Every now and then a game — or even a game announcement — ignites the gamers’ rage. There are times when the outcry goes too far and the unacceptable happens: developers get attacked online by name. But while it’s easy to condemn the angry gamers, perhaps it is also important to understand their point of view.
Is getting emotional about a video game immature and wrong?
While it’s tempting to simply say ‘Yes,’ let’s consider this: today games are much more than a product designed for a short burst of entertainment. They don’t just come out, get picked up and then forgotten. A single franchise can evolve into a multimedia universe, with storylines spanning multiple seasons, with progression systems that allow the most engaged gamers to become celebrities among their community.
Game design and marketing utilize mechanics that invite gamers to dedicate themselves to the franchise on a deep and personal level. Gaming isn’t quick and simple anymore, and even a single title can engage a person for months on end, starting before the game is even released. Fans spend hours and hours discussing an upcoming release, analyzing the lore, speculating. They get attached emotionally (and are encouraged to do so!), and feel that they have been promised something in exchange. Which isn’t that far from truth, since they have been convinced to dedicate their free time and put their trust into a certain title. They expect this investment to pay off.
When a game goes off the rails, most gamers do remain calm.
It’s the hardcore, most faithful audience that reacts with sincere outrage. To an outsider, it may look childish, but let’s try to put ourselves in their shoes.
The core audience are the people who not only buy the games in the franchise, but also get the DLCs (Downloadable Content), pay for microtransactions, renew subscriptions etc.
They get a work leave to attend a con dedicated to the franchise they love. They pay for their travel expenses, book hotel rooms, pay for tickets, buy merchandise. They have thousands of hours of game time clocked in. They feel entitled, right or wrong, to have their opinions taken into consideration in exchange for their loyalty. After all, this faithfulness is also what the publisher has been working hard to achieve. When gamers get upset at publishers, it’s because they feel that their trust has been betrayed.
It’s all too easy to say: ‘Just vote with your wallet and if you don’t like the game, don’t buy it’. For the engaged fan base it’s not that simple. There is much more to it than just that. Often gamers feel that they have dedicated too much to their beloved franchise to quit. Like Star Wars or Harry Potter fans, they still believe in it and want it to remain as good as it ever was.
To put it simply: would you give up on pizza because the last one you ate was bad?
Now multiply the feelings you have towards pizza by a million and you’ll know why it’s not that simple to leave, or forgive and forget. Gamers don’t get a new entry in their beloved franchise every day, and they know they’ll need to wait for years for another one. As cheesy as it sounds, they get angry because they care, and they are convinced this is the right thing to do.
And it… kind of is.
We live in a world where most of the crucial pieces of news and opinions are expressed in 280 characters on Twitter. If a person wants to be heard, he or she needs to be brief and incisive, and the more controversial the statement, the more it gets noticed. After all, you need to be louder than millions of other digital voices, and being rational and calm won’t make anyone popular.
Media have been practising this method since William Randolph Hearst, hence all the overly expressive headlines in yellow press. The difference is that today being sensational works both ways and the audience is using the same tactics. This is still new and confusing, but not wholly unexpected.
The gamers’ rage should not be unbridled, but it’s also not something that we should criticize too harshly.
We are humans, if we are honest, we consist of about 50% bad emotions. Fortunately, anger is temporary madness. It is unavoidable but it will pass, and the best thing anyone can do about it is to learn from it.
At the same time, gamers should remember that no one sets out to upset them. No studio wishes to make a bad game or antagonize their audience. Even the fearsome ‘suits’, the executives at the top, aren’t some mischievous trolls but people worrying about the performance of their company. In their opinion, they do what’s right.
And then the developers try to make the best game possible, because this also is right.
And then gamers try to make them course-correct if they don’t like the direction its going — because it’s right.
But, as the great French thinker Jean-Luc Picard once said, it is entirely possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.
So, let’s just be a little more forgiving.
Not only to developers, who often work extreme overtime to deliver the best experience possible (yet sometimes fail), but also to the players who, after months of dedicating their time and then money to a game, discover that it barely works on release.
These things happen and that won’t change, but when the dust settles, both sides would gain by simply saying ‘Hey… Sorry‘.