Let me start by saying that, as an Englishman, I am no stranger to the art of complaining. As a race, the British people have made a lifestyle out of whinging about anything and everything. It seems to provide us with a twisted sense of satisfaction. As I first drafted this, the UK was in the midst of a moderate dusting of snow, which the tabloid media insisted on portraying as the dawn of the apocalypse. The Great British public knew the difference of course. But perpetuating the false claims that the mild inconvenience outside our door was, in fact, a raging blizzard, helped to facilitate us in our need to be able to moan about something.
And yet, when it comes to griping about games, the British certainly aren’t alone. Across the globe, no matter which gaming website you visit, one of the recurring characters you will find is one which I have dubbed “Bloggus Miserablis”; a peculiar species indeed. Their sole purpose in life, it seems, is to infect others with their negativity. To get their acidic opinions across, no matter what. I’m talking, of course, about those people who stalk forums and message boards worldwide, with what seems to be the sole intent of picking a fight. Now, I’m not going to go into a rant per se. It would be far too easy to invoke the clichés of sad, bitter 35-year old virgins, bashing away at their…err, keyboards in frustration at the world. My intention here is to try and dissect Bloggus Miserablis more thoroughly than that; to work out why it is they act like they do. Why is it that their opinions have to be so definite, so…inflexible?
“I’m talking, of course, about those people who stalk forums and message boards worldwide, with what seems to be the sole intent of picking a fight”
It is rare that you encounter one of them who is willing to consider the views of others at all, without simply pouring scorn on them. It is all worryingly reminiscent of the type of religious intolerance that has been causing violent conflict for centuries, in that “my opinion is the one true opinion, all others are false”. Admittedly no one’s immolating themselves or torturing people over Eurogamer’s review of Arkanoid on the DS, but you can see the similarities.
Bloggus Miserablis is not a genus unique to gaming, not by a long shot. Anyone reading Internet articles on movies, music, TV or sport will be instantly familiar with the nasty little comments that these self-serving parasites use to “get one over” on the people they consider their peers. However, be in no doubt that the gaming variety of Bloggus Miserablis has a particularly voracious appetite for destruction. Clearly I’m not talking about everyone who comments on articles or forum threads, as there are plenty of polite, intelligent people out there who want to share their opinions, their likes and dislikes, etc. I want to make it clear at this point that it is a very particular breed of individuals I’m targeting here.
“For many, Mirror’s Edge is the gaming equivalent of S & M, you either love it or hate it”
We should also take into account that some people out there simply revel in winding people up, deliberately making outrageous comments to lure people into a heated debate, even if they don’t truly believe what they say. This can be equally annoying, but I must admit I can see the humour in driving usually level-headed people to distraction.
Certainly there are plenty of games out there that polarise opinions quite dramatically. Let’s take Mirror’s Edge as a recent example. For many it is the gaming equivalent of S & M, you either love it or hate it. Both standpoints are equally valid, there is no right or wrong opinion, because it is just that: an opinion. Your personal viewpoint CANNOT be wrong. It can be morally suspect, intellectually outdated, or conflict entirely with someone else’s, but it can never be wrong. Which is why it sticks in my craw when people (however well or poorly informed) don’t just disagree, but actively criticise someone for having an opinion contrary to their own. Debate the validity of the reasoning behind their point of view, sure, but you cannot account for other people’s tastes.
“At the very least you must give a viable explanation of the reasons for your opinion, or how will anyone be able to take your argument seriously?”
This spewing of bile as an alternative to any sort of informed opinion has thankfully not crept into “proper” games journalism to any great degree, and I for one firmly believe that Thunderbolt as well as many other sites and publications can take pride in the fact that impartial evaluations combined with a passion for gaming make for entertaining and informative reading. This point should not really even need stating, yet in other areas of “journalism” this kind of spiteful subjectiveness has become par for the course. Take celebrity gossip columns for example. Magazines and newspaper articles are dedicated solely to which famous women suffer from cellulite, or who’s been airbrushed or looks worse without make-up. This leads to more sniping at easy targets by the readers of said articles. Fairly innocuous? Maybe, but it is indicative of the trend set by the publications themselves of making it “ok” to slate a complete stranger, for no good reason.
Although I’ve digressed slightly, this all feeds into one of my central points; that people seem to think it’s “ok” to just attack someone else’s opinion without any justification whatsoever. If you think a game is awful then fine, but that doesn’t mean that someone who thinks the game is fantastic is wrong. At the very least you must give a viable explanation of the reasons for your opinion, or how will anyone be able to take your argument seriously? Perhaps part of the reason lies in the assumptions made of other users. Some “serious” gamers assume that everyone else reading the same articles as them has a similar base of experience, and so feel comfortable posting “dis review iz like bullsh*Ts yeah” type comments, as they believe everyone will pick up on the same things that they have. But this is simply not enough, and just ends up contributing to the general malaise found on too many message boards.
Maybe the reason many of these comments are written in such an aggressive manner lies in the fact that the perpetrators are hiding behind a sense of anonymity, safe in the knowledge that they could be abusing a 7-feet tall kickboxer, and he’s never going to track them down. Unfortunately, as Jay & Silent Bob so succinctly put it, “you are the ones who are the ball-lickers”. However much Bloggus Miserablis thinks it is going to come up trumps by throwing puerile pseudo-criticism at anyone who will listen, they are in fact the ones who are being laughed at by every right-minded person who views their inane comments.
Constructive criticism? Yes, please. It encourages even the best of writers to be better still. Alternative opinions? Welcome them with open arms. They can persuade intelligent people to think about ideas that differ from their own. But argument for argument’s sake? If nothing else, think about your own self-image and engage your brain before letting your fingers do the talking.
As always, comments on this article are greatly encouraged…