Altered Art: Criticism In The Digital Age

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For the record, I never finished Mass Effect 3. In fact, I played about 30 minutes of the original Mass Effect, realized it wasn’t for me and didn’t think about it until recently. For those of you unsure of what I am talking about, Mass Effect is a wildly successful Sci-Fi action role playing game from developer BioWare. The critically acclaimed title has been in the news lately, due to the fact that fans of Mass Effect are so outraged by the ending of the game, BioWare has been forced to publicly address the uproar. Fans of the franchise are calling for BioWare to change the ending and surprisingly the developer is responding.

In a statement posted at the official BioWare blog, co-founder Ray Muzyka issued the following statement assuring fans that BiowWare will, “work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.” In case you did not understand that, Muzyka is essentially telling fans that BioWare is working on a way to provide an ending that will appease the discontented.

From the moment that art was conceived, there have been critics. The artistic process must always tolerate a certain level of negative feedback for both growth and to pacify the public. But at what point should an artist no longer accept criticism for growth, and instead let it define their craft? As a generation of digitally connected individuals, we must acknowledge the difference between artistic critique and calls for complete destruction.

In the case of Mass Effect, the negative responses from thousands of fans is literally forcing a developer to re-tool an ending that was five years in the making. Now that we have the ability to add an at symbol in front of a companies name does not give us the right to give unsolicited advice about a studios creative process.

The birth of instantly registered digital criticism should also not be an excuse for studios and artists to buckle under the weight of reproach. As recent events have shown however, developers are racing to mitigate any negative feedback.

In two recent cases, film executives have been forced to either retract or defend statements based on an overwhelmingly poor public reception. In January, it was announced that The Expendables 2 would be released with a PG-13 rating. The news was met with an extremely negative response from fans of the first film. After initially confirming the rating, spokesmen for the film, Sylvester Stallone earlier this week retracted his statement stating that, “After taking in all the odd rumors and hearsay, EXPENDABLES II is an R.”

In the second case, after announcing that the turtles in the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film were going to be space aliens, director Michael Bay was forced to issue a statement due to huge quantities of negative feedback. In a statement posted at the blog forum Shoot For The Edit, Bay expressed that, “Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script. Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back-story. Relax; we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world.”

The risk that we take as consumers of the media arts is that we may not like how the story progresses. There has never been a guarantee that we will love everything we see, nor is there an agreement between creators and fans that if they are unhappy, the creator will do everything in their power to remedy the situation. Fans have been voicing their dislike towards film and television for decades and studios have always had the fortitude to stick by their product regardless of criticism. Has the digital generation made our voice so unbearably loud that developers and studios are no longer willing to stand by their product? Even though we can instantly start petitions with thousands of signatures to change endings, should we?

Now, like I stated earlier, I have no frame of reference as to how Mass Effect 3 “should have ended.” However, I have been let down on more than a handful of occasions when finishing video games and films. Even though I have wished for better endings to television shows (read Lost), I know that changing the fundamental artistic elements would completely destroy the integrity of the creative process. Art is defined by an individuals complete control over his or her work. If we start down the path of allowing developers and companies to change based on our complaints, true unfiltered art could be forever tainted.

Source(s): IGN, The Washington Post,GeeksofDoom

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