Ever 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.