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Improving game communites: Enough with the negativity

1:20 PM on 09.03.2009 // Andrew Kauz

[Editor's note: Community member Kauzu contributed a piece to our Weekly Musing subject on how to make gaming communities suck less. Please post your own over on the Community blogs. It may get read during our panel at PAX this Friday! -- CTZ

[Objection! is an idea for a new series in which I take on a serious subject in a light-hearted and silly way. And I'll throw it in with the weekly musings as well, as I think it applies.]

Famous philosopher, philanthropist, and philanderer Jack Black once, in the heat of passion, declared, “F**k you, you f**king d*ck, always naysaying everything I create, you piece of sh*t.” Indeed, it is far too often that we, as gamers, sit in our towers and f**king nap -- er, and criticize everything that we can possibly criticize. We seek faults in order to be the first ones to call them out. We approach a new game with skepticism, devoting our first playthrough to the identification of everything that’s wrong with a game. We take the criticism of games to an extreme, criticizing not for the sake of improving games and our experiences with them, but simply to criticize.

We naysay.

You know the type: the gamer who joins one online forum, usually with a name such as “AssGrabberTheGreat” and posts about how every game sucks. BioShock has a stupid story. Metal Gear Solid 4 doesn’t have any gameplay. Pikmin makes me question my sexuality and also sucks. Usually, the bastard gets banned, and eventually moves on to the next gaming forum and the next and the next …

Other times, naysayers develop ways to avoid drowning in the regurgitated pool of negativity that they wallow in. They adapt to their own negativity, offering all the disapproval that they can manage without coming off as total jackasses. “Sure, it looks fun, but I’m totally not liking the textures, so it’s a no-sale for me.” How about a little “Oh hai I just stopped by to say that I don’t like this game it’s not good OK bye.”

Sorry to do this to you, old chap, but …


You may be thinking that I have some sort of delusion in my head that the world of videogames has to be all puppies and unicorns. But this isn’t what I want -- well, except for the unicorns, maybe. No, I just want some of you to stop being so insufferably pissy all the time and just have fun. That’s the main problem as I see it: by throwing a perpetual gaming tantrum, people are robbing themselves of the fun that gaming is supposed to entail.

There’s something called the negativity bias, which is a psychological condition in which people give more attention to anything negative than they do to something positive. It’s not something that only happens in some people; scientists suggest that all humans have this bias.

In gaming, we could say that if gamers were presented with one positive aspect about a game and one negative aspect about the same game that the gamer’s overall opinion of the game would be negative.

But fuck the science: the fact is that people shit on games far too often, and they do it both in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons.

So, what I’m really objecting to here is the fact that negativity needs to be an integral part of our criticism of games. Criticism is not, by its nature, negative. It’s something done to show our displeasure of a certain thing, not to show how much of an asshole we are. Ask a business manager, and they’ll say that criticism is a tool meant to bring about a positive change in something.

Please, don't be the Kanye of gaming

You wouldn’t criticize your partner’s ability to bring you pleasure in bed because you want her to think you’re an asshole and punch you in the gonads, would you? No, you’d want to give her feedback on what she’s doing wrong so that you can, in the future, get the pleasure that you want. You’ll probably be punched in the gonads either way, so perhaps my analogy here isn’t so great …

Still, games are very similar, though generally with less package pummeling. We should criticize games for the ways that they failed to give us pleasure, so that next time they might be able to give us the pleasure that we want. We shouldn’t criticize to give ourselves pleasure, like some sort of sick, sadomasochistic mental masturbation. We should criticize to open discussion of a game’s faults and foster communication between gamers and -- gasp -- perhaps even gamers and developers. Wouldn’t it be grand if our voices were heard more often? Well, it won’t happen with little Billy in the corner, pants at his ankles, crapping on everything that he can find just because he can.

So, all I’m trying to say is that we should watch how we criticize. Have fun crapping on a terrible game, sure, but let’s all keep in mind that we can actually make our criticism mean something -- At the same time that we photoshop dicks into the landscape of the game's screenshots, that is. And don’t rob yourself of the fun of games because you want to be the first one to point out that the game’s art direction just doesn’t jive with you.

Andrew Kauz,
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