Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
My YouTube recommendations are an absolute mess. Being a parent certainly doesn’t help – in and amongst the ripped jungle 12-inches and archived livestreams of Street Fighter tournaments are Peppa Pig marathons, Raa Raa The Noisy Lion compilations and all the rest of it. But even if I were still childless, I suspect that Recommended tab would still be in a right old state.
Part of the problem, it appears, is the algorithm’s habit for mistaking one’s morbid curiosity about some YouTube phenomenon as their desire to never again watch anything else. A while back someone on Twitter linked to one of those videos of an irritatingly welloff young man opening 50 quid’s worth of FIFA Ultimate Team packs. I lasted about two minutes, but for the next fortnight my YouTube dashboard was a wall of thumbnails of gurning kids next to a picture of some 85-rated left back from Ligue 1. Just last night the home screen of my Shield TV suggested I watch a video of YouTube starlet Zoella going through an absurd haul from a trip to Primark. I lasted for as long as it took for her to proclaim the Bristol branch as one of the greatest places on Earth; I have been there, and am quite sure it is the unofficial tenth circle of Hell. Today I’m too scared to load up YouTube to find out how the algorithm has interpreted it.
When YouTube decides to put this stuff in front of me, however, I at least know how it got there. It’s the suggestions out of the blue that unsettle me more. It persistently recommends, for instance, compilations of Twitch Fails, with generously cleavaged gamer girls in the thumbnail. I’ve never clicked on one, though I assume they’re full of people falling off chairs, furiously ragequitting or getting swatted, and perhaps all at the same time. Yet still, they keep coming. Clearly, part of that is because my activity on YouTube is largely related to videogames. Yet it’s also no doubt because, whatever our interests, we all love to see a good fuck-up. For all that I’m frustrated by the way the biggest video-sharing website on the planet seems content to put so much miserable dreck in front of me, I can’t complain too much about this. I do love seeing someone fall off a chair.
All of which presumably explains why, recently, YouTube’s Recommended sidebar has been plastered with wacky compilations of unfortunate moments of animation in
Mass Effect Andromeda. It’s not just lowgrade opportunists looking for a ride on a meme-worthy bandwagon, either. I clicked on one (subtitled ‘DOES IT SUCK?’) and found it was the work of a pretty pro-looking outfit with 1.5 million subscribers. It seems that not even channels with a swanky studio setup and a few million in VC funding are above showing clips of space marines who walk like they’ve shat themselves.
What really upsets me about this isn’t that it exists, necessarily, but that there’s an audience for it. Because every time we chuckle at a horse falling through the floor or an NPC’s jaw rotating 360 degrees when you turn in a quest to them, the overall quality of discourse around videogames lowers even further. Reviewers who were in the process of playing Andromeda did their best to explain, vaguely so as not to break embargo, that the game improved after some torpid opening hours. Experienced animators weighed in to explain how it happened. But calmer voices were drowned out by laughter, and the narrative was set. Just as most players know ME3 for the ludicrous fuss over its ending, so
Andromeda will be known for its animation, and we all get a little dumber as a result.
I realise why it happens: we all love a good yuk, and when a long-awaited, bigbudget, high-profile game suddenly looks like it might be a stinker, we instinctively pile on, because we all love a good scandal, too. In this instance, however, EA has only itself to blame. It set the review embargo for the day before release, knowing that a much wider (and much less patient) audience, through EA Access, would get ten hours with the game a week ahead of launch. It surely realised the animation was far from best in class. It also knew – or should have known – that Andromeda’s first ten hours didn’t flatter the whole. EA, like many other companies, is now able to speak directly to its players, mitigating the risk of a critical press putting would-be customers off a purchase. Here, however, we could have reassured them. After all, not all recommendations have to be produced by a computer, you know.
Every time we chuckle at a horse falling through the floor, the quality of discourse around games lowers further