If there’s one concept that’s affected gaming more than any other, it would have to be fandom. Video games live and die by their fans, as do their publishers and developers. It’s why new IP are considered risky while resources are poured hand over fist into sequel after sequel. What is a fan though? Is enjoying a game enough to be considered its fan or is there something more to it?
It’s easy to consider all of a game’s players to be its fans. If game time is finite, then the logical conclusion is that it’ll be spent with games one enjoys. That may be true, but enjoyment and fandom are two different things. Simple enjoyment requires nothing more than buying the game and putting in some time. Fandom involves a bit more investment than that. It takes a game and elevates it into something more personally profound.
To be a fan of a game series is to make it a part of one’s gamer identity. You don’t just play for the simple fun of it, you play it for something more than that. You’re playing for the unique experience it offers. You’re playing in order to follow the conversations surrounding the game. You’re playing because you want to support it, ensure its success and see its world expanded through more sequels. You follow the series with expectations. When those expectations are met, the games can feel almost magical. When they aren’t though, the disappointment is very real; much more so than if you were only there for a fun gaming experience. Even in the midst of disappointment though, there’s always the next game. Next time they’ll get it right. After all, the series was great before, and it can be so again.
To pull from my own experiences, the one series for which I would not hesitate to call myself a fan is the Legend of Zelda. I’ve been hooked ever since I played A Link to the Past so many years ago on my (then) new Super Nintendo. I played through it and most of the other entries in the series multiple times (with one notable exception). I love talking about it, I love writing about it, I love listening to the music while I’m working. I’ve found myself disappointed a few times; mostly with those entries that were either too goofy or formulaic for their own good. However, those disappointments have yet to actually take something away from the series as a whole. There are plenty of other games and series that I like and enjoy talking about, but the Legend of Zelda is the one series I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly dislike.
As a point of contrast, I look to the Pokemon games. Like the Legend of Zelda, I grew up with Pokemon. Unlike Zelda though, I’ve never really gone out of my way for it. I’ve always really enjoyed the time I spent with the games, but that’s always been more or less the extent of my feelings towards them. I’ve never made a point of buying the games at release; never spent that much time talking or writing about the series, and have never really been all that excited about its new releases. They’re games I’m happy to play, but I would never really consider myself a real fan of them.
Being a fan introduces new elements to the gaming experience. It brings enthusiasm. It brings passion. It brings the jubilation of seeing your favorite series hit a home run, as well as the crushing disappointment that comes with finding a new entry to be wanting in some way. Being a fan requires an emotional investment, and that’s not something that we’re all incredibly willing to put into each and every game that we like. More often than not, it’s enough to simply enjoy the games we play rather than count ourselves among their fans.
Do you consider yourself a fan of anything? How would you say being a fan has affected your experiences with it? How would you define what a fan is?
Lede image captured by Hatm0nster