Earlier this month, we kicked off Eurogamer's new series of For and Against articles with a debate about motion control. The idea was to settle the argument once and for all.
The result was a pretty evenly split vote, which as everyone knows is a mandate to close Britain's libraries, make universities charge £10,000 an hour and abolish the dole in favour of workhouses.
Anyway, this time around, veteran GamesIndustry.biz columnist Rob Fahey is going head-to-head with Eurogamer TV's Johnny Minkley. They're arguing about fanboyism. Is it a bit of fun which provides a much-needed outlet for passionate expression and lively debate, or does it $uxx0r?
Read what Johnny and Rob have to say below, and don't forget to cast your vote in the poll at the end.
The Case For... By Johnny Minkley
During my early years at secondary school, I had a jotter with "SEGA RULES OK" scrawled over every inch of the front and back covers. One afternoon in a biology lesson, when the teacher wasn't looking, I furtively scribbled it on the white board for a chortle before moving quickly to scrub it off. Only, in a flash of genius, I'd mistakenly used a permanent marker. Detention.
In 1991 I spent a day being mercilessly mocked by classmates thanks to my now-colleague Richard Leadbetter. I'd spent the weeks and months prior to this moment preaching the gospel of Sonic The Hedgehog to everyone within earshot.
Then a kid brought in a subscription copy of Mean Machines in which the Digital Foundry technomage had scored it "only" 92 per cent. The effect was catastrophic. I was laughed out of the gates, left to wander home broken and bereft.
I could go on. The point is, during that devastating hormonal car crash into adolescence, I had to do something with my raging passions other than knock one out over the lingerie pages of the Littlewoods catalogue. And so my obsession became gaming.
On one level, fanboyism is all about competition and social status: knowing more about something than anyone else. The more obscure the more authentic, the better. It's the essence of geek. From pub quiz to Mastermind, the battle to be Fan No.1 is never-ending.
But as we cope with the shifting emotional sands of youth, the colours we nail to the mast, the posters we Blu-Tack to our walls (all Mega Drive games, natch), the things we furiously defend online are not just what define us, but what shape our future selves.
Indeed, my 12 year-old self's painfully insecure need to prove I was ultimate authority and last word on SEGA amongst my peer group kick-started the process that got me writing this article. And I'm hardly alone.
Without fanboyism there would be no games press. The critical method can be developed later – but the preceding years of partisan preaching, bitching, flaming and posturing nurture the voice of the aspiring writer.
When I was a child there wasn't an internet through which to broadcast my
humiliating love-letters searing critiques on videogames. I made do with sketching out my own fanzines in notebooks, painstakingly replicating the style of my favourite mags.
Now, of course, fanboy can splurge his opinions online in a thousand different ways. Yes, most of this is just shouting into the void. But when engaged with properly, the voice is not only heard, but also shared – enriching the body of opinion on any subject.
Where the professional critic may lack the resources or inclination, the fanboy dutifully wades in with his mental archive of suddenly relevant trivia and, crucially, the desire and need to be heard - and so contributes in a meaningful way.
At its best, the sheer volume of impassioned opinion online expands debate, deepens knowledge and keeps journalists on their toes, whilst all the while evolving our understanding of how games can be enjoyed and understood. And most of this is done not for a single penny, but simply for the love of it.
It would of course be absurd to pen a hagiography of the fanboy without acknowledging the ugly, nasty side of fan culture. Blinkered attachment blinds us to reason, arbitrarily limits what we allow ourselves to enjoy, stifles constructive debate and – as every internet forum testifies - brings out the worst in people.
There's a body of psychological research that suggests – counter-intuitively – the last person you should ask for buying advice is the person who's just bought the thing you're asking about.
If someone's spent a fortune on a car, for example, and it actually turns out to be right old banger, the pain of admitting gross error is so great that cognitive biases kick in until the buyer sees only virtue in their purchase.
The man with the PlayStation tattoo I met recently who has spent thousands of pounds on Sony games and consoles might know a lot about gaming, but I'd be a bit silly to rely exclusively on his advice as to which console to buy. The greater the investment – financial, temporal and emotional – the greater the blind devotion.
Because the fanboy is defined by his obsession, the darker side of abuse in all its forms will sadly always be a dimension and cause a great deal of hurt. But fanboyism is also human nature and so one must take the good with the "WTF UR A IGNERENT C*** HOPE U GETT AID'S N DIE LOL".
As the popularity and demographic of gaming expands, so the vitriol will become more intense and poisonous. But the rise of the casual gamer is not the death knell for the hardcore. The industry loves to celebrate how the image of gaming as the preserve of the lonely teenager in his bedroom has changed – and rightfully so.
But the teenager is still hidden away in his bedroom, curtains drawn, stale pizza on the floor, playing games and masturbating furiously. He is a teenager after all. But he's now no longer part of the typical majority, rather part of a niche amongst an increasing and increasingly varied global audience. That's what happens in a healthy, maturing entertainment market.
But that also means there will be growing pains. The fanboy will thrash around like Harry Enfield's Kevin at the profound unfairness of the hobby he considers to be "his" being stolen away from him by ignorant interlopers like the Redknapps. People who aren't worthy enough because they don't care enough. To Nintendo loyalists, the company's apparent lust for the casual coin of housewives is nothing short of betrayal. "How could they do this to me?"
Whether a heartfelt expression or barefaced lie, there's a good reason why publishers and developers nowadays always champion the gaming "community" and insist they're always "listening" to fans. Hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned - and the internet provides effective means to organise and attack enemies of any size.
But it is precisely because of this change that we need fanboys now more than ever. Simply put, fanboyism is gaming culture. It's what, beyond the games, makes our entertainment industry entertaining and keeps its pulse racing.
What an astonishingly tedious world it would be if every conversation about videogames were based entirely on cold logic, sterile fact and tepid reasonableness.
Passionate partisanship is gaming's lifeblood. In an event-driven industry it's what gets people out in the streets at midnight in the middle of winter to be among the first to buy a new console. You won't see Louise Redknapp dressed as an orc outside HMV, waiting to buy the new World of Warcraft expansion.
The fanboy is gaming's unsung hero, spreading the industry's word and defending its faith – but also vitally scrutinising its every move, ready to apply pressure when the Goliaths err, and to provide a loud chorus in championing the deserving Davids. We do it because we care. And so I implore you to take out your jotters, grab a pen, and proudly pledge your allegiance once more to our great cause: "FANBOYS RULE OK".
The Case Against... By Rob Fahey
Yes, this the miseryguts side of the argument. The shut-up-and-get-off-my-lawn-you-damned-kids argument. A thousand words on why youthful enthusiasm is annoying and passionate arguments on the internet herald mankind's downfall.
Except that when people complain about Bloody Fanboys, that's not what they're actually complaining about at all. It's not a criticism of enthusiasm or exuberance. It's not even, in all honesty, a newspaper-rustling, harrumphing moan about comments threads that descend into sprawling, messy arguments between rival factions.
No, you know what it is? It's disappointment. It comes from a bleak, depressing sense that talking about videogames should be better, more interesting, more insightful. Yet somehow, we always end up dragged into pathetic discussions about capitalist economics and quirks of technology, instead of ever getting to say anything truly meaningful about this medium.
Oh, hark at him. Truly meaningful! Next he'll be telling us Games Are Art, with capitals and all. But there's the thing: sidestep the Art debate if you want, but I'd like to think there are meaningful things to say about a hobby I choose to devote so much of my time and money to.
There are meaningful things to say about films, about music, about sport, about literature of all kinds, about architecture and food and sex and home decorating and just about everything else we humans choose to devote our free time to.
I know for a fact that there are equally meaningful, insightful conversations to be had about games - and I know for a fact that no poorly structured forum post on why "Xbox is the best!!!" or "Nintendo just wants to make money!!!!" is contributing anything to those conversations.
You know what you're doing? You're clogging the airwaves. Screwing up the signal to noise ratio with your tiresome, meaningless flamewars, your pointless leaping to the defense of globe-spanning corporations who couldn't give a damn if you were slaughtered in your bed tonight, were it not for the fact that then you'd stop emptying your wallet into their cavernous bank accounts.
I guess this is fun for you, although let's be honest here - it doesn't say a lot for your argument if you spend more time posting on the internet about the sexual orientation of other console owners than actually playing games on your own system.
It's not that we don't all understand your motivation. You just spent a hell of a lot of money on a console and some games and, dammit, you're not going to let some other angry kid on the internet slag off your purchase.
At least not without exacting sweet, sweet revenge, probably in the form of spelling the name of their favoured company "$ony" or "Micro$oft". Boom! Pow! Knock-out punch! (What a shame there's no S in Nintendo - first fanboy to crack that tough cookie is an internet superhero.)
Of course, real fanboys have grown out of ascribing anthropomorphic sexualities to inanimate gaming hardware. They've packed up their $ signs and clever rhyming puns featuring the word "gay" and moved into the comments threads about Serious Business, like quarterly financials and profit forecasts and corporate lawsuits and pixel shaders and alpha transparencies and shadow mapping and cabbages and kings.
Let's face facts - you don't know a damned thing about any of that stuff. Not really. You've read a few articles on the internet, and you've seen some phrases repeated often enough that you can blab them back out again like a parrot (possibly with some extra swearing added to show just how serious this all really is).
But if you really understood market economics, or corporate law, or modern graphics processing hardware... Well, you'd be earning a lot more money, you'd be able to afford to buy all the consoles you wanted, and you wouldn't have to engage in competitive online urination contests to prove the worthiness of your purchasing decisions.
The problem for the rest of us - the reason you're an annoyance, not just an amusement - is that you make so much bloody noise the games media, the whole conversation around games, ends up catering to you.
Online discourse has changed in the past five years. Stories about corporations and graphics chipsets have edged out the opportunity to actually talk about games, about what they do and how they do it and where they're going and where we'd like them to go. Those discussions are still happening, but they're happening on the fringes. In the middle ground is a pack of bizarre, braying lunatics.
You've turned discussion about videogames into a weird, mirror-world parody of itself. Reading a gaming forum or comment thread (sadly, even reading a lot of games publications themselves) has become like turning up to a book festival, keen to discuss this year's best literature, only to discover that everyone else there is an insane bore.
An insane bore who only wants to talk about the fonts and paper types used to print the books, or who insists on only reading books published by Penguin - and loudly casts aspersions upon the bedroom peccadilloes of anyone who reads books published by Random House. Or should I say, Random Hou$e! Bash! Boom! Take that, Random House book-reading bottom-pirates!
Yes, I recognise the irony of referring to books in an article addressing a demographic unlikely to have read any without pictures. I embrace it.
I love videogames. My own enthusiasm for them is almost boundless. That's why you, the fanboy - the loudmouth with unwavering passion for arguments but not for creativity, for insults but not artistry, for denigrating the joys of others but never truly exploring your own - are such a damned disappointment.
You type so much and say absolutely nothing. You attract enemy radar. You nudge people while they're trying to shoot. You muck about.
Finally, worst of all, the fanboy is a boring gamer. He is devoted to specific genres, set in his ways, despising and deriding change or progress, yet always quick to bemoan the industry's "lack of innovation".
This isn't healthy enthusiasm. This isn't something we should celebrate as a sign of the passion gaming can induce.
You fanboys are just loud kids, most of whom wouldn't dare to say boo to a goose in real life, rejoicing in wearing team colours and getting to call the other team "gay" from the anonymous safety of your messy bedrooms. You've invaded our hobby, flooded our conversations with braying inanity, and twisted the media to your way of unthinking.
Frustratingly, you didn't even read this - you got to the bottom of the page, didn't see a score, and clicked away. That's the kind of person you are. If only you'd click away for good.
Cast Your Vote
Well, there you have it. Are you in favour of flame war-starting fanboys and console racists? Do you think they keep the industry alive? Or would you rather the internet became a bit more like Newsnight Review?
(Personally we'd rather Newsnight Review became more like the internet - imagine Tony Parsons telling Tom Paulin to eat some dix, n00b. But anyway.) Have your say below!