|Posted on June 25, 2014 at 5:00 AM|
The Business of Hype
As far as videogames have progressed, the gaming community hasn't progressed along with it and are still in a mindset of playground arguements and fights. Now with companies noticing this, it's become business rather than a serious issue.
When I was about ten or so, I had a Sega Genesis. I don’t remember exactly how or when I (or my parents rather) purchased it, I just know it had been out for about a year and my friends had it and therefore I wanted it. I loved that Sega Genesis. Hell, I even stopped playing my beloved Nintendo Entertainment System as a result thanks to gorgeous graphics and the brilliant marketing campaign of Sega with its mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. It was simply “better.”
To a ten year old, better wasn’t about the games, though. It was about how cool it was. It was about the excitement that was marketed towards me. "Look how amazing this is!" some TV ad might say. How much more radical the graphics were on your 13 inch CRT television were far more important. Two buttons on the controller? Well the Genesis had thre! Everybody loved it, but then Nintendo countered with a system of their own and that controller had four buttons and two more button on top. It was mass hysteria.
By the time the Super Nintendo came out in 1991, the Sega Genesis was really well established. The Genesis was new and hip. It wasn’t Nintendo, which at the time was at the top of the world in pop culture. The Genesis knocked them down a peg and introduced this thing called “competition” which the video game industry never really had outside of arcade cabinets jockeying for floor space. Now you had games in your home, and more importantly you had choices to make.
As is the case where anyone is making different choices, ugliness was soon to follow.
Fighting amongst console fans goes back to when companies first began firing shots at each other. It hasn’t changed since…and that’s turning into a serious problem amongst the gaming community.
Those choices were considered personal, and as a result, and through a little thing called commodification (where the things you own are representations, if not outright extensions, of yourself) began to run rampant and thus the “console wars” began.
Truth is, the companies were just looking for money and marketing the hell out of the systems. The “wars” actually were more between the owners of those particular consoles because, in most households, people only had one and could afford only one. The console “wars” weren’t about competition between the console manufacturers and, instead, competition between the owners. They were the ones jockeying for that position to be on top and prove to the world their console was the best.
Due to that one console limit in many homes, kids became defensive and did a number of things at school and amongst their friends when they hung out at the mall or whatever they were allowed to do:
1) They believed their console was infallible. To them, it was perfect. It was more powerful than those other consoles.
2) They always made their console look better by making the other look worse. This is, arguably, where the “kiddie” view of Nintendo (that it’s a “kid"s console) first appeared, because that’s the type of thing a child would say. In their defense, those that owned an NES grew up and were looking for something new, and they saw that in the Genesis, not the SNES.
3) What you didn’t own was bad. It was the enemy. It must be destroyed.
These are the roots of the gaming community today. It's all gone insane to the point that now all those bullshit playground antics aren't just awful children, but awful adult now being marketed towards.
The angry gamer isn’t just a stereotype or even a parody, it’s flat-out real and is the go-to presumption of gaming culture these days. Often, there’s an underlying psychosis to it all going back years, likely stemming from the desire for security of a purchased product.
Take a look at any message board, any form of social media today, and you will realize a lot of things about gamers and the videogame community. Game companies often have a one-track mindset in game marketing (as in, you have to play a game to be “cool” or "everyone is doing it"). Another is the male gamer is often more cynical and aggressive. There’s a through-line of homophobia, bigotry and misogyny running rampant (especially when it comes to online gaming). There’s also people who love to label things “casual” and “hardcore” without really knowing what any of that means (it’s “blast processing" for the new age).
Well, the list can go on. There’s occasionally a few good things in the community, for example women are slowly being more represented despite the often defensive, angst-ridden nature of their male-gamer counterparts, and there’s a more affluent appreciation for variety in growing circles, especially when it comes to independent game development that allows others to share and try new things.
But really, the biggest thing is this: all those kids that were on their playgrounds, arguing over which of their consoles were better, might have aged but they damn sure haven’t grown up. And you know what? The companies that make those consoles and games know it. Boy do they know it. That's where "Exclusive" content comes from on consoles. Want to be cool? Better preorder, dudebro.
Sure, you can say that the new generation of young gamers are just as defensive and one-track-minded as those that argued about Mario versus Sonic in 1993, but really it’s that the generation where it all began and they didn’t change their ways and therefore the newer generations just kept on carrying that torch and those companies find ways to get that money. When all you see are the older gamers arguing about specs and price points and exclusivity, saying “see? my console is better!” at the drop of a hat, it’s no wonder the 12 or 13 year olds today act as they do.
In most cases regarding media, people that have grown older have had their tastes and openness pretty level. Approach to music, for example - often having more they enjoy across a broad spectrum, willing to have a conversation about it and, more often than not, putting their teenage soundtracks behind them. But bring up video games to a 30 year old gamer and it’s as though they’re 12 years old all over again and not in a good, nostalgic way.
Now it’s all amplified. Those playground arguments have the world watching instead of a select group of pre-teens. Now we have the internet to lay out that new battlefield of immature bullshit that, you would think, the gaming community would have moved on with by now. But they haven’t, and the internet has become less of a discussion about games and more a way to promote products and argue over what's better. Now with a louder voice, more hop on board and berate each other personally on top of arguing about video game consoles and brands they identify with.
And the companies make sure to note that. Afterall, it was only a few days after E3 where Insomniac took a little shot at Ubisoft about women in videogames as a result of an Ubisoft backlash from the gaming community about not having women in Assassin's Creed. "See? We're inclusive!" As much as I would love to say that's a statement, at the same time it's just to sell a game.
As for all those arguing factions? They just get uglier, and I wonder where the ceiling is. See, when those kids back in the 90s argued, eventually it would get to a point where there’s nothing else to be argued and it all turns personal. Then all of a sudden someone is “gay” or whatever and the bullshit ends. With the internet, it's endless, and with little pokes at the log from companies, from pot-shots to each other or making sure to say "exclusive" during an E3 press conference, it stirs it up again. Why haven't gamers moved beyond playground antics? Because they can't, and all that ugliness spews forth.
That’s where all that bigotry and phobias come into play today. The gaming community is insecure, go read any comment section on any video or atitcle anywhere and you'll see that nasty ugly side. The fact is, the gaming community is awful and nobody is doing anything about it, in fact they're trying to spin a way to make money off that insecurity.
Thanks to the internet, not only are those awful attributes of gamer culture amplified, even the companies these days are getting in on it. They build up that hype because they know that hype = sales. Hype also gets gamers into a frenzy causing all that ugliness I mentioned. Back in the day, they would get frenzied over some rumor section in a magazine. Now you can’t go a day without something being hyped up by some developer or publisher or, as is often the case, gaming information outlet. (I don’t call them news outlets because they rarely are).
So what’s happening is all the bullshit that hasn’t changed in gamer mentality for the past 20-plus years is now even louder and more vocal and even profitable. It’s uglier and more personal. It’s not just “my console is better than yours” out of insecurity and dumb junior-high immaturity but now “my console is better than yours” is out of spite and hatred towards other companies and, often, other people.
Hell, the eventual video game industry “crash” won’t happen because of companies and sales. It will happen because gamers are going to devour it and shit it out at each other, but at least someone’s making bank, right?
Companies love the wars and hype and everyone falling over themselves. It’s been the standard for 30 years - no, not competition, that’s good, but getting people to identify with your brand and buy it, defend it and therefore promote it at all costs.
So why didn’t I go to E3 this year? I’m just tired of it all. Don’t get me wrong, I love video games, but I can’t even talk about a game I love without some overwhelming negativity coming from the other direction and usually out of the blue. Do I want to be a part of that? I can’t even look at a game demo at a press conference without someone fumbling around on the controller at the kiosk and spouting “thing fucking sucks.”
Really? You played it for three minutes, man. Oh, is the reason why because it’s Nintendo and you’re really edgy with your X-box “Eat.Sleep.Xbox” T-shirt you got from the Micrososft booth. Or do you have a PS4 at home and pretty much decided before attending that you'll hate every Xbox game on the floor because you don't have one? (spoiler: probably all of that and more)
It’s not just the ugliness of a lot of gamers out there, but the industry and the enthusiast press as well. Gamer entitlement expressed online is bad enough, but now you have companies feeding that frenzy of entitlement.
Fine. It’s not your type of game. Move on, but don't fall into that branding/hype/bullshit machine put out there by multi-million/billion dollar corporations. There are games I don’t like either but I don’t shit on them to make myself feel better with the idea that I don’t own the console they’re on or didn’t lay down cash to purchase them. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s “awful and shitty” either. Some games are, yes. But most? Not really. Most are good, and most are someone’s favorite game to play. Maybe they don’t own your console or aren’t your gender or your age, but someone likes it and you shouldn’t call them awful for liking it or the game awful when it’s not your type of game to begin with.
That mentality is just making me tired of associating with gamers. I’ve already written extensively how gamers are holding back the idea of videogame being appreciated beyond just commodities, but now I have to wonder if eventually what will ruin gaming for all of us are the gamers’ cynical nature, the companies that feed them bullshit to hype up everything and the growing increase of people “identifying” themselves with a brand.
But are we in full control of that reveal? Unlike hype around movies, probably not. People have become attached to videogames in a more personal way.
The solution really is unrealistic, though. It’s up to the older generation to set the standard and it’s simply too late - it’s a part of our society now and of gaming culture. It's entirely on part of gamers to alter their approach to buying/selling/conversing aboug games. The companies aren't going to do that, nor the news outlets. Those are just reflections. It has to start internally.
Everyone gets hyped for something. It's fun to be excited. But the mentaility of "I'm better than you" or "I deserve this!" is tiresome and outright sad. It's what you exepct from a teenager, not a group of 30 something year olds that are the average age for gamers these days. Maybe if the older generation grows up in their attitude, considering they're the ones buying all the consoles and games for the most part, so will the companies marketing strategies and enthusiast press way of writing about games as a whole.
But that will probably never happen. If there’s anything I learned about our impending future from Orwell is that individualism and maybe changing the course of events is as easy as 2 + 2 equaling 5.