August 6, 2008


Debate is not an instinct. It's far easier for gamers, sports fans, political partisans, and anyone waging a proxy war through message board avatars and lolcats to simply shout down the heretics and rationalise their complaints so as to diminish their validity.

Some of us can't enjoy a thing if someone else is hating it louder. They see dissent not as subjective opinion but as a threatening affront demanding a response. It's not a rational reaction, it's an emotional one, and while we're all perfectly capable of achieving the former, some so rarely move beyond the latter. At a certain level, it's not discourse, it's a game. Allegiances are quickly drawn to various franchises, developers and consoles, and no one can admit any fault because one little concession is a victory for the other team. The internet ruins everything.

Over at Michael Abbott's The Brainy Gamer, someone accused Steve Gaynor (or Michael, it's not clear, probably both) of not being a true gamer because he didn't like Metal Gear Solid 4, or, more accurately, "finished it out of spite". It's a common tactic. The opinions of de facto "false gamers" or "false fans" are worthless. When N'Gai Croal suggests that the imagery in Resident Evil 5 has racist connotations, the counter-argument is that he's trying to make a name for himself and that he's only played video games for ten years. As if the ambitious never had anything relevant to say, but the black-and-white/for-or-against defence mechanism doesn't let them entertain that nuance. It's uncomfortable to deal with the idea that this beloved game might be racist, so they don't accept the premise. They're not even willing to concede that the game might play great yet still have unintentionally racial overtones. Private disagreement does not suffice, as others might read Croal and be convinced by him. Those people will turn against the game and that's a big loss for the Resident Evil 5 team. Instinct directs the fans to destroy Croal instead of destroying his points. Cognitive dissonance is the watchword. As long as we can create for ourselves a reality in which Steve Gaynor's opinions do not count, then we'll always win.

It happens to everyone. I believe that I have good reason to be excited by Bethesda's Fallout 3, but when I turn my thoughts towards that game, it's not its merits or its heritage that I first consider. Instead, it's the people who don't like it. To clarify: there are the people who are pessimistic about Fallout 3, there are the people who don't want to like it, and then there are the people who violently complain about not being able to murder virtual children, graphically liken journalists to whores, threaten to piss in the mouth of the Fallout 3 composer, sneak into press events, brag about slapping their girlfriends for disrespecting Fallout, produce this image without irony, and accuse Bethesda of orchestrating a massive conspiracy to personally discredit them and the truths they seek to expose.

I've never argued about this game with anyone, but, as they say, if you stare into the Abyss long enough, the Fallout fans make you furious. To my mind, they represent the absolute worst aspects of video game fans and fandom in general, their only saving grace being that they don't actually want to have sex with the Vault Boy. I want to deny the lunatic fringe the satisfaction of my disappointment. That's got to be an emotional reaction, one that puts my credibility in danger. Will this affect my honest opinion of the game? I'm demonising and dismissing these fans as wife-beaters and throat-pissers. Am I trying to make sure others don't take them seriously? Is it my turn to be the internet asshole? Why am I supposed to be better than the guy who accuses Croal of playing the race card without reading his thoughts? If I examine this situation logically will I be forced to change my mind? There are a lot of questions involved and the simplest answer is to ignore them all.

In that same Brainy Gamer post, someone accuses Michael of thinking too much. That isn't the problem.


qrter said...

Jesus christ, what is that Fallout picture thing!? It's like an M.C. Escher drawing, I don't know what's up and what's down. My brain can't process the visual information. I literally do not understand that picture.

Does this mean I'm unfit to play Fallout 3?

Alex P said...

No, it probably means you're most fit to play it.

Steve gaynor said...

It's a piece of 'anti-fan art' based on this Nazi propaganda poster:

Michael Abbott said...

"You think too much" or "You're reading way too much into it" are the two most common responses I've received over the years, and it hardly matters the subject: games, films, comics. And, as you say, this usually degenerates into something that squelches any possibility of a meaningful exchange of ideas.

But the other kind of rejection I've run into, with nearly as much frequency, is a kind of academic dismissal of my interpretive approach to games by colleagues who see it all as a silly waste of time. And the crazy thing is, this response has exactly the same squelching effect.

Both of these reactions seem to come from the same place, I think. A perceived threat. You describe what this looks like perfectly from the former group. To the latter, I think it has something to do with ownership of the academy - some kind of notion that anything the kids like must, by definition, be dismissed, thereby reaffirming the hierarchy of cultural values that must not be challenged.

Either way, from both sides, it's a defensive, fearful response that's hard for me to fully understand.

Duncan said...

That's an interesting comparison, Michael, thanks. I've been thinking about this more and I honestly think that people are unwilling to engage in debate because they think the argument will be too hard or they're afraid they'll lose. It would be a different matter if N'Gai Croal sounded like a five-year-old, but he doesn't, he's an articulate guy and that can be intimidating. So instead, they'll try and cut you off at the knees to instantly destroy your credibility (games are a childish waste of time, QED, next!) because it's so much easier and potentially so much more effective to do that. If these guys were in politics they'd be the ones digging up dirt on secret mistresses.

This is on a more general note, but this one HSD post got republished on Gamasutra today, and it's the most exhaustive and serious thing I ever wrote, and there's this one guy in the comments who just picks up on a perceived slight I apparently made towards the PS3 and calls me out on my "personal bullshit". So if you're keeping tabs, you can safely disregard my opinion on 1) Fallout 3 and 2) the PS3.

P.S. I am horrified to learn that the Fallout image is based on an actual thing.

Alex P said...

Yeah, I had no idea that was based on a real poster either. Thanks Steve. Pretty horrifying stuff.

Also, are the Nazis insinuating that we're going to ruin their country with our dancing and record labels and gorgeous legs?