No doubt about it: “elitist” is an ugly world. Its connotation brings to mind concepts such as exclusion, snobbery, gatekeeping, and general nastiness…
… okay, so maybe there’s a lot wrong with being elitist.
It might be worth taking a look beyond the obvious negatives and examine what makes someone elitist in the first place, though. It can clearly be an ugly behavior, but there are two sides to every coin, so what could possibly make elitism sympathetic, and what can cause it in gaming?
Across any form of media, but often games, there are people who will shut out others if they don’t feel like they are “true fans” of a franchise in question. We have probably all been guilty of this, to some level, but when it’s taken to an outspoken measure that aims to block a sizable audience from enjoying the product, that’s when the elitism issue tends to come into play. Why do these people become so outspoken, though? Which woodwork did these ardent defenders come out from? Should they be taking it all so seriously?
It may boil down to how much you feel the piece of media resonates with yourself. If it’s a large part of your life, you’re naturally going to become protective of it, perhaps overprotective. Maybe we shouldn’t get so attached to media that we lash out at others over it?
In my own experience, though, I’ve seen it happen — the reason for such paranoia. In games, in film, in real life: the phenomenon of something becoming more widely-appealing to appease to a wider majority, but in effect becoming more streamlined, shallow, and diluted in the process, losing part of what some once liked about it. The end experience for early adopters, sometimes, being butter spread too thin over a piece of toast.
Sticking with the toast analogy for a moment: yes, more people can have buttered toast this way; many more can enjoy it now… except the early adopters who miss how good the toast used to be with ample butter. To them, these late adopters are sometimes perceived as “no true countrymen,” who enjoy the toast, but only superficially. What if they’re onto something, and point out that many of these newcomers just take a couple bites and throw the toast away, and spoil a special thing? Could it be possible that elitists, sometimes, are rightfully upset? To use a historical example, were Native Americans elitist for not wanting to share their land? To settlers, it may have been open to interpretation, which evidently led to unfortunate displays of the concept on their own part.
In business, sometimes a brand exceeds itself and gets too big to stay the same as it was. A book that I recently read, entitled Anything You Want, chronicled an entrepreneurial venture by the author, musician Derek Sivers. He founded a company in the ’90s called CD Baby, which sold CDs from independent music artists online, cutting out the record labels (this was before iTunes or Spotify, and filled a great need for independent musicians). Sivers had a great time running the company, and it became a huge success, but eventually, it grew far more quickly than he had ever anticipated. Due to how much “paperwork,” to paraphrase, was now required in his daily activities, he soon felt it wasn’t fun anymore to run the company; how it became less of a scrappy adventure and more of a life-consuming management role. So, at that point, he sold the company. Sivers managed to benefit music education charity in big ways via the payout, which is great, but the fact remains that he did sell his company because it eventually got too big and changed too much.
If you take a look around, I believe that you can see that transformation across all sorts of franchises, companies, and brands. Increasing revenue is inherently considered a good thing for the business, but it may not always be a good thing for the product. In my personal opinion, I think the Halo franchise attests to this. With each title after Halo 3, the series gradually began to adopt the qualities of popular games in its genre that were financially successful. Eventually, they still felt like well-crafted games, but less like Halo games. For example, I enjoyed Halo 4‘s campaign, but its multiplayer introduced a new ability to spawn pre-loaded with vehicle-neutralizing plasma grenades. Halo‘s vehicles were always a fun part of its multiplayer, but there is little point of being in one when they are deathtraps. This issue has supposedly been mitigated in Halo 5, and the game seems to have done very well, but I haven’t re-visited the series since the fourth installment after its multiplayer felt different down to a quantum level. Though, if Microsoft releases The Master Chief Collection for Windows — a compilation including classic Halo games, currently only available on Xbox One — that will get me to come back.
I have also seen this sentiment of changing tides toward other games, like in World of Warcraft — which, naturally, is a game that’s going to change due to being a persistent online world, especially over a decade after its initial release. I had played WoW in its original pre-expansion state and haven’t played it much since, but I’ve heard there have been quite an amount of substantial changes since then (as I would hope so, thirteen years later). Whether the changes are for better or worse is debatable, I imagine, but there is obviously a large number of players who are interested in the way the game used to be, hence the imminent arrival of World of Warcraft: Classic later this year — a reverting to the old model of the game that was less polished, but in effect held the player’s hand a little less than the current vision reportedly does.
Then there is the message, and the way the message is delivered. You can be in favor of the way a thing used to be, or how something currently is but is showing signs of changing, and not be incendiary about it, not have your comments be acidic toward others on the opposing side. However, this can often turn into a battle of different ideologies on a topic important to many on each side, so it’s understandable, if unfortunate, when it gets ugly. Perhaps that’s what’s “so wrong” about being elitist: not just debating, but going in for the kill by denouncing someone’s character based on their opinion or who they are. That kind of elitism can be ugly, but I think it often comes down to a fear of losing something valued and trying to protect it, which can be a warranted concern when it’s happened before.
Is it possible to make too much money as a company if the goal is to keep a product a certain way? Do you fault a company for chasing money? I think, like with all things, it’s not a black-and-white matter, and depends heavily on context. Do you fault casual fans for adopting something they enjoy, and causing that thing to change? I don’t think that’d be entirely fair, since none of us are early adopters or superfans of everything we enjoy. I think it’s important, though, to take a look at what the effect that catering to a widening audience has on the quality of the product itself, and determine what the end goal is, before butter is spread too thin.
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