Redefining “Fanboyism”

10kmarios_large.jpgEver since the release of the original PlayStation, I began to hear more and more gamers — on message boards, in forums, during chat sessions and even in person — refer to each other as “fanboys”. Well, what exactly is a “fanboy” and how did the term originate? Wikipedia says that the term originated among comic book fans to identify people who are so immersed in the culture and lore that they sort of ‘lose touch with reality.’ In wrestling, we call these people “marks”. The term “mark” carried over from old time “freak shows” and amusement park tents when a man in a curly moustache would lure you into the tent to “see the bearded lady”. People who got really into believing everything they saw were considered “marks”. So, in wrestling, someone who watches and believes that it’s true is considered a mark. However, the folks who understand the trade and still like to watch are called “smarts”. (It gets much deeper — there are “smart marks”, “shoots”, “works” and other wrestling nomenclature, but I digress.)

I am troubled by the recent trend where gamers are being branded with the label of “fanboy” just because they gravitate to a particular gaming platform. I recall being in chat rooms and message boards and the IRC and usenet groups back in the mid-late 90s and anyone who would slightly lean towards Sony or Nintendo would be dubbed “fanboy”. There were some who I felt used the term correctly and then there were those who, lacking the ability to articulate their thoughts and properly retort a challenge would just scream, “FANBOY!” Almost like kids in a playground challenging each other with insults about who’s smarter or who can run faster. Then when the knife cuts too close to the bone…. when a kid mentions how he saw your father looking through a garbage can or your family being on welfare…. when there’s no comeback…… the insulted kid has to hit the proverbial “panic button”….. “YOUR MAMA!”. (I never quite understood that.)

Anyhow, the good folks who contribute to Wikipedia have taken the time to define the term fanboy. However, since this is such a subjective topic and Wikipedia contributors haven’t really dealt with the term as it applies to gaming, I’m going to take the liberty of redefining the term myself.

I’ve found that the best way to define these “social labels” is not to give it a Webster or Merriam-style dictionary definition. I’d rather present them by describing their behavior.

Yes, there is a such thing as, say, a Nintendo fanboy. He or she would be one who will defend any and all decisions made by Nintendo regardless of whether they truly felt that the decision was wise or not. This would be a person who would evaluate a decision by Nintendo under one set of rules and other gaming platforms by another. They would elect the opportunity to defend any games released by the company whether they truly liked the game or would feel the same way had it been released by another company. This gamer would have an almost emotional attachment… almost seeming as if their own success is based on that of Nintendo. In short, their allegiance and loyalty to a Nintendo is so strong and so severe that they can no longer be objective in talking about other companies. (And by the way, in this example the word “Nintendo” can be interchanged with any other gaming company.)

A fanboy is NOT (contrary to popular opinion) one who, after having purchased a particular platform (let’s say an Xbox), feels a sense of brand loyalty. Having only an Xbox and only buying Xbox games doesn’t make one a fanboy. The situation changes, however, if this same gamer, when discussing the release of the newest Final Fantasy game and having never played Final Fantasy says, “I don’t want to play any stupid Final Fantasy crap — Blue Dragon is coming out for the Xbox and it is going to be so much better!”. If you heard that you might be talking to a fanboy. But if they said, instead, “I’m not really into RPGs so I probably wouldn’t like Final Fantasy”, that probably isn’t a fanboy. In my definition, tone is a key element to determining whether a person is a fanboy or not.

I think the distinction that usually gets lost is the fact that brand loyalty does not equal fanboyism. There are people who grew up in the 80s and feel a great sense of brand loyalty to Nintendo. They recall a childhood spent playing fun games like Mario Party or Smash Brothers and the logo creates an association in their mind of good times. This isn’t fanboyism — at least not by itself. I grew up in a house where we almost exclusively used Tide detergent. Tide is a brand that I associate with the “best in class”. I’ve used other brands, but I feel almost guilty not using Tide. I have a very strong sense of brand loyalty towards Tide. Am I a “Tide fanboy”? (I guess I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide). I would say that I’m one who has used the product in the past and, for me, Tide has fit my needs. I guess where this could lead to fanboyism is if a new brand of Fab came out that had some new and improved feature….let’s say it had some kind of agent in it that caused your clothes not to wrinkle. (I hate ironing.) If I refused to try “Fab”, even if the supermarket were all sold out of Tide and they had free sample packets on display, then you might dub me as a fanboy.

So what about the guy who owns the collection pictured above? Is that a fanboy? We probably don’t have enough info from the picture alone. Yeah, there’s a bunch of Mario, Donkey Kong and Link toys shown. But what if the next room is a shrine to Sega?? With Sonic and Tails….and…..the Nights dude….and…..did I say Sonic? You know what I mean! Seriously, the guy apparently likes Nintendo. But I think it only becomes fanboyism if this leads to him wearing blinders to other game releases and then evolves into negative comments about other companies.

Many who know me are aware that I have a brand loyalty when it comes to Apple. Ever since my first PowerBook, the user experience has been unlike any other. I think many are intrigued by exactly why some folks are partial when it comes to their Mac. I had about four Apple posters in my office (and the truth is that I wasn’t looking to “spread the Gospel of Mac. I simpley wanted some elegant tech-related posters to decorate an otherwise plain office, and their ads seemed to fit the bill.) Without question, any person unfamilar with OS X, be they a technician or co-worker or client would make these posters the subject of a line of questioning. “So, how long you been using them?” “Why do you like em?”. And there were some who would even take the opportunity to call me an “Apple fanboy.” The strange thing to me has always been the fact that I’m interested in tech in general. I run a Windows XP machine. I still have a laptop that runs Windows 2000. I was one of the folks standing in line for a copy of Windows 98. I even have a partition with Windows Vista Beta 2 (using it to type this article now.) OS X is one of several environments that I work in. I would say that I’m about as far from a fanboy as anyone. Where the division begins is when you talk negatively or critically about an aspect of a system. “Man, I never need to reboot OS X because there isn’t memory leakage the way there is in XP.” Now you’re asking for trouble. And this is true among gamers as well — buying all three gaming systems does NOT buy you the right among fanboys to talk about their system of choice. “Hey buddy, just because you own a Gamecube doesn’t give you the right to talk about how much better the Xbox version of Madden is than mine!” What many would perceive as a thought-driven discussion where you are doing a critical analysis of the differences each platform has to offer, fanboys tend to read as a stab at their system of choice.

There are lots of reasons why fanboys tend to wrap their arms around a system, hold it tightly to their chest (as to permanently imprint the logo next to their heart and then use their legs to kick away any competing systems that approach their circle of gaming. (Far too many to name in this post). Some folks just want to be different — “everybody has System A and System B seems like the more eccentric choice that matches my eccentric personality. I don’t deal with System A. That’s for the “common folk” “. Or perhaps due to some social rivalry taking place in a work or school setting? “Most of the guys I associate with play System A, so I’m sticking to it. Don’t talk to me about System B.” In my experience I’ve found that more than half of the fanboys that I’ve come across are that way for one of two reasons — a) They don’t like the idea or the hassle associated with managing two or more gaming environments/systems, and b) Lack of resources. I’ve met gamers who only owned PlayStations and who couldn’t stop talking about how bad the Gamecube looked. “I don’t want that in my house”. “I don’t like the way it looks”. To each his own, I guess. Nobody should have to buy every gaming system. But it does seem rather ignorant to trash what you haven’t played. “Aw who cares about Resident Evil 4? It’s probably dumb anyway.” (Until it came out for PlayStation 2. Then it suddenly became worthy to occupy space on the gaming shelf.) But the lines do get rather muddy. Does the family guy who has 4 kids that all like the Gamecube become a fanboy just because he sticks to the brand he bought? I’d say no. But if he starts talking about how bad PS2 games look and how all of the games are violent, well, you might be talking to Daddy Fanboy.
Lack of funds seems to be at the heart of a lot of the issues as well — mostly among kids. I remember being in elementary school and having a few friends who had an Atari 2600. There were a few kids who had an Intellivision. I remember hearing things like, “Intellivision is stupid”, and “where’s the joystick?”. Similarly when the console war between the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo began, recall one guy not even wanting to touch my Super Nintendo in college. “Hey, I just got a cool game — it’s two player co-op! Wanna try it?” “Nah – I don’t like that system. Let’s just play Genesis. “

The foolish thing is that often we let gaming companies and strong polarizing marketing draw us into these “fanboy wars”. I remember the “Fly Plaything, Fly” commercial that Sega ran about the Saturn where they dropped a PlayStation from atop a building. In the rec.games.video.sony newsgroup, seemingly everyone was totally drawn into the fight. (If you’re curious, they seem to cache those groups forever! You can probably still read the posts.) Seeing 100-entry threads back then was not uncommon.

So, maybe there isn’t a clear definition of what a real fanboy is. But I do have a few questions that you can ask yourself to serve as sort of a “litmus test”. First, are you partial to any gaming system? Would that partiality prevent you from playing another system? Do you often find yourself bashing games that don’t appear on your system of choice? When games don’t appear on your system of choice, do you find yourself looking for similarly styled games to compare it to? (WipeOut? Aw, that ain’t nothing but Quantum Redshift!) As a bonus question, don’t you feel like a tool when you trash a game that isn’t released on your system and then find yourself feeling differently once it’s released? (I’m talking to you, Xbox former-Grand-Theft-Auto-haters.) Do you find yourself considering products from the gaming company that you prefer before you’ve seen any screenshots or read any previews? Do you feel the need to violently defend your system of choice when attacked? Most importantly, would you ever be against having a system from another company in your gaming center/area? Do you own any jewelry or undergarments with any logos, tags, icons or other identifiers of a particular gaming company? Is your desktop wallpaper that of your gaming company of choice? Right now?? What about the wallpaper in your bedroom — does that have the company’s logo all over it?

If you answered yes to most of those questions, then it’s a safe bet to say that you, sir, or ma’am, or child….are, in fact…. a fanboy.

Image courtesy of Vintage Computing and Gaming.


6 Responses to “Redefining “Fanboyism””

  1. 1 Jeff T
    August 1, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    here’s a few more questions people should ask themselves concerning ‘fanboyism’

    do you thank the Lord or see it as diving intervention when brand X releases new software when there were hundreds of existing software from many other resources?
    do you get mad when someone calls you a fanboy?
    can you name 5 positives about brand X’s competitors and name 5 negatives about brand X?
    have you converted other people and convinced them to spend money on brand x’s products
    does speeches by brand X’s management inspire you in ways nothing else can
    have you purchased the same product from brand X more than 2 times in 1 year?
    do you have your own style but often claim that brand X’s products match your style and life philosophy? or is that you adopted their style as your own?

    Is being a ‘fanboy’ by any definition a bad thing? We are all fan of something, being a fanboy means that you enjoying or seeking enjoyment in whatever it is you’re a fan of. /endcomment

  2. August 1, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    those are pretty good. I did get some critical yet constructive feedback from a few people (some I didn’t even know) on this post. I may ask their permission and then just stick em in here.

    I think the thing about “Thanking the Lord when your company of choice releases a program” is kinda boarderline brand loyalty. Some folks just like the way that Konami does Soccer (Winning Eleven series). I wouldn’t call them a Konami fanboy…. there are other soccer games — some of which they may even own. They may just happen to like the control scheme, design, etc. of Winning Eleven. Now, if this came at the expense of refusing to even try the new version of FIFA (which this year may have claimed to have completely redesigned the engine, etc.) then you might be a fanboy. No?

    I think it’s ok to get mad when called a fanboy. It’s a derogatory term. It implies petiness and lack of foresight. I don’t think I can recall ever hearing it used in a neutral or a positive light. No?

    Agree with being able to name positives and negatives…well, kinda. Maybe not 5. I can’t tell you 5 reasons why I like WordPress, but I use it and I’m a pretty big fan. I’ve recommended it to a bunch of folks who asked how I did the blog. But totally agree — you should know something about a product you’re discounting. Although maybe if you didn’t I wouldn’t be apt to call you a fanboy — maybe just an “uneducated customer”. Think of the folks who use AOL without any thought to using another ISP.

    Conversion of other users…. hmmm? Not so sure about that one. Lots of folks evangelized about the Xbox 360 (I know I did) or OS X or recently Unbuntu or Firefox…. though I wouldn’t call them fanboys. Just folks eager to share their appreciation for a new found product. No?

    Speeches by a brand inspire you. Hmmm — not sure again. I totally mark out at hearing Apple press conferences. But not because I like all things Apple. I don’t particularly care for the new Bluetooth mouse — give me an Intellimouse anyday. I’m not terribly excited at the prospect of an “apple phone”. I watch them mostly because they’re well structured, energetic and usually reveal new features/versions of stuff I already use. Do folks think that makes me a fanboy? Especially if you’re willing to watch other press conferences? I think perhaps the opposite may make one a fanboy — unwillingness to hear info related to a new product’s release, regardless of how much buzz is around it. No?

    Purchasing more than one item from a company per year to me definitely is brand loyalty. It’s the definition of brand loyalty. I think that the the opposite, to me, makes one a fanboy. Unwillingness to consider the purchase of anything other than your brand’s product.

    The lifestyle thing is true. Although, I think folks shouldn’t ever closely align themselves with a brand so much as to change your lifestyle. But I do think it’s acceptable and not the behavior of a fanboy to like a certain company’s approach to product design. I happen to like Google’s approach to the design of some of their beta apps. And if I hear rumors of “Google creating a spreadsheet app” or possibly designing an OS, it does intrigue me to see how they might approach this. I kinda feel like apple products do match my lifestyle. I think the thing I’d say in defense of not being a fanboy is that I don’t buy their products exclusively and I’m really critical of the stuff that’s bad. I probably wouldn’t buy an “Apple branded phone” unless it was really really compelling. I think the Bluetooth mouse is kind weak. I don’t like the built in address book application. And I could go on. I think the thing that I’d say in defense of being called a fanboy is that I have the objectivity to be able to “not like” all of their offerings and to be able to criticize and say what it is that I don’t like.

    I think we have different definitions of what it means to be a “fanboy”. Neither is wrong. It reminds me of the nigger/nigga debate. To me, “fanboy” is a pretty strong word. Never can I recall having heard it on message boards in in a good context… have you? It has a really negative connotation. To me it says “I’m uninformed and all I know is Sega and there’s no other brand for me.” I think the difference between being a “fan” and being a “fanboy” is big. We’re all a fan of something, but once that something blinds you to the existence of other somethings, you could be headed down the “fanboy” road.

    I think he critical differences are tone, objectivity and willingness to consider alternatives.

    What do you think?

    This is my own made-up definition based on my web experience. This might be a good topic for a podcast. Perhaps we can add a few folks and go through some examples of situations?

  3. 3 Jeff T
    August 2, 2006 at 12:16 am

    Excellent points all around. You examined each point individually but what if someone answered yes to all of the questions I raised would that put them closer to being a fanboy?

    Yes you’re correct I’ve mostly heard the term fanboy used in a negative light to basically call another person close minded but the example I would give about a positive use of it is with the various fanboy web sites such as xbox360fanboy, ps3fanboy and nintendowiifanboy. They’ve taken the term fanboy and used it as a place where people could go to get information. So to me a fanboy could also be an person informed about a pariticular thing. I look at churchministers as fanboys of God sometimes and that is definitely a good thing.

  4. August 2, 2006 at 12:30 am

    You’re right — if someone said yes to all… you’re probably talkin to a fanboy.

    Fanboy sites…. didn’t even think about that. Yeah, it’s like the “nigga vs. nigger” thing. It’s been embraced as a term of endearment. That’s a positive example for certain.

    I know I got called a Sony fanboy over on 1up on the messageboards because I disagreed that the strategy of selling BluRay on top of the PS3 was a bad thing. (Another story alltogether.) But it just evolved from a discussion about whether it was wise to include BluRay or HD-DVD with a gaming system into a “what is the real definition of a fanboy.” Crazy. But I learned a lot.

    One of the topics I have queued up is redefining what a “Hater” is. That’s even a bigger bite to chew than “fanboy”. Hater gets tossed around for anybody who doesn’t smile at success. We got into it over on ConcreteLoop about what a hater is. I don’t know I’m always gettin in these discussions on 1up and ConcreteLoop.

  5. 5 matt mcdonalds
    August 2, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Well, i thank lord for those immense marketing work that potentially
    captured zillions of fanboys who inturn sell for their ‘fansymbol’ and correcting others. Fanboys are more gutted fellows, are at the peak level of their brand-affection but the hater thinks about rulings that i think worsen the current cool-fighting attitudes.

  6. April 23, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Although I think that fanboys can be rather annoying. They also certainly have there place. It is hard to say if someone ranting and talking about their great system or game is even going to convert someone to their views. In fact I think that when they go on bashing things that do not fall into there niche they create more negative publicity. I’ll admit that I used to a playstation fanboy but now that I see that other platforms have just as good as games I have decided not to base my judgments on a platform but the actual deciding factor for a game, which would be how much I enjoyed it.

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