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Pandering Cycle

There’s a cycle where people get popular with stuff that stands out some, isn’t bland. They appeal to early adopters, get popular, then become bland, generic, dumbed down, etc., to make the most money from that popularity by appealing to the masses more.

They do something good, it gets them a reputation, then they ruin it for a larger, blander audience. Like Brandon Sanderson books are getting more basic as he has a bigger audience that is more lowest-common-denominator, more beginners to fantasy, more reversion to the mean for audience quality, etc.

Why do the masses want dumbed down good things? Why does that happen repeatedly? Why not take the shortcut of making bland crap in the first place? The masses don’t chase that necessarily. There is plenty of it. They want bland crap with a reputation for not being bland crap. They want a lie. They want to pretend to be early adopters, power gamers, super nerds, etc. – pretend to be seeking out something high quality, special, different – while actually they are fed bland crap they can digest. They don’t actually like and can’t deal with the kind of great things that early adopters and the best people want. But they want to pretend to like those things but actually what they are consuming is different, changed, easier. That’s why they make hard games like diablo 3 and then nerf them (and partly they were using the reputation of diablo 2, which was harder).

The masses would rather pretend to be Sanderson fans – fans of something great – than be fans of something obviously basic. They want to pretend to be something they aren’t. And if Sanderson will change what he writes for them, he does them a great service. He takes a lot of the dishonesty on himself. They don’t even have to know he’s writing different, easier books. He doesn’t say this publicly. Similarly, if Diablo 3 developers nerf the game, without advertising that fact publicly, then they are taking a lot of the dishonesty on themselves.

The masses want to fake how good they are and have someone else do the lying for them. But they don’t want to be great and engage with great things – that’s hard, challenging, etc. Like how people want to be like Hank Rearden without actually being like him.

The public needs great men to establish some legitimate or at least plausible reputations and then sell their souls to help the public fool themselves. They don’t just want basic stuff. They want basic stuff masquerading as great stuff. They want to pretend to be something they’re not.

Sanderson doesn’t take all the lying on himself. He has editors and advisors to help with that. He even has co-authors to do it. They give plausible reasons for writing dumbed down stuff. They don’t call it that. They do a lot of the changing and Sanderson eventually picks up more of it himself and changes too.

The Diablo 3 devs had all kinds of excuses about fairness and balance. And they are a group. No person got all the balancing he wanted. There was a bit of design by committee. So no one will take the responsibility or blame. Committees are good at lowest common denominator decisions that no one really likes. If three people each want to keep a different hard part, then maybe no one will get what they want. They will each think they valiantly fought to keep the difficulty in the game. But each of them, two out of three times, voted to remove some difficulty they thought was unbalanced, unfair, lame, etc.

Elliot Temple on October 28, 2021


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