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Gears of Warrghh

posted on May 22nd, 2007 by christian

I spent this past weekend post graduation at my friend’s house waiting for a Monday job interview. This of course means that Sunday night was a rare chance for me to play some 360, and this time there was only one choice as to what I was pulling off his his bookshelf; Gears of War.

What I played of the game was pretty fun – I think – but that’s not what I’m here to discuss. The thing on my mind is page one of the instruction manual. You probably don’t know what I’m talking about, even if you own the game (no one reads manuals but me right?), but it contains an introduction to the game by Cliffy B. He goes on about how it has great AI and physics and graphics, but mostly discusses what he did to create a truly “next-generation” game.

This little, one page essay genuinely bothered me. I’m sure it got a lot of gamers excited to play. After all, for once someone’s talking to us. Someone in the industry understands what we want!

But really I think it’s part of the problem. The same problem that creates all of those “hardcore” gamers who are scared of casual players and simple games, the problem that creates films like Grandma’s Boy and people who use the term “SKU” but don’t work in inventory. It creates an inbred, festering hive of a community where no one outside of it knows what the hell is going on. If we really want people to understand our hobby, is it really a good idea to use a term like “next generation’ in the documentation for an actual game?

If a popular movie came out on DVD with an insert that discussed the wonderful use of mise-en-scene, and a bunch of film majors started lauding the decision and the product, we’d laugh our asses off at them.

What makes gamers any different?

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9 Comments

  1. Max said on May 22, 2007:

    hmm, never read the manual :) I am gonna go back and take a look :)

  2. doug said on May 23, 2007:

    I don’t think I agree.

    While movies don’t really have inserts, they do have commentary tracks. Sure, the commentary tracks can become quite silly, but every once in a while the narrators do discuss how they got a specific shot, or some bit of technical work, or something like that. But this doesn’t stop people from watching a movie, it just enhances the experience for someone even remotely knowledgeable in the topic, just like that insert in Gears of War.

    Hobbies, sports, literature, careers – all these things have exclusionary jargon, but that does not keep them from being popular, or understandable, or even relatable. So I don’t see how it would hurt videogames.

  3. christian said on May 23, 2007:

    Doug- thanks for the fantastic reply. Its a good analogy, but I think for myself, there are two distinct differences for commentary tracks. First, commentary is optional, something I never have to see. That can be true of a game manual, but for those reading it, its not something that’s easily skipped. Its right there as soon as you open the thing, because it is something they want everybody to see. Second, film commentary that I’ve seen rarely ever gets as deep as “I think this right here was a very good shot”, and you can see, right there, what shot they’re talking about. While you may not be able to judge it the same way as they do, you can at least ponder what that shot means to you. To me, there’s an important difference between a good shot in a movie, and using terms like “next generation” and “A.I.”, something that not everyone understands. Directors seem to have the intention of connecting with their whole audience – which is just about everyone if we consider “movie watchers”. GoW is only interested in “gamers”, when really it should probably expand.

  4. Chris O said on May 27, 2007:

    I have to agree with Doug on this one, and I have to say, the analogy proved decisive. The primary difference between manuals and commentary are, for me, that commentary is an annoyance I fumble to turn off, and manuals are a waste of paper I usually scoff at without reading.
    In my time as a gamer, I have found manuals to be mostly useless, and in the event that I do need them, it is because the game did not do a very good job explaining itself to me during normal gameplay. In fact, [Talking to you now, Jay] I would pose a poll to see who of the lamer staff and readership actually bothers to read manuals, how frequently and why?

    More directly, it occurs to me that “A.I.” and “Next Generation” are about as un-esoteric as gaming terms get. So if someone reading the manual says “what the hell does ‘improved A.I.’ mean? and who is this ‘next generation’ I keep reading about?” they should quickly close the manual and crawl back to the rock under which they must surely live.
    Also, I think anyone reading this would agree that Cliffy B’s introduction having gamer-terms is better than the alternative: “This game kicks ass because of the buckets of blood and big guns and the chainsaws and YEAHHH!” Although that does sound pretty appealing now that I read it.

  5. jay said on May 27, 2007:

    I read every game manual I have, partly because it reminds me of a sort of ritual I had during childhood and partly because I want to immerse myself completely. When I buy a DVD I enjoy I read any bit of text and listen to all the commentary – reading a manual is similar.

  6. pat said on May 28, 2007:

    when jay says “a dvd i enjoy” he means a terrible movie (such as garfield) that he forces people (me) to watch, and then tries to talk us into rewatching the movie with the commentary turned on. at this point i switch from drinking alcohol to drinking drain cleaner in an effort to avoid the more grisly fate of suffering through the movie again.

    also, if “chris o” is my cousin, recently returned from china, i’d like to say “welcome back” if you are some other chris o, please ignore.

  7. christian said on May 28, 2007:

    Here’s an example to explain my dilemma. When Star Wars was re-released in theaters for the Special Edition, my brother bought the soundtrack re-release for A New hope. It came with a nice little book that goes into depth about each track in the film and what it meant. The introduction of the book talked about how John Williams used letimotif in many of the themes and pieces in Star Wars. The important thing here is that the writer explained what letimotif was, and with that understanding, I grew to have a much greater appreciation for what Williams was able to do. There’s no such equivalent in Gears or any other game, and I think that is a definite failure.

    IRT Chris O: I would like to know what your opinions are on the many new gamers coming into the fold thanks to the Nintendo Wii. Saying people who don’t know what A.I. is are living under a rock is more than harsh, especially if they are brand new to this hobby. Calling out people who are new to the club is exactly the problem I’m getting at here; it is dangerous and damaging.

    P.S. – Parish has written something recently that gets at my point much better than I could. http://www.gamespite.net/verbalspew/archives/entry_325.php#comm

  8. Chris O said on May 30, 2007:

    Indeed Pat this is your newly repatriated cousin. I’ll be in NYC from the 7th to the 10th of June.
    And Christian, I suppose that you have a point, though the only people I feel I am being harsh towards are the very, very young and the very old. I have not read “the manual,” but given your examples, I defend my argument about A.I. because the term extends way beyond gaming. If someone feels “called out” because they don’t know what has by now become common terminology then fine, put down the manual and read a newspaper.
    Besides, who is going to find some esoteric terms in a very optional manual and decide to return a $50-$60 dollar video game? As Doug has pointed out to me, people sit through shows like CSI and House, which are loaded with very lofty terminology, and they love it.

    And Jay: Garfield? Really? Still interested in a poll, since I would argue that you are not much of an average indicator for this stuff.

  9. TrueTallus said on May 31, 2007:

    I raise my hand as another member of the apparently inscrutable and long dead race of manual readers. My reasons are pretty much the same as jay’s- a game doesn’t feel right if I don’t read the manual first and doing so is a great way to get into the gameworld before putting the disk in the tray. Often (this was certainly the case with Gears of War) a manual provides a meaty chunk of characterization and background that aren’t really present in the game itself. I think this really highlights what manuals have come to be in this day and age: while they still act as a necesary quick reference on a given game’s controls and setup, they are often more useful as supplemental backdrop for those who are interested in becoming more immersed in a game than just playing it might allow them to be. That is to say, much of the reason a manual is included with a game like Gears of War is so that people who want to enjoy it for more than chainsawing thier friends in half have the opportunity to do so. And those are exactly the kind of people won’t be thrown off by words like ‘next generation’ or ‘A.I.’. I definately agree that the gaming industry has to work to overcome it’s ritualistic, crazy cult mentality, but even if we start excepting everybody it’s still ok to let the old timers keep thier secret handshake, right?

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