So here we are at the start of 2015, with 2014 sinking just behind the horizon. The world of gaming wearily trudged its way to the new year over the last week, looking for the last 12 months to finally be over. By most accounts I’ve seen, everyone seemed to have had a bit of a downer in 2014. I mean, it isn’t rare to see tweets each year saying “Year X sucked, bring on the next one!” in a perpetual loop of mediocrity, but it seems even more pronounced this year.
If you follow the gaming industry at all, that negative sentiment towards 2014 probably isn’t lost on you. It has been a really tough year for a lot of reasons for just about everyone. The AAA industry was full of disappointments. Not just in overall quality, but even when there were good games, they were undercut by a myriad of technical issues. Journalists and bloggers have been under fire from the Gamergate hashtag about perceived faults in their code of ethics. The worst parts of gamer culture reared their ugly head too, fighting to oppose “social justice warriors”, leading to several vicious online harassment cases, predominantly against women developers and commenters. It was just an ugly year for just about everyone.
What is most disappointing about all this, though, was that 2013 ended on a high note. It was a great year. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us gave us strong AAA narratives worth experiencing, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag rejuvenated a dying franchise, games like Papers, Please and Gone Home showed us interesting new ways of looking at games. The Next-Gen consoles had launched, albeit with few great launch titles, but we had a whole year of games built on the systems to look forward to. 2013 was a year that ended on hope as it felt like Video Games were really growing as a medium.
But if 2013 was for growing, 2014 was for the growing pains. There were few AAA narratives that really excelled. Assassin’s Creed took a few steps back, Gone Home is now ridiculed by a certain sect of gamers while unfinished games littered the Steam indie front page. While both had good games, neither the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One has really lived up to any kind of potential we can call ‘next-gen’. All that hope we built up in 2013 has been pretty much dashed.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Little Big Planet 3
Resogun on Vita
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Each is a game from a top publisher that had significant launch issues. That isn’t even nearly all of them. This is unacceptable and unfair for consumers. I understand and respect that games are hard to make. I know developers and I am generally very lenient when it comes to games having launch problems. Making video games is extremely hard and it requires hundreds of people. There is a line though. This holiday period has been plagued with server issues and buggy execution. When customers are dropping $60 on a title, the least they should be able to hope for is a game that works. In some cases, a lot of games were basically unplayable for weeks after their launch. The AAA industry should be pushing on with the next-gen, but instead its wheels are spinning while it gets deeper and deeper into the mud.
And now I get to more fully address the elephant in the room. 2014 will probably be remembered as the year of GamerGate. My relationship with the movement has been really varied. On one hand, I’ve tried to extend the olive branch to those who feel journalists have failed them. I check the hashtag almost daily just to see what is going on with the group. I’ve even had one or two worthwhile conversations with its members. On the other hand, I do believe they are a destructive group, dismantling a lot of the good work laid down for progressive game design. In my experience, some in GamerGate have tried to silence worthwhile voices and bury exploration into what a game can be. Parts of the hashtag seem to have a problem with games like Depression Quest and Gone Home because “they aren’t fun”, “there is no choice” or because “they are social justice dogma”. Really, I feel these games are exactly the kind of things that we should be encouraging if we want storytelling to explore new and exciting avenues in games. Looking at the way games are made and offering something different is important. Maybe I am alone in wanting more varied games that are more inclusive, but its what I believe and I’m happy to fight for it.
Of course, that isn’t even hitting on the main conviction of the movement which is, of course, “Ethics in games journalism”. While I think there are one or two valid examples of ethical breaches that GamerGate have brought up in their 5 month crusade, I’ve not found any to be egregious or, importantly, illegal. I especially don’t think that corruption between outlets or companies is endemic in the field. On top of that, many of the ‘scandals’, such as Kotaku’s Steve Gaynor and Depression Quest’s Zoe Quinn‘s romantic involvement, have proved to be false or negligible offenses. I do believe there are ethical problems that should be addressed in games journalism such as journalists joining corporate competitions to win prizes and the close personal relationships journalists can have with PR, but I don’t think this is specific or even at its worst in the journalism world. In every journalistic field, there are ethical breaches every day that if someone in the audience knew about, they’d sniff their nose at. Ethical lines are different for everybody, that goes doubly for Journalists.
I truly can’t help but feel GamerGate has only hurt the quality of the games media in the long run. The fact is, journalists talk amongst themselves all the time. It’s the nature of being in an industry. Just because they are talking doesn’t mean they are colluding on a mass scale. Journalists fight all the time. Hell, if you read the now famed ‘GameJounoPros’ email chain, you’ll see a bunch of people disagreeing constantly with one another on a wide variety of issues. Sure, I’m on the other side of the fence here, but really… look at it this way. No one has lost their jobs directly because of GamerGate. “Offenders” still get advertisers. I’m still yet to see solid evidence of mass collusion involving people I know and talk to regularly. I’m sure I’d be corrected by many within the movement about their progress, but I’m just calling it like I see it.
Now, don’t let this be a total downer. There were lots of good things about 2014 too. Despite what some people say, there were great games this year. Dragon Age: inquisition, This War of Mine, Kentucky Route Zero: Act III, Super Smash Brothers, Shovel Knight, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Transistor, these were all great games that deserve recognition. On top of that, the Game Awards got back on track. Xbox One finally righted itself under the hand of Phil Spencer. Playstation continue to back indie games in a big way. Nintendo were the shining light of the AAA industry. Despite awful harassment, detractors ended up boosting the profile of many worthwhile alternative developers like Zoe Quinn. Obviously not at a worthwhile cost, but many who wouldn’t now know their games. Also Anita Sarkeesian was on the Colbert Report. That was kind of crazy. These are all great things. The problem is it’s so hard to point to any one trend as an example of good. It’s difficult to say, “Oh, this aspect was great about gaming” because so many of the excellent things were exceptions or stand alone events. Those should be celebrated, but there is little we can point to to say “This is the reason 2014 was a good year in gaming” and we have far too many to point to why it was awful.
2014 for me was the year opposing forces in the gaming world pushed back. 2013 was a time of hope and progression. Now…it’s hard to say exactly where we are. I certainly hope that 2015 will bring better tidings for the industry, but my confidence that that can happy has certainly been knocked. The big developers need to stop being beholden to release schedules and squeezing their customers wallets. Journalists have to take more responsibility in directing the conversation and listening to their audience. Certain sections of ‘gamers’ have to be willing to let video games be criticized by the most basic of artistic critiques as well as willing to share the medium with others. I just think everyone has to be more willing to work together. This is a community and a community is only as good as its relationships. We’re a broken family, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pull all the pieces back together. Hopefully everyone will just have a little more patience to listen to each other this year.
That includes me, and I’ll do my best to make interesting content in 2015.