Vague Patch Notes: On fans and fanboys in MMORPGs

    
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Even if our words seem meaningless.

When you play Final Fantasy XIV, you are going to be stuck playing one of an assortment of jobs, with no actual customization to distinguish your Ninja from any other Ninja short of your ability to play the job. The game has a needlessly restrictive and limited housing system. New players can be locked completely out of any efficient way to earn gil, especially on populated servers with established crafters. The mandatory main storyline can often get meandering and doesn’t even get really good until you’re almost into the first expansion. Trading an item to an NPC requires an obnoxious interface instead of just talking to said NPC with the item. The game’s third expansion is introducing two gender-locked races, an archaic mistake that the development staff already knows not to make.

I absolutely love the game. It’s replete with wonderful stuff. I’m an unambiguous fan. None of that exempts it from criticism on any of the above points (or others, but that paragraph is already top-heavy), and that’s as good a place as any to start in on a discussion of the difference between fans and fanboys.

“Fan” as a term is an interesting one because it literally derives from “fanatic.” “Fanboy,” on the other hand, is a more modern portmanteau based off of “fan” on its own. It’s sometimes swapped for “fangirl” as appropriate, but “fanboy” is generally used more frequently. And it refers to fans that… well, hew much closer to that “fanatic” root.

See, the only criterion for being a fan is liking a thing. Enjoy baseball? You’re a baseball fan. There are indisputably degrees of fandom, so you have the guy who watches most of his favorite team’s games within a couple days and the girl who has a long-running analysis of every baseball team’s stats for a given season with all of her walls plastered in team memorabilia, but they’re both still fans.

But then you have the dude who starts a brawl in his local bar when someone expresses affection for another team, who screams at the lady’s analysis when it says that the team doesn’t have a likely shot at making it to the World Series. And that’s a fanboy.

Superhero landing!

Fandom, at its heart, is a positive exercise. It’s about saying that you like a thing and want that thing to be fun and good. As a fan of World of Warcraft, for example, I want WoW to be a fun game that’s inclusive to all sorts of different playstyles (both my own and those others enjoy), telling good stories, and offering fun adventures. It’s why I own various bits of WoW memorabilia and have opinions about characters in the game’s history – because I’m a fan.

Fanboyism takes that to the next level. It’s not that you want this to be good; it’s that you’ve decided that the game being good is a fixed point to structure yourself around. “WoW is good” is a constant for a WoW fanboy mind, which means that anyone who says “WoW is really not very good right now” isn’t just disagreeing with you but is actively attacking the game. It’s quite likely that these people have some sort of malicious agenda being fostered by saying mean things about the game, he concludes, because of course it’s good – that’s just a constant.

So what inevitably comes out of the fanboy thought process is that this is a case of someone being jealous, or malicious, or stupid, or any number of other things because it couldn’t be just a matter of informed critique. There has to be some other motivation for saying this thing that you’ve enshrined as A Good Thing might actually not be all that good.

We’ve all known people like this. Heck, we all have this tendency, however much we indulge or ignore it. I’d be a liar if I said there were things I’m not occasionally inclined to defend on a knee-jerk level, when I don’t have a moment of wanting to just whip out a contrary “no, you’re just criticizing in bad faith” before I take a moment and re-examine my actual rationale. It’s human. We want to defend the things we like.

The problem is when it starts to override the ability to actually discuss things that work or do not work, and when we start to conflate “I’m having fun” with “this thing is good, therefore it’s fine and the people saying it’s not fine are being mean or cruel.” I’ve discussed before now how you can be having fun with things without them actually being good, just like you can not be having fun with things and still recognize that they are good.

For that matter, it’s a problem of assuming that your enjoyment has to be a fight of some kind, that people need to agree with you or else it’s not actually enough. If I’m enjoying FFXIV (which I usually am) but noticing a huge amount of discontent in the playerbase, there’s a reason for that. Something is going awry. The problem isn’t people being unhappy with the game; the question is why they’re unhappy, and they may actually be more right than my personal enjoyment.

It's fine, everything is fine, this is fine.

I enjoyed the heck out of WildStar when it launched, even as I watched people noting negative feelings toward the game. My goal wasn’t to start telling people that they were wrong or kick at them for being negative; it was to understand that stance and analyze it alongside my sense of “well, I’m having fun.”

The fanboys, of course, were quick to defend the game. The raiding focus was going to work, the endgame focus was going to work, this was going to be a big hit once it… whoops, never mind.

Yeah, that’s the other side; fanboys aren’t actually helping the object of their obsession. More often than not, if you’re noticing a problem and the community would rather shout you down than address it, you’re just going to leave instead of talking about it. If there were an easy ratio of fanboy to normal fan for a given game, it’d serve as a good warning sign for the health of a given title.

And hey, let’s not pretend that always understanding every individual issue and why people are dissatisfied with something is easy. It’s possible for legions of angry fans to be angry about one thing and wrong about another. It’s possible for people to latch onto the wrong point and parrot it back and forth endlessly. It’s possible for outsized negativity to take root and cause a collective conclusion that’s a few degrees south of where your genuine reaction should be, so a movie that you might have otherwise thought of as “not very good, but not awful” turns into “the worst thing ever” as an acceptable target.

But it can’t turn a movie from “I loved this” to “I hated this.” Or a game. Or a book. Or a show. Or anything else. If everyone has something negative to say, there’s probably a good reason for it.

So before you start leaping to the defense of something you love, take a moment to step back and ask why. Enjoying something doesn’t mean blinding yourself to its faults, and willingly ignoring red flags isn’t necessary to still have personal enjoyment of something. Being a fan is fine, but being a fanboy just isn’t a good idea.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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Anton Mochalin

Being a “fan” is when one’s emotional about something. And like “toxicity” it’s just emotion, it’s not supposed to be rational. A “fan” can become a “hater” so easily and there’s just nothing wrong about that – we humans have emotions. Some have a bit more of them and some a bit less, some have a habit of suppressing or not expressing them, others don’t . And that’s it. It’s normal to be a fan and it’s normal to not be one.

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Emil Söderman

I mean, that’s part of it, but when talking about MMO’s (and not just MMO’s) people often genuinely have different ideas of what is fun, and it’s easy to read someon else (who doesen’t find the same things as you do fun) attempt to get rid of things they consider unfun as them trying to ruin your fun.

The genuine unapologetic fanboy is, I’d say, pretty rare, but what exists are people who like certain things (perhaps to an unhealthy degree) and feel engaged in a weird pseudo-war against people who they fear want to destroy it. (while those other people usually just want to have fun on their end)

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Sarah Cushaway

FFXIV fanboys are among the most rabid and blind I’ve ever encountered. Tell them you think the linear nature of the game bores the hell out of you, or you dislike the gated MSQ, or you find the classes/combat boring because of the GCD? They’ll defend it like a goddamned mother bear defending her cub… a cub that happens to be sickly and maybe what’s wrong with the MMO genre summed up into one game.

Linear.
Hand-holding.
Bad story.
Mundane combat.
And now gender locked crap?

I will never go back to this toxic dump of a game. Take that, fanboys ;)

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I’ve always thought of fanbois as being a tribal definition, just as certain sports fans identify tribally with their sports team. Attack the team/game; attack the fans. There’s no real critical thinking involved, the rabid reaction occurs on an atavistic level and for the most part seems uncontrollable such that trying to reason with a person in the grips of it is futile.

On top of the tribal identification, individuals of the masculine persuasion have a biological need for competition against other males in all things in order to prove they are superior. It is therefore necessary for the tribe they identify with to be seen as superior in all ways, as this reflects back on the members of that tribe, that is, the fans.

Being right in expressed opinions also ties into this, for it shows superior abilities and talents, which again are important to win any competition against peers. This gives us the endlessly (and sometimes fascinating) discursive postings on blogs about minute and arcane details of a game’s lore, development history, characters, updates, skill and gearing to prove points or show that this opinion is superior to that opinion.

I tend to think of this as a bunch of guys with spears standing around in loincloths arguing about where the game is headed. The right assumption, informed by observable information, will get dinner. The wrong one goes hungry. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that one be right. And deciding who is right can mean either death or survival.

Defending games and sports teams and opinions thereof isn’t why these traits originally evolved, they just seem to be how modern people apply them, often in tiresome fashion, to our world.

laelgon
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laelgon

“WoW is good” is a constant for a WoW fanboy mind, which means that anyone who says “WoW is really not very good right now” isn’t just disagreeing with you but is actively attacking the game.

I think it can be taken a step further. The fanboy sees it as an attack on him personally. They view whatever you’re criticizing as a critique of them as a person.

There are games I’ve had a lot of fun playing that I would defend to the extent of explaining why I personally enjoyed them. I sunk a scary number of hours into Atlas and Life is Feudal, and if someone told me they hated either of those games, I would have to say “Yeah, that’s fair, there are some pretty bad aspects to both.”

People just need to let each other enjoy things. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man, but I think the current internet culture is to hate things. If you want clicks, or views, or likes, or whatever social media thingy means you get money and attention, you as a content creator have to take an extreme stance. No one is going to watch the video titled “Why GoT Season 8 was just okay,” they’re going to click on “WhY GoT SeAsON 8 SuCkED!!!”

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Witches

I don’t think fans and fanbois have anything in common despite the similar names.

The fan likes something very much, while the fanboi likes conflict with others who have an opinion that doesn’t match theirs.

You’re not a fanboi unless you clash with those that don’t agree with you, if you think Wildstar did everything right and bad luck was all that went wrong, but you don’t feel the need to defend the game anytime someone attacks it, you’re not a fanboi, what defines the fanboi is the conflict with others.

While fans are known for their devotion and dedication, fanbois are pretty fickle, it’s not rare to see them attacking something with the same ferocity that they once defended the very same thing.

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Ironwu

I think the real tragedy happens when the developers themselves are FanBoyz of their own game. Certainly Wildstar is a perfect example of what can happen if there is no balance or perspective.

For that matter, World of Warcraft designers of Cataclysm and beyond have cost the game millions of subscribers because they are Fanboys of the whole ‘Elite Dungeon & Raid Players are the Only Worthwhile Players’ way of thinking.

Time will tell if the people that make these decisions can learn from the tragic mistakes others have made. I hope so.

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Alex Willis

fanboys aren’t actually helping the object of their obsession

mm-hmm

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

I’m not sure that the terms “Fangirl” and “Fanboy” can be used as gendered synonyms. You have Fanboy defined appropriately but “Fangirl” has a much more positive usage in the general culture.

It’s a very widely-used signifier in Young Adult fiction for a certain type of protagonist, one that the reader is very much encouraged to identify and empathize with. Rainbow Rowell even went so far as to use it as the title of an (excellent) novel. It carries strong connotations of enthusiasm, creativity and originality. There may be undertones of naivety or even (very mild) obsessive behavior but Fangirls are fundamentally good people.

Other than that, then yes.

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Witches

I would go a bit further and distinguish between fanboy and fanboi, to me the first is just the masculine form of your notion of fangirl, while the other is always negative.

arekthewild .
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arekthewild .

Indeed, great article.

This can also be taken further. The other side of the coin if you will:

You don’t want to forget the Haters. You know, the ones who had a bad experience in a game and find it completely irredeemable. It’s another degree of fandom that shouldn’t go ignored.

They delight in ripping into any negative happenstance of a game in order to justify their anger. That isn’t to say their claims are baseless, in many cases they have legitimate gripes. Yet the vitriol they spew can be damaging, both to their own arguments as well as to the opinions of people who haven’t experienced the game (or whatever) on their own. I’d opine that they’re nearly as bad for a game as those rabid fanboys…

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camren_rooke

The I’ll hate it no matter what anti-fanboi?

Yeah, just the flipside of the coin.

JonBuck
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JonBuck

There’s a trope for that. And I see it far too much in certain franchises. They hate a thing so much that they can’t tolerate someone else liking it. Which comes across as…

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