Mass Effect RAGE
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
Hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned, even if the scorn is more a matter of perception than reality. The gamer community is a strange beast, typified by an almost bipolar shift between immovable apathy and psychotic rage. When the gaming public doesn’t care, it really doesn’t care. When it’s mad about something, you best get an umbrella or face the dampening wrath of a trillion angry tears. Recently, backlash from vocal gamers has been incredibly vitriolic, and a number of games have found themselves facing an overnight backlash, which mostly manifests itself as an orchestrated campaign to critically demolish a new release in any way necessary.
The “bombing” technique, in which users spam Amazon or Metacritic with tons of negative reviews, has become a popular form of online protest, and it’s one I don’t always have a problem with. I still, for instance, believe it was a beautiful way of demonstrating to certain television psychologists that there are consequences for going on FOX News and telling outright lies about videogames. In fact, the first truly prominent Amazon bombing revolved around the original Mass Effect. It’s somewhat ironic that, a number of years later, Mass Effect 3 has become a victim itself.
BioWare fans are quickly earning themselves a reputation for outrage and drama, a reputation that’s beginning to match even the storied depths of the Sonic fan community. From the fury over recycled environments in Dragon Age 2, to the recent assault on writer Jennifer Hepler, it’s become quite clear that BioWare’s fans will just as soon embrace their favored studio as burn it to the ground. Upon Mass Effect 3′s launch, that venomous streak in the fanbase was at its most deadly, as Metacritic became home to a slew of vicious, furious, utterly miserable user reviews. Although Metacritic removed those reviews that violated the terms of service, the PC version of the game still sits at a 2.7 average score.
The complaints people had about the game ranged from the valid to the pathetic. Some folks were upset by the presence of launch day DLC, others felt the graphics were terrible, and a fair few were disappointed by the lack of meaningful character choices. Meanwhile, others raged at the homosexual romance options, made incoherent statements about EA “ruining” BioWare, and accused the game of “dumbing down” to appeal to Call of Duty players — by far one of the most baseless and popular claims online user reviewers seem to make. However, whatever complaints were brought up, one has to ask — are any of these complaints big enough to justify an orchestrated attack on a game? Especially a game that many of the users couldn’t possibly have played too much of, and might actually be mostly enjoying?
Mass Effect 3 isn’t the only game to be bombed in this way. More recently, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 also fell foul of an orchestrated attack, predicated not on the quality of the actual game, but on people simply blaming the series for a number of perceived ills in the game industry. It was called a glorified mod, a lazy retread, and generally anybody caught enjoying the game was ostracized by the rest of the community. Before that, Portal 2, of all things, became a target, earning a mass of negative user reviews because of the fact that Valve had thrown in some expensive costume DLC for the co-op mode.
In each of these three cases, I simply cannot fathom what got people so angry that they felt the need to organize a massive attack. On the one hand, I absolutely love to see consumers making a stand and letting a company know that they’re not going to take their shit. On the other, I see the reasons for doing it, and can’t help but feel that the rage is utterly misguided. Optional costume DLC that never, ever, ever mattered. Arbitrarily deciding that a sequel was a glorified mod for re-using some assets, despite the fact that almost every single game sequel released on a single platform does that. Bombing a game you probably really enjoyed just because you didn’t like a few, non-dealbreaking DLC decisions. Now, some of these issues can be annoying, certainly, but bad enough for a massive attack? I’m not so sure.
In the past, we’ve had far bigger trespasses than that. There are perpetual issues in this industry right now, but because they’re perpetual, people don’t give a fuck. Nowadays, I can’t make gamers care about anti-consumer business models such as online passes or endless firmware updates that exist to continue a losing battle against piracy. Because gamers have gotten used to that kind of bullshit, they struggle to give a monkey’s fuck. Oh, but a man kissing another man in a videogame? Shit, let’s get the pitchforks. Valve wants to make a sequel to Left 4 Dead without waiting three years? Let’s boycott it! I can’t help but feel that gamers are getting infuriated over these little, inconsequential things, while growing increasingly bored by the shit that really does have a long-lasting, negative impact on the market.
This isn’t to tell you that, if you are angry over a certain videogame, that your opinion is invalid. However, I’d like to ask you to seriously think about your decision to Meta-bomb a videogame, or boycott a new release. Ask yourself if you really care so much about a subject that you’re willing to close your wallet and make a stand. If you’re just slightly irritated by a small business decision, but react by giving a game a 0/10 and insulting the developer’s family, you’re reducing the impact of any future protests that might actually mean something.
Stunts like Metacritic bombing could, potentially, be an excellent form of gamer protest, providing the gamers themselves follow through and refuse to buy the game afterward. However, the reasons for attacking games have been so inconsequential for the most part, that what could have been a neat way of making a stand instead looks like a childish temper tantrum. Now, people aren’t surprised to see a game boycotted or bombed. They just write it up to infantile fanboys whining about nothing. People have been so quick to shout “boycott” and organize attacks over the smallest slights that nobody takes it seriously when something truly worth taking a stand against presents itself. And those same gamers who got so mad when a game recycled a bit of a building roll their eyes and ask, “What’s the big deal?” when a publisher introduced a new way of making game purchases less convenient and punishing to the paying consumer.
By now, BioWare’s fanbase has thrown up complaints about absolutely everything, to the point where even their valid grievances have been shrugged off as petty and meaningless. Because there was that lack of restraint, the genuine complaints concerning Mass Effect 3 have been drowned out, and any chance at making a real point about some genuinely questionable business practices is completely gone. Gamers need to start thinking before they grab the pitchforks, and making better decisions over what deserves rage and what doesn’t. I’ve been accused of banging on about certain singular issues, and that’s because I chose which issues deserve the most rage and focused on them. Get some damn focus in your rage, because I love that gamers are making stands. What I don’t love is the fact that so many of those protesting don’t seem to be able to see the forest for the trees.