Who you are, not what you do
Now I ask you, which is more pretentious? Is it pretentious that Diablo 3‘s story is a pretense for a jealousy-based economy and constant action? I don’t think so. The plot in most films, TV shows, comic books, games, and novels are little more than pretense designed to deliver something else; something more basic and enjoyable. Mostly, we want explosions, sex, drama, bloodshed. We want tension and release. And that’s fine. Many think that’s how it should be. It’s fun when a plot doesn’t push a philosophy, comment on society, or waste itself with morality. Diablo 3 is just fun.
Well, okay, it’s not fun. But it’s addictive. Or at least it was, until people quit playing and it fell out of the spotlight, and the prestige of items was destroyed by its own transparently evil economy. By the end of the year, when Game of the Year awards were being handed out, it’d been completely forgotten. Is anyone really surprised? It might have seemed incomprehensible for Diablo 3 be snubbed, considering that Diablo 2 is such a classic and sells so consistently that it has never left retail store shelves, and can be found in any Walmart to this day. I guess the thing is, deep down, people know D3 is pretentious. They just can’t fathom how or why, because they’ve been trained to think that’s what they want.
Diablo 3 is more pretentious than Curiosity in every way. For the first time ever, Peter Molyneux has created a completely unpretentious game with Curiosity, in fact. Exposition in Curiosity comes in the form of a little screen explaining the purpose of the project, the first time you load up the app. There’s also translucent text floating across the screen while you tap away, saying “What’s inside the cube?” or the Twitter hash tag “#Curiosity”, which, now that I think about it, is probably the most pretentious thing about it. Did he really think he could own that hash tag in any meaningful way?
Clearing screens, collecting stuff, and buying temporary power-ups to fuel the next round — using moment-to-moment techniques and screen-wide strategies while thinking about long-term investments — competing against other people while cooperating with them — there’s nothing pretentious in these things. But the similarities between the two games make their differences so much more obvious. Peter Molyneux, for once in his life, skipped the grandiose rhetoric and made a small, honest experiment without much fanfare. There wasn’t much hype, and he very clearly acknowledged the possibility that it wouldn’t catch on. The experiment is still going on, still free to play, and still as mysterious as ever, if you’re curious.
What’s much more pretentious to me is the posturing of Activision-Blizzard itself, hyping up their piece of shit as if those eleven years in development purgatory meant anything in terms of quality. As if they gave a rat’s ass about the franchise they were trying to “exploit”, to use Bobby Kotick’s own term. As if the game was worth $60, the nightmarish DRM, or the sickening Real Money Auction House. As if there was a shred of competence in Jay “Fuck That Loser” Wilson. As if the Player Versus Player features were ever going to be balanced or fun. As if they weren’t driving Blizzard’s classic brand names into the ground and trusting that loyalty and marketing would win out over sense. By comparison, Curiosity is the sincerest and most direct game ever.
Hard truths and endgames
Since we’re talking about pretentiousness, I’ll conclude with a comment on the kinds of hard truths and endgames we find in modern society. I don’t know how related it is to these games, but they’re just examples of a bigger problem anyway.
As a society, we have found ourselves trading cozy ideas about good and evil for ugly “truths” about the way the world works. It feels embarrassing to complain about something nowadays, because we’ve all become pragmatists, judging things by pragmatic effectiveness instead of our own values. We’re in endgame territory. The function of a corporation is to make money, not art, and if they all became enlightened charities devoted to higher causes (or basic decency) the economy would implode. Besides, the winners write the history books, we vote with our dollars, and survival of the fittest, etc. To deny this is to be pretentious.
And while nobody can deny that the world is fucked up, somewhere along the way we’ve included ourselves in this ugly reality as well. We’ve been sold a story, I believe: that people are animals, life is one great big cutthroat competition, and it is only fitting that the strong prey on the weak. I’ve heard people defend the lies and corruption of corporations based on this logic, as if they somehow respected the ruthlessness of it all. No wonder, I suppose. Countless people have adopted this post-morality endgame mentality for themselves, in the hopes of imitating their success. Higher causes and greater truths don’t really exist — only the game of perception. Words are our weapon and our shield, to be used and discarded as needed. Morality too. Be greedy, be hedonistic, and take what you can get — imitate the great powers and institutions of our day. Admire them, and learn from them, because if you can’t beat them, you should join them. It’s pretentious to deny these things. Because when enough people believe something, it becomes true.