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No Refunds

  This week’s blog starts out talking about a video game. But hang on – I do have a larger point about all this.

  Awhile ago, back in the cold days of January when I didn’t have a job to do outside of finishing my thesis and responding to e-mails, I treated myself to a couple of games from a particular retailer that also does trade-ins. Now, I’ve had a fair share of bad experiences before with this particular franchise of ill-repute, like the time an especially chipper 17 year old asked me to join their stupid little customer loyalty program, which will give me a gosh-darn-golly-swell discount on their used products. This was, naturally, after he babbled inanely about himself (“This is my first job!” he cheerfully responded to a question I did not ask). As I am not one to usually purchase games used (I want to sully them myself. Also, it’s a bit of a racket), I declined. Upon hearing this, the kid gave a smug little shrug and responded with “Well, I guess some people don’t like saving money.”

  What’s particularly galling about this line (and I’ve heard it before) is that you imply that you and your shitty company know what is best for the consumer. And, while I understand that, as a dumbass kid who has no retail experience, you are going to say some profoundly stupid things, insulting your customers is never a sound business practice. For the record, it’s not that I don’t like saving money – I fiercely protect my meager paycheck from all but the most vital of shenanigans – it’s that I don’t like getting a shitty magazine I won’t read, paying for a program I won’t use, or signing up to get e-mail spam. Also, fuck you.

  But that encounter really wasn’t the thing I wanted to write about. On my last (and what will probably be my final) visit to a different one of the franchise’s locations, I made a purchase of the absolutely bland Silent Hill: Downpour. You see, it went from being $60 new and probably not worth it to $20 new and still probably not worth it. And since that’s a $40 difference (for those at home who are bad at math), I decided it was cheap enough to get and still have enough money to eat the rest of the week.

  When I took the box up to the counter, a much less chipper salesperson looked at the game and then looked at me. “Tell you what,” he began with a derisive sniff. “I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to give you the used copy. It’ll save you a couple of bucks.”

  “Thank you,” I responded quite cheerfully, if I do say so myself. You see, I have been a longtime fan of Silent Hill, a fact which I routinely attest to despite the fact that the game series hasn’t been good since Silent Hill 2 and the movie was a bucket of rusty sick with cockroaches coming out of it. I was just pleased as punch to be going back to the world’s absolute worst resort town. “But I like to purchase games that are new.”

  “But this way you can return the game if you don’t like it,” he continued, not taking my refusal lightly.

  My smile became tight-lipped at his obstinance. “Thank you, but I’m good with the new one.”

  “It’s just...” he said as he turned around, fetching my un-used game from behind him. “It’s not the strongest game in the series. A lot of people don’t like it, so I thought you’d like the option to return it.”

  By now, my lips felt like they were going to merge in annoyance. “I get it. But I have the entire series. Doesn’t make sense to throw the last one out.”

  Now, the whole point of this was that I did end up getting my new game. And, in an almost prophetic vision that anyone who pays attention could have guessed, the newest Silent Hill was a bland boring mess. But I will get to that later, I’m sure. I have been known to review games once and awhile. Since that is not the topic of today’s post, here’s a teaser for a review that may not come:

Yup. That about sums it up!
Yup. That about sums it up!

And a better use of the game’s cinematics than the game managed:


BWAAAAAAHM.

  The main thing I’m feeling particularly irked by is that middle part: the idea that, if I don’t like a piece of entertainment, I should return it. I get it, video games are really expensive, but just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean that you get to return it for a full refund and the makers can just go and eat the loss. That’s just not how entertainment should work.

  I’m sure people have done stuff like this with other media, but it doesn’t make any sense there, either. Who would buy a magazine and then turn around and return it when they’re done, declaring that it sucked? Sociopaths, that’s who. The only time you should get to be able to return a book that’s terrible is when you’re bringing it back to the library. Only idiots demand their money back after a bad movie - how is it the theater’s fault that you just picked a film that turned out to be insultingly incompetent? And if for some reason it is possible to get refunds, can I retroactively get paid for every single piece of shit rom-com I had to slog through to appease a former girlfriend’s lust for being told women are terrible?

  I think that’s the biggest issue I have with this kind of behavior. Books, films, magazines, games... well, any kind of art represents a lot more than just a product on the shelf. People put in ludicrous amounts of work and time and energy to make something and – yes – sometimes it just doesn’t work. But you don’t get to have your money back because you screwed up in your choices, especially if the creators had no ill intention in mind.

  Believe it or not, those people struggling to make deadline on a too-rushed video game or a slap-dash movie tie-in aren’t doing so because they’re trying to rip you off. They’re trying to keep their jobs and support themselves. It sucks that the end result was a mess and that you walked away unhappy, but a bad experience doesn’t translate into returning to the status quo. You don’t get to learn from a mistake and have that mistake erased from your bank account unless you’ve been scammed... which is rarely the case.

  See, people need to look at making shitty purchases from a different perspective. When I was in sixth grade, I bought a “computer diary” program thing from my school’s book sale (I was a stupid child). It came in a little baggie and I was so thrilled to have a place to store my thoughts that I completely neglected to remember that I already had a functional word processor. And, in the moment of truth, I discovered the software was a piece of garbage that barely worked at all, let alone worked as advertised.

  You know what I did? I learned not to trust products from brands I didn’t know (also, software distributed in baggies like a particularly dull illicit product). When I became more skilled with the Internet, I learned to do research before making a purchase. It hasn’t been easy – my first digital camera was a piece of garbage because I just wanted a way to put pictures on my computer – but I used bad experiences to stop others from happening.

  See, the whole idea of the entertainment industry is that you essentially vote with your wallet. You don’t like those really awful parody movies they pump out every year? Don’t fucking see them. Now, yes, you’ll have to deal with seeing previews of the stupid things, but you don’t have to see them. No one is forcing you. So you just don’t do it.

  And you know what? If you really like a series and it stops being enjoyable, then you stop giving them money. And if you do give them money and it still sucks, then you forfeit the money. It’s that fucking simple. As mentioned above, I consider myself a fan of Silent Hill. But dear god, almost every entry has been less fun than the last. What makes anyone think that after a track record of 1 good game, 1 good reboot, and about half a million crap ones that I have any right to walk into a store after being disappointed again and demand my money back?

  Which is precisely why I waited for the game to drop in price.

  Now, this little tirade is focused on entertainment, so if you find a corpse in your new freezer or live rat in your chicken nuggets or your exercise bike has gained sentience and has stolen your car, complain. Complain your ass off, cause goddamn. And while these are product defects that can happen to an individual, the defect would potentially effect everyone equally.

  Entertainment, in and of itself, is really hard to qualify. People have vastly different tastes, which is why a lot of the more popular stuff is homogenized and kind of dull. One person’s Great Expectations is another’s Scary Movie franchise. And, no, I don’t know which is supposed to be the “good” one in that example – I find both equally exasperating and patronizing. The point is that something that is to be experienced with a specific reaction, by its very nature, is difficult (if not outright impossible) to hit squarely with everyone.

  Something that is supposed to scare us in The Ring may make us laugh instead. For example, I once made a crappy short film that was supposed to be, at the very least, unsettling. I got riotous laughter, instead. At another showing, it was received much closer to my original intension. The audience, no matter the medium, is unpredictable. And if they aren’t entertained, well, there’s lots of people to be blamed. But you don’t get to call do-over.

  Unless, of course, it’s a sham or someone kind of lied to you or something like that. But even then, if there is a pattern of schlock that you’ve noticed and you still give people money, that’s on you. I certainly wasn’t expecting cinematic gold after Live Free or Die Hard, and the jingoist silliness of A Good Day to Die Hard fell well within my zero-expectations. It was no Plan 9 From Outer Space, but it was still a contemptible entry in the series canon – a confusingly edited mess that was better suited as a stand-alone action film than a part of a series which revolutionized the Vietnam-obsessed action movies of the 80's.

  But despite the fact that, as a fan, I was disappointed, did I demand my money back? No. Knowing full well I was probably going to be disappointed before I set foot in the theater, I had no right to, nor would I have even suggested it. Because that’s not how the system works. The only time you are in the right in this situation is if you are somehow prevented from seeing the movie – like a projector breaks or the theater phantom kidnaps you and holds you in his kind of gross (but oh so seductive) sewer lair.

  I guess the whole thing just makes me think of someone taking out a gym membership and then suing the gym for not losing weight while they sit at home. Or, perhaps more appropriately, trying to exercise on one machine, and then demanding their money back because there’s no instantaneous result. Or buying a shirt and complaining because it doesn’t make you look nearly as handsome as the professionally disheveled model who made it look so lovely. Or not going to your college classes and pitching a fit when you fail because you paid tuition so you deserve an A.

  Sure, these might not be 100% in line with what I’m talking about, but the underlying fact remains: If you feel betrayed by a piece of entertainment, you just don’t give them the time and money next time. It’s that fucking simple.

  In conclusion, have an example of why people on YouTube routinely prove to be resoundingly terrible at this whole humanity thing:

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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