I've been writing for Kotaku, off and on, since 2007. I've been reading it longer than that. One of the accounts I follow on Twitter (follow me!) begs me to not read the comments on blogs. Of course, I don't listen, and that is why my head is crammed with weird shards of anecdotal evidence that are as bring-uppable at board meetings as they are at dinner tables. "More people I know of walked out of ‘Django Unchained' during the ‘dogs' scene than the ‘hammer' scene, I reckon"; et cetera. The "people I know of" part means "internet commenters".
My prevailing impression of internet discourse about video games is that it's riddled with haters.
I am convinced that any non-game-player, stepping into a large forum centered on the discussion of video games and asked to read it for an hour, when asked for their impression, would relate that "they all seem to hate lots of stuff and/or people and/or types of people, and they keep talking about ‘CliffyB'—is that a person? It sounds like it's a person. It sounds like they all want to have sex with her—or him. Also there's this guy named Gabe who might be Santa Claus. Is Santa Claus actually real?"
In short, the average non-game-player would likely report that internet discourse about video games is riddled with haters.
A "hater" is a person who communicates with other humans solely to distribute their negativity. A hater hates another person, or another general type of person. Haters hate the people that they hate. Is everyone a hater? Of course not. Yet no one, really, is 100% full of positivity; everyone dislikes something. A zen master may purge himself of negativity, though at the cost of forsaking all earthly culture. In order to go through with something like that, you have to be pretty upset with people—or at least wish you could prove yourself better than them.
Video-game-players, being necessarily more technology-able than the average moviegoer, have watched their medium grow up alongside expanding internet communication methods which allow them to share their opinion and receive feedback on their opinion in record turnaround time. Usually, the feedback is that one's opinion is wrong. Of course: games that spark anonymous internet discussion are often competitive. If a guy shoots at you, you shoot back. If a guy says he likes grape lollipops, you tell him that watermelon ones are the best and he's an idiot for liking grape ones.
Stephen Totilo, knowing that I have opinions about many things, including opinions, asked me if I could write up a hierarchical list of who looks down on whom among all of the genres, platforms, and stereotypes of the video game kingdom. I took the mission. The ensuing investigation was a lot like the film "Zero Dark Thirty", except not exciting, and instead of finding Osama Bin Laden, I found... well. You'll see.
The Video Chain
People generally presume more than they know about everything—be it games or films or fine dining. People generally like to think Their Thing is The Best Thing. That's hardly a groundbreaking hypothesis. Matt Damon's character Tom Ripley put it best, in the film "The Talented Mister Ripley": "No one ever thinks that they're a bad person." Maybe if Socrates were around, he'd tell Mister Ripley that some people want to believe they're the only good person, or that most other people are bad and wrong.
We're going to talk about players of games.
I've applied a little bit of mysterious scientific perspective (disclosure: I am not a scientist, I'm just a mathematician), and here's the way I ultimately see the twisting bonsai branches of the video-game food-chain.
First, a note: I am not saying that I, personally, hate anyone or any type of person. I'm a bit more neutral than that. And I'm not saying that anyone anywhere falls 100% exactly into this category. And I'm not saying it's impossible for a Zelda fan to think hardcore PC game-players are horrible. Anything is possible; this is just a summary of my own anecdotal perspective!
The chewy exterior of the video game snobosphere is, unfortunately, built up of a great circle of art-perceivers, all holding hands like Care Bears. These humans have either proudly never touched a whiff of a game or they have played one just long enough to dismiss it as hate and trash.
These are the connoisseurs of films in foreign languages, voluntary readers of books without pictures, chin-scratching sports viewers, members of the NRA (and ardent players of Cave-developed Japanese shoot-them-alls). They are popcorn eaters and they are also caviar-eaters. They are the washed masses.
They are the shotgun-wielding US Marshal silhouetted in the light at the end of the video game medium's long tunnel toward legitimacy.
They are one Roger Ebert with a billion stern faces. Self-identified "gamers" hate this phantom, and are ready to defend gaming's honor with a thousand capitalized blog comments pointing out the Pacific-Oceanic difference in the total gross revenue of all video games and the total gross revenue of all films in any given year. These people are going to keep laughing for a couple more years, at which point enough games like The Walking Dead will exist and even Roger Ebert will shut up.
These are the people who could be hardcore, if only a different butterfly had flapped its wings first. Like people who have never smoked a cigarette, they are more holier-than-thou about their un-involvement than a lapsed hardcore game-player, because they have never touched the stuff.
Do you know anyone who says they got their dad, a die-hard spaghetti-western fan, to play Red Dead Redemption? I know a couple of those dads. I bet my dad would play Red Dead Redemption, if I showed it to him. Would he play Halo? Heck no. My dad would shrug Halo off as a child's thing. He served in the Army for 30 years, and I'm telling you with psychic likelihood that he would not touch Call of Duty. My dad likes the John Wayne "True Grit" better than the (artistically superior) Coen Brothers one. My dad is the guy who took one look at the television, once, when my little brother was watching "Dragon Ball Z", and said, "That car-toon bull-shit better be turned off by the time I got my pajamas on." He will not look at a cartoon. He will change the channel in the event of a subtitle appearing on the screen.
My dad—and maybe some other old dad you know—would instantly be a hardcore game player for The Right Game, if that game existed, and they'd be perfectly unpretentious about it.
This stratum includes professional players of games like Starcraft, League of Legends, or any tournament game played at the Evo championships. The most distinct feature of this type of player is that they play virtually nothing aside from their game. Their Game is their livelihood. It's their skill. They might get into professional gaming because they enjoy games, though it becomes Just Another Job sooner or later.
These players do not necessarily hate or look down on players of other sorts of games—they just might not give them much of any thought at all. For the purpose of weighting our scale, we will consider these players the tip of the pyramid, in that they're the by-default "snobbiest" daily players of games. I mean no diss: these people are just super-serious about the games they play, to a point where they (in my environment, that is) rarely ever acknowledge any other game existing.
This group of game-playing humans plays games probably every day. They represent the largest and most widely diverse group of game-players. Let's go one genre at a time, in order of decreasing nobility.
Anyone with a basement or a room full of old games fits this description. These are the humans who post YouTube links of Dreamcast games on their Facebook every September Ninth; like clockwork, they tell us to "never forget".
The label "Collectors" isn't meant 100% literally—I just didn't want to put the "hipster" word in boldface font: these people are ferociously knowledgeable of games. They are game librarians. They are gambrarians.
Here's the cold, hard truth: not everyone who likes games posts on forums, or posts comments on articles. In fact, most of them don't. If you post comments on a game-related blog, you are a game hipster. It's okay! Don't cry. It's not like you have cancer: you just kind of care about games a whole lot. Whether you're sincerely excited about every bit of news or a jaded jerk like me, if you're in this category, you might Care Too Much.
Or, The Self-Loathing Game-Player. You love very few games, and you love them dearly. You play obscure stuff, weird stuff, and old stuff. You don't like the new stuff so much, and you might sometimes state that in public. You might go into GameStop with friends and laugh at box art. You might be able to eloquently explain why Landstalker is better than any Zelda game. You might sincerely believe Bonk's Revenge is better than Super Mario Bros. 3. You know that Super Mario Bros. 3 is better than Super Mario World. You have "refined tastes"—you're a "connoisseur," and you can't be bothered to ignore the stuff you want to make fun of. You are sort of a jerk. You are the video-game-playing equivalent of an audiophile. You probably also love films and books, and you feel sometimes like this makes you better than any other sort of game-person. Really, it doesn't.
(I hate to say this—as a player of games, this is where I am. I'm not proud of it, really: video games were my life for many years, though books and films were always equally important. I currently make games for a living, and am passionate about all of the games I work on, in whatever capacity I'm involved. I have accidentally transcended to a point where games feel like big, dumb, gross toys. I feel like they're for perpetual 13-year-olds. I'm the snobbiest, meanest, jerkiest sort of game-playing human. I wrote a thing about why a free iPad game was better than all of the blockbuster games released in 2012, for goodness's sake. I'm mean, and I look down on games, and maybe it's out of shame that I used to be fiery-passionate about games that weren't nearly as good as the ones coming out now. Yet I sure do have this encyclopedic vocabulary of cherished memories of polished turds: if you tell me you like Battle of Olympus, I can immediately recommend you Demon Sword, Clash at Demonhead, Faxanadu, and Guardian Legend.)
Do you write a blog about video games? Have you ever been paid to talk about games? Chances are you have a sarcastic streak. Chances are you can't resist writing about Zynga's stock price decreasing without using a stronger verb than "decrease"—like, say, "nosedive". Chances are you've either felt like writing or have written a news post in which you indicate you just don't care about some dumb game where you shoot people.
You genuinely want games to be art, or at least mainstream entertainment. You play a lot of games—even the ones you realize are dumb—while sort of wishing the dumb games were gone. You roll your eyes at the mention of Yet Another Call Of Duty. Your peanut gallery derides you with ecstasy. And you deride them, in history's weirdest and fiercest hug-spiral. You need them, and they need you, and you both need games. If you have a video game character tattooed anywhere on your body and you remember making the decision to get it tattooed there, you probably fit right in here.
These are the "gamers" that ladies on OKCupid.com's mothers probably warned them about: they play Halo or Call of Duty all night. They call even their mothers "bro". They walk into Gamestop early of a launch-day morn and intone famously, "Y'all Got That Madden?" If filling out a dating site profile, these people would put "Mountain Dew" under "Favorite Films, Music, Books". They are the fourth sub-stratum here in the hardcore realm, because the pundits, jazzmasters, and collectors invariably look down upon them as "too mainstream".
These are just precisely the type of hypothetical character who would groan at an indie art game. Of course, they wouldn't play an indie art game by choice. Let's assume you forced Fez on them: they'd cut you. These people have Gamerscores greater than their IQs times a hundred.
Yet the Mountain-Dew-Subsisting hardcore headshotter might, in all this precise detail, be a ghost-sasquatch. They might be only a construct of lazy snarkmongers on the internet, a monster in the closet of every professional woman on OKCupid. The evidence is not conclusive: I personally believe hardcore game-playing to be a richer tapestry than all this stereotyping. I might be wrong, though for now I must conclude that, should these people exist exactly as I've described them here, they sit at the top of their own happy pyramid.
I'm going to have to further divide this particular game player archetype into the following two categories.
Category A: Hardcore Personal Computer Game Players
Category B: Hardcore Game Console Game Players
Blog comments by PC game-players have, over my many years reading this blog and many similar ones, seemed to express more disdain for console players than the other way around. When a publication lists the "best games of all-time", invariably a PC enthusiast in the comments pipes up to bemoan the lack of PC games on the list. If a writer ever apologizes and says he is more of a console player, the PC enthusiast does the blog-comment equivalent of an eye-roll, deciding and insinuating in terse words that the writer is most likely uncultured.
Often does the discussion pop up of a first-person shooter's controls. In the comments, a PC power-player will chime in that "mouse and keyboard is the way to go". How often do you see someone protest otherwise?
Do I, personally, prefer mouse and keyboard or controller? I won't reveal my preference; I won't even reveal which control implement I used for more hours of my lifelong experience with shooters. I'm not going to take a side. I will say, however, that I don't see why a controller can't work for an FPS. It's just that no marquee champion competitive gamer is going to publicly switch to a controller.
So, given the pervasive, careful argumentativeness of mouse-and-keyboard-supporters in this debate, and the relative silence of competitive (or would-be competitive) controller-defenders, I must place hardcore PC game-players in a position generally "looking down" on console players.
Further near-proof would be that Rock, Paper, Shotgun is such a cool website. If they focused on console games, would they be as cool? Certainly not. PC players have to remember all sorts of junk and jargon outside the game—I mean, I can't even remember the four- or seven-digit number following the two-letter combination (which I also can't remember) that names my graphics card (note: I actually can; I am trying to appear human). PC players feel like they're giving birth to the game platform, where console philistines just pull a thing out of a box and plug it in.
These players play at least as many hours of games per week as players within the Hardcore stratum; however, they are all genteel, nice-minded folks who seldom groan aloud re: all the Call of Duty commercials on television. They don't pop in to Kotaku posts about the next Madden to accuse EA of being a big dumb bunch of cash-grabbers. They play their games and stay fairly docile or sociable about it.
I often (bi-daily, I'd say) enjoy a rollicking scroll-through of 4chan.org's /v/ board. It is full of jerks. They are pretty cool jerks, for the most part, and some of them have great senses of humor. I bet, if you took the anonymity away, they wouldn't be such jerks. It's hard to get a good read on them, so I'm going to trust my heart and say they're softer, hipper, nicer people than the Dewchugging Hardcore. However, the prevalence of hate, however hilarious, tells me they deserve to be in at least this dominantly uppity a position on our ranking.
You know what? I am not at all incapable of flipping through Penny Arcade strips once every two months and finding at least two hearty lols. Usually it's some dumb turn of phrase that gets me. That Tycho guy! He's read some books without pictures in them, I reckon. He knows good words. He uses them sometimes, and I lol. I have never succeeded in coming close to understanding the mind of a person who refreshes the website all day. Though the website has jokingly used the word "rape" in the past, and there was that gross incident with the fans wearing that T-shirt at that convention, I'd say they're a kind group of people.
You know what they are? They're the Dewchugging Hardcore, minus the Dew. A little less Dew goes a long way: these people are socially aware; they donate to a charity to send video games to sick kids in hospitals. They've made big, bold, loud statements in the face of those dumb jerks who try to say that games are just a bunch of violence-mongering hate-trash: to the NRA and Jack Thompson, they replied with charity donations. They have their own game convention. And Penny Arcade got those cool dudes at Zeboyd Games to make a 16-bitty Japanese-style role-playing game for them. That's classy. However, wade into them forums yonder, and you can and will find jerks, if it be jerks you are seeking.
Some people out there would literally rather play Braid than Gears of War. If this shocks you, do not cry. Some people out there would rather play literally any of this year's Independent Games Festival entrants than fire a single hot shell in Halo 4's SWAT mode.
I debated long and hard (okay: I debated for about six minutes) whether I should place the art-players at a more or less "snobby" rung of this food ladder than the Dewchugging Call of Duty and Monday Night Football aficionado, that sasquatch in every OKCupid lady's closet.
Ultimately, I placed the art-players beneath. Though if you back any of them into a corner, they'll crack a joke about Uncharted, though it's usually something playful, like how Nathan Drake's shirt never comes untucked, or how he must have the upper body strength equivalent of a soccer stadium full of Schwarzeneggers.
Meanwhile, judging by YouTube comments on videos of art games, it seems like the more knuckleheaded hardcore dude is going to immediately pair the name of the game in question with an orifice he'd like you to stick it in. That's just hostile, man—and most of the games are downloadable, anyway. Would I have to put it on a USB stick, first? Tell an art-player you enjoy a particular RPG, though, and they might roll their eyes and make a comment on the broken math and the psychological shackles the game designer clicks onto the wrists of the player's heart. Meanwhile, these people are sometimes accomplished poker players and watch competitive Starcraft matches for fun. So. Huh.
One layer deeper, we have the target audience of a Japanese role-playing game. They are quiet folks. Every big game shop in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan closes at eight PM, and this is no coincidence: the patrons want to get their game, head home, and immerse themselves deeply into it. They long for the comfort of their home.
I sympathize with these people. I was one of them in high school. Man, I was in high school at a great time in my life: Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger and Lufia 2! Seriously. Nowadays, there's The Elder Scrolls. An Unwinder might kick off a shift at the job, head home, and get hip-deep right into their current game of choice. This is also the target audience of a Civilization game. These players know that the games they like entertain them more than television, movies, music, or books. They like playing a part in an adventure; they like being important in the development of a city or empire. Though they might not make a habit out of publicly sneering at a first-person shooter, on some level, they know there's stuff they're better at and cooler than.
I mean Nintendo fans no ill will. It is a fact that Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best game of all-time (according to me, anyway), and that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the holistically best-designed game experience in existence (again, my opinion). Nintendo is a geniushive; their games are often bubbles of perfection. However, we higher snobs look down on them. Is it because Nintendo has been flapping the same handful of franchises' banners for 20-odd years? That could be it.
I am afraid to search Google for it, though I'm sure that the second the Kid Icarus game for the 3DS was announced, some blogger somewhere spontaneously combusted with joy. What sort of person is that? Are we high-level jerks wrong, really, to consider those sorts of people childish?
Mario fans are wonderful people—one of them made that Terraria game (and Super Mario X before it). Super Mario Bros. 3 is stuffed with so many secrets and pockets of lore that it has inspired many lifelong obsessions in humans (un)fortunate enough to have been 10 years old when it was first released (in case it's not clear: I'm talking about myself). Some of us grew up and beyond; others remained trapped in the bubble.
Mario fans are not jerks. They are not fools. They genuinely like a great thing. Yet they will occasionally flippantly dismiss anything remotely similar to Super Mario. Surf the web on a Wednesday afternoon and you might trip over one of them berating Angry Birds. Mario is almost religion to these people. And some look down on that.
Most "hardcore" game-players think of a five-year-old enjoying Pokemon, and we go, "Oh, that's cute! The kid will find some games she really enjoys, someday!" Pokemon, however, is actually a real game. We think it's "cute" when a kid plays it, and we think it's pathetic when an adult—even our own self!—plays it. We should probably get over ourselves re: that. (You can substitute "Minecraft" for "Pokemon" here.)
Zelda fans are a particular breed of fan; if their fandom were given humanoid form, it'd be a Hobbit, for sure. They're cute and small and blinky and probably barefoot. Why, Zelda Hardcores count among their ranks such devotees that Nintendo saw fit to caricaturize them in the character of Tingle: a thirty-something-year-old grown-as-heck man who dresses in green footy pajamas and wants to become a fairy.
Zeldaphiles are soft-hearted, tender people who want to enjoy an adventure on their television screen—an adventure that climaxes many laborious, tutorial-texted times by telling them, in so many words, with big, bold, voiceless subtitles, that they are special. The games are occasionally home to incredibly sound holistic design, though as of late they are cluttered with what many art-players perceive as trash.
Look—the artist of Braid successfully Kickstarted a comic book about, more or less, how weirdly didactic Zelda has grown of late. People are willing to pay money to make a comic book about Zelda's pedantry exist. What a weird time. What a sad, downtrodden, looked-down-upon human who continues to pre-order Zelda games. (I was one of them, last time.)
Heck, these Zeldaphiles even look down on themselves, sometimes: I remember internet forums and comments threads back around the time of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker's announcement in 2002 (I've been a reader of these things for too long): the game had been revealed as hyper-stylized, and that style was unmistakably "cartoon". One poster lamented that he would buy the game, for sure, because it was Zelda, though he would feel horribly embarrassed at the store. He was afraid of the clerk judging him based on the "childish" nature of the game's packaging. Likewise, I was present at the E3 press conference where Nintendo unveiled, the grittier, more naturalist, Lord-of-the-Rings-fanfiction-looking "Twilight Princess." The screams of triumph were deafening, and I couldn't help remembering that forum post.
In my study (in which I mostly sat around inside my own brain for a half an hour, I won't lie), I was surprised to realize that the "middlecore" game-players are actually the top of the game-touching human population with regard to aloof snobbish behavior. Here, then, between Zelda and iOS, we draw the line between Hardcore and Casual.
Oh no. I'm going to have to talk about Angry Birds again. This never goes well. Nothing draws more backslashfaced comments than mentioning Angry Birds in a positive light in a Kotaku article, believe you me.
Here is where Angry Birdsers sit on the food chain: right under Zeldaphiles. I'm going to be open-minded here and say that Angry Birds, Words With Friends, Android Tetris Clone #46, and anything else you see someone playing on a train is, for the purpose of this subcategory, the plaything of a Commuter. Now, I know many hardcore shooter dudes who play Words With Friends on the train—and that's perfectly okay, by the way—and it doesn't stop them from being primarily FPS players. The thing is, they're not going to play an FPS on the train, right?
Well, right here, in this category, are players who basically, really, truly only play games when they're stuck somewhere they don't necessarily want to be. Just one stratum up we'll find hardcore Mariopaths whose faces will turn into terrifying deathmasks at the mention of Angry Birds.
I, personally, deeply enjoy the idea that a game can make time pass more quickly (I certainly don't want to feel every millisecond of my wait in line at the bank), though if you judged mobile games solely on the word choice of internet forum-posters, you might come away with an impression that Angry Birds literally eat babies—like, real babies, in the real world.
Here is where the noble World of Warcraft player sits. It was a tough call, choosing to place them above or below the Angry Birdser. In the end, I put them here. I mean no offense, WoW-players: your game world is huge and rich, you form real friendships with your fellow players, and your game of choice's name forms a heck of an acronym and a hecker of an emoticon. Seriously: WoW. What are those eyes even doing? I love it.
Uh. World-of-Warcrafters sit right here, below yawning commuters idly thumbing Android Bejeweled Clone #32, because, precisely, I'm talking about The Real World. Players of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games are an iconic impression, in the corner of the eye of every earth resident—not just the ones who know about games.
Society (usually unfairly) judges any human who engages in willing intercourse with WoW or EVE or similar games as some morbidly obese basement-dwelling self-loathing Dorito-subsisting shut-in. This is a mean judgment to make, though many of us adults make it on some level, every time someone brings up an MMO. I'm not even immune to cracking such mean chides. We should all stop to reflect that these players, while primarily escapists who enjoy an artificial world probably more than the real one, are all real human beings, and that they are seeking out, of all things, a game that is full of real human beings. A WoW player is willingly stepping into a virtual world populated near-entirely with real people, and trusting those people to be up for the same level of fantasy as them. That's sort of wonderful! We non-MMORPers should at least try sympathy.
So, in closing: yes, I'm calling a person who sinks literally thousands of hours into a game with near-impenetrably dense mathematical systems a "casual" game-player. I use this term because the game isn't just about the mechanics and the goals of the game: it's about socialization with other sentient humans.
Here, we're talking primarily about caricatures and stereotypes. I'll be gentle.
Grandmothers Playing Wii Sports At Holiday Gatherings
You've probably rolled your eyes at this concept before. I sure have. Seriously, Wii Sports. It's cool, I guess. Wii Sports Resort is better.
Though if you ask me, Grandma only agreed to play Wii Bowling at Thanksgiving 2006 because she loves you—and a lot of us cynical, nomadic types know this, and we just... you know, we just feel sad that video games had to be involved.
Hypothetical Adult Xbox-Owners Who Bought Kinects On Purpose
One notch below the grandmothers are adult people who bought Kinects for themselves. If you have a small child, Double Fine's Happy Action Theater is a heck of a thing. Your child doesn't even have to know Disneyland exists. If you are a single adult and you own a Kinect, why do you own a Kinect? Whether you bought the Kinect to play Dance Central or to issue voice commands to squad members in Mass Effect 3 (which I'll admit is a cool feature (note: my Kinect was packed in with my 360)), either one of those things is equally "geeky" to the snobmongering gamer elite. Like, seriously, a Kinect is a hundred and ten dollars. Can you imagine the sort of person who bought a Kinect just for the voice feature of Mass Effect 3? That is not a one-hundred-and-ten-dollar feature. (Hey, I'll admit it's maybe a $20 feature.) This sort of game-person is probably a myth, though myths have guided human fear and superiority complexes for literally thousands of years, so here we are. (Note: if I were creating a sub-category for PlayStation Move players, I'd put it beneath this one. However, it is even more improbable that PlayStation Move players actually exist, so I will refrain.)
I just said, of WoW players, that it's "sort of wonderful" that they willingly step into virtual worlds full of other willing role-playing escapists, and trust other humans with their fun. Here are The Addicts of social or mobile games: those who microtransact, and I unfortunately can't be as nice about them. The Industry calls them "whales", in that these are the customers worth going after. A whaling ship doesn't bother catching minnows, et cetera.
They are the addictive personalities that will literally spend $10,000 on virtual flowerpots for their farms. The main drive of a social game is that players will want to keep up with the Joneses, whoever the Joneses are, though metrics of top social games show that the majority of whales play primarily alone, just lying there like a kitten with a ball of yarn (where the yarn is made of cruel mathematics, dark calculus, terror arithmetic, et cetera). It horrifies us that someone can spend that much money on a piece of clipart that is a slightly different color than the free piece of clipart they had two seconds ago. These are the people who take what should be a "two minutes here, five minutes there" sort of experience and dive in for hours on end. They scare us because they fall prey for the simplest, rawest, barest elements of what we enjoy ourselves. Rather than give in and express our fear, we laugh, we scorn, we insult, and we chide them.
These are the rest; these are the ones that are near-universally, in some way or another, looked down upon by all those who touch games—or, even worse, if humans outside games (their parents, perhaps) saw these people, they'd call the police (or spank them).
Kingdom Hearts Fans
Did you know that Square-Enix (then Squaresoft) was originally hesitant to make a game that merged Disney and Final Fantasy? I heard that somewhere, before. They probably were afraid that even if it was moderately successful, they'd have to share money with Disney.
Kingdom Hearts attracts people who want to see Aeris alive again; they want to see Mickey Mouse beating some shadow monsters up. These are the sorts of people who, before learning of Kingdom Hearts' existence, lived constantly one mental millimeter from writing a crossover fanfiction in which Donald Duck met Sephiroth. Kingdom Hearts is the "Twilight" of video games. I'm sorry. (Final Fantasy is the Harry Potter.)
Eventually, you hear people saying that Kingdom Hearts' original characters are "no, seriously, guys, they're pretty cool." "I don't even play it for the Disney stuff anymore," you'll hear them say.
(Note: it's possible to enjoy Kingdom Hearts and still be a super-cool person, okay? Just like it's possible to have read all four "Twilight" books (I sure have!) and still be a cool person.)
I'm using "Kingdom Hearts" as a catch-all for any game that is pure, unadulterated fan-service. Every game-player knows this kind of fan-service-guzzling phantom, and we look down on them because—like with the Zyngaddicts—we fear their ensnarement by the rawest expressions of what we ourselves enjoy. We like thinking we're better than a person with an anime wall scroll on their wall, because we play Civilization just 20 minutes a day after work and it's, like, pretty much just, like, Super Chess, I mean, like, it is even more complicated than chess like for real, so it is totally "culture..."
...meanwhile, we know deep down that part of us thinks it's awesome that in Civilization V you can make Gandhi drop a nuclear bomb on the Roman Empire, and we're scared that we, too, are some uncultured 12-year-old swine at our core, and so we laugh and taunt.
So, like, there was a game called "RapeLay", and it was sort of about sexually assaulting ladies. None among us really knows much about it, though it's a gross concept. Some people actually play this stuff, and they have the guts to post about it on forums and crack weird jokes. We know very little about this phantom player, because we don't really want to. We comfortably lump them in with the other outcasts.
In here are the people who draw grotesque-or-not pornographic comics about their favorite game characters sexually slamming one another. These are the people who will willingly—either as a joke or because they're hot for it—draw a penis protruding from Pikachu's forehead. We shudder to think of them.
Preteen Boys On Xbox Live
This is the punchline.
Sonic the Hedgehog Fans
This is the real punchline.
Thanks a lot for listening! Please don't kill me.
Tim Rogers is someone you can follow on Twitter. You can also follow his game studio Action Button Entertainment, here. Check out insert credit dot com for a wacky weekly videogame-related game-show-like podcast starring him and his game-expert friends from Gamasutra.
Illustration by Brent Porter, who happens to be the co-founder and art director of Action Button Entertainment.