There was a friend I had at one point who had a particularly annoying habit. Whenever I would bring up something obnoxious that was done in World of Warcraft (which, at the time, was still knee-deep in Northrend and looked like it was just going to continue being fun forever, so, you know… ha), she had a tendency to point out to me that actually, WoW is bad and so it didn’t matter. Was I upset about a dungeon run? Well, joke was on me for caring about it because was I aware that WoW is a bad game?
It wasn’t a question of whether or not she liked the game; she didn’t have any interest in it, and that was fine. But she spent so much time focusing on explaining that she didn’t like it, frequently when that wasn’t even the topic under discussion in the first place. She absolutely could not let a conversation go by without bringing that up. And that’s as natural a segue as anything else to remind you that disliking a game is… actually something you don’t need to talk about! Like, at all!
On one level, I want to cut a fine line here because sometimes it is relevant. Sometimes someone is going to ask you about, say, your opinion on The Elder Scrolls Online. At that point, it’s totally valid to mention that you really dislike the game. Maybe you’re reviewing the game, even. So the point that I want to emphasize here that the sort of behavior I’m talking about is not about merely disliking a game or expressing an opinion about it.
Rather, I’m talking about making that dislike a defining aspect of your personality.
For example, if someone is asking a general question about “what’s your favorite addition to TESO?” You… don’t need to pipe up! There’s absolutely nothing gained by you jumping into the discussion to tell people “actually, did you know I hate that game?” The question isn’t for you, and you don’t necessarily have to have an opinion about it.
You really don’t need to pipe up if there’s a story that isn’t even asking a question. Like, no one is eagerly awaiting you jumping into a story about the next TESO update for you to shout, “Just FYI, I think this game is bad and shouldn’t exist.”
And we all know people like this, even if they’re not necessarily all angry about TESO. (I’m using that as a specific example because I don’t actually know anyone who specifically hates TESO, but please don’t tell me if you do in the comments.) It’s always obnoxious, and it’s always obnoxious for the same reason: You probably don’t actually know anything about what you’re critiquing.
Here’s a good example, and for this, I’m going to use myself as the example. You know what show I don’t like? Dragonball Z. I’m not a big fan of shonen anime in general, and that in particular was a show that rubbed me the wrong way. Throughout college, “Dragonball Z” was a punchline for badness that required no setup. I would take any opportunity to state at length that the show was dumb, and ugly, and also… uh… dumb?
Yeah, I didn’t actually have much to say about it. I just wanted everyone to agree with me about it being dumb and bad, but because I hadn’t actually sat down and watched it, my points were mostly regurgitated arguments other people had made coupled with my own knee-jerk reactions and had all the depth and substance of a crepe soaked in lukewarm water. I didn’t know about this beyond not liking it.
I still don’t really like the show now, but I’m actually much more interested in finding out why people who did like it did so. I still don’t have any particular interest in shonen anime, but unless you’re one of my personal friends, this is probably the first you’ve heard of it because it doesn’t come up most of the time. “A thing I don’t like” is not actually relevant most of the time because, well… that’s most things.
Yes, when I was a dumb college-age kid I had an inherent need to bash the show, but you know what? I grew up. I developed a personality. And I wasn’t actually changing anyone’s mind about it. I was either being an ass to people who did like a thing or signaling to people who didn’t like it that we connected over this particular trivial point, that I didn’t like something I barely understood.
Has my opinion about it changed? Do I like it now? Not really, no. But who cares? I certainly don’t.
There’s a tendency to assume that negative analysis is inherently more intellectual than positive analysis, that the true art of criticism is being down about things and examining them more harshly. And sure, I can get that, I know that when I’m looking at something as a critic I try to interrogate my positive feelings a little more harshly just so I feel like I’m giving something a fair shake. But that expands outward.
Hating a popular thing doesn’t actually make you smarter or even more intellectually capable because you hate the popular thing. It’s not a badge of honor. It’s not an accomplishment. Despite what you may like to think, a lot of smart people do in fact like things that are popular because they’re good at making a lot of people happy. That’s… why they’re popular.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no point in being critical about popular things. It is absolutely valid to have issues with, say, the way Fortnite is built around manufactured discontent and exploiting a younger playerbase. But the key here is, well… understanding. You may not share the enjoyment that the game’s fans have for it, possibly because you aren’t in fourth grade, but that doesn’t mean that joy is inauthentic. For that matter, the problem here isn’t even the gameplay but the business model that has been wedged into the heart of it.
And therein lies the real question. Critical analysis of something that’s negative can be in-depth and involved, but the depth and involvement is the important part, not the negativity. Otherwise, you’re just… well, whining about a thing you don’t like. A thing you probably don’t even understand beyond a surface level.
Pushing down someone else’s head is not going to help you tread water any more effectively. Hating things is not the same as having a personality. Declaring “this popular thing is actually Bad” is really a pretty facile argument devoid of nuance, and it speaks to… well, nothing positive.
It’s fine if you don’t like WoW, or Fortnite, or Final Fantasy XIV, or League of Legends, or Guild Wars 2, or whatever. Some of the games on that list are titles I personally dislike. But just disliking something isn’t making a stand or taking a unique stance on something. It’s just being contrary. And if you’re inclined to go around at let people know how much you dislike a specific thing just for existing, my advice to you is don’t.
Well, unless we’re talking about cryptocurrency. Trust me, understanding how that works will just make you more angry.