What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

Last week it was announced that CD Projekt RED’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, was doing away with gender options in its character creator. To no one’s surprise, the gaming community spent a preposterous amount of time arguing about it. Half the internet was happy about it and the other half was angry. The same tired, usually illogical, and almost always irrelevant and nonsensical arguments were made by both sides. You already know what they are so I don’t need to take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that many people still seem to care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes when playing single player games.

Now I actually don’t like character creators in story driven games. Not because I have any issue with people designing their own characters in games. And not because I particularly care what types of characters people design. My issue with character creators is that they almost always lead to hollow, sub-par writing devoid of real impact and personality for the character being created. It’s very hard to write a story that carries the same amount of context, realism, believability, and personality for an ambiguous character as that of a narrowly defined one. For instance, Lara Croft is a young, British, heterosexual female that comes from a wealthy Caucasian family. Her experiences are specific and meaningful in her development as a character. The way she would realistically respond to things would be completely different from the way an older, American, homosexual male that comes from a poor African-American family would. And this is true for many if not most situations. There would for sure be some overlap in their responses to things, depending on the situation and setting. But when it came to character building and interactions with other characters they would have completely different responses in most cases.

tomb raider 2013 victimLet’s take a scene from Tomb Raider (2013) as a specific example. There’s a moment in the game where it’s implied that Lara may be sexually assaulted by one of her much older male captors. Now for starters, that wouldn’t even happen to the other character I described in most cases. Not all, but most. And if it did happen, the character wouldn’t even necessarily have the same reaction, or even possibly aversion, to the situation as Lara Croft does in the game. And that is not to imply that older gay men are OK with being raped by other older gay men. It’s just to state the very true point that a young inexperienced rich girl and an older, presumably much more experienced man simply wouldn’t respond to the situation the same way. That’s exactly why specified characters and the context of those characters matter. But when you can create your own character in a game, many of the scenarios that specified characters can experience simply don’t happen and shouldn’t happen because they just wouldn’t make sense in many if not most cases.

Say I created a character in a game that was intentionally unattractive, horrifyingly strong, and gigantic in stature. That character simply isn’t going to be sexually assaulted. It’s not going to happen in any realistic scenario. And if it did happen in a game, any person would rightfully think “that doesn’t make any sense”. So game writers, knowing that, wouldn’t include a scene in the game that includes a possible sexual assault because there’s no way to guarantee that it would make sense to all player created characters at all times.

fallout 4 ugly characterThe closest way to making a character creator make sense without watering down the content is to write multiple story lines that mostly overlap but have some key differing plot points based on certain parameters entered into the character creator, such as gender. You might force the player to choose male or female and then depending on the gender they chose the game would decide whether or not the assault scene would be included. You could take this a step further by adding sexuality to the character creator. This wouldn’t address the intentionally ugly problem, but you’d get closer to the plot making sense for all players regardless of the character they built. At the same time though, this would require multiple story lines to be created which would mean more development time translating to higher development costs. So it makes more sense just to water down the story and not include anything specific to a certain type of character, which is my entire point about character creator games leading to watered down plots.

Some games over the years have managed to do a pretty decent job at storytelling even with the presence of a character creator. The Mass Effect trilogy comes to mind. Yet I played the games with the default male character and so did many other players. That’s why even though the game allowed for character creation, Commander Shepard’s face is so iconic. In your head right now you’re thinking of a white man in his 30’s with short hair, light stubble, and blue eyes. Even though the game had a default female version, and many people played the game as a female, most people don’t picture the female Commander Shepard when they think about Mass Effect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Mass Effect meme featuring the female version of Commander Shepard save for maybe a meme that showed both default gender options. So it’s very possible that while I think the game was written extremely well for a game with a character creator, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if I had played it as a character that was a homosexual female of Latino origin I wouldn’t have felt like the character driven aspects of the game were that well written. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that a lot of games, including those that are praised highly, actually aren’t that great as far as developing the player’s created character. Dark Souls is a great example of this.

commander_shepardYou can create anyone you want in the Dark Souls games. You can make a person with blue skin, orange hair, and enough wrinkles to make Emperor Palpatine look youthful. But the games won’t give two shits about the way your character looks. The NPC’s won’t comment on it. The enemies won’t react differently to it. Your appearance and identity mean absolutely nothing in those games. And that doesn’t make them bad games. But I wouldn’t call the Dark Souls franchise an example of good character driven writing. The difference is that Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be selling itself as a character driven game where you can create any character you want. That’s a tall order and we’ve not seen CD Projekt RED even deliver a character creator game before. We know they can write because The Witcher series is one of the most compelling, best written franchises ever made. But they’re all focused on one heterosexual white guy who’s a social outcast and the closest thing to a hermit you can be without actually living alone in a cave. Meaning the character and thus the character driven writing has a defined and consistent context. And that’s exactly why it’s good writing.

All this is not to say that I have any problem with the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 has a character creator, or that gender options have been pulled from the character creator. All this is to say that I don’t believe that Cyberpunk 2077 will be even close to as well written from a character development standpoint as The Witcher 3. But let’s actually talk about the character creator nontroversy in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

dragon's dogma-creationIf you’re not writing a character driven plot focused game, your character doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re not applying conventional human norms to your character(s) to begin with, which would be the case in a Cyberpunk themed game most of the time. To be honest there’s almost no reason a character creator even needs gender in it unless, like in my previous examples, the story is actually affected by the gender of the character. Dragon’s Dogma is a perfect example of this. It’s a game with a story, but calling it a character driven story game is wildly inaccurate. You can create anyone in that game and it will change nothing about the gameplay experience. The only reason the character creator even has gender options in it is simply to speed up the character creation process. And that’s the case for most games with character creators if we’re honest.

It’s just much faster to ask people if their character is male or female so the limited number of default character models can be separated between having pronounced breasts and not having pronounced breasts. That’s pretty much the only thing of value the character creator in Dragon’s Dogma, among many other games, does. It just limits certain physical options based on a set of conventional appearance standards without having any actual effect on the gameplay. Body types, hairstyles, face renders, and voices are separated into two groups in order to speed up the character creation process. But really there’s no actual reason why a player shouldn’t be able to create a character that looks like Dwayne Johnson with pigtails and the voice of a Japanese schoolgirl while wearing a metal bikini. It would be uncomfortable to see for some spectators, but there’s no actual reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to create that character in a game where your appearance doesn’t actually matter. And thus removing gender limitations from a game with a story neutral character creator is and should be considered absolutely fine. Especially when you get into some of the more nuanced ways that people can actually look, act, and sound.

Saints_Row_the_Third_character creatorI once had a friend who was a five foot tall white female with long brown hair, a perfectly tight gym body, and the voice of a 30 year male smoker. That’s how she looked and that’s how she sounded, even though she was only 18 when I met her. Presumably, up until Cyberpunk 2077 it would have been extremely difficult for her to find a game where she could actually create herself in the game. She would have had little problem creating herself physically. And as she was a heterosexual, it would have been very easy to mirror her interactions with NPCs, where possible, fairly accurately. But getting her voice right would have been pretty much impossible. Now that’s not really fair. She wasn’t trans. She wasn’t homosexual. She wasn’t a smoker. She just had that preposterously deep and scratchy voice. In no way was that her fault, her choice, or a repercussion of any of her past decisions. Yet she was arguably a victim of game creator discrimination for all these years. Whereas I as a tall, heterosexual, African-American male with a stereotypically deep voice have pretty much never had a problem creating a character that looks and sounds close enough to myself, if that’s what I wanted to do, in a Western game.

Destiny-2-Character-Customization-1024x582I will admit that a lot of Asian produced games haven’t given me the ability to create myself, but I’m not their target audience to begin with so I don’t blame them for not taking the time to design assets for the handful of players that look like me that both will play their games and actually care about the fact that they can’t place themselves into the game. But for a Western developer that would be a huge problem if African-American men couldn’t create characters that resembled themselves in character creator games. And the truth is that many homosexual African-American male gamers can’t create themselves as far as voice and clothing options are concerned in Western developed games, and obviously Asian developed games but for an entirely different reason I’ve already gone over. So removing the gender limitations in a game’s character creator options isn’t a bad thing at all. And honestly, other than possibly making the process of creating your character take longer due to a lack of easily defined sorting practices, it doesn’t affect anyone’s gameplay experience in a negative way. It simply makes the experience for some players more positive by giving them the option to make characters they identify with on a more personal level. Again, if we’re not talking about a game where the context of the character’s experiences is driven by their gender, sexuality, or appearance, then it doesn’t really matter what limitations are or are not placed on the character creation tools from a gameplay standpoint. And for the bulk of games with character creators, it won’t. So I find it extremely ridiculous and illogical to be against this decision by CD Projekt RED. What I am against is the fact that they announced this development decision in the way they did.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpI have no issue with games being more inclusive. I have no problem with the gaming industry both on the screen and in the studios being more diverse. I still want character driven stories that are specific while making sense and having a clearly defined context, but in general diversity in games isn’t a bad thing to me. What is a bad thing, and I have written about this may times before, is using diversity as a selling point in order to pander to a specific audience. Especially when we consider the size of that audience within the gaming market. The way the removal of gender options from Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator was announced was via an interview. You can read an excerpt from the interview on this specific topic here. It’s very clear that this decision was made in response to the backlash of that supposed trans ad debacle. This character creation option is being used as an olive branch to the trans/entire LGBQT+ community so that people will stop calling CD Projekt RED transphobic and a “problematic developer”. That’s not diversity in game design. That’s not authentically trying to make things more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s pandering for profits.

I get that game development is a business. I get that every decision, big and small, is profit driven. And most of the time I’m fine with all that. But I hate hypocrisy. I’m not one of those “keep politics out of games” people. I’m a writer. I play story driven games almost exclusively. I know games, and really all story driven entertainment, is political by nature. And anyone who thinks it isn’t is an idiot. Metal Gear Solid is political. Final Fantasy is political. Bayonetta is political. It’s all political. But I take issue with companies pretending their politics come from a place of support, love, and authentic concern. Because if it was authentic they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. They would have just released the game with no gender options in the character creator and then people would have either noticed it and talked about it on their own or not talked about it at all. And LGBTQ+ players would have just played the game, thought it was cool that they could make the characters they wanted, and moved on with their lives. That would be authentic, non-pandering diversity in game design. If a company is doing something for recognition, it’s not authentic. And if they’re not being authentic then I don’t want them to pretend to be authentic.

mgs 3 patriotIf they had to say anything, I would rather have had a representative from CD Projekt RED just come out and say “Hey LGBTQ+ people, here’s a bone. We only did this to make you stop complaining about us. You never buy our games anyway, but hopefully now you’ll consider it.” That would be some real shit. I would respect them more for just coming out and saying it. Because right now they look like the good guys to one team and like they folded to the SJWs to the other team. But they know they can get away with it because all those people saying “I’m now not going to buy this game over this gender character creator thing” are clearly lying. There’s not a single actual gamer out there who was planning on buying Cyberpunk 2077 and now isn’t going to because the game won’t outright let them enter into the character creator that they’re a male. Not a single one. And CD Projekt RED knows that. So they can play both sides with impunity. And that is dishonest. Not to mention it strong arms LGBTQ+ gamers into buying the game. Because now that they’ve done this and got it reported all over the place, the only way to get other game studios to do it is to support the game and show that it has an actual effect on sales and popularity. It’s the female protagonist conundrum all over again.

remember meFemale gamers say “we want more female protagonists in games”, a company makes a game with a female protagonist, and it doesn’t sell. Then all the other companies get to say “well female protagonists don’t sell and we’re in the business of making money not political movements”. So every time a shitty game with a female protagonist gets released, women have to buy it or risk losing any chance of another AAA game with a female protagonist being made for a long time. The LGBTQ+ community is in the same boat. If they don’t support every game that offers LGBTQ+ options in it, they risk destroying any chance of another game with such options being made for literally years in the current market. I am 100% in support of CD Projekt RED’s decision to remove gender from their character creator, but I’m also 100% disgusted with the fact that they announced it this way. Don’t keep politics out of my games. Keep political posturing out of my games marketing.

I will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 and I will almost certainly be playing as a conventional looking, heterosexual, African-American male. I am 100% unaffected by the studio’s choice to remove gender from the character creator, but so many people aren’t. And instead of just letting them choose whether or not they want to buy the game based on the actual merits of the game, they’ve forced an entire group of people to give into their bullshit pandering tactics for the good of their group’s future representation in the video games industry by making a big thing out a fairly easily development change. It’s selfish, disgusting, and wrong. And the worst part is that because of how things work, people are and will continue to champion the studio for this PR move because it’s more than most studios deliver most of the time.

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“We” Keep Biting the Hand

It seems more and more I’ve been forced to write posts defending corporations against “consumers” in recent months. This is really distressing for me. My mantra has always been “I fight for the user.” But I’ve never been one to blindly support gamers when they say/do/ask/demand stupid things. And I will absolutely never defend people trying to affect gaming, as either an industry or community, who aren’t actually gamers but want to change them for some sort of political agenda. In light of this, I find myself faced with not one, not two, but three glaring nontroversies that the gaming community, and so called “gaming journalists” have turned into the focal point of gaming discussion right now, while simultaneously ignoring much bigger issues. So today I write a post that I’m sad I even had to take the time to write.

I’ve long been a champion of transparency in the gaming industry. I hate when companies like EA feed us crap like “based on our research” and then proceed to make a statement that goes completely against consumer demand/desire without actually showing any documentation to confirm the results of this supposed research. It’s this continued lack of transparency that I think has caused many of the issues EA faces today. I’m not saying the research is false. I’m just saying that because they’ve never actually made any of it public that it’s hard to take their decisions seriously. Of course the counter argument to this transparency is that other companies will steal that research data. To me that’s a cop out answer. Because other companies having the data wouldn’t magically make EA unable to create competitive games in the market. They own multiple studios that people continue to buy from simply because of the names of those studios/franchises. But if they showed that research data, they could then justify things like paid DLC, loot boxes, and so on. Assuming of course that the data they have actually shows that these are things people legitimately want (Spoiler: It won’t.).

Honesty

I truly believe that if all companies were more honest and transparent about their decisions, costs, and research that many people would accept their decisions peacefully even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them. Like I was really angry with the announcement that Final Fantasy VII Remake will be in multiple parts for most likely a premium price. But if Square Enix followed that announcement with pages of data and analysis showing that the company would literally lose money based on projected sales figures for doing the game as a singular $60 release then I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy about having to buy multiple parts for a single story, but I would understand why it was happening and I’d have no justification for being angry about it. It’s because of this that I have more than once written about the need for companies to be more honest and transparent about games, their development process, and the costs of bringing them to market.

While I still think more transparency from the industry could be a good thing, recently I’ve been led to believe that maybe we, as in the gaming community as a whole, don’t deserve such honesty. Maybe we don’t deserve early announcements, developer interviews, and pre-release footage. Because it seems that all we ever do with that information is bite the hands that feed us at all the wrong moments, for all the wrong reasons. There are legitimate reasons for consumers to be angry with developers and publishers. Star Wars: Battlefront II’s ridiculous loot box system at release/right before release was unacceptable. It was not only good that we organized, protested, and made our demands met. It was just. It was the right thing to do as a collective of consumers. And I can name several other similarly righteous examples. But I can think of many more bad examples of the public attacking developers for showing us things in advance of release that people had no business getting angry about. At least not to the point of creating viral controversies. I just want to discuss three of the most recent ones I’ve seen, but there are countless more I could bring up as well.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpThat Cyberpunk 2077 In-Game Ad

Cyberpunk 2077 is arguably the most anticipated game set for a 2020 release. I’m still not personally sold on it, but CD Projekt RED (CDPR) has never failed me before and it has Keanu Reeves in it. Chances are this game will be amazing in every sense of the word. I won’t say that it will be better than The Witcher 3, but it will almost certainly live up to that standard. And CDPR, as well as Cyberpunk The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future creator Mike Pondsmith, have been very open and seemingly honest about the game. They’ve showed more than an hour of gameplay, done several interviews, and have already given quite a few plot details. They’ve even announced that, like with The Witcher 3, there will be a lot of content in expansions. They’ve done more than most companies do to try to explain their game to the public almost a year in advance of its release. How did the public respond to this openness? By accusing Cyberpunk 2077 of being transphobic, willfully ignorant of the cyberpunk genre, and not meeting the original creative expectations set out by the original creator, Mike Pondsmith.

Cyberpunk 2077 is set in a dystopian future called Night City where technology, immoral behavior, and capitalism have all run amok. People no longer have value. In fact, it’s arguable that many aren’t even people anymore. In some of the released footage there’s a poster advertising some fictional canned beverage. The poster has a woman on it. The woman’s clothing and stature, to some, look like that of a trans woman. That is to say, some people think the woman in the ad has a penis. I can’t confirm if that’s true or not, but what I can confirm is that people apparently thought that this was grounds for boycotting the game almost a year before it even released. This is ridiculous. No context given. No confirmation from the company about whether or not the woman in the ad was trans. No interview with Mike Pondsmith to confirm if the game was truly meeting his vision. Just up in arms assault on the game and the company’s image based on a background decorative in-game poster. The worst part of all is that when Mike Pondsmith finally did speak about it and stated that he not only didn’t feel the poster was transphobic, but that he was very happy with the overall game and how CDPR really had captured his vision, people called him an Uncle Tom and a sellout rather than accept that his vision had actually been met.

Mike pondsmith

This should never have occurred. This is a non-issue. And no I’m not saying trans rights are a non-issue. I’m saying this poster, that again isn’t confirmed to be of a trans woman, set in a corporate dystopia in the future where a majority of people have robotic parts and little to no actual value is a non-issue. To have attacked CDPR in this way in response to them giving the public so much information and content so far in advance of the game’s release is unacceptable on our part. I’m not saying everyone was involved in this, because that’s not the case. But the fact that this became a viral controversy that several gaming journalism sites covered, not favorably for CDPR I might add, is egregious. If I was CDPR, I wouldn’t say one more damn thing about the game until it releases. It’s already guaranteed to make a killing and clearly the public isn’t grateful for the openness anyway.

Marvel’s Avengers isn’t the MCU  

A teaser was released for the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game from Square Enix like two years ago. We didn’t know anything else about it until this E3 where they announced a shit ton of information. Now please note that I’m not advocating for the game one way or another. There are still many questions I need answered and I’d like to see, or ideally try the gameplay. But out of the gate they showed/announced a single player offline campaign with five playable characters, four player online coop, and free DLC expansions including additional missions, additional maps, additional Avengers characters, and supposedly no microtransactions.

Marvel's Avengers

This announcement presentation should have been received with a ton of positivity from the community. Instead “we” responded by complaining that the characters don’t look like the actors from the Marvel movies. Again biting the hand that feeds us. Not only that, but I am shocked at the number of plebs that willingly outed themselves as faux Marvel fans. If you saw that trailer and thought to yourself that the characters were wrong because they didn’t look like Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth then you’re not a real Marvel fan. You’re an MCU fan. All of these characters have existed for decades. The movie versions are barely a blip on the collective canon of the characters. Look at the original appearance/debut dates for these characters.

Captain America (1941)

Iron Man (1963)

Hulk (1962)

Black Widow (1964)

Thor (1962)

Captain Suits

Every one of these characters is more than 50 years old. In that time all of them have had multiple costume and appearance changes. Even Black Widow, with one of the most straight forward looks in the entire Marvel universe, has had multiple costumes and physical appearances. And let us not forget that even in the movies the costumes change all the time. That is the entire nature of comic books. The game isn’t set in the MCU. It’s not the same timeline as the MCU. Like Marvel’s Spider-man from Insomniac Games, it has literally nothing to do with the MCU. So it’s absolutely preposterous to complain that the characters, whether their physical appearances or costumes, don’t match those of the MCU. They’re not supposed to. The community could have and should have focused more on discussing the actual game announcements but of course “we” didn’t. Instead the social medias were flooded with memes and comments about how people wanted the characters to look like a bunch of actors not at all related to the project. Which is also a big “screw you” to the talented cast of voice actors being used in the game. It’s ridiculous that such a large percentage of people got up in arms to complain about something they clearly weren’t familiar with to begin with. Now unlike with Cyberpunk 2077, we haven’t seen all that much of Marvel’s Avengers and we don’t have enough confidence in either Square Enix or Crystal Dynamics for them to be able to decide to go dark with this game and hope to make a profit. But really “we” don’t deserve any more information until the game is ready to release because clearly people can’t seem to act right.

Avengers-Characters

Tifa’s Boobs . . .

When I was in college, a professor assigned me (the whole class) to read an article from The Onion. Now at this point in my life I didn’t know what The Onion was. So I read it as a work of non-fiction reporting. When I voiced my opinions on the article in class, I was notified that it was satire. This article, which was very realistic because it was written back in the days when The Onion would do full on articles rather than just funny blurbs, reported that up until that point the reason female characters in games had such large boobs was because of limitations of graphics engines. The article went on to say that finally developers had pushed past this limitation and could now reduce the size of boobs in games to look more realistic. Oh how scary a world we live in where satire becomes reality and then gets blown out of proportion, pun not intended.

Tifa comparison

Because every English language gaming journalist can’t seem to properly translate Japanese. And because Japanese developers don’t practice the restraint that American developers do when talking about their games, boobs tend to come up a lot. Again, pun not intended. During a recent interview about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake, one of the developers at Square Enix explained that Tifa, a well-liked female character from the game, would have a sports bra added to her costume to make her movements look more realistic. In laymen’s terms that means her still large breasts would now be restrained by a sports bra so that she could actually fulfill her role as a hand to hand brawler without her tits flopping around wildly. You know like real female athletes wear. But because Japanese developers don’t speak English as a first language and the translators that report this stuff almost always seem to suck, the story stated that Tifa’s breasts had been reduced in size. Once again, that’s not what the guy said. He said that their appearance would seem reduced because of the presence of a sports bra holding them in place and restraining them, as sports bras are made to do. But who cares about the actual facts?

Cloud ps1
This is a male character . . .

The internet was and still is livid by the idea of Tifa having smaller breasts. Genuine rage and anger happened. And gaming sites kept reporting the story incorrectly and then following that by reporting on the outrage. Because it’s all about the clicks. Now first of all, the original model of Tifa is from 1997 on the PS1. The character models look(ed) atrocious. I don’t care what anyone says. By today’s standards the original FFVII looks horrendous. There are much better looking Final Fantasy games even on the PS1. Final Fantasy VIII, which I’m not arguing is a better overall game, looks way better. Tifa had ridiculously large breasts in that game for the same reason Lara Croft did in those days. Limited polygon counts. The only way to make sure you knew she was a female was to give her large breasts because they were unable to define chest structure subtly. It was either flat, which was used for male characters, or bulging unrealistically, which was used for female characters. There are also multiple looks for her in the original game, destroying any hope of consistency between how people view the character. Is the map mode Tifa the real Tifa? Is the cutscene Tifa the real Tifa? Or is the battle mode Tifa the real Tifa? They all look different. Tifa most likely wasn’t meant to have large breasts at all. They just didn’t have a choice. And even so, this is a remake. Square Enix can do whatever the hell they want with their characters. But internet gonna internet.

Tifa Battle

People have been asking for a Final Fantasy VII remake for more than a decade. It’s been called the most requested remake of all time for years. Square Enix refused to do it for the longest time and then finally gave in, because money, and how does everyone react? They complain about the supposed breast reduction of a non-main character. Yes Tifa is in the party and she definitely matters. But she’s no Aeris. She’s no Cloud. She’s no Sephiroth. It shouldn’t even matter that much. And yet here I am writing this article. Now honestly Square Enix doesn’t have to and didn’t have to say shit about this game. They could have kept it completely secret until the day it released and it still would probably end up being the best-selling game of its release year (2020). But Square Enix did announce it and has shown more and more information about it because they want to make fans happy. Do the fans deserve that kind of treatment? Clearly not. Again gamers bite the hand that feeds them for completely ridiculous and immature reasons.

The thing that makes me most angry is that not only are people always complaining about pointless bullshit in games today, when they should be thankful for the transparency, but that they’re putting their attention and outrage on things that don’t matter while serious issues abound and are ignored. Just last week the UK Parliament conducted a panel with reps from EA and Epic Games to discuss loot boxes and other gambling type mechanics in games. If you aren’t well versed in the details of this interview, you should definitely take the time to read about it, because it’s important. Here’s a short summary from Eurogamer as a jumping off point. Basically EA and Epic Games showed that they don’t care about consumers at all and that they will say anything to try to continue robbing gamers blind for useless skins. This is what gamers should be talking about. This is what should be trending and memeing and being covered by all gaming sites and causing uproar. People should be burning their EA game cases in the streets. YouTube should be covered in videos of people calling out EA for saying bullshit like “we don’t call them loot boxes – we call them surprise mechanics.” But that is not happening.

uk loot box

Yes some people are certainly talking about the UK Parliament interview. And some sites have reported on it a little bit. But it hasn’t been the main focus of the gaming community. My Twitter timeline hasn’t been covered in #SurpriseMechanics memes. But I’m still hearing about Tifa’s “small” tits. At this point, I don’t know why developers tell us anything in advance. The community continues to act childish, focus on the wrong things, and attack companies and individuals for not doing anything wrong while simultaneously letting the real criminals slide. It’s a shit show and it’s unacceptable. There’s really no other way to say it.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Say No to Unlicensed Shilling

Recently we experienced E3 2018. As I stated in my E3 2018 post, I thought this was an exceptional year for the show. The best I’ve seen in years actually. As with any E3, many announcements were made. And as with many if not most gaming announcements, there was some controversy. This is of course because entertainment is subjective and people always have different opinions and preferences when it comes to their entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what’s become a huge problem in the gaming community is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.

Let’s be very clear, when talking specifically about game design choices such as mechanics, genre, and art style, there are very few wrong opinions. As an example, some people like their games in first person. Some prefer them in third. While there are certainly good and bad arguments in support of both, neither can be said to be objectively right or wrong. When talking about issues not related to design choices, there are certainly wrong opinions, such as that it’s not OK for a woman to be on the cover of an FPS game set in WWII. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking specifically about the validity of differing opinions on completely subjective topics within the world of game design.

battlefield 5

Everyone has the right to an opinion and everyone has the right to voice that opinion. But what’s become the norm is people trying to stop other people from voicing their opposing subjective opinion. This is a problem for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re not right. Your opinion is an opinion. The opposing opinion is an opinion. Neither side has more of a right to voice their opinion than the other outside of more specific contexts, which aren’t relevant to the discussion here. Everyone should be able to voice their opinion on a game’s design choices without being attacked for it. But that’s not even the biggest issue.

A shill is a person who appears/pretends to be a member of the public that is secretly working for a company. Shills use the perception of being a consumer to try to influence other consumers to support a company both financially and critically. The key feature of a shill is that they’re paid by a company to covertly influence the public to support that company. While I don’t like shills, I respect them. Like with any job, they are paid to provide a service and they do it. It’s no different than being a lobbyist, lawyer, or IRS agent. They have a dirty job that often calls for them to act unethically at the expense of hardworking people but it is their job and they do it because they have bills to pay too. But there is no excuse for unlicensed shilling. When a person is not paid by a company and goes out of their way to defend them and argue for them against other consumers, it’s not only illogical but also counterproductive for consumers as a whole. Getting paid to do a job is sensible. Doing a job for free is the height of stupidity. This is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.

will not work for free

Negative reception isn’t a bad thing for consumers. In fact, it’s an objectively good thing. When people send out angry tweets, write critical blog posts, post negative remarks on Reddit, and make dissenting YouTube videos, that’s a good thing for consumers. Even when you disagree with the negative opinions voiced, it’s still good for you as a consumer. Realistically speaking, larger studios and publishers no longer go out of business due to lack of sales. EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Sony, and so on aren’t going anywhere. There are too many power house franchises and so many customers worldwide that it would be almost impossible for any of these larger companies to go bankrupt. Studios within those companies like Visceral Games can be shut down, but that’s not a question of financials. It’s simply management making decisions about the future direction of the company. What that means is that there is no excuse to defend these larger companies because the longevity of their business is in no way affected by consumers posting their views, whether positive or negative, on social media.

The benefits of negative opinions being pushed out on social media is that companies respond to them in a number of ways, that either help all consumers or at least the unhappy ones without harming the ones that weren’t unhappy. Negative reception causes prices to drop faster. Negative reception causes free additional content to be released. Negative reception adds additional gameplay options to games to meet demands. Negative reception almost never harms players, unless it’s so bad that a game gets cancelled because of it, which is very rare in the AAA space. So there’s really no excuse to fight against other consumers about opposing opinions on social media because you’re only harming yourself in the long run by removing cause for these companies to grant extra boons to the entire public.

dead trooper

I’m of course talking about larger studios only. Indie studios and games work a bit differently because of limited budgets and manpower so in many, but not all, situations there is a valid reason to shill for them. It’s very possible that enough negative reception could kill off an indie studio by driving it into bankruptcy. So let’s be very clear about the context of this discussion and stay focused on larger studios and projects.

Two notable examples of unlicensed shilling I saw during this year’s E3 surrounded Smash Bros Ultimate and Cyberpunk 2077. The reception to the Smash Bros Ultimate announcement(s) were overwhelmingly positive. This game has every character that’s ever been in the franchise returning for free with no paid DLC, as of yet announced, plus new characters and stages. This is great news for all Smash Bros. fans. But let’s not pretend like the Smash Bros. franchise has a perfect track record and that the team hasn’t screwed many players over throughout the franchise. I’m a Roy main. It’s been 10 years since I could use my main. Do you know why Roy is back? It’s not because for the past 10 years me and people like me have been silent and not voiced our anger about our mains not being available. It’s because we were vocal about it. There’s no paid DLC characters in this Smash Bros. like there were in the last one. Do you know why? It’s not because Nintendo decided to be benevolent this time around. It’s because a large number of people voiced their anger over this issue since the last game. It was the voicing of negative opinions that made Smash Bros. Ultimate the great game it will be. Not the positive opinions and the shills defending everything Nintendo does like mindless drones. Negative posts made the franchise better. Unlicensed shilling made it worse.

Everyone is here

A lot of people are angry about Waluigi not being playable in this latest Smash Bros. Personally I don’t care about this topic but I respect their desire to have him playable and I support them voicing that opinion. Yet tons of people have gone out of their way to try to put down the pro-Waluigi crowd from voicing their desires. Why? What do you gain from telling people “he’s already an assist trophy”? With enough support of the issue, Nintendo may patch in Waluigi as playable later. Why try to prevent this? Why even get involved? Nintendo doesn’t need your help. They’re a multi-billion dollar company with teams of lawyers, PR reps, and marketing teams. There is no reason for you to come to their aid. If anything, you should be helping your fellow consumers have their needs met. Nintendo will be just fine even if millions of angry tweets are posted calling for Waluigi to be playable.

To clarify, I’m advocating people voicing their negative opinions about game design choices. Not attacking private citizens who happen to be game developers. Attacking people in their private lives for doing their jobs is never OK. I don’t think Sakurai is a god like too many people do, but there is no justification for attacking him personally for any choices made concerning Smash Bros. If you aren’t happy with something tweet Nintendo and the Smash Bros. account and keep your posts focused on the game. If you see someone attacking a developer personally, you should come to that developer’s defense. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Waluigi

I would say Cyberpunk 2077 had an even more polarizing announcement during E3 this year. CD Projeckt Red announced that the game would be a first person shooter. Many people, myself included, were unhappy about this and took the time to voice that opinion. Many people were also very happy about the announcement. The difference is that the pro-FPS crowd went out of their way to attack those of us voicing our desire for the game to be in third person. Now there are many legitimate reasons to be unhappy with this game being an FPS game. If you want me to go into those in detail, let me know in the comments. But it’s not the purpose of this post so I’m not going to do that here. The real issue is that so many people felt like it was necessary to come to CD Projekt Red’s aid over this issue. No one is worried about the game being cancelled. No one is concerned that the negative reception may get the studio shut down. These are not issues on the table for discussion. What is on discussion is CD Projekt Red adding the option to play in third person. What is on the table is many people not buying the game at release because it’s in first person, causing the price to fall faster for everyone. Neither of these things are/would be bad for consumers. So why try to stop them from happening? The first doesn’t affect you if you want to play the game in first person and the second helps you if you aren’t a day one buyer regardless of the reason why you aren’t a day one buyer. So what is to be gained from attacking your fellow consumers for having an opinion you don’t agree with?

cyberpunk-2077

Some people will argue that CD Projekt Red could end up changing the game into a third person only game with enough negative reception as a justification for their unlicensed shilling, but that’s an illogical conclusion. The game is already being made in third person. CD Projekt Red has stated that they intentionally built the map to work “better” in first person. Many people are excited to play the game in first person and have stated as much. Even with all the negative reception in the world, what would be the logic in completely removing the first person gameplay option altogether? That wouldn’t make any sense. What can, and should, happen is that both first and third person gameplay options are made available like in Star Wars Battlefront and later versions of Skyrim. Why anyone would be against giving players the option to play in their preferred view is beyond me.

The point is that you stand to gain for every negative post made about a game and gain literally nothing from the positive ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t post when you’re happy about something a studio announces because you definitely should. These are hardworking people who take pride in their work and enjoy being commended for it. But that in no way means that people who aren’t happy about something in a game shouldn’t be allowed to voice their opinions as well. And all consumers stand to benefit from those negative opinions being posted. So please stop shilling for free. It’s serves you in no way, makes you look like an idiot for being illogical, and costs you possible free benefits such as free additional content and multiple gameplay options in the long run. I liken unlicensed shilling to a person defending the integrity of a pickpocket from an angry mob while the pickpocket is stealing said person’s wallet. Defend your fellow consumers, not the companies that don’t need your help to stay in business.

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