Sunday, May 10, 2009

Commentary: Duke Nukem Forever and Schadenfreude

The Rolling Stones are a group of redundant has-beens that have been smart enough to capitalize on the cultural black hole left in the hearts of middle-aged Westerners with a surplus of cash and a forfeit of happiness. By managing to stay in the public eye for so long as well as not being dead, the Rolling Stones have secured their place as the cultural icons for a demographic that keeps itself young by having plastic surgery and extra-marital affairs as well as buying thousand-dollar Rolling Stones paraphernalia like Rolling Stones leather jackets at live concerts with aid of the many ATMs specially trucked in for that purpose.

However, the Rolling Stones weren't always the status quo - in fact, they became today's status quo by being yesterday's rebellious youthful voice of dissent. The risque lyrics of "Let's Spend the Night Together" were asked to be changed to "Let's Spend Some Time Together" on the Ed Sullivan Show (and not complied with). The early marketing of the band as unkempt, wayward rogues in response to the clean cut image of the Beatles proved to be true as the Rolling Stones garnered an infamous reputation for heavy recreational drug use. These guys were rock and roll: they lived fast and hard and antagonized the status quo with songs about three chords and the truth.

And rock the establishment they did. On 1968's "Beggar's Banquet" album, the Rolling Stones suggested in the song "Sympathy for the Devil": "Who killed the Kennedys? ..after all, it was you and me." "Me" suggesting the devil incarnate, and "you" as in everybody. Not five years after the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy that arguably had a greater impact upon citizens of the US than the event of 9/11 as well as the very same year of the assassination of Presidential Democratic candidate Robert F. Kennedy did this song come out. Once again, this song claimed that everybody was complicit in their deaths; even though you did not pull the trigger, you sanctioned such a horrible deed by being the person you are.

Beggar's Banquet would become a platinum selling album and become part of the Rolling Stones' iconic discography. But how would they get away with criticizing everyone and casting blame on a public who would just as soon feign indifference and ignorance to such accusations?

Because it's true. We are all to blame. This observation of the human condition would be often quoted everywhere in this cult classic Stones song; listeners love this song for this line - they identify with it. We can see this same human condition in the latest video game sensationalist news: Who killed Duke Nukem Forever? was you and me.

3D Realms announced on May 6th of this year that they were shutting down and closing down the company. 3D Realms is best known for the development of "Duke Nukem Forever" and the plethora of delays incurred during this developmentto make it a video game industry joke, called derisively as "Duke Nukem Taking Forever" or "DNF - Did Not Finish". Announced on April 28, 1997, Duke Nukem Forever would be teased for impending release in the near future only to change physic engines and suffer set back and further delays; that this would happen again and again for an amazing twelve years would put Duke Nukem Forever on vaporware award lists at the end of years for web magazines like Wired, be retired from consideration by being placed in a "Vaporware Hall of Fame", and then make it back onto the active list by teasing an impending release.

This happened again and again; twelve years is a long time, especially in the fast paced and ever changing world of technology. Gamers couldn't believe the exorbitant length of time required to finish this game. Delays of video games mean only one thing to expectant gamers: if I have to wait for it, then the wait better be worth it. It's strange that this need of gamers to have and play the newest and most advanced games doesn't comply with the patience logically required to wait for such games, but then video gamers are a victim and beneficiary to that monster they alone feed and nurture: hype.

Game makers and developers often circulate news and previews of their games to institute a basis for interest for their product; that said, some game developers are guilty of manufacturing hype of sky high proportions that they can't possibly live up to. Ads for "Daikatana" (2000) infamously state, "John Romero's About to Make You His Bitch." as well as the tagline, "Suck it Down." Peter Molyneux famously touted astounding features of "Fable" to an eager public only to later publicly apologize for promoting things that never made it to the finished product. "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) was not able to sell much of its purported five to six million games despite its licencing to the biggest movie of that year, and urban legend states that many of the unsold games were buried in a New Mexico landfill.

All three of these examples are cases where the game developer or company overreaches its publicity and attention-grabbing, only to suffer a public shaming due to their own hubris. As common people, we all enjoy the sight of the arrogent and conceited receiving the retribution that is deserving of them. It seems that those with pride "live by the sword, and die by the sword", and as such it is fitting that they fall so hard because they built themselves up so high.

However, this type of hype isn't the case for 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever. Instead of making any brash proclamations (and actually had a blanket statement of "When it's done, it's done,") 3D Realms sinned grievously in the public eye by teasing the public with an announcement or a preview, and then retracting this "prize" from gamers by issuing yet another delay. In the case of Duke Nukem Forever, this back and forth teasing of the public lasted for twelve years. Twelve long years; that's more than the time it took from Barack Obama's first election as an Illinois senator to his inauguration as President of the USA.

The excessive amount of waiting for this game created hype of massive proportions. As gamers react with emotional vindication to games they feel have had unwarranted waiting periods or unneccessary hype, the backlash against Duke Nukem Forever would be massive. As it turns out with the folding of 3D Realms, it is likely that none of us will ever actually get to play Duke Nukem Forever unless publisher Take Two can wrestle away the source code and give it to another developer who can finally finish this game. That means that all this waiting, all of this expectation and hype has been for nothing.

The jokes at the expense of Duke Nukem Forever can be best seen at, where the entire chronology of the Duke Nukem Forever development saga is further illustrated by a list of things that happened during the time it took to develop Duke Nukem Forever in the twelve years from April 28, 1997 and May 6, 2009. That this list is entirely too long is completely the point: in the most obvious geek behavior allowed to nerds everywhere with an internet connection, Wikipedia was scoured to the dregs to provide a pedantic yet humorous list that really just says one thing: you took too damn long, 3D Realms.

However, as we peer between the lines of this geek outpouring of love of facts and data, we see that there is a definite underlying emotion here: schadenfreude. Defined by little Lisa Simpson as "German for 'shameful joy'", schadenfreude is basically feeling happy at other people's misfortune. Gamers have it in spades for 3D Realms for taking such a long time with Duke Nukem Forever.

But why do we feel such schadenfreude for? The real ramifications of this is that people are losing their jobs - we should feel good over that?

3D Realms took a monumental amount of time to develop Duke Nukem Forever, and obviously spent a whole lot of money that will never be recouped if this game is never finished and sold. This is not your money nor do you have any stake in this, save emotionally, and therein lies the problem of video gamers and trying to cater to these people.

3D Realms, you deserve to fail miserably in the opinion of video gamers because they have invested in your game already - in hope. From playing previous versions of Duke Nukem, gamers had a pre-visualized idea of the joy and fulfilment that a new Duke Nukem game will bring them and were banking on you to rekindle these fabulous memories of kickassery and cool. You tortured gamers with your unexpectant and unreasonable delays - and gamers wanted revenge.

This is the culture and world view of video gamers: one of a double-edge sword of hype that is created by gamers to artificially increase the emotional investment at stake with these games. That video games often provide an immersive, emotional experience that gamers want to replicate over and over again sets the stage for the way gamers await new, promising experiences.

The schadenfreude of the failure of Duke Nukem Forever is indicative of the detachment from responsibility video gamers feel about the culture they take part in. While many gamers complain over and over again about issues big and small, like the retail value of downloadable content or the lack of integrity to mainstream video game journalism, it isn't very often that such an apathetic crowd who is content to remain languid and indifferent would do something to affect change.

The culture of video games is one of consumption, not creativity. We don't want to make video games, we only want to play them. However, we don't want to hear about how hard it is to make a game but rather we will complain about every tiny detail if it doesn't measure up to the miraculous first-time playthrough of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" (1998). We want every new game to be better than the last, and we want this game to give us joy, happiness, and fulfilment.

It's no wonder in this kind of social climate that Duke Nukem Forever failed; we all wanted it to fail. While there are many reasons for a company to close in the current depression (ie. "economic downturn/crisis/euphenism"), there was never any hope for this game to succeed in light of the massive hype built up before it.

Who killed Duke Nukem Forever? After all, it was you and me.

No comments:

Post a Comment