Monday, 24 February 2014

Filthy Casuals: Apologia Pro Vitam Nostrum.

First, Murddock wants to apologize for his rusty Latin … ahem … Aquilonian.  It’s the first of a few 'apologiae' to be forthcoming in this month’s meandering entry. This outing takes a sideways and meandering wander from Age of Conan specifically to contemplate the place of casual players in MMOs.

Accepting for the moment that global capitalism through its mechanisms of various class, race, sexual, and religious tensions, is doing a first-rate job creating a world ripe with divisiveness; why is there a specific vector of  contempt from some gamers for other gamers, when conventionally gamers as a whole are a subset of geeks.  And furthermore, why so when geeks have traditionally been classed as outsiders ... a social position that geeks themselves often encourage and relish: "Can't we all just get along?"

That Meme - A Double Edged Sword

If you play and follow MMOs (or probably any video games) on the web, you’ve no doubt seen it: the meme that disparages casual (and this entry will immanently argue, hard-core) gamers ---  “Don’t touch me you filthy casual.”   

As far as Murd can ascertain (in a brief web search) the term "filthy casual" began its life on 4chan's VG forum and the meme followed soon thereafter. 

Yeah at first glance, it's pretty funny in its own dry douchey way.  After all, it initially appears to be just an amusing indictment of players who dabble in games by the hardcore types.  Yet, upon reflection the meme is just as much a shot at the depicted hardcore player, whose self-definition, is derived from being good at or dedicated to a game. It reinforces the stereotype of the anti-social couch-potato bespectacled dude, who equates his awesome tenacity, experience, and skill  in Dark Souls with somehow being an elite.  As self-satire, the meme is funny and telling: it plays on the stereotype of gamers as having their own Nietzschean caste system ... complete with nerd Ueber-Menschen aiming for the top echelons, and semi-nerd untouchables at the bottom.

The meme is extrinsically meaningful because many gamers see themselves as part of a reactionary counter-culture (this is the legacy of 80's and 90's cyber-punk).  The meme highlights a milieu that rejects not only the Pinot slurping, chino wearing, Michael Bolton-loving So-Cal types. The meme's intrinsic meaning additionally seeks the exclusion of poser-geeks and wannabes in their boutique aged Green Day (or Green Lantern a la Sheldon Cooper) t-shirts.  It goes ultimately to the point of trying to invalidate genuine game-nerd misanthropists by suggesting that real commitment to game supremacy requires the adoption deep pure alienation from all compassion to achieve a state of pure isolated otherness.   Yet by reinforcing the stereotype that constructs 'true' gamers as outsiders, as a meme specifically, an signifier native to the web, it reminds us that in cyber-space, we gamers are anything but.  We are a core element of 21st century culture, so paradoxically, the more a gamer tries to be an elite, a stand-out among gamers, the more he or she cements himself or herself into that cultural brick wall.  In short: in the 21st century, outsiders are the in-crowd. 

The schmancy term for this is "out-group homogeneity bias". It's a feature of  human psychology that when individuals observe cultural groups (or sub-groups) of others from the outside, they perceive and catalogue general similarities shared within the observed group and thereby create a broad mental category.  A week ago Io9 ran an article on this phenomenon looking at hipsters specifically, stating their "relentless pursuit of individuality seems to make them almost cardboard cut-outs of each other".  The implication of this is that by trying to be ultra-hardcore; in aiming to be a stand-out; in trying to be a distinct individual within the game community, such players to some degree actually inform a new stereotype.  This is why the "Don't touch me" meme undermines the dignity of hard-cores as well as casuals.  Conforming to a stereotype is the very antithesis to being individuated.

Geek Culture and the Pursuit of Individual Recognition.

Think about our stereotypes and archetypes: among the paragons of power and wealth and influence in Western Culture, side by side the Rolandos, the Jay-Z's and Pope Francises, the are the nerd-oligarchs: the  Gateses, the Jobses, the Musks, the Brins and the Pages. The most sought after (top earning and pirated) movies are ripe with nerd-holy icons: Hobbits, Avengers,  Batman, and Supes.  We geeks are the market place; we probably keep the publishing industry alive:  George RR Martin's tomes have ruled the NY Times Bestseller's list so often in the last 5 years that it'd make  Norman Mailer or Truman Capote turn over in their respective graves.  Sincere but financially less successful writers (those who self-conceived notion of 'literary' excludes genre fiction) are feeling the pressure. Some are obviously foxes (as in Aesop's talking animals) who see the success of popular fantasy as sour grapes.   Academically too, nerd-culture has been the mainstream for decades with the works of Mary Shelley, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley,  Kurt Vonnegut, and Anthony Burgess are all Lit 101 canonical fodder and yeah, they're fantastic genre fiction.

Whereas in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, fantasy/sci-fi were considered escapist or infantile (if you can find Arthur Koestler's 1953 essay "The Boredom of Fantasy" it typifies the academic elite's view of genre.)  In those days the gronk was king ... the culture told nebbish, bookish nerd-kids (male ones, at least) they were inadequate.  Social influence, sexual success, and self-determination were achieved by physicality not intellect.  Get respect by getting ripped!  Such classic Charles Atlas ads were still ubiquitous in comics in the 70s and 80's, after Atlas passed away.

Charles Atlas' immortal parable

Quaint, yeah?  In 2014, mo-fos are cyber-bullied.  Muscles don't friggin' matter ... folks just even the odds on Facebook by creating and harnessing the power of community. That's if you're lucky.  Woebetide the knob who kicks sand in the face of the wrong nerd, these days.  He's is rolling the dice in a rigged game. Lose and just maybe 'Mac' will get revenge by spamming the offending bully's facebook page or Linkedin account, so it's chained by HTML to politically objectionable factions' online.  Then some sketchy agency flags him, spots his police record of misdemeanors for pubic drunkenness or petty assault; and soon doors are battered down, flash-bangs go off and when the ringing in his ears subsides, the arrogant meat-head realizes he's in a darkened shipping container ... and next he'll be hanging ankle-bound on a plank while getting generous helpings of water poured into his sinuses. 

Plus who actually wants to be the "hero of the beach"?  Beaches on the Atlantic are covered in the benzene rich residue of BP's incompetence, and in the Pacific ... yup ... radioactivity!  Hang out on the beach long enough, you'll acquire a nifty mutant super-power: the power to lift fastest growing tumors on Earth, the ones in your armpits.  Okay okay, this is a little glib, but we're much closer to William Gibson's 'unevenly distributed' future than thought likely when Neuromancer hit the presses in 1984 ... Shit we're closer to the reality of Nineteen Eighty-Four than ever before (How close? Just measure your distance from North Korea ... do it! Use Google Maps. Better still, follow Cory Doctorow's blog, Boing Boing )

It's no irony that most stand-out hardbodied celebs currently owe their financial success, not to body-building per se, but to the roles they served cinematically.  Arnold Schwarzenegger's career was cemented by The Terminator, but his Conan was the point of no return.  His hollywood muscle-beach forebears Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon) and Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan) had the great misfortune to work in Hollywood at the height of studio system, which gave them fame but only moderate wealth. Arnold's physique gave him access to the star-power of the films created by geek outsiders like Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron or even the late-great John Milius.

Edward Summer (left) Frank Frazetta (center) and George Lucas (right)
Consider the photo above. These geeks made our culture. Edward Summer was a contributor to Milius' Conan The Barbarian.  Frank Frazetta is well ... Frazetta, the guy who most created the visual tone and sensibility of low pulp fantasy in the 20th century.  Frazetta is the bare-knuckles Brooklyn dude with a duck-tale 20 years outta style ... a fact about which he could've cared less.  While George Lucas is a furry man in an unfortunate sweater, gladly holding his Frazetta print book (autographed?).  So the next time you're trying to score some nerd conversation points, you can say definitively that when Lucas put Carrie Fisher in that slave girl get up ... he had Frazetta's work in mind.

Frazetta's risque aesthetic, no doubt inspired Leia's more PG costume.

Blah Blah Blah ... Get to the point.

If you followed this ramble with even the slightest of interest, or if you found yourself doing a furious web-search, to attempt to see whether the painting above predates RoTJ ; ... if you actually know what RoTJ stands for, then you're simply culturally literate and critical.  And that's what the huge silent majority of we "filthy casual" players do, we bring that cultural critical mass to AoC, or to any MMO we play.  Casuals constitute the 'massive' element in a multi-player community: in which the Brownian motions of individual players keep games alive (via subs, box or shop purchases, or even as F2P numbers on servers).  Casuals are the very mass against which fiercely individualistic players react, and in so doing obliterate their own individuality.

Don't take this the wrong way, TMAB is absolutely not against hardcore players.  Murd's first-rate guild is full of great experienced players, who generously provide excellent advice and who make AoC's broader player community all the richer. Even trolls and ninjas have a place in the massively shared game space; without them MMOs would be less random, less human, and lack the spark and drama, that separates them from closed predictable game worlds.  This week, AoC's premier and longest continuous blogger and Hyborian aficionado, Slith - the Blonde Myth of Aquilonia,  unsubbed and has indicated that he's not logging until some new substantial content appears.  This is a real loss for both the game and the community.

Don't go, Slith!  Don't go.

Games, especially ones that aspire to have the longevity of an MMO, absolutely need skilled, passionate, competitive people.  And yeah, Murd deeply admires the folks who have the free time and energy and focus to progress quickly.  Real life work scheduling has kept Murd from doing T3 raids for just about a year.  That's a far as Murd's gotten, so far and as a proud filthy casual, Murd's just fine with that.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post that brings up topics related to aoc. This "elitism" in aoc is a big problem for new players, they feel left out. But i cannot blame myself for not taking care about new players and "casuals", most of the time it's thier problem because they refuse to listen and get advices from much more experienced players. In few cases when thier own pride havenät overcomed them, they can sometimes ask for advice. Thanks for the read.!