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This isn't about Grand Theft Auto V
by Kris Graft on 09/17/13 01:48:00 pm   Editor Blog   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Kris Graft is EIC of Gamasutra (@krisgraft)

The insular, incestuous, hive mind nature of the video game community is never so apparent as when there's a new blockbuster commercial product.

Marketing teams build upon or outright fabricate credibility of the product as the video game "community," enamored by narrative-driven TV ads with booming voiceovers, latches on, instinctively. Press coverage wholly uncritical of the product's actual worth flows into undiscerning eyeballs. The community makes its mind up weeks, maybe months before a game is commercially available, to line up for hours, slap down $60 for the product, and hell or high water the community will love it, because it has been foretold.

The community continues to rally behind the product, though the most contact it has had with the product is through sanitized press interviews and hyperbolic advertisements. They have no idea if this product is of any value whatsoever, but the loyalty to the product is unwavering. Inherent to this unidirectional wave of unchecked enthusiasm is the tendency to wipe out, drown, tear down or eradicate anything that stands in opposition.

Any supposed member of the supposed community that expresses anything less than unbridled enthusiasm for the product is labeled "hipster," "pretentious" or "elitist." Anyone who says that the product is anything less than peerless is labeled "hipster," "pretentious" or "elitist." "Do you think you're better than me?" is the subtext. The people who shrug their shoulders at the impending existence of this product in a marketplace are trying to spoil the fun, rain on the parade, are being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. They're dissenting to simply to raise a ruckus and to get attention, while the people who are giving them the most attention are typically the ones loudly complaining that these dissenters are just trying to get attention.

The product is now available in the market. There is little change in community sentiment here, from the anticipation to the actual availability of the product, because the community already decided weeks, maybe months before that they would slap down $60 for the product, and that they would love it, hell or high water, as had been foretold. Sight unseen, they had already made the emotional commitment to the product long before they made the financial commitment to it.

To the hive mind, said product will be -- is -- a significant contribution to an art form, a redefinition of a medium, a standard to be followed for years to come, nothing short of a revolution, as had been foretold. Even if none of those traits are there, the hive mind will fabricate them. If there are rudimentary hints of those traits there, the hive mind will amplify them in deafening crescendo.

Sentiment that falls outside of the cacophony of this product launch orgy, and suggests that the hive mind consider the fallibility of any aspect of the product, is perceived as a breakdown in logic. For the hive mind, "Product must be excellent because [X] worked on it." "Product must be peerless because it cost [$X] to make." "Product must be perfect because it took [X] years to develop." "[X press outlet] said it's a revolution." "Product TV ad was so bad-ass." "Product cost me $60, it must be worth every penny."

Instigators of that perceived logical disconnect are met with swift retribution. It might come in the form of a petition to have you fired from your job, bombardment of your social media account, death threats via email, a mile of hateful comments under an internet article. You've stirred Legion.

The force behind the product is so intense that, for just a moment, you doubt yourself -- maybe you're wrong, maybe you're blind to the significance of the product. Everyone says your credibility demands you surrender to the product. You're probably jaded, cynical, prejudiced, somehow off-balance.

Then you see it again: The community is galvanized behind the product. To the community, you are your opinion, inseparable from it, and you cannot exist both inside the product orgy sphere and outside of it. The physics of the space in which the sphere exists do not allow for dual residency. You are positive or negative, for or against, inside or out, because the community drew the line long beforehand. Outside of the product orgy sphere, you lack credibility, as to them, you only exist in theory, but even the theoretical idea of you is upsetting enough that action is taken to eradicate even the idea that you might exist, that you -- the unfathomable you -- may have a point. 

You realize you do have a point.

So, you shrug your shoulders and move on because you had little emotional investment in the product in the first place, you never really considered yourself part of that community and you know you have a strong understanding of what is valuable, to you. You pay $60 for the product, you treat it like a product, evaluate it like a product, you love it, hate it, somewhere-in-between it, all the while knowing that it's just some stupid fucking thing that neither defines you nor dictates your criteria for what's valuable and worthwhile.


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Comments


Harry Fields
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Dang it Kris, you pretentious and elitist hipster!

Kidding. Nice write-up. Not sure things can or will change so long as the best practices of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns so effectively continue to work wonders with the melons atop our heads.

Robert Ray
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What you are describing here is basic human mob psychology applied to the marketplace. It has been described by many other brilliant observers of human nature down through the years, and does not seem likely to change.

For those who find themselves outside of the 'hive' or 'mob', and attempt to comment or react in a more rational and objective manner, they must always remember: any negative/divergence from group opinion is viewed as a personal attack on the group itself in an almost physical sense (NOT what they opine), and the group will react viciously to the threat. Such is the nature of the mob...

Nick Raymond
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Just look at what happened when Gamespot just gave GTA 5 a 9, people were livid making massive transphobic comments demanding a new review that would give this game the proper 10 it deserves just to prove that the customer only pays for the best. Publishers pay massive amounts of money for this level of hype and so we see the current status of triple A gaming as a bloated mess that can no longer have variety because anything less than 5 million sales means a massive loss of money.

Why the hell does a Call of Duty commercial have no game footage but instead Robert Downey jr in a jet? Why has Final Fantasy become a much smaller place that can't even remake their most popular entry because it would take years, and a massive budget to equal something that came out for the original playstation?

Now I haven't played a GTA since San Andreas, partially because I didn't buy an HD console until last year, and partially because I feel guilty just playing those games. It might be that GTA V is worthy of that hype, its worthy of having the reviewer speak of it like you are watching something that no gamer has ever seen, and indeed maybe it is so great that any criticism would simply not be worthy of consideration

but I doubt it.

Harry Fields
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That's what I don't get. I was like... even if you need that review to influence your purchase, a flippin' 9/10 oughtta' be sufficient. The reviewer voiced her opinion mentioning the discomfort some of the more misogynistic scenes caused her. It's a valid point and one to be considered, especially by others who may be similarly offended. And to her credit, the reviewer did put that in the "-" category so you would at least know that her opinion about that played into the score. If blatant misogyny doesn't bother you, than you know you can safely disregard that complaint. I'm sure the poor reviewer has no doubt woken up to death threats and the like this morning, and that's a sad commentary on certain aspects of our industry and life in general.

Josh Larson
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If I remember correctly, Carolyn has, on several occasions over time, received violent threats. It's disgusting to think about. I for one applaud her bravery to remain a faithful critic in the midst of this sometimes absolutely awful environment.

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Willy Hwang
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I'm kind of curious what the contents of the banned comments were...

In any case, small blessing that Gamespot is located in San Francisco.

Michael Joseph
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBK5aKOr2Fw

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Kujel s
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This kind of hive mind like thinking is is exactly why I dreampt up a scheme to kickstart the next ice age (mostly as a coping machanizim). I see people in many walks of life fall to the hive mind and it disgusts me, people are supposed to be soverign beings but few truly are :(

Heliora Prime
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They are ants, Zerg or Borg.
Hive mind is for the weak of mind.

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Jed Hubic
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It's pretty bad when people get emotionally attached, passionate, and deeply care about a video game, especially those games with a track record and developers that want to live up to hype. As a video game developer, that's the last thing you'd ever want.

Kris Graft
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This isn't an indictment of game developers or the success they're looking for. This is me expressing some serious disappointment and concern about the poisonous discourse around many of these games that is (in part) driven by the relentless hype cycle.

Jed Hubic
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I'm still trying to find some aspect of your post that makes sense to me Kris, but to me what's more typical is the cynical bunch of downers we have become (myself guilty too). Take this same scenario ten years back and we'd all be hyped on where video games are going. It's almost pathetic to be honest.

Now we're all older and cynical of the hype, yet we still want gaming to get mainstream and act like we want it to grow. To me listening to everyone bitch about everything that feels somewhat new to them is 10x more annoying than any hype. Everyone at work was talking about staying up late playing GTA and everyone was buzzing on Monday in anticipation for the game. Maybe I misread but I don't see anything wrong with that level of hype. We act like there's this big evil corporate hype machine out there, yet it's the gamers there are real people buying this game, and it's not like if some esoteric indie game about inner emotions got as much hype as GTA people would be out buying it. If any of this makes sense...probably not.

Jeff Cary
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I see something wrong with the hype when it makes people act in such a manner that they are willing to issue death threats towards a person who reviews a game that the public has yet to even play. The hype machine has so infected the weak-minded that the vitrol spewed by these people is downright scary. Our society as a whole has also accepted this behavior as the new norm. That is even scarier.

Bob Fox
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The reality is the internet is an echo chamber of idiocy. Lets not forgot mass market games like GTA appeal to the lowest common denominator. I've never been a big GTA fan. The reality is many games sell more on aesthetics/a populations fantasy then the actual game unfortunately. It's all about image worship, even if most of the people who buy GTA will never finish the game because they get bored with it so fast.

Thomas Happ
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I wear a special pair of shades that lets me see the marketing propaganda for what it is!

Dane MacMahon
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It's not so much the focus on a big release that bothers me, it's the language around it. Most sites and articles speak as if to be playing anything else today is unheard of. Of COURSE you're playing GTA5 today. That kind of language makes outliers feel ostracized.

As a PC gamer I struggle with this all the time. Of COURSE you have a console. Do I?

Alfa Etizado
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Well when you're using terms like hive-mind than maybe you are an elitist? Besides, is GTA V not a good game? I dunno, haven't played it, but it seems most people are enjoying it and I don't think that's just because they've made themselves enjoy it. In the past some highly expected and hyped games have been met with disdain.

Frankly, I think this kind of hype is simply leftover excitement from San Andreas. Back in the PS2 days what San Andreas promised to deliver, and what it delivered, was exciting. V carries this same promise. It's just that we all forgot that huge open worlds are no big deal anymore, proper voice acting is standard and that the tons of optional side activities are actually unpolished and terrible.

I say GTA V won't have the impact that SA had and in fact it won't have the impact that other games are having. It'll be just a good game that people will remember sometimes.

Dane MacMahon
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There is definitely a social hive-mind effect. People tend to follow the leader or the hype, it's a proven human failing (or necessity, depending on how you look at it).

Not saying GTA5 is a bad game at all, and I'll get the PC version day one, but these effects do exist. Perhaps a lot of people playing GTA5 today would enjoy something else more, if the situation were different.

Alfa Etizado
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What I don't like about calling it a hive mind is that it makes it sound like people don't have a personal reason to be excited for the game, like they're just mindlessly buying into the hype.

Before I continue, let me say I really don't think V is going to be anything to write home about and it isn't a game I'm particularly excited about.

San Andreas was a big deal at the time, because GTA 3 was a big deal. San Andreas was the realization of what GTA 3 aimed to be, and what a lot of us dreamed of finding in a game back then. The freedom, the living world, the fun, the production values. Not everyone had played such large games back in those days.

So left over excitement for San Andreas is what boosts excitement for V. Specially after IV. It's in everyone's minds, the players, the press, the marketing folks.

Trailers bank on what made San Andreas fun. Rockstar offers constant coverage opportunities.

The press thinks players will be very interested in it so they show a lot of stuff about the game, act like it's important because, well, it's important for them since they assume there'll be a lot of readers.

The ample coverage justifies a player's expectations that were first created by San Andreas and the trailers that promise V will be the bee's knees.

The players and the press have distinct and personal reasons to think the game is going to be a big deal, and each other's reaction creates a sort of feedback loop. Meanwhile marketing amplifies that.

But the base for all of this is still San Andreas and player's personal attachment to it. So that's why I don't like to call it a hive mind. It's personal and it's more complex than that.

Calling a hive mind makes people sound kinda dumb, when in fact they're just people who want to play a video game. It is, after all, entertainment, it's something they'll do in their spare time and forget about some months from now.

We will all forget V and move on.

I think that there's just the occasional Internet nutso or overexcited teenager that make a big deal out of things and we imagine that everyone's just as crazy. But I don't think it's like that.

I think it's just people who remember SA and they see V, they think oh so cool! Let's have fun again. They aren't following anyone, at most they just feel that the hype makes their excitement justified.

That's what happens with FF games, with LoZ games, it's what happened to Diablo, to Portal, to Mass Effect.

Then they play those games they expected so much, have fun with it, but also have fun with other games.

Adam Bishop
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I would argue that anyone who gets genuinely angry at the number placed beside a review of a game *they haven't even played* is buying into the hype and not expressing an opinion that reflects their personal experience (since they don't yet have any). Getting excited and looking forward to things is natural, but flying off in a rage because someone else's subjective opinion doesn't reflect your anticipation is silly.

Dane MacMahon
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I don't think hive mind implies dumb. I've gotten caught up in it a ton of times and I'd like to think I'm relatively smart. It's just a human reality. It's why every teen girl is wearing short shorts right now, as a not gaming example. The fashion industry treats it as a given.

And like I said I doubt anyone who dislikes GTA is getting 5 because of it, they're just more enthused than they might otherwise be.

Greg Quinn
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Aaah.... but this is one of the many things I love about games, and the community around them..

Joe Zachery
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There are very few games that can generated this type of reaction from people. They are usually the ones that get a console life time to be work on, and then finally release to the world. 3D Marios, The Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto, and Halo before this generation. The build up for these games are the same level as major blockbuster movies. See the next Nolan Movie, Avengers 2, Avatar 2 etc etc

james sadler
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The hive mind wont go away. People will always flock to like minded individuals and mob mentality. The joy of that though is that that a hive mind has a short memory. Sure people are whining now but in a week or two they'll have forgotten their sentiments as they pursue the next giant AAA release. Once we can recognize that and move on with our lives we will be much happier.

Personally I'm not a fan of the GTA franchise so I doubt I'll ever pick GTA V up. Is it worthy of a 9/10 score? Maybe it should have received a 8/10. Just think about how they'd cry at that. But lets look at other games that ranked a 9/10. All those games were great games, but had flaws. Arkham City was an amazing game but I'm not sure I would have given it a 9. It has some fundamental flaws that would land it a solid 8 for me, but I know people whined about it not getting a 10 or whatever. The hive mind looks past those flaws, as those flaws compromise their perfect sphere of the game. They also can't voice their own concerns of those flaws since that would ostracize them from that hive mind, so the hive mind perpetuates.

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Josh Bowman
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This post is relevant to dozens of other sub-par AAA titles, and I think it handily fits into what is called confirmation bias. I do want to point out, however, that when a highly anticipated game spectacularly fails, hell hath no fury like scorned fans. You only need to look at the metacritic page for Rome 2 to see what I mean.

If people feel that a franchise they love has been abused (let alone when they are charged $60 to see that abuse), they will be angrier than if a reviewer questions the quality of a game they *know* is great.

Charles Forbin
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FFS, can I enjoy a game without being painted as some sort of subhuman? Some of you are pathological in your need to get over yourselves. If you really gave a damn about anything you'd be working in a field devoted to the advancement and betterment of humanity, not making toys and whipping up Stephan Fetchit level stereotypes of people who like things you don't.

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Michael Joseph
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"If you really gave a damn about anything you'd be working in a field devoted to the advancement and betterment of humanity, not making toys"
--
Fields such as? Fact is any field can be used either for or against advancing and bettering humanity and the world. We're all fundamentally aware of this.

Sure we can buy into the notion that games should just be used as immature entertainment that regresses humanity by preventing boys and girls from growing into men and women, but there are other views such as those that think the arts can have a significant impact in bringing about positive social change rather than just negative social change.

Matt Boudreaux
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@Joshua and Michael,

I think you just proved his point.

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Francisco Valdenebro
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Regarding forum reactions, I don't think we should downplay them as something a few nuts do and that nobody will remember in a few days. I bet the reviewer is going to be marked forever by the crazy fans.
Just look at Tom McShea. Even today, in every game he reviews he gets a ton of hate comments because he 'dared' give The Last of Us an 8.

The gaming community can be really depressing sometimes.

Heliora Prime
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Haven't played GTA4 (didn't like the playable character) I liked GTA3 back in the day.
The whole death threats is just the internet being in it's infant stage.
Being anonymous doesn't bring out the best in people, there are no repercussions for your easily typed comment. There's no efford and the louder you SHOUT the more chance you think you'll have someone will read your comment.

I am on the bandwagon of fanboys 'n girls for Dark Souls II, because I and Demon's Souls were so freaking great. Pure gameplay, and you make your own little stories (tried to kill Smaugh 'n Ornstein with a Scimitar or something).

I'm to old to be hyped by commercials and production costs. I know what kind of games I like and don't care what others think of that.

Matthew Buxton
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Well I guess this will be buried, but.

In terms of what it's dual objective is "give fun, make money" it is indeed very successful, even more so than most other titles. to be fair, I think the marketing teams are too easy a target to hate on, put it this way, people were so excited to see the game they were posting photos of the adverts.. It would have been hyped without the marketing dollar, because people liked it and expected more of the same.

I know of no-one who gets hyped to the same level about movies any more... Is it just me but pretty much most of the time I decide to go to the movies before seeing what film is on, for the experience. Especially the overpriced snack food.

I played GTA 4 but was stopped by a Class A about half way. I can see what people love about it, I don't feel comfortable with random acts of violence; even if I know I don't have to, the fact that other people do puts me off more than it should. I never thought I put much stock in "identifying" with a culture, but I guess that means I do a bit.

Different players will take different things from it and my feeling is its not necessarily the lowest common denominator that are the most vocal. They are those that are worried someone is looking down on them, or will take their freedom to enjoy it, the insecure are the hate mob.

It's almost touching if it wasn't so sad and hate filled.

Blackjack Goren
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There are two separate discussions I'd like to address, if I may.

Firstly, the assumption that GTA is made for and only appeals to juvenile people is utter nonsense.

The Grand Theft Auto series is highly popular because it appeals to a large variety of people. A simple man can enjoy the simplicity of driving around and shooting people without appreciating anything else, whereas a more cultured individual can, in addition, appreciate the nuances of the narrative, its characters, and whatever messages can be found in the game that go right over the head of younger, inexperienced people. Other people can merely appreciate and get lost just walking around the city (arguably the series most important character), and seeing how its simulated lives go about their day. GTA's open world and its variety of systems allow the game to appeal in different ways to different people.

Anyone who talks about the game in the manner I link below isn't doing so because he's a juvenile kid, and therefore the game cannot -just- appeal to immature people:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pciGmXmE3uk

You don't have to agree with his review, but note the manner in which he explains what he took out of the game. It's far more than the oft-used phrase of, "killing hookers to get your money back."


Secondly, in regards to the article, the threats and insults from some people towards game reviewers and such is an issue that, while visible in some members of the videogame community, is unfortunately hardly rooted in the industry. If marketing were suddenly gone, do you think those people would just be quiet and "good"? Do you think they're wonderful members of society, understanding of other people's feelings, yet only when their favorite game comes out they flip a switch and become raging psychopaths?

Let's be honest. The only thing that has changed about shitty people in humanity's history is that, because of the internet, we're now just more aware of them.

This aggressive behavior comes from most people's inability to put themselves in other people's shoes. If people were to easily imagine how their actions affect others, most of them would not post the horrendous things they say to reviewers or anyone who disagrees with them. Therefore, this is a problem rooted in society, merely in display by some members of the videogame community as it has been by countless other groups in the past and present. In other words, it is beyond the scope of this website to address these issues as it cannot do anything to solve it, and it's hopeless to fix the issue from the industry perspective because, as I hope we all know, problems can only be solved at its root. In layman terms, shitty people will continue to come in and out of the videogame community no matter much we try to make a safety bubble of acceptance, inclusion and diversity around it.

(It could be useful for developers interested in education to tackle these issues creatively by making highly entertaining games that appeal to these angry internet people and yet manage to get through to them and educate them without their realizing it... but that's a discussion for a different place, and one that should be had by people with the wisdom, the will and the way to make it happen).

Heliora Prime
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"Let's be honest. The only thing that has changed about shitty people in humanity's history is that, because of the internet, we're now just more aware of them."

This is so true, and back when there was no internet. If you had a kid bad mouth a game in a group he'd get a response and would probably shut up. With the interwebz there's hardly any consequence to acting like a jerk.

Michael Joseph
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"whereas a more cultured individual can, in addition, appreciate the nuances of the narrative, its characters, and whatever messages can be found in the game that go right over the head of younger, inexperienced people."


lol. Come on. I can't imagine it requiring much in the way of erm.. cultured-ness to grasp the full narrative and meaning of GTA. There's an upper limit to what is required and I doubt it's very high.

And I think the reverse is more likely... inexperienced gamers will be more likely to care about the details of the story in GTA whereas experienced gamer just want to get through the thing and win in glorious fashion or whatever.

Matthew Mouras
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This article was spot on, Kris. Thanks.

Earlier this year I commented on a Reddit thread about 'Last of Us'. I didn't care for the gameplay and listed a few reasons why. My reward was a death threat for myself and my child, who the Redditor learned about from my previous comments in a parenting subreddit. This individual stalked me online for days and I ended up having to remove a number of accounts from social networking sites.

I learned my lesson and am more careful about what I reveal online now - including what I previously considered to be safe and tepid opinions. Parts of the hive mind can get very scary very quickly.

Maurício Gomes
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I wonder, if this is one of the major drivers of piracy.

GTA V is ungodly expensive in Brazil for example, (not only the normal sky-high taxes of 273%, but also our currency weakened by around 25% in the last three months), yet the same thing apply here, if you are a hardcore gamer, if you say you don't care about GTA V you are pretentious and whatnot.

Since here the majority of hardcore games cannot afford to buy GTA V, how they keep the appearances that they are hardcore and have been playing GTA V at launch? Much probably, with a pirated copy...

Duvelle Jones
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Kris Graft, I have to thank you for summing up a major thing that has disturbed me about gaming for a long time. The echo chamber that is product excitement and the means in which marketing exploits it mercilessly.

In gaming, this is a BIG thing. Big enough to have made me dissociate myself with the term "gamer" and consider drop what I consider to be a loved hobby of mine. And to be honest, I doubt that I am the only one to come to that cross roads.

What concerns me in this that the product and price-point are meaningless. You can replace $60-game with almost anything to do with the hobby, and so long as there is excitement behind it... you can be assured that marketing departments will begin to stoke that flame to nearly uncontrollable levels.
It is something to keep a wary eye on... that is for sure.

RJ McManus
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I would simply question whether "the hive mind" portrays this phenomenon in a complete way. As others may have already stated, that terminology suggests that social pressure is the main reason for this behavior, and I think there are a lot of personal motivations as well (such as the cognitive dissonance briefly mentioned in the article). Of course, by saying that, I'm not meaning to validate the behavior; I just wonder if there is a better term for this phenomenon. Sure, being in the social majority makes it psychologically easier to criticize those who express dissenting opinions, but I don't think that says anything about the many reasons why people are motivated to do so in the first place.

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Curtiss Murphy
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Want to be happy about your purchases? Then, follow the advice of others. Cause recommendations are directly correlated with more favorable opinions; higher anticipation; and higher long-term enjoyment. This is especially true of things we experience (i.e. not jewelry).

So, rather than babble on about confirmation bias or availability bias, I'll just observe that scientifically speaking, the members of the 'hive mind' enjoyed themselves more. Which seems to be the point.

Gigi


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