Video gaming communities are among some of the most passionate of fan bases. They are also some of the most vicious communities out there as well. Gaming communities can make waves and can visibly influence the effects on the way a game was meant to be developed. This is shameful because video games are a form of art and a form of expression that should not have to be changed to bend over to the wills of fans. Games such as Mass Effect 3 had entire endings rewritten solely due to fan backlash. The gaming community has become its own worst enemy, and it contributes to an idea that video gamers are nothing more than sheep who blindly follow the masses.
A prior article discussed the idea that the gaming community was nothing more than a herd mentality. People blindly follow the masses and follow orders. This blind following has led to a stagnation of the video games industry, an industry that seems more content on rehashing material and making games with more visual spectacles rather than a fun and enjoyable experience. The following has created a sense of negative reinforcement of sorts. I got the chance to speak with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Image and Form Games and the mind behind the excellent up-and-coming strategy title Steamworld Heist (releasing this autumn for Nintendo 3DS, Playstations 4 and Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, PC, and mobile). He noticed patterns that begin in the initial comments of a newly published article, and how the positivity or negativity of the initial comments could shape future discussion. The anecdote he brought forward was that he knew of somebody who worked for a decent publisher, and said someone sought to find out who the worst of the haters were. In a specific context, the study was applied to a nasty set of YouTube comments. The discovery was made that individuals were making multiple accounts to reinforce the negativity, and when asked about their vitriol, their response was that they were upset that a franchise that they had loved was being taken in a new direction. The response would therefore be, in essence, putting fingers in the ears and just screaming “lalalalala!” while ignoring the game as a whole, just because of a decision that was out of their control. These individuals were using multiple accounts to build up the negativity until the final straw broke the camel’s back. It even became a question about whether or not a gamer is even considered a true fan, considering that they supposedly loved the franchise but balked about a directional change and went as far as harassing a developer in real life to enact change.
Hearing about that instance just makes me wonder. Brjann brought up a very intriguing point as well that mirrored an idea that I had been thinking of at the time: video gamers are akin to sports fans such that being tied so closely to their favorite franchises, when the slightest trace of negativity appears, they take to the streets and protest loudly. The initial comments reflect poorly, and the published work starts to take on a downward spiral of negativity. This is something that I myself have observed in my writing. When comments began with positive remarks, the overall response became friendlier. It has been said that many communities who spark negativity are a “small fraction of the vocal minority,” yet, when I see that these negative naysayers are actually impacting studio development decisions, it makes me wonder just how “minor” the said minority are. It nails home that idea of the people blindly following the masses and that they do not think for themselves.
In another instance, we have famed video game streamer PewDiePie, who goes by the name Felix Kjellberg. People generalize a description of him as an obnoxious and a profanity-laced gamer who screams into a microphone. But at the same time, he makes a decently sized fortune for his endeavors. It means he is doing something right to have that level of attention and scrutiny. One note that I found intriguing about him is how humble of a beginning he came from, and in a particular video he came across as pensive and incredibly genuine. Talking about his accumulated wealth and how he was working a hot dog booth to start out, as well as how he found a passion in doing what he wanted to do, he noted a typical case — fresh out of college, inundated in student loans, and selling a few bits of artwork online to get started with his career. We do not look at that negatively, either. He’s doing what has had to in order to get to doing what he wanted to do. But at some point, relatively recently, he shut down the comments for his YouTube channel due to spam and negative backlash in his videos. After four weeks he reversed his decision but did not state why, merely acknowledging that comments were back in the fold. When I look at a gaming personality, it’s just that — a personality. Those personas do not deserve the waves of online hatred that plagues the YouTube community. It’s a shame once comments start getting shut down from a small stream of negativity — and then, these individuals merely flood the small stream with even more negativity. Gaming developers, their advertisers, and others of that association are in a rock and hard place, and whatever they do, they don’t get satisfaction from the blind masses. Witnessing that kind of harassment is appalling and gives a lot more respect to what developers have to go through.
The idea of the sheep mentality is something that will continue to plague the video game industry. It will happen for a while, and I understand that. But we have to break out of that mentality somehow. Events like the “Gamer Gate” controversy should not have even happened — and again, it’s the case of the blind masses banding together, in an instance where someone who had an opinion received death threats, threats of violence, and the publishing of personal details online. It is deplorable. And in truth, the industry needs people like Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency ideas to help right the ship. It needs more people like this to pay attention to the serious issues that are ongoing within the games industry. The industry is not a place entirely made of glamour and pomp, of fancy shooting games and hyped-up events. It just shows how much of an enemy we have become to ourselves, that we need to adhere to these stereotypes that gaming is strictly a male-dominated community, that it has no room for females, and that females are beneath their station. We are setting ourselves up for a hard fall, at this point.
Are there positives to this outlook? Yes, there are of course. Going back to Pewdiepie and his popularity, whenever his name is tied to something, people rush out and buy a game that he’s playing, which has brought income to a developer who was worried over the state of a game they had been developing. It’s the Oprah effect in the video games industry. There are instances that it could be positive, and those are the kinds of steps we need to take. We are too much of a caricature to be taken seriously at this point, and gaming needs to go back in the direction that made it great decades ago — making experiences that can be remembered for generations afterwards.