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The Haters Problem

Previously, I wrote about video game apologists and how they are a negative influence on gaming culture and industry. In the resulting discussion, C.K. and Audacityscape brought up the point that the converse of apologists are those gamers who actively seek to attack the games, publishers, developers, and manufacturers they don't like: while I hate the word, the best way to describe them is as "haters," because they make it a point to express their hatred of something, even when nobody asks for their opinion.


I want to thank C.K. and Audacityscape for bringing this up and giving me something to think and write about.

To say that gamers are an opinionated lot is perhaps the most effective exercise in understatement in the current pop culture climate. Gamers bring the competitive aspect of gaming to their debates. The heated discussions at your local comic shop or sports bar will end when someone brings up a point that all parties can agree on, but with gamers, the verbal battle isn't over until someone admits defeat. Even if everyone just kind of runs out of steam and moves on to another topic, whatever conflict was being worked out will resurface in due time, and will continue resurfacing until someone—in some way—concedes.

This makes debating the superiority of one game over another particularly vexing. Far too often, gamers are unwilling to admit that all games are inherently flawed to some degree, including their current favorite. This is the root of the kind of apologetics that dictate that your favorite game (or console, or publisher, or developer, etc.) is near-perfect and immune to criticism, and all criticism levied against it should be met with fierce rebuttal. However, there is an inverse to that: the presupposition that everyone else's favorite thing is horrible. This gives way to whole new type of debate, one where the hater (and I loathe that term, but it really is the most applicable) will go out of their way to attack the object of another gamer's affection.


The most common kind of hater we see is online, when a gamer will go to an article or forum discussing a game they dislike and comment negatively on either the textual content, the game itself, or both. A dismissive remark about how the person "doesn't care" about the game and then a slight against it is the usual execution. The common reaction is to ask them: if you truly don't care, why are you even posting? After all, it's not like they are contributing anything to the discussion; they're just popping in to say that your favorite game sucks, you're a casual for liking it, and you need to shut your bacon hole because you know the game sucks and you wasted your money.

Maybe they get a kick out of trolling, as so many people online do. Perhaps they are trying to come across as some kind of elitist connoisseur who disdains major releases, or they are annoyed by the artsy, unorthodox presentation of indie games. Maybe they just want to pick a fight and they're going for an easy target—a popular game with a devout fan following. A large part of their behavior may just be simple schadenfreude: they want to steal your joy and revel in your misery. No matter the root cause, it's unnecessary behavior that goes beyond legitimately criticizing a game and actively trying to insult or antagonize the game's community. This behavior isn't limited to online forums. Your local GameStop, video game section of a big box retailer, organized gaming event, or even just hanging out with your fellow gamers at Waffle House are prime opportunities for someone to pick a fight with the fans of a game.


Some games are more prone to this kind of hate than others. Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series has a long line of haters, especially early entries in the series, where the underlying fighting system was less developed. Music games drew hatred from various corners of not just the gaming community, but the music community as well. Despite it's ever-increasing sales numbers, a significant portion of the gaming community revels in hating on anything that has the Call of Duty logo on it. Few things are more hated than mobile games.


Haters may be a bigger problem for gaming culture than apologists. Apologists are largely reactionary; they may defend things that are inexcusable, such as broken games and unfair business practices, and they may seek to tear down the worth of one game to promote the worth of their chosen title. A hater, however, takes the initiative. They don't even need criticism to respond to; they can just show up in the most random places and talk about how a game is utter garbage. A hater makes devaluing other games and hardware their purpose, and pursues it doggedly.

The result can be that most deadly of obstacles to the gaming community: the exclusion of new, less experienced gamers. A hater won't simply lay out a game's faults and question its worth; a true hater will elevate the criticism to include personal attacks on the game's fans, questioning their intelligence and status as a true gamer. When somebody new to the hobby encounters this, they are less likely to join discussion about games; they will feel that their opinion is less valuable as they don't play "real" games, or they aren't on board with the latest indie trends or triple-A blockbusters. Even among veteran gamers, haters can turn a lively discussion or debate into one of those talking head shouting matches that we all know and love from 24-hour news networks.


Nobody wants that. Healthy debate is a good thing, and we should be able to disagree on what games are great and what games aren't. But there's no need to actively try to steal someone's joy by preemptively slamming their favorite game. Finding fault with a game's design or a company's business decisions are one thing—leading off with a judgmental statement regarding the mental capabilities or legitimacy as a gamer of fans of a game is another. It reeks of elitism and only further fragments the gaming community.

My name is Brandon. I used to watch my aunt and my mom play Frogger while I was a baby, and I've been a gamer ever since. My paying job is as a librarian. I currently write Library Journal's "Games, Gamers, and Gaming" column so that librarians all over the nation are informed about games and gaming culture. I'm on Twitter and Steam as level250geek, so feel free to look me up.

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