Feel the Hatred: A history of hate

[Editor’s note: Cowzilla3 looks at how the videogame companies have made hatred a part of our normal day lives for his Monthly Musing piece. — CTZ]

Gamers hate. Gamers hate hard. There are few areas of entertainment that attract such fervor over where one should apply ones money. Hell, there are few subjects in the world that seem to attract so much benign conflict. As a whole we just love to hate. We hate on other systems, we hate on outsiders, we hate on each other and we hate on developers who don’t do it exactly how we want it. The most irrational form of hate is the fanboy. Gaming fanboys are more vocal and divided than any other type. In fact the only division I can think of that gets more people riled up is the one between Democrats and Republicans, and at least in that case the fate of an entire country lies in the balance.

No, the gaming fanboy is a strange breed indeed. Intensely loyal, incensed by even the slightest jab at his/her chosen system and ready to shout to high heaven how stupid the other systems are at the drop of a hat, they are seriously full of hate. But why is this hate here, what created the system in which fanboys could thrive in the first place and how, in a world of gaming where every system has its benefits and drawbacks, does he/she survive? Let’s take a look at how hate was born and thrives in the gaming industry.

To start, I’d like to say I’m not just discussing all out hatred here. I want to look at why, deep down, the world of gaming is entrenched in combat zones. Even those of us who aren’t fanboys per se have a favorite system and we get riled up when others diss it. So when I use the word hate in this piece, don’t apply such a harsh connotation as you usually do to it. Don’t read this thinking this doesn’t apply to you, even if you love every system. The way this industry has developed and the day and age it has grown in has created a gaming world that thrives on one thing being better than another. We all have a little fanboy in us and it’s because the industry itself created us that way.

I felt like there should have been a bolt of lightning and a mad professor laughing hysterically after that last sentence, so I put a picture. Unfortunately, this is text and not a film so I can’t explain away my Frankenstein like claim by fading to black and playing ominous music. No, I have to defend it, I suppose. The first thing to do though is discuss why the industry of gaming is so ripe with fanboys in the first place. Other entertainment industries have companies vying for our love, interest and money and yet we don’t see the same kind of rampant fanboyism running wild in them.

This is because the mode of distribution is completely different. In any other form of entertainment, the product is presented without a large amount of investment by the consumer. Games on the other hand can only be played after the consumer purchases a medium for those games to be played on. The platform that we experience games on is also different from company to company, unlike with film or books. No one is yelling how they choose Loews over AMC all the time because they all offer the same movies delivered through the same platform and that platform is never owned by the consumer.

The gaming industry is built on a model that encourages derision. It is unique in the world of entertainment because not only are consumers choosing what they want to experience but they also must choose what platform they want to experience it on. Add to this the fact that all the platforms have their own exclusive content and you’ve got a nice little cocktail for hating. There is no other entertainment industry set-up like this and when other industries try to function in this manner (Blu-ray/HD DVD) there’s always a winner, thus curbing the rampant hating. As it stands now, gamers are practically forced into a situation that makes them hate. If there was a single platform, would anyone in their right mind not play a Mario game? The NES days proved the answer to that is no.

But it isn’t just the industry’s organization that promotes hatred so well, it’s also the industry itself. We’ll have to take a little trip to the past to understand what I’m saying, so let’s go waaaaay back to the 80’s. Atari has just fallen and we’re about to witness the planting of the seeds of hate.

Like most things in the gaming industry (both good and bad) it’s Nintendo’s fault. Well not entirely. Some credit for the creation of and industry of hate has to be given to Atari too for crashing the market and making Nintendo enter it on the defensive. See, Atari destroyed the gaming market with crappy games, no quality control and a horrible attitude towards their consumers. Thus, once the market collapsed under the weight of Atari’s idiocy, gaming seemed pretty much dead. When Nintendo wanted to enter the scene, they couldn’t just come out and tell everyone they had a new system, they had to actually sell home gaming to an audience who had pretty much given up on it.

This meant distancing themselves from Atari and as we’ve learned from political campaigns, the best way to distance yourself from your predecessors is to insult them. Now Nintendo didn’t come out and say that Atari sucked and they were awesome, but they did push themselves as a system with quality control (monopolistic quality control, but quality control none the less). They advertised themselves as everything Atari was not and thus, instead of the gaming world looking like Atari and Nintendo it became Atari vs. Nintendo. Of course, this didn’t really lead to much hate since Atari was already destroyed, but it did set-up a precedent that consumers should consider one system better than the other.

So the precedent is set, but it’s kind of hard for there to be any hate when Nintendo is the only game in town – or is it? Of course not. It’s easier to hate the big guy. We love the underdog, the David and Goliath battle, the Rebels versus the Empire. Enter SEGA who follows Nintendo’s role of competing through comparison. SEGA does what Nintendon’t might be one of the single greatest advertising campaigns ever run, but it also truly created the fanboy and firmly established comparison and insult as the best form of advertising and marketing for the next 20 years or so. Of course we feel the need to choose one console over another, we’ve been told it’s the only option for most of our lives. It’s been ingrained in our minds that there is a right choice and a wrong choice almost since home consoles began.

Then again, it almost had to be. The high cost of a videogame consoles meant, and still means, that many people can only choose one. The advertising then and now reflects this. Unlike a film or books where people can get their entertainment for a low price, gaming requires a solid investment in a platform and not many people can afford multiple platforms. Gaming companies know this and have marketed accordingly with an “it’s us or them” ideal. Games selling for other systems is not good for a console developer and thus the idea of owning multiple consoles, until very recently, was something that console makers actually discouraged. SEGA, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft would championed their console over the others because they knew that (a) most gamers were single console owners and (b) they lose money every time someone puts money down for a game on a different console.

In short, fanboys are great for business. I know I’m not stating anything earth shattering with that statement but it’s interesting to see that the entire business of gaming has pretty much been dominated by splitting up gamers into factions. We are in fact supposed to hate. How messed up is that? Of course now, thanks once again to Nintendo, marketing has changed. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but think about how differently Nintendo launched the Wii from consoles before it. The entire program wasn’t about competing, but divergence, in the end even prompting their competitors to say it was fine to buy and Wii and their system. This has, in turn, developed an entirely new form of hate involving gamers and non-gamers, but that is another article that I will never get around to writing.

Moving on, I said earlier that the industry created much of the hate in gaming, and I’ve backed that up, but, like a parent blaming their child’s bad behavior on violent videogames, not looking at ourselves would be both ignorant and double ignorant. Let’s start with the obvious point here. Consoles cost a lot of money.

Spending large sums of money on something is one of the best ways to make yourself overly protective of it. We want to justify our purchase and when someone else points out how that purchase might be wrong, well, we want to punch them in the face. Money is the root of all evil after all. We want to look good, so we pick a side and start hating on the others. I’d call this perfectly understandable, though obviously disappointing. Then again, I know people who own all three current systems and still hate on one of them.

So it leads me to believe that this generation at least is deeply ingrained in hating. Part of that has to do with what I’ve already discussed, but another part is that we are the first gaming generation, as children that money wasn’t ours to spend and I doubt most parents were hopping up and down to buy their kids every console they wanted. The first generations of gaming were based around a one console ideal and it has trickled down into the current generations. Despite gamers having grown up substantially and owning multiple consoles more regularly, the division of consoles has continued to prevail because we have allowed it to. Our news sources are full of jabs and insults, our focus is often on whose ahead not what companies are doing and hell, we all enjoy an argument more than a discussion. We continue on the trend of hating because it’s how we were raised. The sins of the fathers …

We’re all nerds on top of that. I don’t care how much you deny it, if you’ve read this far into my obnoxiously long blog, you’re a nerd and you’ve spent the past 10 years defending your passion to almost everyone. It seems to me that we’ve become so accustomed to having strong opinions and being outspoken that we have to do it amongst ourselves too. But we all agree that gaming is awesome, so the argument has to go somewhere else. It goes to which gaming is the most awesomest. As a culture, gamers are on the defensive. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to switch over when we are amongst our own.

Still this doesn’t explain away the irrational hatred that comes from the worst fanboys or the inability of even the best of us to shut down our hate and love every console equally, despite their flaws. Sure, we can all express our opinions on a system and like or dislike it, but sadly, what usually happens is everyone getting riled up and a flame wars ensuing. Why don’t actual discussions about the quality of systems abound? Why do quick jibes and sarcastic comments dominate almost any discussion or article on competing consoles? There is really only one explanation. We’re all a bunch of assholes and the internet has given us a voice. You, me, your neighbor, that sweet old lady down the street – we’re all dickheads who think we’re right and everyone else who disagrees with us is wrong and if you disagree with that then you’re wrong too … asshole.