Everyone’s passionate about something. For you, maybe it’s golf or cars or crocheting or music. For me, it’s video games. And of all the games out there, those in the spacefaring Mass Effect series are my favorite of all time.
You can imagine, then, how I waited for the newest installment, Mass Effect: Andromeda, with gleeful impatience. The footage I’d seen from trailers on YouTube looked amazing. The characters looked compelling and relatable. The glimpses of far-flung worlds to be explored were, even in brief previews, breathtaking.
Then, shortly before release, news of the game’s glitches started hitting the internet. Gamers across the globe had a field day trashing Andromeda for its slow performance, uneven writing, and many animation problems. As one reviewer stated, “For the most part, all of the characters are just alarmingly emotionless. They have this constant blank expression on their faces that just isn’t conveying anything.”
Surely, it couldn’t be that bad, I thought—I hoped. Maybe everyone was complaining about nothing. People love to complain on the internet, after all. Right?
When I started playing, though, I realized they were right: My beloved franchise was having issues. I was annoyed with BioWare, the company that developed the series, for not putting their A-team on the project. I’d loved all their games in the past, but their inattention to detail and lack of consideration to their fanbase made me angry.
After the explosion of criticism hit the internet, however, BioWare did something unexpected—and, from a Christian perspective, remarkably admirable. They didn’t run away with their tails between their legs. They didn’t ignore the outcry from the fans and disappear after taking their money. Instead, the company listened to what fans were saying and started to develop patches (updates to the game that fix technical issues). The first one was recently released, and included various bug fixes and updates to improve the characters’ lip sync and facial acting.
My faith is being restored in the company because of these actions. Yes, they made mistakes (many, many mistakes), but they’re willing to own up to them and listen to constructive criticism on how to improve their work.
On a good day, I could say the same about myself—but other times, I should be so lucky to make the same claim, because accepting criticism, learning from it, and moving forward isn’t just a matter of fan service; it’s a daunting spiritual challenge.
Criticism and Mockery in a Screen-Based Culture
As a journalist with the majority of my work published on the internet, being able to accept criticism is a must. My editors consistently improve my work, and I have to trust that they know what’s best, even if I think my original draft was better (I’m usually wrong). People are constantly reading my work and responding to it—disagreeing with it, questioning it, or flaming it. While I might not always agree with their opinions, I can still thoughtfully interact with what they have to say.
Being able to take constructive criticism is necessary to grow and improve—and it requires a healthy portion of humility with a heaping side of grace. We are quick to reject someone else’s opinion when it differs from ours—especially if it involves a project in which we are emotionally invested. But being able to discuss other people’s opinions even when they differ from ours can be constructive and build relationships. Constructive criticism can’t do its job when one side shuts the conversation down.
The lines between criticism and mockery get especially blurred in the digital world, though; because we can’t see a face, sometimes we forget there’s a person on the other side of the screen. In the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda, one of EA’s employees, Allie Rose-Marie Leost, was viciously attacked over Twitter because people thought she was a lead animator on the team (therefore responsible for the facial inconsistencies).
BioWare responded that those reports of her involvement with the game were false—but even if she had worked on the game’s animations, the tweets were horrifying. The more polite messages suggested that she should be ashamed of herself, that she ruined Mass Effect for everyone, and that BioWare should have hired someone talented instead of a woman. (Yeah, those were the polite ones.)
I see similar harassment across the internet on every topic under the sun, and in online gaming, especially. I love playing team games like League of Legends, which involve working together for a common goal. If you don’t work together—if even one person does poorly or decides to go off on her own—you are more likely to lose the game. And while a lot of support and forgiveness goes around when I’m playing with people who know and love me, that’s harder to come by when I’m on a team of strangers. A lot of blame gets thrown around, and cruel comments are not uncommon.
The weird thing is, those unhelpful comments often cause players to mess up further (or become frustrated and simply quit the game, meaning you’re now playing on a team of four against a team of five). The mockery doesn’t help; it makes things worse. But players can be so caught up in being right that they forget about any sense of righteousness and the humanity on the other side of the screen.
When we can maintain a safe distance from those in the crosshairs, degrading others is easy. Those tweets attacking Allie Rose-Marie Leost for “botching” her “job” certainly weren’t constructive. Attacks like that inhibit creativity rather than support it; they have the potential to cause shame and paranoia in the people who have worked so hard to create something beautiful. There are mental, physical, and spiritual costs to this kind of degradation, both for the attacker and the victim.
A Christian Response to Wise Critique
It is important to be able to accept wisdom from others, and the key to doing so is humility. Just consider how many verses in the Bible speak about its value:
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Prov. 11:2).
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
I could list many, many more. (Check out Proverbs alone for more such humble poetry).
For a company like BioWare, it must be difficult to address the complaints of so many from seemingly all sides. Yet it appears that they are willing to listen to players’ genuine frustrations. As difficult as it is for an organization to respond to criticism with humility, though, it is even harder for an individual. We don’t always have guidelines in place that keep us from biting off each other’s heads.
A company can hide behind a logo, but I cannot. My actions are my own. I need to be willing to come at my own weaknesses with humility and a readiness to improve. I also need to understand the difference between constructive criticism and hate speech, and work to promote the former.
It doesn’t do gamers or developers any good to rail at BioWare for the horrible job they did or send them hate mail. Of course, it’s easy to do so; it’s simple to see companies as objects instead of groups of individuals who work hard on their projects. And while simply working hard on something doesn’t mean it deserves a gold medal for excellence, BioWare has certainly proved in the past that they can produce amazing games and deserves the benefit of the doubt.
As a Christian, I’m supposed to “clothe [myself] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12)—not just one, but all of those virtues. Perhaps the beginning of the journey towards righteousness in accepting critique begins with fostering an environment where others can cultivate it first.
It’s not just about me being tough; it’s also about me showing grace to others—even when they trample on my hopes of exploring space with the next generation of Commander Shepards.
Allison Barron is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she's not writing, designing, or editing, she is usually preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.