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Fanboyism: An Essay on Proposing Divides

This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

 

To argue Persona 4 Arena is similar to Persona 4 on the basis and virtue of gameplay is misleading. Story-wise, the game follows the same ‘I’ll face myself through shadows’ dynamic that defined Persona 4, even if there is some innovation in the form of moving mouths and a new character (or two). However, the genre jump between Persona 4 and Persona 4 Arena defines them as two completely different games. One is a grind-fest which can only be mitigated by socializing and the other is a button-mashup which can only be mitigated by socializing.

 

The differences are only introductory, not foundational, to my article. Instead, they are partly anecdotal to my discussion on fanboyism. We’re all aware of a general, semi-amorphous concept of ‘fanboy’: the rabid, templar-like fanatic who, despite all logic, would support a preferred choice of a series or a console or a hobby despite its obvious flaws. Fanboys are people seen as incapable of reconciling the downsides with the upsides and distort the advantages of their choices to use extrapolated and overwrought pedestals that us common-folk have difficulty understanding their logic.

 

I argue that I am a fanboy, but not in the traditional sense of an unabated, unstoppable juggernaut of ignorance in the face of criticism: instead, I propose a distinction between two levels of fanboys: soft fanboyism and hard fanboyism. Furthermore, I argue that while the latter can be destructive, terrifying, and hard to fairly debate, the former is unjustly grouped with the latter, oversimplifying oft-used and loaded terminology. I conclude this with a look at why these differences are useful as separate connotations from the general use of ‘fan’.

 

Why is the distinction important?

 

The gaming community has a problem with challenge and consumer innovation. The gaming community and the gaming corporations that cater to them are sometimes insular, cloistered social groups that still have yet to puncture every aspect of society. Unlike movies and books, which are universal means of communication by all walks of society, the gaming community has its value strictly in entertainment, with education and social progression and commentary secondary to its operations.

 

Because of that, the incentive to innovate is left to indie groups and small numbers of gaming corporations. Innovation is the lifeblood of a third-sector economy, and it is multifaceted and multidirectional. Forces tug and pull at each other, from gamers suggesting or wanting changes or values to be modified to be in line with what seems to make sense, and companies responding accordingly (or not).

 

Due to the underlying reason of innovation, a distinction must be made between soft fanboyism and hard fanboyism.

 

Proposing Cleavage of Fanboyism

 

The term ‘fanboyism’ has a large, controversial image of the gaming community. Though not unique to the gaming community, fanboyism is nevertheless influential in creating insider-outsider perceptions of games. As stated earlier, not everyone plays video games due to video games’ nature as yet achieving a status of universal media. Many, perhaps most people, play video games. That doesn’t mean all. And as a result, there are staunch critics met by equally staunch defenders of particular titles.

 

In this article, I propose the term of fanboyism as irrational support for a particular object, with a calculative process made bereft of strictly objective cost-benefit analysis. A fanboy, in other words, does not care about the scores of a review to the extent where that review constitutes the majority of his purchasing decision. Furthermore, had that review been negative, he (or she, but whatever, you get my point) would have proceeded to purchase the product regardless.

 

This doesn’t mean being a fanboy is necessarily bad. A fanboy can arguably purchase in his own conception of rationality if he legitimately believes he will derive more utility from a purchase of a game from a series than the opinions of others more objective than he (Mass Effect 3, for example). In this respect, we cannot speak poorly of the fanboy’s judgment.

 

I was one of this fanboys. I hated – hate – fighting games. I can’t stand wrapping my head around leaving it to the fastest person to pull of the highest hitting combo. I understand, but cannot apply proper punishing, and God forgive my inability to combo bursts. My fingers react slowly, and I can’t figure out the strategy propounded by fighting game fanatics: it all looked like a flurry of jumps and dashes to me, and Youtube videos effortlessly showed me my own impotency. But I bought Persona 4 Arena anyways. I bought it because I loved Persona 4. I bought it because I loved Atlus.

 

And I loved it. And I still love it. But looking at it objectively, I didn’t love it because it was a fighting game that allowed me to enter and play well easily (which it did), but because I loved the story and the backdrop and the people that it involved. I knew them; they were comfortable to me.

 

I hated it, and I loved it. I was a fanboy. But I also knew I was a particular type of fanboy.

 

Soft Fanboyism versus Hard Fanboyism

 

The purpose and ultimate argument of this essay is to propose the need for a split between fanboys into a dichotomous measure: soft fanboyism versus hard fanboyism. This distinction is not necessarily unique to games, but I argue that differentiating fanboys in gaming has a much more pronounced effect due to slow unfurling of the video game industry’s accessibility and appeal to a universal audience. The need to separate fanboys into two groups is based on innovation: soft fanboys provide notable cues that manufacture brand and product loyalty, even in the case of genre shifts, while hard fanboys risk isolation of the gaming community, encourage haughty corporate practices, and foster an insider-outsider perception of gaming.

 

The distinction is dependent on response and rhetoric. Soft fanboys are aggressive defenders of their purchases, though astutely aware of the distorted and inflated utility they derive from purchasing their favorite games. Even without playing, soft fanboys can be resistant to criticism. However, instead of arguing on a higher, disparaging context, soft fanboys defer to methods of argumentation along the lines of ‘We can agree to disagree’ and positively listing the game’s benefits without the opposition’s defects. Frequently, soft fanboys depend on ‘as a fan of X company since time Y, I think Game Z is not going to be as good, but I will have hope’. Positive imagery in the wake of adversity is the cornerstone of soft fanboyism.

 

Hard fanboys, on the other hand, are highly critical of opinions leveled against their preferences. Uses of derogatory language, ad hominems, reductio ad absurdum, and snide, condescending remarks on a critic’s intelligence or objectivity are tools of hard fanboys. Hard fanboys are the more noticeable type within internet forums, and can take punishment as martyrs, citing persecution complexes. The quintessential and stereotypical Apple lover is an oft-cited example of a hard fanboy: without reasonable logic, he or she clings to a brand, incessantly defending his purchasing decision like a bulldog defending its home.

 

Why are Soft Fanboys important?

 

Soft Fanboys are important because although they irrationally value a game based upon a subjective scale, their naturally defensive position and positive underlining of their favorites allow room for innovation and group support. In a wake of a poor product, soft fanboys are more open to critical problems as they depend more upon relatable and salient selling concepts. Hard fanboys, in response, become more extreme in their fanaticism, or attempt to demonize their favorites as being tarnished and destroyed and place the fault at the feet of the companies without further attempts for constructive criticism. Soft fanboys, on the other hand, feel slight betrayal, but remain hopeful.

 

Whether this is a sense of stronger-than-usual loyalty or naivety is aside the issue. What matters is that soft fanboys have an ability to rally fans to sympathize with their ideas and ideals. Most recently, and famously, is the ‘retake Mass Effect 3’ example, pleading for Bioware to rectify the endings or to provide more information on the circumstances behind the endings and their intended meaning. The indoctrination theories that followed may also be seen as an example of soft fanboyism in action. Both were irrational scrambling for reasonable and logical explanations of disutility.

 

The example of Mass Effect 3 is important because it shows the value of soft fanboyism: a willingness to mobilize in the face of perceived betrayal to preserve values they deem important, whereas hard fanboyism would have difficulties mobilizing due to polarized decisions, and regular fans could more easily legitimize the ending decisions. Soft fanboys are critical in a community as their sentiments, though partly irrational, keep companies on their toes by being active, yet constructive voices to a sometimes apathetic community.

 

However, does this mean everyone involved in Retake Mass Effect 3 or purchased Persona 4 Arena due to their love for Atlus a soft fanboy? Perhaps, and most  likely, not. Fanboyism is a subjective label, and groups have different conceptions for what constitutes a fanboy. I am not proposing a measurable, objective value for soft fanboy versus hard fanboy. Instead, I am arguing for a distinction between those that we are prudent to quickly discard as irrational (hard fanboys) and those who have ‘their hearts in the right place’ (soft fanboys).

 

The soft fanboy versus the fan

 

Arguably, there is very little noticeable difference between a weak soft fanboy and a fan. Fans are larger, vaguer terms to describe those supportive of a particular piece of work. However, fans that are not fanboys are the crucial difference. Fanboys are defined by their persistence in the wake of criticism and quality assurance failure. Fans change opinions, but keep such changes specific to games. Most players, therefore, are fans, and will not rally as effectively due to their ability to isolate their feelings on a specific product. Fanboys – both soft and hard – approach betrayal and criticism on a wider, brand and ip-wise scale.

 

Admittedly, the line between fan and soft fanboy as I proposed using the dichotomous method of measurement is blurry at times. Using Mass Effect 3 as a case example, it is arguable that the negative sentiment can be an isolated event specific to that game and that game only. While the negative responses to Bioware as a company, the need to galvanize change on a game, and recuperative theories to re-legitimize the company in the eyes of certain players are moments I believe to be examples of soft fanboys, one may compellingly argue that it was also the work of fans. One may also argue that these fans and soft fanboys may be semantic, but my reasons expressed above contest that claim.

 

Fanboyism requires investment. It requires time. It requires faith above all else, including reason and logic. However, what matters is not how loyal you are to a specific brand, but your responses to negativity and problems that beset that brand and how you combat threats to your loyalty. For this reason, I argue that soft fanboyism can be a strong force for innovative demand as well as an indirect means of quality control in an industry still closed to a universal mass, compared to the broader term of ‘fanboyism’ which carries negative connotations to everyone involved. 


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