Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Orwell on Fanboys

George Orwell, the famous author of 1984 and Animal Farm wrote an interesting piece about human political behavior, "Notes on Nationalism". I'm not as well-read as I probably should be; I only just discovered this essay the other day. If you haven't read it, take a look, it's worth the time it'll take.

To his own admission, Orwell calls his concept of zealous loyalty "nationalism" because he doesn't have a better word for it. He says that it can be directed toward a nation, a religion, a social class -- so why not a console war?

Consider this passage (emphasis is mine):

When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade.

Of course, we have our own terms for this kind of thinking. We call the positive side "fanboys" and the negative side "trolls".

On the one hand, it's really no surprise that the console fanboy wars have the same sort of basis as any other idealogical war, but at the same time, it's troubling to see it lain bare like this. How did this happen? How have we come to invest emotional attachment into consumer electronics that was once reserved for things like our country or our religion?

Video game fandom has a horrible history of rivalry and humiliation not just between the companies who make different consoles, but the people who buy them. The lynching of the N-Gage in the marketplace is still fresh in my mind -- the overwhelming tide of derision that came from everyone who didn't want to buy the unit directed ferociously at anyone who did.

One of the points of Orwell's article is that it doesn't have to be like this. We can change, but it will take effort. In the end, we have more similarities than differences, and we need to recognize and appreciate that. We are all consumers participating in a very expensive hobby -- what good does it do us to shout down our fellow consumers with the flaws of what they've purchased? Why do we have to be cliques, unpaid herds of guerilla marketers manipulated by multi-million dollar companies into tearing apart their competition for them?

We're being used, folks.

So what's the solution? I don't want to go down any sort of road that leads to abandoning personal opinions, because frankly, it's a lot of fun. Look at this place, for crying out loud. I'm screaming my opinions out as gospel truth and dismissing anyone who disagrees with me as irrelevant or out of touch. I don't want to stop doing it, so damned if I'm going to tell other people that they have to.

Nor should the answer be to try and love everything, because that's just as bad. Contrary to rumors, you do not need to own every console that was ever created in order to form an opinion about the one you do own. You don't need to like every god damned game that gets produced.

All you really have to do is take the competitive meanness out of it.

Comes down to it, there is some good and some bad in everything. And different people will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each console (and each game) differently. We just need to reach a point where we can acknowledge that every person's opinion is valid, even if it's completely wrong.

I was invited to play Halo at a friend's house once. I'm not an X-Box fan. I'm not a first-person shooter fan. And after my experience, I did not walk away a Halo fan. But I can at least acknowledge that I understand why other people would find it appealing. I'm not going to say that Halo "sucks" just because I don't like it or that my friend is "stupid" just because he does.

It's a game he likes that I'll never get into. And that's that.

That's the sort of attitude we need to start developing if we're going to put all of this messy and counterproductive fanboy crusading behind us. Love your games -- shout it from the rooftops! -- but don't get caught in the "us" versus "them" trap.

We're all gamers. Whether we're "casual" or "hardcore", it doesn't make any difference. If we just keep cutting each other down, we're just going to end up exhausted with nothing to show for it.

Tune in next time, when I explain why Game & Watches kick the PS3's ass.


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