March 28, 2012

Your Audience Is Not To Be Belittled

I'm still kind of flabbergasted how the Mass Effect 3 ending drama has blown out or proportion in some arenas.  Sure, fan anger can last a while, especially since the game came out less than a month ago and we still have waves of people finishing them every weekend and going full rage tilt on the forums.  I'm also not surprised that Bioware is slowly responding.  The developer has a couple opportune moments to announce what the next step is on their end (even if they're not going to fix anything).

I think what is really interesting for me to watch is the way that that the video game journalists are now up in arms about this fan disappointment.  You've already seen me respond to Colin Moriarty of IGN post a video claiming Mass Effect fans were being entitled and whiny.  I don't know what he thought he accomplished when posting this video, but really many of us interpreted his ill-planned video like this.

Moriarty is not the only video game journalist who has lashed out.  Before and during game release, many of the reviews loved Mass Effect 3 on the whole, and only a couple of reviews even mentioned that the ending may be lackluster.  The fans were not even mad at the reviewers until they started lashing out saying the fans were demanding something that compromised "artistic integrity" and would be "bad business".  Obviously, in many's view it was the fans that were wrong and they as professionals in the right.  Never mind the fact that in every other medium in the past two centuries has an instance where endings and universes have been changed because of fan response.

I don't want to focus on the fact that changes to endings have happened before, or that legitimate criticism needs to be not only from editors but from loyal readers/watchers/gamers.  No, I want to focus on how this shows when a lot of writers are insistent that they know more than their audience, and how this is always doomed to fail.

One of the authors I admired most when growing up was Tamora Pierce.  I read the first three quartets she wrote for the Tortall setting.  Right before the last of Kel's stories, Lady Knight, was published, she went around the country doing readings of the first chapter and answering a ton of questions from adolescents girls.  Many of them were eager to become writers in their own right.  Including me.

I was lucky enough that she answered my question about censorship in books.  It was something that I only became aware of because another story book, and I was afraid that would mean that my writing would always be shut out.  In the midst of answering my question, Tamora Pierce enlightened me to one thing: never assume your readers are dumber than you, or need to be talked down to.  Your readers will appreciate you more for it.

I've kept those words in my head because I remember thinking how I felt when writers thought I was too dumb to understand what they were giving me.  It is a key way to become a horrible writer.  You either over-explain, under-develop, or self edit everything to remove all the complex layers that make any character or plot.  Not every reader may be as smart as the writer, but you want to reward the smart readers regardless.  That shows a respect for your readers, and an appreciation for their patronage to your story and universe.

This is true for all writing.  You have to respect the people who read your story, and not presume that they don't understand anything as well as you do.  It doesn't matter who your audience is, after a while, they're smart enough to see if you think they're too dumb.  Once they're that insulted, they'll stop reading.

When the first defensive reactions came out, Mystic said he had a joke for me: video game journalism.  I don't agree it's a joke, but I do agree that some video game journalists are definitely showing why they are not meant to be writers.  I can understand defending your review in an intelligent article that sparks a conversation.  I myself still say everyone who loves a good action RPG should play the entirety of the Mass Effect series.  There are plenty of ways to justify the high rating after a 5 minute catastrophe to an ending.  Calling your audience ignorant by saying they don't understand art and that they have entitlement issues is not a respectful way of going there.  You've essentially told your audience you don't respect them.  Why should they even respect you back?  Why should they read what you write now, if you don't value their opinion?

This is a relationship that is vital between writer and reader.  The writer must respect that the reader has their own opinions, intelligence and experience to work with, and vice versa.  Just as people shouldn't disrespect the writers who wrote the ending because we don't know what their logic was at the time, writers shouldn't dismiss an audience who doesn't react favorably to their creations.  Sometimes it's good that an audience sees something you didn't realize you create.  Sometimes it's good your audience doesn't agree with you.  That is part of how art grows.  This is part of how a business enterprise grows. A video game like Mass Effect is a combination of the two.  Video game journalists, who write about a hobby and medium we all love, interact with the two all the time.

So I hope that anyone who is even only tangentially aware of this situation can take this lesson away from it all.  You have to respect your audience, and you have to respect your creator.  It is not the same as liking or praising them.  It's something more important than that.

No comments:

Post a Comment