Food For Thought: New Generation, Same Fanboy Rage
Fanboys. Dear lord, fanboys. Why did the human race go so wrong when it allowed fanboys to come into existence? Mind you, I’m not simply talking about the kinds of people who simply love a game or movie series and leave it at that. The type of people I’m talking about are those who obsess over a particular brand, and will fight and argue with people who say that said brand is not all that good. In a world where we have multiple brands, and in a country where we are allowed to share opinions about what we like or dislike, there are going to be people who may dislike the thing that you like. Fair enough, right? I know that there are a fair amount of people out there who dislike Ender’s Game (either because they don’t like science fiction or because they disagree with the author’s worldview on gay people … more on that later), but that doesn’t bother me. Why? Because it’s not the end of the world if this happens because I know that I will still treasure the novel despite what others think. Sadly, fanboys don’t operate this way.
Observe the wild fanboy in its natural habitat.
One thing that plagued the last generation of gaming consoles (the Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3 era) was that you couldn’t talk about anything game-related on the internet without somebody coming into the comment section to complain about how stupid you are for not giving their favorite product a 10/10. As an example, in our Fanboy Idiocy episode I brought up an unnerving piece of news where Christopher Nolan/Batman fanboys spilled a ton of bile on reviewers who had an early screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the then-highly anticipated conclusion to the BatNolan trilogy. For those reviewers who gave the film less-than perfect scores, they were greeted with death threats/threats of violence. RottenTomatoes.com even had to shut down the comments section for that particular film due to the fanboy reactions their critics were receiving:
‘The job of policing the comments became more than my staff could handle for that film, so we stopped the comments altogether,’ Matt Atchity, the [RottenTomatoes.com] editor-in-chief, told the Associated Press. ‘It just got to be too much hate based on reactions to reviews of movies that people hadn’t even seen.’
“Commentary: Batman fanboys go too far” – Kirk Baird, toledoblade.com
All of this over negative reviews of a Batman film that the fanboys had not even seen yet. I wish this was an isolated incident where fanboys act like this, but sadly this incident is not the first nor the last where fanboys act like complete sociopaths over something so inconsequential. For example, there is a youtube user who goes by the name of the BlackBusterCritic who posts special segments of his show called “Anti-Xbox One News.” While he has a history of ranting about numerous fanbases on the internet (like the Sonic or Capcom fanbases) he generally tears things apart because of anti-consumer policies (like when he tore into Capcom about releasing an unfinished game). Thus, when he ran his segments about the Xbox One, he was discussing the very anti-consumer policies that Microsoft is currently espousing. Guess what happened? He received text messages and phonecalls that threatened the lives of him and his family, people sent him pictures of him from childhood, and they showed proof that they had his personal information. What prompted fanboys to exhibit this kind of sociopathic (and illegal) behavior? They wanted the BlackBusterCritic to stop talking badly about the Xbox One. That’s it. Even if the BlackBusterCritic uses extremely inflammatory language that may piss people off, guess what? That’s entirely within his right to speak like that. What’s more, being inflammatory and speaking poorly about your favorite thing definitely does not justify threatening his life or harassing him. The video can be found here.
So even though I admit that I’m not being entirely objective with the introduction to this article, this kind of behavior has been a pet peeve of mine for a long while. With that said, I wanted to look into why fanboys act the way they do, and why they get so enraged when somebody speaks ill about their favorite things. At first glance, we probably think “There’s no reason for it! These people are just insane!” As much as we might think so from the death threats described above, this is actually not the case. See, there are two specific psychological reasons that I want to touch on that can explain why fanboys act the way they do. Specifically, a) fanboys may be acting under a tribal mindset (thus creating the Xbone Tribe and the PS4 Tribe); and b) people speaking unfavorably about a fanboy’s favorite brand actually equates to a personal attack against them.
Under the first theory listed above, the extreme brand loyalty that we see with fanboys may derive from an evolutionary trait left over from the beginning of human history. As clinical psychologist Dr. Abigail Clark wrote:
“Human beings are social creatures and needing to belong is hard-wired into our brains along with our survival instincts . . . Whilst the forms that social groups or communities have taken have changed over the years, they still serve the same function. It is from these social groups that we develop a sense of identity and gaining this identity from a brand or corporate entity is not so different from gaining it from your geographical locality or your local football team.”
“The psychology of fanboys, explained by a professional” – David Houghton, Dr. Abigail Clark, www.gamesradar.com
If we look at how Microsoft and Sony fanboys act, we can definitely see how Dr. Clark’s theory, known as the Social Identity Theory, fits into the grand scheme of things. These fanboys have created communities where they defend their favorite brand, and all lash out against the “enemy tribes.” However, what makes a fanboy’s bond so strong with his community is the fact that part of his identity is defined by the console he plays. Additionally, when we as human beings want to belong to a community, we want to be part of the “superior community,” so when we believe our group is more superior, there has to be an inferior group:
A group isn’t high status unless there’s a low status group for it to be contrasted against. So not only do some people identify themselves as Xbox fans, they attack PlayStation owners in order to raise their status.
“The Psychology of a Fanboy: Why You Keep Buying The Same Stuff” – Thorin Klosowski, www.lifehacker.com
Thus, when Xbox One fanboys see that Playstation 4 fanboys are attacking Microsoft, then a strange “tribal warfare” breaks out between the two groups because each side is convinced that their brand is superior, and they are willing to duke it out just to prove it. Even if, minus a few exclusives on each console, they are the exact same machine with a different coat of paint.
The second theory listed above also provides a compelling argument for why fanboys act the way they do: because of the fact that part of their identities are formed by what brand they are loyal to, then attacks on that brand may equate to an attack against the fanboy himself. In an experiment done by the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 200 volunteers were tested to see if there was a link between self-esteem and brand loyalty. The experiment demonstrated that the more people identified with a particular brand (ie fanboys), the worse their self-esteem is hit when said brand is criticized. This theory ties into the previously-discussed Social Identity Theory because part of a fanboy’s identity is tied to their favorite brand.
Thus, when a fanboy’s brand is attacked, the fanboy will take it as a personal attack against himself. Additionally, if their favorite brand starts to fail, a fanboy will take this as a personal failure. When fanboys come to defend their favorite brands with a substantial amount of vigor, it is as if they are defending themselves. Finally, when fanboys are slighted by their favorite corporations, they see this as a personal betrayal (thus the strong reaction against Microsoft when it announced the Xbox One, complete with all of its planned DRM). For more information on this study, you can look here.
Thus why Star Wars is such a sensitive topic for a lot of fanboys.
At the end of the day, although fanboys are generally an obnoxious bunch, there may be a valid psychological reason for why they act the way they do. If we apply the theories above to any Xbox or Playstation fanboy that we encounter, we might see that there could be some truth to these scientific findings. Of course, these theories don’t at all condone the abuse that fanboys subject people to when they feel their favorite console is being attacked, especially if said abuse rises to the level of death threats or leaking personal information for the whole internet to see. Still, I never thought that there could be a rational explanation for why the youtube comment sections are cesspools of fangasms, but life is stranger than fiction.