Backing the Wrong Horse

I could put a warning up that the following blog is highly subjective, but aren’t they all?

I’m also intending it to be shorter than usual, which might earn a sigh of relief from readers. Mind you, there’s a high irony content in the concept that people would read all the way through articles they felt were too long, but hey, the Internet is daily proof that they’ll read all the way through (and feel the need to comment on!) articles they don’t like.

So how about movies or TV shows or video games or other forms of popular entertainment we find untenable? Do we soldier on to the bitter end with those? There are all sorts of reasons we might, including the ever fainter hope they might “get better”, or the ability to ridicule them from a standpoint of horrible, horrible knowledge. Maybe it’s just straight up masochism. Some of these reasons are actual linchpins of the Yakmala! creed (or Agony Booth or Jibootu or whatever you call your particular clubhouse gang).

Sometimes we do throw up our hands and just say “done”, and our breaking points can be as varied as our reasons for watching in the first place. There is a reason that I’ve noticed at least in myself, though, and it’s this: in an ensemble setting, if a certain character or characters I don’t like (or worse, find myself unable to care about) end up getting emphasized too much, my interest in the story can experience a rapid demise. The most significant cases occur in a setting where death or other forms of permanent removal from a narrative are present, probably because of the much reduced chance that things will get better.

This is the main problem I’ve had, for instance, with the Starcraft series. You may think it’s silly since it’s a game about resource management and fightin’ and it seems like most people don’t even really bother with the single-player campaign story beyond the training it might give them for pwning fools online, but for better or worse Blizzard stuck a narrative onto the fightin’ and gave some of those little pixels names and personalities. One of those names was Jim Raynor, and I hated that bastard from his very first “Ohhhhh yeah”. Bland little c-sucker. Having to guide him around to victory on his missions was absolutely torturous.  Thankfully, there were some much more interesting characters around to make up for it.

Naturally, Blizzard, through the course of the original game and several expansions, began progressively killing all the interesting people off; meanwhile fucking Raynor proved not only to be one of the small handful of survivors–he ends up being the central character of Starcraft 2.

Guess who has two middle fingers for Blizzard and never touched Starcraft 2? Oh, I heard they made him all grizzled, world-weary amoral badass now. This, for me, is like putting lipstick on a douchebag. I have absolutely zero interest in the story of Jim Raynor. I don’t care what he’s thinking, what he’s doing, or what his plans for the future are. They Backed the Wrong Horse, and I’m out.

Like I said, this is a very subjective topic. I guess there might be some secret legion of Raynor fans out there that were clamoring for The Raynor Saga. I was much more fascinated by characters like General Edmund Duke, but in the Brood War expansion the game forced me to kill Duke off to progress. Sure he was a bastard, but he was a compelling one. One of the last in the remaining cast at that point that I felt anything for. Not only killing him off, but making me unwilling, railroaded accomplice to the act, was the last straw. After that I was sort of a hollow shell that went through the motions to finish, not really giving a fuck anymore.

It can happen in horror and survival movies when the interesting people sacrifice themselves so the vanilla heroes can live. It can happen to a lesser extent in TV Shows when a crappy character (*cough*WesleyCrusher*cough*) gets sudden star billing. In computer RPGs that include romance options, an ongoing complaint is that the person your character might actually want to have a relationship with is one the game won’t allow you to, and the developers seem invariably surprised when their chosen Golden Boy (or Girl) isn’t beloved by all.

I’m not saying that artists should always pander to their audiences, of course. Given the success of Starcraft 2, Blizzard did just fine with their decision. Hell, people like Hulk Hogan and John Cena are reasons why I stop watching pro wrestling for long stretches of time, because I hate them but can’t escape their flagship presence in the franchise, but the very fact that they can be the flagship presence in the franchise speaks volumes about their actual viability.

So from a commercial perspective, I suppose it can’t be said they’ve backed the wrong horse. But even if I’ve been enjoying the race so far, I gotta admit, I tend to tear up my ticket and leave. Life’s just too short to waste time following the escapades of fictional people I could care less about.

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About Clint

Clint Wolf is an opinionated nerd, who writes a comic (Zombie Ranch) about cowboys who wrangle zombies. We didn't claim he made sense. http://cwolf.zxq.net/
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