Letting Go - ejronin Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Letting Go

I'm going to go ahead and get it out of the way, but this is a long post, with a lot to process. If you're a " I didn't read all of it, but I'm going to open my mouth anyway" person, save it and move on....

There are a plethora of games out there people have been practically raised on. Metal Gear, Super Mario, Sonic, Halo, Resident Evil, etc. These games have done well in standing the test of time, but isn’t it time to throw in the towel and lay them to rest? They’re not bad games and some would argue that they’re  the greatest games ever, which is all the more reason to finally lay them to rest. But, letting go is a lot harder to do when you love something and harder when it’s profitable.

When people ask “What do you want the next X to be like?” at the release of X, I’m reminded of the phrase “It is better to be thought a fool and remain silent than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt“. I envision the ‘what next’ question as something different than its literal posture: “Degradation anyone?”, and would normally believe that the person posing the question has assumed the title is worth continuing when there’s not indication that it’s worth the cheap cellophane it was wrapped in. Sadly, the trend is for companies to push title after title in a series and generate a buzz about what’s coming next immediately as though they couldn’t care less about the reception. Force feed the masses a choice of A or B ; B being nothing and they’ll take A every time. At least this is how it looks.

Titles in which there’s rich story content have a limit they can be taken before it becomes chintzy and cheap, and shouldn’t be pushed to a point that they’re no longer valuable to the audience.  From a business standpoint, early franchise retirement is probably the second dumbest thing that can be done to them next to never moving forward and making them, but it begs the question: “What is ‘early’?” It varies, obviously, but in general closing it down before the story can be practically finished would be the concept. For example, Halo 3 was necessary but Halo: Reach is not. Metal Gear Solid 4 was desperately needed but Metal Gear: Rising is not. Unfortunately Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be necessary, but CoD: Black Ops is not.

Milking an IP for everything that can be had is the point of having an IP franchise and investing in it repeatedly; it’s the ‘safe bet’ in a throw away society such as ours. If a game is something that people look upon as art (which many argue that it is), then why would it be okay to degrade it so much that it becomes mass produced garbage?Because we’re scared; terrified that when it’s gone we’ll never have anything like it again. We believe that once the story is over the title has no worth or value. Heavy Rain is over, is it without value? The original line of Metal Gear is over, has it no value?

I’m going to relay two very true personal stories, and I promise that despite how they’ll sound, they have a related point:

When I was around 4 years old my grandmother passed away. I don’t remember all of the details but I remember being in her hospital room during her passing because my mother facilitated it. See, my grandmother was terminally ill, riddled with cancer and most every joint was arthritic, and unbeknown to me at the time, despite her DNR order the hospital staff resuscitated her. Upon her reawakening I remember my grandmother being in intense pain, and crying out. I had been waiting outside of the room, playing with a toy of some kind so the ensuing commotion of her revival made me curious and I pushed the door open to see her attempting to sit up, attached to machines and writhing in pain. My father, who had immediately noticed me, quickly rushed to the door, smiled at me and said “it’s okay, we need you to stay outside, okay son?” I nodded and went back to playing.

A short time later I was admitted to the room. My mother, speaking in a soft soothing tone, was talking to her about me and how I was growing up and how dad was promoted at work and how her husband, my grandfather was content. It seemed like eons had passed before a nurse walked in the door followed by a doctor and my grandmother sprang to life, asking profusely for pain medication.  When the doctors refused, my parents stepped out of the room with the nurse and walked to the end of the corridor for a short time and then came back to sit down next to her. My mother looked at me and began to tear up before saying “We’re going to leave soon Shawn, tell grandma good-bye”. I didn’t think much of it, it was the ritual we went through every other week. This time was different.  My mother grabbed her mother’s hand and slowly reached over, turned one of many little black knobs on a machine that was attached to several hoses running into my grandmothers nose and wept harder than I can ever recall. Before long the funny noises from the machine got softer and slower and within the hour my grandmother had passed away and the drone of a monotonous beep was the only sound other than my mother crying.

It would be years before I inquired about what had transpired that day and when I did my mother calmly explained in a blunt way, “I killed her”. Initially my reactive thought was “You b*tch! How could you kill your own mother?” And, that’s pretty much exactly what I said to her. Then, in the same calm tone my mother said “And for her to live would be for the sake of whom? Would you let me suffer for the sake of yourself of grant me passage from pain? Was it really a selfish act to let her go as she wished? Know this boy,” an uneasy tension in her voice began to show, “I stood by as they revived her, knowing that she didn’t want it and now I live knowing I brought pain to the person I loved most. Letting her go before I was ready was the kindest act I could have done for her and my final act as a respectful daughter”. The moral reversal b*tch smack across the face was deserved and a part of me was looking to stir a truthful answer so was expected, but it still stung.

My grandfather, he was a good man before he died. He’d driven the landing craft during D-Day in WWII and was a Naval Sea Bee (Iron Work). He made 17 trips to and from the main troop ships and watched many good men, some of which were good friends, die.  After the war he had survived his first wife who succumbed to death by way of burning alive in a fire on their farm and was forced to give up their 7 children to an orphanage. He later remarried and had only one child, my mother. He continued life as an iron worker in a local union and was part of many reconstruction projects that afforded him some spectacular stories, including being one of few people that has touched the toes of the “Statue of Freedom” while it still sat atop the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. He had been a proud man and took help from no one; stubborn, cocky, crude and quick tempered, but also compassionate and wise – the only man I knew physically stronger than my own father (by his own reluctant admittance).

Around the age of 8 my grandfather passed on.  He’d gotten up in years, was stricken with Alzheimer’s and in all honesty did little more than stare blankly at a wall or aimless wander around the house looking for something he allegedly lost but never really had. As a young child he was my best friend and lived two doors down the street from us. Often times while my parents went to work, my grandparents would keep me entertained through the day. I remember one sunny summer afternoon, my grandfather carried me to his garden at the edge of their small property to pick Cherry Tomatoes. He so loved his home grown Cherry Tomatoes and it was something we did together every day, so by default I too loved them.

Over time my grandfather began to “forget” things, like putting pants on before driving to the store and eventually we were forced to take him to a retirement home. My parents couldn’t afford to take care of him; not in a financial way, in an emotional way and they lacked the required time and proper environment for him during those twilight years. I recall visiting him one day, sitting next to him a asking “Hey, Gran’dad how are you?”. I bawled so hard when he responded, “Who in the hell are you people? Get away from me!” My mother tried to hold his quivering hand and my father started off with “Robert, we’re your family”, before being cut short by a quick retraction of his hand and more agitated yelling. We got up and drove the 2 hours back home,  never to visit him again.

I suppose I repressed that memory for a very long time because it is a painful one, or because I was so young and unsure I remembered it at all. The instance had come back up over two decades later when my father was telling me what he wanted when it was his time to pass away, and seeing opportunity for clarity, I took it knowing that I could very well be smacked once more. I challenged the morality of abandonment by asking if never visiting my grandfather was the right thing to do.

At first I didn’t really understand the logic behind what I felt was abandonment of a man who earned anything but. I didn’t understand it because I had never dealt with a situation where I had to choose between my parents and my child, and I hope to never have to. The reason we didn’t visit is because doing so hurt everyone. My grandfather was no longer in control of his own mind – his sense of self had dissolved to a point he didn’t know his own name, age, or location. He’d become a simple machine; a body going through programmed meaningless motions. Us being there startled and annoyed him, and having loved him we didn’t wish disrupt what his mind had created as ‘comfortable’. He was in a different world, one where he was alone but secure. Fighting with him to remember, even if it was for just a momentary a temporary spark of recognition, would have been fine with me at the time – I just wanted my friend back. Ultimately though, this would result in having to endure the same thing over and over for the benefit of ourselves.  As I was a young child he was by best friend and watching dance between being a physically aggressive 5 year old and a forgetful 75 year old without warning was emotionally traumatic and confusing for me. He was all my mother had left outside of my father and I, but they made the decision to leave him in relative peace for what little time he had.  Part of me regrets never being able to tell him I loved him one more time, but I now know that it wouldn’t be for anyone but myself. He didn’t know who I was so it would be a hollow statement to an empty room.

My memories of him are few but they are among my favorite and most comforting memories of my childhood. His image in my mind is nothing less than the strong and proud former iron worker that would carry me tight to his barrel chest to his garden and share his favorite snack:  Cherry Tomatoes. Reaching down with his thick, chiseled hands and picking ever so gently, something as small and fragile as a Cherry Tomato from an equally frail vine, he’d  lightly sprinkle a tiny amount of salt on each one before placing it to my mouth. Sometimes I can still taste them when a soft summer breeze blows across my face decades older. And I’m reminded of him.

I used to wonder if we’d visited him during his period of decline would those good memories become tarnished and give way to something sour and disliked or worse, unimportant. I have my answer now though, and I’m holding what I have, thankful that they are unchanged by the tragedy that befell him in the elderly state I wasn’t there to witness.

What makes the death painful to the audience is not the death itself but the remembrance or the presumed value of life preceding; the unwillingness to let go of things loved and cherished is what people cling to. Perhaps the other part of what makes death painful is that choice in the matter does not exist. In games, the audience enjoys being able to choose what the character does, where they go and create reasons for why things happen when there aren’t any given. In death, this is impossible and becomes a terrifying prospect.

Reading this, most people would feel a sense of empathy, if not at least sympathy towards these accounts. They’re not tragic in any way but we’re taught, or at some point gain the belief that, death is abnormally tragic when in fact it’s quite normal. People die. It’s expected to be dysphoric, but the grand finally of  all life of every kind is an eternal still.

There is a similar fear in Hollywood and in the games industry that main characters must be able to say some prolific last words, portray a sort of metaphor, or be accompanied by a kind of fanfare at their time of death if they are to die; the hero must always die a heroes death, always be tragic and that when all else fails provide someone else to carry the story forward to lessen the predicted disappointment. Keep everyone happy all the time, and if anyone has ever paid attention to Aesop and his famed fables, they’d have learned that you cannot keep all of the people happy all of the time. But, exactly how many movies like The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go To Heaven or seasons of SNL and South Park must an audience suffer before things wind down and the creators realize it’s over.

Games, like movies and books, have an author, someone who’s job it is to write the events in a story format and to keep the audience entertained beyond systematic  buttons and mechanical levers; they give those buttons and levers a reason for interaction and characters impact and purpose. Games writers are in many ways similar to a playwright. And, most playwrights will respect Shakespeare whether they like his style, fully appreciate his contributions, or understand what he’s written. The same goes for audiences – so it becomes strange then when such an iconic playwright can end the life of their protagonist in what is considered the most influential work of dramatic literature with two simple words and others cannot.

In Act V, Scene III of King Lear, Shakespeare writes: “He Dies”; the simplest words with the humblest presentation ends the life of the central protagonist who spanned a great many events beforehand. Lear doesn’t continue on in a Pomp and Circumstance parade of words detailing a central wisdom of events during an elongated death, he doesn’t generate a huge commotion, nor is there dramatic closure exposing hidden meaning. The entire play culminates at the death of King Lear. The death of Lear has monumental impact to the entire play. It saddens both the late King’s fictional companions and audiences alike, but they live on to experience a different story altogether.

Let us turn now to the wonderment of not how, but why these franchises need to simply die off:

Pokemon is the butt of quite a few jokes, and not just from detractors. I say this, and still have this mental image of Ash, looking down a deep hole at a captive Pikachu, yelling "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or it gets the hose again!"

What kills the franchise and makes it worth killing isn’t that no one loves it anymore, or that it isn’t fun anymore – it’s that it has become more circular than fighting games. Each iteration of the game brings a wealth of new creatures to battle and battle with and the challenge is adapting to the strategy of different creatures as well as being able to endure long tedious battles. Outside of this, the story has become relatively moot because the song is the same again and again.

So, kill this game off. Not because it’s a bad idea or because the concept is offensive when applied to acceptable moral fibers out of context. Kill it off because it’s run for so long and been rehashed so much that it can't go anywhere but down. The creators of the series are making new regions for the protagonist simply to prolong the series while the spirit within rides the seemingly endless carousel of depravity. A meta-meme that can be made of the series altogether to make a point:

Yo dog we heard you like Pokemon, so we put Pokemon in your Pokemon so you’ve already got them all.

Where the series started to go awry was adding any kind of subtext to the characters. It’s nice to have an idea of why the characters are fighting to begin with, but once Midway started adding various time-space multi-verses it assumed control of the characters and their motives without heading into any clear direction. The story took over without solid ties between the characters and the events thereby pushing the already arbitrary actions to the forefront so that they’d stare the audience in the face like a heaping bowl of plain oatmeal. That’s where Mortal Kombat is – a set of arbitrary actions applied to characters killing each other over and over again without any clear point other than to ‘win’. It’s a quick fix title; cures about 10 minutes of boredom, but beyond that it has fallen from previous graces.

Today people bring up Mortal Kombat in a past tense and relive what it was, so in spirit the series is already dead and it has been culturally acknowledged. However, there are those who still debate the fact that the series sucks overall and by allowing this to live on, the remaining tens of fans will no longer argue that the series doesn’t suck and begin to state that it does.

It might not be so bad in that, as a comment has been made to prompt me, the game wasn't trying to be something it isn't. Fighter games are distinctly themselves for the most part. Street Fighter is vastly different from MK, Soul Calibur is different from either. But, when Mortal Kombat vs DC emerged, it is hard to envision someone at the executive tables in a Midway office turning around like Dr. Claw and stating "Marvel vs Capcom, you'll be mine". MK wasn't and isn't the same kind of game as SF so it won't pull that off. It was EXACTLY being something it wasn't... and that means, someone either had a lot of bad ideas for this to be the best one and used, or no ideas at all and a grabbing of straws began.

I used to say this game was the industry’s secret weapon. I dubbed it ‘the tactical mainstream offensive’, because the developers used it to strategically win many legal battles with this series while it simultaneously paved the way for games to be edgy in ways that forced other’s games into obscurity. Though the story was in great danger of being so bland that it wasn’t worth renting, GTA VI changed this with a slightly different direction from the previous 3 main titles. GTA IV introduced a man sort of dealing with the inconvenient circumstances someone else gave him. There was no real back story on him. He entered as a blank slate that current and future events shaped for us. The formula for the game on the other hand, has become so overdone not only with other games like Saint’s Row, True Crimes, and Mafia, but in other Rockstar titles like State of Emergency and the recent Red Dead Redemption. Interestingly with RDR, the GTA formula worked like magic. The setting, story, characters, environment and so on were completely different and the game was both commercial and critical success.  But, if we take the GTA formula and put it in yet another GTA, it’s “more of the same”.

Kill it off. Kill it because we’ve already proof that it’s actually better applied in a completely different direction with equal success.

Kill this game off, please, I beg of it. Not because I’m not a fan of it , nor because I want 360 zealots to be stripped of the one game that provides a false sense of console elitism. Kill it off because the fact that the developers are telling a prequel story indicates they’re out of good ideas. Apparently botching the endings of 2 and 3 weren’t enough so going back before the beginning to avoid having to really make an original ending is something they don’t have to do. Kill it because Halo is the video game version of Harry Potter. When J.K. Rowling stated that she was not going to write any more Harry Potter books because the story is over, fans were disappointed but they’re never going to be able to say that the series was run into the ground and thus ultimately have been much happier for it. Let Halo continue being the XBox 360 “Harry Potter” and let it go.

People change, the setting changes, the mechanics get scrambled, but there are several unifying themes present in all Final Fantasy titles: A rebelling sovereign state,  a culturally diverse cast of adventurers, an evil antagonist, manifest destiny, biology vs technology, and some form of altruistic suicide are present in the central plot in every game. Where the series retains the one audience throughout the vast series is where they lose it in another,  but it’s is that the same central story.

More than my desire to kill Halo, I wish for the death of Final Fantasy. I’ve grown to love Final Fantasy in a similar fashion to family, so writing that I believe it should be let go is not something I do lightly or with irreverence. It was my introduction to RPGs, spurred the development of a friendship between one of my three best friends of over 22 years, and has always been the gaming safety blanket I’ve kept close to shield me from utter boredom when the industry was in a slump. Don’t kill this because it is told differently over and over, legitimatizing the oxymoron “same difference” through one continuous encore. No, Kill this because with each iteration the focus has moved from plot and mechanics to trying to keep the audience retained with graphics. Don’t kill it off because people can’t decide if VI, VII, or VIII was the greatest Final Fantasy, no, kill it off because people can’t figure out if a game from 16, 13, or 11 years ago was better from 2 or 3 console generations back.

Who doesn’t like vampire hunting, with a Morning Star no less? Castlevania was a generation defining game of the NES era along side Ghosts ‘n Ghouls, Metroid, and a slew of other titles I could mention but won’t. Living 38 titles long, the series starts with Simon Belmont venturing into Castle Dracula to kill him. It’s pretty basic really, but as the series progressed the story extended through several generations of Belmont kin, secret organizations and Alucard, Dracula’s own son - doing the same *** thing. Most of the games are a fun infested side scrolling platformer rich with iconic monsters such as mummies, mermen, ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and werewolves.  The series has established that about every 100 years Dracula will rise and the Belmont clan will come to once again kill him, which is the point of each damned iteration.

Why kill one of the originals? Kill it primarily because each installation offers nothing in poignant game play, story, or character development; 38 titles of ‘overall baby steps’. Like Halo and Resident Evil, Castlevania has become little more than the original set of wildly familiar and boring arbitrary actions.

Corporate greed, political irresponsibility, unethical science, and zombies. For the most part Resident Evil was a twist on some interesting conspiracy theory not to mention *** creepy. Through 7 main titles, 11 spin-off titles, and 6 major motion pictures the franchise is indisputably popular. But we have to wonder, exactly how long  will it be until either the virus is contained or the series becomes a video game version of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Does it matter? The series somehow manages to reset and restart a ticking time bomb scenario. It’s like ’24′… with zombies.

In 1996 when Resident Evil graced the PlayStation, I recall having in my barracks room, no less than 15-17 trained soldiers all huddled together in the dark – just watching, then at times rushing to turn the lights on… at noon on a Saturday. A series with a story that enraptured audiences have resorted to the static fallback stance of familiar mechanics and activities. Resident Evil still had the story elements of a viral outbreak causing innocent people to crave brains, had challenging mechanical limitations, and puzzles that added to the feeling of ‘pressure under fire’ but since moved from this and now relies more on  getting players to sit and enjoy moments where they jump from the couch and once again master blowing the heads off of zombies within designed limited movement.

In short, it lost focus. It lacks the ability to keep the attention of the user without using some fall back gimmick such as no moving while firing, needing to mix herbs to get stronger health, or  no sidestep… for the sake of adding challenge instead of actually providing a challenge scenario intertwined with a story. Kill this off for that very reason.

The popularity of the Metal Gear series is multi-faceted. For starters it pioneered tactical espionage games, but also had a very complex universe timeline and spiderweb cast of main and supporting characters with encyclopedic back story for all of it; the level of detail given goes far beyond what player see but still remains within the game itself (in other words, no one had to come and write a book to give it depth and meaning). Another aspect that made the series popular is the story was told out of order, leaving players to piece together some of the deeper mysteries themselves. If there was ever a game that could be considered mature in a strict sense, this ranks among the top in the list of them. It was a series that people took very seriously, but not obsessively. Or did they?

Metal Gear Rising has been announced and while it doesn’t center itself around any iteration of Snake, it does something potentially much worse: Explores Raiden. This is exactly why it needed to be completely killed off. Splitting into the exploration of a side character, who being unexplored wouldn’t have disrupted the original story or plot at all, is one of those moves where a movie from a pretty good director comes out in Hollywood, and then some other far less capable director comes along and makes a really shitty sequel meant to ‘capture the spirit’ – Like Dusk Till Dawn II. Perhaps Rising will be a good fun title, but aside from that, it’s not Metal Gear beyond the name. Kill it because anything from  Peace Walker on out isn’t going to really be Metal Gear and keeping the name only ruins the memory of it.

This kind of game says “too lazy to make an original IP and the consumer is too stupid to know better”. It was fun in its time, but it was also very generic and was more or less an effective time waster. Games have evolved far beyond the simple days when Twisted Metal was a fun game and many other games have taken that formula and made it evolve; games like Blur. Since the newest Twisted Metal isn’t out yet no one can really say it is going to be good or going to be bad, but what can be said is that it doesn’t need to be at all. Don’t kill this because Twisted Metal 3 & 4 were garbage and Black was the only thing that kept it in people’s mind. Kill it because, well, for the most part no one asked for it to come back. We were okay with the series being gone. It’s a title being reintroduced on hopes of being as popular as it once was in it’s early PlayStation glory days with next to nothing proving it.

Why, if all of these game are the provider of great gaming memories and industry awards, should these among others be put down? Why are people beginning to feel like what happened to MTV in the early 90s is now happening to gaming? I leave you to ponder the answer from the point after King Lear dies:

EDGAR He faints! My lord, my lord!
KENT Break, heart; I prithee, break!
EDGAR Look up, my lord.
KENT Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates him much
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.
EDGAR He is gone, indeed.
KENT The wonder is, he hath endured so long:
He but usurp’d his life.
ALBANY Bear them from hence. Our present business
Is general woe.
[To KENT and EDGAR]
Friends of my soul, you twain
Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain.
KENT I have a journey, sir, shortly to go;
My master calls me, I must not say no.
ALBANY The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

With that, let the next story begin, and if anyone ever asks what became of them after passing, you relay their lives in all its wonder, and end it simply and modestly with, “They died.”

I'm not saying that any of these games aren't good or weren't good, I'm asking if it's better for everyone to let them die off while they're fondly remembered or to allow them, rather push them, to continue on until we have no alternative but to absolutely hate them?

Some other franchises that need to be laid to rest or stay at rest are:

  • Mega Man
  • Mario Kart
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • God of War (let the next PSP game be the last)
  • DJ Hero
  • Call of Duty (The subtitles aren’t fooling anyone)
  • Spyro
  • Ratchet & Clank
  • Gears of War (once it's over, let it be over)
  • King of Fighters
  • Fable
  • Time Crisis
  • Any Cabala’s Game
  • Disgaea
  • Persona
  • Atelier Series
  • Sims
  • Guitar Hero / Rockband
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