is one of the most important qualities a writer can have. Just make sure if the person is writing in non fiction, that passion is also tempered with common sense and the ability to write educationally.