Collective Mediocrity

- In your most recent column, you wrote about the importance of reaching the largest crossection of the RPG populace. While this is certainly a sound economic strategy, I am dismayed at the prospect that it would entail the elimination of the type of games I like best. I will warn you now that a number of readers may be offened at this letter, but it's no more offended than I am at the widespread dislike of and ignorance towards the games I like. Besides, I know that just because a letter could be offensive wouldn't stop you from printing it.

The British author John Stuart Mill was alive during the Victorian period, and was quite outspoken about issues that did not endear him to the public. He was in favor of women's equality, and was anti-slavery. What does Mill have to do with video games? Nothing directly, but his main ideas of society are applicable to the subject. Mill was a believer in; and opponent of what he called "Despotism of Custom," and "Collective Mediocrity." I share with him his belief in their existance, and the wrongheadedness of their ideals. I'm sure you are wondering just where exactly I'm going with this. Simply put, M9ill believed that the majorety of people are of common taste and incliantion. These people do not like or appreciate ideas of exceptional quality. Only a very few people in society either possess originality and genius; and only a few more can appreciate it's presence.

One of my first experiences with Collective Mediocrity as it applies to video games was the reception of "Revelations: Persona." While it is sometimes oddly translated, it has easily one of the deepest and most involved plots next to Xenogears. In terms of gameplay, the positioning of your characters in battle added a slight ammount of strategy. You had to consider the characters range, powers, strengths, and weaknesses when positioning them. They had to all contribute to a fight, or be left behind. The strenghts and weaknesses of your characters could also be determined by the Personas that are active within them. How do you get new Personas? By negotiating with monsters rather than killing them. Everything about the game was new and innovative, and I loved it. However, the mediocre tastes and inclinations of early reviewers didn't always agree with me. Instead, they sought to heap much praise on the vastly mediocre and derivitive game "Suikoden."

Tactics Ogre is a game I had been anxiously awaiting ever since I first herad of it in the 16-bit era. I liked Ogre Battle, and was curious what the same people could come up with for a sequel. Well, TO didn't come out until far later. However I did get the chance to play Final Fantasy Tactics. A game made by many of the same people responsible for FFT and TO. The game's storyline was very nice, but is terribly translated. The gameplay is interesting, but I rearely found the battles tactical. Any semblance of strategy was thrown away with the inclusion of Orlandu in Chapter 4. A few months later, I played Tactics Ogre. I was initially turned off by the slowness of the game, but given time, I found the class and element system far superior to the job and zodiac system. The scale of the battles was also far better for actual planning of strategy. Chosing the right equipment was vital as well. Do you go for power or evasion? The flexablility of the gameplay and story impress me to this day; especially considering that it's successor, FFT, did very little to improve on the mecanics, and to me fell flat in some areas. Naturally, the mediocrety of the common opinions overshouted the voices of TO's supporters.

Now, we examine a game that very likely none of your regular readers have played, except me. "Soul Hackers." admittedly, I do not understand much of the story. After all, I'm not very literate in Japanese; though playing Soul Hackers is helping to correct that. The gameplay consists of the hero, a normal human, using a special computer to communicate with and summon demons to accompany him. He is also accompanied by Hitomi and Nemissa. These two girls inhabit the same body due to a very weir occurance involving the hero's COMP. The COMP can be outfitted with many modules that can effect your game's interface and your negotiation ability. For instance, you cannot normally make Dark demons trust you. If you want them early on in the game, you have to fuse many demons together to make the rare dark races. Believe me, and "Outlaw" "Urban Terror" is an immense help early on, but you can only make one through complex fusions. Of course, later on you could recruit one with the "Dark Man" module, but it's nice to have them early. Another interesting feature of the game is that you ocasionally go on "Vision Quests." These are where the sould of the hero is transfered to the body of a person who died before the actual course of the game. You learn valuable information from these Vision Quests, and they are a very cool plot device. However, Sony's playtesters; with their mediocre tastes, disagree with me. Becasue the game takes about 15 minutes longer to get to the action than a normal RPG (2 hours with me due to translation efforts) they decide it's too slow paced and boring.

All of these examples, Soul Hackers in particular, lead to "Despotism of Custom." The early reviewers of these games mostly didn't care for them. I'm constantly set upon by people that never played the games... in some cases haven't ever heard of them. These people are almost impossible to convince to give the games a try becasue they are only interested in the opinions of others. I am heartened by the fact that most people I convince to try the games agree with me about their quality; but trying to overcome their aversion towards games that are so unfairly criticised is hard. In groups, people's tastes are ruled by mediocre views. Whether someone will like Persona, Tactics Ogre, Soul Hackers, or any other less than mainstream game is of no consequence if they disregard the games out of hand.

The day that these less popular games may be upon us, and the exorcism of Soul Hackers could be a frigthening omen of what is to come. The day these games are no longer produced is the day I should hang up my controler. Why should I continue to play when my exceptional tastes are obviously not catered to? I do not want to be forced to have to put down my controler, so I will continue to dispel the unfairly bad reviews around some of the truly good games... and urge all other fans of the games to do the same... I know you three are reading this!

--Tony Patino

P.S. $10 says Mill is turning over in his grave at my adaption of his ideas to something so trivial as video games. ;)

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