AAA, Real Monsters.

Ever wonder about the first time you hear a particular turn of phrase? For me, I’ve been mulling over sucks all the oxygen from the room, a turn of phrase I’ve heard used to describe people, concepts, and events. The notion that something in and of itself could reach to the perimeters of a social occasion and draw into itself what everyone else needs, something could force its own little world to be about itself, for a while, isn’t really new to me. I wish I could remember where I first heard that phrase, because every person I can think of who it attaches to is a boor. When it’s used to describe me, it makes me feel boorish.

What it refers to at its core is something that forces behaviour around it, and that’s never nice. It’s not nice to demand that people discuss what you want to. It’s not nice to coerce anything out of anyone, no matter how gently. A little consensual coercion is fine and all, but you need to define that consent up front. This is exactly not what AAA games do, and why it’s very reasonable to recommend never talking about them at all.

Just like a boorish person, a boorish industry will thrive on attention, and that attention encourages boorishness. You can to talk about that person’s boorish behaviour, you can talk about how that boorishness influences things, you can talk about how negatively people view the boorishness, but you’re still basically feeding the boor. Asterix and Obelix taught me that boors aren’t for feeding, they’re for punching, and that joke works better spoken aloud.

Hypothetically, I don’t react to games differently based on how well-budgeted they are. As an Australian I’ve always lived with the knowledge that a videogame is quite expensive, and I’ve always been drawn to games that could fill a lot of time in an interesting way, or games that were very cheap, with an extra thumbs up to the games that do both. I think this is why, despite all of their failings, I adore the Quest For Glory games. That might be helped along by despite them being what was at the time AAA games produced by an AAA studio, I never paid that much for them.

I think that this is part of what I like to do, with these reviews. Deus Ex: Human Revolution reviewed really well, with mild complaints about its boss fights. I played the game without the compression of the ‘event’ that was its launch, without any rush to have my review out there in time to be relevant, and what I found was that the game was shallow, badly structured, badly paced, and had a few good ideas it didn’t use very well. Essentially, I called DXHR a pretty crap game. Similarly I railed against the way the Assassins’ Creed sequels made the games worse, by diluting the story and expanding a universe in a direction that I felt wasn’t very useful. Every one of these games reviewed quite well, with a few minor problems, while I, ostentatious dick that I am, said they were unremarkably fun, and merited anger over value.

I don’t review games when they’re new, usually. I got Bioshock Infinite when it was new because it came out near my birthday, and I bought Hate Plus the day it came out because… because… well, I spent over two weeks talking and writing about that one game, so I think that choice was relatively defendable? There’s also something about aspirational creativity and the hope that paying for art I like will help yield a world where people give me money for saying things, but anyway. The point is, the further you are from the release of a AAA title, the more you can look at it reasonably. The price goes down, you’re less likely to consider the game in light of its value as a hundred dollars of investment.

I don’t treat AAA games like they deserve a certain level of base respect. I didn’t have fun playing Prince of Persia 2008 and found the hours I spent trying to get it to be fun were unpleasant and wasted. I played, I tested, and when it failed? Out it went. These games are games, and when they’re not fun, you have every right to say that the game is failing. I’ve ditched on indie and webgames because I don’t find them fun, and those games are dignified enough to be free. Any AAA videogame is a multimillion dollar project that is designed to get your attention and hold it, and engage you with it. When it fails at that, people should say as such.

I think that Mammon Machine is completely correct in that there’s no good reason to talk about AAA games, at least not on their own footing. I still want to discuss these games, because in some cases they do things that are pretty cool by accident. They often have certain baseline mechanics polished to a mirror shine, like camera operations or environmental aesthetics. I think the thing I want to do, though, is to drag AAA games away from their position of privileged ostentatiousness. I lauded Bioshock Infinite for its breathtaking aesthetics… but I laud Gunpoint for its aesthetics being just as strong.

I will still talk about AAA games, but they aren’t AAA games when I play them. They’re just games. They’re games that are a few years old, they cost about as much as any other cheap indie title, and they can be considered in light of how well they engage you, how well they use the concepts they introduce.

Unrelated to this, Mammon Machine has a Patreon set up, and if you like her writing and have money you don’t necessarily want to spend on fast cars and cute geegaws, you should totally consider spending some money on her work, and similarly, Meritt Kopas is also seeking patronage for the wonderful website Forest Ambassador. I really do want to live in a world where thoughtful, interesting people talking about art in the way these people do is something a person can do for a living, and so I really hope you’ll consider reading their work and maybe even patroning them. Plus, you can say you’re a patron of the arts, which really is quite rad.

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