Taking Fandom Personal – The Need For Thick Skins

It’s an odd state of affairs we nerds find ourselves in.  Pop culture has turned the tide and the very things for which we were once ridiculed is now in the mainstream.  As such, we no longer have to hide our nerdy nature or keep it within niche events/outings.  While embracing our passions more thoroughly becomes acceptable, a troubling trend continues to rise: the shaming and harassment those who dare not agree with our fandom 110%. 

Simply put, an increasing number of fans have forgotten how to set aside their passions and view things in an objective way.  Instead of opening their minds to discussion, any disagreement or criticism (no matter how minor) is taken as a PERSONAL affront.  This inability to separate the thing they love from personal matters is giving rise to a worrying amount of media critics/personalities being singled out not only for harassment, but genuine threats.  

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It’s sad when these actions are even a thought in someone’s head, let alone a fairly large number of people.  We all have things we’re passionate about, but being a blind follower is never a smart idea.  Just because something is associated with the thing you love, doesn’t mean it’s perfect, nor does it require such staunch defending. 

Plainly speaking, if someone’s negative opinion manages to affect your personal enjoyment of a thing or your overall quality of life…you’re doing EVERYTHING wrong.  

Over the last few months, major media releases have begun hitting the market and eager fans have had a mix of interesting response to how they are received by the general public/media professionals.  What I’m talking about today isn’t a new thing, Hell, we saw death threats over The Dark Knight Rises reviews back in 2012!  We saw more of it with the release of Grand Theft Auto V, and most recently with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and several others.  The impetus for this article, however, stems from the release of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4, so I’ll be using that as more of an example than others. 

Uncharted 4 Story Trailer

The game’s launch isn’t unlike any other game release, though it was easily one of the most highly anticipated ones.  It’s the fourth game in one of Sony’s (and gaming in general) most impressive franchises.  Since the release of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007, the series has continually set the bar on video game storytelling, while providing some amazing gameplay experiences.  On top of being the fourth and final (presumably) entry in the much beloved franchise, it also serves as Naughty Dog’s follow-up to The Last of Us.  That’s a tough act to follow, and there’s plenty of expectation that comes with it.  

One stunning trailer after another, coupled with a few heartbreaking delays, and previous goodwill have created a gigantic hype machine.  Fan reactions have been a mix of adoration, exaltation, meh, and even a little dissatisfaction.  This is to be expected, but the concerning part is how some fans are reacting to others’ negative (or PERCEIVED negative) reactions to the game. 

Over the last couple weeks, as reviews for Uncharted 4 began to hit the web, critics in general seemed to enjoy the game.  In fact, most gave the title a solid score, but some aren’t happy about that.  Seems crazy, right?  You’d think someone excited about a game would be thrilled with decent reviews, but nope, they want perfection. 

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A couple weeks ago, VideoGamer.com posted an 8 out of 10 review for A Thief’s End; a more than respectable score.  Yet they found themselves inundated with comments about how horrible the author’s review was and plenty of harsh name-calling was bandied about.  There was plenty of vitriol to go around, so last week the site released a hilarious “apology” for the review, which sums up everything wrong about the situation.   

We saw the exact same thing happen to movie reviewers who didn’t give Batman v. Superman a great score, and (accurately) pointed out the film’s flaws.  They were called unprofessional, “in Marvel’s pocket”, and several other derogatory remarks, and actual death threats, that don’t bear repeating.  Many critics were swarmed online and harassed for voicing their opinions, simply because they didn’t agree with those fans’ ideas.  

This week, I became aware of an online PETITION to have Metacritic remove a review of Uncharted 4 from their system…Because it pulled their rating down too low.  This is part of what the petitioner has to say: 

“I believe U4 is one of the greatest games ever created and it is my personal favorite for sure , although i can justify some reviewers giving it a 9 or an 8. But this is a utter disgrace. Gene , because you were the only respectable staff that responded to this nonsense , you should remove this review fro the metacritic , and post a new , sensible one that can justify its existence. Your Washington post for Christ’s Sake , not a 12-year-old’s diary. Treat the game with professionalism and respect.”

Granted, he goes on to explain that because the Washington Post didn’t actually give a numerical score in their review, Metacritic shouldn’t assign it one randomly and count it.  I can understand that part as it’s something that legitimately doesn’t make sense, but the majority of the petitioner’s diatribe chooses to focus on the critic in particular.  

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The fact that it has as much support as it does is mind-boggling.  I mean how could we, as nerds, go from gripping our Pokemon/Magic cards tightly as we’re mocked and pummelled by cruel bullies, to getting our feelings hurt enough over a REVIEW to form a petition?  It’s hard to take such things seriously when it reeks of being the irate ramblings of someone who hasn’t ever had to deal with a real problem/hardship in his entire life.  In a world where so many real issues need attention right now, this person’s petitioning for a better Metacritic ranking on his favorite franchise…It smacks of the kind of entitlement fan communities have seen all too much lately.  

As a nerd and critic myself, it’s hard for me to ignore these things.  On one hand, as a passionate geek, I despise seeing such pettiness being spewed by others.  It brings a large amount of ridicule on the community in general and makes everyone look bad.  Things like this petition is what makes it hard for me to say, “yeah, I’m a gamer and love Uncharted.”  I don’t want to be associated with these nuts who seem to take any and all criticism of something they love as a personal attack. 

On the other hand, as a critic, I loathe seeing fellow reviewers have to deal with this level of nonsense, and I wonder when my time will come to have to protect members of my team from threats…It’s a legitimate problem.  What started off as a bunch of “trolls”, has grown to be an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away.  

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There’s no easy fix I can think of, but the best way to fight back, is to ensure you are not part of the problem either.  Here’s some handy tips to keep in mind: 

* Critics of any kind shouldn’t be subjected to such behavior/treatment for offering up their opinions and ideas on things.  After all, that’s what we’re here to DO.  That’s kind of our job.  Crazy, as it may seem, the purpose of a critic (and reviews in general) are to provide insight and ideas about the quality of a product.  

* Objectivity is the way to go, and believe it or not… MOST reviewers do their best to remain unbiased.  Being objective means being able to see and articulate both the good and bad within a product.  

* Yelling at people to be more objective by insisting they agree with your opinions, is not, in fact, objective. 

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* To go along with that, opinions aren’t facts.  Simply because you say, “This [insert property] is the greatest thing ever, that’s a fact” doesn’t make it a fact. 

* It’s okay for people to have differing opinions from you. Name-calling and questioning their qualifications says a lot more about YOU than it does about them. 

* If you don’t trust a review, form your own opinions on a product for yourself.  It’s really that simple. Also, feel free to NOT bitch about it later.  

*Don’t feed into the hate.  Realistically, the people spouting off this ire aren’t open to discourse.  They’re closed-minded, and arguing with them only makes them more confident in their position.  Calling them out for BS is great, just don’t devolve into a back and forth mud-slinging debate with them. 

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As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I truly understand having so much personal investment in a franchise, that you’re desperate for it to succeed.  Its this passion which makes us great and leads to some wonderful things (raising money for charity, getting early screenings for terminal fans, etc), but this banality shouldn’t be suffered.  

If you’re among those who feel outrage when another disagrees, or makes negative comments, about your fandom…It might be time to take a step back.  It’s not worth the fight.  It’s a fictional universe and we should all be able to enjoy it to whichever degree we choose.  

If nerds/geeks as a culture could survive decades of teasing, genuine bullying, and hateful remarks…Someone merely disliking a thing we enjoy shouldn’t be treated as a call to arms.  Let’s calm down and be happy we can enjoy the things that we do.