Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Stuck in the Middle With You

Sean Sands | 13 Jun 2007 17:00
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In case you haven't been watching the tone of online discussion over the past few years, this just in: The sky is falling faster than Aaron Sorkin's career. The entire gaming industry is, as they say in the clich?ernacular, teh doomed [sic], and in the dooming process, depending upon your intrinsic biases, it will be taking PC gaming, Sony, Microsoft, EA, Nintendo and any number of small Pacific Rim nations out with it. Just as sex sells in the lingerie catalog and beer advertisement game, extreme hyperbole guarantees links, hits and readership in gaming discussion.

The PlayStation 3 is an utter failure. PC gaming is dead. EA is a terrible place to work and makes bad games. Print gaming rags are on the way out. Online gaming sites are sophomoric efforts by people who can't get real jobs. And so on. Discourse in the gaming world is an all or nothing effort, a place where the word "fanboy" was necessarily created, and pessimism is a state of being.

The truth of the state of the industry lies, not surprisingly, somewhere in the middle and occasionally on an entirely different planet from the extremes. The point is not that the well belabored discussion of the modern gaming world is more complex than usually recognized, but that so few people choose to make that recognition. You might expect the middle ground to be a fertile field on which the populace resides, but try convincing two people in a debate of that.

Observationally speaking, there is a notable disconnect in the consciousness of the gamer nation, where people are fundamentally optimistic about the future of gaming, yet incredibly pessimistic about the business of the industry. In my own writing for this and other sites, I've sensed that if I were a bit more sarcastic, combative or argumentative, some kind of Bill O'Reilly for the digital frontier, I'd enjoy a lot larger readership. Popular aggregator sites for gaming links seem to support my theory, with scathing commentary and sardonic wit being the orders of the day.

It's not terribly hard to figure out why there's so much of this kind of material in the digital ether. It is, after all, far more fun to write. There's very little research involved in noticing that the Wii continues to sell-out while the PlayStation 3 struggles to create a user base, and then armed with as little as an out-of-context comment from a Sony executive, describe the inevitable certainty of Sony's grim fate. Never mind the PS3 has sold roughly the same number of units as the 360 over the same period. It's an all or nothing game, and there's a very good chance that simply by providing evidence to the contrary of the popular view, I've somehow inadvertently entrenched myself in the other extreme.

In general, the gaming media does a far better job than it receives credit for in providing complete coverage and thoughts on the industry. One who complains that there's no good game writing is simply not trying particularly hard to find it.

But we should be careful not to fall into our own stereotypes. We are not basement-dwelling malcontents incapable of rational thought, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Gamers are a cross section of our shared societies and demonstrate on regular occasions an unexpected capacity for graciousness, humility and sacrifice. It's just that it rarely gets the attention, because cynicism and extremism sells, and the debate forces gamers who might otherwise stick to the middle ground to choose sides. The voices that do not make sweeping decisions about the relative fate and cultural worth of products are often the quietest by nature, and if the squeaky wheel gets the grease, I'm not sure there's enough grease to go around.

I'm not sure this is all precisely a bad thing either. After all, if everyone just met in the middle, there'd be very little point in having discussions online or anywhere else for that matter. Extreme positions, whether for gaming, politics or religion, make for lively discussions, though often less informative ones. Like anything else given the choice between contemplative introspection and sport, people go where the action is, and there's only a little cognitive distance between the debate over which console is the best and which political party to support.

The trick is to remember the world doesn't reflect the callisthenic discourse of online discussions. While it may not be the fun place to play, the middle ground is where most of reality exists.

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