[Talking to Women about Videogames is a series where Jonathan Holmes talks to different people who are women about the biggest videogame news of the week for some reason.]
I'll never forget when the first trailer for Uncharted 3 hit. It featured a table, some books, and a logo, and that's all it took. People were already declaring that it was their game Game of the Year 2011. I couldn't believe how sure they were that they would enjoy the game that much, but more so, that they were ready to compare the game to every other game in 2011 then declare that Uncharted 3 is the best.
Since then, I've seen people do the same thing with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Modern Warfare 3, and any number of high profile releases. It's such a puzzle to me! There's no other weirdness in the world quite like it. The only thing I can compare it to is the kind of team mentality that you see with sports fans when they announce that their team is going to "take it all the way this year" before the season has even started.
What's even weirder is when people attack others for being into (or not into) these games that haven't even come out yet. People are getting mad each other for saying that Battlefield 3 is better than Modern Warfare 3, a game that none of them have played. People are telling others on a daily basis that something is wrong with them because they aren't ready to declare Skyrim as the best game of the year, a good week and a half before the game even comes out. This kind of thinking is getting more and more common in gamer culture.
I think I know why.
Actually, there are a lot of reasons why, most of which we've gone over before.
The fact that you can't compare one game's worth to another game's has been discussed heavily here on Destructoid. We've also talked a lot about how it's the reviewers' responsibility to communicate their opinion of a game, not to predict what your opinion might be. And let's not forget all the times we've talked about how some gamers identify so closely with the games they enjoy that they take it as a personal insult when those games are disrespected or criticized, and conversely, a personal triumph when those games are praised and rewarded. That's all definitely part of what's going on with this "GRRR! My GOTY hasn't even come out yet but YOU BETTER LOVE IT TOO!" mentality, but I don't think that's all that's going on here.
It all comes back to the need that some people have to be perceived as "right" and "normal." In fact, one of the most common criticisms that I get for making Talking to Women about Videogames is that I am somehow making all gamers look wrong and abnormal. It's interesting to me that people would think that I am somehow doing them a disservice by making myself look like a jackass once a week. If anyone should be worried about looking incorrect and abnormal, it's me. Thankfully, I stopped putting much stock in being normal and/or whether other people see things my way a long time ago. In fact, when I do meet the occasional "normal" person (meaning, someone who is a lot like me), we quickly run out of things to talk about. There is no negative space to fill when everything is homogeneous. The differences are what give us room to share new ideas and the potential to become more enlightened and interesting individuals.
Looking in the mirror is nice, but it doesn't go anywhere. Looking into the negative space allows for a lot more potential for adventure and empowerment.
It's kind of like the Mega Man series. You start off the game with just one perspective/tool/weapon. As you go through life, you meet other people with totally different perspectives/tools/weapons, such as Wood Man, Hard Man, and of course, Centaur Man. At first, you might be daunted by their perspectives/tools/weapons because they are so strange and difficult to wrangle with. With perseverance and continued interaction, you'll understand how they work to the point where you have them "mastered." From there, you'll gain access to the abilities yourself, in a process we call "ego integration."
Jim Sterling was only able to take on the character of Virgilio Armandio because he embedded himself so deeply in the world of gamer culture that he had learned to actually think like an art game snob. Because of these interactions, there is a little part of Jim that is really like Virgilio and can see things the way that art game snobs do. He can switch on that part of himself at any time, exaggerate the intensity of it, and honestly think in that manner for a brief time. When he gets into character as Virgilio, it's like Jim is selecting "Virgilio Man's" weapon from his internalized weapon select screen. He wouldn't be able to do that unless he'd already mastered the art of interacting with the many Virgilio's of this world.
Sadly, not everyone wants to interact with people who have different perspectives/tools/weapons than their own. Some people want the stage select screen of the metaphorical Mega Man game called "human life" to look like this:
These are the people who say you are wrong for not liking the games that they like in the exact way that they like them. They run to Metacritic and claim a reviewer is "wrong" if he gives a score that is too far from "the average." They're also likely to conform to the opinions of others, to follow the herd, buying whatever blockbuster game is "hot" right now, regardless of whether they want it or not, pretending to enjoy it just to fit in. These are the people who crave for normalcy and uniformity in our world. They are both afraid to be different and of those who are different.
These people are missing out on a lot.
Besides all the knowledge and power that they lose out on by only seeking social interactions that feed their narcissism, they're also dropping the opportunity to show the world who they really are. When you tell the world what games appeal to your unique interests, it says something about you. What games you like reflect your values, your perspective on the world, and your priorities. When you tell the world what game is your favorite, that shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to "try to fit in." These are videogames we're talking about! In my day, not fitting in came with the territory for everyone who admitted to liking videogames.
No, when you tell the world what videogame you like the most, that's your chance to interact with the world, to be potentially known, and as a result, to be understood for who you really are. Trust me, it's much more satisfying to be accepted for being the real you than to gain fake acceptance by pretending to be just another penguin in the herd.
Now, I'm not saying people should go out of their way to like weird games just to seem special. Like I've said in the past, working towards non-conformity is just another way of conforming. The idea here is to be excited, not threatened, by the fact that we all like different stuff.
I know it's easier said than done. Underneath it all, we all have a primitive side, and we all want our favorite games to "win" once GOTY time rolls around. That said, I believe we can all do better than that. When Mass Effect 2 got so many Game of the Year awards in 2010, my gut reaction was "Super Mario Galaxy 2 was robbed." But after a few seconds, I realized how stupid that was and instead went about trying to understand exactly how Mass Effect 2 manage to outdo so many other excellent games that were released in 2010. Admittedly, I'm still trying to figure it out (something about having sex and forming really meaningful relationships with aliens and/or sexy ladies?), but the fact that I still don't know keeps me intrigued.
Some of the most interesting, elightening conversations I've had about gaming have been with Maurice Tan, Max Scoville, Conrad Zimmerman, Jim Sterling, and countless Dtoid community members who have very different reasons for playing videogames than I do. Once you get past the initial "I can't believe you like that crap!" stage, the amount of fun you can have talking with gamers of different tastes is nearly endless. Without different textures, there can be no friction; without friction, there can be no heat; without heat, things get dull fast.
So I encourage you all to go on liking whatever games you like, never be ashamed of what games you enjoy the most, and never bash others for having different interests than you. Train yourself to take that instinct to attack and turn it into the instinct to explore. Get good at swapping perspectives with strangers, gain new tools and weapons, get stronger and more comfortable with your unique qualities, and truly get to know all the fantastic and amazing people available to you through the vast reaches of the Internet. If we all work at that, then eventually, instead of having a reputation for being a squabbling, nitpicking, infighting group of grumps, the world of online gamer culutre will be seen as the million-strong group of enlightened, super-genius badasses that I know it can be.
Even though I don't agree with her, I honestly see why someone might like Spyro more than Skyrim, at least at first sight. Killing a dragon is cool, but on the surface, being a dragon might be even better. If you're at all threatened, angry, or confused by that idea, then you're still doing it wrong.