The gaming industry is versatile-yet-volatile, expansive-yet-inclusive, and most of all, mobilizing for users across all platforms; openly stating one's allegiance -- even mere preference -- toward a particular platform or series almost assuredly results in an indignant assault on character and gaming credibility, depending on the environment and encompassing community. Gaming culture, as we've analyzed previously, remains a challenge to explain to "outsiders," but one thing's for sure: We have just as much infighting as any other impassioned way of life (virtual or not).
The question, then, is whether or not these frivolous allegiances are detrimental or supplemental to gaming culture.
Fanboyism as defined herein is the reference to a specific, unrelenting approach to staunchly defend that which a gamer has invested himself or herself in the most, whether emotionally, monetarily, or hourly. There is no incontrovertible truth to gaming lifestyles -- playing on an SNES is as respectable as a gaming rig, an Xbox, a Genesis, an Atari 2600, and so forth; we're all gamers here, and surely we all love something that others have found reason to despise. This deposition of others for merely using a different software layer on a piece of electronic equipment is founded entirely in dogmatic ideologies and fuels an "us versus us" consumerist mentality that gaming giants want to see. It generates sensationalism surrounding their products - which could be both advantageous and harmful to gaming as a whole (including consumers). Ignoring these not-so-noteworthy differences of series allegiances and platform dependability, though, we have one major, key factor in common: We're all here to have fun. Some of us like to compete, some of us like to burn time with friends, but we're all still here for the single, initial hook - fun.
And that's where it gets convoluted.
OK, OK. That may be a bit direct. There are varying types of "fanboys" in gaming, and similar to our approach to define gaming personalities, let's identify fanboy personalities -- if only to make our job less confusing:
- The Playful: These aren't truly 'fanboys' (I'm hating that word more with each usage) and only pick a side when it's, well, silly. They don't hate your guts for using a different platform - in fact, they can respect it - but they don't necessarily care enough to get into the details. As when Stephen Colbert berates Jon Stewart for existing, playful fanboys simply like what they play on and they don't hold that against anyone else, but they certainly couldn't care about what the advantages of your PS3 or PC are. Example: "PC master race."
Objective: They help counteract The True Troll and return discussions to a level of normalcy (but are also potential flamebait, see below).
- The Insightful: This is the "specification" approach to gaming hardware, normally more analytical in nature. Insightful fanboys (see also: "elitists") see themselves as merely using the superior platform for any number of reasons. Their goal? "Help" others find the true way. Such reasons might be performance superiority, title exclusivity, population, or customization.
Objective: They fuel an informative atmosphere to help newcomers learn about the gaming world, but they get so deep in specifics that it's easy to get out-of-scope.
- The True Troll: "Xbox gamers are all spoiled 10 year olds" is somewhat of a generalization. Sure, stereotypes are often founded in anecdotal truths, but there's a line to be drawn. These are the true trolls, the originators of the term, not the misappropriated usage. Their only goal is to enrage and rattle the server or topic to a point of no return.
Objective: Counter any logical discussion; normally inclusive and negative toward newcomers making it tough to get involved in gaming culture from any level of serious discussion.
Gaming culture inherently comes with platform preferences. Since the days of the first game-capable computers and consoles, gamers have picked sides and have continued to do so; it's (socially) natural to want to defend investments, as we learned from critics of our "the $60 game" article. It's part of our history as gamers to playfully knock platform orientation - we can't ignore that nor banish it. Any industry sees this level of interaction among enthusiasts (from cars to energy drinks).
Why, then, would it be considered a 'good' thing? A certain degree of criticism -- whether playful or insightful -- is healthy to the extent that it invokes discussion between those that would normally only interact with "their own kind;" fanboyism propels the industry economically and socially by creating promotion ideas and silly dialogue. It holds us together. It keeps gamers invested in their choices, and while we may own multiple platforms, there's normally a preferred or "best" for certain games.
Further, and perhaps more importantly, allegiances like this tend to hold exclusive developers to their word (as much as possible, anyway). There's a lot riding on console-specific developers to keep supplying allies with material to hold over competing platform's heads. Fanboyism has the potential to embolden innovation and productivity, but only to a certain point.
Generally speaking, as part of our historic significance in the entertainment field, these battles between gamers keep us lively and invested in our hobbies (or professions), which only seek to embrace and uphold gaming cultural heritage.
Nothing's as peachy and rose-tinted as the above might suggest, though, and not every gamer is out for the best of the greater community. Destructive habits that seek only to dissuade or turn-off newcomers and more mainstream onlookers from the industry are, well, destructive. The true assholes in gaming -- even worse than trolls -- serve only to continually supply politicians and traditional media (which doesn't understand our culture) with kindling to burn us alive. We've all seen it: Attempts to pin murderous actions on Halo or Call of Duty, accusing games like "Bully" (which doesn't have a drop of blood in it) as being "Columbine Simulators," and the like.
Economically, insurmountable loyalty toward a brand can result in monopolist tendencies and malicious intent on the supply and distribution side. This includes increased prices (as mentioned in the earlier-linked $60 game article), degradation of quality due to a predictability of sales or support (see: Call of Duty or any other franchise), or abandonment of otherwise healthy avenues of development. In the end, it's basic capitalism: die-hard consumers get backstabbed by brands they once loved. Non-evil companies are very, very rare.
Taking the social approach, it's just never cool to intentionally offend or cause emotional harm over something as simple as PC vs. Consoles or Call of Duty vs. Halo. There are real people behind those tags, headsets, and characters. A lot of us have shells of obsidian at this point, but not everyone is able to brush off insults so easily.
Gaming will always have participants of all branches of the fanboyistic (inventing words is easy!) tree. As long as things remain balanced and malevolence is outweighed by the feeling of community that we all love, gaming culture will retain its originality and openness. Events like PAX East serve as a means to unite all gamers under a single banner, as we've always tried to do on this site, and strengthen the foundation of the gaming world. It is a slippery slope to monopolies and exploitation, so tread carefully.
Wil Wheaton makes it pretty simple for nerds - and humans - everywhere: "Don't be a dick."
Words to game by.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.
Art by Andrew "LegendaryCake" Coleman -- Andrew, you're amazing.
Thanks to Tribar for helping me work out these ideas.