The Media, Gamers and You

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2014 saw a defining split in the gaming community. However noble the original intentions may have been, the senseless hate, vitriol and cruelty that followed still linger around to this day, and we’ve seen the worst of it come out when the industry lost a great friend last year.

Being a Gamer (emphasis on capital G) is an identity some associate with pride, some with shame, others with hate. The shift in perception and definition from both the inside and outside the community has been palpable, and we’re now at a point where we entertain the thought of “minority toggles” in a misguided attempt to play it safe.

It’s genuinely embarrassing that this is a headline in the games industry. How did we get here? Why the fuck haven’t we moved on? Who are these “Gamers” anyways, and why are we keeping them on life support?

A Basket of Deplorables

Lest I get branded as a hypocrite, let me make one thing clear – I do not harbor ill will against any of these people on an individual level. I do however despise their toxic identity which encapsulates the absolute worst of the games community, and for some reason still holds power over game developers.

And that’s ultimately where the issue comes from: Playing video games is now an actual identity. An identity which also holds beliefs. This creates a predictably toxic environment plagued by identity politics, and it gets downright nasty when modern worldviews are brought into the picture.

I’m not here to grandstand and score brownie points with any one side of this pathetic “culture war” – “Gamers” on the whole are terrible customers that the industry is better off without, and that should be obvious to anyone taking a look at their most prevalent character traits.

1. The Entitled

Gamers expect developers to quickly and consistently create visual, technical and creative masterpieces while glorifying crunch time and pitiful salaries. Anything mediocre is a savage attack on their quality of life, and they feel entitled to great games tailored specifically to their tastes. Everything else is dismissed with total contempt.

Naturally, they refuse to pay anything above cheap or free, and decry DLC with content they want but won’t compensate their creators for. Not only is piracy rampant in these circles, Gamers genuinely deluded themselves into thinking it’s justifiable on moral grounds. Then they trash games, studios and publishers left and right while lacking the self-awareness to realize why they aren’t being catered to anymore.

Another specialty of theirs is to get upset about games released for a different target audience or platform, as if it somehow robs them of an experience they were entitled to. Gamers will even shit on games they were never going to play anyway, and we’re now at the point where we do logo flashes for the “real” thing when we announce a spin-off as to not outrage the mob.

Dear Gamer: Video games aren’t a God-given right. They’re entertainment products with significant development costs aimed to generate revenue. Do you really this industry relies on a sad group of bargain bin elitists shitting on us in a comment section? Take a hard guess.

2. The Angry

This should come as no surprise if you’ve ever been a moderator in an MMO or worked in customer support. Gamers are easily upset, toxic as hell and the severity of their anger is absurd. If you dare ship a game with mediocre facial animations, they will feel personally attacked and not only take it out on developers but also on other gamers because, in their tiny world, nobody should be able to enjoy something they don’t.

There is zero customer accountability to be found – pre-orders are rampant, speculation is hyped into oblivion and reviews are ignored. If you think you won’t like a game, don’t buy that game and move on. If you hated it after playing it for 100 hours, trade it in. Do you think calling us “nigger whores” will somehow make the game more fun to play?

3. The Sexist, Racist and Socially Inept

When you openly resent women in games and development teams, or liken the addition of black characters in Battlefield to a form of white genocide, you are probably sexist, racist and most certainly ignorant. Ethics in games journalism my ass. Historical accuracy my fucking ass. Come out the closet, will you? Red hats are in style right now.

On the other hand, you have the socially challenged knights of virtue congregating over at ResetEra or the former NeoGAF, where insecure adults get outraged over the most microscopic of perceived sleights, criminalize wrongthink and put minorities on politically correct pedestals with the fanaticism of the Islamic religious police.

Besides a warped view of reality, these people have one more thing in common: They’re on a crusade to define what is and isn’t okay to put into video games, and harbor extreme contempt for those who think differently. It’s an absolute travesty that this is the context our work is being discussed in.

4. The Militant

If you upset Gamers, especially the basement-crusaders mentioned above, they will release your personal information online and harass you. If your employer is pathetic enough, they’ll get you fired. They will threaten you with physical harm, rape and death.

Not all of them, of course. Just some of them, consistently. Meaning every single time where the appropriate response would have been “I strongly disagree with you.” Can you think of any other creative industry where professionals have to be afraid of their own consumers?

5. The Gullible

This subset of Gamers is extremely gullible. When you see politicians with no understanding of the subject matter jump on the loot box bandwagon to score brownie points, or alt-right populists presenting themselves as allies of gamers to sell the rest of their right-wing agenda to a new audience, you’d think they’d see through it.

Nope. Gamers will eat it up. When their identity – the only thing they have – is seemingly under attack, even the mildest form of validation will earn their fullest approval. It’s really that depressingly easy – you can announce a game without pre-order bonuses today and it will be celebrated.

6. The Uninformed

Gamers are ignorant. Every unsubstantiated rumor makes headlines. Clearly debunked myths are still circulating. Assumptions replace evidence, and discussions are defined by the comment that manages to encapsulate the lowest common denominator.

Gamers are heavily invested in this medium, yet their basic understanding of game development is appallingly poor. It’s bizarre that we have to apologize for issues in a demo.

Now remind me: Why should this be our audience?

Pointing Fingers

Gamers of the past were, for the most part, an obscure group of nerds and hobbyists defined by little more than the products they bought from Christmas catalogs. So how did we get to angry mobs dictating the news about games that they were never going to buy anyways? Millennials? Games journalism? The internet? Let’s find out.

1. Anonymous

Anonymity is powerful. Anyone can say anything from the comfort of their computer screen without having to face the retribution of those wronged, nor do they have to come to terms with the harm caused by their destructive behaviors. If they cared about them in the first place, that is.

We’re also living in an age where an individual’s voice carries much more weight than it ever has before. As a result, more and more people will resort to trolling in an attempt to get attention, sympathy or revenge.

One day, we may find an appropriate balance between protecting anonymity and enforcing consequences for abusive behavior on the internet. But until that time comes, online discourse will be shaped by edgelords, bad actors, and people who simply lack empathy.

2. Outrage Culture

People feel a duty to be outraged by any and all offenses being committed around the world, and with social media delivering every bad event right into our feed it has never been easier to voice our opinions. It’s cathartic to express disgust which, when validated by likes, shares and retweets, can devolve into a masturbatory cycle of outrage.

When said outrage is escalated in an attempt to one-up the virtue signaling of others, it ends up in a game dev celebrating the death of John Bain who was at worst flippant and said something inappropriate. Do you think Mr. Crooks would’ve acted the same way 20 years ago?

Some would have you believe that this is a phenomenon only affecting the left, but in truth people from all ends of the political, racial and sexual spectrum are susceptible to being outraged over mundane matters. That includes Gamers.

3. Armchair Cynics

This is what I call influencers and writers who like to stir up the new flavor of the month. There are entire channels on YouTube dedicated to controversies around games, and we’ve reached a point where a disappointing title makes more headlines that a great one, where failure has become a spectacle greater than a success worthy of celebration, and where the absence of a black or white opinion is problematic. Do tell me:

Of course not. It’s gross hyperbole aimed at a mob seeking the next big thing to get outraged over. How can you claim to have any integrity if you turn every soundbite into a vilifying headline and then complain about the toxic and divisive environment you are part of? This is news by the angry few for the angry few, and it’s exactly as out of touch as it sounds.

4. Video Games

Games are an extremely adept form of escapism. I would know – I was a loser and had to take on an identity in virtual worlds to forget about the bullying, loneliness and other unpleasantries I faced during my childhood.

While it’s genuinely exciting to work on a medium so powerful, it also translates into a significant number of our most invested users being socially inept, depressed or at such a low point in their life that they require video games to keep them emotionally stable.

If you combine the mental state of these people, the time on their hands and their motivations with the current internet culture and the tools it provides, it shouldn’t surprise us to be confronted with this type of behavior from Gamers. That doesn’t mean we should condone and validate it, however.

Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This is not your audience. Stop pretending they are. Every time you cave in to their whining, every time you fear the readership of a failed journalist, every time you think you must apologize, you keep the illusion alive that “Gamers” are still relevant. Let us finally move on.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to remember that this is an extreme minority – billions of people around the globe play games responsibly on a regular basis, and the industry is past the point where angry forum posts make or break our bottom line. Most people will buy your game and enjoy it without ever letting you know, just like you didn’t leave a review for the last movie you saw.

Video games also have the most passionate audience any medium could have, and represent one of the few instances where consumer feedback during development of an artistic work directly contributes to the quality of the final product. When done right, you get a glimpse into what a healthy developer-gamer relationship can be.

That said, this vocal tyranny of a screeching minority has to end. Don’t be a spineless tool who folds like a cheap house of cards when confronted with self-righteous “Gamers” and their childish whims of the day – be honest with yourself, form your own opinions and take a fucking stand for the games you create, play and write about.

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