Gamers, Fanboys, Behavior and Respect

X-Box Kitten
Since I and others may get worked up over this, here’s a picture of our kitten.

I try to keep the contents of this blog focused on storytelling and the best ways to do it in modern media. One of those forms of media is games. Video games, to be precise, and it’s a form of storytelling and interactive entertainment I’ve enjoyed since I was knee-high to a corn stalk. It’s in my blood. It’s part of my life. I am a gamer.

And yet, I feel like using that word has come to carry a negative connotation. Some have tried to distance themselves from the hobby to some degree. Some have pointed out that a lot of gamers are doing it wrong. Some are curious as to what’s going on with the term in general. And others want the label drowned in the bathtub altogether.

By the way, you should really go watch and read all of that stuff I just linked if you haven’t already. It’s worth your time especially if you’re a gamer, and it’s the basis for this entry.

For my part, I want to make something perfectly clear. I don’t think I’m better or worse than the large community of gamers out there. I’m just as guilty as taking joy in the failures of another gamer who happens to be on the opposing side of the Internets as anybody. I’ve shunned social interaction, ambition and even relationships for the sake of gaming. I’ve gotten pissed off to the point of physical violence over another failed attempt at a challenging level. After the experiences of suicidal depression, a nervous breakdown, abandonment, divorce and the rigors of the mental health recovery system in this country, I made a promise to myself that when I came across a flaw in my behavior, I’d take a look at the problem, find out where I’d gone wrong and strive to improve my behavior going forward.

Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I kick it right into the goal, sometimes I bounce one off the post. Nobody’s perfect, right? Yeah, I might lose my cool when I nearly get run over by somebody in an Audi who’s in a hurry to get from the local Starbucks to their next high-powered marketing meeting. Who doesn’t? And I might invoke the works of other gamers and critics – like I did two paragraphs ago – and be seen as taking them out of contest. Mistakes are going to happen. I’m a human being.

My point is: so are you, and so is everybody else out there. I want to be treated like one, and so I make the attempt to treat others like one. Is it really that hard? Am I strange for wanting this? Has common courtesy somehow become taboo, uncool or downright lame?

Courtesy Uncle Sam Posters

No. It hasn’t. And nobody should feel that way.

I’ve gotten into arguments over games, stories, programming procedures, politics, religion, philosophy and the best variety of Pop Tarts. And some of those arguments have gotten pretty heated. But when it comes to an actual debate, even when I bring up a point that I know is going to be unpopular for one reason or another, it’s never my goal to piss anybody off, make anybody feel inadequate or ashamed to feel the way they do. I especially have zero interest in perpetuating the notion that disagreement and dissension should be met with blind hatred phrased in abusive language.

Now before I get into the meat of this, let me pause to say that some of the discourse I’ve had recently related to games and gaming has been balanced and respectful. It’s heartening to experience respect and debate on the Internet, but the unfortunate truth is that this feels more like the exception than the norm. And that’s a problem. I’m also not opposed to the use of profanity. I make precision F-strikes from time to time to get a point across. But using that language in a demeaning, personal attack is a far cry from using it to emphasize a point.

Let me give you an example, specifically regarding the word “faggot” or “fag.” For a lot of so-called gamers out there, if you present a counter-argument to the prevailing sentiment about a given game or aspect of gamer culture — the characterization of a video game’s protagonist or lack thereof, for example, or the virtures of an RPG or turn-based strategy game over the plethora of FPS games out there — you must be a “fanboy” of whatever side you’re percieved to be on. Additionally, it’s not only acceptable but encouraged to imply if not out-and-out state that as a “fanboy” you are automatically also that aforementioned f-word and all it implies. The reinforcement of a negative sterotype of a particular minority of humanity, the perpetuation of the acts that are wrapped up in that stereotype and the consequences desired by certain political and religious groups for being a part of or even associated with that minority have become the default reactionary response of these so-called gamers. In other words, if you were to say that Team Fortress 2 is a better multiplayer experience than Halo or Call of Duty, the default reactionary response of these gamers is that (a) you play Valve games to the exclusion of all other games to the point of obsession and (b) you should be burned alive for being so clearly deviant from the accepted norms of gamer society.

This behavior is absolutely fucking disgusting.

Courtesy Penny Arcade

Putting aside the fact that this sort of rabid defense of a given sub-strata of gaming makes these valiant defenders of whatever they’re defending just as much a “fanboy” as the object of their ire, the virulent vomiting of acidic homophobic or racist hate renders any sort of counter-point they want to make entirely worthless, if they have any point to make at all. People work personal attacks into their commentary all time, be it for the sake of comedy or lacking anything further to say of intellectual importance. And in the interest of full disclosure, in the context of gameplay, busting out the occasional “Your mom” joke when you’re among friends is pretty harmless — I’ve done it & will likely do it again. There’s no intent there to harm, which is a point I’ll revisit.

But in the context of discourse and debate, when all you do is attack the person making the point instead of the point itself, all you’re doing is proving just how aggressively juvenile and socially inept you are. Pointing out flaws in an opponent’s logic, citing sources that discredit their thesis, deconstructing their argument in a way that’s just as constructive for future talking points as it is furthering your point of view — that’s interesting, intelligent, thought-provoking and respectful discussion. Invoking lewd sex acts done by or to your opponent or their family isn’t any of those things, nor is it all that funny.

As I said before, busting out the occasional “So’s your face!” among friends is one thing. Constant, unrepentant and abusive behavior is quite another. Making fun of someone aiming to have everybody laughing, including the one being made fun of, is one thing. Spitting out derogatory remarks laced with profanity for the sake of proving your superiority is another. See what I’m getting at here? Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Does this make any sense to you whatsoever?

Gaming Cat
Another picture of one of my cats associating with games. It calms me.

I know it might seem hypocritical of me to be telling people how to behave and to knock off personal attacks in what is looking more and more like a personal attack, albeit directed at a number of anonymous people. But how else do we call attention to this fundamental flaw in our society? What other recourse do we have to point out how bad this makes us look as a community? Why should we continue to let this be accepted, encouraged and in some cases defended behavior?

We can, and should, do better. We have a whole lot of language we can use. We are fully capable of rendering our arguments in ways that are not personally insulting, potentially inflammatory or deliberately pejorative. And when you get right down to it, the words themselves are devoid of meaning other than those we give them. George Carlin, may he rest in peace, said the following regarding language:

There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions. And woooords.

So I’m not saying that certain words are taboo and should never, ever be used. Taking words out of parlance is tantamount to censorship, which I’m just as opposed to as I am treating other people like shit because they happen to disagree with you. What I’m driving at here is that, as gamers, we should respect the opinions of other individuals even when we disagree with them. If we want to be respected, we need to show respect to others in order to earn the respect we crave.

We are a culture of short attention spans and ever-emerging distractions. We’ll get fired up about something for a bit and then move on to the next big release, content update or point of contention. I’m afraid this will happen when it comes to this aspect of our society. If that means I need to jump up and down in my cage, thump my chest and throw some poo, so be it. After all, the only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.

Now, I’m not saying these gamers are evil. That’s just as wrong as all of the homophobia. I’m just reiterating the fact that this kind of behavior, from its roots deep in the insecurities of socially inept gamers to its manifestation as streams of profanity wrapped around racist and homophobic epithets with the intent of degrading an individual for the sake of elevating one’s own sense of self-worth, is completely unacceptable. It wouldn’t be tolerated to use these words with that intent to someone’s face, and it shouldn’t be across the Internet, either. If you engaged in this behavior around a gaming table where dice are being thrown, or while sitting on the couch as a guest in someone else’s home, it would not go on anywhere near as long or be anything close to this ‘accepted.’ In fact, you’d be sitting by yourself pretty damn fast in most public situations because nobody wants to associate with the dickhead who thinks it’s funny to imply people he doesn’t like should be burned alive.

Wil Wheaton says... (art courtesy Scott Kurtz, I think)

You can disagree with me if you like. You can even hate me for pointing this out, even though it’s been pointed out before. Send hate mail, engage in the very behavior I’m opposing, vote for projects other than mine out of spite, whatever. If that’s the price I have to pay for sticking my neck out in the name of common courtesy and asking that a level of decency be introduced to the interactions we have with one another as human beings sharing the same planet and trying to enjoy the same hobby, I’ll pay it gladly.

4 Comments

  1. Is this to do with all the Metroid: Other M backlash, which has been simultaneously amusing, enlightening, and disgusting to experience? I must say, it must be quite the debacle to rage on for nearly a month after release with no signs of slowing down (even if it is mostly just MovieBob at this point). I feel like making a few statements on the subject and its controversies, too, but I figure it best that I actually play the game first. At any rate…

    I’m all for respectful and intelligent discourse, as well as thoughtful and due consideration for the sentiments, opinions, and perspectives of all involved, yet at the same time I also believe that those who hold blatantly wrong points of view should be punished for their stupidity. How do I put this lightly? If someone comes up to you and says that bed sheets are nutritious and delicious, you wouldn’t say, “I respectfully disagree with you, however you are entitled to your opinion.” You would say, “You’re a daft fool who needs medical help!”

    From all I’ve read and heard about Metroid: Other M, I’m beginning to think that something similar applies. The game seems like it’s just fundamentally bad in nearly every respect (bad narrative, bad characterizations, bad voice acting, bad gameplay, bad mechanics, etc.). Not bad as a matter of opinion, but bad as a matter of fact. And thus people who would argue otherwise need to be set straight.

    So you have one side endeavouring to show the other the error of their ways, and you have the other trying to defend it by whatever means necessary for whatever reason (nostalgia, brand loyalty, etc). I actually wonder if, had Metroid: Other M been the same game without all the Nintendo/Metroid badges to fall back on, the reception would be for the most part bad instead of mixed, and no ugly internet wars would ensue. Since really all it seems to have going for it is rabid blind fan defense and their unflinching loyalty at this point.

    Again, I haven’t played Metroid: Other M (yet), but it seems to have become one of those franchises where if Nintendo had just put out white DVD cases with some Samus/Metroid art on the front and a pretzel inside, it would still get high scores and be one of the best games ever.

    I am fully aware that what I’ve just written can be taken as insulting and condescending, but personally, I’ve become sick of people using subjectivity cop outs and “it’s your opinion” claims, either to back out of discussions or to justify flat out stupid and ridiculous perspectives (this is something else I have often wanted to discuss in greater detail).

    As for MovieBob and “Heavens to Metroid,” he deserves all the backlash and insults that come his way (which is not to say that I’m contributing or encouraging them). I’m normally fairly articulate and reasonable, and avoid participation in all flame wars, but when you insult an entire genre and its fanbase, defend to the grave a fundamentally broken and bad game (again, only as far as I know), and still have the audacity to pose as some sort of rational geek polymath/intellectual, it should go without saying that you’re asking for trouble.

    I only used to disagree with MovieBob (respectfully and tacitly disagree, I might add). Now I simply don’t like him. At the current moment, it’s a matter of what will happen first: Will he smarten up and become more balanced and reasoned? Or will he spiral even further out of control? In either case, it should be interesting to watch.

  2. Do you also disagree with MovieBob’s “Building A Better Gamer”?

  3. In some ways, yes. A good chunk of that video was more or less a recruitment ad for some sort of “intellectual gamer army.” He uses phrases like “we as gamers” and “defending/attacking cultures and critics” as if to build the walls that separate higher instead of tearing them down. I shouldn’t need to point out that merely drawing attention to divisions only strengthens them. It was an empowerment video, really, and I think that the last thing “gamers” need is empowerment and further delusions of cultural superiority.

    More harm than good comes from forcing and struggling for acceptance instead of just waiting patiently for cultural/societal integration. It’s not as if “gamers” are being persecuted and ostracized for their hobby in the same way certain religions and races throughout history have endured. The medium certainly has faced (and will continue to face) its challenges over time, but what anyone would readily consider a “world shattering outrage” has hardly threatened it. “Gamers” are impatient. They just need to settle down, steady the course, and wait for the world to come around when it’s ready to do so. Hell, that “cultural/societal” integration process has been steadily happening for years!

    (I do agree with the practical advice of that episode, however. I actually took his advice and started eating almonds! But, as he himself said, that’s practical advice for everyone, not just “gamers.” A shining example of when common sense isn’t common if I ever saw one.)

  4. Now, I didn’t read this whole thing (terrible cold keeps making words spin around the page and my head hurt).

    I disagreed with Yahtzee deeply on his views on the word gamer (in fact his attitude put me off so much that the article was the first and LAST of his work I will ever read.)

    Gamer is a fine word. While to “outsiders” it can carry negative connotations, there’s a lot of understanding that word conveys to others like us. I love the GameFly commercials as they sum up the feelings of playing a good game. Staying up all night, taking a (rare) sickday to play, the feeling of accomplishment.

    As a demographic, there will always be a word that is used to describe us. Would we rather it be our own word, or one those on the other side of the fence pick for us?

    But I think we, as gamers, need to watch our behavior. Online communities are by and large known to be cesspools of human nature. Look at WoW trade chat.

    As for words/phrases like “fag” or “that’s so gay”, I think the context needs to be examined. Even I use “gay” as a negative term. (e.g. “So, the teacher moved the midterm up a week? Gay.”) But, I don’t use it with any thought about the homosexual community. South Park actually did a very good episode on the topic last season.

    I probably have more to say, and can’t well remember what I have said, but I’m gonna go chug some Nyquil and pass out.

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