Be it games, movies, comics, and so on, most people have an interest in media of some kind. The best art helps us look inside ourselves and process our experiences. True, most of it is made with the aim of profit, but that’s because the people making these things need to eat and have shelter like the rest of us. Somehow though, we’ve gone from caring about to almost deifying and vilifying the franchises we consume.
It’s not hard to piece together how we’ve gotten to this point. Companies have found ways to do the impossible, like creating live-action comic book stories with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and bringing us video games so photorealistic it’s downright scary. At the same time, whole decades of work can now be locked up or disregarded without an audience’s consent, and we’re being micro-charged at every angle just to consume the experiences we want to enjoy. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and the human cost — the emotional cost — has risen to match the ambitions of every creative team and company overseeing them.
Rooting for or against particular brands is instinctual. It’s like sports teams. Enjoyed a game EA published? You must be a shill who likes microtransactions. Didn’t love Avengers: Endgame? You obviously have no taste in movies. Only got into comics after Marvel’s All-New, All Different or DC’s New 52? Congratulations, you’re now a fake comics fan! It’s all very contentious, constantly leading to fans on both sides of any issue arguing at length. You can easily fall into this sort of “us vs. them” mentality, whether it’s other fandoms, companies, or even just inter-fandom like Star Wars Legends vs. Disney Star Wars.
When you start thinking like that, you start to overlook mistakes in what you like and only see the warts in what you’re predisposed against. It’s something even I’ve had to step back and assess for myself. When I reviewed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order for The Escapist back in 2019, I made myself look at it not simply as a fan, but as someone looking for a good individual experience.
Regardless of my sentiments on the new continuity, I wanted it to have a fair shot. That is why I didn’t complain about things like how weirdly antithetical the Nightsisters were to how they’re supposed to be or how the Inquisitors were given more room to be complex characters in the Legends continuity than they are in the current timeline. I did find it lacking, but it was for far more foundational reasons, like control refinement, combat design issues, and an overreliance on set pieces over meaningful storytelling. I also enjoyed parts of it, like deflecting blaster bolts and solving physics puzzles with the Force — the latter of which I wasn’t expecting in the slightest.
Yet, going by what I received in the comments, I either was the most unfair, unjustified, supremely over-critical critic in the world, or I was the only “honest” reviewer talking about the game. In reality, I’m just a guy on the internet who was fortunate enough to be able to share my thoughts to as wide and diverse an audience as the Escapist’s. Even before I got here though, I learned the humbling fact that everyone can see what you’re saying on the internet, so it pays to consider thoughts wisely.
Everything we experience is made by someone. This article is written by me. Jedi: Fallen Order was made by hundreds of different people. Whether you’re watching the biggest-budget movie or reading a free webcomic, the fingerprints of each creator are there, which is a daunting thought to piece apart.
When we were all previewing games during The Escapist Showcase, the demo builds sent our way could last anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, and we had to absorb as much as possible to make judgements on what was most notable and what games were coming together in promising ways. That’s not an insignificant thing, but something we, the internet, need more of is the ability to dissect and discuss our favorite (and least favorite) experiences.
I’m not saying everyone has to become a reviewer. However, there’s value in stepping back from all the competition to really look at and think about the media we’re consuming. Why does The Last of Us endear you when its sequel leaves you livid? Was it because the sequel is a worse game, or because characters suffer fates you don’t want for them after becoming emotionally invested in the first game? Did you become invested because of playing as them or because they were well-acted? Would you have cared as much if they were less graphically detailed? These are the sorts of questions critics and entertainment journalists have to ask themselves.
It reveals surprising things. It wasn’t until I was explaining Vampire Rain to my dad on the phone, piecing it apart to make sense of why I became so invested playing it, that I realized I was processing my 2020 experience through it. Odds are good that it’s the same case for the stories and experiences you dig the most. There are folks who hate traditional PvP matches in Call of Duty who can’t get enough of battle royales like Fortnite and vice versa. Realizations like that are worth thinking about.
Not everything is going to trigger some deep, Memento-style shift in understanding yourself or a piece of media, and that’s fine. When you hit bedrock, you keep on moving. I originally had intentions to talk about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 for this month due to the new Avengers game, but Ultimate Alliance 2 was so mind-numbing that every time I put the controller down, I could barely recall what had occurred while playing. It wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t any resonance, so I moved on.
Now, I could have just trashed the game for not being the greatest game of all time, but that wouldn’t add anything. A sledgehammer isn’t a conversation; it’s just destructive unless used extremely carefully. Even Yahtzee, at his grumpiest, focuses on the reasons why something doesn’t work, rather just saying something is “bad.”
Whether you agree with someone or not, their saying a piece of media is great or sucks doesn’t matter any more than you let it. If you’re looking to better understand why you feel the way you do by comparison to someone else, then absolutely hear other people out. If you just want to feel verified in your opinion, then you’re not really looking for a conversation.
There are critics I read and watch whom I vehemently disagree with on several of my favorite things. I still engage with their content though, because that helps shape my understanding of their past and future work, and whether that sways my opinion on picking something up or revisiting an old favorite with a new perspective. You don’t need every critic to agree with you — hell, if they did, that’d be a pretty boring world to live in.
I realize not everyone has the time or energy to think this hard about the things they consume. Again, totally fair. You can, however, take a few minutes to ask yourself about it. For instance, if you’re bored rewatching one of the Marvel movies you used to love, it might be worth asking why. You might end up shrugging and just changing the channel — or you could come to realization about something you didn’t catch the first time round.