Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Our Abusive Relationships with Games

To my roommate Michael,

What happened? You haven't been the same since she came into your life. You used to be so carefree and easygoing; now you're as on-edge as ever, just waiting at her beck and call. I can see it. The more time you spend with her, the more I see hope and joy leave your eyes.

It's sad. I wish she could bring us back the old you.


I'm sorry you had to see that, but it needed to be said. For the past few days, my roommate has been stuck in a relationship - one that would confuse most, but entice others. It's a destructive and abusive relationship with a certain woman. Her name? Lightning...something.

Yes, you read that correctly: My roommate is in an abusive relationship with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Now, before we hurt ourselves contemplating the absurdity of this game's title, or even the fact that it's the third installment in a series branching off from the thirteenth installment in a series, allow me to explain myself.

He recently began the game, and he's only come up for air a couple times. Normally, I'd say "All the power to him," if it was for a game with an engaging story, furious action or any other addictive qualities. However, from what I've seen (lord knows he won't let anyone else play it), LR:FFXIII is not one of those games. What I have seen is this: You play as Lightning, an android who's discovered that she's pretty much Jesus (in that you work for God - yes, the characters refer to him as God, capital "G"), and you're tasked with saving people's souls before the end of days hits (if I use too many italics, understand that it represents how ridiculous this thing is).

Other than the combat, the game appears to be a total mess (again, appears - I haven't been able to try it myself). Walls of text constantly appear as tutorials for new mechanics. Much of the time playing is spent customizing Lightning with clothes designed in the mindset of, "How little material can we put on her before it physically falls off?" My biggest issue is that the game lets you play so little, because it's more interested in shoving its clumsily told story in your face. To put it bluntly, I sunk a decent amount of time into the first Final Fantasy XIII (read that statement again if you need to), and I have absolutely no idea what's happening in the new one.

I'm all for complex stories. One of my favorite comic series will always be Geoff Johns' run on Green Lantern. In a time where other series would generally try to be accessible to new readers, GL thrived on backstory and an expanded universe. This worked because new elements were introduced gradually and given time to find their footing. In LR:FFXIII, exposition is constantly being dumped on other exposition, and nothing feels organic or cohesive.

And yet, despite all these flaws (or outright problems), my roommate can't get enough. In fact, he'll yell at you if you hint at any possible flaws in the game. So, if we want to connect our relationships with games to our relationships with other people, where does he fall on the spectrum? Candy Crush Saga is the hit-it-and-quit-it fling. Grand Theft Auto V is the bad boy with the really big...game map. Gone Home is the under-appreciated artsy person. I'd say that Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the abusive, Chris Brown relationship*. Even though it isn't good for him, my roommate always finds a reason to come back. Because my roommate is actually Rihanna.

And someone always ends up regretfully watching Battle of the Year.
Much of this isn't that different from today's release of South Park: The Stick of Truth. The reviews have been quite positive, actually, saying that the humor is on point with the show and that the gameplay can be pretty fun. However, a few of them (Kotaku's and Rev3Games' reviews in particular) described major technical problems, glitches, and even game-breaking bugs.

How did commenters react? Not well. It seemed that at any hint of this much anticipated game (I've certainly been looking forward to it) not being completely amazing, the pitchforks and torches would come out. So many people were ready and willing to defend this game that had just barely released (I can only assume most of them had yet to play it when they posted) that they were willing to get pretty nasty toward any negative speech.

Where does this leave us? Why do many of us act as the sworn protectors of games that clearly aren't as sterling on paper as they are in our minds? I honestly don't know. Perhaps we have some sense of loyalty to a franchise, like Final Fantasy and South Park. Those characters and stories have been good to us in the past, so we feel like we need to reciprocate.

Or, you know, maybe it's just Stockholm Syndrome.

Have you ever been stuck in an abusive relationship with a game? What was it? Why do you think we're so defensive of games (or other media) that just aren't very good? Or am I just full of crap? Please let me know in the comments! I'm really interested what you guys have to say on the subject.

[*No, domestic abuse isn't funny. However, this analogy seemed to work pretty well. Besides, Rihanna's with that guy from Degrassi now, so I'm sure it's cool to say whatever. Don't take anything I say too personally.]


  1. I have to admit that I've been tempted to play Lightning Returns...but then I remembered that the original 13 was a complete disaster that made me hate a game more than I could ever imagine. And when 13-2 rolled around (i.e. when my brother picked up a used copy almost a year after release and goaded me into playing it), I quit long before the ending with the opinion that it was easily the WORST game I've ever played. And I've played some bad games.

    In the case of Lightning Returns -- and my case, personally -- I think it's more about "seeing the story through to the end". I didn't beat either of the other 13 games, thanks to me deciding that whatever narrative closure I needed could be found on YouTube. But it's still a matter of pride; "I've played through the other games, so I just have to go through one more and then I'm free." Or something like that. It's a search for closure.

    As for the negative comments? Well, there was some comic on The Escapist a while back showing what would happen if people treated car reviewers like they did game reviewers -- that is, they'd completely ignore those complaints and say they're wrong for even suggesting them...and then they'd crash their cars almost immediately. Again, I think it's a matter of pride; there may be a belief that "the thing I like can do no wrong, and anyone who says otherwise MUST be wrong!" They're willing to trust themselves and their instincts more than even a direct contradiction in a review -- for one reason or another. That would probably explain why my brother -- in spite of Resident Evil 6 getting scores scraping the barrel -- bought the game anyway, and walked away disappointed. And then when a buddy and I gave him crap for "liking" the game, he decided to buy it again to prove us wrong...only to realize even faster that he'd made a mistake.

    I'm pretty sure there's a saying about fools and money and being soon parted, but I can't QUITE be sure.

  2. This post came about at just the right time, as I, too, am stuck in what could be called an abusive relationship with another Final Fantasy game. I have logged upwards of 90 hours in Bravely Default, and I still haven't finished. I'm pretty close, but... I just don't even know what I'm doing anymore. I'm pretty sure it's a good game, but I feel like I would like it a lot more if I wasn't playing it so incontestably wrongly. Also, while it doesn't have "Final Fantasy" in the title, it is a Final Fantasy game in literally every way, except there are no chocobo or moogles, and the money isn't gil.

    JRPG designers have never cared to let a little blasphemy get in the way of their games. Hell, in Shin Megami Tensei, God has all kinds of angels directly from Judeo-Christian lore. He's even referred to as YHVH in the earlier games. And also he created humans to be puppets to his will, with no freedom of their own. Playing it certainly made theology class more interesting.