31 August 2013

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock since last spring, you are probably aware that a new game console generation is upon us. The eight one, to be precise. And while it technically started with the release of Nintendo’s Wii U, last fall, in practice we can all agree that the real kickoff of that brand new generation is the release of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, sometime within the next few months.

Now, before I start this, full disclaimer, lest I be accused of being paid by either Sony or Microsoft: I don’t care much about either console. I’m a PC gamer now. The only console exclusive that attracts me in any way is Destiny, and that’s available for both the PS4 and the Xbone. For the Xbox One, I don’t watch TV, and while the Kinect is an incredible piece of hardware, as an input method it suffers heavily from poor understanding by game designers, which means that paying an additionnal 100$ for features I won’t use seems a bit pointless. As for the PS4, its only real advantage is better indie support, but that’s mostly a political decision, so Microsoft can turn around and annihilate that the second they pull their head out of their ass. As such, I’ll probably buy a console, but not at launch. I’ll wait a year or so. That should give both sides enough time to work out the kinks and release a few interesting titles. Since they both have nearly identical hardware and will probably have incredibly similar game libraries (mostly featuring sports, guns and physics puzzlers), I might need to flip a coin. Or just stay on PC.

Let’s talk about fanboyism

Now that it’s out of the way, you might wonder why I felt the need to start with a disclaimer. And here’s why: this fall will not only start the eight console generation, but also the eight console war. For the record, I’ve fought in the first, second, third and fourth console wars, all for Nintendo. I was quite the massive fanboy, sporting a state of the art reality distortion field that allowed me to completely disregard any facts that contradicted my beliefs. At first it was easy when the NES and SNES were dominating the market, but the cognitive dissonance was getting harder to avoid when the piece of plastic crap that was the N64 got blasted apart by Sony’s vastly superior PlayStation. And let’s not talk about the sixth generation and the GameCube’s near complete failure. Those memories are a bit painful. Anyway, the thing you have to take out from this is that it’s impossible to have a console generation without having a bunch of angry fanboys fighting over which console is the best.

Here’s a definition: for me, a fanboy, in this context a gender neutral word (sorry to my feminist friends), is someone who values something, like a product or a work as so important than any attack against it are felt as personal. They will therefore jump at the call and defend it with all their might, and it won’t matter if the thing in question is a large corporation who does not need the fanboy’s unpaid help. The fact that I once was a fanboy made me a bit critical of other fanboys. It’s like those people who quit cigarette and then start bashing smokers. When I see someone defending a product as if their lives depended on it, I cringe, because I see a bit of myself in there. And so, I decided to write this article, because this is getting insane.

A few months back, George Weidman of Super Bunnyhop released a video explaining how he was disappointed in the PS4. The comments were flooded with hateful comments, many of them accusing of being an Xbox fanboy, with someone even asking him how much money Microsoft gave him. Later, he posted a new video doing the same with the Xbox One, and of course, this time the comments were from angry Xbox fans who claimed he was a PS fanboy. It seems that, on the Internet, if you dislike something, you automatically like its competitor. What I’m saying is, you should be able to say that neither console appeals to you without summoning hordes of rabid fans. And let’s not forget the hate mail Yahtzee received when he reviewed Super Smash Bros Brawl.

The Internet Hive Mind

That made me realize something: with fanboys, it’s not a discussion, it’s a religious war. Except their religions are faceless corporations who are only interested in getting their money. If you criticize their product of choice, you criticize them personally, and the anonimity given by the Internet means they are free to lash out in any way they want. On a related subject, there’s those people who claim that you can’t be a “true fan” if you dislike even one little bit of something. As if “true fans” had to blindly swallow anything coming from a corporation or franchise, no matter how crappy it is. Come to think of it, the more fanatical fringes of various fandoms are more akin to a hive mind, where individuality, critical thought and even constructive criticism is actively discouraged. How are things supposed to improve if you can’t criticize them out of fear of being harassed by a rabid fanboy?

And, yes, I know that they are simply the vocal minority that lurks on /r/gaming and /v/ and think that they represent “the voice of the gamers”, but that doesn’t stop them from getting incredibly annoying. Jim Sterling, who hosts the webshow Jimquisition, recently did a video about how Dragon’s Crown fans were unsatisfied with Polygon’s review. I suggest you all go watch it because it’s essentially the point I’m trying to make.

That point being, in a nutshell: that whole thing is getting insane, and we should try to put an end to it. Fanboys are contributing to the increasingly toxic cesspool of the Internet, and prevent any form of intelligent discussion about various products. And no, I have no solution to this problem. What can we do? What should we do? I guess knowing is half the battle, but still… what do you guys think?