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{TGE} Editorial: Fan Communities

The Gaming Experience

Editorial: Fan Communities

Games are determined by how well they are made, how enjoyable they may be, and how innovative they have been designed. However, there is one more aspect that has a significant impact on a person's experience with a game that is largely overlooked due in part to its changing state and also due to the problem of applicability. This element is the fan community, and can often be the most significant motivation for choosing to embrace or avoid a game depending on the player. Backlash, hype, and cult fanbases have been huge parts for the reception of certain games. The backlash against some of Nintendo's newer games will likely prevent some of the "true fans" from giving them a second thought, while no one can deny that most of Halo 3's success can be attributed to hype. And cult fanbases often segregate players and can lead to a different level of experience.

As a gamer, I've become familiar with a few fan communities and while there are universals, there are also differences between communities that have shaped the way I've perceived certain games and inevitably how much I've enjoyed them. I am going to focus on the "broken fanbase" of Nintendo franchises, the "rabid fanbase" of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and the "cult fanbase" of the Touhou series. These fanbase labels are by no means static, as Sonic the Hedgehog is arguably the most broken fanbase I have ever observed, but it is also more characterized by the crazy fans than any of the others.

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Rabid Fanbase - Sonic the Hedgehog

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The Sonic community has become very divided over the years, and each division reacts very strongly for what they believe to be right. Newer fans will see others as oldbies who live off nostalgia and can't take another's opinion. Older fans will see newbies as retards who are can't criticize the newer games because they haven't played the true Sonic games. You have fans who prefer the sidescrolling gameplay, fans who prefer the open-world gameplay of Sonic Adventrue, and those who prefer the on-rails gameplay of Secret Rings. You have fans who live off of fangames and fanfictions, you have fans who prefer the absurd "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" tv show over the more serious "Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM)" or the more modern "Sonic X". You have comic book devotees who are fans of the crazy stories from Archie or Fleetway. You also have shipping (Sonic x Tails, Sonic x Sally, or Sonic x Amy) and differing interpretations (Shadow is emo, antihero, or a freedom fighter?).

In a fan community that is this diverse, what is the ruling aspect? The answer is how extreme these perspectives can be. If you are in an retro community, then the last thing you should do is recommend "Sonic 06", "Shadow the Hedgehog", or in some cases "Sonic Unleashed" and "Sonic and the Black Knight". If you are in a younger community, "Sonic 3" elitism is going to get you in a bit of trouble. If you don't think a certain way, you are going to be isolated and you are going to be totally lost in the community. You might have a shot at finding another community with a different stance, but you will not be able to associate from some fans if you are as rabid as they are about an opposing opinion.

Shadow the Hedgehog
If you want to recommend this game, be prepared to pay the price. The only thing Sonic fans hate more than this game and the people that play it is the one that came after it.

How does this affect the gaming experience? I can get an awful lot of enjoyment out of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic and the Black Knight when I am playing the games. Otherwise however, I feel like the community (even the more generous and fair-minded ones) are hazing me for so much as having anything to do with these games. My response actually results in leaving the discussion when the Sonic fans start talking about Sonic. As such, as huge a role Sonic plays in my gaming history and as much as I still like it, I tend to feel isolated where others may feel strengthened by the strong and rabid difference of opinion. My experience is one of backlash. This may not affect you the same way, but it is something you should definitely pay attention to if you want to consider how much you can get out of the Sonic franchise or any franchise with a rabid fanbase. (it will depend on how rabid a fan you are and how you function in rabid communities if you are associated with other fans at all)

The Sonic fanbase is a little bit more difficult due to also being a broken fanbase, which means that it is simply too diverse for there to be any universal appeal (more detail below). However, broken or not, a rabid fanbase is going to show the same signs of rather harsh standards and inarguable opinions.

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Broken Fanbase - Nintendo

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While its not always quiet so die hard as some other franchises, one of the most noteworthy aspects of the Nintendo community is how it is founded on a largely diverse range of experiences and expectations. While you do have some that play the games, some that work on fanart and fanfiction, some that play as a community, et cetera like most fanbases, you're going to run into one of the following complaints depending on which community you are a part of. Either there aren't enough old-school games, there aren't enough modern games, there are too many casual gamers, there are too many people that can't understand how you can play Wii Fit, the new games are too different, or the new games are too similar.

As polarized as the community is, it tends not to be quite so characterized by the degree to which fans hold these opinions as much as the fact that most fans are going to have difficulty accepting a game that doesn't follow their opinion on how Nintendo franchises should be run, and the catch is that Nintendo is actively wooing every kind of fan at once. You aren't as likely to be seen as the outcast for thinking differently, but as a Nintendo fan you will see (almost) universally good games across the board which cannot be accepted across the board.

Casual Gamers
These guys/girls are Nintendo fans too... Coming up with a Metroid game that they'll enjoy every bit as much as you may be a challenge

The effect this has on the gaming experience is generally minimal. The friction is still present, but your opinion in support of most of the games won't be necessarily isolated. However, this does not mean you may not feel a little bit of frustration when your friends frown on a top notch game; rather, it means that this frustration is less likely to impair your enjoyment of the game.

One slight caution is that some broken fanbases can become rabid and many rabid fanbases are broken. Using Nintendo as an example, when it comes to the console wars, you're going to find fans that are a little bit harder to live with

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Cult Fanbase - Project Shrine Maiden (Touhou)

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You may ask why I bring back Touhou for this discussion, when you've never heard of it before I introduced the community to the series earlier in the blog and with a little less subtlety on the forums. The answer is that you've never heard of it before, and if not for me, probably won't hear of it again. It is a game that almost nobody knows about, and is a niche game which means that not every kind of fan will be attracted to it (though you'd be surprised how much of that fan you may have in you). This results in a cult fanbase, one which can be extreme, diverse, and broad while still being small, independant, and sharing some shred of insanity that brings you all to the same series.

IOSYS - Artificial Children
This remix/song and animation explores Alice's character in quite a different way than the more well-known animation, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing

Touhou has probably seen more treatments than any other franchise you'll see here, whether it is the Danmaku (bullet hell) games, the brawler spinoffs, the many fangames, the endless collection of art, the remixes, albums and covers of the music, the fanfiction, official and unofficial manga, and mediums that I cannot refer to here without violating our child-friendly philosophy. Before you say that Pokemon has it beat, I'm just going to mention a hack of an older Pokemon game which replaces ALL pokemon with Touhou characters and the occasional creature. There's a Touhou version of Megaman, of Super Mario World, of Earthbound, need I go on?

It also lends itself to many different interpretations. Fanon has evolved to the point where it is not a part of canon, but exists alongside canon. Alice is a completely different character in the series canon than in most fanon. Is Flandre (a mentally unstable vampire child) a victim locked away in the basement or a total monster encaged? How about the difference between "Cirno's Perfect Math Class" and "Artificial Children" Do you play for score? for completion? for the experience of getting horribly beaten? or do you not even play the main games and only play the fighting games or follow along for the characters? the fans? the videos? the music?
What makes the cult fanbase different is that most fans you talk to won't care. It is perfectly acceptable to spend more time talking about a character than the games. (as a matter of fact most fans spend more time obsessing over a specific character than the games themselves) Generally this improves the game experience as you can benefit from the extremism of the rabid fanbase and the diversity of the broken fanbase without truly coming into conflict with any aspect of the community.

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Conclusion

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These are only three examples of fan communities that I'm familiar with that show three different kinds of fanbases. I will note that all observations are of the community and not the individuals. (you can have level-headed fans from a rabid fanbase or liberal fans from a broken fanbase) I will also note that fanbases don't fall neatly into categories. You will notice that even some of the characteristics I used to categorize these fan communities are common to some aspects of the ones I've listed here.

However, by looking at the different way these fan communities function and can impact the experience, it is apparent that the fanbase do play an actual role in how much one can get out of a game. However, because communities are always evolving, because they may affect people in different ways, and because some may opt out of any association with other fans at all, it is difficult if not impossible for an (mostly) objective review to properly take this into account.
As such, I urge you to ask yourself how big a part is the fanbase going to be of your experience when looking into a game that interests you. While it may not be worth it to let a problematic fanbase stop you from looking into a game that interests you, by looking at the community you may be placing yourself into (voluntary or otherwise) you will get a better understanding of what your experience with the game will be.

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