“Stepping on Dreams: Remembering the Humanity behind Game Development”

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“I bring you with reverent hands
The books of my numberless dreams.”
-W.B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds

 

 

Ah, it’s you, dear NPCs.

Just a few simple thoughts I wanted to share. I’ve noticed a trend cropping up in post-E3 discussions over this past week. There have been a lot of writers sharing their hearts on the divisiveness, toxicity, and downright meanness that we’ve all seen in some circles in some form or another.

The internet seems like a catch-all for the disdain of people. There’s just something about not being able to see the individuals we’re talking to which normally, in civil, social interaction, prevents us from saying the worst possible things that pop into our minds. Actually this is known as “Deindividuation” (many much thanks to my friend, Mr. Wapojif, for information on the theory; I guess my intuition on this subject is something others shared).

Combine that with the fact that there are more voices than ever speaking and wanting to be heard online, voices which opt for hyperbole and extreme exaggeration to stand out among the sea of others, and we’re left with a lot of ugly phrases, comments, and tweets tearing down others because they like this game and that company or that game and this company.

The internet, which isn’t itself at fault, has facilitated our natural tribalism to pick sides and choose favorites until here we are in 2017 with people telling each other to kill themselves for liking The Last Night or the Xbox One X, Sony or Reggie Fils-Aime. There’s an air of playfulness to such outlandish talk and a kind of sickening indifference in using language to describe intense violence, and I think that’s yet another symptom of not being able to see the real people we’re communicating with.

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I’ve been guilty of this myself, in real life and online. Though I’d like to think I’ve never said something so extreme as to command someone take their own life, my own contributions to tearing down others has been notable. I’ve owed many people significant apologies over the years and I’m sure I’ll owe many more, though this is something I’m personally trying to work on in terms of my own character. It’s not the kind of ugly person that I want to be. When my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who used words to inspire, not someone who caused others depression, sadness, hurt, or insecurity through the way I speak to them.

All of this comes back to The Well-Red Mage, where I at least can control the kind of language that I use. It’s no secret that we’re a video game and entertainment review blog but this is where the subject I’ve outlined above steps in. If the things I say to others based on what I agree or disagree on matters in terms of passing comments, then how much more do the things I say matter when I’m writing 2000 to 5000 words in a review?

One of my favorite moments from E3 to my own complete and utter surprise was Ubisoft’s opener when they brought out Shigeru Miyamoto to thunderous applause and a standing ovation to talk about the upcoming Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I’ll be transparent with you. When the concept was leaked prior to E3, I thought it was laughable. It seemed like a joke pairing Nintendo’s icon with the gaming equivalent of Minions.

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But as the presenters talked, they pointed out the creative director for Mario + Rabbids in the audience. The man had tears in his eyes, his hand over his mouth, stifling the swell of emotions. It was another shocking moment. I had no idea that such a project could even be so heartfelt, and that underscores my point here.

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I now realize that the games I review, the games I occasionally laud or deride, represent years of the life of a fellow human being. These games, whether I like them or not, could represent someone really pouring their heart and soul into their development. Even something as ridiculous (and even stupid, to some) as Mario + Rabbids represented years of work from people who’s life dream evidently was to create a game using one of their favorite characters, a game which could be recognized by Mario’s own creator and one of their own personal heroes.

In light of that, what right do I have to simply dismiss it out of mind without giving it the attention that years of humanity demands? I’ll purpose to think with a little more sensitivity when choosing my words from now on. That certainly won’t mean that I’ll enjoy or even tolerate every single game that I play but I’ll try to keep it in the back of my mind that this is a chunk of a human soul that I’m putting under a literary knife. I’m sure such a thought, analogously, steadies the hand of a surgeon against callousness and indifference.

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I believed that video games were an art form from the beginning of this blog but now I believe that even more sincerely.

This has helped me realize that every game, to some extent, matters. That’s true whether the game is my favorite or not. It’s the human expression behind them that brings them value. I’m not sure what this means for the future of my writing as a reviewer of games but I hope it lends toward more nuance, empathy, insight, and articulation rather than less, for it’s not a series of emotionless business ploys or thoughtless corporate schemes that I’m critiquing but a world of dreams, an entire realm of human creativity.

Dreams are fragile things that disappear with something as gentle as the morning, so how should I handle them with my own hands of flesh and bone? With careful attentiveness. After all, isn’t that how I’d want my own dreams to be critiqued?

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-The Well-Red Mage

 

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37 thoughts on ““Stepping on Dreams: Remembering the Humanity behind Game Development”

  1. Boy oh boy. Human decency. Where did that thing get misplaced in the age of the internet. Where people gets too intoxicated in ‘being good and showing decency is boring’ and it’s time to be in touch with the inner desires to be free: To be complete toxic assholes and to find one cause that they think look pretty good on paper and then preach it as ‘The one philosophy to rule them all’…

    There’s a lot of occurences of this thing I’ve encountered, but I’ll just give one recent example I’ve seen so far. Fire Emblem. Their newest official entry so far (which isn’t a remake), Fire Emblem Fates, has some issues in storytelling and such (wasted potentials, etc). However, for all its flaws, I still enjoy the game overall, it’s an enjoyable game with enjoyable cast and gameplay, and I can slug off the story no problem, appreciating it and its characters. But if you look at the net, it’ll be very rare to see people who enjoy the story and character, most of the time, you’ll find people who say that the story is bad, period, some even take it low that claiming “You like Fates’ story? Probably you have brain damage!” And God help you if you state you like the protagonist (called Corrin here) or the characterization. You are probably going to be lectured that Fates’ story is bad and why you should think so. Those who are tolerant about Fates and encourage such tolerance are very rare, not thinking that behind every voice is one man, and behind FE Fates is a man (or a group of people) that worked his ass off to create a game.

    They would probably call me DULL this way for not showing super strong emotion like that. But that’s just the way I am, and I just gotta say one thing: IT’S NOT COOL TO HATE. There’s a lot more occurences I can say on this, from the same franchise to other franchises. But I’ll just stop here at the moment.

    Great job on the post and I will definitely spread this. Thank you! If you are curious for more, drop me a message too and let’s see if I can handle this as graceful as your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment! I spotted it in the spam folder today, so sorry it took me so long to see it. Thanks for spreading this around. I’m glad people have identified with what I tried to say in this post. This keeps popping up again and again but I sincerely believe that we can change the course back to human decency one person at a time.

      Like

  2. Great article! This is why I always try to be careful what I say in regards to games, books, movies, etc. People do pour their hearts and souls into these things, and they get torn apart so easily. Like we’ve talked about before, though, it’s much easier to hide behind a keyboard and tear someone down when you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re being so mean to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A few years ago I wrote a review for a book I did not like at all. As I was forcing myself to finish it, I thought about everything I would say to let everyone know how terrible this book was. How it was a gigantic tell fest (as opposed to showing), and how the characters were just words on a page as opposed to real people. Oh, I was going to be brutal. Then I went to the author’s Goodread page and saw a picture of him standing with his arms folded and a big smile on his face. I could tell he was proud of his work, but not proud in the snobbish sense, but rather the accomplishment one. He looked like the nicest guy, and to this day I can pull that picture up in my memory. I’m honestly not one for vicious reviews, because I’m a highly sensitive person myself, and cruel reviews have devastated me, so I try to, well, not pull my punches, but talk about stories in a way that’s constructive more than critical.

    The look on that creator’s face is the same look I’d wear if for some reason one of my ridiculous pipe dreams/delusions of grandeur occurred and Squeenix recognized the existence of Northern Lights or something else I’d written about Final Fantasy VII. I know everyone wouldn’t like it for numerous reasons, and there are some who will outright hate it and have nothing but derision and scorn. The Rabbids and Mario collaboration sounds just like an odd fanfiction, AND NOW THERE’S A GAME MADE OF IT. Like if you’re a fan and you don’t realize the implications of that, I’m not sure what to say. It means some creators are willing to allow things like this to happen. it’s what I think about when I remember Harry Potter and the Cursed Child exists, and it was written by a fan of J. K. Rowling’s series, and the author loves it and approves of it. It means derivative works are starting to be recognized (though derivative works have always existed, but that’s a far bigger conversation).

    You should always speak honestly about what you think about a game or any kind of work, but the fact that you recognize the implications and that creators are human with their hopes and dreams riding on their works says a lot. It’s like even a bad movie/game takes a ton of work, and most of the times the people involved don’t even realize their in a bad movie, because the way something is cut and edited can be the difference between an Oscar or a Razzie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can only think of one product at the moment that deserves infinite scorn and that’s Batman and Robin, the Schumacher film. Here’s why: the filmmakers actually told the crew and actors on a regular basis to remember that they were essentially “making a cartoon”. It’s the perfect example of a cash cow with zero aspirations or even much in the way of real creativity. That’s the sort of thing which is ultimately rare, though, as I think most games in some circles (indies for example) are created with dreams in mind. I’ll do my best to remember that there’s humanity behind these things, but at the same time that’s not going to stop me from being critical, only now it’s critical in the constructive sense. I don’t pretend to think every dev reads my reviews (though on the occasion that they have, I’ve loved it, in case any of them are reading now!), but every once in a while I imagine what they’d think if they did.

      Thanks as always for the very conversational comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You should always approach it with that attitude! Concrit is essential to improvement, and most creators and devs will appreciate it. There is a way to give it while still remaining true to yourself with a valid assessment, but without just using clickbait hyperbole in order to generate likes, which I fear is what a lot of reviews turn into. Many people don’t want to read a long, thorough, intelligent assessment. They basically want a sound bite in word form, and this goes back to our conversation about “blogging tips.” I think they say that because the average reader has a short attention span, but that also depends on what average we’re talking about. I kind of feel like you should write for the audience you want, because many of them are looking for that kind of content. It might not be as many as the ones who just want the “sound bite,” but I’ve always been a quality over quantity person anyway 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • Concrit? All this lingo I don’t know about! I learned to give feedback in terms of a sandwich, with the bread being positive, the meat being negative, and the bottom bread being positive to conclude, so as to help others take it in.

          Writing for the audience you want is super important. I’m happy to have attracted some real conversationalists. Looking at some of the clickbait articles out there with zero comments or feedback, I know I don’t want to write for that audience.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh sorry! It’s a portmanteau of constructive criticism! I think I first saw it used on tumblr by one of my fellow fanfiction writer friends, and I’ve heard other writers use it, too 🙂 I like the compliment sandwich, too. That’s generally how I do my reviews. I’ll start off saying what I liked, what could be better and then end with a general wrap up.

            Clickbait does one thing: get you to click on it. They’re not in it for the conversation, and any comment you leave is probably just going to be swallowed up in internet negativity.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hehe I understood your meaning with concrit and I’m delighted to know about it. Mostly just lighthearted fun-poking from me, as usual. I’m glad we have the bastion of our WordPress community against the sea of negativity online. It’s like a quarantine zone in a zombie apocalypse world.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Oh psh. I thought you were really asking what it mean LOL. I’m more than willing to explain. I love the wound of my own voice, er typing…fingers? Well I usually reread through whatever I write so I love the sound of how it sounds in my head when I read back through it *facepalm*

                Someone has to be on guard duty. Those zombies are persistent!

                Liked by 1 person

  4. I find it really interesting how much some people ignore the humans behind games. No Mans Sky, for instance, wasn’t made by people who only cared about money. Look at pictures of them on release, see the bags under their eyes? They worked really hard on a game, and it disappointed some people. But that work doesn’t go away.

    Seeing game directors and creators who are really passionate about their games is something I wish we got to see more of. Remember when the guy from Unraveled came out, and his hands were literally shaking as he talked about his game? More than any hype video, that made me want to check the game out and support it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there and thanks for your comment! I do remember the No Man’s Sky situation quite well as it was a game I wanted to play a lot but eventually passed on. The price was a big factor for me there but I remember the sheer acidity that gamers heaped upon that game and its developers. There are a lot of things that were said which they didn’t deserve to have said of them. I actually don’t remember the second incident but times like these where we see the underlying human effort behind these games is what is special about them at the end of the day.

      Liked by 1 person

        • We welcome links here! I’ve even encouraged others to self-promote their work here. I consider our blog to be a kind of hub for the gaming WP community, so we’ve done several posts that reach out like that in the past to highlight the works of others. Any information you can give me is better than none. More info is also better than less!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a very well red article. Definitely can see the work that some devs put into great games over the years. And i definitely believe that reviews really matter. But how can reviews be done fairly? What’s one persons candy is another persons garbage. I try my best to look at all perspectives when reviewing games. Even if I am not fond of a particular game, there are it’s strong points, which can be enough to cater to even a small audience, which i think is worth addressing, to be fair to the creators who probably made a game for a particular group of like minded people.

    Game devs can be quite inspiring though, from doing crunch time on AAA games just to meet deadlines, to being 1 man teams that created some of the best well received indies of our times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I’m still sort of mulling over a lot of it and it might be enough to revisit the subject eventually. I’m glad you’re one who believes that reviews matter. I think that comprehensive reviews are best as well since you can then touch on aspects of great games which aren’t the best and conversely talk about better aspects of poor games. I think that criticism is what great art deserves. I think it’s not truly helpful to the creator to not give a review some thought. I also think that this is why it’s important to read a variety of reviews as well to come to a conclusion, and also find those who share your perspectives and philosophies on things. If I need to seek out reviews on a game I’m on the fence on, I go to my favorite reviewers and then I try to find a “gushy” review and a “negative” review.

      Game devs are indeed inspiring! I know for certain that’s not my calling!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s so easy to forget that art was created by an artist, especially in an industry where the consumers are often so far from the actual designers. This is why I love communities in games like Overwatch, where the devs are so close to the community that there’s a mutual love and respect there, both for the art and for the artists as people. It’s a relationship I hope that more companies begin to foster with their consumers as time progresses, because as the industry widens and as games become more accepted, we’re going to need that type of mutual support to weather the tides of initial media scrutiny and disdain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being able to talk to the occasional dev now and then has been delightful so I think that closeness you brought up is an interesting and important aspect of this conversation. Games are also primarily made to sell and sell big so I understand that certain creative sacrifices may have to be made here and there, especially if the product is meant to be a square peg that’s supposed to fit into a square whole to satisfy a category. I suppose this all goes under the branch of treating other human beings with respect but tying that concept to video games and the artists who make them is something I hadn’t taken the time to have a stream of consciousness on before. As for media scrutiny, I don’t suppose I’ve thought long enough on that to comment on it.

      I appreciate your comment and thank you for sharing your thoughts, as well as retweeting us!

      Like

  7. This is beautifully put, even taking many of the words I would use myself to talk about this with others.

    It always baffles me that we as people have to use so much psychological warfare on each other, just to prove in the end who stands as the top alpha…even though that person might not have gotten the best score in the game.

    Which points to game reviewing as well. Sure it gets bashed on by the minority screaming that reviews don’t matter, and people needs to form their own opinions. It’s a record so old as well as scratched that I’m surprised it hasn’t start making the weird sounds, an old LP does when it has taken some damage.
    My point with this is that media reviewing is an art in itself to judge an art piece while staying as objective as possible. However, I believe we should be able to understand that in a game, the simple press of a button which does an action is hundreds of code been put together in blood and sweat, from a creative team that wants their game to mean something to others as it does to themselves.

    All we can say is, be tough but fair and always remember it’s something from another human we’re judging.

    Some may fail, so others can take the mantle and rise to the ocation. Where they can make the industry better.

    A good piece I enjoyed reading Red.
    Stay Cozy and have a nice day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have yet to address the idea that reviews don’t matter. Of course I personally believe that they do since I’ve written plenty of them here. I think they’re a major part of helping people to form their own opinions by informing them. Easy answer to that.

      I’ve not thought of reviewing as an art form before, just the act of writing, but I suppose it is. I definitely want to maintain objectivity balanced with empathy. Tough but fair is the perfect way to phrase it.

      Thank you for reading and for leaving me a heartfelt comment! You have an enjoyable weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I thought of you and your game development actually, during the process of writing this post. I can’t imagine what kind of effort goes into a game but given it takes years of life I’m sure it’s quite a bit. I do know the energy that’s consumed in writing, so it must be exponentially more for a video game that requires much more than just writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, making a video game is pretty crazy if you think about it. It could be a market flop and you suddenly see years of your life going down the drain. That’s just too much of a risk. I mean, Van Gogh made a ton of paintings, not just one piece of art. He was crazy too, but this is on another level. AAA games are something else altogether from indies though, but not too entirely different.

        Liked by 1 person

        • So I think this is exactly why so many games play it safe by sacrificing innovation for tried-and-true methodology in gameplay, storytelling and presentation. I mean, that doesn’t make them less an art form though it means they could have less “soul” in them, but the same thing happens in literature. I remember shortly after the Twilight films exploded that I started noticing “supernatural teen fiction” sections, entire sections, flourishing in bookstores. It can’t be the case that those authors weren’t just cashing in, playing it safe. I think that accounts for a lot of AAA games.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Definitely a strong reason why AAA games don’t tend to provide much variety. That shouldn’t stop them from making amazing stuff. Tons of films and as you mention, books, are formulaic and flat, but every so often you get a (insert amazing movie/book that blew you away). Interesting beast, the corporate world of video games.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Deindividuation, it’s known as. I’ve read a few interesting essays about it. The theory tries to explain “antinormative” behaviour. It’s the anonymity of the internet, basically. You can go online and let rip with whatever deep-seated bitterness and petulance you have and then it all erupts into a flame war. I’ve been guilty of this in the past as you can get sucked into it before you realise what’s going on. You can make what you think is a well reasoned comment and it all descends into silliness.

    Games certainly are art and can be a very moving and intellectually stimulating experience. As with any form of entertainment, though, you’ll get your blaggards who are there to disrupt stuff. The gaming community is so toxic, in part, as a lot of kids and teenagers play games and they’re not fully formed individuals yet, so you get rage quitting, the overuse of “gay” as an insult, and welcoming newcomers to the experience as “NOOBIE SCUM!!!”. Plus the console wars which have always baffled me since the SNES vs Mega Drive days. I’m not quite sure why people get so worked up about proving which one is best.

    Anyway, great post. At this stage in gaming history, we should be pushing ahead and proving it’s a glorious form of culture which everyone should be embracing. Oh yes, and XBONE SUX! LOL!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ah ha! Thank you for educating me! I’m happy to know my intuition paid off, since I haven’t read any essays on the subject. Seems to me to make sense. The explanation that teenagers and young adults forming the basis of the immature gaming community also seems fair. What is it about the modern era which makes youth less mature, if you happen to agree with me that youth in previous eras (and some other cultures) were more mature earlier, generally speaking? You can’t drop an awesome term like deindividuation on me without having your brain picked! Also, would you mind if I add the term to my article and give you credit for mentioning it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • In part, I think most generations look back on the latest crop of youths and judge them. I once read a 500 year old essay from a monk stating the latest generation proved society was heading for disaster. So I’m eager to steer clear of Old Fart Syndrome with my response!

        This particular generation, in the West, does have the highest standard of living ever seen, though. The smartphone/social media era has also brought with it a rampant narcissism epidemic, with everyone competing for attention and adoration through selfies etc. With an improved economy, everyone has a lot more time to be self-obsessed, so when you’re growing up with peers pouting away on Facebook rather than keeping some sense of humility, you must surely end up a bit immature. This is my consideration of it, anyway, being 32 now and not really considering myself a Millennial.

        Sure, go ahead and use the term! I’ve stuck a few links on for you where I read about it. I’m no psychologist, it’s just something I picked up when reading a while ago as online commenting (and how toxic it often is) interests me a great deal. Feel free to edit out the links below if you don’t want them on t’ blog!

        https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/sep/18/psychology-internet-trolls-pewdiepie-youtube-mary-beard

        https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/jul/24/internet-anonymity-trolling-tim-adams

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautifully put. The sheer flippant ease with which one can dismiss games makes one forget about the countless hours of work put into them. They are not just all corporate products to be consumed; most of them, I think, are true labours of love, regardless of how effective the final outcome might be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Flippant”! That was the word I was looking for the whole time I was writing this. Thanks for seeing my point, and for reading. I think that the only way around this is to watch the credits and realize that every person listed there was a real human being. Sure for some people it’s just a job but I think this extends to humanizing others everywhere: filmmakers, writers, cashiers, baristas, teachers, construction workers, heck even politicians…. maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

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