Woe is Gaming! Sharing Isn’t Caring

(This was originally published on Feb 23, 2013.  Do you think it’s being proven correct already?)

With the revelation that the PlayStation 4 will be equipped to easily “Share” your gaming experiences with friends, I wonder whether we can expect to see a shift in game design similar to the one that accompanied the introduction of “achievements”.

PS4 Share button

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Achievements and the accompanying “Gamerscore” are beyond cynical.  They were crafted in the dark pits of Hell by a shadowy enclave who talk endlessly about the foibles and flaws of mankind; flaws which they consider to be the levers and dials by which to manipulate the souls of men.  Machiavelli would be envious.  The Jesuits would blush.  But here we are today, with endless Trophies and Achievements handed out like dog treats for doing what the game requires us to do.  Somehow, we still feel proud when we hear the little chime and see the little pop-up window.  It’s a meaningless gesture that acknowledges our obedience, but we love it.  We love to obey.  The enclave smiles.

Social networking has already destroyed our inner monologue, along with deep reflection and quiet contemplation.  We now excrete our thoughts and feelings like it’s an emergency, squirting them out and flushing them down the series of tubes.  We’re afraid alone.  We think about killing ourselves the moment we’re stuck with our own ideas, and nothing we do matters unless somebody else sees it.  Validation is everything.  The enclave smiles again.

How many people will be watching your Ustream channel?

The industry is lazy, superstitious, and insecure.  They love popular trends because they have no ideas of their own.  Investors, shareholders, publishers, developers, and even players are the same in their love of following trends, because it makes us feel like we’re part of a bigger movement.  As long as we’re all moving in the same direction, we feel safe and comfortable.  We hate living in such a polarized, deeply divided society.  We desire conformity, unity, and homogeneity.  We are cattle.

In an ideal world, sharing video clips would be about capturing special moments that you’ll remember for a long time; moments so special you’ll wish you can go back and relive them again.  Instead, it’ll be just another personality-driven meta-game about boosting your online profile and schmoozing with that contact list you’ve grown to hate.  We already know phones have turned socializing into full-time jobs, and that the real trick to success is not to stand out with original, meaningful ideas, but to lure other people into taking advantage of you by constantly reciprocating their awful ones.  Scratch those backs!  Make sure you upvote your so-called friend’s shitty Infamous: Second Son video clip, because otherwise he won’t be as likely to upvote your half-assed Grand Theft Auto V stream.

Sharing isn’t caring, anymore than getting a higher Gamerscore is about having fun.  We do it because we feel compelled to do it, because we don’t have any self-restraint, love the novelty of new experiences, and feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses.

And make no mistake, games will be planned around highlight reels and “Share” clips.  That’s the worst part.  I know that everybody has a few friends that they’d actually like to share video with — it’s not like there aren’t great possibilities.  The problem is that the industry will lean on the sharing function as another crutch — like they did with achievements.  Shareholders and publishers are already allergic to the idea of subtle, complex, cerebral experiences, because fast-paced visuals and simple action is easier to advertise; this is true in the movie business too.  As it becomes shinier and more slick, entertainment is being hollowed out.  Slow motion will abound.  Over-the-top sound effects will suggest a particularly “share-worthy” moment.  Pornographic levels of particle effects will turn every minute of action into your own personal movie trailer, as the whole industry continues to slide into a swamp of powerfully cynical shortcuts to success, unoriginality, and indignity.

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This is part of the Woe is Gaming! series, which analyzes events and topics in order to heighten the discussion of the business, design, and culture of the gaming phenomenon

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