Why Gamers React Strongly To Criticism Of Their Interests: A Personal Perspective

By Patrick Toworfe – 8th March 2016
Why Gamers React Strongly To Criticism Of Their Interests: A Personal Perspective

Like avid fans of other mediums of entertainment, gamers can be quite passionate about gaming. Whether it’s their hobby, dedicated lifestyle, or their job, gamers invest a lot of time and money into what they do. You often find that gamers can react strongly when their games are criticism, and in some cases this reaction borders on toxicity. While the extreme cannot be condoned, there is some legitimacy behind why gamers feel the way they do about criticism.

In the first place, we have to distinguish between ‘criticism’: balanced, nuanced analysis of games’ weaknesses/strengths, versus ‘hate’: harsh, condemning speech meant to demean a game. It’s very easy to conflate these two things, which is what usually leads to ‘fanboyism’. However, even fair criticism can be seen as hostile, and gets treated with a heated backlash.

It’s easy to say “what does it matter what others say about what you like?”, and this is a valid point, however some take criticism of their games to heart, more than others. Ultimately, it isn’t that all people strictly care what the other person thinks, but rather they take what is said as a reflection of themselves. Put simply, they take it personally.

This sounds childish or immature at first, but let’s unpack this concept. A lot of gamers, in spite of not all of them following the stereotype, might be introverted, lacking in self-esteem, or perhaps might have a persecution complex. Even those without these aspects still seek the one thing most people do: validation. Being acknowledged is one of the most fulfilling parts of being a human being, and without it, it’s easy to feel like we’re being snubbed.

Gaming has different levels of importance to different people (Image of a Dreamhack eSports event)

Gaming has different levels of importance to different people
(Image of a Dreamhack eSports event)

It’s why gamers try so hard to show others how legitimate gaming is, to overcome the negative image it received over the past few decades. We seek this validation from our friends, family, and even society at large, for them to simply accept that gaming is great. Now imagine how it feels when this almost never happens, and instead we receive nothing but criticism.

There’s also the fear or distrust of authority. When persons in a position of power, influence or social clout say choice words about games, people feel like they create an environment where the majority rules. Of course, no one should ever regard what someone says as gospel truth, even if they are someone popular, but the outreach of these people must be understood. Reviews are a vehicle for this to happen: while no review can be truly objective, the subjective nature is almost irrelevant, because when enough people follow what something says, it almost becomes the standard. So if a game is commonly panned for being bad, despite several gamers enjoying it, people will regard it as ‘bad’ in a general sense.

What this inevitably means for the gamer is a feeling of exclusion, of not being part of the ‘right side of history’. When someone criticizes a gamer’s interest, it cuts like a mental knife and heads straight to their psyche. Even when the criticism is fair, it feels as if the person is de-legitmizing someone’s experience. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and not everyone can like something. Regardless, seeing others not agree with your interest makes it seem like your interest has no value, hence the strong feedback gamers give. This can explain why people get so mad when a game doesn’t receive a high score, because to them it’s as if the reviewer is saying that the game is worth less than what the gamer believes it deserves.

No one wants to feel left out (Image from Minecon 2015)

No one wants to feel left out
(Image from Minecon 2015)

This is often why you’ll see gamers rely heavily on a sense of community, and less on authority. Authority still plays a large part in communities, and people often look up to gaming figureheads who embody their ideals and similar interests. The community acts as a way for like-minded gamers to equally appreciate their interests, and share their enjoyment with even more people. As a result, this can sometimes lead to dramatic tribalism, where gamers draw lines in the sand in defence of games, gaming consoles, brand names and so on. As always, the extreme exists wherever there is a divide in thought, and it tends to make the entire group look bad, which is unfortunate.

For the most part, people can ignore what criticism or hate that their interests receive, and it takes a large amount of mental fortitude to accomplish this. Gamers spend so much time with their games, more than any other media they consume. A game costs anywhere from $1 to $100, and the gameplay you’ll get lasts from a few minutes to hundreds of hours. The dread of experiencing this personal investment be disregarded by either a peer, authority figure, or out-group, is enough to get people locked in heated arguments. As gamers, it’s our responsibility to be mindful of this eventuality when interacting with our fellow gaming fans.

Patrick Toworfe

Dedicated gamer, member of the Fighting Game Community and sometimes a hobby photographer. Follow me @JusticeSoulTuna

  • Mr0303

    That was a good read.

    Indeed gamers’ attachment to games can be explained by the time and money investment. Gaming is part of our lives – games are unique experience combining art, technology and human involvement. Any attack on games can be seen as an attack on one’s character, which causes the fiery response in order to defend them. This can be toxic like it often happens in platform wars, but it can also be beneficial when outsiders like Jack Thompson and Anita Sarkeesian try to smear games.

    • Patrick Toworfe

      Thanks for reading. Great insight in your comment.