Out of everyone who has ever considered videogames to be an even slightly significant part of their lives, my guess is less than 100 of them have ever disliked a game solely because of its popularity. And yet, popular games receive significantly more flak than their less celebrated brethren from the gaming masses. Due to the recent backlash against Bioshock Infinite, I have been thinking about why it is you are far more likely to hear people ripping into Call of Duty or Bioshock Infinite than games like Metal Arms or Opoona. As I said, I certainly doubt it's so called "gaming hipsterism" as some claim, and yet it's undeniable that there's a link between the popularity of a game and the ire it inspires in the people who play it. I don't think there's one reason that popular games receive the unbridled wrath that they do, there's several, and they all combine to inspire the truly fierce hatred in gamers.
A huge factor in this hatred is the expectations of these games. I'm going to be using Call of Duty as a primary example because it's a popular game I hate. If you bought Call of Duty with no knowledge of review scores, hearing no word of mouth, playing isolated from any external factors, would you hate it as much as you do? Assuming you hate Call of Duty in the first place, I'm assuming the answer is no. You'd probably just go "Oh, this alright I guess... not really for me." There's really nothing truly bad about it, I don't think it's inspired or anything, but technically it's okay. However, when you see leagues of critics throwing praise and 10/10s at the game like rice at newlyweds, it sets up some pretty inflated expectations, leaving room for disastrously huge disappointment. I'm sure the thought of over-hype isn't new to anyone, but there's another facet to it I don't often see discussed, and that's the broader audience popular games bring in.
People like different things. The group of people who play video games is extremely diverse, with lots of different tastes. Now, truly exceptional games should be able to transcend their genres and impress everybody, unfortunately, there are very few truly exceptional games. I find it very hard to deny that most popular games are too highly ranked for their level of quality, and because of this they often they pull in players who they aren't able to satisfy. Let's say you like video games, hardly a stretch I would imagine, and let's also say there's one thing you are completely indifferent towards, trains. Because of this apathy, you have never once sought out Train Simulator or any such other game. Why would you? You don't like trains. Now let's say a game called The Locomotionator: Revenge of the Caboose comes out to rave reviews. "Instant classic!" and "Game of the Year!" spew out of review sites like they've all contracted gastroenteritis after swallowing a big ol' bowl of laud-soup. Then your friends start telling you about it. "Oh man, what a masterpiece! Not only is the train driving intense, but the game offers an incredible exploration and condemnation of the European imperialism that led to World War I and the post-war ramifications!" "Well hot damn," you might say to yourself. "That game sounds neato!" So you rush home and buy the game on steam immediately, but, once you start playing, you realise that the locomotionating is less rewarding than people described, and the only reference to World War I you can find is a billboard by the tracks that reads, "THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES FUCKED GERMANY".
The caboose takes his revenge by destabilising the economy.
You slouch back in your chair and you think. "This... this isn't good. Nobody could think this is good." You start to get angry. "Why would people think I'd like this? Why did everyone lie to me?!" You grow resentful of the reviewers and your friends who told you the game was good. What's more, you grow resentful of the game for profiting off your friends' traitorous duplicity. It's not that the game is bad, per se, but certainly you don't like it. Why should you? You don't like trains. I think this is the main reason people grow so impassioned about their dislike for games that are popular. They feel like they've been cheated and it becomes like a crusade to try and stop people falling into the same trap they did. They spit venom whenever they see people try to seduce others with siren songs of innovative gameplay or profound narrative. They might dislike the game because it is genuinely worse than people say it is, or it could just be because of a difference in taste, either-or, it becomes personal for them. Maybe I'm the only one who's ever experienced this, but I've certainly felt the need to protect people from the games I hate.
The worst though is that these games we hate, the games we feel personally attacked by, aren't just popular, they're famous, famous outside of gaming. Like it or not, Call of Duty and Halo act like ambassadors for gaming. When people unfamiliar with the medium think of games, they'll almost always think of one or the other, or at least of games in the same pantheon. This is the one that really gets me. It took me a long time to realise how much being falsely represented by Activision's money maker bugs me. It does more than bug me in fact, it burns me up inside. I absolutely despise having people assume I like something I don't, especially when it's something I hate. I would do a lot for people who are thinking of games to think of good ones, games like Psychonauts, Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls or Opoona.
Glory be upon you Opoona, for now and for always.
Those are the reasons I think popular games receive the hate they do. I don't think harsh criticisms of the games that receive them are entirely unwarranted, and I think dismissing people who disagree with you as "hipsters" or "idiots" is a little bit self-indulgent and closed minded. I certainly don't want people to stop their criticism; so called 'hallmarks of excellence' need to be heavily scrutinised in order for the medium to grow. Really, I just want people to be able to take a step back and think about why they're so mad at the game, and if it seems reasonable, tone it down a bit. Well thought out criticism is preferable to blind rage.