“There Can Be Only One”… are you for real?!
So the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn beta has drawn to a close and inevitably the talk amongst the channels of the game was not of its superb balance, interesting environments, excellent events scheduling, honed classes and utterly gorgeous graphics. No no no, expecting my fellow gamers to wallow in the magnificence of a game for a day or two and feel good about the choice they made is clearly a little too much to ask of you. The conversation had to drift into how World of Warcraft sucks, how Rift: The Storm Legion sucks, how Champions Online sucks – basically, how every other MMO in the market is suddenly and irreparably doomed to extinction and is deserving of ridicule and insult because you’ve found something you think is better.
Thing is, it’s rubbish. More to the point, it’s dangerous rubbish as well.
I call this “The Highlander Quandry”, because the general gist of the MMO market is this misguided notion that ‘There can be only one!’. If you’ve read anything from me in the past you’ll know I’ve played a lot of MMOs in my lifetime; from Asheron’s Call to Dark Age of Camelot, from The Matrix Online to Age of Conan and yes, Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft. I’ve played and subscribed to most MMOs and even to a whole bunch you’ll probably never have even heard of, like The Saga of Ryzom. And you know what? Most of these still exist and more to the point, are still enjoyed by an awful lot of people out there. Final Fantasy XI Online was never the massive runaway hit Square-Enix envisioned but even in spite of that reality, the game has managed over the years to maintain making a profit and enjoy the odd resurgence of popularity to the point it still gets expansions made for it. And this is an MMO that is a decade old now. Everquest is still running; that was released in 1999! Can you imagine? How on earth can the market survive with so many games vying for your attention? Except, it has done for a long time now and it’s likely to last a good deal longer yet.
There’s often a very strange mentality in gamer circles that we can only ever enjoy “The Winner” as it were, and the moment a new game comes along the previous winner is ousted in favour of the new one. You do realise just how silly that is, right? I mean, chasing after every new bit of game that deigns to walk your way and you have the nerve, the sheer freaking nerve to then turn around to a company like Blizzard and tell them that they’re the ones at fault, that they don’t chase after you, that they don’t understand you and the things you want. No, they really do understand you. The problem is, they understand you too well; you’re just not what they look for in a subscriber. They want people who will invest time in their game because – to coin that old Goblin phrase – Time is Money. The more they invest, the more they buy into it. They buy pets, mounts, monthly subscriptions. That’s money Blizzard want. If you’re the sort of person who subs for a month or two and then runs off to chase the newest game on the market, why on earth would they want to pull you back? There’s absolutely no point trying to hold onto people like us, because we’re transients. We come and go, sometimes we poke out heads back in for a month or two but we’re gone again the next time a shiny new ride pulls in asking if we want a trip to its fantasy happy land.
We’re not a particularly great consumer because our loyalty is always in question; I sometimes do hope one day I will find that game which will help me settle down, but you know what? I haven’t found it yet. And when invariably the issue comes up in every beta – and it does, whatever the franchise and whatever the server and whenever the time arises – I respond by mocking them with Highlander quotes. Because the whole argument is utterly silly really.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is an amazing game and I wish I could write about it without having to talk about the fools who kept shouting down every other game in the industry because hey, it’s what all the cool kids are doing isn’t it? I wish I could tell you how much of a pleasure it was to tank for multiple groups throughout it, and the genuinely wonderful people I met along the way. I wish I could tell you about the gorgeous landscaping, with maps that are just insanely detailed and rich in life and activity. I wish I could tell you about the characters, the beautiful cutscenes and the much-improved questing system. But no. Because once again, the minute I find a game which seems to have something nice to talk about is the minute a lot of people hit the shout function to basically look for a fight, or to mock anyone who ever dared to play any other game.
Thing is, this isn’t just limited to the MMO world. The same thing happens in the console industry, that many people take sides and quarter and draw up battle lines in order to defend their chosen machine to the death, and it’s frankly a bit bewildering to me.
Now, I’m going to go ahead and say it; I understand that for some people, money plays a big part in this. I understand that it’s a bit daft to have more than one subscription-based MMO on the go at any given time because it’s silly to pay for a game you’re not playing. I totally understand that. And I completely understand if someone who is saving for a PS4 right now isn’t tempted to switch to a Wii U or an XBox One. I totally understand that choice, and it’s a perfectly valid one that I will defend to the hilt. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you have made a choice, and you may down the road be willing and happy to have your mind opened and your opinion challenged. Money, like time, is finite. We only ever have so much of it, and for those of us who spent eight years saving up for this upcoming generational scrap there are many who aren’t quite as rich in foresight. They are not to be mocked or looked down on. We’re all different, and even those who fight for the same game, the same console and the same company will often themselves find means to disagree with each other. Two PlayStation 3 owners will argue that one prefers Demon’s Souls whilst the other prefers Uncharted. Two World of Warcraft players will argue, one who has dedicated months to their raid group and the other who has dedicated the same time to their Arena and Battleground ratings.
People are very different at the best of times and what appeals to one may not appeal to another. I mean, hey, I actually rather enjoyed AMY last year, you know? At a time when the world was lambasting it and criticising it for every tiny fault, I personally found something to like in it. I liked the story. I liked the atmosphere. I liked that it was rather set in its ways, and you had to “learn” something about the games logical heart in order to make some serious progression. I got a lot from AMY. Was it brilliant? No. I won’t deny it was in some regards a bit of a let down, but ultimately there was something nice about it. And I felt very lonely, saying anything nice about the game whilst others mocked it and ridiculed it and even proclaimed it the worst game of the year (No, no, no!).
But I don’t need to prove to people why it is I like something. I am capable of expressing my love for something without impinging on the validity of someone else’s ideals. Because I have long since come to the conclusion that there is no right and wrong when it comes to the things you like. World of Warcraft will hit its tenth birthday next year, quite likely with new race models and a new expansion. The PlayStation 4 will have its own teething problems which Wii U fanboys and “XBots” will no doubt gang up on and ridicule whilst systematically ignoring the problems their own machines appear to be experiencing at that given moment. I will play the new Dragon Age without prejudice, unlikely it will be on PC because hey, even I have my limits and Origin is not going to be put back on this PC any time soon, but I want to try it. I certainly think its possible to improve on a disappointing game and more than that, I certainly belive that Mrs. Hepler deserves to go off and find new creative endeavours elsewhere, far from a market that frankly both wants more female input and yet at the same time lambasts female writers and developers for whatever reasons that they can come to think of. And yes, we can learn to enjoy games like Dragon’s Crown regardless of what one reviewer thinks of it.
I believe in all of this because I believe there is no one ring to rule them all. There is no holy grail. There really isn’t going to be any rescue anytime soon. What we are living in right now is a time of plenty, where we are given choice and diversity beyond our wildest dreams. Yes, we’ve had a year of unmitigated crap too – but not all fruit comes off the tree because it is ripe, after all. Sometimes you just need to be aware of the idea that not every apple on the orchard floor is going to be sweet and juicy, that some will have a wormy core and biting into them without taking the time to give it a once-over is perhaps not the smartest idea in the world. Take a look, if in doubt, throw it aside. There’s plenty more out there for you to enjoy, and be a part of. You don’t have to eat that rotting apple and convince yourself it’s sweet and juicy when there’s another apple nearby that definitely IS sweet and juicy. And you know what? Sometimes the apples are a little tart. And some of us like them that way… natural sherbet-like goodness! Yum yum!
Our greatest enemy is ourselves; or rather, that vocal and strange mindset of people who somehow believe that by having less choice and less prosperity that we’d all be much happier really, that under the dictatorship of one company and one mind we’ll all suddenly find ourselves with renewed purpose and vigour. That we’ll be much better off if we just stuck with what it is they want, because they know what makes something “good”. Such mindsets seek to simply dismiss the notion that having the freedom to choose the games we like, the consoles we want and waiting to see what the market says after its already spoken a few years down the road is the correct thing to do. Because we’re wrong. Waiting to see how the PS4 and XBox One fare in their first year on the market is “wrong”, because I’m supposed to have already nailed my loyalties to a signpost already. That talking about what I liked in the MMOs I’ve played over the years is wrong because if I don’t play them any more then they must automatically suck and I must consistently put the boot in.
A while back, I talked about “Hate“. Thing is, if you’re thriving on hating something you can never be happy, and it underlines the whole issue with The Highlander Quandry. These people can never be truly happy with any choice they make because they have to constantly convince themselves – and others – of their decision. Some of us are perfectly capable of enjoying games in whatever context; not all games but you know, I spoke to someone not that long ago who actually enjoyed Ride to Hell: Retribution. I looked at him a bit weirdly, but you know, he enjoyed it for the same reasons I enjoyed The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. He laughed at it. And if that’s how you cope, then more power to you! Learn to laugh off the moments of appalling tat and crushing disappointment.
We can have more than one. This idea that somehow we must be limited is preposterous, a conceit dreamt up by those who can’t understand in doing so, they have become slaves to a corporate entity that has brainwashed them into this absurd notion that they must shout down everyone else, as loudly as possible, until only they are heard. The real problem is those shouting the loudest are those who have been most conditioned, and sadly those who have been most conditioned are those whose humanity and humility has long since been stripped from their messy organic shell. They don’t care who they hurt and/or why. They just do it, because that’s all they have been made to know, to believe a convenient lie given to them by someone they trust.
There is no rule or law that states there can be only one ultimate winner – indeed, the moment there is, will very likely be the moment we all end up losing. So just bloody enjoy the games. Seriously. Whatever the game, whatever the console, whatever the publisher… just, just enjoy it, alright? We can all co-exist. We can enjoy games and disagree calmly. We can talk about past games fondly – amicable break-ups are possible, really!
So shut up and start gaming!
You’ll feel much better, trust me.