Since we've brought film into this, take a look at the (very short) clip below. It's one of the first movies ever made, and the very first one to ever get a copyright as a motion picture:
That was the whole thing. Fred Ott's Sneeze, made in 1896. It's five seconds of a guy sneezing. People used to pay good money to watch that sort of thing, in traveling shows with little kiosks.
They weren't all suffering from crippling brain damage, it's just that at one time film was brand new and the technology was startling all on its own. So movies were usually just very short, simple sequences (a woman dancing, a fat guy falling down, a disobedient housewife getting whipped). Later they'd throw in some primitive camera tricks, like making an actor disappear with an edit, or making an object float with simple stop-motion animation, and the audience would almost poop their pants with awe.
Yet his monocle remains undisturbed
But once the technology was no longer novel, those early films became utterly worthless--you'd have to be pretty damned stoned to pay to see a re-release of Sneeze. No one thought watching those clips were teaching life lessons or even moving you emotionally--the main emotion elicited could be described as, "HOLY SHIT, I AM WATCHING A MOVIE!" It was only later that they were able to tell stories like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, epics that connected with people on some deeper level that actually left them changed in some way.
Video games, for the most part, never move past that "HOLY SHIT I AM PLAYING A VIDEO GAME" stage. We have an E3 coming up. Watch how much of the conversation revolves around technical novelty (motion controls, upgraded graphics, 3D) versus character or story or creativity. We have only ourselves to blame--we pretty much demand this.
For instance, at the time of this writing, I have a still-unopened copy of Remedy's Alan Wake, a just-released game I've been anticipating for about five years, which I'm saving for some free weekend. It's an atmospheric horror tale which reviewers assure me is on the cutting edge of non-ridiculous video game storytelling. But I'm browsing around gaming blogs and message boards and I'm getting worried. I see dozens of comments like this:
Oh-oh. What's the complaint that has everyone up in arms? Is there a cheap twist at the end? Is the main character two-dimensional? Is there a frustrating minigame where you have to carefully groom Alan's pubic hair?
No. It turns out somebody took a screenshot of the game, zoomed in 500 percent and counted up the pixels to make sure every frame was rendering at the maximum 720p resolution the Xbox 360 is capable of.
It turned out some parts of some frames weren't. All hell broke loose. Here are hundreds of posts on the subject at gaming forum NeoGaf. Here are hundreds more at B3D. Here's 2,000 posts on the subject at the Alan Wake site.
On some level we know this is wrong, because we know to hold films to a different standard. We know that advances in CGI couldn't save the Star Wars prequels, and that pretty 3D doesn't make Avatar the best movie of the year. Yet, in the next breath after mocking Avatar fans as slack-jawed yokels easily amused by a cheap technical gimmick, we will fly into a rage if some new game's technical gimmicks aren't up to par.
Nothing else matters. Who's that woman Alan is talking to up there? Where are they going? How does it play into the story? What emotions is this scene going to elicit? Tension? Dread? Humor? HOW CAN YOU WORRY ABOUT SUCH THINGS WHEN THE ROLL CAGE ON HIS PICKUP TRUCK ONLY HAS A 19:25 PIXEL RATIO.
Of course, that level of outrage speaks to something else entirely...
I don't want to get into an argument about piracy. I'm thinking that none of us reading this can cast the first stone on that one. Information wants to be free, you weren't going to buy it anyway, they're all greedy corporations, etc. But then you have the Humble Indie Bundle.
That was a bundle of DRM-free independent games that, combined, would normally sell for $80. The makers offered the bundle as a direct download to the consumer--no corporate middle men--and let customers pay whatever they wanted, down to a penny.
"Yeah, that seems fair."
It wasn't free, you still had to pay. But you could set the price.
If ever there was a measure of the gaming community's sense of entitlement, this was it. All of the rationale for piracy--high prices, hatred of corporations, annoying DRM--was stripped away. Here we would find what we gamers think game creators owe us, and what we think we owe in return. The results:
The average downloader offered to pay $9.18, giving themselves a nice 87 percent discount off the retail price.
More than a quarter of the downloaders stole it outright.
That's right. More than a quarter believed that even one penny was too much to offer in return for the hundreds of hours of labor it took to create the games.
And that's not including the people who traded the Bundle off torrents and file trading services--this is just the people who pirated the games directly off of the game maker's server. In other words, they intentionally used the game developers' resources so, in addition to paying nothing, they would actually cost them additional money on bandwidth. It's like if you not only refused to drop a nickel into the street musician's guitar case, but waited for him to finish the song before taking a handful of change out.
Oh, Stevie. You make it too easy.
Those same PC gamers--who spend 75 percent of their waking hours explaining how PC's are the ultimate gaming platform--seem baffled as to why PC gaming is dying. Hey, remember back when every new groundbreaking innovation happened on the PC? What happened to those days? After all, remember the hype about Spore and how it was going to change the world? That would be the game that was pirated 1.7 million times in its first three months.
But who could resist its siren call?
Gosh, I wonder why these publishers are putting all of their resources into the harder-to-pirate consoles instead? Forget about the debate over the morality of file sharing. It's not that; it's just simple cause-effect. We're smashing out the windows because it's fun, and then crying because the rain is coming in. It makes us all look like spoiled, entitled brats with no concept of how the adult world works. Don't tell me this is because gamers are mostly kids, either--the average age of video game players is 35.
We help ourselves to free game after free game, and then scream bloody murder when Ubisoft goes overboard with anti-piracy measures. When the makers of the Modern Warfare series decided to make the consoles front and center for the sequel--stripping some features PC gamers are used to in the process--gamers threw a tantrum and bombarded Amazon with hundreds of one-star reviews for a game they admit right in the reviews they never actually purchased or played.
See, I don't think those guys understand what "review" means. And of course, they couldn't make it through their crusade without the ever-present "we'll just pirate it instead!" threat.
The, "they're treating us like animals, so let's shit on their floor!" line of thinking is the hallmark of teenagers in full teenager mode. It's no wonder gamers get portrayed in the media as impulsive and immature:
...and why it's so hard to convince people the infamous "WoW freakout" video is a fake:
Come on, guys. We've got a reputation to outgrow. From now on, let's shove the remote control of maturity up our ass instead.
David Wong is the Editor of Cracked.com and the author of the comedy horror novel John Dies at the End, currently banned in 72 countries.
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