I put up two posts yesterday, one discussing the backlash to the Mass Effect 3’s endings and another with Jeremy Jahns discussing the endings themselves. After sleeping on it, I decided that I should write a post solely dedicated to rebutting this utterly nonsensical idea that “games are art” and thus the ending should be decided by the artist, not by the gamers. If this is the only argument those like IGN’s Colin Moriarty have, then those unhappy with Mass Effect 3’s ending should have a well thought out response to it. Well, at least more thought out than the other side’s argument anyways.
As I said before, this is idea that Mass Effect fans should simply accept Mass Effect 3’s ending is entirely irrational. Regardless of symmatics like whether or not games are indeed art and the game’s developers are artists, this all comes down to one irrifutable fact, Mass Effect 3 is a product that consumers are not happy with. BioWare, as the maker of this product, is left to decide whether or not to give its loyal consumers what they were promised. Considering that the vast majority of those who are unhappy with Mass Effect 3’s endings are willing to pay for downloadable content (DLC) which will give them a more satisfying conclusion to this science fiction epic, this is a no-brainer. In fact, if BioWare created an expansion which gave gamers, not only better endings, but an additional 6-8 hours of new game content, along with additional armour, weapons, and multiplayer maps, I would imagine that most Mass Effect fans would be willing to pay handsomely for it, especially considering how much they’ve already spent on DLC for the previous two games. So what’s wrong with this? According to those like Moriarty, a lot.
The problem the “intelligentsia” within the gaming community have with Mass Effect fans who are upset about Mass Effect 3’s ending is that they are upset. Just think about that for a moment. To those like Moriarty, because they bought the product, regardless of whether or not they’re happy with it, these fans should simply accept the ending because that’s how BioWare decided to end the game. Excuse me? Why aren’t Mass Effect fans allowed to demand better endings? Apparently it’s just because. Because what? They won’t or can’t say. It is at this point that this irrational argument breaks down. Some might try to defend their position by saying that games are art, while others will say nonsensical things like “well gamers shouldn’t feel that they are entitled to whatever they want.” Both of these responses, whether it is this ridiculous “games are art” argument, or this nonsense about how consumers aren’t entitled to the product they want and are willing to pay for (the anti-capitalist approach?), highlight just how irrational their position is.
Let’s begin with this “games are art” argument. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what is a controversial topic within the gaming community. My opinion on this subject is that there are games which, in my opinion, fit the definition of art mainly because the game’s creators have purposely made it out to be such. There are also games that are artistic, but aren’t themselves art. Then there are games that can’t be considered art because there was no serious effort made by the game’s creators for it to be artistic. Stunning backgrounds and character designs can be viewed as artistic, but I have a problem accepting them as that if they do nothing more than there basic function. This is why the “games are art” argument is hard to take seriously when people try to say Gears of War and Mortal Kombat are art. Even those of the “movies are art” mindset, like Roger Ebert, couldn’t accept films like Jackass: The Movie and Crank as art. Artistic? Maybe, but not art.
Regardless of how one looks at video games, let’s accept their premise for the sake of argument that games are indeed art, and because of this, the game’s creators are artists. By accepting this premise, we also must accept the realities of the relationship between the consumer, who is the artist’s patron, and the artists themselves. This is where their fictious belief of artistic freedom is met with harsh reality and the “games are art” argument falls apart. As partons, the one’s who commissioned the art through our support of the previous two masterpieces, if we are not satisfied with the final product, we are well within our rights as patrons to demand a better final product. This is the fact those like Moriarty keep forgetting. Throughout history it wasn’t the artist, but the patrons who decide artistic trends. This is especially true during the Renaissance. If not for the patronage of wealthy nobles like the Medici family, the world would never have known of artists Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michaelangelo. Even with the freedom they were given to be artistic, they were still forced to create art that the patrons wanted. That is a historical fact.
What’s also interesting about this argument is that it completely ignores the very nature of Mass Effect and why so many are angry with its endings. The game isn’t just the product of BioWare, but of the gamers themselves. In this respect, the gamer is both artist and patron, while BioWare merely facilitates this experience by providing the setting and materials for gamers to create their own unique masterpiece. How did so many in the gaming meda’s “intelligentsia” ignore this point? How can BioWare’s desires, even if we accept that they are the real artists, trump the desires of a patron who is as artistically committed to the final product? It’s even more mindboggling is that there are those like Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett who will accept this point and argue for it, than completely dismiss it for no apparent reason. One has to wonder whether these members of the gaming media have even played any of the Mass Effect games.
As for the “gamers shouldn’t be entitled” argument, where to begin? Having worked briefly in the gaming media, writing game reviews for GamingExcellence, I can tell you from experience that it isn’t the gamers that are entitled. In fact, I can safely say that it’s those within the gaming media who act entitled. Sure there are exceptions, but the untold truth is that most of these people have this perverse belief that they are as important to the gaming industry as game developers. It’s pretty pathetic since it takes very little talent to do their job. Do you need to have a basic knowledge of video games and the gaming industry? Yes, but that kind of knowledge isn’t hard to acquire, especially after the years of playing video games and following the video game industry most of us already have. To put it bluntly, no member of the gaming industry, be they Destructoid’s Jim Sterling or IGN’s Jessica Chobot, is somehow “better” than the average gamer because of the position they hold in the gaming media. In fact, many, if not most probably lack the basic social skills required for any other form of employment. Remember that before giving their opinion undeserved credibility.
So what about this idea of gamer “entitlement”? Is there any merit to it? No, not at all. Total Biscuit explains why starting at the 10:45 mark (hat-tip suusuuu, an upset Mass Effect fan posting at BioWare Social Network).
To expand on what Total Biscuit said, it is not just the right of gamers right, but their duty to complain. They paid for Mass Effect 3 because they were promised a fulfilling conclusion to Commander Shepard’s story which reflects the choices we made throughout the series, something they didn’t get. Those criticizing these gamers aren’t even debating this point. In fact, one of those criticizing those upset with Mass Effect 3′s endings is/was himself angry with the game’s endings (it’s hard to tell with the speed at which Luke Plunkett apparently changed his position). Regardless of how irrational they sound for criticizing those who are upset with the current endings, their position is made even more irrational since many, if not most upset Mass Effect fans are willing to pay for new endings. Are these members of the gaming media’s “intelligentsia” now going to demand that BioWare turn down this opportunity? That makes no sense either. Demanding accountability from game developers, especially when they don’t deliver on their promises, isn’t something that should be criticized. This is the very nature of capitalism, and, to paraphase Total Biscuit, it does the gaming industry a disservice if this apparent betrayal of Mass Effect fans is allowed to go unchallenged.
The final point in both arguments that I want to quickly touch on is this idea that any change to the ending is “unprescedented.” How so? They don’t explain this either. Aside from Bethesda Game Studio’s Fallout 3’s expansion, Broken Steel, as I stated in the previous post, Sir Author Conan Doyle brought back Sherlock Holmes because of public outcry. If such changes could be made to what is arguably the most influencial detective novel series of all time, why couldn’t such changes be made to Mass Effect? Are those arguing this point trying to put video games on a pedestal above classical literature? If that is the case, it further demonstrates the arrogance of this entitled “intelligentsia” within gaming media.
In any event, there you have it. If the “intelligentsia” within the gaming media wants to debate any point I’ve discussed here, they’re welcome to try. If they, however, wish to continue to degrade Mass Effect fans upset with Mass Effect 3’s endings without a coherent argument as to why, then it goes to prove what myself and others have been saying all along. People are entitled to their own opinion, and, as consumers, are entitled to complain if the product they feel they didn’t get what they paid for. Calling a flawed product “art” doesn’t change any of that. To think it does is irrational.
HOLD THE LINE!
For those who haven’t already liked ‘Demand a better ending to Mass Effect 3’ on Facebook, if you feel as myself and thousands of other Mass Effect fans do about Mass Effect 3’s endings, go and do it. I would also recommend those who do go to ‘Retake Mass Effect’ and make a donation to Child’s Play. It’s for a very good cause.