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Wired writes on Rockstar’s Road to Ruin, and an astute short bit of commentary on it by Simon Carless on GameSetWatch.

So this has sticking in my craw for a while, and was enflamed by Doug Lowenstein’s comments as he left the ESA… I wrote a first draft of a comment for Gamasutra’s Q&A, but it had so many curse words by the point I had found enough time to edit it, the deadline had passed.

I’m not going to talk about the whole affair, I just wanted to point out this one quote in the Wired article (because everyone else on the internet takes quotes out of context, and it looks like so much fun). From Terry Donovan, “childhood friend” to the Housers and one of the cofounders of Rockstar, speaking about games:

“There isn’t some kind of social responsibility to have a redeeming value.”

Wow. Cluuuuuuue-fucking-less. Responsibility isn’t something that’s assigned to you like your goddamn social security number. It’s something you TAKE.

Ok, so maybe Rockstar doesn’t want to take larger social responsibility to make games with arguably more redeeming social values. Alright, fine – in any medium there’s always a place for pure entertainment sans meaning (far too big a place, unfortunately). Still, you’d figure they’d at least take some responsibility for the games they do make.

Now why would it be advantageous for them to take that sort of responsibility? Well, if they don’t defend their own games, there’s no guarantee anybody else will. Well, ok, that’s not exactly true. Somebody will do it eventually (Doug Lowenstein did), the question is what does that lack of responsibility & delay cost Rockstar? You’d figure they’d realize if they backed up their work a little more, they would probably have to withstand fewer lawsuits, for one.

That’s what makes them the worst sort of cowards – it’s not just that they’re not interested in saying anything of much socially redeeming value with their games, it’s that they don’t even have the balls to stand up for the content they make. They can’t even take responsibility for their own actions enough to say, yeah we made these games, we have a right to make ’em, they don’t make people kill each other, so fuck off. I guess they’re too busy finding thickly accented voice acting talent for GTA IV.

Usually that kind of spineless behavior meets its own just reward in the end, I think, over a long enough time period. But that’s the sad part, that’s just as likely to not happen (even with activist investors). The Housers are, admittedly, masters of their chosen form. They execute on their vision, and they are rewarded for it – so I don’t really see the ruin prophesied by the Wired article. The biggest chance for it to come about is not because they’re media shut-ins & have torrents of lawsuits, that’s always been the case. It’s the final hope that they will do what they’re so good at – pissing people off – to the one group they can’t afford to do it to, their fans.

2 Responses to The Three R’s – Rockstar, Responsibility, and Ruin(?)

  • questtesttom says:

    You’re not following your own logic far enough. Responsibility isn’t just something you take, it’s something you *buy*. It has an associated cost. In Rockstar’s case that cost would be a quite literal financial cost.

    On the subject of defense, it always struck me that they were practicing satyagraha. In other words, the reason they don’t lift a finger to defend themselves isn’t becaue they’re guilty (of what???) and too ashamed to admit it; it’s because the attacks are so egregiously absurd, that the only way to remain clean of ludicrousness is to sit back, let the opponsition flail, and wait for the condemnatory eyes of the world inevitably to turn to the aggressors instead of the artists.

  • borut says:

    Oh, naturally, there’s a large upfront cost involved. But in the long term it actually costs less – Rockstar has started paying the proverbial price of their inaction. Not stupid lawsuits from jack Thomspon (ie free press), but how Hot Coffee kicked Take Two’s share price in the nuts. Or the ousting of all the execs this month. So far the shit hasn’t rolled downhill to the Housers & Rockstar, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time. Their attitude towards their responsibility (or lack thereof) is certainly at least one of the factors that helped cause some of that.

    As to their handling of PR, it certainly seems masterful. Although it’s hard to say how much of it is their concious decision making, and how much is a by product of their cowardice to stand up for themselves – certainly with Bully, it was more of the former. Sit back and watch the negative pre-release press only to release a game that actually wasn’t all that bad in the scope of the expectations.