Conflicts in the Protesting of Art for Charity…

So I caught a glimpse of this hubbub about this Retake Mass Effect controversy that sprung to life last night, and I’ve been kind of following it since despite having never even played the game myself. I think it raises some interesting questions both about fan expectations as well as the politics of being involved with a charity, so I thought I’d write out a few of my thoughts about everything here for what it’s worth…

First and foremost, I’m just going to be blunt and say that as a creative person myself, I kind of take umbrage at the audacity of a group of fans demanding that a work of art get changed because they didn’t like it – in this case, the ending to Mass Effect 3. And I should probably tread lightly here because I don’t have all the facts … I’ve never actually played the game myself, and a lot of the comments that I’ve read cite that the games trailers gave them certain expectations that they felt weren’t lived up to when they actually finished the game. Not for nothing, but using that logic, I’d have to protest about 3/4 of the movies I see at the theater because in entertainment, it’s typically the exception that lives up to its hype, not the rule!

And yeah, gamers can claim that they’re more involved in this world because they’ve spent dozens of hours playing the series – to me that’s kind of a hollow excuse because how many people watched through four and a half seasons of Battlestar Galactica before being pissed about the final ending that Ronald Moore ultimately decided on?!  😯

It’s also been said, and even quoted from the developers, that “we didn’t write the story – the fans did just as much as we did” … and maybe that’s part of the problem because as much insight that you may allow the fan community at the end of the day, unless they’re sitting down at their PCs pounding out scripts for the game to follow, eventually an actual writing team has to make the official decision of what’s going to go down … I don’t particularly like this as an excuse, but then again, as a writer I’d never open myself up to that kind of problem, either.

Because to me, the roles between writer and reader are related, but still need to have very distinct boundaries – I create the work, you consume the work – and as much as you’re certainly entitled to be disappointed by what I’m able to come up with as the writer, you cross a line when you actually expect me to change my work based on your feedback. It’s a pet peeve that I have with a lot of armchair critics because loads of people love to tell you how they could easily do your job better, but they never actually have to understand just how inappropriate and rude of a thing that is to impose on a creative person. We pour a lot of ourselves out on the page to create what we do – if you aren’t happy with the result, then be disappointed or mad or refuse to ever read again or even go create something better of your own, but it’s just not fair to expect me to change my vision because it didn’t align with your expectations for my imagination!

Granted, bits of that get muddied in this particular situation if the publisher did indeed tote that the fans were intimately involved in the creation process, but still in my mind, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere because otherwise … why aren’t these fans mad at themselves for this piece of art that in theory they all helped to create themselves?!

Something’s just not adding up there…

That said, the other angle about Child’s Play trying to take a step back from this effort to avoid being associated with a political movement, of sorts … after reading through that Reddit thread, frankly Jamie with Child’s Play has been nothing but thoughtful and considerate, and a good number of the rest are exactly what they claim to be trying to avoid – entitled whiners – which from my outside view, is just exasperated by their involvement with the charity because it reads like they’re trying to use donating to Child’s Play as an excuse for rallying against the makers of the game. They wanted their feedback to be heard by EA as “more than just a bunch of whining,” so someone came up with the idea that they’d all donate to Child’s Play to express their anger … and maybe it was unintentional, but inadvertently it most certainly does pull the charity into the line of fire because now they’re using it as a tool to reinforce their displeasure to the publisher, as if their demands must be taken more seriously because $80,000 for sick kids was raised in its name.

I guess I don’t really know any way to say it without sounding demeaning, but it’s not like that crowd is hearing criticism against them anyways … they simply can’t fathom the idea of how their actions have unintended consequences, and why it makes Child’s Play look bad because they wouldn’t have donated otherwise if not for these demands of theirs. And that’s not even taking issue with the ridiculousness of the demands themselves, as mentioned above – by saying, “Let’s raise money for charity by voicing our displeasure for X,” it’s easy to distort that to mean that X and the charity are now somehow connected. Jamie also cited that they’d had questions from donors about “How much was needed to get the game changed?” and even concerns from Paypal over chargebacks, so like it or not, the community needs to realize that the charity they’re trying to support is bigger than any one fundraiser and needs to conduct itself as such.

As a whole, Child’s Play has raised over $12 million for children’s hospitals around the world. It’s an awesome number to brag about, but to continue building on that in the years to come, they have to be conscious about the charity’s image and unfortunately, that’s going to occasionally mean saying, “No thanks – that’s not really something we should be involved with…”

Anyways, I’ve rambled long enough. It’s an interesting explosion, and a lot of vitriol and misunderstanding is being flung almost entirely from the side of the movement … probably not really surprising when you consider their core argument, though. You know, looking back through time, I’ve played a lot of video games and some of the endings sure did suck, but that never drove me to complain to the developers about their suckage, much less demand that they do it over and do it better, so I just can’t put myself in the headspace of someone who genuinely thinks that’s a perfectly justifiable claim to make. At the end of the day, all we as creators can do is make what we think is the best possible content, and then hope that others enjoy it, too.

If you don’t like it, pick up a pencil and do it better by creating your own.

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