On “Super Smash Brothers” and the gaming industry

Ok, so…Nintendo just released a bunch of Downloadable Content for “Super Smash Bros.” for the Wii U/3DS, and honestly? I’m excited, but I realize that it’s because I’m in a privileged position to be excited…and my excitement is tampered when I realize what it means for the gaming industry as a whole.

But first: being able to play as Roy again? HELL YEAH! Oh, what’s that: Ryu is in the game, and with moves similar to those in Street Fighter II, with THE ORIGINAL INPUTS ALONGSIDE EASY SMASH CONTROLS? That’s so awesome it’s amazing no one has thought of it sooner. I mean, here you have a fighting game series that is quite complex, being shoved into a series that, despite it’s rabid fanbase, is still kind of looked down upon as a party game by some seasoned fighting game veterans (and even by it’s own fanbase. It’s…complicated). Thing is, as excited as I am about this new content, I can’t help but pause. I grew up in a time where games were, well, “complete” from the get-go, and so while I don’t think Nintendo is as ridiculous with DLC as other companies are (insert a long angry stare at Ubi Soft here), somehow there’s something bothersome about it. Namely, the issues of not just audience inclustivity, but also of the future of this game (and the gaming industry). Let’s tackle the latter of those two first.

It’s pretty much an open secret at this point that the video game industry has no respect for the past. Wheras cinema has people like Martin Scorcese preaching the virtues of film preservation and literature has obsessed people saving first printings of the King James Bible, video games are…in a ghetto (and yes, I know how ugly that term is, but I’m making a point). Sure, we’re able to play SOME classic titles thanks to the folks of Good Old Games, not to mention the efforts of dedicated folks like Rebecca of 8bitarchivist.com. Yet…we’re still in a bad shape. Technology entrophies, copyright laws can be an absolute pain (just ask the developers of “System Shock 2”), making great titles languish in the hands of people who don’t have the means or the care to keep such works of art in the open. But the worst thing is how the industry itself just keeps chasing for the new, abandoning everything else along with it, even the stuff that works and could use a bit more refinement. Does the NES/SNES stylistic circlejerk get a bit tiresome? To a degree, yes, especially when such style aping is overcompensation for weak content or bad mechanics, but you know what that style was abandoned for? The Sony Playstation and it’s 3D games library. Look at how well those have aged.

We may be losing our minds over the new “Super Smash Bros.” DLC content NOW, but will we abandon all of this like we have done to the majority of the Sony Playstation library just because of prettier coats of digital paint? The community around the “Super Smash Bros.” games is already having a hell of a time trying to keep “Super Smash Bros. Melee” alive, even with the apparent popularity at EVO and other tournaments…entropy will rear it’s ugly head sooner or later. For example, did you know that collectors of old Sega Saturn games are encountering a little problem called disc rot? Yup. So, what are those dedicated “Super Smash Bros. Melee” players going to do when their Gamecube dics begin to decay? One may probably conclude that simply using an emulator like Dolphin will save the day. Ahahaha, I wish. First, we have to deal with the outrageous system requirements for said emulation. Then, we have to deal with the fact that current copyright law is a pain in the ass. There’s a game industry lobby fighting the EFF to the death just to prevent players from being able to play multiplayer games with dead servers. Games that people have ALREADY PAID FOR. Think the industry will just sit by and allow you, the lone packrat, to emulate, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” just because it’s the only title that allows you and your friends to do L-Cancels?

So that’s the problem of entropy, so here is the problem of privilege. First, let’s lay out where I come from…as of this writing, I am a cis, bisexual black guy who works full time. My income, if all calculations are correct, is around the $35,000/year mark. I live in an apartment, renting my place with all utilities paid for by my landlord. I own a hacked Wii, a Samsung Galaxy smartphone with a 4G LTE plan, a PC with an Intel Haswell i7 processor, and a Nintendo 3DS bought for the sole purpose of playing Super Smash Bros. on the go…and some RPGs. I’m able to pay for DLC and still have some money left over. I have a savings account, some health insurance (finally) and will get my 401K going soon (laugh at the modern day sheeple as they cocoon themselves in insurance and financial plans that may or may not implode when the economy loses its shit again. LAUGH, YOU CRUEL ASSHOLE). In other words, I may not be the richest motherfucka in the world, but I do have the choice to get this extra content and enrich my gaming experience, even if the tournament scene for the 3DS version of “Super Smash Bros.” is non-existent.

But what about the rest of us?

Video gaming was never a cheap hobby, and probably won’t be one anytime soon…even if all you do is hog the computers in the library while playing Newgrounds games. I remember seeing Pokemon Stadium 2’s initial sticker price being around 72 goddamn US Dollars when it was released. Shit, let’s go further back…was my family able to afford an NES? Sure, we could, and I loved witnessing my Dad play the shit out of “Super Mario Bros.” and “Duck Hunt”, but once the thing broke? Forget about it. Same thing with my beloved Sega Genesis, and the original Sony Playstation. My N64 managed to not bite the dust (seriously, that thing really IS made of Nintendium), but the Gamecube? No such luck. In other words, gaming was a luxury for my family, and for millions of families/individuals, it still remains as such. People may rejoice about Fallout 4 and how it will be made exclusively for PC and the “Next Generation” of consoles, the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, because of how it will be able to harness the new processing power of consoles and PCs instead of being, “held back” by the aging hardware of the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii…except who can afford those things? Why should older generations be left behind just because one can see Lara Croft’s boob sweat?

I have friends who are still on the older generation of consoles, who lack the means to be able to experience Fallout 4 in HD. One is currently enjoying some “Tales of…” games on PS3 and other JRPGs that they most likely had to get from Gamestop because…well, that’s what they can afford. I know another friend who desperately WANTED a PS3 just so they can play  Resident Evil 6 (poor guy), and here is a hardworking person, an actor/producer for low-budget horror flicks and then some. Someone who also does a part-time job on the side just so they can survive. These are hardworking people, smart people, who are every bit as deserving of the wonders (and even the horrors) of gaming as everyone else. Why should they be left behind? Being able to download a new character and kick peoples asses is cool…for those who can afford it. But even in an industry that constantly toots it’s own horn about, “Record revenue!” and, “GTA V has grossed more than ‘Avatar’, ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ and Brazzers COMBINED!”, there are still the haves and the have-nots.

Again, when it comes to DLC, Nintendo is probably among the more reasonable out there…except there are still barriers. A 3DS is still qutie an expensive thing. Hell, getting myself a 2DS and a copy of, “Super Smash Bros.” wasn’t ridiculous, but it was still a lot of money for me. Sure, a Gamestop may be around every American corner, and Amazon may be THE domineering force for people to have games shipped to them…not to mention Gamefly and the attempts at game streaming that are apparently on the horizon provided the library stops being utter shit. The problem is, there are still a lot of people missing out on this. Not because they’re lazy, but because they couldn’t afford it even if they tried.

Plus, remember when games were, I dunno, COMPLETE at launch? Granted, “complete” is relative when it comes to art. The Mona Lisa is said to be an, “incomplete” work and yet people are still transfixed by it. Game development is difficult, and being such a difficult endevour with actual deadlines (*cough* Duke Nukem Forever *cough*), there’s going to be prototypes, shelved concepts/levels/items and the like. So when one describes a title as being, “Complete”, what we really mean is, “These people polished this title (allegedly) until they decided to release it, which means that this particular thing is done and we got our money’s worth (also allegedly).” Now, the concept of “Complete” in the gaming industry is so fluid as to be harmful, both to paying customers and to those for whom gaming is a luxury. The current industry is basically a bunch of amateur Ridley Scotts editing and adding to their respective, “Blade Runner”, charging people a premium just because they added a few frames and took out some other things.

Granted, Bethseda at least has the courtesy to release, “Game of the Year” editions when it releases it’s 40-hour glitch festival every few years, and Steam/GOG/Gamestop/Amazon conspire to cut the prices for games so low one might even get that shit for free just for signing up for their services…but it only benefits those who are able to get into the game in the first place. For everyone else, well, it’s the old problem poor people have with just about everything, as described in that Cracked article by John Cheese. I, with enough skin in the gaming…er, game, can suss out good deals and pick the kind of stuff that would last me for years. Why should everybody else be left out? Why should paying customers, let alone non-customers who really want to join the fun, be confused about whether they’re getting the full product, and then have to fork up extra money when it turns out that we don’t? Why should one have to participate in bullshit pre-order/DLC culture just to be able to play a game?

Oh, I get it: it’s the gaming industry, and they can do what they want. We money-grubbing fucks can afford to pay for DLC and all that shit, so fuck everyone else, right? If we’re gouged for extra content that should’ve been in the game to begin with, hey, as long as it keeps the gaming industry alive its alright, right? Sorry, but that’s disgraceful and arrogant. We’re basically participating in a system that gouges even its most loyal customers while leaving behind others who can’t even afford to be fucked over, and the poor have a look at us getting gouged and think, “Gee, maybe my kids would like that this Christmas. If only…” Kafka couldn’t have made this up, and we keep buying into it, at the expense of everyone else except people like the folks of EA, who destroyed the developers behind the Command & Conquer series and got away with it.

We should be better than to defend this shit, no matter how much we want to play as Ryu in a, “Super Smash Bros.” game.

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