Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jabberwocky Bandwagon of Unconcious Elitism

I'm not sure if the title of this post accurately portrays what I am trying to describe, and it is a little too late in the night for me to think properly and try and fix it. Whatever. The topic of this ... well, lets be safe and call it a rant now ... is simply about jumping on the elitist bandwagon of a game that appears to have wide community approval in some way or form.

That probably doesn't make sense, so I will use a few direct examples. Counter-strike. World of Warcraft. Halo. Starcraft.

All big games. All popular titles that many people play. All games that, in my opinion, are incredibly overrated.

Now if this was a forum post and not a personal blog, many a fanboy (or fangirl), without even reading the rest, would by now be hitting the reply button and appear to be fending for their lives in defence of their game they hold in such reverence. I expect I would get the full array of responses from "lol noob U sux" to more elaborate, well structured posts describing how "it is funny that you are obviously new to the game and not very good at it". As this isn't a forum, I'm glad I can completely disregard that step and move on.

So what the hell am I talking about? Besides the fact that I don't even know myself, I am mainly talking about a certain social quality your average gamer seems to exhibit. To describe this as simply as possible, I will break it into 3 steps or 'traits' of exhibition:
  1. Realize a game you play or used to play is incredibly popular (for whatever reason)
  2. Generally pretend or forcibly become knowledgeable on the game in various ways
  3. Argue that said game is the best of its genre and imply that people who disagree don't know what they are talking about. This can be because of inexperience or the fact that you are simply better at the game than them.
There was one point when I remember being a bit of an 'elitist prick' about the original Unreal Tournament. I would like to think I stopped that attitude a long time ago (grade 11) as I find I am generally trying to get people in to games I enjoy at a positive and comfortable pace. The most recent example/s being various fighting games that I am getting in to. Some of my friends are surprisingly good :).

Back on topic however, the attitude I described is something I have run into more frequently as time goes by, especially tutoring games related units at QUT. If you were to ever raise the question "What is the best example of RTS design?", you would get a plethora of people demanding that it has and always will be Starcraft. Some of these people haven't even played the game, or if they have, justify their small playing time as priceless experience and proof towards their unconditional justification. They will state that the game is incredibly popular and 'e-sport' level in Korea, so it must be good! If you disagree with them, you simply don't know what you are talking about or don't understand. You would even find that most of these people have played very few, if ANY other RTS games at all. Hence ... bandwagon elitism.

Now I don't dislike Starcraft, or any other games for that matter. Or Blizzard, really. I think hating something that doesn't really affect you, assuming you can avoid it entirely, is stupid. I eagerly await it's sequel but I will freely admit I am not a fanboy. So me using it as an example in this next point has nothing to do with what the game is. This point is the game's unwavering popularity.

Some people like to think the game made it to where it is all on it's own, but I can tell you now, luck and force of will by Blizzard did more than you think. First of all, the timing and theme of the game were perfect. People were just getting into the sci-fi insanity of Total Annihilation and Dark Reign at the time, and releasing a Warcraft-esque version of the style was very appealing for audiences. You can argue that Blizzard stole many an idea from the Warhammer 40k universe (Protoss = Eldar, Terran = Space Marines, Zerg = Tyranid), a universe which had long been established beforehand, but that is a debate best left for someone who actually cares. At the time, Korea was also exploding into the wonderful world of inter-networking and so, in cafes and libraries all over the country, a particular game was necessary to test their now renowned networking capabilities. The game was fun and addictive, so it is quite understandable if a nation feels a certain connection to a game that in a sense, brought them into the light.

Then there is the fact that Blizzard patched the shit out of it. Still a little company at the time, cradling their new moneymaker and listening to the community was a good call in terms of its longevity. Something like over 15 patches, 5-6 of those being major balance changing additions. You show enough dedication and support to something and people will automatically assume that it must be good. The West caught wind of it's Eastern popularity and (slowly) followed. People say it's the best game ever, so more people play it. The rest is familiar territory.

The game did not introduce any revolutionary concepts or mechanics to the genre besides being (nowadays) a well balanced execution of the tried and true formula. It is not the only game out there that requires high levels of player's skill and speed in an RTS format. It just happens to be the most popular. If you were to ask a fanboy "What is it exactly about Starcraft's actual game components that make it successful?", your response would most likely be gameplay elements that exist in all games, both modern and old, that simply don't have the hype and religious fanbase behind them that Starcraft has. You will hear things like "Starcraft, now there's a game!" and have everyone in the room sagely nod their heads and stroke their beards in agreement without questioning it or understanding why...

So I guess my point after all this is that there are things in life that are really quite trivial (such as games) that are revered for qualities that are either overrated or incredibly commonplace. Some of these things (such as games) don't really matter, but should this attitude be expressed towards other aspects of life like religion or politics, then things can and do get out of hand. I guess I would just like people to think for themselves more often than not, instead of simply jumping on the Jabberwocky* Bandwagon of Unconscious Elitism.

Jabberwocky - a term used to describe something that no one really knows what it is, but whom deny ignorance of its true purpose. Also a nonsense poem about a monster by Lewis Carroll in his novel 'Through the Looking-Glass' written in 1872.

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