Principled Fanboys

In spring or summer of 2002, I was sitting in the Dodge Grand Caravan in the parking lot of a Future Shop – a defunct tech store chain now acquired by Best Buy - when my dad asked me if I would like an Eggs-box. Due to the Xbox being a very new console at the time, and my dad’s accent making him pronounce it that way, I thought he was asking me if I would like a carton of eggs. This is the first memory relevant to video games that I still have.

Although likely not the first game I ever played, Halo: Combat Evolved, which came with the Xbox, was one of the first games I remember playing. The Halo franchise became one of my favourites. I remember discussing it with friends in elementary school, and listening the Halo 2 OST regularly after coming home from school when I started junior high. I had limited editions of most of the Bungie Halo games, and I still have a Reach poster in my room to this day, even if I am not into the franchise as I once was. You could say that I became a Halo fanboy, for a time.

In June or July of 2007, I got into Runescape, and similarly, spent a lot of time playing it and discussing it with friends in real life. Although I had much less Runescape merchandise – have an outdated guidebook from Jagex - I still became a fanboy of it of sorts, although I no longer play the game. Despite kind offers by other people to help me get into the game again – I dread doing the whole grind over again in OSRS – I doubt I will ever commit to an MMORPG again, even if RS is the best one I’ve played.

I could loosely consider myself a fanboy in other fandoms as well after this point, but these are two popular examples in my own life which I am sure many people will have an understanding of or some relation to. These days I am more into the Touhou Project, and (grand) strategy games. The word “fanboy” has a largely negative connotation around it. Few people will admit they are a fanboy, or use it with a hint of irony when they do. People associate this word with being a die-hard supporter of a company that can do no wrong. This is often true. However, what I have noticed in the behaviour of fanboys throughout the years, is that the way they act behave goes beyond merely defending a company – it is often about defending their perceived virtual community.  

This behaviour involves being derogatory towards newcomers and others who make demands from the game’s developers and moderators, and complain about the community. These fanboys may act hostile, troll them, and just generally be rude. The people they do this towards often complain about toxicity of said gamers being hateful, bigoted, living in their mom’s basements, incels etc. And there are certainly some toxic communities that even experienced gamers quickly tire of upon joining, which I won’t name. With that in mind, these people who complain vehemently about the veterans and old-timers of games, often contribute greatly to the toxicity, but lack the self-awareness to realize that they are doing this.

It must be said that this initially was not a partisan thing, but it has definitely shifted this way over time. If someone was acting cancerous, in the literal sense of being a foreign invader to a “body” and attacking its members, compelling others to see things the same way and regurgitate the same nonsense as them until they get their way, then it is only reasonable that these natives would become hostile towards them.

The main reason that this has shifted, is that what once wasn’t a political issue – joining a community then promptly making demands of them to adjust to you was almost universally frowned upon – became one. The objective became to browbeat people into accepting and celebrating you, crying to moderators about people being mean to you, or entering that position yourself where you are almost untouchable. What this ends up accomplishing is that it breeds a lot of resentment among the established community. You are not giving them a convincing reason to treat you nicely if you get your way through bitching and complaining about how other people are mean to you and others until unsuspecting or sympathetic mods finally cave, and flooding the community with deranged people like yourself, who become extremely vindictive when rejected socially. At its most extreme, forums like ResetEra have turned into this, where walking on eggshells is the default behaviour for everyone if they do not want to get banned.

This parallel goes beyond just video games. It is not difficult to think of other examples. The fanboy behaving the way he does is a defensive mechanism, rather than an aggressive one. Their actions, may be associated with gatekeeping, are deliberates ones to attempt to weed out or drive away those they see as threats, like with an immune system. Although it has certainly failed in the long term, “poo poo pee pee” was once such movement in the behaviour of 4chan, to attempt to repulse those who used their memes, in attempt to prevent them from becoming mainstream.

Over time, the “fanboy” has developed stronger pattern recognition skills about the kinds of people who make a community undesirable, virtual or not. This has lead to the fanboy becoming a more partisan person, but not specifically a left or right wing one, as their perceptions of what makes a community desirable or not – whether rooted in fact or fiction – differs. Some of these perceptions are socially conditioned; others are through their own experiences. These fanboys have diverging interests; one wants to change the community, typically, while the other is more reactionary and wants to keep it as it is, and does not want to be imposed on. They each have their ideals of what the community should look like.

I am not one to believe in a “culture war”, as I have already stated that I believe it amounts to a one-sided beat down, but this mirrors a struggle on a broad scale. The same kinds of incidents occur across many communities, on a huge scale, even if the communities themselves are not always interconnected. This situation is an established community wants to be left alone to deal with their own affairs, until someone – very frequently an outsider or a collective of them - challenges the way they do things, saying they are not doing enough. There is almost no going back once said person or group of people gets their way, even if the community becomes uninhabitable due to their demands. Sometimes these people may move on to other trends, other times, they will stay as lords of the pile of ash they’ve created through scorching a community to the ground. This is often the case with smaller ones.

The modern fanboy is principled. He may be uncouth and discourteous sometimes, but typically this behaviour is harmless, all bark and no bite, or he is reacting to others infiltrating the community he is largely content with, who make demands of it that would make it unpleasant to him. Many of those who complain about “the gamers” – and there are some valid complaints about them as a whole, such as braindead mass consumerism – lack this self-awareness in their behaviour, thinking that a magical paradise of equality and happiness would emerge if everyone were compelled to not say certain things to each other. This can never be.

Ironically, the virtual sphere, by accident or design of anonymity, and despite its flaws, does a decent job at creating a socially level playing field with a decent degree of freedom. The exception to this is outside of pay to win mechanics, which to be fair have long been creeping into many games. It has driven a much larger wedge between communities than an anonymous person calling another anonymous person a “retard” or “faggot” online because they are being annoying , while not truly caring if they are literally those things or not. Many of the people making demands of other communities simply want to replace existing hierarchy of moderators they don’t agree with – or want to compel them to – to create their own hierarchy where they, or people like them, are the defacto rulers. It’s a petty and jealous tyranny.