"Yeah, let's just get those two guys to make out...it'll be part of the story...um...yeah...part of an IMPORTANT PART of the story!!"

Ah, fandom.  You either love it or hate it or want to SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER.  One of the somewhat frustrating yet interesting parts about the Internet is the simple ability for those who like the same things to coalesce and build intense non-canonical worlds involving their favorite characters.  From book series like "Harry Potter," to shows like "Dr. Who" to video games such as "God of War," there are intricate groups of fan-love and fan-hate, all of which do their darnedest to influence the actual fan-targeted material to accept their fan-created ideas.

Those eyes DERP, they DERP so hard! XD

Just as I am a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, so too have I noticed that there are quite a few people creating alternative fictions (or fictions that fit simultaneously and dovetail well into existing plot), as well as those who took actual characters such as "Derpy," a background Pegasus with "derping" eyes, and made her into an actual, fleshed out character.  One of the interesting things about this is that based on the fan input, the actual writers in the show started making the eyes of "Derpy" look cross eyed on purpose, even though it originally was a simple animation mistake.  From there, fiction grew, from her catchphrase "muffins" (which is apparently her only line in the show), to her job as a postal worker, her relationship to her daughter Dinky, and other various "facts" about her that are generally accepted by those who enjoy the show, even though in the actual show itself, none of these things have been fleshed out.



Bottom line here is that the fans of a series often dictate certain things, which result in the change of gameplay options, story arcs, and even characters themselves.  Sometimes it's even more insidious-it's based on "market research" or "test audiences" that basically curtail or squash creativity in gaming stories and ideas simply because games are first and foremost a commercial endeavor and not purely available as artistic and creative outlets.  To put it simply: There's a LOT of money on the line, and that money is largely dictated by the majority of people with the money that they're willing to spend towards games.  So I want to go into a couple of the things you tend to see in games because either "the fans" or "the Man" (ie: the multi-billion gross earning shareholders of the video game industry) want them there, because if you want to get a high profile, HD game made, then as they say in showbiz they want you to- "Show Me The Money."

Gameplay Issue 1: Cliche Cliches

You may not be familiar with anime, but if you are, you'll know that the whole "running out of the house with a piece of toast in your mouth because you're late for school/work" thing is indeed a cliche.  Just like "giant muscular space marine without the ability to smile" or "the black guy who always has some weird ghetto-ism to add to the conversation" or even "it's sci-fi, let's do faster-than-light travel, oh and green aliens with teardrop eyes!," all are conventions that largely point to sloppy storytelling.  Unless said game is trying to turn said conventions on their heads and make fun of them in a constructive sort of way, it generally falls flat because it's overused, tired and lazy as hell. 

One of the reasons why cliche's are so overly used is largely because they are safe and recognizable.  They are "safe" because they have been done over and over again, so there is already a president set for how audiences will react, and hence, one can gauge by previous reactions as to how popular and therefore profitable it will be.  This is largely why it seems like every single game has turned into an FPS game, and why everyone and their uncle is jumping on the "let's make a Black Ops game" bandwagon, even if the actual outcome sucks. It's also recognizable because as these things have come before so too do people find themselves drawn to something that looks similar to something that they enjoyed before.  It's one reason why people often have loyalty to Coke or Pepsi, and why people tend to desire "brand name" cereal based on watching Toucan Sam and the Trix Rabbit on Saturday morning as kids.  When you have an identifiable brand, such as Gears of War, and then you add a sequel number (2, 3, 148, etc), people go "ZOMG, this must be good because I liked the one before that!"  Even in this crappy economy, a lot of people buy things on impulse, and even if something sucks like a vacuum, recognizable names, images, and other things to make people feel that they are familiar with a new product will often cause them to buy without thinking all that much about it.

Gameplay Issue 2: Changing Characters ENTIRELY

When Final Fight was initially designed, they had a female boss character named Poison.  However, Capcom decided somehow that it would be horrible to beat up on a woman.  So what do they do?  OH THEY JUST CHANGED HER TO A TRANSSEXUAL.  Because everyone knows it's TOTALLY OK to beat up on transsexual people, right? *rolls eyes in sarcasm* 

This sort of thing is obviously not as common as, say, cutting out characters entirely or adding in a dynamic male character instead of a proposed dynamic female character because of fears that the (largely male) audience can't deal with women who don't fall into either the nonthreatening anime stereotypes or are dumb bimbos who exist for eye-candy (we will get to THAT one later, though).  There are also a lot of situations in which certain characters are cut simply because of lazy designing-the character would be too hard to render, or their story and background are far too complicated, so they're scrapped in place of eyegasm cutscenes that involve a lot of explosions.

Gameplay Issue 3: Boobs Before Content

I love a good bit of fanservice- after all, who doesn't like sexy ladies and sexy men?  But there is a *big* difference between having sexy characters/scenes in your game and trying to rely on hoping that giving your players a raging pants tent is going to completely distract them from the fact that your game is totally crap.  A lot of games from the 90's (especially fighting games) fall into this trap, but at least fighting games can somewhat get away with this since no one really cares why everyone is fighting-they just want to kick their friend's butt at Tekken, and if Ivy's going to have big old floppy knockers while you do it, then more power to you! 

However, there are situations (mainly Japanese games, but you see it in American games as well), where it is obvious that an outfit or female character is in the game to try and distract from other poor gaming elements (ie: "look at the boobs, there's nothing to see here, move along!").  Remember, game designers, the average guy playing video games these days is an adult who has probably had an actual relationship with an actual woman.  Perhaps this may have worked better when most gamers were around the age of 12-16, but now that a large number of the aduilt demographic have access to naked sexy ladies doing naked sexy things on the internet (not to mention actual relationships with real ladies), they don't really NEED horribly pixelated ladies running around in bikinis as a way to detract from the lack of graphics quality.  Also while we're at it, I would prefer if gaming companies could stop showing gay sex (particularly lesbian sex, since most games seem to be super afraid about the possibility of guys enjoying the sexual company of other guys) in a way that basically becomes pornographic pandering towards the heterosexual male crowd.  If a game is going to show gay sexual or relationship encounters, they need to be authentic to that sexuality, not some glossed over lipstick lesbian crap that totally invalidates and insults an entire sexuality.

(Important note: I don't want to leave out the homosexual/bisexual/pansexual/asexual people, but sadly, as most gaming is still geared almost 100% towards heterosexual males, I am addressing this as such.)

Gameplay Issue 4: Fandom Fantasy Fulfillment

Many fans of games enjoy main characters or supporting characters that fall into their own personal wish-fulfillment fantasies.  Unfortunately, so do many game designers.  Often, instead of fleshing out entire characters, designers play into their own fantasies, creating characters that don't really stand up well on their own.  Unfortunately, this can lead to the character not really sitting well with those who play the game, or generally lead to outright rejection of the game's story as being interesting simply because when you write in a bunch of characters who are enthralled with the main character for no particular reason, and then make sure that your character easily and effortlessly gets all amazing powers, abilities, and appearance factors (such as a robot laser arm), the game is not challenging and the gamers will not be happy.

There is a lot to be said about imperfect heroes, fighting the hard fight without godlike powers, and generally overcoming adversity with the problems that you encounter and the baggage that you bring into it.  Most people enjoy a character that goes beyond the silent player stand-in, and when you do that, those characters have to go beyond the basic archetypes of our afternoon fantasy insertion characters.


BUT WHAT CAN WE DO!?  I hear you asking.

This is where fandom comes in.  One of the best ways to vote for good stuff is with your pocketbook, but you can only go so far before you go broke.  Luckily the Internet of today has made it much easier for you to voice your opinion and get your feelings on a subject out there.  Utilizing social media, blogging, and generally spreading clear information can often help, but beyond that, i think that many fans need to break free from the grip of the feedback loop that one gets when safely in the confines of a fan-group, because generally when you're with other people who like what you like, it becomes a chorus of "yeah, I know what you're talking about," that resonates in the ears of everyone who already KNOWS.  The problem isn't the people in the know, it's all those people who walk into a store and derp around like an idiot grabbing the first thing with similar boxart to their last favorite shooter.

And every sale of a crap game tells game designers that droves of idiots will buy crappy games regardless of what those "niche fandoms" say as they put on their hipster jeans and cylce around on fixies and talk about how Psychonauts was the best game ever but only because no one else in the mainstream ever played it (note: not all people who play Psychonauts are the aforementioned elitists, but you can see how if you preach to the choir, you just get the same feedback flooded back at you).

Also, as a fan, do NOT get too disappointed if the characters you enjoy romancing together don't end up in the actual story as an item.  And don't seriously try and petition for your original characters to go into a game (many of you will think that I am being silly, but I know actual fans of various fandoms who have seriously tried this).  While some game designers will give you options (such as the kill/save Carmine vote for Gears of War 3), generally the core characters will not change unless there is a very vocal and directed movement in place to actually give pause to the people in charge for a good reason.  Of course, there are characters whose back-story and history in the fandom inspire people in the actual series to change or add various things, there is also a legal reason why this is rare.  In the past, fans have sued companies for "stealing" ideas that said fan came up with about the franchise/series.  This is not only expensive, but completely not worth it from a company point of view, so generally unless there is a contest or other legally controllable avenue for specific ideas for the game, it will often be painstakingly avoided if at all possible.

In short, following a fandom is not for the weak of heart.  It is also not for the people who don't enjoy the somewhat circular nature of groups that unequivocally tend to parrot back similar dogmatic devotion towards their favorite show/movie/game/etc.  However, I do think that it is fair to say that fandom has largely been a positive influence on the gaming industry in many ways (although the various periods of market saturation in specific genres that become "popular" are somewhat frustrating).  Not only do game designers try to hold themselves up to a better standard of storytelling, but there is a more accessible feel to getting your thoughts about gaming into the social consciousness thanks to social networking, blogospheres, and the ease of connecting to millions of strangers via the Internet in general.

Now, really, all we need is more and more simple game-creation software, because the truth of the matter is that when the average Joe can make a game, it will usher in an entirely new era of innovation-one that does not bow down to watered-down corporate interests and focus groups making same-y decisions in the name of maximizing profit.


So, dear readers, what do you think of fandom?

Do you belong to any specific fandom groups?

If so, what is the ONE thing you wish that you could change about your favorite game series as a fan?

And for the fan-impared among us, what do you think about how games are shaped by the people who play them?  Do the games influence the gamer to seek out more of the same or is the type of gamer influencing the games that are made?

I look forward to hearing from you soon!