Black Pearls

It’s that time of the year again where critics stumble over each other to find a new perspective for their review of the newest Call of Duty title. As much as the developers must struggle to find ways to tweak and rejuvenate the familiar formula, I suppose it’s not much easier to think of ways to write about it in a way readers are teased once again to read it.

I’ve been skimming reviews and I notice that fortunately Treyarch gave reviewers plenty of fuel for both criticism and praise. Of course this will no doubt also bring plenty of material for the commenters to chew over. Very few games are so much hated and loved.

(I wish those games would drop in price a bit faster so I can catch up on the older episodes and actually know what I’m talking about, rather than boring you with second hand judegement based on other people’s writing. But I suppose that is a statement in itself – I like Call of Duty, just not enough to pay what they want me to pay for it. Let me play through the single player campaigns of Black Ops 2 and onwards for a few bucks pretty please?)

Two reviews peaked my interest. One of them even referenced the other. Gamer.nl’s Ron Vorstermans gave a nod to his colleague at periodical Power Unlimited, in their observation that the narrative of Black Ops 3’s campaign mode was merely casting pearls before swine.

Pearls before swine, remarkable proverb. I actually had to look up how it’s phrased in English. Originating from the new testament; Matthew 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”

Should Call of Duty developers bother to create a deep narrative for their campaign (or any campaign at all?) if the masses will snub their good intentions? Do they want to see the good efforts of their scriptwriters fly over their heads? That’s basically what they’re saying. Are those Dorito munching numbskulls actually going to bother what ethical or philosophical subjects we’re touching upon? Those lad culture philistines don’t understand the beauty of a good story. Naked ladies and a barrage of explosions is what they want.

I wrote about the gaming audience in such a way too, at some point. It was for an article about Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry. Can we trust such a delicate subject as slavery to people in dimly lit basements with controllers greasy from their Whopper-hands? Can AAA studios convincingly use material like that for games that for that foremost need to sell to the masses?
It was genuine concern, but at the same time I realised I was being snobbish and arrogant. Because by addressing this issue you directly state that you don’t belong to that group. “I am a sophisticated, intelligent person. But most gamers are not and don’t understand this.”

In hindsight I think we do need this. We need AAA games to bring intelligent, deep storytelling to the table. It will help to bring cynics and indie-hipsters around to see the mainstream still has good stuff to offer too. It will cater to a silent group of gamers that are caught in the middle now – in the middle of not finding depth in Triple A and too little ‘coolness’ in the underground. Think of it having to choose between a Michael Bay flick or an arthouse movie. It’s not unreasonable to desire something in between.

Triple A games need diveristy, depth and value. It’s getting there, with small steps. Keep demanding them to do more.

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