Maybe it’s just a case of me getting older and grumpier, or maybe it’s just a case of the internet making people bolder than they actually are in real life. Whatever it is, it seems to me that as the years have gone by fans of games or game consoles have been drowned out by fanboys. That’s not to say there’s a problem with population control, I think numerically fans still outweigh fanboys, but when it comes to the signal-to-noise ratio, the noise of the fanboys is definitely much louder, more apparent and far more obnoxious than their less provocative cousins.
As you might have already gathered, when it comes to fanboys, I am not a fan. It’s not that I don’t understand the “us versus them” mentality. I know it’s a basic component of human nature to make those kinds of divisions between groups, but the degree to which the fanboy takes their loyalty is where I begin to move from amusement to worry. Certainly there are fans of differing car brands, and most certainly, there are fans of different sports teams. But nowhere is there a level of venom and even outright hatred for differing sides as there is in games. Even in a recent survey conducted by Ipsos Loyalty, a consumer and employee research group, Gaming Fanboys came out on top as the most fanatical, beating out even sports and car enthusiasts. That, to me, is a frightening prospect. Cars and sports teams have been around for generations compared to games and yet in the span of just 30 years, gaming fanboys have already become statistically more rabid than either of those interests.
The part that really confuses me is that gaming is something that should bring people together. Gaming is, after all, about fun, entertainment, and on rare occasions, art. If this is what gaming can do, then who cares what console that experience is achieved on? Extreme gamers, it seems, care a great deal. I could argue that part of this is the fairly sizeable investment that gamers make when it comes to purchasing a console and associated games, but this reasoning falls flat on its face when you consider that automobiles cost far, far more than a single console and yet the owner of a BMW doesn’t want to kill a Porsche owner and burn his house down. However, an extremist Microsoft Xbox 360 owner may very well want to do that to a Playstation 3 owner, and vice versa, while both of them spit on owners of the Wii.
Somehow, gaming fanboys have gotten it into their head that a choice of console is almost like a declaration of lifestyle or religion, and anyone that doesn’t belong to the same “tribe” or “sect” has committed an offense punishable by death. A cursory look at any video game forum will quickly yield staggering amounts of hatred and venom, all based on a consumer purchasing choice. Like any bigot, they make generalizations about people that own “enemy consoles” and treat those other owners hate and contempt. It’s even gotten to the point that you have to be careful about making informed purchases at the average video game store, because if the staff members have fan boy allegiances to one console or another, they will deliberately lie to you to “do their part for the war.” There are stories from confused shoppers about going to video game retailers with less-than-impartial staff, who found only later that they were lied to, given misinformation to prevent them from buying the console they actually wanted, because the religious zeal of some console fanboys is so great that common professional decency is no longer an option.
I can only hope this is a temporary condition of the gaming culture. Fanboys were already outnumbered by the more reasonable fans, and that has only become a bigger rift with the influx of casual gamers. It’s doubtful that the fanboy will ever go away, but hopefully, as time passes, the noise they make now as they foam at the mouth will become harder to hear as more rational discussion drowns them out. Right now, however, they are still difficult to ignore because they may be the smallest in number, but they are still the loudest.
This article originally appeared in CGM of August 2010.