Fansplaining: Games and Fandom

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Podcast Episode
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Episode Title: Fansplaining: Games and Fandom
Length: 1:12:11
Featured: Evan Narcisse
Date: Sept 6 2016
External Links: Episode at

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Fansplaining: Games and Fandom is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining


Elizabeth and Flourish interview Evan Narcisse, a journalist who covers both comics and video games. They compare gamers and media fans, think about the way that gatekeeping functions in different nerdy subcultures, and consider strategies for critiquing media texts. They also read more listener mail about fanart, and go deep on the Sims. Elizabeth does not promise to play any new video games, much to Flourish’s chagrin.


Topics Discussed

  • Further fan responses and discussion about Episode 27 Fansplaining: Fanart Insights
  • "Nerd-checking" where one fan 'measures' their fandom against yours
  • Multiplayer games and reactions to changes to character stats or abilities
  • Narrative as an element of games or not
  • No Man's Sky as an exploratory game without a clear central 'character'
  • Fannish defensiveness, taste, and when 'good' or 'bad' media is relative
  • Pokemon Go


EN: Yeah, this might be a thing we need to get into later, but… [all laugh] One of the things I don’t like about comic book and video game fandom, the way it’s changed over the last couple of years, is this idea that…there’s a thing I call “nerd-jocks” or “jock-nerds” where the need to measure their fandom against yours.

ELM: God.

EN: And I hate that, I hate that.

FK: Nerd-jocks! That’s the perfect term for that and it’s so true.

EN: I also use “nerd-checking.” Like people have done that to me, I’ve written articles where then the people in the comments will be dropping little trivia minutiae with the assumption that I don’t know and I’m like “Yeah, I do know! It’s just not part of the narrative of what I’m writing about, the point I wanna make." ... It’s part of nerd culture, at least how I experienced it growing up, there was how much facts, how much minutiae, how much lore do you know and remember. But as these things have gotten bigger, people act like that’s an end unto itself, the accumulation of data. And I don’t think that’s an end unto itself. How you engage with it and what it means to you is the ultimate end, and the data points are just a way to get there.

FK: Never. So…but now we’ve totally derailed my question [laughs] which was I was trying to say, the idea of gathering facts or completing something, that very understanding a thing as the end…it feels to me like when fans do that sometimes it’s like, when fans of comics or TV shows do that, sometimes it’s like, “I want to understand this whole system or this whole world that has been built.”

EN: Right.

FK: I wanna understand every piece of it and how they fit and how they work together. And I see this in games as well, although in games I guess you’re, figuring out the system is maybe explicitly part of the pleasure, a different way? But sometimes it can get a bit weird when people are into a game purely to min-max and get really into the…you see this in like “Warcraft,” is a prime place where it’s big enough that there can be separate cultures. But there’s other games where it’s like, you have to do this. You have to engage in this. I don’t know. So I’m just sort of interested in, are those two things connected? Cause…

EN: Yeah, it’s funny because you look at video games as a cultural medium, they have so much rigid design templates on top of them and there is, there is a kind of passionate enthusiast practice of following every little change that happens in a game. Multiplayer shooter games like “Call of Duty” and “Halo” and stuff, when weapons get buffed or nerfed, people lose their shit! They—

ELM: What does that mean?

EN: A buff is when the damage or the power of the weapon gets increased. Nerfed is the opposite, where it’s like a nerf gun. You can shoot it but it doesn’t really hurt. [ELM laughs] So when that kinda stuff happens in multiplayer games, games with big multiplayer communities, people can revolt. They complain. And then there’s the corresponding vector of people who ask for nerfs. You know? Like “Overwatch” is Blizzard’s big game right now and people have been complaining almost since the beta, before the game even launched, that Bastion, this big robot character, was overpowered. He’s become a hated character ever since. I’m not playing “Overwatch,” I played a little bit of the beta, but it’s been fascinating to watch the responses to certain characters whose personalities outside the fiction get interpreted a certain way specifically because of how people use them.

So, like, Mei’s another character in the game, and people are like “Only trolls use her,” or “You must be this kind of a person if you use Mei or if Mei is your main character.” Same things happen with fighting games, like “Tekken” is a long-running fighting game that I personally, it’s my favorite franchise. There’s a character, a capoeira character called Eddie Goro. The inputs for his moves are fairly easy and they involve a lot of button-mashing, less skill according to some people, some players. He’s immediately interpreted as a cheeseball player. And if you’re an Eddie user, then your skill level must not be as good as somebody else as somebody playing Kazuya or somebody like that. So it’s interesting how the data points, the usage characteristics, the features, the design features of specific things within video games can then themselves create fan reactions amongst the user base.

ELM: I was gonna say, that sounds exactly like the way people talk about ships and characters they relate to. Not exactly, that’s maybe an overstatement…

FK: Like people say “You are this kind of person if you ship this”?

ELM: Yeah, and it’s also like, it sounds like it’s not exactly, we’re talking about a narrative versus, I don’t know, I mean, I guess you could describe a video game as a…it’s not the same thing. But you say, “If you don’t relate to this character this way, you’re not even doing it right. You’re not consuming this media correctly.” Which sounds like there’s a distinct parallel.

FK: I was just gonna say, that’s really interesting especially with “Overwatch,” which is explicitly designed to be a welcoming game, you know? And is intentionally…not just welcoming in the sense that there’s a broad and diverse cast, but also in the sense of the game design being intentionally something you can pick up, that you’re not blocked out of the way you are of some other shooters.

(About No Man's Sky)

EN: You’re supposed to head to the center of the universe where some kind of enlightenment or capstone happens. You can keep playing after that. But really it’s an exploration game. And it’s very lonely. You basically go from planet to planet, mining resources, trying to improve your ship, your space suit, meeting other aliens, learning about their languages and little bits of their cultural history, and using that to further all the other things. So there’s a loop: the more words in the Gek language that you know, they’ll help you solve more puzzles which will help you improve your ship, which helps you go further, which helps meet aliens…so there’s a loop there.

I like it, I like the game a lot, I like the fact that you’re not the hero, you’re not the central figure of the fiction of the universe, you’re just the guy who's passing, or woman or whoever, who’s passing through.

FK: A being.

EN: A being! Yes, yeah. You never see the player character model. You don’t, it’s not like “Mass Effect” where you saw your created, the Shepherd that you’re playing as, you got to see the face and the body and then the clothes and all that constantly. You don’t see that in “No Man’s Sky.” You don’t matter, you know? And that’s one of the things I love about the game. The universe is completely indifferent to you, your existence. Whether you go and catalog all the different weird mashup animals or not, it doesn’t matter.

(On people arguing about what 'counts' as a game or not)

EN: But I think there’s a more aggressive strain of that with video games. And comic books too, like I was talking about, the amount of knowledge or skill that you execute with creates this—for some people, should create a hierarchy of passion, of fandom, of experience. I don’t subscribe to that at all. And you know it’s funny, it’s part of the thing too, I think about fandoms, which is your proclivities get judged. You know? There’s a company called Remedy Entertainment that makes the Max Payne games and the Alan Wake games, they’re super cheesy. They’re written in a pulpy, noirish kind of way where it’s like, are you trying to be Jim Thompson? Are you making fun of Jim Thompson? Are you making fun of people who are trying to be Jim Thompson? Which one is it? Are you trying to be hard-boiled?

And I think where I ultimately wound up is, they’re just expressing their love for that stuff. They absorbed it and this is the way they’re putting it back out. You can interpret it—and I like that there’s this little bit of interpretive wiggle room where yeah, if you want to believe this to be a hard-ass, hard-boiled, classic style narrative, you can take it like that. But if you want to be like “Oh my God, this is so over the top, it’s a commentary on the characteristics of that genre,” you can read it like that too. And I always have more fun with stuff that’s like that.

But for some people, they’re like “Nah, it’s badly written and I can’t deal and I hate it.” That’s such a small space to allow that game in your experience with it, but it happens.