Sekiro: Shadows Die Out came out recently. I’m enjoying it quite a bit! The gameplay is a fascinating evolution of Souls combat, infused with overt Tenchu influences, resulting in what is likely the most compelling stealth-action hybrid I’ve played. There’s also an interesting compromise between From’s signature in-world storytelling and cinematic ambitions, making the narrative fun to watch and to immerse one’s self in. I dig it! It’s good!
Yoshi’s Crafted World also came out recently, and I’m enjoying it just as much – for entirely different reasons, obviously. Nintendo knows platformers, arguably better than anybody else, and they know how to strike a balance between accessibility and challenge. You can blast through Crafted World with mild challenge, but choosing to try and 100% the game results in it becoming an entirely different beast altogether – much like the Kirby games. That’s pretty cool! What’s also pretty cool is the whole look of the thing. Nintendo knows aesthetic, again, arguably better than any of their AAA peers, and Crafted World is a high point in their long, storied history. The hand-crafted look of the world is convincing in its authenticity and compelling in its elaborate construction. There’s nothing else on the market like it, and as I play it in tandem with Far Cry: New Dawn, cranked up to max settings, I find myself infinitely more compelled by Yoshi’s newest romp.
But both Sekiro and Yoshi’s Crafted World have inspired similar attitudes in the gaming community, which is why I bring them up together. From multiple sources and through multiple mediums, I’ve noticed a trend in the way that these titles are talked about, and it genuinely bothers me. Because the discussions surrounding these titles stem from quite an old chestnut of the gaming community: entitlement. The belief that we, as players, are owed something from a game that we’re choosing to spend money on.
In Sekiro, that entitlement comes from the game’s difficulty. If one goes on Twitter, it’s not hard to find viral threads discussing the game’s difficulty in a disparaging light. There have been accusations leveled at From that their game is somehow unfair, with cited reasons ranging from generous hitboxes to enemies changing direction mid-attack to being detected in stealth. It’s frustrating, because Sekiro has so many fascinating aspects to it that are ripe for discussion, but instead, the general discourse seems to focus on whether or not it’s a “fair” game. This mentality is best exemplified by a Forbes article entitled, “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Needs To Respect Its Players and Add An Easy Mode.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Yoshi’s Crafted World is getting put down by some outlets and personalities for its lack of difficulty. Because of its simple and approachable nature, there are YouTube videos dedicated to whether or not Crafted World is worth the price. Even gaming personalities that I respect and admire have expressed hesitance at putting sixty bucks towards it, despite the fact that it’s a full first-party game from one of the three major AAA powerhouses. On some level, there’s a mentality among some in the community that Crafted World isn’t worth its sticker price, and that we deserve a lower cost.
These two arguments are similar in the sense that they come from a feeling of being owed something. Because I spent money on Sekiro, I’m owned an easier difficulty level. Because Crafted World is easy, I don’t deserve to have to spend full price on it. Both of these ideas are rooted in a sense of entitlement, entitlement that breeds a sense of animosity towards publisher and developer alike.
Before I get into why I think that argument’s a slippery slope, I’d like to stress that this problem isn’t totally unique to the gaming community. Take, for example, the Steven Universe fanbase. Whenever an episode of Rebecca Sugar’s gay space rock jamboree focuses on a side character, and doesn’t exactly move the plot forward, people tend to get really upset. Because the overall narrative doesn’t get moved forward, this episode is pointless, and a complete waste of time – that’s the idea here. The same thing applies to the animation, with criticisms levied by some zealous members of the fanbase that the show frequently goes “off-model.” While “off-model” is a whole topic in and of itself, and while I could discuss how Steven Universe utilizes a modern implementation of “squash and stretch” (look it up) in a similar manner to classic cartoons (think of how completely fucked-up Looney Tunes looks sometimes, and how that affects the vibe of a particular scene,) 90’s Cartoon Network (Ed Edd N’ Eddy is a masterpiece of animation for how it throws consistency to the wind in favor of emotional impact,) and modern CG films (look at Hotel Transylvania and how Dracula’s character model is constantly altered for comedic effect) that’s… a topic for another time.
The point is, the Steven Universe fanbase feels as if it’s owed something, when it’s a show they watch for free on basic cable. While Steven Universe isn’t a perfect show, although I feel like it’s damn close when it comes to storytelling and cohesive art direction (esp. re: aesthetic consistency, shot composition, and scoring,) the reasons that it gets nitpicked by the community almost never feel valid to me. Because, at the end of the day, we’re choosing to watch the show, and if we don’t like it, we can turn it off at any time.
So, let’s apply this to Sekiro and Yoshi’s Crafted World. Two totally different games, but two games being derided for similar entitlement-based reasons. In one corner, you have “I’m owed an easier difficulty level.” In the other, “I’m owed a lower price because it’s easy.” The driving phrase behind both mentalities is “I’m owed,” but why? What breeds the idea of being owed lenience or difficulty or an arbitrary content threshold?
Speaking as somebody who used to think this way, I think that it boils down to a sense of identity being conflated with the medium we consume, AKA one of the biggest problems in fanbases in general. Because we, as people who play video games or watch cartoons or support anime, begin to associate ourselves with the media that we enjoy, we start to think that it’s a part of us, and vice versa. The media takes on a sort of personality that we imbue it with, eroding the wall between consumer good and consumer, and by proxy, we start to lose sight of our own subjective opinions. This results in diehard fans being stuck in a strange liminal space – where we truly believe, on some level, that consumer goods produced for the sole purpose of profit define who we are, while simultaneously grappling with the fact that we have our own limits, frustrations, et cetera.
Thus, people who feel as if they deserve something from the media they’re entrenched in are born.
Take, for instance, this blatant strawman that’s definitely not influenced by anyone I’ve seen on Twitter, no sir! Imagine playing video games every day of your life and considering yourself pretty proficient in them, then encountering Sekiro and becoming immediately frustrated, taking to the internet to voice your frustrations. You begin to type up long threads of tweets about how the game is blatantly broken, how the hit detection is unclear, how it cheats players into unfair deaths, et cetera. You start to feel self-righteous in your opinion that the game is poorly designed and not consider, for just one moment, that you might just be terrible at it. And not only might you just be terrible at it, you might just not like it. But instead of just shrugging it off and saying, “eh, this isn’t for me,” you’re convinced that you need to levy accusations of wrongdoing at the developers.
Because it’s their fault! Not yours! Right?!
And this is why I take issue with this behavior. Not because expressing an opinion is wrong and bad, but because if your opinion is based in faulty logic or, worse, throwing accusations at creatives, it feeds a toxic cycle of harassment that becomes baked into the community at large. You begin to feel as if you have some sort of authority over the media you consume, instead of just looking at yourself with the realization that you’re just… I mean, you’re just a consumer. You just spend money on a game and hope to have a good time. That’s it. You’re a paypig for capitalist findom, if we’re getting down to the nitty gritty of it. It’s okay. I am too. There’s no shame in admitting it.
Where was I? Oh, right, authoritative takes on something you don’t have a hand in making. Don’t do that. It’s really gross, and you’re just taking your opinion and applying it to an area that you, ultimately, don’t know jack about. Expressing that opinion is okay, but as soon as you cross the threshold into stating those opinions as objective facts, you’re ripe for lambasting and parodying. And, sure, there are some things about a game or a movie or a show that can be stated objectively. “This character said a racial slur, uncritically, so that’s pretty racist.” “The game crashes all the time, so it’s probably broken on some level.” “This show that’s definitely not Riverdale is completely unrecognizable from where it started and it really just needs to fucking end already.” Those are just facts, supported by in-text evidence. But Sekiro doesn’t crash or anything – it behaves consistently and acts in accordance to the rules that the developers have established. Enemies don’t change direction mid-attack once, just to fuck you; they do it all the time to fuck you. That’s not unfair – it’s part of the design, and with enough patience and learning, you’ll probably be able to overcome it. And if you can’t, well, then just accept that Sekiro isn’t for you and move on. You can earn back your money on it through eBay.
Wait, you got it digitally? Oof. Sorry. That legit sucks.
Or let’s take Yoshi’s Crafted World as an example. If you really think the game is too simple for you, if you really think something that’s for kids should be cheaper for some reason, if a game being easy makes it somehow less valuable to you… then… don’t buy it, you know? Just don’t buy it. It’s probably not for you, and you should just admit that to yourself, and go spend your money on something you want instead of demanding that Nintendo capitulate to the artificial and subjective value you ascribe games. It ain’t hard.
An instance of this for me, recently, is Devil May Cry V. It’s an immaculately designed game! Every inch of that thing has thought put into it, from the design to the mechanics to the score, and it’s a remarkably well-made game. Oh, and Nico? Love her. Would die for her, really. But also? I really don’t like Devil May Cry V very much. I don’t like the way V controls, at all. The dialogue makes me flinch. The level designs are kind of uninteresting to me. I don’t think it puts up much of a challenge. Guess what, though? That doesn’t make it a bad game, by any stretch – it just means that I don’t really care for it, and probably won’t finish it! That’s all! Maybe I’ll do a review of it, but really, I’m so wildly indifferent to it that I really kind of don’t want to!
Notice that I didn’t say anything that could be construed as an accusation. “I don’t like the way V controls,” instead of, “V’s floaty gameplay is imprecise and indicative of lazy development.” “The dialogue makes me flinch,” as opposed to, “the writing is objectively terrible.” “I don’t think it puts up much of a challenge,” instead of, “it’s too easy for a cool, hardcore gamer like me, and less of a value because of that.” And I’m not even that great of a writer! Think of all the thoughtful, nuanced, constructive ways you could voice your issues and state your subjective opinion! It’s a fun thought exercise, and probably the only good thing I got out of college!
Point being, it’s really important to stop entrenching yourself in an identity that’s intrinsically connected to the stuff you consume. Doing that prevents you from being able to admit to yourself that you’re a deeply biased person, like me, and leads you down a dark path of feeling like you’re somehow owed something by game developers, or filmmakers, or animators. You’re not. You’re somebody with time and money, and how you choose to spend that time is up to you. And if you spend both on something you outright hate, take a step back and try to take that hatred, then spin it into well-articulated, thoughtful opinions instead of getting mad on the internet. And if you can’t do that, if you’re just so fucking angry that Sekiro killed you again, or that Yoshi wants more money that he won’t pay taxes on, or that Peridot is shorter in some shots than others, maybe consider just… being quiet?
I have a lot of hatred towards certain pieces of media that I just don’t voice. When I write a review, at this point, it’s because I feel like I have something to add to the conversation. Because there’s a point I want to make – whether positive or negative. But guess what? I play way more games, watch way more movies, and consume way more anime than I review. Why? Because most of the time, I don’t feel like I have anything worth saying other than, “thing good” or “thing bad.” Yeah, I thought Captain Marvel was a really fucking terrible movie with awful acting and CG, and its blatant propaganda for interventionist policies spun as “woke” feminism creeped me the hell out. Yes, I think Assassination Nation is one of the most important works of art created in the 21st century. But at the end of the day, I’m not entirely sure I have much to say about those things beyond that, and for the time it would take me to formulate those opinions, I could just go and consume more stuff that might inspire me. Or work on one of the three novels I’m writing. Something. Anything. Plus, I get hand cramps from being on the computer so much. Gotta be selective, you know?
Anyway, don’t state your opinions as objective facts, because it makes you look dumb. God knows I’ve done it, and will probably do it again, because I’m a human being. And stop getting so pissed off about video games on the internet, maybe? It’s not worth the time or emotional energy. Just walk away from the screen. Close your eyes. Go outside.