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March 24, 2016

On Hating Popular Things


So how do you feel about Batman?

He’s been one of the big players in the DC Comics universe for a while now.  And not to generalize, but I’d assume that Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Bat-movies secured his place in the public consciousness.  From what I've heard, it’s reached a point where the Dark Knight has become the superhero of the DC Universe, movies or otherwise -- even taking the top honors from Superman.  When it was still running, the Penny Arcade Report mentioned that a catalogue of what should’ve been Superman’s greatest moments instead focused on listing his myriad failures throughout the years -- as if to break down and even shame a national (if fictional) embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way.

With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice on the way, it’ll be interesting to see how the crew behind it handles the DC heroes.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m very nervous, and even worried; even at a base level, it’ll take a deft hand to balance so many elements -- two superheroes well among them.  And there’s so much more spiraling around the movie: a rebooted, post-Nolan Batman, dealing with the ramifications of and backlash toward Man of Steel, establishing a cinematic universe in a fraction of the time Marvel did, et cetera, et cetera.  Done poorly, it’d be the perfect way to make people hate Batman, Superman, and DC in general -- if they didn’t already.  (Let’s just pretend Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t exist for now.)

But that’s the real issue here.  What do you do when there’s evidence -- more than enough reason -- to hate someone like Batman?  Or Superman?  Or DC?  Or anything, really?  I sure hope the answer isn’t “lose your damn mind”.


For the record?  I don’t hate Batman.  I don’t know comics very well, but given the choice between him and the big blue Boy Scout, I’d choose Superman as the cooler character (as per my tastes).  With that said, I know that there are some cool things that artists, writers, crews, and the like have done before with the character.  That’s kind of a given when you’re dealing with a character pushing eighty, but whatever.  I don’t think Batman is some black hole of artistic merit, because even glimpses of his media -- and a basic understanding of the Dark Knight -- have said “Yeah, there’s some juice to this guy.  Come get it.”

Still, it’s more than possible for that “juice” to be spoiled thanks to poor decisions by the creators.  You know me by now, I hope; I put a lot of stock in heroes, but I can take a step back from that lofty plateau and look at characters as characters -- heroes, villains, and everything in between.  A poorly-realized Batman can break a story in two, for example.  Whether he’s irredeemably bland or gives in to all of the pratfalls with the character (i.e. a godlike figure whose abilities shatter the suspension of disbelief), I don’t have any problems hating a Batman that acts like he deserves accolades just for showing up.  Or “Because he’s Batman.”


That’s basically all I have to say about Batman, but not about the overarching subject.  These days, there’s a certain concern I’ve had -- something that’s always been on the back of my mind, but with each new day it comes closer to the forefront.  Obviously, I use writing platforms like this one to voice my opinion on video games.  Inconsequential stuff, I know, but they mean a lot to me -- and as I’ve found out, they mean a lot to people all across the globe.  Works of art -- games, movies, books, TV shows, comics, and more -- all have dedicated and passionate audiences; still, what means a lot to some doesn’t mean as much to others.  That’s a given.  Sometimes it’s appreciable.  Other times, not so much.

I started off this post with Batman because I know there are people who care immensely about him, no matter the form.  I’m not going to say “I hate Batman” because I don’t, but I thought I should start by illustrating a point.  If I were to say “I hate Batman” and mean it, then I hope it’s understood that that’s my opinion.  Moreover, as per my standard, I’d be sure to explain why I hate Batman.  The passion of fans would probably draw a lot of ire (or turn what I write into the dreaded clickbait), but in my quest to become a top-tier writer, I need to test myself by testing others. 


That means I need to be critical about the media I consume -- and I invite others to do the same.  It’s not a personal attack, and it’s not some ironclad decree.  This may be the internet, but it’s still a place where we can (or should be able to) exchange ideas and engage with each other peacefully.  A rosy sentiment, yes, but I’ve seen it happen before.  And it’ll happen again.  Even if that hate goes toward something popular -- and thus capable of pulling in armies of loyal supporters -- I’m not out to say “You’re wrong” or “You’re stupid”.  No matter what I write, I’m doing what I can to explain my side of things.  And I hope that I write a convincing enough argument, whether or not people disagree.  Okay?  Okay.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me be clear.  I hate the Uncharted series.  I hate The Last of Us.  I’m starting to hate Naughty Dog (as an entity, not the good men and women under its flag).  And given the track record, there’s a very good chance I’m going to end up hating Uncharted 4.

I should’ve titled this post “How to Turn Heel in 60 Words or Less”.


As stupefying as it is to believe, I’ve never played any of the Uncharted games until recently.  I’ve seen parts of them played, but not enough to say I know any of them intimately.  But for the sake of the incoming Uncharted 4 -- and writing about it at some point -- I decided that I needed to play through the other three main games to see what all the noise was about.  I needed to see why people hailed Among Thieves as a masterpiece, and why the franchise as a whole became one of Sony’s most trusted and beloved. 

Having played through The Nathan Drake Collection from start to finish, I’m still kind of waiting to see what I’ve missed.

As it stands, I’m willing to put the trilogy as a whole on the same level as Michael Bay’s Transformers.  (Incidentally, every Uncharted installment came out in the same year as a Transformers installment.)  In a nutshell, it’s “sound and fury, signifying nothing”; the setpieces and spectacle aren’t nearly enough to impress me.  The tension and stakes are nonexistent because Drake is practically invincible -- and even then, checkpoints inherently shatter the illusion of danger.  It feels as if I can sleepwalk through most of what could charitably be called gameplay (which I kind of did).  


So much money went into creating lavish worlds, but I feel less like an explorer and more like a janitor trudging his way through what should be memorable marvels.  The story is almost directly copy-pasted across three separate games, each riddled with clichés and plot holes.  Hollywood’s biggest vices are all lined up, exacerbated since even the shortest of the games goes on hours longer than the average blockbuster.  And most damning of all: I seriously hate spending time with a “merry” band of cocksure criminals…who are also idiots.

As for The Last of Us?  Well, I’ll get back to that.  But first?  I’m sure I don’t need to say it, but calm down and don’t just use the comments section to ready your ICBMs.  Let me finish first.


I was basically a blank slate before I started with Uncharted.  Cultural osmosis had put up some warning signs (Drake’s a murderous psychopath, whoa ho!), but the praise I’d heard from virtually everyone not nicknamed Yahtzee told me that I’d be in for an experience if I gave it a chance.  Lo and behold, I was right…except that playing through all three games ended up being a miserable experience for me.  I was bored, I was angry, I was depressed, and by the time I made it to the end of Drake’s Deception, I was basically an empty husk that turned the game off as soon as I skipped past the credits. 

So no, I’m not a fan of Uncharted.  And while I believe in redemption (a belief tested and spat upon by two separate sequels), I don’t have high hopes for Uncharted 4, save for the fact that it’ll supposedly be hard for Nathan Drake to come back for a fifth console game.  Granted that could mean anything from Drake dying to performing a “heroic” sacrifice to settling down with Elena while surrounded by gold doubloons and ice cream -- but no matter what the impending “end” in A Thief’s End entails, I’m mentally checked out.  I could be proven wrong (and I hope I am), but as it stands?  I’m probably never going to be a fan of the franchise.


That sounds like blasphemy, I know.  So many overwhelmingly positive review scores -- and the words in the reviews, for that matter -- have labeled the franchise as a whole as a “masterpiece”.  Between people who have bought into those reviews, and gamers all over who have found hours of fun with The Nathan Drake Experience feat. Sully, I’d assume I’m in the minority. 

Honestly, it was at my brother’s behest that I skip Drake’s Fortune and go straight to Among Thieves, because he specifically called the latter a masterpiece.  If we’re going by the Uncharted = Transformers analogy, then Drake’s Fortune is to Among Thieves as vanilla Transformers is to Revenge of the Fallen.  I guess that’ll teach me to trust someone who dresses up his created wrestlers in lime green pants and gas masks.

I’m kind of dreading the inevitable conversation we’ll have when he asks me what I think of the franchise.  He’ll groan, or shake his head, or roll his eyes, and fall back on his famous line: “You just don’t like anything.”  Or, alternatively, “You hate anything that’s mainstream.”  Or “You don’t like it because it’s not anime enough.”  Dismissal, disdain, disgust -- all the expected responses.  I’d make an argument, but I wonder if it’ll have any meaning; we’re practically on opposite sides of the trenches, after all.  All things considered, I feel like saying “I hate Uncharted” in any space is like declaring war on mankind with your only weapon being a wooden stick and a hula hoop.


Now, maybe I’m generalizing here, but I’m under the impression that Uncharted is a pretty popular franchise.  By extension, The Last of Us is a pretty popular game.  And naturally, Naughty Dog is a pretty popular company.  Needless to say, they have the sales figures and awards to show for it.  I may not like the games, but millions of others do.  Why?  Any number of reasons, many of which are based on opinion.  There’s no ironclad rule to appreciating art; someone that loves the color green might cringe at the sight of purple.  And that’s fine.  Hating something as innocuous as a video game shouldn’t make anyone want to burn the dissenter at the stake.

…Is what I’d like to say.  But boy, sometimes it feels like the complete opposite is true.

For whatever reason, as far as I can tell, Naughty Dog and its productions (for the most part) are untouchable.  Some complaints have been thrown Drake’s way, but there have been times where people who raised complaints ended up getting shut down.  Or, alternatively, they end up making excuses as to why the franchise’s faults get a pass (“It’s a popcorn flick!” or “That’s just how it’s supposed to be!”)  That’s a small sample size, I know, but something tells me that there are comments elsewhere that aren’t what I’d call conducive to discussion.  Raise hell over a taboo subject, and hell bites back…via a slew of scathing comments.

And that brings me to The Last of Us.


I finished the game a month or two after its release -- and despite the avalanche of praise it received, I basically dragged myself to the end credits as a metaphorical stump of a body.  Given its content, I understand that it’s not supposed to be a rip-snorting good time; still, I would’ve guessed that it could offer up more to engage me.  Get me thinking.  And it didn’t -- so I was left frustrated, disappointed, and ultimately angry.  To me, the Game of the Year was anything but.  In the time since, I’ve cooled off on The Last of Us; I like the idea and intent behind it, but the execution wasn’t there.  So my “hate” at this stage is closer to “distaste”.  Still, I’d put it several dozen steps above Uncharted at this point -- because trying and failing is better than not trying at all.

I could say plenty more on TLoU.  And I have, though formatting issues have left the end result janky semi-recently.  Still, I’ve alluded to my concerns with the game on Destructoid, but I’ve never gone on at length there about why I’m not one of its fans.  Not for lack of trying, though; I’ve written multiple posts in an attempt to try and summarize my thoughts.  But I never uploaded them -- partly because they were too long, and partly because I didn’t want to face any backlash.

As stupid as it sounds, I was afraid that I’d be hated for hating TLoU.  I was worried -- and I’m still kind of worried -- that going against popular opinion will only be an exercise in futility and a hostility magnet.  If it’s not directed at me (and why wouldn’t it be?) then it would be directed at any poor, unfortunate commenter who voiced an unpopular opinion.


Now, let me be fair here.  I’m not accusing anyone who reads this of being so short-tempered that hearing “I hate Uncharted” and/or “I hate TLoU” will make them immediately write scathing comments about how wrong and stupid I am -- especially on a site as cool as Destructoid.  But out in the wild frontier of the internet, I’ve taken plenty of heat for my opinions, no matter how hard I try to back up my claims with reasoning or evidence.  Part of that has to do with people saying “I didn’t read it all” and then jumping straight to the proverbial finger-pointing, but other times?  It feels like I’m the one being hated just ‘cause

It’s happened to me before with TLoU.  When presented with my opinions, people figured that I “didn’t get it” or I was “too young” to have it resonate with me.  I mean yeah, I’m not exactly pushing sixty and looking out for would-be daughters, but not having the circumstances of a main character shouldn’t exclude me or anyone from judging a work -- or criticizing it, for that matter.  Likewise, I’m not sure how it’s possible to “not get it” when my version of “it” is based on subjective statements and final takeaways, not ironclad fact.  Also, I’d argue that there’s not that much to get in some seventeen hours of The Misadventures of Joel Grumpybuns.  But I digress.


It’s not like the hate is exclusive to critical darlings like TLoU, either.  I’ve made it no secret that I hate Watch Dogs with a passion -- and back in 2014, it was Mr. Popular for a good while.  So imagine my surprise one day when I find a post that I wrote is bumping around Reddit…and naturally, people took issue with it.  Setting aside the fact that people openly admitted that they didn’t read it all, some indignant redditors seemed furious with my attempt to explain myself.  It reached a point where someone decided to call me “an overly sanctimonious asshole”.  Granted I’ve taken it as a badge of honor in the years since, but rationality went out the window at the speed of light.

The same goes for Kingdom Hearts.  I’d like to think that at this point, years after its inception, people could be receptive toward different opinions.  Imagine my surprise when the comments come in, and the shade gets thrown my way.  Not all of those comments offered a counter-argument -- and in some cases, they weren’t even coherent.   Even if you’re a fan of the KH series -- like I am -- we can all agree that it’s not perfect, right?  The internet provides the perfect shield against consequences, but is it absolutely necessary to shoot down dissenting opinions?

I ask this, because it seems like there’s a paradox to hating popular things: you’re allowed, if not expected, to hate specific popular things.


Like a prophecy come to pass, I’ve seen the proof.  I write another post about Devil Survivor 2, one of my favorite games to date, and it goes largely unnoticed over on Destructoid.  I write yet another post on Final Fantasy -- the back half of which lambasts the modern entries once again -- and it gets accolades and several times more attention.  Okay, sure, criticizing stuff like FF13 was basically the genesis of my writing about video games, but I’ve done it so much.  I would’ve figured that people would be tired of it by now, but apparently not.  Apparently, because hating on modern-day FF is the thing to do, I’m always going to have an audience gathering around me like Boy Scouts by a campfire.

Then there are the perennial whipping boys in gaming (and media at large).  Let’s not pretend like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed are innocent victims here -- and to be sure, I’ve said some unkind things about them in the past thanks to (what I consider) ample evidence.  But that’s just it; I make my arguments based on evidence and experience, even if I don’t do it in every line or if I choose to rely on offhand statements.  I don’t do it because it’s expected.  I do it because that’s my substantiated -- if unsurprising -- opinion.  But let’s flip that on its head for a second.  If I were to be a firm supporter of something like Call of Duty, and named all of its vices as reasons to love the bank-busting franchise, then how many people would accept it?  How many people would accept me, and how many would reject me out of sheer principle?


I know I’m generalizing here, and it’s not as if you can divide everyone into two distinct camps (or even assume that there are two camps).  But it seems like more and more, there’s a contradictory element to hate.  I always thought that expressing your opinion was supposed to be a good thing, assuming that you did so with clarity, skill, and evidence.   The internet’s proven me wrong -- not just because of heat I’ve taken (which is mercifully low, to be honest), but because of heat scribbled in comment sections and forums that lace the World Wide Web. 

I respect the passion that people show towards their favorite franchise, media, and stories, but it seems like they can and will lose sight of what’s important because of inflexibility.  A culture where hate, anger, and outright rejection are so commonplace doesn’t help anyone in the long run.  And if we reduce the mindset to its basest form, then the paradox becomes even clearer.  “You’re allowed to share your opinion, as long as it’s not different from my opinion!  Love what you want, and hate what you want -- except for that thing over there!  You must absolutely NOT touch it, because it’s impossible to hate!  Go hate that thing instead, because it deserves to be hated!”

I want to say that it’s just the nature of the beast and leave it at that, but…why should that be the nature of the beast?


Again, I’m not accusing everyone of losing their minds when presented with an opinion -- however extreme -- that’s different from theirs.  But it has happened, and it’ll happen again.  How is anyone supposed to change that?  I don’t know.  It’s not as easy as flipping a switch on or off; plus, the “solution” in this case is more or less reversing a mindset that’s gripped fandoms and zeitgeists the world over.  With that said, I want things to change for the better -- and I guess I’d better use this space to at least stand at the starting line.

I do what I do in order to improve myself.  If I can’t point out the strengths and weaknesses of a work, then I doubt I can do that for my work -- which means I’ve got no business being a writer.  In turn, I try to share my thoughts to others; I don’t expect others to immediately buy into what I say, but I do hope I can at least help others see the reasoning behind words and preferences.  It’s a way to entertain, but also a way to enlighten -- to show people that there are plenty of possibilities in the world of fiction. 


But blind, standardized hatred -- or the refusal therein -- doesn’t do anyone any favors.  Hating popular things is fine as long as there’s sound reasoning behind it, but if you’re doing it just ‘cause, then you’re crippling yourself.  The same goes for refusing to hate; it doesn’t have to be that extreme, but sometimes that level of dislike is warranted, and represents a point where critical analysis renders a work unsalvageable.  If you aren’t willing to accept that there are legitimate reasons why someone has a problem with something, then you’ve basically guaranteed that you’ll hamstring yourself -- and others -- creatively, mentally, and even emotionally.  Shunning and denying others of their opinions prevents meaningful discussion.  And when that happens?  When ideas and possibilities can’t be communicated?  It’s the worst game over that anyone could ever face.

I shouldn’t have to say what should be inherent for being a decent human being, but here it is regardless.  I love writing, and it would be awesome to know that my words make a difference.  But I don’t want to have to constantly second-guess myself and watch those words because of the cloud of hatred poisoning the proverbial waters.  I want to be free to say whatever I want, and build bonds through my words, my opinions, and my inherent similarity with everyone on the planet.

I love a good story.  So do you.  And I want to share good stories with the world -- so that we can all find something to love.


There.  I’ve made my peace.  But to be honest?  I wouldn’t mind DC’s Zatanna getting her time to shine in the movies.  There’s nothing controversial about that opinion, right?



Nope.  Nothing wrong with that.

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