The Soapbox: Rooting for the fail

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|08.02.11

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The Soapbox: Rooting for the fail
Disclaimer: The Soapbox column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.

I'm going to start this with a strange admission: I love MMOs. I love them as a lumpy, imperfect collective; I love specific ones immensely, and I love being a fan of the genre. I feel that I have to clarify my stance when I sometimes -- often -- see people who apparently follow MMOs quite closely become a neverending fount of bile and venom toward these games. Apparently, not all MMO fans love MMOs, and that perplexes me.

Odd as that may be, whatever, I can accept that we live in a topsy-turvy world. What I really don't get are the folks who hate specific games so greatly that their entire bodies and minds have been honed into a dedicated game-loathing entity. Mention that title anywhere on a forum, a blog, or in a post, and these people come out to scream through clenched teeth how this MMO sucks beyond the telling of it and that we are all fools, fools for getting anywhere near it.

They aren't just content to say their piece and be done with it, oh no; their vitriol literally knows no end. They will rant, they will attack, they will laugh with derision, and above all else, they will root for the fail. Their greatest desire in life is for this specific game to die so that they can rend their clothes and let out a blood-curdling victory howl. And I don't get it. I feel like an alien in their presence, perplexed at their rage and fixation. Why do people root for MMOs to fail with such intensity? What motivates them and what do they hope to achieve?

A small difference of opinion

Let's back up a second before I start painting with too broad of an argument brush and clarify. I'm not talking about anyone who's ever not liked an MMO, as that would probably be all of us. It happens. We burn out or just don't care for a title for whatever reason, and that's that. I'm not even speaking of those who want to lay out in a detailed essay why Game X doesn't succeed and why Game Y does. Being part of a hobby means that you debate these things as a matter of fact.

What I'm talking about are the crusaders, the shriekers, the bitter and malcontent posters who simply have it in for a game. These are the gamers who don't let a good argument pass them by, particularly if they can start it themselves. These are the people who, if a positive piece of news about an MMO is released, will be the first in line to say why it's actually a sign of the game's imminent demise. These are the voices that predict failure repeatedly before, during and after a game's launch, confident that given a long enough timeline, they'll be proven right eventually.

I've seen them in every MMO forum I've visited and in almost every game-related post here on Massively. There's no one-and-done philosophy of taking a stance with them, and there's no mercy toward those who think differently. Even though these are, let's face it, just games, they can't let it go. They want the game to fail, they want others to stop playing them, and more than anything else, they want you to agree with them.

Why do they do it? I have a theory that most of these folks fall into one of three categories. The truth is probably more complex, but in my observations, these three work for a good deal of the trolls out there.

The jilted lover

These are the gamers who were fans -- perhaps even super-fans -- of this MMO, followed it for a long time, and probably played it for even longer. But something went wrong along the line, such as a game-breaking patch or just nasty burnout, and they've flipped from affectionate lover to bitter enemy.

I can understand this, since I've been there. You probably have too, right? You and an MMO have a falling out, you move on, but some anger and resentment linger. You need to get it out, to drain the wound. This is why I don't mock "I'm quitting" posts like so many do, because I understand the need to put into words why this game's no longer for you. It helps you move on with your playing career once you get that closure.

But sometimes saying it once isn't enough, because there's been a real or imagined personal slight. It's like breaking up with someone only to badmouth that person to everyone you know for years afterward because you can't get over the hurt. It's somewhat more pathetic when it's a video game and not a live human being that's causing this, but I don't doubt it happens.

The insecure advocate

As faulty as I'm sure my observational powers are, I sense that there's a strong current of insecurity that runs through our little industry. When we latch onto a game we love, we want to protect it and support it -- and defend it from attacks, real or imaginary.

The problem (and this is probably best left for a different Soapbox) is that we are still very fractured as an overarching MMO community, clinging to specific games while not lending support and encouragement to the ones we don't. The insecure advocate is a ranter who wants their game -- which could be either live or in development -- to be Number One, and that means everyone else must go down in flames.

Again, this is understandable to a degree. Fans like to attach themselves to specific teams, shows, and franchises, cheering for them while booing the others. The thing here is that such actions only serve to hurt MMOs instead of help any, as they stir up anger and dissolve friendships. It's also completely futile, since there's no proof that by tearing down all these other games you'll be helping yours. I know that I'm not going to suddenly jump on board another MMO just because a fan of that game tells me that what I'm playing is crap. And yet that's what's being said, over and over again.

The prophet of doom

Unlike the first two types, prophets have no love left in them, just a black ooze that resembles seven-day-old coffee. These are the folks who simply cannot be pleased by anything, no matter what, and yet they're still hanging around. Why? I think it's because they get great pleasure out of saying, "I told you so!"

Prophets will moan that MMOs were better back in the day and are all crap now. They will set themselves up as arch-nemeses for developers, shredding anything a studio might say about an upcoming or existing title. Sometimes you get the feeling that they desire this perfect, unattainable MMO that should be made but isn't, which is why they stoke the fires of their hatred toward game studios. How dare they work on this game when they should be doing something completely different? This title should fail just on principle! DOOM!

Live and let live

Right there are four words I have to remind myself of anytime I want to spew a little meanness at an MMO. Live and let live. The truth is that there are always people who really like any given game, people who are playing for the enjoyment of it, and what right do I have to try to convince them otherwise? I may not like an MMO, I may put down into words why, but the spirit behind it shouldn't be to ruin the fun players are having.

Ultimately, there's a lot of futility in these rehashed rants, because at the end of the day they're just ineffectual arguments that will probably never convince anyone to stop liking something they do, and will make people avoid you over time. Nobody likes the "I told you so!" guy or gal, after all.

So I ask that when you (not you, of course, the person behind you) sit down to write your 50th post about why RIFT, or Vanguard, or The Old Republic, or Star Trek Online, or Hello Kitty, or RuneScape, or whatever sucks, think about what you're trying to accomplish. Are you being part of a smart debate? Are you sharing an interesting viewpoint? Or are you being the Grinch hating all those Whos down in Whoville who dare to enjoy something you don't? And if you keep rooting for the fail, what happens when everything fails? Will you be happy then?

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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