Gamers are always embroiled in bitter feuds with one another. From the playground to the pregame lobby, we continually divide ourselves into opposing factions and debate our viewpoint. I discuss the merits of consoles over PCs with the same intensity as I use when I argue over Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Today, finding out if a person is friend or foe is as easy as asking “Horde or Alliance?” We will hurl arguments, statistics, insults, anecdotal evidence, and every fallacy in the book in favor of our opinion. This fury extends to game studios as well; in the end, no one is safe from the righteous indignation of a gamer.

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Yet, all this damned negativity is, at its core, optimistic. We want the community to support the right kinds of games, genres, and studios, and we want studios to create the right kinds of products. We shout, petition, and boycott because we want to send a message about how a game ought to be created. We are argumentative because we are acutely aware, perhaps more than other sub-cultures, that being right is not enough; there must be a mass movement to affect change.

However, fanboys are not part of this productive, healthy debate. A fanboy only criticizes in order to bolster the apparent superiority of his favorite products. He brushes away problems and ignores valid objections. He can be found nearly everywhere and in varied forms. But any normal gamer knows that his opinions are harmful. He can turn any discussion into a caps-locked shoutfest, and any legitimate critique of a game or studio is soon thrown out the window.

A fanboy is a negative weight on the gaming community because he only seeks to maintain; he does not want to investigate and thereby shed his preconceived notions about what is the right direction for the industry. He fashions himself as an elitist who is “in” on some secret truths that other, less informed gamers could never understand. Those who have not taken a sip from the punch simply do not get it.

The dichotomy between fanboys and gamers can apply to gamers and non-gamers as well. Just as fanboys do not care about the community’s opinion at-large, gamers tend to disregard the opinions of non-gamers on videogames as uninformed or meaningless. Jack Thompson is, to many, anti-game fanaticism personified. He has led the crusade against videogames through litigation and support of anti-game legislation. Though he was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court in 2008, a poignant culmination in a distressing saga, the gaming community’s reaction against him is still the best example of gamers’ general fanboyism.

Thompson’s lawsuits usually centered around a belief that violent videogames, at their core, were “murder simulators,” and their use by children would disrupt proper social development and, more seriously, cause them to act violently. In short, he is the perfect antagonist to the gaming community, because he refuses to acknowledge its real nature; he lives in a world of outdated stereotypes, where bespeckled nerds conjure up ancient evils in their parents’ basements, and anarchistic outcasts plot their overthrow through a session of Halo.

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But where, then, were the protagonists who rose up to oppose his force? I will freely admit that there are those who fought directly, by studying the effects of videogames on children, and filing amicus curiae briefs in his court cases; but there were, and still are, far more attacks on Jack Thompson than honest commentary on what he means. Jack Thompson represents non-gamers at their most ignorant, and though any gamer has the knowledge of the pleasure and sublimity of this art form (yes, it is one), few choose to wield that familiarity effectively. Most would rather rag on such kinds of people endlessly, instead of addressing the root cause of their fear and anger: gaming ignorance.

Gamers adopt a business-as-usual attitude when confronting critics, refusing to acknowledge the obvious PR problem. Said in another way, if we worked to educate people about games, could the Jack Thompsons of the world rise to such prominence within the mainstream? Instead of trying to reflect, organize, and systemize our theories on the boundaries and purpose of videogames, most would rather be left alone to their pregame lobbies and boss battles. Instead of trying to put a controller into the hands of every misinformed individual, gamers scorn them for their ignorance.

When Roger Ebert announced that videogames, in principle, could never be art, the reactions were mixed. There were a few individuals, like Steve Prokopy of Ain’t It Cool News, who were willing to show him how games could be art. Prokopy wanted to physically put a controller in Ebert’s hands and guide him through the process. He was certain that such an experience would shatter Ebert’s dim view. The truth of the matter is that videogames are art, in principle and practice, but few gamers were willing to convey this to Ebert, the outsider. Most acted defensively. Jerry Holkins from Penny Arcade, in his post from April 21st, dismissed Ebert as an old curmudgeon. Holkins asked, “Do we win something if we defeat him?”

For the gaming fanboy, such an argument is about conquering a foe. As Holkins says, it is about a victory and a defeat. Listen to the verbal volleys, keep the score, and crown the victor. It is just a battle. Afterward, both sides go back home with their positions intact, and, for all its intensity, the debate achieves very little.

We should have higher aspirations for our confrontations; we should not only be exposing the weaknesses of our foes, but acknowledging our own. Our weakness is, I would say, our inability to effectively communicate the relevance of videogames as a hobby and art form within our society as a whole. Holkins can chastise Ebert all he wants, but it does not help people understand why videogames are art.

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I refuse to believe that simply dismissing our opponents will ever lead to acceptance of gaming. Gamers’ openness to the opposition will make our position better, in the same way that a studio’s openness to criticism leads to better games.

The importance of this should be obvious; studios have to fight for their survival every day with legislatures over the right to produce and sell videogames. Gamers are still a marginalized segment of the population, as Cracked has made clear in another one of their “Top 5” articles on why videogames are still not cool. Moreover, the right of users to freely explore the web is constantly under attack by news organizations and soccer moms, fearful that an online session of UNO will indoctrinate children with Satanism, and that pedophiles will round up any kid stupid enough to play a round of Call of Duty online. This anxiety stems from ignorance, because any gamer can tell you from experience how insane such assertions are. But this ignorance can never be cured if we actively dismiss and turn our backs on people. It reinforces the very idea, gamers’ social deviance, which we know to be false.

The game industry is a $10.5 billion a year industry, based on 2009 sales. 67 percent of all households within developed nations are now playing videogames. Gaming is not becoming part of the cultural landscape; it is already an integral part of it. Gamers have no need to act defensive. Holkins says, in another section of the same post, that Ebert, like other anti-game crazies, are “determined to be on the wrong side of history.” That is the fact of the matter. We know the secret. We are “in” on it. But knowing it does not mean that we must act elitist. The best way to defeat Ebert, Thompson, and all the others who share their views, is prove that the dissemination of videogames throughout the world is, absolutely, a positive force for good. Achieving this goal does not require much. Our arguments only need to change from defensive to assertive, and we from kneejerk protectors to diplomats.

Matt Meyers is a student and writer. Carowack.com is his new blog and thought-repository. Check it out!

Question of the Day, August 3, 2010

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