I Can’t Hear You: Talking About Games With Gamers

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Easily the simultaneously greatest and most disappointing thing about writing about video games for a living is the community. Sometimes you can have some incredible, engaging conversations with thoughtful people about the medium of video games — its ability to convey art, its conventions and tropes, its storytelling prowess, its experiential inventiveness.

Other times, you get shouted down by angry fools because you disagreed with them, and thus you’re obviously an idiot.

On the one hand, this is something that happens. The Internet is often a bastion of negativity, bolstered by anonymity. Lots of people are both ballsy and dickish when they can hide in obscurity and aren’t expected to own their comments or back up their claims. On the other hand, there seems to be a distinctly higher percentage of random douchiness centered around video games. Maybe it has to do with Internet literacy. Maybe it’s the lingering “nerd” psychological baggage many of us carry from when this hobby was a lot less mainstream.

None of those reasons is an excuse, however.

It’s particularly bothersome because there’s really so much great stuff to talk about in the medium of gaming. This is a hobby that has a deep and lasting effect on many people. I’ve spoken with folks who have talked about the friends they’ve made through video games when times were tough. How gaming has helped them through rough patches when issues like personal tragedy and depression were at their worst. Gaming touches a lot of people in a very singular way, and yet as a community, we’re exclusive, throwing around words like “hardcore” and casual. People who disagree are often tied to a figurative pole out in the front yard of the Internet so people can laugh at them, or worse, publicly humiliate them.

A colleague and friend of mine, Ben, wrote a review of Dishonored for Killscreen (here), another gaming site. He didn’t like the game. He pointed at its numerous failings, like poor story, a lack of real depth or engagement, a weak script that drains its all-star cast of all feeling behind their words, and a huge amount of power given to the player character that often makes the core gameplay trivial. He had a vastly different experience from mine, but I read his review, and I can completely agree with him; everything he said is very much true. The difference, I think, is a question of whether the game finds a way to resonate with the player so that they can overlook the flaws. For me, it did — for him, it didn’t.

And yet the comment section of the piece is a roiling snake pit of people bent on not only disagreeing with his assessment — which is fine, lots of people love the game, me among them — but attacking his character because of it. We’re not talking about a bad review, or a badly researched review, or a review that ignores the history of gaming. It just disagrees with other assessments. Often, this is the real cardinal sin. For some reason, gamers seem to have a tendency to internalize their opinions, it seems. Disagree, and you’re not just challenging the game — you’re challenging someone’s sense of self-worth.

But all of gaming is made lamer when we can’t even disagree, or talk about video games frankly. Sure, you can disagree with Ben’s assessment, but shouldn’t he be allowed to make it? Isn’t it better to talk about how he experienced the game, and to unlock what made the game work for you — and not for him? Aren’t games better when we use our brains?

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