Crappy title for this one, but I don’t really know what else to call it. Also, this is another one of those rants that applies to RPGs, but it really also applies to many other avenues of storytelling, as well. Like my rant on Resurrection Abuse, or Hot Springs.
Guys? Girls? Ad bots?* Don’t let an annoying fandom ruin something for you. Seriously, don’t.
It seems silly, but it happens. People will like a game, cartoon, anime, movie, TV show, or whatever--we’ll say a game for now, since that keeps it relevant to this theoretically RPG-only blog. They’ll like the game a lot. But as they go online to talk about it, to draw fanart or write fanfiction or make fan videos for it, they find that there are other fans of this same game who are loud, obnoxious, crude, and/or hostile morons. And sometimes, there are a LOT of them. Enough of them that the person’s feelings for the game’s worth change by association.
Worse still, repeated encounters with an annoying fandom for a game someone has not played will convince that person that he or she doesn’t like the game solely on the basis that he or she doesn’t like its fanbase. This is something occurring with unfortunate prevalence for Undertale right now, in face.
Please don’t let either of these things happen to you.
Again, it seems silly. Why should anyone let their opinion be changed about something just because the other people who like the same thing are morons and/or jerks? Worse still, why would anyone let their opinion be formed by such morons and/or jerks? Okay, sure, maybe seeing that you’re in inordinately poor company means you should at least give that thing you like a second look, just to make sure you weren’t overestimating its value. And maybe seeing that you would be in inordinately poor company means a reasonable amount of caution about trying the game out. But beyond that, it seems ridiculous to let a game’s popularity sway your own opinion one way or another. You’d be like the pretentious hipster stereotype who hates everything solely because it’s widely loved.
But silly or not, it does happen. Back in the days when I debased myself by frequenting the Gaia Online Final Fantasy forums, I’d frequently come across people who had initially liked Final Fantasy 7, but then began to look down on and even despise the game, simply because the fanbase for it was so absolutely full to bursting with illiterate, self-important jerks who lived their lives according to utterly concrete first impressions that they based on the shallowest surface level of all they saw.
I could never figure out why someone would do this. I like Final Fantasy 7 a lot because it’s a strongly written, creative story that covers many themes of personal identity, self-determination, self-delusion, self-forgiveness (a lot of focus on the self in this game), and so on, conveyed through a cast which contained several deep, dynamic characters. Does the fact that I see the beauty, wisdom, and art of Final Fantasy 7 change just because for every 1 of me, there’s about 50 drooling doofuses who like the game because Tifa has breasts and because they (the drooling doofuses, I mean, not Tifa’s breasts) erroneously think Sephiroth is a badass? So I like Cloud as a hero for his depth as a character and his dynamic change from a delusional loner to a man who has accepted his past and weakness and becomes stronger for them, while 50 other gamers who don’t know why blue boxes keep popping up on the screen while they’re trying to play happen to like Cloud because he has a big sword and broods sometimes. So what? I’m supposed to pretend that Final Fantasy 7 is less of a masterpiece of the RPG genre just because it happens to have a massive fanbase of people who like it only for the most base, unimportant surface qualities?
My opinion is not the lesser OR the greater for who stands with me! I’ve observed Final Fantasy 7 several times. I’ve given substantial thought to its every aspect. I’ve discussed it at length with others who have also analyzed it. I’ve challenged my own opinions on the game multiple times, as I do with virtually every opinion I form. My perspective on the game is as valid as any opinion can be, because I’ve put the time and thought into it, because I can refer to the evidence for it and argue my point. Whether that puts me in the company of some giggling fangirl who just finds Cloud hot, or of the brilliant Chris Avellone himself, my opinion of Final Fantasy 7 stands the same.
Obviously there are certain joys to finding yourself in accord with people you respect. And obviously there are certain irritations to finding yourself in accord with people you can’t stand. And I definitely do not want to imply that you should never allow your opinion to be changed--one should always keep an open enough mind that they’re willing to have their perspective challenged, and even proven wrong.
But one of the joys of finding yourself in agreement with people you respect should never be that this fact somehow, on its own, validates that opinion. One of the irritations to finding yourself in agreement with people you can’t stand should never be that this fact somehow, on its own, invalidates your opinion. And if your opinion is to be changed, let it be through proof, through logical and emotional truth, through a new and better understanding of the subject matter, and never by the simple presence of others who share it. Similarly, if your opinion on a game, or anything else, is to be formed, let it be formed by the game itself, and never by the nature of those who have played it before you.
It’s a pretty universal occurrence that once something, ANYTHING, reaches a certain level of popularity, its fanbase becomes bad to some degree. That’s a truth of the internet that’s pretty important to embrace, because without understanding that, you open yourself to taking a bad fanbase too personally and letting it ruin your enjoyment of something. And when you do that, when you decide that Final Fantasy 7 is too beloved by morons to be good, that Undertale’s fanbase being pushy means that the game itself must be awful, that the varying levels of obnoxiousness in the fandoms for The Hunger Games, Star Wars, My Little Pony, Steven Universe, Doctor Who, or anything else means that those products can’t be worthwhile, you’ve given up your own free will to those you despise. And do not fool yourself on this point: when that happens, when you refuse to try something or refuse to allow yourself to enjoy something because its fanbase annoys you, your decision to let others dictate what you dislike will not have any lasting negative impact on them. The only person who loses out will be you.
* I have no misconceptions about where most of my page hits come from.