undertale

A few weeks ago I posted about a ‘best game ever’ poll/competition being hosted by the website GameFAQs. I was less interested in the poll itself than in a user-made tool that allowed you to simulate the system and come up with your own list. The tool worked well and I had a good half hour or so playing around with it.

I haven’t thought much about the poll since but this morning looked it up and found that it had concluded and the winner is: Undertale. Undertale defeated Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the final by a vote percentage of 60/40. In previous rounds it had seen off games including Pokemon Red/Blue, Super Mario 64, and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Its margin of victory actually was higher in the final than in previous rounds and I think that points to a certain amount of tomfoolery going on here. Undertale has apparently sold up to half a million copies on Steam now, which of course is a number dwarfed by the sales figures of the games it defeated. I’ve seen stats suggesting the number of people who voted for Undertale in the final was around 90,000. Did 1 in 5 people who’ve played this game really vote for it? I have my doubts.

I haven’t played Undertale myself, yet, though I plan to play it next year. Blogger The Otaku Judge commented on my previous post on this subject that it would be nice for Undertale to win just for a change from Ocarina winning–as it almost always does. I can understand the desire for something different. But I think in the bigger picture, it is far too soon to be able to make a judgment about an indie-developed game that has been out for only a few months and the cultural impact of which is, so far, minimal; and certainly much less so than that of the games it defeated (Super Mario 64? Pokemon?).

It does strike me that there is an element of pseudo-intellectual posturing in some of the support for games like this; just like when people hype up a film like American Beauty or Donnie Darko which, a few years after release, nobody apart from film students talks or really thinks about any more. In contrast, the stuff that actually sold well and had genuinely mass appeal does tend to endure and have an impact on our cultural landscape for many years. I don’t like the franchise personally, but the cultural impact of Star Wars is undeniable and if it won a best film ever competition I’d have no objections, despite the fact I don’t care for the film. Same for something like ET.

It reminds me a bit of some of the nonsense that came out about Portal after its release. It impressed a few jaded games journalists trying to make themselves feel relevant, but its impact on mainstream popular culture was approximately zero. I’m not saying this from a standpoint of anti-intellectualism–I’m a proponent of more intelligent writing and content in all media, as I hope this blog generally conveys–but in an educated society genuinely profound art will find a way to resonate with relatively large cross-sections of the public. Mass Effect did that, as did Ocarina of Time before it. Undertale hasn’t, yet, so its very inclusion in this poll strikes me as premature, let alone its triumph.

As I said, I plan to play this game in the new year and will post my thoughts on it then. But I think this whole thing tells us more about mass psychology on the internet and online polls than it does about the relative merits of Undertale and Ocarina of Time.

 

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