Friday, 14 December 2012

Judging a Game by its Cover

Suffering for your (lack of) art?

I haven't really commented on this, mostly because I thought that the very idea of it was a little utterly stupid. However, it seems that this story is still making the rounds, especially with some things that have come to light as of late. For those that might not have really known, there's been somewhat of a fervour lately around Bioshock Infinite, which is set to be released first quarter next year.

Now, the previous two Bioshock games have touched on things like Objectivism and Collectivism, free will and slavery, morality and consequence. There could be a lot that would potentially ignite a firestorm of heated debate over this newest installment of the series. So, what got everyone's up in arms?

This.

The box art.

When this came down the pipe as the official art for game's cover, people went more or less crazy. Unfavourable comparisons to other action genre titles came down the pipe, with accusations of the game trying to pass itself off as an Uncharted or "Generic shooty mcgun game #485" spreading fast and easy. Fans of the series' previous instalments have been the loudest detractors, saying that this cover does nothing to invoke the spirit of the game as displayed in trailers, nor the previous (if unrelated) sequels.

Here's my take on it: why does anyone give a shit?

If you're a fan of the series, does this cover and this cover alone really make you not want to pick this game up? If so then holy hell you're fickle. Look, I'm not defending this cover -- I don't actually really feel one way or the other about it -- I'm asking why it's even important. Is it some sort of betrayal of the artistic integrity of the universe? Did it run over your dog and drive off before you could get its license plate? What is the big deal here?

Ken Levine, the producer of the series, spoke up about this. It's a short video, and well worth watching in my assertion:


There's the explicit admission that the game's cover could have been more in keeping with what fans expect. But here's the thing: fans already know what to expect from this game. What this cover has to do is attract people who have never heard of the game before, make them go "oh hey, this looks worth picking up." I know that the message of "Don't judge a book by its cover" is well known, but let's face it, people do it all the time. Levine's talk with the frat boys obviously proves that.

Some will still be incredulous: "frat boys aren't the market for this game anyways" will probably be trotted out by people still seething over the art choice. Here's the thing though, why not? If the cover can get people who normally wouldn't give the game a chance an opportunity to play it and enjoy it on any level, whether it be simply for the action, or also for the deeper implications that are, by the way, still going to be in the game, then what's wrong with that? Is having someone enjoy the game for its immediate worth alone really detract from any deeper analysis that might be done? It's entirely possible that this game might actually get people interested in some of the issues and quandaries that the medium can tackle, people that weren't interested in this kind of stuff before very well could be the people you're talking with about the implications of this scene or that in the future.

If having to sacrifice one tiny iota of the overall artistic merit of the game means that the community surrounding it can expand, and that it can make more money and thus afford for more games in the series in the future, then what's the problem? Oh wait, that's right, there isn't one.

And frankly, it doesn't really matter anyways, because after all this shit hit the fan, Irrational decided that the game will have a reversible cover, and are letting fans pick the one they like best. There's also the implication that all the covers you see there will be available for download, so even if the one that you like doesn't win, you can just download and print it and voila, new cover, just for you.

In the end, I'm not going to say that people shouldn't be mad over this. However, I'm also not going to say that such anger is anything but a waste of time, energy, and not to mention just kind of dumb. There's plenty of shit the industry is pulling that is actually worth getting mad over, this just isn't one of those.

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