Entitlement Culture

Apparently I write about (gamer) entitlement every two years.

Well, here is the 2018 version, inspired by this section from MMOBro’s recent post:

The problem with trends is that businesses chase them to the detriment of innovation and traditional success stories. It also reinforces the entitlement culture gamers have developed over the years. Read responses to any game developer’s tweet if you don’t believe me. “I supported you for 10 years and now you RUINED Magic Turtle Kingdom by adding BLUE HAIR! READ THE LORE! You’re so stupid I uninstall and never support you again.” This is an issue with society at large, but game design continues to move in a direction that feeds player entitlement. Games tell players they earn their wins but aren’t to blame for their losses, and egos balloon as a result.

All of this creates more toxic communities, games developed for the common denominator, less creative character development, and less chances to show player skill. It’s not where I want see game development money heading, but you can’t outrun a tsunami.

The Bro’s overall post was about the lamentation of the “MMOification” of all gaming genres. Which is a thing more commonly referred to as “adding RPG elements,” but seeing as RPGs are becoming rather scarce these days, MMOs are probably a good enough example to explain what is happening. Which, basically, is a cross-generation acknowledgment that XP and seeing meters fill up is pretty universally compelling (to a point).

But what I actually want to talk about is this part:

It also reinforces the entitlement culture gamers have developed over the years.


First, using “entitlement” as a pejorative is a thought-terminating cliche that absolves one of examining whether the implicit claims make any sense. By saying “entitled gamer” you really mean “gamer who erroneously believes their opinion has value” without bothering to explain A) why that opinion holds no value, and B) why your own opinion does.

But it’s worse than that. The (presumably hypothetical) example of a gamer tweeting criticism of an apparent lore discrepancy is meant to make the entire exchange seem ridiculous. Not just the threatening of uninstalling part, but also, implicitly, the giving so much of a shit about lore/story/world in the first place. I agree that such a tweet is bombastic and the tone counter-productive. But instead of having a conversation about whether the designers actually ignored the rules of their own game fiction, we’re talking about “entitled gamers.”

Second, there is a presupposition that gamers have changed over the years at all. Did you really not know anyone who behaved like this hypothetical entitled gamer prior to the age of MMOification? Did not see them in high school, or the Returns section of Wal-Mart, or at the sidelines of their kids’ soccer games? Did you not encounter them playing Magic: the Gathering, or in Counter-Strike lobbies, or in your D&D group? Did you perhaps only encounter them once you started playing with large groups of completely random people from across the country/globe?

What changed was access. If someone was really upset about Super Metroid, they mailed a letter to Nintendo Power or otherwise shouted into the void. You never heard it. These days, they shout in your Twitter feed, your Facebook timeline, or in your subreddit. None of which existed prior to 2004, by the way, and didn’t get really popular until years later. We’re barely a decade into this grand “give everyone a voice” experiment, and as it turns out, not everyone has something nice to say.

Even worse/better, the developers want the shouting! Probably not the death threats and general ugliness, but absolutely the feedback and passionate, free advertising that spreads by digital word-of-mouth. These companies are not handing down stone tablets from on high – they are selling a product. And when you are in sales, it literally pays to attend to the ministrations of your customers.

This positive attention, not generalized entitlement, is what encourages a quite literal feedback loop. Maybe this loop counts as changed behavior, but that’s a function of attention, not egos inflated by game mechanics. I still contend that we’re only more aware of the nonsense these days because the devs have Twitter accounts (etc) to conveniently compile all the nonsense in a single location, which we then encounter as we try to glean nuggets of design wisdom from the chicken entrails.

In summation: when you pool everything in the same place, of course the turds float to the top.

The irony is that, at the end of the day, we all want better games, yeah? We may disagree on what “better” consists of or how to accomplish it, but we all desire fun things to play. The one sure-fire way to not achieve that goal is to claim one’s opponents as “entitled” or that there is an “entitlement culture” and thereby erode the very notion that gaming can (or should) be taken seriously at all.

If the kind of games you want to pay for are no longer being made, that’s a market failure. Threatening to quit over blue-haired turtles is rather silly, but I’d rather have developers attentive to details than the opposite, and you should too. Because, eventually, it will impact your favorite game.

And then you will not be entitled to complain about it.

Posted on December 13, 2018, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. This is an excellent post. Very sensible comments on the topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed, very good post on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. Spot-on nailing of the lazy and largely meaningless invocation of “entitlement”.

    I particularly like and endorse “By saying “entitled gamer” you really mean “gamer who erroneously believes their opinion has value”. There’s altogether too much naming and shaming of people for daring to have an opinion and express it, these days, as though caring about something is in itself deserving of criticism. Argue against opinions to change them, correct factual inaccuracies or provide explanstions and evidence for another point of view, by all means. Don’t just hand-wave uncomfortable arguments away with jargon and memes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “a cross-generation acknowledgment that XP and seeing meters fill up is pretty universally compelling”

    Indeed. I came to conclusion a decade or so back that MMOs had discovered something pretty magical – there were enough gamers who were addicted to collecting pixels and increasing numbers that it didn’t actually have to matter any more whether your game was FUN or not. They would get invested in the progression, and then the sunk cost fallacy would make them stay.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this does amplify the so-called entitlement culture. If someone plays your game because it’s fun, and then they stop finding it fun, they’ll probably just stop playing.

    But if they play your game like a job, working and doing their chores to get virtual rewards, and then you make a change which impinges on their “employment”, they will get ANGRY!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Some great points in the post (the part about how entitled gamers were always around but now their voices are amplified through access, in particular) but I don’t wholly agree.

    There is, unfortunately, a general zeitgeist of mistrust toward expertise in the world today, which has bled over to gaming. Gamers, particularly of the self-identified variety, make for an especially fertile ground for that sort of thing, for cultural reasons.

    Game devs are supposed to be the experts in their field. They’re the ones who, at least in theory, beat the hiring/funding gauntlet on their merits. That their opinion on how to make a good game ought to carry greater weight than that of the person in the street used to be… more or less self-evident, as with any other profession. That is not to say that prospective customers shouldn’t be sounded out as to their taste, and they are, on the devs’ terms. There are focus groups, QA, alpha and beta testing (when the latter isn’t just a marketing exercise, anyway). But the pervasive idea that some guy’s rant on twitter, or a flash mob on reddit, should be taken seriously as a means of consultation… yeah, it amounts to entitlement.

    J. Allen Brack got memed for his “you think you do but you don’t” line, and devs and customer relations reps have long been trained to pay lip service to the idea that the untutored mob knows best, but people routinely say and demand things that are not remotely reflected in their behaviour or proclivities as reflected in the internal metrics available to game developers. Elsewhere, insane fortunes have been built by paying attention to what people do, not say, and giving us things we never asked for or imagined we needed. Conversely, people often ask for directly self-contradictory things that vaguely add up to more dopamine sooner – but to come out and state some of those home truths of behavioural psychology is to invite crucifixion. Usually from the same kind of gamers who will turn around and gatekeep other gamers from opining because they haven’t even cleared normal/hit 1800 rating/ranked silver/whatever…

    Of course, the ‘experts’ get it hilariously, outrageously wrong on occasion, although I would argue that many of the greatest blunders come from weird monetisation pressures rather than ignorance of the craft. These instances, like, say, the F76 open mike, get a lot of schadenfreude-laced attention because we love it when we’re right and they slip on banana peels. On the whole, though, they know their games best. I struggle to think of any other form of entertainment where the audience claims the right to meddle in the details of the creation process quite to the same extent, as opposed to just letting the product succeed or fail as a whole, in a binary way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A full reply will likely need to be its own post, but fundamentally, I have zero particular belief that game devs are “experts in their field.” It’s better to compare them to chefs. You don’t need to go to culinary school to be a good chef, and having a degree doesn’t mean you always cook tasty food. Being the best chef in the world will not stop a dish tasting like shit if there is too much salt/it’s burnt/etc. We assume that game devs at successful gaming companies are vetted, but just because a chef made a great breakfast doesn’t mean they can cook lunch particularly well.

      Not being able to recreate restaurant meals doesn’t prevent me from commenting on a dish’s taste, nor does anyone think that doing so makes me “entitled.”

      I struggle to think of any other form of entertainment where the audience claims the right to meddle in the details of the creation process quite to the same extent, as opposed to just letting the product succeed or fail as a whole, in a binary way.

      There aren’t too many other examples because gaming is uniquely positioned to be mutable. If someone writes a book or movie, the product is complete by the time it is experienced. Meanwhile, a game these days can be patched at any time, fundamentally changing the difficulty, adding new features, etc. Additionally, the game devs want you to know that they are continuing to work on the game post-release, improving the product almost in real-time.

      Liked by 1 person

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