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?