Gamer Entitlement and the Myth of Ownership

Art is a tricky damn thing. It’s almost impossible to define, to begin with, and it’s pretty damn hard to decide who the owner ever is. I mean, sure, there’s often the original piece of art, like with a painting or a fresco or a sculpture or whatever. Things get much more complicated when you consider other mediums like music, where that piece of art, be it Beethoven or the Beatles, can be recreated and redone (or even duplicated) by a third party. I like the Beatles’s With a Little Help From my Friends, but it’s hard to deny that Joe Cocker’s version is incredible (or that Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower doesn’t hold a candle to Hendrix’s cover). Things get trickier in a different way with things like movies, TV shows, and games. There is, presently, no longer the idea of that original piece of art — that art exists in a million places all at once. There is no real difference between a video game that two people buy in a store — sure, the game exists in those two different discs at once, but it’s the same game. There’s no difference between the two. The same thing occurs when you download a TV show or movie or game (illegally or legally); you’ve just made a copy of something, but that copy is barely a copy. It is so close to what you copied that differentiating becomes pointless. Even with programming games; sure, the latest build that a programmer cracks out is, for a moment or longer unique, but it doesn’t have a physical form in the same way that a painting does (though, technically, I guess, one could pull out their harddrive and point to a sector and say “There it is!”).

I’ve been of two minds on the whole Mass Effect 3 fiasco (no, I still haven’t beaten it and I’m running out of excuses): on the one hand, Bioware is a group of artists making art and, to some extent, they can make whatever art they want. On the other, they’re absolutely beholden to their fans not unlike how artists once were beholden to their patrons, be they rich poofs or kings and queens. The relationship between any company and its customers is one that is mutually beneficial and, to some extent, one where both need the other to survive. Bioware cannot make games without its fanbase, period. No company can survive without its fans.

I completely respect Bioware as a group of artists: it’s their prerogative to crack out games that are awesome and no artist should ever have to sell out to make good art. But that’s really not the reality of things. By all accounts, Bioware screwed up and more and more people are alleging that this was their goal in the first place: make a purposefully vague ending and sell a new ending for a few dollars. Things aren’t exactly going that way, but one could easily argue that that is because things aren’t going the way that Bioware/EA planned (that is, of course, if one believes the allegation in the first place).

What has been bugging me lately (and by lately, I mean the last few years), is the word  entitlement. It gets tossed out by politicians and taxpayers alike, and now gamers are being branded as entitled. Colin Moriarty over at IGN posted a video lambasting entitled fans,  arguing that he didn’t like the ending to Rosemary’s Baby (but that the adventure there was great!), and he didn’t try to force the producers to change the ending as a result. Anyone can tell the comparison doesn’t even come close to holding water. He’s pretty much comparing apples to oranges. It’d be like comparing Titanic and the Pixar short Geri’s Game: one is over three hours long, the other is a few minutes. Anyone will tell you that to fully appreciate Mass Effect 2, you need to port over your Shepard from Mass Effect 1, and to really appreciate Mass Effect 3, you need to have completed the whole chain. We’re talking tons of hours here, not just a few– and comparing watching a movie to playing a game is downright ridiculous, anyway. Your investment in a movie is typically much, much less than that of a game: if you die in a game or whatever, that’s time and effort of yours down the drain (even moreso back in the day before autosaves and, well, even saving, period). You can’t affect the outcome of a movie so if someone dies in a movie, you’re stuck with that reality (unless you petition the producers to change it, of course), whereas in a game, you’re practically forced to go back and try to change that reality.

The video game industry itself is changing and it’s changing rapidly. Big video game producers seem to be on their way out and more and more indie developers are on their way in. Things like the Humble Bundle generate tons of cash and indie games themselves spread like wildfire, having been produced on a shoestring budget and costing a few dollars on average. Things like Kickstarter are hammering the point home even more: now video game fans are able to talk with their credit cards and are able to help fund the production of things they think are worthwhile. While we’ve yet to see anything from Kickstarter really take off in terms of product delivered, unless it fails miserably I think this really may be the future of video games (and I don’t know how to feel about that, to be honest). Steam set the gold standard for the digital delivery of games (something that Origin is trying and failing very hard to live up to) mostly because of how user-friendly it is. You install a little bit of software and you have access to this massive library of games. It’s awesome.

Big producers are finding themselves getting cut out more and more. In the greatest TV show ever, Firefly, Malcolm Reynolds points out that about “fifty percent of the human race is middle-men and they don’t take kindly to being eliminated”, and publishers like EA are more middle-men than they are the artists, so it’s no wonder they’re pissed. I’ve never liked paying the middle-man — artists get the shaft when it comes to any form of art, whether it’s book publishers ripping off their writers or music producers ripping off their singers or video game publishers ripping off their artists. Things like Kickstarter and Steam and so on are the beginning of the end, I think, for video game publishers. More and more fans are realising that whenever any piece of art is released into the marketplace, it ceases to be the property of the person who created it, plain and simple. What publishers and producers don’t realise is that in the story of art, they’re the bad guys, and the pirates and artists are the heroes. Maybe they’ll wake up to it, but it seems pretty unlikely.

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