A different sort of column about writing for a fanboy-ish audience.

iPadGraphThe common gripe videogame journalists complain about is being labelled a “fanboy”. That writing a positive article about one company implies some sort of bias or allegiance, and that, obviously, that beloved company paid off the writer to promote it. Cases are usually weak and meant halfheartedly anyway, but for journalists whose job is not to play favourites, reading through comments is where humanity shows its ill.

A “fanboy” is not exclusively a gaming phenomenon–go to any topical forum to see hundreds of examples of Internet commenters defending or lambasting products. The tech blogs have legions of Apple fans to thank, sports fans contribute manically to threads about overpaid players, and (even if it skirts what I would call journalism) “entertainment” outlets have young girls defending celebrities who beat up their girlfriends. The Internet is rampant with idiocy; this alone proves it.

Nevertheless, videogames are steeped in things that ignite loyalists. Exclusive games, for one, promote an exclusive atmosphere–the “na-na na-na boo-boo” doctrine. Some players simply won’t get a game because they don’t have the console. That exclusivity incites a level of privilege, as they see it, and for some reason they need to convey that privilege online. They patrol any opposing articles with force, ready to be armchair warriors in their fierce defense of something that ultimately doesn’t matter.

The thing is, fanboyism (if it’s now officially an -ism) is symptomatic of journalists realizing they have a tangible audience. The fanboy has always existed, but before the Internet came along and revolutionized journalism, readers could only listen and not respond. (I rarely count Letters to the Editor because papers often were choosy.) Article commenting gave these angry brand patriots a method to express opinion about their indulgences, whatever they might be.

But that has, weirdly, worked out advantageously for online outlets: The commenter companies stocked and ready for war help the places they are e-picketing. It’s impossible to calculate the number of hits from pro-something readers, but the fact that writing antagonistically is a great way of getting hits, many sites do it to bring in an audience. (I would never personally deceive my readership like that. Its effectiveness though is profound.)

The writer might find clarifying nuggets of information or responding to criticism as polite. I can do it because Holygrenade‘s readership is small, but for a site like IGN or The New York Times, any article gets an assorted bevy of comments. From the intelligent to the profane, humanity displays its far range of colours in response to a story, and a writer doesn’t always have the time. Especially in the online journalism business, time is money.

It’s usually easy to tell the difference between true fanboyism and trolling. Most comments state an absolute point with little chance for rebuttal. Arguments true to the content get downvoted or ignored, turning what could have been a productive conversation into a cesspool.

It’s the nature of the Internet, sadly, and that won’t change for a long time.

Graph above from Palindromatic.

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