I live in New York, and one of my favorite places in the city is Rockefeller Center. Aside from being the home of shows like Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, it's also a large shopping complex; in fact, one of those stores is Nintendo World. I go there every now and then when I'm bored just to look at things and play some demos, and while I was there a week or so ago I saw something cute.
As I was leaving the store, a boy around five or so came running towards the display window, pointing and shouting back to his parents, "Look, it's a Super Mario!" As adorable as that was, part of me considered correcting him and letting him know that his name was actually just Mario, and that there was only one. What kind of dick am I? I was immediately ashamed that I even considered interfering with this kid's pure joy, and I tried to ask myself why the name he called Mario was any of my concern in the first place.
On the subway, I thought about the conversations I have with people about games; I'm often crusading towards people understanding that there's a lot of integrity behind these creations, that they're an artful medium and one that deserves respect. I rail against TV shows (even some of my favorites, like Castle) who don't correctly portray or research video games before throwing them into a script. I scoff at companies like EA, franchises like Halo, and iterations of popular series like the New Super Mario Bros. series for holding back the growth of games and not reaching for higher standards, like Quantic Dream or other studios I hold in high regard.
And I'm starting to realize how pathetic that is.
Not everybody wants games that test the boundaries of what gameplay can be; sometimes they want something comfortable and familiar to help pass the time. Not everybody wants a good story or creativity out of Halo; some people really just want a high-octane campaign that they can entertain themselves with. And, most relevantly, not everybody is tired of 2D sidescroller Mario games; there is a whole generation of kids that didn't grow up with the NES and SNES like I did. They never had the chance to experience Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World.
The New Super Mario Bros. series isn't supposed to entertain me. It's for them.
One of my favorite games in this last generation is Heavy Rain. I thought it had some of the best writing of any game ever made, and found a new way to express itself through gameplay that hadn't been done before. When I read fan reviews of it, I was stunned by how many extremely low scores it had, and infuriated by how many of them considered it bad because it 'wasn't a game'. That's bullshit! Because it doesn't meet your idea of what a game should be, it's badly made?
Well, now the shoe's on the other foot.
As much as the adoration for Halo baffles me, I can't deny that it is well-made. There are people who really want that kind of experience, and it delivers it well, with polished graphics and a lot of little things that make you feel like a badass. New Super Mario Bros. may not be the most innovative game out there, but to the kid I nearly maligned it's a brand new experience--AND it's solidly put together.
There's a very fine line between a game not being well made and a game simply not being what we wanted. Final Fantasy XIII is one of the best examples in recent years. When it was released, the fanbase started organizing Square's assassination because of how 'bad' it was. However, as I've talked to my roommate about it and after completing the game a year ago, it's become clear to me that Final Fantasy XIII isn't badly made--well, there are some fairly serious design issues--but the uproar was really more over the fact that the fanbase didn't want a linear game. It didn't matter that the battle system was fresh and well put together, or that (parts of) the story were pretty good (hence the positive critical reception).
Younger fans of the Final Fantasy series might actually find XIII to be their favorite, as they haven't grown up with the series and had its traditions ingrained into their gaming sense. Yet the older fans went into an absolute rage. In fact, I think I can say that as we get older, we get more irritable and judgmental when it comes to games. As a kid, games were nothing but wonder to me. As I got older, I started getting upset when a game didn't meet my expectations.
Is this due to an ability to sense a game's quality, or a stubborn refusal to accept that not every game has to be made to my liking?
However, there are many other cases where gamers can simply just be brats. My grandma loathes Zelda now, because it's too complicated for her to play. Yet she still buys each one, tries to play it, and launches into a long series of hateful rants aimed at the Japanese. I love my family.
I also have a friend who refuses to play the Metroid Prime games because he believes that making Metroid a shooter ruins the franchise. That's all well and good though, as he realizes that there are a lot of people who enjoy those entries and doesn't just go around flaming them, and instead plays the games that interest him while just ignoring titles that don't.
I think it's a real sign of maturity when a gamer is able to step back and simply allow games he doesn't like to exist without having to hate on them. This industry is huge, constantly expanding and bringing in new customers with new tastes; if I stop badmouthing games that clearly aren't meant for me, maybe I can start actually enjoying my own games more. As much as I talk about the artistic qualities of games, they are still, at their root, games; they are meant to play and entertain. That's why that kid at Nintendo World plays them, and that's why I started when I was his age. Ruining that joy is just awful.
Well, that's my extremely long-winded tale. I hope it was at least somewhat interesting. Let me know what you think in the comments!
You can follow Chris at @ChrisLondon92 on Twitter.