The Cost of Fandom

21st Century Kirk, Bond and Holmes

Everybody’s a fan. Whether you pine for new Metal Gear Solid games or wait with baited breath for each week’s episode of Lost, cyber-stalk Jonathan Ross’ Twitter account or fervently attend cosplay events as your favourite Gundam robot-mech thingy, it’s part of human nature to hold an almost obsessive level of fascination and devotion to a certain franchise, medium or person.

That’s why reboots and remakes, and prequels and sequels, are such dangerous territory. Old classics in new hands or a belated attempt to explain how The Force, scientifically, works, the harbingers of a fanbase find their Midi-chlorians boiling at the very notion of messing with the originals.

These past weeks, J.J. Abram’s Star Trek opened to movie theatres with overwhelmingly positive reviews, yet scornful lists of how the formula was tampered with flooded the internet, penned by forum usernames “Tribble Trouble” or “Kobayashi Maroonie”. Both Sherlock Holmes and The Road received trailers of their upcoming movies, but seen as too “Hollywood” or “mainstream” to the literature devotees.

The Brotherhood

The most egregious case of fanbase shattering originality in the video game world came from Bethesda’s recent marvel, Fallout 3. Ten years since the vault dweller last scoured the wasteland for Stimpaks, bottle caps and juicy bags of Rad Away, rabid fanatics of Interplay’s isometric RPG crawled from the woodworks to voice their disgust at the very notion of “those Oblivion guys” taking on a franchise as esteemed as Fallout.

A trip to post-apocalyptic message board “No Mutants Allowed” is less enjoyable than suffering a Mentats withdrawal during a Deathclaw fight. Attempting to defend Mutants’ honour, one user’s signature reads “these are people who have had their hopes and dreams completely and utterly crushed, ground into a horrible paste, and then used to ice the crap cake that is Fallout 3”. In a particularly exhilarating thread about Fallout’s deluge of facial hair, a consistently snarky vault escapee remarks “after all, it’s easier to make 47 beards than create deep and involving dialog options”.

With fans like these, who needs critics?

Diablo III's April Fool

I don’t propose that these alarmingly frequent reboots and sequels should be given free rein to destroy our childhood memories or favourite pop culture mementos. There is a massive amount of responsibility given to these privileged rebooters so severe fan distress (or nerd rage, if you will) is obviously justified if Sherlock Holmes sprouted wings or Indiana Jones met crystal-skulled aliens who burn out Cate Blanchett’s eyes by downloading the facts of life to her tiny, tiny human brain.

But how much is creativity stifled when directors and designers are at the mercy of vocal fans who feel they have shared ownership of the franchise in question? Blizzard felt the backlash first hand as devout enthusiasts bemoaned Diablo III’s lavish colour palette and questioned every change to Starcraft’s minutia in its sequel.

Fans are an essential part of a product’s success, even those who run wiki (and wookie) pedias, create their own leather-bound lore bibles and conduct frame by frame analysis on a shark’s tale, but it’s easy to tip from rabid obsessive into scrutinising curmudgeon. By holding excessive baggage so close to their chest, to mix clichés, these so-called fans often deny themselves amazing experiences, either through stubborn avoidance or complete denial.

“The audience we’re making this movie for is people who love movies, not people who love Star Trek movies, if we made this movie for them alone; we would be limiting our audience like crazy” says Trek’s Abrams. Let it go, embrace the joy of fresh and innovative perspectives and allow a new generation of fans to join your esoteric club.







4 responses to “The Cost of Fandom”

  1. Razgate avatar

    Thank goodness I have the bizarre ability to view/play these things as separate entities, a good example would be the resident evil movies, I like them and after listening to the audio commentaries on them I have a greater appreciation for what they did to try and keep the movies tied in with the games.
    Change is a must, if you want the same experience again just play/watch the old ones. 😀

  2. MarkuzR avatar

    I love that JJ Abrams made the new Trek movie for movie fans and not Trek fans… it’s how it should be. Fans needn’t be fanatical, necessarily, to the point where anything that isn’t part of an original mythology is immediately discarded and seen as being sacrilegious or an abhorrence.

    I’ve witnessed some of the detritus hurled at Bethesda for their “ruination” of the Fallout mythology and ancestry… but I loved it. It’s not like it was done badly, it was just different. The companies that produced the rehashed XCom games are different though – they tried to make them similar and did it badly, so some of the fluidity was squeezed out in the process.

    I’ve been a musician for longer than I care to remember, and have written with my craft in mind rather than for the audience. Same goes with my photography – high contrast black and white that most people would class as being monotone. If everything we created was done for the masses rather than for the good of the finished product… everything would be inferior. The irony of this is that there would be NO “inferior” anymore because everything would be of the same low standard.

    Long live freedom of creativity.

  3. Darach avatar

    Great stuff Mark. It’s always good to hear the voice of reason, especially when it’s well observed.

    We’re living (playing) in a golden age, and there are any amount of positives in gaming for folks to get passionate about.

    I sometimes think people find being negative more entertaining, mebbe that’s part of it. Is the viciously one-sided rant more fun to write than a balanced perspective?
    Cos often it’s just a misery to read.

  4. Jamesbuc avatar

    Honestly I find a game is much better off and better polished if dev’s put the blinders on and dont try and adhere to every fan desire.

    Same with Movies then XD

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