Imagine, for a moment, that you’re someone who’s begun gaming as a hobby only recently. Maybe you’ve played Guitar Hero at a party, or Spyro to appease any children you once babysat – but over the past few years, you’ve Bejeweled your way through the Friday afternoon doldrums at the office, and recently graduated to playing Brain Age or Tetris when you bought a DS. Next thing you know, you’ve downloaded Super Mario Bros. for the Virtual Console, and have spent hours of your Saturday experiencing something that many people discovered during the Reagan administration.
But you’re stuck. You’re playing level 8-3, and for the life of you, you can’t outmaneuver those Hammer Brothers. You need some guidance. You need to see somebody else do it, just to know that it’s possible. And so, turning to your computer, you consult the internet, the panacea for any personal dilemma.
Just as you predicted, you find the video you’re looking for on YouTube. It’s a tutorial that shows someone clearing the level with finesse. You feel excited and empowered … until you notice some of the user comments. Scanning them, you start to feel a bit deflated, even insulted. They might look something like these comments that I’ve copied and pasted (and censored) from various gaming tutorials on the website:
Umm there’s one [a shortcut] in DK Mountain. You f***ing suck noob.
lol Anyone who doesn’t know these secretes are either: (A) Under the age of 20, (B)Never played a NES before or (C)A complete idiot.
I am sick and tired of hearing and seeing same crap on and on, on youtube which is already been done thousand times by others. You know what, I too can play Super Mario.
[Part of a 24 comment exchange] OMFG YOU I-D-I-O-T. GET THE F***ING GOLD F***ING TROPHY IN SPECIAL CUP 150CC YOU THEN U-N-L-O-C-K MIRROR MODE. How RETARDED are you?!?!?!?! This is the 3rd time I have said this, it can’t get any clearer, how about you Google it dumb f***.
Wow, why are these people so freaking condescending? Don’t they know who you are? In the words of Will Ferrell, you “are a division manager, drive a Dodge Stratus and can do 100 push-ups in twenty minutes!” You’ll be damned if someone bites your head off for a simple question about Bullet Bills. One thing is clear: You, as a casual gamer, lack knowledge that seems to be part of a collective consciousness among a specific group of people. Thus, you are an outsider. You are a potential target for ridicule and remarks that can be, at times, downright hateful.
The internet is filled with hate, and it’s certainly not limited to the gaming community. But it seems that some of the rudest, most arrogant feedback on the net can come from gamers, especially those who self-identify as “hardcore.” In contrast, the other day, I perused YouTube for instructional guitar videos and, seeing as I’m not Jimmy Page, these were tutorials of moderate difficulty, at most. Yet I never saw comments like, “Who doesn’t know how to play this?” Nobody told me the triangle would be more my speed. Nobody miffed, mortified or mocked.
The schism between people who’ve played videogames for years and those who haven’t is as clear as ever. With Nintendo at the helm, and Sony and Microsoft on deck with PlayStation Move and Kinect, more and more consumers are first-time gamers. And when people have the internet at their disposal, where neither their safety nor their reputations are threatened, they’re free to censure anyone they please. Why are some people’s comments so vitriolic, and sound like they’re coming from repellent know-it-alls with God complexes?
I asked Jamie Madigan, a Personnel Psychologist who works for the federal government and runs a popular blog called The Psychology of Video Games. Madigan seeks to understand “why gamers do what they do by studying the intersection of psychology and videogames.” The old school-versus-noob phenomenon reminds Madigan of the kind of hazing that can show up at college fraternities and sororities.
“People who have to endure hardships to get or enjoy something are much more likely to value it than people who get it without those hardships,” Madigan says.
He draws a parallel to the research of psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini, specifically in his celebrated book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In the book, Cialdini describes a study conducted by social psychologists Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills. In the study, a group of college-aged women participate in a group discussion about sex. However, some of the women were forced to undergo an “initiation” before joining the discussion – reciting a list of obscene words to someone beforehand, or describing sexual scenes from contemporary novels in detail. The result? The group discussion was actually an incredibly boring, dull analysis of sexual characteristics in lower animals, and the control group (those women who weren’t initiated) reported being uninterested during the presentation, but the initiated women found the discussion exciting, worthwhile and valuable.
Madigan believes that the experimental group in Aronson and Mills’ study is similar to “old school gamers who had to endure years of what used to be a much less socially acceptable or expensive hobby. They may overvalue their history and knowledge of gaming trivia while resenting new entrants to the scene who didn’t have to go through what they did to get it.”
In other words, if you’ve been gaming in utero, or were among the first to hop on the gaming craze, or have spent hours of your life unearthing tips and tricks – how could you not get annoyed when a bunch of newcomers, who know next to nothing, arrive late onto the scene?
Granted, there are plenty of comments on game-centric videos, forums and blogs that show friendliness and patience with casual gamers, as well as appreciative feedback thanking a user for uploading knowledge to share with the world. Surely not all gamers are obnoxious, sun-deprived dweebs with something to prove, right? I consider myself a hardcore gamer, and I’m certainly not like that, and neither are any of my friends who game. Heck, I don’t know anyone like that, gamer or not. Most gamers I know are friendly, well-adjusted people who’d likely demonstrate great patience toward beginning players.
The issue of skill is another contentious one, however. Some experienced gamers grow frustrated when inexperience costs wins in multiplayer matches where a hardcore and casual find themselves on the same team. Such a skill imbalance results in the mostly hostile reception toward casuals online. Currently, there are over 600 definitions on UrbanDictionary that derive from “noob,” including “noob fest,” “Noobus Maximus” and “Noobonic Plague.”
It is especially apparent in online multiplayer competitions. FPS console games like Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty are very popular, and pit people from all over the world, and of all different skill levels, against each other in combat. Outfitted with a headset and anonymity, players are poised to trash talk any enemy or ally they encounter. But what many don’t realize is that they were all “noobs” at one time.
David Braben is the founder of Frontier Developments, an independent games developer based in the UK. He reinforces that when GoldenEye 007 came out for the N64 in 1997, many gamers complained that the controls weren’t user-friendly enough.
“Thankfully … all this is now forgotten, and [GoldenEye] spawned perhaps the most successful genre in our industry, the console FPS,” Braben writes. “There are still purists that think mouse and twenty hard-to-remember keyboard buttons are the ‘true’ FPSs, but that is a whole separate rant which just reinforces my point. It’s no different to what a typical ‘casual’ gamer feels when they try to play Modern Warfare 2, especially when they get whupped instantly by pixel-perfect expert players.” Braben reminds hardcore gamers that, at one point, they were new to gaming, too.
“We ‘core’ gamers have had a gradual build up over a long sequence of FPSs since GoldenEye, each very slightly more complex and unforgiving than the last,” he says. “If our 1997 selves were magically brought forward today with just the experience we had then, we would probably be considered as casual gamers too, by today’s standards.”
Again, all internet niches have their share of trolls: sports, movies and TV, and politics. But with the growth of the videogame industry’s “expanded audience” showing no signs of slowing down, will seasoned players gradually become more accommodating to gaming greenhorns, or will the diatribes reach a breaking point?
Jamie Madigan says that “this is just human nature to seek out an ‘us versus them’ outlook, and that it’s not good enough that our group be good. The other group has to be inferior.”
It’s important to keep the psychology that’s in play in mind as we witness this historic shift in videogames. Gaming has entered the mainstream and it’s here to stay. And, as with anything else, there will be some people who know more about it than others. Heaving sighs of exasperation aren’t necessary when someone’s never heard of Cloud Strife or the Konami Code, bottom line. The internet is already replete with a-holes. The gaming community shouldn’t be adding any more into the mix. Hopefully, time, maturity and open-mindedness – and maybe written applications for YouTube membership – will ensure kinder treatment toward new players, both on and off the internet.
Bryan Lufkin is a freelance entertainment writer and hardcore gamer who knows far too much about obscure 16-bit RPGs and Pokemon evolutionary stages. Get gaming, movie and TV news from his blog.