Are Gamers the Biggest Karens?

Browsing Reddit when I came across this post:

The comments are full of masturbatory glee and gamer “trolling,” as if none of those posters play games themselves and/or have had complaints about them. Taken on face value though, the comic is probably correct. With an asterisk. Because the thing about the term Karen is one near and dear to my heart: entitlement.

Karen is used as a pejorative because regular people do not ask to speak with a manager over a perceived slight. It’s an over-the-top escalation that presumes the individual is someone whom the manager needs to hear from. But… if you ordered a medium-rare steak and the server brings out one that’s well-done, nobody bats an eye when you have them send it back or ask for a refund. That is a reasonable escalation – if the manager comes out of their own volition to apologize, then that’s fine.

Here’s the thing though with games: anyone you can talk to is basically “the manager.”

And the other thing? The managers, e.g. the developers, want you to talk to them. Developers have fostered this transactional relationship industry-wide and monetized it. “Games as a Service” is the new “RPG-elements”: everybody has it. Which makes sense, as games are uniquely positioned to be interactive and adaptable. Books, music, and movies are created and finished. For all the millions of voices crying out to George R.R. Martin to change something about Game of Thrones – or to just finish his goddamn books for Christ’s sake – no one presumes that it is possible to actually accomplish anything. Meanwhile, an errant forum post can get a developer to shift the entire competitive metagame. Or more likely, a forum post that rouses enough rabble.

Keeping silent and voting with just your wallet is pointless – you need to vote with other peoples’ wallets if you hope to get a word past the whales. And that typically means getting vocal, getting specific, and I guess appearing entitled to have opinions of the transactional relationship taking place. Do the developers have to listen? No. They don’t have to have a forum, do any communication or outreach, and just build games. Presumably they looked at the numbers and (begrudgingly?) realized that the playerbase could be leveraged to push more product. And now they have the tiger by the tail.

Are some gamers over the top? Yes, of course. That went without saying… until I just did. But I am always leery of the predilection in these circlejerks to land on the thought-terminating cliche of entitlement. At its most pernicious root, using entitlement as a pejorative fosters an authoritarian environment in which you are made to feel lucky that you got any service at all, much less the wrong service, even if you paid for it. Meekness is not a virtue.

…okay, maybe it is.

However! Developers are not gods, they are just people building a collaborative, commercial product/service to sell to you. It’s okay to send back tacos when you ordered meatloaf. It’s okay to leave a bad review when your steak is cooked wrong. It’s okay to express passion in a hobby that you spend literal years of your life playing. Maybe don’t send death threats; send cupcakes instead. Advocate for yourself and your desires, especially if no one is making games you like anymore. No one has to listen, of course, or agree that its a good idea or implement what are clearly brilliant changes that will improve the franchise for decades to come. That’s going to be a on the devs and their conscience.

How some of them sleep at night, I’ll never know.

Posted on November 11, 2021, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the wikipedia link because I have literally never heard the term “Karen” before. It’s clearly a *lot* worse than just someone who asks to speak to the manager, incorporating as it evidently does strong elements of misogyny, ageism, classism and cultural appropriation.

    Stepping around the extremely problematic term itself and looking just at gamers complaining about the games they play, it’s not very long at all since the perceived problem in online gaming seemed to be players being willing to put up with anything the devs wanted to do. There was a lengthy period when I was reading post after post about players needing to be more assertive in expressing their unhappiness with in-game changes and basically behaving like paying customers rather than acting as if they were lucky to be allowed to play the games at all.

    In terms of customer service, I would say that from personal experience the two things that get results are the extremes. Being very polite, friendly and logical can work and being unbearably difficult and irrational can work. Anything inbetween is likely to be ignored.

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    • It is always a good reminder, from time to time, that the rest of the world exists. I included the Wiki link to ensure we were working from a common definition – it hadn’t occurred to me that it was possible someone hadn’t ever heard of the term at all. It is extremely common over here, to the point where many women actively avoid getting a specific style of haircut. It is problematic all around for all of the reasons you and the Wiki mentioned.

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  2. Part of the thread reminded me that I am apparently old[tm]. Back when I played shooters there was no Bronze or rating or smurfing. You played on a server, you won or you lost. Talking Quake 1-3 days here… Interestingly I think there was a lot less complaining, even on the “in” scene forums etc.

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  3. The biannual In An Age Entitlement Post has arrived a year late. Parenthood and pandemics are all well and good, but if this outfit does not shape up, I may have to consider taking my custom elsewhere.

    I remain hostile to gamer entitlement and continue to see it as selfish, inconsiderate, and philistine, but it’s undeniable that game companies are feeding the tiger more than ever before. The other day, on a whim, I joined Amplitude Studios’ Games2Gether portal, to do a seasonal Humankind achievement. It greeted me with a chirpy, “Welcome, Co-Creator!” which has to be some kind of shark jump moment.

    Of course, it works both ways. The devs can dilute their own responsibility and justify almost any Procrustean feature by claiming they’ve heard the clamour of the player base. By the law of typewriter monkeys, someone somewhere probably did ask for it.

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