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Maybe don't be a jerk when talking about Beyond?

Last week I came across this editorial about GTA 5. About halfway through, the author, Tom Bissell, made a point that sent me reeling: "I review books too...No reader has ever told me he hopes I get cancer in response to a negative book review, which I've had happen with games. I've never met a literary critic who distrusts publishers as much as game critics distrust game developers. I've never met a smart reader who sneers at books as reflexively as many smart gamers reflexively sneer at games. Many people involved in this medium hate so much of it and one another."

Gosh it was painful to read. I felt reprimanded. I mean, I can remember explicitly when I’ve acted exactly how he writes about. We’ve all done it: reflexively scoffed at a game just because it’s popular, or a different franchise than you’re used to, or it's liked by someone you consider to have a lower opinion than yours. But most importantly, it brought up a paradox. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized it before, but with the recent release of Beyond: Two Souls (and subsequently the Internet's vitriolic response), an ugly trend in the video game industry was laid out for me. We as gamers hate stagnation and formulaic games; but, ironically, we have no tolerance for the wholly innovative failures we encounter along the way.

Think of it this way: When a new Madden or Call of Duty game comes up, what is the loudest voice you hear? Typically, it's one of derision. "Another COD! Didn't they just do this last year? It's a reskin! What's new? What a cash in! Of course it's another shooter!" Hell, we've got just an article recounting such hate for Black Ops 2. The consistent theme here is that me, you, and every other outspoken voice on the Internet wants something new, something innovative, something that isn't just a brown-infused World War II shooter.

But then we get just such an innovative experience in Beyond: Two Souls, and we call it a “fever dream.” The game experiments with many creative risks, and instead of acknowledging what it’s trying to accomplish, we prey on David Cage because he is an eccentric and easy target. We don’t bother putting in the time to try to see what his work is doing and appreciate the positives.  A good parent will celebrate their child’s victories and turn their mistakes into a learning moment. Why can’t we emulate that?

And let’s be real here: In many ways, Beyond fails. Absolutely. Nothing in art is perfect. As I wrote in The Beyond: Two Souls review, there was a baseline of solid storytelling that was just not present. As I was playing Beyond, I was frustrated at the lack of connection between the characters in the game. Except for one pair: Jodie and the small side character of Stan the homeless man. Did I know why? No clue. I don’t have enough professional experience to know if it was the actors’ chemistry, the direction they were given before the scene take, or the specific writing that went into it. 

But while I may not know, I'm sure as hell David Cage and his development team have a better idea than me. So instead of angrily calling the entire narrative trash, I say, “Hey, I really felt something with these two characters, it’d be cool in the future to use whatever was done here with the rest of the cast.” By dogpiling onto Cage and Quantic Dream, all we’re really doing is making these artists feel shitty. Is that really the most constructive way to repay them for pouring their souls into a creative endeavor?

So yes, it fails. But my god in other ways it's completely ground-breaking. Years ago we got the proof of concept Kara. It was Quantic Dream dipping their toes in the water and saying, “Does this work? Hmmm…it seems to work...brb, trying something with this.” And with Ms. Ellen Page really carrying the role of Jodie, perhaps film and games will start sharing more than just terminology. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Chris Pratt becoming Nathan Drake? Now we have an example of that working! All of those different paths each scene can go down? Stunning, something that could only be done in video games, perhaps established writers will take note now and want to hop onto a video game in the future.

Irrespective of it's success and failure, this is what innovation looks. Georgeous or ugly, its definition has never included, “Getting it right.” I mean hell, our medium is only 30-years-old. So we all have to understand that game developers and artists and journalists and consumers are all trying to find their footing and understand where our trajectory leads. It’s all about iteration, and still no one has it right. I mean, oral storytelling has had a few thousand years head start on us and stand-up comedians still have shitty sets. What’s important is the process, not the destination. Beyond is just a branch on the tree.

We don’t want our video game companies to be terrified of experimenting, thinking one wrong step could sink them and the hundreds of people who work there. We are a small, young, impassioned industry. And unlike, say, the Hollywood film industry or book-publishing industry, we've seen that developers really do listen to what people say about their work. Because they’re learning too. You have the ability to actually give productive feedback that will make it to the ears of people who actually create something. Don't squander that opportunity. This is an iterative process and everyone must be involved. Pick up the game, play it, give feedback. It’s up to us to move the industry forward.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic,ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well,that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it. 

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51 comments

  • alllifeinfate - October 27, 2013 8:38 a.m.

    Couldn't have said it better myself...
  • theguyinthecloset - October 15, 2013 6:26 p.m.

    Zach, at first when you started here at GR I thought your articles weren't well thought through or that they were not very well written, but these last few days/weeks you have brought well though articles and a fresh view on these questions that really brings a certain freshness to the GR pool of opinions. Keep up the good work.
  • Ironarm - October 14, 2013 2:54 p.m.

    Very well written article. I can never stand it when people scoff and complain how the industry is bogged down with countless FPS games and action games but then immediately go on to criticize games that try something different like Beyond did. I've played through all of Beyond and I absolutely did not like it, but I sure as hell appreciate that it tried something relatively new.
  • dantetheinferno - October 14, 2013 10:32 a.m.

    This is fantastic. Thank you. Lately I've been reading a lot of reviews and actually paying attention to what people say and really I am disgusted by the comments and attitude of most gamers that post. It seems these gamers are looking for a "perfect" game which doesn't and most likely will not exist and instead of focusing or complimenting or just having fun it seems more often than not gamers are just dismissing games before they even come out or intentionally looking for small things to hate. One person I read stated GTA V is the most horrible GTA game ever. Why? You can't operate the train. This kind of self-entitled attitude is a shame considering how much time, emotion and LIFE goes into making these entertainment pieces. It would be nice if sometimes people took a second, in everything to give it a chance. Enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it then don't play it, don't watch it, don't buy it. But who cares if it's popular or every single thing in the game or movie or album isn't perfect. Honestly, If you just sit down with the intention of enjoying a game and don't focus on a bad glitch or on a bad moment you might find yourself enjoying something and you might find there are more good in a lot of these games then bad. That's what I find anyway and this is of course all my opinion. I just think it's a shame we are so quick to condemn any game and their developers over what is typically very small reasons.
  • Walo00 - October 13, 2013 2:39 a.m.

    Well, visual novels are a thing in Japan and I don't think they question it being a game even though all you do is select options, watch some static graphics and see and maybe hear some dialogue. Also what about the ol' text RPGs? are these "not game enough" too?
  • lordgodalming - October 12, 2013 2:37 a.m.

    Thank you for the positivity, Zach. My guess is that the gaming industry's still-growing tendency to hate itself and everyone else comes from three places: the anonymity of the internet, a sense of complete and inalienable entitlement, and the fact that many gamers have never "put themselves out there" creatively. As a writer and editor, I've seen criticism from both angles, and while it can be helpful, it's never terribly fun. I wonder how many more creative minds (like Phil Fish) our weird addiction to hate will drum out of the industry.
  • larkan - October 11, 2013 7:53 p.m.

    Here's the problem with Cage. He is a wannabe film director. He has a slightly unhealthy obsession with putting full nudity in his games and having characters screw like emotionless puppets. He whines about gamers not calling Two Souls a game, more like an interactive movie. He thinks this is a good thing, and that games can be like movies. Well here's my question for him....if you're going to make a fucking game with 2 hours of gameplay and 10 hours of cutscenes, why are you charging us $60? You want so bad to be in hollywood, start charging $20 for your "works of art" and maybe people won't complain as much, will buy more, and fund your quirks and whine ass attitude. I don't wish cancer or smallpox on him, but I do wish he would grow a brain.
  • mikehoncho - October 11, 2013 9:14 p.m.

    Yes, exactly. The biggest problem with these "interactive movies" is that they still cost $60. If telling a story is all you're interested in, just make a straight to dvd movies. You could probably make them just as interactive by using a scene selection system to pick what the characters do next, just like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book. Just make the characters interesting and charge $20 for it and people wouldn't hate you as much.
  • mikehoncho - October 11, 2013 7:09 p.m.

    The biggest problem with David Cage's theory about realistic graphics making stories better is a little thing called "the uncanny valley," which says the artificial beings, like robots and cg animation, reach a certain point where the extra realism just makes them become creepy. It's a natural human reaction, we know that what we are seeing isn't quite right and that unnerves us. Its something that technology may never overcome.
  • slimjim441 - October 11, 2013 5:05 p.m.

    This is just what the internet needs to hear. Thank you, sir.
  • DEMONTHESE2211 - October 11, 2013 4:45 p.m.

    I think that part of the problem is that people in the gaming industry have a much larger tendency to over-hype things. This could just be because I pay more attention to gaming news than other media, but it seems like more publishers have a tendency to call something they do not just good, or great, but revolutionary. The youth of the industry is also probably partially to blame. Because gaming tends to get a lot of negative press, it seems like a larger percentage of fans develop a bit of a superiority complex in regards to gaming versus other mediums. It makes of feel better about our preferred medium and leads to much more disappointment when something doesn't turn out perfect.
  • WrathLord03 - October 11, 2013 4:20 p.m.

    I think Cage's bad rep is due to his push for uber-realistic graphics that are indistinguishable from real life people. Everyone seems to think that he thinks this will create the emotional impact video games have been lacking over the past few years. What him and Quantic Dream have always seemed to strive for is realistic graphics. And I think there was an editorial on here saying that that was completely the wrong attitude to be having if games wanted to be legitimised as an art form. Just look at the cover of Beyond: Two Souls. He's basically taking too much from film and not enough from videogames and still trying to label it as a game at its core. The Uncharted series has always been lauded as Hollywood blockbusters that you can play, and that last bit is completely missing from many of Cage's "interactive narratives" or whatever he's calling them. Also, it's really tricky to say what the gamers out there, collectively, feel about innovation. On one hand, there's a whole lot of hate for a game like Beyond: Two Soulds, but just look at the hype for Watch Dogs. Even I don't want to make a guess about what that means. People like games with gameplay, I guess. Or shooting. I have no idea. Anyway, the only reason I don't particularly like Cage is that because every time he talks at a convention or whatever, he brings up graphics. Like the PS4 conference or announcement or whatever. Polygon-count this, detailed-whatever that. It just seems like he's the guy that thinks he knows what's best for the industry, but is missing the point completely.
  • VideoKilledTheRadioStar - October 11, 2013 7:04 p.m.

    Video games are meant to be video games first. It's accurate to say that gamers want gameplay. You're correct that Uncharted's cinematic aspects are backed by solid gameplay, and equally correct that Quantic Dream misses the boat on the "video game" aspect of their "interactive narratives." However, that doesn't quite nail the tail on the biggest problem with Quantic Dream. The bigger problem is this odd and exasperating love of innovation. They also seek to "push the envelope," to "explore new opportunities in 'gaming'." This fails for two very simple reasons. The first and somewhat less important is in their search for hyper-realistic graphics. Far too often does it approach the Uncanny Valley. See Ethan's smile in Heavy Rain. The latter has been written and complained about time and time again. Plotting. Story-pacing. Writing. Quantic Dream isn't very good at storytelling. Their ideas are ambitious. They really want to innovate gaming plots, but they don't do it well at all. Their plots (usually around the 2nd act or in Heavy Rain's case, the entire game) fall into Gainax territory. Poorly written mind-screws do not help Quantic Dream.
  • winner2 - October 11, 2013 3:22 p.m.

    Game still looks pretty underwhelming from here but I appreciate you putting the effort into a nice hearted article Zach
  • ObliqueZombie - October 11, 2013 1:08 p.m.

    Jesus CHRIST thank you. Very well written piece. This community of mine can be THE MOST vile, ignorant, insensitive bunch I've ever, ever--EVER--had the displeasure of communing with. And yet I love every single one of them. I always scroll down to the comments to see what they're saying about what game, and it fills me with joy to see discussions and friendly debates and spirit-boosting comments. And yet on the other hand, I get... angry when I see the opposite. Why are they being a dick to that person? Why do they act like their opinion is fact and shoot down everyone who says otherwise? I'm very glad someone came along and put into words to thousands of people the very problem with our community. There's no unity or sense of friendship or bonding. It's just various sides of people who agree on one certain thing or game or another insulting the others who think otherwise. And don't even get me started on IGN's Beyond comment section. Are people STILL making fun of another person's console choice? Really?
  • BladedFalcon - October 11, 2013 1:44 p.m.

    Hey, while we're on this topic, I am aware you've developed a dislike for the way I've behaved in the past, and I accept that I HAVE acted like a huge jerk before, to you included. So I wanted to sincerely apologize. Even when we obviously don't agree with a lot of stuff, I do respect you as a fellow gamer, and I'd like a chance to engage in conversations again. Once again, I know I was an asshole in the past, and I won't hold it against you if you still don't wish to speak to me again. Still, think we could start over? ^^;I promise to make a genuine change to not deride you or act superior, and feel free to call me on my bullshit the second I recede... deal? (:
  • garnsr - October 11, 2013 3:41 p.m.

    I've seen a change in your presence round these parts, and I think it's nice.
  • BladedFalcon - October 11, 2013 4:01 p.m.

    Thanks. I have a tendency to be overly opinionated, and when feeling strongly about something, it's easy for me to argue to the point of being antagonistic. It really was mostly an ego thing even if I didn't want to admit it, but I've recognized that I ultimately gain nothing by outright insulting people, specially if they weren't attacking anyone to begin with. I'm probably always going to be argumentative, it's just my nature XD But I'll try to better pick my battles better from now on, and I can always try and be nicer about it :P
  • ObliqueZombie - October 13, 2013 12:50 p.m.

    BladedFalcon... this is hands-down the most sincere two paragraphs I've ever read in a comment section on a website. I do accept your apologize. I cannot even begin to tell you how appreciative I am and how happy this makes me. :') I absolutely would love to start over. You have one of the biggest presences I've ever seen on this site, and I've been year for almost seven years and have had this account for almost five. I hope we have many wonderful discussions.

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