When Fans Love Too Much

Jim Sterling has an intriguing post over at Destructoid called, expressively, “Videogame ‘Fans’ Need to Shut Up About Everything.” It’s written in reaction to Sonic 4 fans who are extremely distressed about what they see as their fandom being royally twisted up. There’s also some summaries of similar fan frustrations over new Fallout and Diablo games, alternately sad and hilarious.

My favorite lines from the article, with brief commentary:

Instead of fans, I declare that they should be known as people who need to shut the f*ck up about everything.

After the scare-quotes in the article title, this is the second place where these over-zealous critics have the label of fan taken away from them–even though they would probably call themselves the most fannish of them all. Interesting how labels operate differently for different groups, and how they function rhetorically.

One of the main problems with these so-called fans is the fact that they never want things to change.

I have to agree here; I remember when the fourth Smashing Pumpkins album (Adore) was released and it drove fans completely bonkers because it sounded different (!) than previous albums. I wanted everyone to chill out a little and trust the band to give us quality stuff, since they had followed through so superiorly in the past.

But the more I think about Sterling’s comment, the more it makes me wonder: to what extent do certain fandoms have a mean streak of conservatism in them? In other words, is there something inherent in a fan (or fandoms) that rewards leaning on the past and feels threatened by change? Certainly not always; I see lots of fan fiction as the complete opposite, with people seeing things they want to improve on in the original and stepping up to make those changes themselves. Somewhat on the same topic:

This situation, again, stems from the self-important assumption that fans are the be-all and end-all of videogame knowledge. . . .

Blizzard, for its part, mocked the sniveling of the self-professed fans, who had become so obsessed that they doctored images to make them darker in a bid to “help” Blizzard understand what its own game should look like. Once again, the sheer arrogance of that is astounding. . . .

We tend to hurt things we love more than things we hate.

Again, here’s the vision of the fans who hold on too tight, along with frustration at the “arrogance” that fans would know more than the content producer. That’s such a tricky tightrope to find an opinion on, at least for me. I find my gut reaction is with this article, with the Sonic 4 producers, with The Smashing Pumpkins: make an awesome product however you like, and I’ll try to judge it on its own merit, not on my perceptions of what it ought to have been.

But on the other hand, I want these frustrated fans to have space to make their own worlds too that fit their vision, you know? I love that people are so passionate about the stuff they love that they want it to be excellent and awesome, and I don’t want them to simply shut up when their hopes aren’t met. I want them to go out and do something creative on their own that tweaks the official product in awesome, folk-culture ways.

But obviously, that’s where fans of different types of media differ and where genre becomes important. A fan can be dissatisfied with the narrative of a show, movie, book, or even videogame, and rewrite that narrative in fan fiction. But it’s a lot harder for a fan to be dissatisfied with, say, Sonic 4, and then go out and make his own Sonic 4. (Though the startlingly amazing stuff over at Zelda Classic isn’t too far away from that….)

It’s the sheer selfishness of these so-called “fans” that really irritates me. They don’t care about other fans, or even the developers. They don’t give a shit that if a developer catered exactly to them, that they could risk making a game with limited appeal and lose money. You’d think a fan would be happy to see a game in their favorite series make some money, but apparently not.

Ah yes, money always comes into the picture. Sterling is quite right here, methinks. ‘Nuff said?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “When Fans Love Too Much

  1. This is such an interesting post. I think you’re on to something with the difficulty inherent in straddling the holding on too tight/wanting to express one’s vision divide. . . for me, I feel there are healthy and unhealthy ways for fans to negotiate with texts.
    When it’s just lame complaining, it annoys me. When people go out and alter texts to their liking (a la fan fiction, youtube parodies, etc.) I get excited, though there are limits. . .

    Here’s a personal example of such: when I watched the anime Berserk (which was one of the best and also one of the single most upsetting texts I’ve ever consumed), I watched it with a “fan” who took his own vision of the show so seriously he refused to show me the first episode first. Instead, he chose to show it to me as an epilogue. Well, there’s vital information that contextualizes the entire show in the first episode, so that the ending isn’t so much of a visceral shock, but the “fan” considered it a “spoiler.” We had a huge fight about this afterwards whereby I accused him, in turn, of taking his opinion about how a text should be consumed as more valid than the artist’s, and after it was all over, it was a pretty interesting discussion. I still think I’m right, he sees my point and vowed to never inflict that methodology on others, at least with that particular text. That may have been because I had him in a headlock at the time, though.

    I at least appreciate what he was trying to do, though, even if I disagreed–not like my experiences trying to find out information about World of Warcraft stuff on the WoW forums, though, which were, when I went there at least, just a hotbed of bitching and moaning about incomprehensible nonsense. Except for WoW’s continual nerfing of shamans. That’s actually true.

    I had a bunch to say on the subject of fanfic, too, but this comment got super-long.

  2. “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ~ Neil Gaiman (http://bit.ly/bUBF9l)

    On the flip side, a video game typically doesn’t resemble a Neil Gaiman book. There’s also the notion that once you put something out into the world it doesn’t belong to you anymore… it belongs to the people who read, watch, listen to, or play it. As computer gaming goes, mod communities have occasionally thrived and even broken the retail barrier (ie. Counter-Strike). I feel kinda sorry for console gamers in that respect, because developer support is nonexistent for them.

    For those who don’t mod games or play modded games: vote with your wallet and your voice. If a game clearly lacks quality or alienates you, then don’t buy it and counsel your friends to do the same. Bitching about it might soothe your heartache, but other people are only willing to listen to so much of that.

    I thought Fallout 3 was an excellent game, and quite true to the original, but I agree with the gripes about art direction for Diablo 3 after seeing some screenshots. There’s something to be said for coherence in sequels (*cough* Star Wars prequels *cough*), but maybe playing a demo for Diablo 3 will change my mind; maybe story and gameplay will win out. I guess we’ll see.

    P.S. Not that you were ever going to see it, but Boondock Saints 2 really blows.

  3. “. . . to what extent do certain fandoms have a mean streak of conservatism in them?”

    Brilliant thought. You are definitely on to something big here. I must go into a cave and meditate about it.

    And timely, too. My partner (Chris) and I were reading the comments on Fark tonight regarding the trailer for Sid Meier’s Civ 5, and Chris noted a similar trend.

    I’m especially interested in mods. For example, Paradox went to great lengths to program Europa Universalis for modding to allow users to break away from Paradox’s interpretation of history gaming — e.g., whether history should be random or predetermined. Likewise, SimCity 4 gambled on allowing users to mod their game to great success, but Monte Cristo chose not to, and their game (City XL) is failing. Modding culture would suggest gamers want complete narrative liberty.

    A second observation–how representative of gaming culture are the “complainers”? Are the vocal more conservative, and the silent more experimental?

  4. Pingback: Fans - Amphibia | Periodismo digital, Nuevos medios, Ciberculturas

  5. kstedman

    You all are so friendly. Some responses:

    @Molly, I’ve had similar conversations with people about Star Wars and Narnia books. The saying is usually, “Episodes I-III / The Magician’s Nephew were set before the earlier stories, so watchers/viewers should experience them first!” This annoys me, because it seems to me like part of the point is having the story revealed to you in out-of-order bits, making it feel richer later. (“Oh, that’s why Obi-Wan disappeared!” “Oh, that’s where the lamp-post came from!”) So I find I do have a “trust the creator” sense in me, in certain ways. (And I always trust the chef at restaurants. I hate special ordering; feels like an insult.)

    @Davey, reading your comment, I’m reminded of how many non-moddable games I love (Myst, FF series, Zelda). And really, I don’t feel a need to mod them, a reaction that to me feels so much more appropriate for first-person shooters, which are pretty much begging to be modded. But actually, those games I mentioned would be excellent games for Machinima, movies “filmed” in game worlds. Just thinking out loud. . . .

    @CR, I love your question, “how representative of gaming culture are the ‘complainers’? Are the vocal more conservative, and the silent more experimental?” No idea on an answer, but it’s intriguing. Your comments on modding also make me wonder how much the open source software community has affected the gaming world–surely in many places, right? That seems like a stellar idea, though: opening up the source code to people who know how to read/use it, and requiring any new games based on the code to also make their code open, but continuing to sell the game as always. (Free as in free speech, not free beer, as they say.)

    Thanks, friendly people!

  6. Pingback: Let Lost be Lost « Transmedia Me

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