Gaming’s Culture of Outrage has Rendered Word of Mouth Worthless

I’ve been keeping one eye on the vampire-hunting shooter Redfall for a while. The colourful art style and vague whiff of The Secret World-style surrealism are intriguing.

A promotional image for the co-op shooter game Redfall.Of course, if you’ve been paying any attention, you know that Redfall has had an overwhelmingly negative reception. The problem is that in the current climate that doesn’t really tell me much.

Clearly the game has flaws. I don’t think the complaints came from nowhere. But there’s no way for me to tell if those flaws are minor hiccups, or if the game is genuinely a dumpster fire. These days, the gaming community seems to see both those things as one and the same.

Nowadays any time a game stumbles even a little, the brigades charge in to rage and foam at the mouth. Anything less than flawless execution is dubbed an unforgivable disaster.

Some of my favourite games from the last few years were considered to be disasters. Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda both come to mind. Both had issues, but those issues were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, yet word of mouth would have you believe they were utterly irredeemable. The Secret World is perhaps the best game I’ve ever played, despite its rough edges, but mainstream opinion is that it was an unplayable mess.

Nothing’s perfect, and as I’ve often said, the mark of true greatness isn’t a lack of flaws, but excelling in a way that allows you to forgive the flaws. But according to the modern gaming community, no flaw can ever be forgiven.

Cora Harper and Scott Ryder in Mass Effect: Andromeda.Maybe Redfall really is completely terrible. There are definitely still games out there that just plain suck. But we now find ourselves in a living parody of the boy who cried wolf. When everything is called a dumpster fire, there’s no way of knowing which games are actually dumpster fires.

We’ve all seen the supercuts of bugs and bad AI behaviour from Redfall, but are those representative of an average session, or just cherry-picked to harvest clicks? When this all first blew up, one of the top posts on the subject I saw on reddit was a screenshot of someone who’d crawled up onto a roof, looked down a chimney, and found that the chimney had the roof texture at the bottom.

What an incredibly petty, trivial thing to complain about. Maybe the game really is bad, but throwing hissy fits over over meaningless things like this make it really difficult to take any of the other criticisms seriously.

(As some wiser minds on reddit point out, purely decorative chimneys like this are a real thing that some houses have, which makes the whole furor even more absurd.)

Social media and the toxicity of the gaming community itself are huge drivers of this culture of outrage, but the media isn’t helping, either. Outrage sells, and flamboyant headlines about disastrous launches and dead games bring in the clicks.

My second character's ranger javelin in Anthem.As a minor member of the gaming media myself, I’m not immune to this. I genuinely do make an effort to not be overly negative in my writing on Massively Overpowered, but honestly I’d forgive you if you never noticed. It’s human nature to focus on the negative, and it’s just much easier to write about what’s going wrong than what’s going right.

But that doesn’t mean all this is inevitable. It’s always going to be easier to talk about the bad than the good, and we should call out games when they stumble, but the culture we have now is beyond counter-productive. It’s all noise and no signal. Word of mouth, unless perhaps from a trusted friend, is less than worthless.

For my part, I’m probably going to hold off on getting Redfall at least for now, but not because of the bad reviews. I’m just hesitant to spend triple-A prices on any new game unless there’s a demo or it’s a franchise I’m familiar with.

Now, developers neglecting to offer demos, that’s something worth getting angry over…

Wyrd Street Odd Jobs: The Tarnished Ring

Odd Jobs is a series of short adventures prompts for my indie RPG Wyrd Street. You can incorporate these prompts into your Wyrd Street campaign or potentially adapt them to other RPG settings.

If you haven’t already tried Wyrd Street, don’t forget we have a free starter edition!

The Tarnished Ring:

From the job board in the Rose Garden common room:

“Need capable for investigators for personal matter. Discretion required. Compensation available.”-Shao Ping, proprietor, Happy Dumpling Tavern.

The Happy Dumpling is a cozy establishment on the banks of the River Skarflud, near the Quarantine. Inside, the air is warm and filled with the smell of delicious food. Shao Ping is a thin, nervous-looking man minding the bar. When the party approaches him, he asks them to join him in a back room, once again implying that his request of is of an embarrassingly personal nature.

Once within a quiet stormroom, and upon checking at the small windows to see that no one is listening outside, he explains that his request isn’t actually personal at all. He’s even been spreading the rumour among his customers that his wife has been seeing someone else to maintain his cover — in reality his wife is quite loyal and in on the deception.

The actual issue concerns the Azure Ring. Once a mercantile guild, the Ring has become a vigilante group protecting the Tiahnese minority within the city. The problem, as Ping explains, is that the particular Azure Ring group in his neighbourhood has taken it upon themselves to move from protection to “protection,” and Ping and his neighbours are on the verge of being bankrupted by their supposed saviours.

Ping is quite convinced that the leader of this extortion ring, a woman named Lu Chin, is doing so without the permission of the Ring’s leaders, and that they will crack down on her if proof of her crimes is presented, but Ping hasn’t the means to find it himself. Thus it falls to the party to stop Chin’s reign of terror, either by defeating her directly or by finding proof of her crimes to take to the Azure Ring.

Tips for running the adventure:

This adventure suits itself well to intrigue and stealth, but of course you can also take the direct route to dealing with the rogue vigilantes.

The Azure Ring are tougher than your average Greycap thugs, so this is an adventure best-suited for mid-level parties of roughly level 4-6, though it can be adjusted for levels beyond that range by adjusting the number and type of enemies fought.

You could even consider reskinning some other NPCs to help adjust the difficulty of any combat encounters. For an easier fight, reflavour some Greycap stat blocks as Azure Ring members, or for a high level adventure, do the same with agents of the Divine Legion.

Want more like this?

More adventures like this can be found in Wyrd Street’s Quicksilver War campaign, which includes five Jobs that can be run as part of its story arc or inserted into other campaigns. Available as part of the Wyrd Street complete bundle.