M is for Missing the Point

This beautiful sunrise is from a "Rated M for Manly" title
I recently read a blog article titled "Rated M for Manly" that I unfortunately could not agree with. The gist of the article was that game developers were decrying the Wii and promoting an unhealthy number of M-rated games in order to vicariously feel manly. Which...is pretty ridiculous. There are plenty of reasons to dislike the Wii, but in order to feel manly isn't one of them. There are plenty of reasons to make a game that is M-rated (which, I will correct the authors opinion right now, is not synonymous with an R-rating), not solely because you need a gruff voiced antagonist. In fact, many the article's examples felt cherry picked, as if the author had ignored every other game out there that didn't have a gruff voiced M-rating in order to prove his point.

Part of the authors problem was that he dragged out a quote about developers disliking the Wii, and then tied that in with a misunderstood quote about the Wii being behind the pack to force an argument that the major console developers don't see the console as "manly" enough to be a success despite it's large sales lead. Thus, the author's closing argument was that "...the harsh response to the Wii wasn’t just some marketing scheme, it was a question of a person’s masculinity. The fear of not being manly is so strong that the response -along with some nice marketing dollars from Sony and Microsoft- have made a sign of derision from players."

 Not. The case. At all. Lets step back and look at this through a more critical eye. One, why would developers dislike the Wii? Because that is true, but it has nothing to do with the "manliness" of the console and instead everything to do with the console itself. Look at the picture to the left. Both the Wii and the X-box 360 are the same color, similar button function. Both have a slightly tweaked geometric shape to draw the eye in. No, it's not that the console isn't manly, it's just that it is underpowered. That's the origin of the statement that Nintendo is behind the pack. Developers are already frustrated with the low graphical power of the PS3 and the X-box 360. How much more do they complain about a console that is unequivocally last gen? Quite a bit. It's not that game developers don't put their games on it because they don't think the console is manly enough, its that the system can't compete in power. Do we say that Steven Spielberg is trying to compensate for his lack of manliness because he shoots color film instead of black and white? There are clearly more theaters capable of black and white movies then color in the world, but Spielberg chooses to shoot in color anyway, because that's what gives him greater opportunity.

As good as it gets. Which is good. Also one-of-a-kind
Granted, every so often the Wii churns out a graphically impressive title like Donkey Kong Country Returns, or perhaps the new Legend of Zelda title. But these are few and far between, the exception to the rule, for the most part the Wii can't produce the level of graphics fidelity that most people have come to expect. In fact, it's such a downfall of the Wii that an entire emulator has been built for the PC allowing Wii players to play their games with Wii-mote on their PCs, in full HD and with features such as anti-aliasing that the Wii cannot replicate. In fact, Kotaku even devoted an entire news article as a 'how-to' article on setting one such system up. The results meanwhile, speak for themselves. Here are two side by side screenshots of New Super Mario Brothers Wii, one from the native hardware, and one on the PC emulator. 

The difference is stark. One is slightly pixelated, the other crisp and clean. Full-screen them and take a look for yourself. As much as hardcore Nintendo fans have tried to downplay this, it matters. People want a game that looks good as well as plays good, and when it comes right down to it, the Wii looses in that regard. For example, I recently picked up my copy of Rayman: Origins, a stunningly detailed platformer with beautiful hand-drawn animation running at 60 fps (frames per second) in beautiful HD. At least on the 360 and the PS3. There is a Wii version available, but it's not nearly as smooth nor pretty to look at. So when it came time to decide for which of my systems I was going to purchase Origins for...well the decision was easy. The one that looked better.

The Wii has "lost out" for another reason as well. It simply hasn't performed as well sales-wise in anything but hardware. Sure, the Wii has almost as many consoles out there as all its competitors combined, but is leading to game sales? A quick check at vgchartz.com says no...it's not. If the Wii's games sold as well as it's hardware, it'd make up more then half of the top-selling games list and game sales. Unfortunately, this week alone it's sales are less then 20%, and that's with the Just Dance juggernaut that is the Wii's current star attraction. The Wii can sell as much hardware as it wants, but if it doesn't sell any games, it's not going anywhere. Just look at the sales of Donkey Kong Country Returns. In the year-and-a-half its been out, the game has sold a scant 5.4 million copies worldwide on a system with an install base over about 100 million. And it's considered a successful hit for the Wii. X-box and PS3 games can break that sales number in a month. 

All this really says is what most people already knew. A lot of people buy a Wii, but a lot less people play them then we think. Crud, mine even sadly enough gathers dust most of the year until the rare title comes along that I feel like buying. It's nothing personal, its just the even hooking up the console with it's old VGA connectors that require an adapter for my monitor is a pain, whereas my 360 plugs right into whatever I have. Is the Wii a hardware success and a money-maker? Yes. Is it a console on par with the 360 or the PS3? Well...no sadly enough. That's why the WiiU is aiming at having higher standards. Not so as the author of M for Manly holds it can be for "...people who want to be men." But for ordinary people who can tell the difference between a picture. For the developers who are always struggling to make the most impressive looking game imaginable. For the players who took the time to make a high-res emulator for the Wii. For the people who want style and substance.

 Now we come to the authors other argument, that of rated M for manly. You've completely missed the point here. First of all, dissing Cliffy B. for not 'growing up with any hard life aspects to him' is pretty shallow and a cheap shot. You do know that he and his friends built the famous Unreal Engine from the ground up? That he is one of the men responsible for taking Epic Games from a studio run out of their college apartment to a multi-million dollar studio that's engine license is worth over a million-and-a-half dollars alone? Try it sometime.

 Oh and lets look at his new game. Gruff voices? No...dark colors? No...gritty scenery? No...but it does look like fun! Like I said, many of the authors examples of "M for Manly" were cherry picked, selected only for the purposes of his argument. Deus Ex rated M? Yes. Gruff voice on the main character? Yes. Manly? Uh...no. If the author had actually looked at the game, he might have realized that there are specific reasons that Deus Ex has each of those features. The character is gruffly voiced for the same reason that the environment is is built of contrasting colors: Its modern film noir, a game following in the footsteps of hard-boiled detective movies as well as making a few of it's own. The M rating is not there to give the game a manly vibe, but because the game offers choices. Fable is rated M for the same reasons, as is the recently released Kingdoms of Amalur (although Amalur does have a bit of blood). They are bright shiny games that share a distinctive feature: Freedom. It's possible to play through Fable as a completely PG experience. It's your own choices that make the game M-rated.

Bright colors, no gruff, still M for freedom.
Just because a game chooses to attach an M-rating to itself does not mean it is attempting to be "manly" but that the game makers have made the conscious choice to tackle sophisticated material. Some of the best stories in games that I've seen have come from M-rated titles because they aren't afraid to discuss difficult issues. Both Bioshock games are M-rated and with good reason. Both games are brilliant studies and presenters of human psychology, sociology and belief as well as the dangers of fully subscribing to or acting upon those ideas and beliefs. Would I hand either of them to a ten year old? Never. But as an adult who understands the social issues and messages being presented the game is a masterpiece.

In the end, I still feel as if the writer of "Rated M for Manly" missed the point of all these games and went in with a preconceived notion, then started looking for information to support it. The games he picked are they way they are for a reason, and it's not simply to be 'manly' but to tell their story and build their world in a way that works best for them. Which sometimes may mean having a rough voice. Or being put on a console that can show more then a basic shape. Or using a rating that lets them explore challenging ideas and concepts. A game can do all of these things, and the word 'manly' doesn't come into it.

Case dismissed.

1 comment:

Timeenforceranubis said...

I really hate every aspect of this rail against M-rated games that a lot of people are on. It really just goes to show the level of ignorance and immaturity of some people in the gaming community.

I mean, you hear this argument all the time, that 360 and PS3 games are all just grey-and-brown military shooters, and it gets hard to believe that people actually seem to think that, until you read articles like the one you pointed to.

I really dislike the Wii, but it has nothing to do with manliness, of all things. Hell, in Virtual-On I often play as Fei-Yen, a pink mecha that shoots heart lasers. It's not an issue of manliness, it's an issue of me not liking Nintendo, their hardware being underpowered, and the lack of interesting games.

I also take issue with the mindset that Nintendo won the console war just because their console sales were highest. They weren't even fighting the console war, and even if they were, like you said, their software sales are severely lacking.

It really just feels to me like one Nintendo fanboy's sour grapes, cherry-picking arguments that work to his favor.