Competitive gaming in an e-sports sense has been around for a while, but only recently started gaining momentum in the popular sphere. With great new games like Overwatch making people more invested than ever before in the realm of digital sports, and old favorites like Starcraft and League of Legends still drawing massive crowds, watching the best gamers of the world throw their wits, reflexes, and talent against each other for cash prizes is an astonishingly absorbing sight. But theres another type of competitive gaming thats been around for even longer, and while its still quite the spectacle, its far less exciting: the competition where fans of different games or systems clash in battle as they try to decry the other while simultaneously prove their own preference to be superior.
Its been around for time immortal, across countless spheres of art: and while movie goers, book freaks, or music fanatics could debate among themselves who they consider to be the best of the best, its rarely taken to the fanatical extremes that you see in video games. At least, not in most cases (but well get to that in a bit). Video games and gamers as a whole have an internalized tribalization thats been a part of us since the 1990s, shaping the way we interact, the way we grow, and of course, how we play. And, like all things, this has been both a really good and really bad thing.
Its certainly made gaming a unique hobby to pursue.
A gamers natural drive to be competitive with the tribe they choose to associate themselves with pretty much goes back to August 1990 with the release of the infamous (and, admittedly, super clever) Sega Does with Nintendont ad campaign run by the folks who would birth the famous blue hedgehog and a few House of the Dead arcade cabinets. While competitive gaming machines had been around for as long as thereve been arcades, this would mark the first time I could find where two companies directly butted heads, sparking what you could call the first console war. And while console war is a term very rarely thrown about these days, in a lot of ways, its as alive and violent as ever before, even if the battlefield (and the battle lines) have changed dramatically.
And theres a reason for that: it was volatile fuse to light.
Nowadays, its a reputation we try to disassociate ourselves with, but back in those days gaming really was primarily a hobby for children. And the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were decidedly marketed towards that audience. Already, the playground was ripe with discussion about who would win in fights and what sports team was better, and now, on Segas urging, there was another subject to debate: which game console, and what games, were better. It certainly didnt take much egging for it to happen, it may have happened naturally automatically, but suddenly houses were defined by which console they had and elevated to near-divinity if they happened to have more than one.
The console wars were fierce for sure, and I think the fact that it was primarily kids responsible for it was a big reason why PC gaming, which was the market that was more for adults at the time, was largely absent from the contest. Not only were they probably unaware of it, due to their preferred hardware of choice being rather separate from the consoles, but thanks to the lack of easily accessed internet they didnt have to defend their PCs on a larger stage. But if it was bad back when it was just Sega and Nintendo, it only got worse when the PlayStation entered the mix.
Of course, the console wars wouldnt really enter common vernacular until 2004
, with the release of Microsofts Xbox, Sonys Playstation 2, and Nintendos Nintendo Gamecube. I dont think I remember a time when the term was more commonly known or understood, even by people outside the gaming sphere. And it makes sense it would be the most dramatic time of fighting, with the kids from 1990 having all grown up, and the (at the time) modern kids getting more access than ever before to the internet. It was not a time where any ads as direct as Segas now-famous line were ever produced by the consoles, but it was clear the three, particurally the Xbox and Playstation 2, were at each others throats, racing for exclusive titles and deals. Even Nintendo partnered with Capcom to try to get an advantage, 5 high-profile exclusive games two of which would be canceled, one would go unacknowledged, and the other two (Killer 7 and Resident Evil 4) being ported to other consoles before long.
Youd think the Playstation 2, which sold more copies and lasted longer than any other console to date, would have ended the console war. But no, it was actually the Wii that ended the console war or, more specifically, changed the direction of that war. Because when the Nintendo released the Wii, it suddenly wasnt about which console had the better games, that wasnt the fight Nintendo was winning: suddenly it became a question of demographics, and thats when the console war became less fun and innocent and took a decidedly dark turn. Sure, it started fun enough, with hardcore vs casual (a war the casual gamers werent even aware they were fighting), but it didnt stay that way which is what takes us to the state of things today, where its not enough to just back a console: now, people back genres, franchises, and even political movements
, and use them to both inform their purchasing decisions and attack other players.
Things turned vicious fast.
What sparked this particular article is one such example of tribalization gone bad, where The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fans decided to go crazy:
not only on Jim Sterling, which we discussed last week, but also on competitive open-world console exclusive title, Horizon Zero Dawn, shelling the game on Metacritic and vehemently demanding that the game is far inferior to their own preferred game. But that, sadly, wasnt the only example of this tribalization at its worst recently: we also saw a cabal of lowlifes begin a harassment campaign against the female animators working on Mass Effect: Andromeda, mocking them and saying that they were at fault for the games perceived graphical mess-ups.
Male vs female never used to be one of the tribes that gamers would war into (although this is a rather one-sided war, you dont see any coordinated attacks by female gamers against the males out there), but its the result, direct or otherwise, of games using exclusives and marketing to lump groups together and launch them at each other. It became so common, and so nicely satisfied one of humanities most basic, ugliest needs, that long after companies stopped doing it aggressively, gamers just kept doing it themselves. The us vs them mentality is so prevalent in gaming that you cant even enter the medium without being exposed to it in some form or fashion. And while that kind of attitude certainly exists in other mediums, its not nearly as decisive, or as fragmented. You dont argue over how to read a book (maybe you could debate Kindle vs Paper, if you were bored), but we as gamers have that to fight over, as well as a long history where things such as age, race, and sex were seen as grounds for deciding if one could really be a gamer or not.
And the frustrating part is, its probably not going to go away.
We could (and we will) fight against the stigmatization and discrimination thats encouraged by this tribalization, but even in the best-case scenario and were able to wipe out all the sexism and racism that plagues our culture (which would be quite the feat, considering its not even gone in the real world), that tribalism is still hard-coded into our systems. So next time theres a big game release that might threaten or look similar to another well-loved game, tribes will form, lines will be drawn, and someone is going to start hurling death threats. But hey, maybe in this future we could all be together, of every color, class, sex and creed, and unite as one against those jerks who prefer Battlefield: War of 1818 over Call of Duty: Infinite Forever Times Infinity Plus Everything. How dare their taste be different from ours?
But then, lamenting this is akin to lamenting human nature. As long as people are different, well find stupid (or not so stupid, in some cases) ways to divide ourselves and attach each other. And sure, we could get rid of the religion, art, nationality, and other factors that separate us to reach true uniformity but then wed kind of be losing what makes us human in the first place, you know?
So fine. Maybe I spoke too soon. Keep fighting over stupid, inconsequential stuff, you crazy tribes you. Just dont be jerks about it and well all be good.
and seriously stop attacking gender and race. Thats not cool.