With actual, salary-earnin’ work picking up into high gear this week, I was unable to find time to play a retro game and talk about this week for The Retrospective. Apologies if you care, but it’ll be back next week. This week, I’m going to take some time to talk about a touchy subject plenty of folks that interact with games on a regular basis.
Where do we draw the line between a great respect for something and blind allegiance to it or its creators? This is something I’ve grappled with for a while, as I, like plenty others I’m sure, realized that my relationship with the games community is perhaps on the bitter side of bittersweet. Too often, a wall of vile, despicable muck blocks the path to constructive discussion. Perhaps this is an internet thing, anonymity and such, but maybe there’s something deeper at work, something far more sinister. Perhaps we’ve allowed our company/product/creator worship get out of our collective hands. Perhaps, it’s simply because we’re lowly humans.
So here is a quick self help guide to making the world a better place for everyone. Whether you just think your PC ecosystem is the bee’s knees and can’t imagine why anyone would play on consoles, or you fancy yourself a skilled Street Fighter player and can’t conceive of any reason to play something that doesn’t involve competition (who needs STORY anyway?), you may hopefully find something valuable here.
But first, I need to define elitism a bit, because it’s important to make a clear distinction between it and passion. Passion is a positive, emotional investment in something that matters to you. A constructive PC enthusiast has passion when he/she feels a great surge of pleasure from constructing a machine from parts and finally seeing it activate. An RTS enthusiast with positive passion plays hoping achieve victory with fine tuned strategy, not to enjoy crushing opponents. I think it’s perfectly fine to love something with all your heart and cherish the good feels you get from it. But emotion can have constructive and destructive qualities, and taking that passion into a defensive and offensive hemisphere in the face of, GASP, people without an emotional attachment to what you like is absolutely destructive. Refusing to acknowledge flaws or problems with your perspective is just an extension of that. Let’s look into fixing this. Then again, my efforts may shooting into a void. Who knows, that’s the fun.
5. Acknowledge that Elitism is in our Nature
Now let’s think. What could be the biggest reason elitism persists in our modern gaming culture? Could it perhaps be that we commonly sanction ourselves off into groups of like-minded people for a little too long? Think about it. Forums, console ecosystems, fan communities, these are breeding grounds for people with similar opinions and backgrounds to simulate varied communication and begin to actually believe that their shared narrow mindset is the standard point of view among all humans. It’s easy to see how this happens, since you’re not likely to run into too many people on Xbox Live who think that the PS3 might have some cool things about it, or vice versa.
And this is by no means a new thing. Humanity has segmented itself into little like-minded groups since we were living in caves (although not with the luxury of choice like we do with our fancy internets), and thinking in a communal unison helped in our continued survival. It lived on further in city-states and empires, when thinking differently was the leading reason behind so many wars and conflicts.
So when we venture out from our little microcosms and read a vastly different perspective on Kotaku or what have you, there’s always a little worm in your head that screams How can this be! All of my friends and I think the opposite, so clearly this is an outlier from all of humanity’s understanding of this topic so I must assume some authority and commence the beat down!.
It’s so easy to think that our group is the one true, golden council of correct opinions, and that all of those that oppose us must be punished and illuminated. We’re too susceptible to blind allegiance to our group. Cults are not made up of maleable idiots, just narrow perspectives. But an easy way to not get swept up into a cult is to…
4. Learn Some Empathy, Man
While I don’t try to sound like a liberal hooligan who sings to the birds and the trees, I say it because I am a liberal hooligan who sings with the birds and the trees. We need to get some communal love going, you guys. End all wars, plant some flowers, drink from the blood of our demonic sacrifices. All that jazz.
But really, it is far too easy to lose the ability to see things from other perspectives than your own pair of eyes. Sometimes we fall into a mindset that screams of existential isolation. I’m the only true human, everyone else is just a cast member of some grand play performed in front of my eyes.
But no. There is a source and a purpose behind every point of view. Maybe that console-lover you scream at for not giving into the PC master race can’t afford a good rig like you. Maybe that PC snob you complain about on IGN was never allowed to have consoles growing up, and got comfortable finding games elsewhere. Maybe that goddamn Nintendo apologist finds the same emotional profundity in Mario Kart that you do in Skyrim because he got to play it with his dad before his dad passed away.
I’m not saying that these differences need to have a cure. Difference is healthy, it makes us a more diverse whole. But why get mad at someone for liking something you don’t? Why do you need to defend what you like with such a bloodlust against those that might not get it? You just have to remember that difference has context. Differently opinionated people don’t exist merely to grab your ire. They have just the same level of reasoning behind their choices that you do.
3. Remember What You’re Really Defending
We’ve all seen or participated in arguments that left us sweating and red, clutching our beloved whatevers with a religious adoration. Defending what you love often makes your love for it stronger, after all, and hey, maybe you got in a great couple of insults against that guy who said that Starcraft 2 doesn’t take as much skill to be good at as Halo. How DARE he? Starcraft 2 is GODTIER!!!
I remember getting into a particular spicy argument about which Mass Effect game is best with a friend a while back that basically ended up in us both refusing to maybe agree just a little that elevator loading wasn’t the best choice or that ME2 lost some of its storytelling power in its quest for better combat mechanics. At the end of the day, we left in a standstill, each of our opinions more engrained in our souls than before.
The thing is, I’m playing the Mass Effect games again for the first time in years, and I’m actually seeing some of my friend’s complaints. It took a bit of reflection and a bit of emotional disconnect, but I realized that what I liked is flawed. In some situations, it’s quite flawed. All that arguing was ultimately over who could yell the loudest.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Mass Effect games (for reasons that are ultimately my own), but why was I so blind to its problems in the heat of arguing? This is something that happens a lot when we’re defending something from what we perceive to be a high horse, looking down on the peons. Because BLANK game is what we’ve decided to side with today for the sake of argument, BLANK game must be infallible, because I am infallible.
But this specific example comes in the context of a specific set of products. Things get messier when we talk about broader allegiances to less concrete concepts. Take console wars, for example. What a stupid, inane, worthless thing to argue about. Why? Because, again, different people have different needs to be filled, and different consoles may lean more in their direction. But more importantly… I mean they’re video game consoles. Machines made by corporations in lands far away. Defending them with actual, determined, adamant emotion is a waste of emotion. Ultimately, we need to…
2. Develop a Proper Relationship with Our Entertainment Companies
You know what I see when I see frothing-mouthed, blood vessel-bursting arguments over Steam/Consoles or Nintendo/Everything or this company/that company? I see a herd of swine feasting from a trough filled with rotting garbage while the brother farmers Jack Trenton, Gabe Newell, Satoru Iwata, and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, all laughing while writhing their hands with glee while saying in unison: “Yes. Eat! Like GOOD little piggies! GAHAHAHAHAHAHA”
Does any company really deserve our complete and utter devotion? Is any platform or marketplace or producer of content really free from flaw? I think it’s fair to say that our mindless bickering is totally something that these companies want. I mean, just look at any Sony press conference ever. They may as well be trying to instigate riots or stir up an army before battle. Why, oh why do we feed this?
It’s the kind of thing that hurts development. If Steam is defended constantly without an acknowledgement of fault then Steam won’t improve. Same goes for any other platform. But what if we decided to, of our own volition, change sides when business strategies don’t fit our needs? Maybe we need more Xbox One migration events to actually get companies serving us for once, not the other way around.
Now that doesn’t mean that I think that companies are inherently bad. Of course not. We just need to reward companies that do good business by our individually understood standards with the proper compensation and distant respect. Nothing more nothing less. When they fail to do so, we leave and go elsewhere. That’s a healthy relationship with companies. Even Valve, the hero of the interwebs and the figurehead for PC gaming everywhere, doesn’t deserve loyalty. It deserves an equal compensation for the products it provides. We don’t need to defend it or attack it. Just use it when it suits your needs and get out when it doesn’t.
This will, in turn, help to destroy elitism because our own worth and purpose will no longer be attached to such external entities. We won’t act like captains of sinking ships when things go wrong, we’ll be sensible and see problematic business actions for what they really are.
And I know that there’s the potential for the bandwagon effect. Just like how I don’t think we should stick with allegiances that aren’t mutually beneficial, we should chastise those who don’t want to join you on your exodus. So the next time you see an Xbox One loyalist, remember that maybe in his perspective, the potential for further implementation of online requirements and mandatory kinect aren’t a problem. And that’s fine, because…
1. In the End, None of it Really Matters
I mean really. Does it really matter to you if someone thinks so differently? Will you just writhe in your sleep if the Xbox One is successful or if consoles continue to thrive at all or if the Wii U ever picks up momentum? Will it really affect you as a human being with loves and desires and memories that are yours and only yours? Sure, video games likely mean a lot to you. They mean a lot to me. Passion, again, is a good thing. But is your life and what it stands for really in jeopardy if things in the video game realm don’t go as you wish?
I saw a comment recently that stuck to me. There was some Kotaku article about the PS4’s graphics and the absolute ire from the PC crowd was palpable. Most were talking about how graphically, the PS4 won’t compare to PC games from even five years ago, let alone today. And that, for this very reason, the PC is a flat out better than anything console manufacturers could ever conceive.
The one comment I saw that hit me hard was one that, without explanation, stated a hatred of the Wii. A hatred of the Wii? THAT’S what you’re using your precious emotional energy on? A machine that succeeded regardless of what you thought about it? Where does “hate” even come from. The Wii didn’t come into your house and piss on your walls. The Wii didn’t defile your land or kidnap your daughters.
If the Wii didn’t fit your needs, then the most it deserved was critical indifference. All you needed to say was that it wasn’t for you and that you found your gaming itch elsewhere. “Hate” is such a nebulous, yet simultaneously intimate concept that we don’t need to waste on plastic boxes that weren’t made for your demographic to begin with. We should be hating real world issues that offend our sensibilities, not entertainment systems.
Because in the end, it is just that. Our entertainment. Why attach so much self worth on things? Go outside and see the world that functions, thrives, and lives beyond the scope of these silly arguments. Video games are wonderful, powerful things, and we should be free to enjoy them without having to defend them or side with entities that would much rather take our money on the path of least resistance than be our buddies to enjoy them. It’s just so much healthier.