Who are you calling Fanboy?
I've been contributing written content to various online videogame magazines for close to three years now, and I've been an avid games player since the emergence of the SEGA Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. Across those wondrous years of games playing - and, most recently, arduous years of games writing - consoles and their software have changed dramatically, related hardware manufacturers have come and gone, the spotlight of media controversy has grown ever-more prevalent, and gaming in general is no longer perceived as a geek's spotty-faced pastime but as a recognised form of mainstream (global) entertainment. Yet, despite the sharply defined evolutionary progress ploughed by the videogame industry over the past ten years (since the landmark arrival of the PlayStation), one thing has remained immovable, existing as a vehemently offensive constant that stains the very fabric of gaming and blights the credibility of an open-minded and intelligent majority: The Fanboy. Are you one?
Anyone who's ever been an active participant on a games forum, or left constructive contributor comments after a videogame review, has come across the ominous presence of The Fanboy. And anyone who's felt suitably perplexed by Fanboy's misguided opinions and felt the irrepressible urge to amiably steer them away from the path of blinkered ignorance, will know only too well that to do so is to invite the wrath of Fanboy's fury with open arms. For The Fanboy is largely incapable of processing rational thought, staunchly unwilling to absorb, integrate, and learn through proffered knowledge, and, for the most part, is more inclined to arbitrarily hurl verbal excrement while rocking back and forth maniacally on hairy knuckles in the shadowy and dank confines of his shrunken mind.
November 2004 will be remembered as a major month in videogame history, a month forever marked by the long-awaited PC release of Valve's highly anticipated first-person shooter Half-Life 2. However, overshadowing the impressive return of Gordon Freeman, at least in terms of hyped media frenzy, was Halo 2, a solid second edition to Bungie's sci-fi epic that shifted 2.4 million copies (in excess of $125 million) in the first 24 hours following its release. Critics flocked to both games and offered nothing but the very highest levels of praise. They were right to do so for Half-Life 2. What a momentous month November 2004 was.
You see, at that time, I was being abused by another games website - which shall remain nameless because it deserves no free advertising - and it was one of the first online magazines to post a review of Halo 2 (penned by the then editor following some dodgy "French downloading" on her part). It soon became clear over the next few days that we were also one of the only sites to openly criticise Halo 2 for its obvious content inadequacies. Namely a "stodgy story" running through "poor level design" up to the "moan-inducing ending" - not to mention the woeful gameplay confusion prompted by use of The Arbiter. The editor duly awarded Halo 2 a thoroughly respectable 88% review score for its superb action set pieces and astounding multiplayer component. A score which, based on the site's "50% is average, we're not GameSpot" system, still clearly separated Halo 2 from the ranks of gaming dross, while also placing it in the shadow of its superior predecessor. Needless to say, the editor's email inbox swiftly filled with scathing Fanboy assessments of her (subjective) review; 'assessments' that frequently contained expletive-riddled diatribes demanding the removal of the Halo 2 review, or, laughably, an immediate score increase of at least 10%. The review remained unchanged. During the week directly following Halo 2's release, the editor of site-x was approached on the street by an incensed Fanboy who angrily spat in her face while referring to her as a copulating female hound. She cried openly as she later relayed the event to me. She wanted to quit. She didn't. The review remained unchanged.
From a more personal standpoint, I've written editorial pieces in the past that have inflamed Fanboy passions to the extent where I've incurred both reactionary insults and pointed accusations pertaining to my own Fanboy tendencies. A piece I wrote for GamersHell.com in May of 2005 sparked considerable furore on the site's 'discussion' forums (which are generally a hotbed of mudslinging and idiocy), and perhaps with the title "The Death of Nintendo: Suicide or Murder?" I was asking for trouble. Yet, even so, did I actively go looking for trouble as a Fanboy of both Microsoft and Sony? The individual responsible for opening the resultant forum thread certainly thought so. In "The Truth", he openly accused me of attempting to kill off Nintendo and its Revolution (as it was called at that time) while pandering to both the Xbox and PlayStation brands. His opening line was "Words cannot describe how much I hate you" - though, in fairness, he made a valiant attempt to convey that literary hatred over six or seven paragraphs of venom. In actuality, the editorial was aimed at the anaesthetised and placated consuming masses and their complete lack of concern regarding Microsoft and Sony's continual 'bigger is better' corporate ethos. And it highlighted a lack of software innovation running rampant across store shelves as publishers exhibit a worrying reliance on moneymaking franchises, endless sequels, and dullard sporting updates. It was for these reasons that I suggested we could ultimately witness the (sad) demise of Nintendo as the only major hardware player focused on gameplay innovation rather than processor performance. Opinions I still hold to this day. Evidently this was lost on Fanboy, and his structurally and grammatically flawed rant pretty much culminated in "...you have no right to live!" which, to me, seemed proof positive that his keyboard illiteracy was only matched by his complete lack of perspective.
But regardless of Fanboy's moronic personal attack, I was left wondering 'am I actually a Fanboy?' Looking deep inside myself, I've been forced to examine whether I've ever displayed a bias between the likes of Gran Turismo and PGR, Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, FIFA and Pro Evolution. I know that I have. Yet, I'd stop short of calling that bias an example of Fanboy behaviour. I've played all of the above, I've enjoyed all of the above, but I do have my favourites. Surely we all do. For me, being labelled as a Fanboy is built on the unwarranted chastising of someone who enthuses over a game/console that you absolutely refuse to acknowledge the merits of and/or have simply never played. For example, only last week I wrote a review for play.tm on EA's FIFA 07. I duly awarded the game 95%. Simply put, it's as close to a complete footballing package that you're likely to get, and it mark a huge leap forward for EA's long-running sporting franchise; it's not merely an edition of incremental tweaks as we've seen in the past. Some of the contributor comments for said review were "fifa sucks ass" and "pro eva is da best much better than fifa". Considering that Pro Evolution 6 wasn't even released to retail when the review was posted, and FIFA 07 is 'clearly' superior in 'every' way to Pro Evolution 5, I'm sure you'll agree that both comments were weightily inaccurate observations, in every way indicative of a devolved Fanboy attitude.
More importantly than software bias, however, which we do all feel to some degree, is the subject of hardware Fanboy fanaticism. Have I ever displayed Fanboy behaviour where the likes of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are concerned? Yes, yes I suppose some would say I have. In a rather contentious piece I wrote a few months ago for play.tm called 'The Rise and Impending Fall of the PlayStation', I shamefully used my position on play.tm's staff as a platform to air my personal disgust with Sony for its continual marketplace arrogance and total disregard for its consumer base. Without dredging up the article's content in extreme detail, I gleefully pulled spurious rumour and half-truths from any semi-credible source and constructed a biased attack against Sony around a pseudo-biography of its evolution. Play.tm's readers subsequently - and quite rightly - tore the article apart and sent me packing with my tail firmly betwixt my legs thanks to comments such as "Talk about an article based on hate" and "you sir are a retard", and, most pointedly, "This is not journalism". Yet, I'm still loathed to call my actions those of a Fanboy - an imbecile perhaps, but not a Fanboy. I have never viewed Microsoft or Nintendo or SEGA or Sinclair or Atari as singular champions, god-like entities that should be followed blindly without ever turning from the righteous path to worship at the feet of false idols. The piece I wrote on Sony was a shallow attack based on frustration at its constant barracking of hardware importers while us lowly Euro-pee-ons shoulder launch delay after launch delay as an afterthought market. It was also based on the disgust I felt following Sony's separately reprehensible sexist and possibly racist PSP advertising campaigns and the corporation's utter lack of resulting sensitivity. I don't believe it makes me a Fanboy.
The bottom line here is that Fanboys are a necessary evil, and not just in the videogame community; they exist everywhere as dim-witted conversation starters, inadvertently prompting genuine discussion based on ridiculously one-sided comments, only to later cripple said discussion with expletives and immature ranting because the terminology being used makes their brains hurt. The Fanboy phenomenon pops up everywhere, spreading its special brand of baseless and banal bias across any subject that involves brand competitors and genre rivals: Sony and Microsoft, Adidas and Nike, Manchester United and Chelsea, Star Wars and Star Trek, the stubborn championing of one against the blind intolerance of the other is something that's always existed. The internet just means that jovially heated discussion between friends now becomes full blown faceless frontal assaults against anyone who dares disagree with one outspoken - and often fractured - opinion. But like football without referees, the X-Factor without Simon Cowell, and The Phantom Menace without Jar Jar Binks, the world needs Fanboys to invoke progressive indignation in those better equipped to formulate mature and forward-thinking conclusions. But remember, "fifa sucks ass".
Finally, just in case you're wondering, I'm perfectly satisfied with my Xbox 360, I'll be snatching up a Nintendo Wii upon release, and I'll be actively avoiding the PlayStation 3 unless an editor thrusts one upon me for reviewing purposes.
I'm not a Fanboy. Are you?