The Soapbox: Remembering that games are games

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The Soapbox: Remembering that games are games
RIFT Boss Fight
I think it's safe to assume that we all love games. If we didn't, I wouldn't be in this crowded, noisy coffee shop writing this and you wouldn't be blowing off some sort of important responsibility reading it. We're all here together, engaged in this somewhat-anonymous internet back-and-forth, because games have touched our lives. It sounds corny, but it's true.

For many of us, games have a deeply personal and specific meaning. We like the games we like not so much for their craftsmanship or content but for the way they engage our minds and spirits. Games create incredible, irreplaceable moments infused with emotional resonance, and it's only natural we would feel some sort of personal connection when a piece of digital entertainment syncs just right.

It is precisely this personal connection that leads many of us to act like total morons.

If you're like I am, some of your fondest memories occurred either in games or in their periphery. My best friend and I still tell stories about crazy things that happened in our World of Warcraft guild and the time he one-shotted me with a well-placed Soul Calibur kick. An ex-girlfriend and I often meet up for coffee and reminisce about the summer we spent living together charting Wind Waker's ocean. The fun, the joy, the love -- these feelings are attached to the games that accompanied them.

World of Warcraft
Chances are good you have some similar stories. Maybe you and your friends gathered every day after school to play a little Guild Wars, LAN-party style. Perhaps your significant other took a job abroad and you pulled off a long-distance relationship by blasting internet spaceships in EVE Online. Whatever your particular interests and style, I'm certain you have as many powerful memories of gaming as I do. Games, especially those enjoyed with people we care about, carry a certain weight in our hearts.

And this is where the problem arises. Because our experiences with games are so extremely important to us, we tend to take things personally when other people slight those titles. Not everyone reacts to a game in the same way, and not everyone has the same collection of experiences, so it's only a matter of time before someone trash-talks the title that you hold in such high regard. Your emotions engage, your feelings take over, and before you know it, you're writing an angry comment attacking a human being you've never met for an opinion he or she has that literally means nothing more to you than a few seconds wasted reading the text.

Internet vitriol is nothing new. You don't have to roam far to find it, even here at Massively. Just sample the comments on any post about League of Legends, World of Warcraft, or EVE Online and I'm sure you'll see plenty of folks judging entire swaths of the gaming populace by their perceived shortcomings as gamers or people. And for every angry comment spouting off hate for seemingly no reason, there's an equal and opposite rage coming from those who would defend their game's honor. It's silly, but we do it every day.

"Games don't have any inherent meaning; people have to ascribe meaning to them in the way they ascribe meaning to films, poems, books, and paintings."

In these moments, we often forget one critical point regarding those pixelated experiences we all love so much: They're just games. They don't have any inherent meaning; people have to ascribe meaning to them in the way they ascribe meaning to films, poems, books, and paintings. When someone insults a game (assuming he's not just attempting to troll), what he's really saying is, "This game has no value to me as a person." Whatever it was that was meant to land with players in that particular title missed the mark with that specific person. It's not good or bad; it's just the way things go -- no one game can be all things to all people.

Negative comments, whether intentional or not, often read as personal attacks. Since we have such a deep individual connection with a game, we don't see a negative comment for what it is. We interpret it as an insult aimed at us and our experience with the title, not at the actual game. In other words, when someone writes that World of Tanks is a pile of junk, it initially reads in my mind as, "You are stupid for enjoying this; your entertainment is invalid." It creates a visceral reaction that can't necessarily be avoided.

World of Tanks
It can be mitigated, however. What's important isn't that we limit our emotional connection to games or put ourselves in a false state of "objectivity" but that we try to remember that games are just games and that it's inevitable that someone will be unable to connect with a title that we hold close to our hearts. When that someone takes to the interwebs to write about how bad that title happens to be, we must remind ourselves that he's operating from his perspective, not calling into question the enjoyment a title has given us. Backspace the angry retort and try to understand the other person's perspective. Just breathe.

This goes both ways, of course. The next time you find yourself writing a grouchy comment about how stupid Call of Duty is or how Wizard101 is nothing more than a pay-to-win money generator, stop and consider your reasoning. Then consider why a person might play that sort of game. Just because you don't see the fun in something and can't connect to it doesn't diminish the joy of others or vice-versa. Any, and I do mean any, experience generated by a game is valid for the person who experiences it, regardless of whether or not it makes sense to you.

EVE Online
I think the entire internet could do well with a 15-minute cooldown timer on all comment threads. But since we're unlikely to see something like that implemented, we'll all have to try doing it on our own. The next time we get our feelings hurt by a random comment (which could very well happen on this very post), let's try keeping it in perspective. And the next time we feel the urge to take a verbal dump on a game someone else enjoys, let's maybe step away from the keyboard and think of why we feel the way we do and whether we're contributing to the conversation or shouting for the sake of shouting.

Games are just games. Remembering that will go a long way toward making the gaming community more civil.

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 and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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