Let Them Eat Cake!

One of the most peculiar aspects of being human is our ability to impress our own reality on any figure, regardless of whether the numbers back up that opinion or not. As we career into a new era of expensive technology and interesting gadgets, should we be careful of saying “Let them eat cake!”?

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It’s easy to kid yourself when the chips are down.

Psychologically we are programmed as a species via the subconscious mind to be optimistic about things; when we don’t receive a bill we assume it’s not time to pay it yet, and feel more in control of our finances when the bill could simply be running a few days late and already be at the due date. When we are told we all have a one in three chance of getting cancer in our lifetime, the natural inclination is to say “I’ll be one of the two!”. Optimism is good. Optimism helps the world turn and presses us onwards, even in technology we see the industry spend vast amounts of money in research and development, because they optimistically believe that they can and will do better.

Of course, the problem with optimism is one can have too much of a good thing. Blinding yourself to the realty in favour of a rose-tinted view is both reckless and indeed, dangerous.

Sony are perhaps the quintessential epitome of “Optimism” in the world right now. The investment they have ploughed into Stereoscopic 3D, BluRay and the PS Vita boggles the mind, and none of which have paid their way. The Vita is struggling in a market being swiftly dominated by the cheaper Nintendo 3DS, BluRay is simply being outsold by DVD and digital/streaming services and Stereoscopic 3D is heinously costly and still one in seven of us (roughly 14.5%) cannot see the current incarnation of this Stereo 3D, for whatever reasoning. Sony are trying to push them, telling the media, the market and themselves that they’re just early to the party; this is their justification of the purchase of Gaikai as well. But they’re early enough to the party that they’re getting through a lot of (if not all) the drinks, and it’s quite likely by the time the market is ready for these variations Sony will be in hospital on a stomach pump, if not dead from alcohol poisoning.

But if you want the attitude of “Let Them Eat Cake!”, you look no further than the gaming community at large.

Take the Stereoscopic 3D. Many talk about it needing “more time”, or that people should stop being cheap and just invest in better quality goods. “I don’t get why you dislike 3D, I can see it perfectly fine!” is one telling response I’ve read. Of course you can, but this person many be the one in seven with an impairment that means they cannot see the 3D image. Telling them what they’re missing is crude and actually rather cruel. I can achieve 66.6Mbps on my broadband, but I wouldn’t dickwave it into peoples faces over the fall of OnLive. I have a connection that is super-fast and of very good quality; but I know a friend of mine who lives about 25 miles away in Devon can only achieve a paltry 2Mbps as the cables haven’t extended his way yet. I tend not to talk to him about raiding in MMOs, or multiplayer and co-op sessions or that movie I was streaming from Netflix last night, because it would come across as needlessly rude and unsympathetic to his cause.

In some capacity this is part of why I fear that whinging and complaining about anything in the industry is a bit of a moot issue. Sure, sometimes it works – or does it? Take Mass Effect 3, masses of fans complained bitterly about the endings. What did BioWare end up doing? They fixed the endings – effectively ensuring that there really could be no space for a proper sequel. They have made it so complicated and so needlessly complex that the fans got their happy endings, and doomed themselves to never again seeing a sequel in the franchise. Was it worth it? Many of us didn’t like the ending but didn’t complain about it, because to be perfectly honest I thought they left some nice room for potential sequels. Now it’s all universal peace and love, and when everyone is happy and joyous and working and living together in tranquil harmony, you kind of don’t have the capacity to continue the tale on. Unless you have a Marie Antoinette moment and just screw it all up again on purpose for a sequel.

We don’t see how often how good we have it, and assume others would be perfectly happy if they were us and had what we had. Console Fanboys are a demonstration of this; they are so resistant to being told their choice is wrong, and also similarly insistent that if we were able to have their console and their games, we’d understand be just as happy (and clueless) as they are. We assume people must agree with us, to the point that constant corrections of the facts and figures can almost come across to them as bullying and trolling; how dare someone actually know how many 11-18 year olds in the UK need visual correction with glasses and/or contacts (it’s 30% by the way!). How dare I actually read studies and newspapers from across the globe and political spectrum to get a clearer understanding and find out the facts about something. It’s almost as if I WANT to humiliate them. As if somehow all I can ever be is a massive douche, a thorn in their side always correcting them.

I don’t correct people to be horrid to them – I do it because I believe knowledge is power. Ignorance may be bliss, but eventually you’re going to find yourself in a predicament and that optimism isn’t going to get you out of it. That’s not to say we should be wholly pessimistic – not at all, there’s no point going for the other extreme just to counter the argument, but you can love something and enjoy something and yet know the facts about it aren’t that rosy. PS Vita fans may hail their machine as a technological marvel, but it’s only sold 2.2 million units so far. Nintendo sold 3.61 million 3DS units in the two months before they slashed the price, and as of the end of June, Nintendo have sold 19 million 3DS units. The Vita is in danger, in trouble, and sticking your fingers in your ears and going “LALALALALA!” isn’t going to help; if you love the Vita, if you really love it, then you should accept it for all its faults – not because you’re blocking them out.

Knowing where a problem is is where we get power, because we can hone our efforts on pointing out that weak link. In the Vita’s case, in my opinion, it’s games. Or the lack of them. Gamers should and are telling Sony that the Vita needs more games, needs better games, needs brilliant games. Sony are slowly getting the message, but not soon enough as they seem to be looking at an influx for sometime next year – arguably, when it might be a bit late to save the poor mite. Because there are still plenty of people who don’t understand why we want to play games on a handheld games console, still many who insult anyone who isn’t enjoying their Vita because we’re traitors to the cause. It’s the best handheld because it’s so powerful! You’ll see!

I do see. The problem is, I see more games on the Nintendo 3DS that I want than on the Vita. Guess which one I slip into my rucksack as I head into hospital for physiotherapy?

The comparison is historically one day, Marie Antoinette was having a tea party on her toy farm in the French countryside when one of her guests allegedly told her about the poor wheat harvest, and that many of the peoples of her country were starving because there was not enough flour to bake bread. Apparently this prompted Marie Antoinette – not in a nasty fashion, but in a naive and misguided way – to remark “Let them eat cake!”. She was the Queen of France, had always been of royal stock and therefore had no inclination of the hardships that the common man was facing. Historians obviously suggest there is some doubt as to whether Ms. Antoinette actually said those words, but the phrase has become common as a call from those who perhaps have no capacity to understand that they are perhaps more fortunate than others, and that others many have cause to be fearful and/or upset at their lot in life.

Gamers have been this way for some time. Those who love first person shooters don’t understand why I used to lament the death of the traditional JRPG. They were enjoying masses of shootery gaming fun, why would I want to play a JRPG? Because I like a good JRPG, that’s why. Similarly, I don’t understand what people see in constant remixes of FPS games. But I do my best to just accept they are having fun and as long as they’re not stepping on my toes, that we simply move in different circles and will occasionally, but rarely, meet. There’s no reason to fight over it. The market is open to everyone.

Maire Antoinette eventually met her end at the guillotine, the people had had enough of the lavish and debauched lifestyles of Royalty and the lords and landed gentry of the era. Hundreds of thousands in the following years were killed for their association with the royals, or their close ties to the revolution – which saw the aristocracy fighting back and killing just as many. The more we drift from the realities of the industry, the more danger we face by being completely removed from the trials, tribulations and very real issues that are being faced today. The more we try to resist our little self-bubble of our own reality being popped, the more violently we react when someone tries to help or to correct.

Gamers today can do great, amazing things for games and the industry. But so many are equally as guilty of doing , or having the potential of doing some quite pronounced harm to it as well.

If you really want to have your cake and eat it, be my guest. Just remember that it will all go to your thighs, and one day you’ll just not be able to outrun the baying mobs who demand an active change in the balance of power (well, it won’t be me with my crutch. Unless I find a turbo-charged wheelchair to run people down with!). Change happens – change is good, and change is bad and can sometimes hurt, but change is inevitable. Distancing yourself from the realities of change will only see you become out of touch with what really matters.

We may not face the guillotine, but socially – being cut off is a form of modern media execution. All you can do is hope time softens the worlds view of you, just as we now respect and admire Marie Antoinette.

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