Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Entitlement or Video Gaming as Social Microcosm

There are lots of articles and rants using the word ‘entitlement’ when referring to the youth of today, and their perceived attitude of wanting everything spoon-fed to them. An older generation deriding ‘kids today’ is really a diatribe as old as time. But there’s something a little different these days, an additional aspect to the old discussion. Entitlement has come into it’s own.

For parents of every decade it has always been a tightrope act to give their kids the best they can but still foster a sense of independence and a willingness to work. Work for what they get, work to overcome challenges, and learn to accept that sometimes work results in failure. We want our kids to have the proverbial ‘better lives than we did’ but at the same time it is commonly accepted that difficulties, setbacks, and hardship can be beneficial and a cornerstone of character building.

As a society (and I generally mean Western nations, where I hold a membership card) we have gradually nudged ourselves, throughout the last century and into this one, to have a pervasive caretaker attitude. In schools, government, and much of social discourse we are telling our children they are just as good for trying, or just showing up in many cases, as they are for actually accomplishing. ‘An A for effort’ has become a mantra.

Y’know? That mantra’s bullshit. Dash from Pixar’s The Incredibles was telling it like it is when he said, ‘If everyone is special, then no one is’. There has to be something more for the winner. I’m not saying there is NO merit in effort. I think there is. It is frequently the silver or bronze medallists who become the gold medallists. But when our young people leave the nuturing, A-for-effort, environment of their schools and get out into the real world, it is something of a shock for them to find the workplace actually expects fucking results and not to just have done ‘something, anything’. It is becoming an oft-repeated tale, the manager exasperated by the new hires (or interviewees) who feel ‘entitled’ to the rewards and attaboys, even if they don’t do a good job… like the position itself justifies all the stuff that comes with the job. The problem is becoming endemic so that many workplaces are feeling like they have to have some kind of policy in place to motivate these self-entitled tits. And you can’t just hire a different sort of worker, because it is rapidly becoming apparent that this is about all there is.

With my kids, I’m fighting a neverending battle against the Forces of Mollycoddle, just to have them grow up with some fortitude and a decent work ethic.

Kind of a long rant/backstory to where I really wanted to go with this. I’m not really all that worked up about the topic because the place where I live is so full of general apathy, and other problems related to it, that the entitlement thing is just a drop in the bucket and I’m kind of inured to it, in the real day-to-day world. But it provides some sort of rationale for why the video game world (or at least the video game sphere on the internet) are full of such whiny pricks.

They’ve existed for years. Older gamers invented the term ‘scrub’ to define newbies or rather newbies with bad attitudes, usually in the context of 2D fighting games. These were the kids in the arcades who thought they’d found the invincible character, or the undefendable spam-able super that SHOULD win every fight for them… but would cuss or yell (accompanied by parting swipe at joystick) when one of the arcade’s veterans would hand their ass back to them. Today’s bitchy n00b is a descendant of the old scrub.

It’s too hard.
It has limited continues.
This character sucks.
No one could beat that boss.
The CPU cheats.
The game has rank.
It’s the fucking controls.
You’d have to buy the hint book to figure that out.

On and on the complaints. Not that any of the above issues are never true. I’ve played enough games to where every one of those things on the list have crossed my mind… or rather been shouted at the screen. We all have our good days and our bad days playing. The problem comes in when today’s players let this stuff spill out into the world, which of course is all too easy with access to the Web.

No shit, the CPU cheats. No game AI is going to be able to match the unpredictability, and cleverness of a (good) human player. So they program them to do things YOU cannot pull off. Look up the common trope ‘SNK Boss’ for a good example. I (along with a lot of players) hate rank in my STGs. It just seems like if you play well enough to earn all the powerups and extra ships there should be a commensurate ease with which you continue to blow through the opposition. I’ve run across my share of roadblocks that no reasonable, sane person could be expected to get past without a hint book or a peek at GameFAQs. There are all kinds of methods designers use to inject challenge into a game. The best of them use a gradual curve that follows a reasonable expectation of gained skill. And if it doesn’t, hopefully there is a difficulty setting in there somewhere.

These issues are often a legacy from the position the game companies used to have of sucking the quarters out of you in the arcades. It used to be quite an art to make a game easy enough at the beginning to get you hooked, and then start raping you for your money if you wanted to see further and further into the game. Nowadays, with the arcade model largely outmoded, game companies now build difficulty in to give a game longevity for the dollars you spent outright. If you are paying your ten to sixty bucks, the companies know they need to do better than give you an hour’s challenge… because then the n00bs will complain about THAT. ‘It’s too easy.’, ‘It’s too short.’. ‘It’s for casual gamers’. Cripes, just buy a DVD. You can find more eye candy for less effort that way. Spoon feed your brain and use your hands to hold a bag of Oreos instead of a controller.

There ARE (or have been) games that are too hard. It is sometimes difficult in the confusion of the internet to discern truly expert or hardcore gamers, but when their consensus points out a difficult or problematic instance, chances are they’re right… those damn levering platforms in the first Mega Man or the eagles in the NES Ninja Gaiden come to mind. Can anyone say that actually beating one of these ‘unfair’ situations is not the greatest moment in video game playing?

My own kid sounds kind of n00bish when he complains about the lack of continues in the games I play. But y’know? He’s ten. He also has grown up in a time when video games (of incredible sophistication compared to the old arcade games) are just pouring out of stores and into homes. He can download old arcade games. Find last month’s games at bargain prices. Sees ads for Mario, Sonic, Crash, and whatever mascot they dream up next month, hawking the latest. He doesn’t have a frame of reference from when video games were paid for one grueling quarter at a time, were only available when you made the effort to go there, or had home versions that barely resembled what you were used to playing.

Unfortunately he does have a Dad that trashes him when he’s being a scrub. Actually, that’s a little harsher than reality. But I do try to relate to him the same principle I’m trying to get to in this post:

That the good video game experience, like most things in life, is something that should be worked for… it should be earned.

I won’t tell him (or anyone) to never use a continue. Or a hint book. Sometimes, you just have to. But I’d also say don’t look ahead in the book. Or use the practice option if the game has one. Or go online to look for actual play tips as opposed to cheats. Or set the damn game aside for awhile and come back to it. Learn the game. If it was worth paying thirty bucks for, don’t just dismiss it as too hard or use a cheat to blow through it.

Don’t act fucking spoiled. You are spoiled, bitchy newbie. But stop acting like you are.

Jebus, I’ve been spending the last week looking at my local game stores for the new Samurai Shodown Anthology. If this disc had existed when I was a teen playing SamSho in the arcades I’d have seriously considered digging out my left nut with a rusty spoon if that would’ve obtained it. Now its out (somewhere) for twenty bucks on the PS2, thirty bucks on the Wii. Are you fucking kidding me? These things were arcade games. And if you could afford a NeoGeo they were originally hundreds of dollars per cartridge. Now you’ve got six of ‘em… all able to play on your sixty dollar refurbished PS2. And I’m reading whiny bitch-posts about controller support, graphics filters and whether SSV Special Edition is on there! Those complaints don’t have anything to do with difficulty-whining, but they are indicative of the mentality in the herd.

Occasionally, there comes a game that the level of effort involved in playing it well just doesn’t seem to match up to the reward. I’ve run across those games myself occasionally. This is, of course, related to the ‘crappy ending’ trope, but I’m not going to cast my net quite that wide for this particular ‘blog entry. It is just getting harder and harder for players looking for a really good experience to find it with all the information available… much of it poisoned by whining entitled newbies.
The internet has always been an outlet for people with too much bad to say and too much time on their hands. I sometimes wish these people had to go back in time and play video games the way they used to be played. One quarter at a time, waiting your turn behind some dude who made it look easy. And when you were done, you did NOT have the luxury of firing up the same game at home and playing it to your hearts content. Your next chance to practice wouldn’t come ‘til you went back to the arcade.

My son is catching on. As he’s gotten older, and his reflexes are catching up to his interests, he is putting the casual stuff aside and starting to recognize what the appeal is to the real deal. He’s currently into driving games because that’s where I am, but he’s got his own game he’s working through. He’s starting to feel it is too easy. What’s keeping him in it is that it funnels rewards to the player in pretty rapid succession so he’s eager to see what’s next. But he has his eye on a Shutokou Battle game, where some real challenge lies. He also thinks STGs are the cat’s ass. He sucks at them, but he’s getting better. He understands the greatness.

All in good time. I don’t put video games up there as any kind of gateway to being a better person, but I will really be happy if some of his understanding about challenges and perseverance learned in video games spills out into the rest of his life. If he doesn’t feel entitled in his simple entertainments, then there’s a shot he won’t take anything for granted.
I think that’s the deal with the entitled modern gaming scrub. He won’t put the effort in for the rewarding experience, yet he is inundated with terrible, casual or easy games. Not every young gamer is like this. I’m really dealing in generalities, but the good guys don’t bark nearly as much. They’re too busy enjoying the good games.

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