Cherry-Picking Easy Targets

Dragon LollipopI have been, for some time now, ever-so-slightly weirded out by the overall response to recent trailers for both Dragon Age and Mass Effect II. I hope you guys aren’t getting all high-brow on me now, because with each release of a new trailer, a progressively growing influx of critics seems to creep out of the woodwork, fighting for a better seat in the great ivory tower of condescension.

Beyond the hyperventilative and the hyperbolical, I am nevertheless genuinely surprised at the magnitude of the negative reaction; Even several favourite blogs and bloggers of mine – that I thought were above and beyond this sort of moral mongering – have engaged in the beatdown. Obviously, I’d rather not single any particular example out (sorry Nabs!), but I do hope you’ve seen and read posts discussing the trailers so as not to think I’m stark raving mad!

Finally, because this post is essentially complaining about complaining – or torpedoing, as this activity is called – we’ve dedicated an all-new category, the Devil’s Advocate, to it. I do detest this type of thing out of principle, harping in on someone’s cause in an attempt to prevent any potential success in its very infancy. If you really are that worried about what BioWare or EA are doing, by all means, continue to try to get your voices heard.

That being said, no smoke without fire: It’s not that the critique unleashed is altogether unwarranted or without merit, but collective lynching in this scale feels ultimately just as adolescent as the actual content of the trailers is – or is there a particular challenge to be found in conjuring up witty puns while “This Is the New Shit” booms in the tab of your favourite browser? In case you don’t yet know what I’m referring to, here are the two trailers that have primarily caused the whole shebang. First, the Dragon Age “Sex & Violence” trailer:

And here be the all-new Mass Effect 2 “Subject Zero” trailer:

So the verdict is out: Do be less edgy. But what is the deadly sin here, the primary offence, exactly – being a little late to the party? Certainly, the musical bombast, the fast cuts, the choreographies, the narration – these are all part of the feature set of the trailer as we have come to know it. The video game trailer, with its increasing audience, should be fully expected to grow more structured, more institutionalized, much in the vein of its filmic counterpart. In this manner, I’d like to ask, is the backlash focusing on the correct target? While I remain very much annoyed and even exasperated by the narrow register and scope of the Hollywood trailer, pointing out its futility with every subsequent trailer seems a waste of everybody’s time.

We have all learned to take movie trailers for what they are, right? Misconstrued representations of events, clichéd cuts and cursory collages, ham-fisted sloganisms… what about the criticisms pointed towards the actual games, then, rather than their trailers? Richard tells me his biggest fear with “Subject Zero” is the potentiality of having to spend lots of time with a character that is profoundly unlikeable (I shall come back to this in a later post); Nabeel, on the other hand, tells me he’s simply come to expect different things not present in these two trailers, based on BioWare’s track record.

Me? I found the juvenile delights of the “Subject Zero” trailer honestly quite amusing – far more amusing than anything else that I’d seen from the game so far. The potential for a fan backlash was there, of course, but never did I expect such full-blown critical assault on just one foul-mouthed character; in any case, at this juncture, BioWare/EA extending the register of their marketing discourse – be it successfully or unsuccessfully – is not at all surprising to me. In cinematic terms, then, the “Sex & Violence” trailer is the best out of the Dragon Age crop so far. The awkward, plodding dialogue, MMO-quality animation and the shining plasticity of the modelwork worries me far more than one ultra-popular, functionalist trailer song selection (Surely its abundance, its presence in countless trailers has to speak something of its merits?).

What about those that still enjoy this very rhetoric? After twenty years of marketing pushed entirely towards the adolescent white male, some gamers have surely grown to expect their gaming packaged this way. Beyond these expectations, they might even enjoy it. Is this wrong? Are we allowed to so freely rain on their parade – their tastes and interests – simply because the message of these particular trailers was not aimed towards you or me?

4 thoughts on “Cherry-Picking Easy Targets

  1. I’m not a fan of the trailers or the music at all… but they’ve achieved what they wanted in the first place: publicity!

  2. Herbman82, that’s a great observation and definitely something I should have better emphasised in the actual post! Obviously, without a tsunami of a backlash, you would not have been here to read my post, either.

    With such a profound clash of expectations at work here, I do have to take the time to thank everybody for remaining cool and collected. Those in support of the new direction seemed content with not vocalizing their stance, so I thought I’d give it a stab. The rather intriguing topic of the post-modern collision of the high and the low seems readily apparent in the overall reception to these trailers, too, which is why I found them especially interesting.

    In negotiating this clash, I would like Nabeel, who is much better-versed in BioWare games, to offer some further commentary on this topic – it would be very helpful to have a wider spectrum of opinion within the constraints of the very same blog, after all.

    …then again, I’m sure most everyone can conclude what his take on the trailers is…

  3. I’m not sure where you’re going with this particular piece.

    I mean, you start out by saying that you’re “weirded out” by the Blogosphere’s response to the Dragon Age and Mass Effect marketing hype but you never actually state what your own position is on the subject or why you’re weirded out by the bloggers’ mostly valid response to these sort of cheap marketing gimmicks that may or may not accurately reflect the content of the game itself (which they most likely do not, given Bioware’s history).

    In any case, I’m not going to rant about your editorial. I’d simply have preferred to see some substance to the questions you posed, in the form of answers or solutions.

    Ham-fisted sloganisms, indeed.

  4. Unless you’re more interested in the culture of gaming and game development than in games themselves, I wouldn’t pay much attention to game trailers. Movie trailers are bad enough, but they do bear SOME slight resemblance to the experience of watching the movie. But a game trailer bears no resemblance to the experience of playing a game. It can’t. It’s not interactive.

    Movie trailers are not made by the filmmaker but by a third-party outfit hired by the studio’s marketing department; these companies specialize in making trailers. Game trailers are not made by the game developers but by the studio’s marketing department.

    Bottom line: unless you’re actually interested in marketing, or in gamers’ responses to it, don’t waste your energy.

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