A Question for the Readers

Thomas here. So, as you may have inferred from the title, I’ve got a question for you. First, some context.

On Monday, March 19th, I started working. My first real, consistent job in seven months. Thank. Freaking. God. But working a 9 to 5 (a 10:30 to 7:30, actually) has given me less time to devote to the blog.

No, no. Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. But as you may have noticed, the posts have been shorter this week and coming out later than usual. Before now, I had spent a few days working on each post (albeit with most of the work being done on the day the post actually went live.) Now, almost all of the work is being done when I get home from my job with just some notes and outlines composed during the off days. Consequently, I feel like the quality of my writing may have suffered for it. I don’t know if it actually has. I’m not the most objective judge of my own work, and today marks the first large chunk of free time I’ve really had to sit down and edit.

I woke up a few hours ago and after tossing and turning in a futile effort to get back to sleep, I thought to myself, “Well, maybe I’ll just print out ‘The Laughing God’ thus far, edit it, make the changes to the appropriate posts, and try to go back to sleep.” And then I had a moral conflict.

To anyone who follows video game news, I’m sure you’re familiar with the controversy over Bioware’s latest release, Mass Effect 3. To those who aren’t, here’s the issue in a nutshell. Imagine if, back when Return of the Jedi had come out, George Lucas had turned the last twenty minutes of the movie into the last twenty minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fans of the game went apeshit, decried the ending as an insult, and demanded that Bioware release a new ending for the game. Over the course of a week, Bioware went from telling the fans they stood by their writers to saying that they would definitely take feedback into consideration to saying “Hey, guess what? New ending coming soon! Details next month!”

I have opinions on this whole thing, but this blog isn’t meant to be a platform for me ranting about video games. It is about stories, though, so I’ll rant about storytelling!

Frankly, the ending to the game sucked. I’m making this claim not as a fan of video games and a fan of the series (I am both of those things,) but as a writer. As a writer, the ending was terrible. It showed all the signs of the authors having no idea how to end their story, so they threw something together, hoped the audience would be deep, hit print, and ran. I have an MFA from St. Mary’s College of California, which meant I took two years’ worth of workshop classes with other writers, and I feel completely confident saying that if we had been presented with Mass Effect 3’s ending at the end of a novel, we would not have liked it. The gentler among us would have said that it wasn’t confident, that it was confusing, that it didn’t seem to fit with the story that had come before it. The harsher would have said that it was rushed, that the author was expecting the reader to do the work for him, that it made no sense.

It all adds up to the same thing. It was bad.

And you know what? That’s part of being a writer. Sometimes your writing isn’t good. Sometimes your writing is actually bad. And when that happens, you either start over from scratch or sit down, think things through, and fix the problems. Not every story can be brilliant, but every story can at least be competent. I suspect that things were rushed, though. That Electronic Arts, the publisher for the game, just said “Fuck it, get the goddamn thing out the door.” I can’t imagine the creative team thought they had come up with an ending worthy of a five-year long saga. I suppose it’s possible, but I sincerely doubt it.

The fan reaction though, to demand a new ending… that’s unusual. It’s a victory for the company that they could produce such investment in their fanbase. It really is. You hear about people getting worked up at movies (Star Wars) or TV shows (Lost, The Sopranos) or books (Harry Potter,) but video games? That’s new. That’s exciting.

But they weren’t just outraged and confused, they were demanding a new ending. And Bioware capitulated. That’s got some interesting implications for the relationship between artist and patron, between consumer and company. I think it’s great that a fanbase can call out a creator on their shortcomings. It’s not possible to please everyone, but when you’ve displeased everyone, you’ve almost certainly done something wrong, and sticking your fingers in your ears because you don’t want to hear about it isn’t a mature response.

Where am I going with all this? Well, as I mentioned, I was just about to sit down and edit the last two posts when I began to wonder if that was actually a good idea. I’m sure that I could find places to tighten them. Words to be trimmed, commas to be deleted, ideas that could be be better expressed. That sort of thing. But do you, dear reader, want that? Or would you rather the story stay as it is, warts and all?

On the one hand, fans wanted Bioware’s magnum opus to be better than it was, and Bioware decided to give it to them, and there was much rejoicing. But on the other hand, George Lucas has been tweaking the Star Wars films since the goddamn things first came out, and every change he makes just generates more ill will. I am, of course, generalizing with both examples, but I think it’s a fair generalization.

I wouldn’t be adding new characters. I wouldn’t be changing themes or relationships or plot points in any way. If I were in the business of making movies, we’d be talking about a director’s cut that’s got the sound cleaned up and the image sharpened, not CGI dewbacks and midichlorians. But maybe you don’t want things tweaked at all.

Maybe there’s a middle way. What if left the posts as they were for now but edited them and kept them to myself. Then, if there ever came a time down the road when I needed to get something up but had no new content prepared, I could post an entire story revision all at once?

I’m sure I’m overthinking this, and frankly, the blog doesn’t have the reader base for it to be a huge issue. Still, I thought I would pose the question to the folks who are here.

You don’t own the stories, but you do own the experiences you have reading them and the thoughts you have about them. And I believe in collaboration. So let’s collaborate.


One response to “A Question for the Readers

  • Mike

    Tom, don’t edit content… Possibly just grammar and punctuation but not contet. Btw I liked how you said you would not editorialize about ME3, but the meat of a few of your paragraphs where just that… It was like Volcanoe all over again >.< I have a counter criticism about the belly aching about the ending, yeah it sucked but the insistence on a new ending was the most childish actions of 2012. Grown-ups accept disappointment and continue on; children throw tantrums until they get ther way. Perhaps we where slighted as loyal fans, but disappointment happens, grow up.

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