I’d like to start by saying that hearing Max speak with an American accent is absurd. For me, it’s equivalent to hearing John McClane speak with a Chinese accent. Max is an Australian character, and I really have no idea why someone would want to reimagine his heritage. Is it possible that an artist could reasonably convince me that an American revisioning of this story would work? Probably. But fortunately this argument is moot for Avalanche Studios, who announced today that Max will now be speaking an “Aussie accent” in their game. While part of me is relieved at the news, an “it just feels right” kind of relief, another part of me is dreadfully afraid that this developer’s reaction to fan feedback might become a trend.
I am obviously not a part of the Avalanche team: I don’t sit in their development meetings and I don’t drink their coffee. I am just a gaming consumer watching a new product evolve after an early E3 demonstration, but it seems fairly obvious to me that the fan backlash against Max’s new, gruff American swag is steering the Avalanche ship on this call.
Remember Mass Effect 3? How awesome was that?! I have no idea how awesome it was because I never played it. Going into Mass Effect 3, I already had some nervousness about how the game would wrap up a story branching into so many directions. I guess I was mostly disappointed that my relationships with Ashley and Miranda were not likely to collide in the epic battle that I had fashioned while playing, but I was still in! They had me! One ME3 preorder, please! However, all my desire and anticipation vanished after learning that Bioware would be altering the final ending. The fans had spoken, and Bioware listened.
I experience games as art, and while I recognize that many games may not release under the same presumption (FIFA, Call of Duty, Dance Central), those are not the games I predominantly enjoy. I like moving stories that bring about genuine catharsis. Think The Last of Us. Think Journey. I fear that these sorts of developer responses to fan feedback is dangerous to video games in the long run. There is no doubt that the experiences games offer grow more and more visceral each year - an exciting thought - but the treatment of these games at times feels very defeating to an appreciator of art. Seeing a developer alter a game makes me imagine William Shakespeare altering the ending of Romeo and Juliet, or Led Zepplin rereleasing When the Levy Breaks with new, crowd-pleasing harmonies and guitar riffs.
Video games are expensive products and are expensive to make; there’s no denying that. A company tackling a AAA game like Mad Max surely needs to ensure that they have happy customers, but this comes with a price. If we are to respect the writers of Mass Effect for their story (their art), then we should not be actively or passively convincing them to make changes. If Avalanche had a reason to make Max an American in their version of his story, they should have stuck to their guns and justified the change in the first place. Making decisions like this based on fan reaction diminishes my trust in Avalanche. If Max’s accent does not really matter, then why did they make it American in the first place? If the ending to Mass Effect 3 was incomplete, why did it ship with that ending at launch?
What I do not mean to say is that fan feedback is universally bad - not true. Feedback is paramount in the gaming community for tightening gameplay systems and providing a metric for people want to experience in games. I only call for developers to commit to their games as an artist commits to a canvas. If this sort of response to backlash becomes a trend, we have the potential to see more and more diluted gaming experiences and less and less unique artistic ideas.
But seriously, really happy that Max is Australian again.