When fans go feral (aka the ugly culture of obsession)

For a good few weeks the pop culture world has been captivated by the “Hold the Door”/Hodor caper.

And many of those same fans rolling around in Thronesy-ecstasy – revelling loquaciously at the cleverness of the reveal – also happen to be the same ones aggrieved that George is writing slower than they’d hoped.

The depth and complexity of the narrative (compounded, no doubt, with all the violence, boobs and bush) underpins why the series is so adored. And yet fans – most driven by not a lot more than their enthusiasm – want ever more material pumped out, monkeys-at-typewriters speed.

More content, more quickly. With the quality maintained, of course.

To the best of my knowledge George is being left alone in Santa Fe to continue his ramblings. Sure, he’s probably feeling the weight of the millions of Oliver-like urchins begging him for more, but it seems he’s writing largely without duress.

The same can’t be said for Sean Murray.

Murray – and not the NCIS one – is a game developer and the brains, and toil, behind the eagerly awaited No Man’s Sky. Recently Murray dared announce that there’d be a delay on the new game.

To say some of his fans were unimpressed is quite the understatement. Rest-assured, however, that a path of utter nutjobbery has already been laid out by men who take their playtime a little too seriously, thus providing a playbook on how aggrieved fans should proceed here.

If Murray fails to hurry the hell up and give gamers the tools to play with themselves, then apparently it makes sense to put him in an early grave.

So what’s going on here? What’s to be made of people whose love for something – a celebrity, a television show, a computer game – turns feral and potentially dangerous?

Becoming obsessed with a person – stalking them, harassing them, thinking that they’re sending you secret messages of affection through the television screen – makes sense in a world where media-encouraged celebrity worship and mental illness readily clash. But for fans of Murray’s Hello World games, attachment isn’t being hinged to a person; rather more curiously, it’s to their assumed future love of a game that isn’t even playable yet.

Certainly there are some parallels here with celebrity worship. Just as you might really love a person and want more than you’re being offered, likely the same motivation drives desire for more television episodes, for more games. As pleasure-seekers, our appetite for things we love can be insatiable.

The Bolshy in me might also be inclined to hint to a neo-liberalist explanation for these shenanigans. That fans feel that by watching a show, by playing a game, they’ve become a customer of it. That they can harbour expectations and make demands based on their perception of having been key in delivering fame, and potentially also fortune, to the producer. That a kind of contract has been imagined, that expectations apparently, can rightfully be had.

If we view a television show or a game as art then perhaps this mentality can be dismissed as deluded malarkey and the antithesis of creativity. If, however, we acknowledge that computer games and Thrones episodes are actually products and are produced primarly because they make lots of money, does it not at least partly make sense that viewers have also come to view themselves in a transaction?

Those prospective No Man’s Sky fans, however, weren’t merely ravenous admirers or angry customers. Nope, they were aggressive jerks. They were – behind the protective shield of their monitors and donning the superpower of online anonymity – typing out threats.

While the ubiquitousness of this kind of despicable behaviour may halt us being too shocked, nonetheless we shouldn’t come to view this behaviour as just another cost of going online. Such awfulness needs to be called out and shamed as appalling rather than just tolerated as another yawn-worthy example of internet insanity.

Threats to Murray of course, provide another useful illustration of the aggression of a small number of gamers and the ugly culture that surrounds them. The threats highlight the worrying inability of some people to separate real life from game play.

They also beautifully illustrate that while it might be girls screaming and hyperventilating at a 5SOS concert, it is men who are showing their own love through violence.

June 2, 2016

© Lauren Rosewarne

Original Source: ABC The Drum