It's Just A Game

It's Just A Game


How often do you find yourself excusing the flaws of your latest-and-greatest addition to your game library by saying, “Well, it’s just a game”

Defending imperfection

How often do you find yourself excusing the flaws of your latest-and-greatest addition to your game library by saying, “Well, it’s just a game; we can’t expect everything to be perfect!”? It seems that every time I get into a debate about increasing “realism” in a game, others will sooner or later chirp up with, “What do you expect? It’s just a game!” Such a counter-argument drives me buggy.

“It’s just a game!” Is it? Is it really? To the developers and designers, it’s their livelihood. It’s what keeps their families fed and a roof over their heads. It is the difference between declaring a dividend for shareholders or closing the doors and declaring bankruptcy. To the consumer, it is the difference between Entertainment dollars spent on this instead of that. And since gamers generally have more than one game in their collections, it is the difference between playing this game or that game.

Consider every other product in your life. Does “It’s just a car; it gets me from Point A to Point B” describe your automobile? Or do you loudly decry its shortcomings that make you curse that you can’t afford to buy a better vehicle? Do you really NOT care what it looks like compared to other cars, or that it only gets 8 miles to the gallon? Do you describe the restaurants that you frequent as, “It’s just a restaurant” and you really don’t care that the fare it serves tastes like cardboard? When you go to see your doctor, are you the least bit concerned that he’s “just a doctor”, or do you prefer to think that he really, really knows his stuff? When you go to see a movie that turns out to be god-awful, do you excuse it by saying, “It’s just a movie,” or do you loudly criticize what a waste in time and money that it was for you?

Why do we grant games sooooo much slack? It’s almost intuitive that adding realism and punching up the graphics will make the game’s production more expensive and keep it in development longer. Still, do we grant that kind of slack to anything else in our lives? Naturally, we don’t expect the quality of a fast food hamburger to be on a par with a meal served in a fine French restaurant, but we still have the expectation that the hamburger MUST be tasty and not give us food poisoning. We expect that even though our Hondas aren’t in the same league as a Porsche, it will nevertheless operate somewhat efficiently and safely. In short, we have an expectation of receiving value from our investment. But that is apparently NOT the case when it comes to games. If our latest acquisition blows, you give it a thumbs down and then move onto the next latest-and-greatest game. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the consumer boycott? Where’s the insistence that developers provide a quality product at a reasonable price? Everyone seems to think that game development quality will take care of itself. If a developer produces crap, then gamers won’t buy the product and the developer goes out of business. If that is the case, where is all the crap coming from? Just consider how many games you’ve acquired that desperately NEED patches and updates. How many may deliver a decent gaming experience, but not nearly enough duration for the price tag charged? How often do you find yourself enduring the Bad, just so you can also experience some of the Good?

There have been very few instances I can think of where gamers actually spoke up loudly about some crappy feature in a game. The initial endings that BioWare provided to Mass Effect 3 comes to mind. But even there, despite an enormous number of consumers exclaiming, “The ending is crap!”, there were still many, many people arguing, “It’s just a game! Lighten up!” When it was discovered that for $65, Modern Warfare 2 could be finished, on average, in about 10 hours, hardly a peep was heard. (Comparatively speaking, given the many millions of consumers involved.) There was something of an outcry when BioWare (why does that name come up so often lately?) altered the emphasis of the Dragon Age franchise from RPG to a more Action-centric design. There, very pointedly, those that loudly complained (RPGers mostly) were shouted down with, “It’s just a game; get over it!”

Why do we cut game developers soooo much slack compared to practically everything else in our lives? The answer is a mystery that eludes me. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?