On Gaming’s Culture of Complaining

So there was that thing that happened with Fez II. I’ve been trying to encapsulate why exactly this bothers me so much (besides the obvious I wanted to play Fez II), and I think its coincidence with the Vahn story helped to crystallize my thoughts. Kind of. This is still a little bit of a disjointed ramble, but hopefully there’s something worthwhile in here.

I wasn’t really familiar with Marcus Beer or Annoyed Gamer before this incident. I watched a few clips out of curiosity — including the “Invisible Walls” segment directed at Phil Fish and Jon Blow that sparked the Fez II incident — and what I don’t get is, here’s a guy with twenty thousand followers on Twitter, videos that regularly exceed a hundred thousand views, and he chooses to identify himself, for the purposes of his show, as a gamer who is also annoyed.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Look at the popularity of Yahtzee, or Francis, or the Angry Video Game Nerd. Why is the trope of the guy who’s angry about video games such a prevalent and apparently relatable thing? I wonder whether these characters are strictly the product of gaming culture or whether they have served to further shape the discourse of gaming in an aggressive and combative direction. There’s no question that griping about video games predates the advent of the modern internet gaming culture, but I think it could be argued that the ease with which these opinions can be shared has canonized them in some way.

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Regardless of origin, it’s clear that popular gaming culture promotes and encourages dissatisfaction. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. A healthy dissatisfaction can be the antidote to stagnant complacence; it can provide the fuel to create and improve. Certainly there are many facets of games and gaming that I would like to see bettered. I’d like to see more diversity in games: diversity in genre beyond the same gritty manshoots, diversity of player characters beyond the same burly buzzcut straight white cis male. (I don’t even relate to that guy, and I meet most of the criteria! What does that tell you?) I’d like to see better standardization of usability and accessibility options. I’d like to see game feel be given the same care and attention as any other easily-marketable bullet point feature, and a clear vocabulary adopted to accompany it. Where I’m able, I have tried and will continue to try to improve the aspects of games that disappoint me, and in so doing, I feel warranted in constructively criticizing these problems when I encounter them. But too often, I see what I perceive as negativity only for the sake of negativity on the internet.

I know, I know, don’t read the comments, right? I just can’t buy that. Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. Choosing to not read the comments won’t make them — or the attitudes that spawned them — not exist. And while I would certainly agree that removing the ability to comment in the face of a known malice is sometimes the appropriate choice (as, for instance, in the case of the “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” series), I don’t feel like the wholesale suppression of discourse and discussion on the internet is either healthy or viable. The best option is probably also the hardest, and that is to grow a positive community through clear, consistent, and constant messaging and moderation regarding the range of tone and behavior that is tolerated. Obviously this might not make sense for very large or general platforms like YouTube, but within gaming’s subcommunities, I believe it can be approached, and I applaud the efforts that IGN, Kotaku, and others have taken to improve their comments sections in this way.

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I don’t mean to single out any individual or group here. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the YouTube star employing nerd rage to comedic effect, the forum poster zealously debating the merits of the latest patch, or the engineer tweeting truncated rants to a private account. We are all — developers, journalists, and gamers alike — culpable of engendering a culture of complaining. Let’s be better than that.

3 thoughts on “On Gaming’s Culture of Complaining

  1. I think Yahtzee deserves a good bit of blame for this phenomenon. He built a sizable audience by ripping on others’ hard work. It’s much easier to tear something down than it is to build it up, especially with all the cheap shots he takes.

    There’s an entire generation of gamers now that thinks this is acceptable, the way to talk about games. Fooey.

  2. Err, I think Yahtzee was initially quite funny and, beside his obvious gimmick, he has made some very salient points about big budget gaming that I still find myself agreeing with. See below.

    Yes, it it is indeed easier to criticize than to build things, but following that logic to the extreme would mean that, movie, book, and other critics should all be muzzled, as they usually aren’t content creators.

    Oh and interestingly enough Yahtzee has made some excellent adventure games himself, you can still download them for free at his old site:
    http://www.fullyramblomatic.com/games.htm

    I only played seven days a stranger and another one, whose name I can’t seem to recall, but I remember them being quite good.

    That said, I agree with Kyle’s overall point. But at the same time, I think the games themselves have their fair share of blame, too. They are in a way catering to this culture of anger and quick frustration…

    I mean, look how mainstream games usually depict violence, senseless action, foul language in a positive light in their efforts to monetize the overly well represented white adolescent male group of gamers. Add to that the depiction of women and other “marginalized” groups and I could go on for ever and ever, but that’s a topic for another time…

    Anyway besides this, games are also becoming increasingly more linear, are loaded down with un-skippable tutorials and hand-holding … this is ultimately, so I believe, is leading to the frustration threshold of younger gamers being at the lowest level ever.

    When I think back to the games of the 80ies, those were *hard* and usually, thanks to a quite open pirate “copy that floppy” culture, had little in the ways of manuals or other in the way of explanation.

    Handing such games to today’s (shooter) audience would give them an aneurysm — shortly before the game would probably be ejected out of the window at high speed. Probably lots of profanity too.

    Where did that sense of wonder go? The willingness to invest a bit of time into a game that wouldn’t instantly yield all it’s mysteries? The slow burn of leaving a game in exasperation, only to come back to it after giving it some day’s time? (Especially adventures…)

    If you find those answers, you might find the answer for today’s angry gamers, too.

  3. I think this comes down to the fact that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and the internet is full of people who just want attention. I feel like the reason this occurs is because I’d say a large majority of these people craving attention are kids whose parents don’t actually know how to be parents and just turn them loose on the computer not knowing and potentially not caring what their children are doing/saying online!

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