I have a question for you.
Have you ever heard someone complain about people who like or dislike a certain game, or movie, or TV show, or other piece of media, and how "no true fan" would do that? Or maybe you've even been on the receiving end of this at some point?
If you're into geek stuff, like comic books or games, the answer to this question is probably yes.
It's a form of gatekeeping, a problem that plagues a lot of subcultures. The example I gave above is, of course, far from the only way that this happens. And, as someone who grew up with and loves games and spends a lot of their time in gaming spaces, I have been on the receiving end of this more times than I can count. I have a lot of friends who have been on the receiving end of this in the past and shared their experiences with me. I also make games, and I've seen this same behavior in game development spaces as well. I want to talk about this and take a stand against it.
And towards the end of this blog post, I want to talk about how I think we can solve this, or at least begin to work towards a solution to this problem.
I want to start this thing by talking about the forms of gatekeeping that I have experienced, as well as what people I know (not naming names) have experienced, as well as behavior that I've witnessed in spaces that I've been in. As a kid who mostly played Nintendo games on handheld devices, other kids often told me how I should play "real games" instead of "this Mario stuff". The games they played were almost always Call of Duty, Halo, something like that.
I often see people complaining about "casual gamers" in a derogatory way. Especially when companies "pander to casuals" by adding in features that make the game easier or more accessible to newcomers. For some reason, however, the companies rarely get the blame for this, the "casuals" do, even though the companies are the ones making these decisions. Don't get me wrong, I think it's valid to feel alienated when a company makes certain decisions for the sake of mass appeal and I think those decisions can mess with a game's quality. I've all but lost interest in Pokémon due to how much the newer games hold the player's hand. But those are the developer and publisher's decisions and blaming "casuals" for a multi-million dollar company's decisions is just absurd.
What I think is even more absurd is to claim that entire genres are "not real games" and that people who like those genres aren't "real gamers".
I also often see a certain subset of gamers claim that "women don't play video games" or "LBGTQ+ people don't play video games" or whatever when complaining about things like a game having a trans character or a character creator in a game letting you choose to make your character non-binary. First of all, getting upset that a game gives other people that option is really selfish because not everything is about you, but this claim that women, or non-straight, or non-cis people don't play games is factually incorrect. They do play video games and, yes, they're gamers. The "fake geek girl" crap is just exclusionary bullshit and can fuck right off.
There are also disabled and neurodivergent people who play video games and getting upset over a game adding optional features that make a game more accessible for those people is selfish as hell.
As a teenager, I got into coding and making games in Game Maker (back then, it wasn't called Game Maker: Studio yet) and I was often told that all Game Maker games are bad and that it's not a real engine. And, sure, a lot of games made in it were bad, but I wouldn't hear the same people talk about how a lot of Flash games or games made in other engines are bad. And the amount of smug condescension didn't help either.
And even as an adult, I still see the same kind of attitude from other game developers. RPG Maker isn't a real engine, developers who use Unity, RPG Maker, Game Maker: Studio, et cetera, aren't real developers, real developers make their own engine, blah blah blah. Putting aside the fact that both Unity and Game Maker: Studio are functional engines and some of the most popular and greatest games of the past decade were made in those engines and that there are quite a few good indie titles that were made in RPG Maker (To The Moon and Finding Paradise being examples of that), why this attitude? What's the point? Keep in mind that I'm not saying that any of the engines I just mentioned don't have problems. I use Game Maker: Studio and it's got enough problems for me to write a separate blog post about. And I tried RPG Maker in the past and found it to be such a pain to work with that I switched back to GMS, and that's not even going into the limitations of the engine. But I'm not going to sit here and claim that all games made in RPG Maker are bad and "real developers" don't use it, that's ridiculous. I might as well start talking in a posh upper-class accent.
A close friend has told me in the past how it bothers them that developers often treat game development as this club that you only get to be part of if you have accomplished certain things. Like, how he's been called a "fake developer" because he hasn't released a game yet, even though he's currently working on a game and I know he puts a lot of effort in it.
But, I get it, I suppose. Someone who spent months if not years to code their own engine from scratch might feel a bit of resentment when they see that someone made a working game in a few months in Unity or Game Maker. Someone who's been in the industry for years and released several games might get annoyed when someone who hasn't released anything yet calls themselves a developer and other people recognise them as such. I don't think that's justified, though. After all, someone else having an easier time doesn't mean that you can't take pride in your own work. It doesn't take away from your accomplishment. If you are only capable of taking pride in your own hard work if everyone else has to work just as hard, I'm sorry, but that's entirely a you problem.
I still remember the huge pile of toxic bullshit that was the discourse about whether Dark Souls and similar games should have an optional easy mode. I even joked about it on Twitter. The sheer outrage that some fans of those games directed at people for even just suggesting that the games should have an easy mode was just absurd. The fans I'm talking about would argue that adding in an easy mode was "against the vision of the developer", but if that was all that this was about, I don't think that explains the vitriol. Also, if the part about the developer's vision was true, people are allowed to criticise the developer's vision. Just saying. Regardless, I don't believe that this explains the scope of the outrage. I think it goes deeper than that.
Remember when the same shitstorm erupted after a modder added an easy difficulty into Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice?
A mod that people could just choose to... I don't know, not install?
Again, it became this whole discourse, and a lot of people got upset over the fact that someone made a mod. The fact that this mod existed was enough to upset people. No one was forcing their vision on the developer, nothing, it was a fan-made mod for the game.
Also, I remember when people got upset that Star Fox Zero had an optional mode where the player cannot die, because the idea that someone might complete the game in that optional mode upset them for some reason.
As if these people feel that just the fact that other people get that option somehow magically diminishes their own accomplishment?
It's great to take pride in your work. If I coded an entire engine from scratch, I would be proud as well. Don't tie your identity and your self-worth to your work, though. The same goes for being good at playing difficult games.
I will never forget this post I read several years ago. Back then, I was into Touhou, and I spent a lot of time in Touhou fandom spaces.
And I came across this post, I think it was a comment on something on DeviantArt, but the person was talking about how they didn't want Touhou to become mainstream, because they liked how being into Touhou felt like being part of this club that only they and their friends knew about. That was their reasoning.
And I think that comment, probably unintentionally, does a much better job at explaining what drives a lot of this elitist gatekeeping behavior than a hundred think-pieces like this one ever could.
The root cause of this behavior, I think, is people wanting to feel special. To have this kind of elite status or whatever. To be part of this secret special club that no one else is part of. And if just anyone can get into game development or complete Sekiro, well, doing those things doesn't make you all that special anymore, does it?
But how do we solve this?
I don't know.
I don't think that there is a perfect solution. But I think there are ways that we can address this problem and work towards solving it.
As someone who helps run an indie game Discord server, I speak out against this sort of behavior when I see it in that server and I do my best to create an inclusive environment. I do my best to encourage discussion and to discourage people from taking disagreements personally, so on.
And as a developer and someone who has a lot of friends who make games as well, I often have conversations with those friends about this issue and how we should go about addressing it if our own games get popular enough to gain a following. I am of the belief that the community you build is the community you get, so I think it's important to build your community on inclusivity from the start. If you don't address toxic behavior when it happens, the toxic people will just keep doing it because they realise that they can get away with it, and before long, the toxic people will drive out everyone who isn't comfortable with their behavior and become the only people left. Better to address this sort of behavior before it becomes a huge problem. Don't cross that bridge when you get to it.
Of course, if you're not a community manager, you can also help deal with this problem. Just call it out when your friends do it or when people in a community you're in do it.
That's all I have to say.
If you're still reading, thanks, I appreciate it. And I hope you have a good day.
I am Bas de Groot, a starting indie developer. This blog consists of me rambling on about game development, stuff I like and issues that I care about, such as LBGTQ+ issues, neurodiversity and the flaws inherent in our capitalist system.