With the election of Donald J. Trump as the current President of the United States, the divided nature of Western civilization has come to something of a head. Protests in the streets, abuse of power, cronyism: All of these things have been symptomatic of a problem for decades, but they are significantly worse right now.
“Why are you talking about political bull feathers in this column?! I come here to read about vidyagaemz!” you might say.
As a microcosm of society in general, and as one of the fastest growing forms of media in terms of visibility, popularity, and social justice pressure, gaming is something like the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Things seemed good in gaming for several decades. After the Videogame Crash of the early ‘80s, when gamers reunified, we were a fairly monolithic block of culture. The same games were generally well-regarded by players and critics alike. There were no overwhelmingly vocal, yet minisculely-niche groups demanding that every aspect of gaming cater to their specific quirks and idiosyncracies. It’s easy to look back at the 16-bit era as a Golden Age because, not only did that era produce most of the games with the greatest longevity and acclaim, but everyone actually agreed about it. It was an era where videogame fans presented a united front.
In 2014, rotund SJW gaming pundit, Jim Sterling, addressed what he saw as an increasing toxicity in the general gaming community, with such violent schisms that it is impossible to enjoy a game without pissing off someone else.
The simple, one-sentence answer to Sterling’s core question of, “Why do gamers get angry when someone enjoys a game that they don’t?” is “If a bad or questionable game is enjoyed by a significant enough amount of people, MORE games like it WILL be made at the expense of other games and their budgets.” The longer answer involves taking a closer look at the evolution of gaming communities over the last 30 years.
Back when gaming was a monolithic block during the Golden Age, choice wasn’t really particularly great. There were two console platforms, plus the unfunny monstrosity that was PC/Commodore/Amiga gaming at the time, and it was fairly obvious that one of the two consoles was the “right” one. Nobody paid attention to any Sega Master System fans back in the day, and the Genesis was clearly a second banana platform only enjoyed by people with abysmal taste in games or who were obsessed with being titillated by red blood in “Mortal Kombat.”
That all changed due to several factors, including the Internet, the Mainstreamification of videogames as a media platform, and the rampant multi-platform releases that began in the 7th Generation. As each of these factors came into play over time, the monolithic gamer block developed more and more cracks. With the Internet, those super-minority Sega Master System and Genesis fans suddenly had the ability to form echo chamber communities to bolster their views. Genre specific communities popped-up, allowing fans of both incredibly popular and system-selling genres (like RPGs) and niche genres (like Adventure games) to drive themselves into equally-feverish fits of zeal. As the overall genre preference began to change with the infusion of neo-gamer blood thanks to the introduction of games like “Resident Evil” and “Grand Theft Auto 3,” these echo chamber communities were largely blind to the changes going on around them until they abruptly discovered that the winds of zeitgeist had completely changed direction while they were obliviously dissecting their own genre minutia. The gaming platforms of the time actually encouraged this kind of segregation, as Sega/Xbox consoles were known for sports and PvP, PlayStation consoles were known for RPGs and Action/Adventure games, and Nintendo consoles were known for Platformers. Even as new gamers came into the hobby with different ideas about what made gaming good, they were able to file themselves neatly into their own little pidgeon-holes without ever seeing anyone who disagreed with them.
The final wall that segregated gamers into happy communities came down when the 7th Generation suddenly saw a drastic shift in game releases. Gone were platform exclusives. Gone was the wall separating traditionally PC-only genres from console-only genres. Suddenly everyone was forced into the same big group together, and after decades of solitude, it is unsurprising that there was friction, which turned to sparks, which turned to explosive hatred.
The failure to understand the divisions that have sprung up among gamers in recent years is a failure to understand community, and is directly analogous to the divisions currently tearing apart the American political machine. We can take the analogy a step further in simplification by simply looking at sports fans.
Yes, sports fans, those sub-human primates who delight in the hormonal surges that dance through their lizard brains when they witness a group of other sub-human primates they strongly identify with performing well in an arbitrary, game-like activity. Yet “Sports Fans” aren’t part of a monolithic block. You have fans of individual sports who can’t stand other sports as well as fans of individual teams who have a near-genocidal hatred of other specific teams due to some traditional ‘rivalry’ or other arbitrary reason. Sports hooliganism, where angry fans take out their frustration via general vandalism, looting, and forming angry mobs is an epidemic in some cities and countries. This is what happens when you invite the Mainstream to your party.
When gamers were a monolithic block, the gamers themselves generally fell into the ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ social group. There might have been some slight division, but things could be discussed cordially. But opening the doors to the Mainstream meant letting everyone in, and it is literally impossible to get everyone to agree on anything.
By smashing-together gamers from all walks of life – be they Nerds, Dudebros, Weeaboos, Casuals, or something else – as well as gamers from all sorts of platforms – despite the long-running feud between PC Gamers and Console Gamers – via a unified library, the culture built-up around the industry created a perfect tinderbox for angst. The releases of a number of love-it-or-hate-it titles and the poking and prodding by Social Justice Warriors with their politically correct agenda was all it took to send the whole thing up in flames. And it’s still burning, with no sign of anything on the horizon to extinguish it.
Our American political system is exactly the same way. When the Republican party took Jerry Falwell’s advice and transformed itself from a flagging, second-rate party into the Religious Right in the ‘70s, they dealt the blow to the two-party system that opened the seeping, un-healable wound from which the country still suffers. Politics are referred to as “the game” for a reason, and when conservatives allied themselves with religion, they essentially made winning via compromise impossible. Like sports fans or genre fans, but turned up past 11 to 13, religion divides people more strongly than any other force, because every side is convinced that they are right because of divine providence and that everyone else is wrong and will be eternally punished. Even secular forces (rightfully) refuse to compromise with religion because it is provably wrong on an empirical level. As a result, nothing gets accomplished, hatred foments, and the complete non-issues we should have resolved 40 years ago are still tearing away at our cultural fabric.
And then we have Donald J. Trump: The love-it-or-hate-it political equivalent of ‘Dark Souls.’