games / Columns

The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide: Tribalism

March 10, 2021 | Posted by Jed Shaffer
Playstation 5 Xbox Series X

When I was 11, my grandfather bought me a desk. He thought a boy should have a desk at which to do his homework, and I think he also wanted me to have something to remember him by (he was fighting a losing battle with cancer at the time). That desk – the kind of pressboard-and-laminate thing you’d find at any office supply store – was a mainstay of my bedroom until I moved out in my early twenties. When I first fancied myself the next Stephen King, I commandeered my parents’ ancient Sears typewriter and wrote my first, regrettable attempts at fiction. And before any of you ask, none of it survives today. Me and a paper shredder took care of that. That desk would also be where my first PC sat, through which I met my wife on AOL Instant Messenger. Yes, I know, typewriters and AIM, I’m old, I should be in a home somewhere, growling at nurses about when the M in MTV meant something and eating dinner at 1 in the afternoon.

On the right side of this desk, was a drawer that looked like two separate drawers from the outside, but it was really one big, super-deep drawer. For the first several years I had that desk, that crater-like drawer held all my video game magazines. I subscribed to EGM and GamePro, and maybe because my dad had a side hustle selling comic books on the side (which makes wanting Silver Surfer #21 sound as illicit as scoring an eight-ball), I had it in my head that I must keep every issue in perpetuity. You know, on the off chance EGM #13 would be worth something. Who wouldn’t want to read an article about the summer CES in 1990 thirty years later?

And though I still have many memories of reading those magazines cover to cover, over and over and over again, I only remember one cover: the March 1990 cover. The cover had characters poorly cropped out of various video games, facing each other as if on a battlefield, all to set the stage for the huge cover story: “Which is better – the TurboGrafx-16 or the Sega Genesis?”.

Represented here by console icons like “blue spaceship”, “fish-shaped space-ship”, “guy from Cadash”, and “confused anthropomorphic orange gumdrop”.

The article compared everything from specs, third party support, expandability (remember when that was a thing that mattered?), and variety of the available library. In the end, they gave the nod to the Genesis, and, as I had my eye on upgrading from the aging NES to Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse, was overjoyed to see the verdict reinforce my choice. My favorite gaming publication endorsing the console I coveted mattered more to me than my next ten minutes of oxygen. Of course, my young brain also saw EGM’s verdict not only as an endorsement of one console, but a repudiation of the other, which it was not. I would not hear of any other truth, though. Little did I know I’d eat a show-shovel full of shit when, fifteen years later, the Wii’s Virtual Console started carrying TG16 games, and I’d be there, Wii points in hand, to see what I’d missed. It was of no small shock that I found some great games like the Bonk trilogy, the definitive home editions of R-Type , Splatterhouse, and Ys I & II, unique games like Devil’s Crush and Military Madness, and a lot more.

But 12 year old me wouldn’t allow reality to supersede my chosen truth. I’d picked my side, and EGM’s cover backed the mentality that there were sides, as if this was an actual war. How dare there be more than one successful console! It was unlike anything us gamers had ever faced. There were no console wars when the NES was reigning supreme, mostly because its competition – the Sega Master System and Atari 7800 – weren’t competitive. The SMS sold around 7% of what the NES did in North America, and barely 5% in Japan. The Atari 7800 fared so bad, Wiki doesn’t even list sales figures, but a Google search reveals it sold about a million consoles sold. WORLDWIDE. The Atari 5200 managed that DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE CRASH.

This is the Daewoo Zemmix. It was available only in South Korea, and it still managed to sell almost half of what the 7800 sold worldwide. Only Atari can fail like this.

Starting with the 16-bit era, the once-preposterous idea of two or more viable consoles was no longer delusion. Sega had their infamous “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” campaign. Sony followed that up a few years later with the Crash Bandicoot-outside-Nintendo-HQ ads, taunting them over a megaphone in a display of 90’s XTREEM ATTITOOD that couldn’t be more 90’s if it featured Urkel eating a Kids Cuisine, wearing JNCO’s and listening to a Lisa Loeb mp3 downloaded from Napster. I don’t know what Nintendo did to piss off everybody, but man, for a solid decade, they took the brunt of it.

That gloves-off, no-fucks-given mentality to dunking on the competition simply because of pre-conceived notions laid the groundwork for where we are now: a gaming universe where we have a surfeit of options (three consoles and PC’s), and the hostility looks like gang warfare. PlayStation owners look at X-Box owners as little brothers and johnny-come-latelys. X-Box owners think PlayStation owners are snobs and elitists. Then there’s Nintendo, off in a corner, like the weird kid who dresses like a flapper and whose favorite music is chiptune covers of jazz albums (yes, this is a thing, and believe it or not, it’s actually good). Nobody bothers tea-bagging them because it feels like punching down, but nobody respects them either. And then there’s the PC fans, who think “PC Master Race” is a compliment (which, if you do, don’t you notice how it sounds a little German in a 1940’s way?!?), insist they’re the REAL gamers because their games are complex enough to confuse NASA scientists, and console gamers are no better than soccer moms playing Candy Crush.

In a sense, yes, anybody who bought this was rendered a bitch by John Romero.

Tribalism isn’t exclusive to video games. Go into any comic book forum and say “Punisher is better than Batman” or “Lobo kicks Wolverine’s ass”. Just don’t do it if you have any personal info available on social media, otherwise I suggest using the remote-start on your car the following morning. LeBron or Jordan, preference of slasher movie killers, the validity of pineapple on pizza, “is a hot dog a sandwich”, it doesn’t matter. Even a topic as mundane as fuel preference for an outdoor grill can polarize a group an otherwise rational group of people into two camps of barbaric lunatics ready to wage a holy crusade for their cause.

And the sad thing is, our kids are picking up this mentality and running with it.

Now, cards on the table here as far as fandom goes: I’m a PlayStation guy. Never owned an X-Box, never will. I just consoles on system exclusives, and Microsoft’s franchises leave me cold. I’ll dabble in Nintendo from time to time, but I’ve yet to feel compelled to get a Switch. I’m sure it’s a fantastic system; Super Mario Odyssey looks great, Breath Of The Wild looks like its captured the “go anywhere, do anything” idea sandbox games have chased for 20 years … but I don’t feel a need to get it right now. Call me when Metroid Prime 4 drops. PC gaming has never appealed to me; I have enough games on my PlayStations and, allegedly, my Raspberry Pi. And if I have to plug in a controller to get my desired input method to work, I might as well be using a console, where I don’t have to worry about specs and software updates. But I don’t feel the need to piss on the platforms I don’t have. I recognize that keyboard-and-mouse is a superior control scheme for FPS games, and that PCs allow for modding in a way consoles can’t. X-Box has a much stronger online community than any of the consoles, and is so closely modeled on a PC, games can be ported with little effort. Nintendo has an unbelievable legacy of five-star first-party games, and, even their weakest consoles still have quality titles.

This isn’t so much grading on a curve as it is an inward-turning spiral.

And I can bust on Sony’s failures. I’m no blind homer. The PSN hack was a huge embarrassment. Their bizarre reluctance to embrace cross-play is infuriating and needlessly punitive to the players. It took until 2019 for players to be able to change their user name, something X-Box owners have been able to do since … what, day one? And it’s limited to one time or you pay for it, and minors can’t do it at all. No trophy progress info until the PS5, letting popular franchises sit in a dark corner in the basement (Twisted Metal, Syphon Filter, and Jak & Daxter to name a few), the Vita’s … well … everything about the Vita. Sony’s batting average is not hall of fame worthy.

But some people can’t do that. Some people view the home team as impeccable, and the competition must not only be defeated, they must be razed, the ashes buried, the earth salted, the grave pissed on, and radiation leaked into the surrounding area. They’re not worthy of being alive because they’re the other side. I take great pains to not show that kind of attitude, both here in the column and in my own home, and yet I’ve heard both my twins hate on X-Box for no reason other than being the console they don’t own. If it isn’t us showing them that kind of mentality, it’s our kids’ wiener friends. It’s the YouTubers they watch. They’re hearing it. And it makes gaming toxic.

Now’s about the time in the column where I’d normally ask the rhetorical question and then propose some ideas in response. It’s become as cliché as a Jeff Winger monologue in Community or me using that angry woman picture in every column so far, and I hate to break from tradition, but I have to here, because there is no easy solution.

Lord knows, you’ve spent 18 years looking for the G-spot and STILL can’t find it. Might as well be a failure in your own column, too.

I could say “teach your kids to be better people”, or “set a better example”, but 1) NO SHIT SHERLOCK, 2) if you need me to tell you that, you don’t need this column, you need a state-appointed minder to keep you from falling out of windows, and 3) it ignores the root question:


Why act that why? Why act like your opinion is fact? Why act like anybody who disagrees is lesser than? What do you get out of it? Is your ego so delicate, so easily broken, that you need to bolster it by insulting others over their chosen delivery vehicle of digital entertainment? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s noise made by some thin-skinned, eggshell-fragile child who can’t stand that there’s someone out there enjoying something he doesn’t. Carry this mindset forward, and you’ll see how ridiculous this is. Why not shit on people who use a Roku instead of a Fire stick? Or question the intelligence over anyone who bought a Samsung TV instead of a Vizio? Are you Pandora-ride-or-die and Spotify listeners are all knuckle-dragging cousin-fuckers?

That’s how ridiculous it sounds when someone isn’t satisfied with their own choice, but also must tear down the choices of others. Here, I’ll even put my money where my mouth is; I’ll offer up a few HAWT TAEKS to be made fun of:

1) I find Final Fantasy 7 to be an ugly eyesore, with a generic plot, and its big twist is plagiarized from Phantasy Star II. Oh, and PS2 did it BETTER. Aerith was a one-dimensional nitwit with the personality of a garbage bag. Losing her was about as impactful as losing a sock in the laundry. Nei actually had depth and personality and agency. Losing her HURT.

2) Skyrim‘s combat ruined the entire game for me. I’d rather deal with the combat mechanics in Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi.

3) I’ll take Saints Row over Grand Theft Auto any day of the week and twice on Sundays. GTA has lived with its head up its ass for years now, convinced that it is SO IMPORTANT and SO CONTROVERSIAL. It lacks any sense of humor or fun whatsoever. If I’m gonna play the role of a criminal, I’d rather make the situation absurd.

And here, the biggest one of all. 4) I find Ocarina of Time grossly overrated. I wouldn’t give it better than an average score (which is a 5/10 in my world, because that’s how math works). In fact, I haven’t liked ANY 3D Zelda game. I don’t think it should’ve left 2D.

I haven’t even told you yet how I think the prequel trilogy is better than the sequels.

There. Take your shots. Question my validity as a gamer and a human being. BRING IT ON. Doesn’t bother me one bit, because I don’t believe my opinions are objective fact. You like Final Fantasy VII or GTA 5? Come at me. I’ll defend my opinion, but I’ll never tell you you’re wrong for standing opposite me. I get no satisfaction from dismissing your opinion, just as I get no satisfaction if I convince you of my opinion, because that’s just not how my brain works.

So, maybe that’s the best advice I can give if your kids start showing tendencies of tribalism. Ask them WHY. What do they get out of such negativity and hostility. Why resort to an us vs. them mentality. Make them explain why they feel the need to push down something that doesn’t affect them. There’s already enough of that in this world at macro levels. We don’t need it infecting something as trivial as choices of entertainment. Let people be who they are. You know RD Reynolds of Wrestlecrap fame? He mentioned on his Facebook a few days ago that his favorite game is Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar. Nobody batted an eyelash; more people were interested in if it had been re-released anywhere so they could experience this game RD was endorsing. I think that’s rad as hell. Dude not only found a rose among the weeds of the Jaguar, but it’s his favorite game of all time, and nobody gave him guff over it. Not Super Mario or God of War or Sonic The Hedgehog or Command & Conquer. An obscure shooter on a failed console. God bless. It’s proof, just a small, tiny sliver of it, that beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there’s goodness to found in every corner of gaming’s rich history, if you’re willing to let go of your preconceived notions.

And if you besmirch the good name of the Apple Pippin and Mr. Potato Head Saves Veggie Valley, why then, it’s pistols at dawn!

And in closing …

First; if you read the comments on the last edition of the column, yes, this edition is in large part inspired by a certain back-and-forth exchange. I was originally going to interject, but then the light bulb went off. Rather than get into a pointless debate over the merits of X vs. Y, I decided to use my platform to debate WHY some people feel the need to debate X vs. Y. I’m sure I will have pissed off a few people, especially one of those two posters, and I’m not sorry one bit. Tribalism is stupid. Nobody is impressed by it.

Now then. As always, you can find me on Twitter and follow me for all sorts of pointless jabbering. You can email me at [email protected]. Hell, here’s where I am going to IMPLORE you to email me, as I’d like to do a Q&A edition sometime, just for fun. I already have the next edition planned, so it won’t be that, but mailbags are always good reading.

One last thing, and it’s the most important one. On March 11 — that’s this Thursday for those not near a calendar — the first episode of The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide Podcast will go LIVE. I really, really hope you’ll join. I plan on blitzing out a bunch of episodes for the first month or so, at least one a week. There’s going to be a few formats: Solo episodes, where I go on a monologue about something, or maybe do a Gamer Parent’s review of a game. There will be roundtable discussions, where I have on a guest or two and we discuss an issue (expect some repeats or crossover with the column, but obviously, we’ll be able to go more in-depth). And finally, one-on-one interviews. I have a lot of lofty ideas for that. It’ll take some time to grow enough to achieve them, but I’m confident it can be done … with a little help from you guys, of course. You can find all the pertinent links for the show here; every platform that the show has been approved for so far, as well as its Facebook page and Twitter, which is just my Twitter. I’m not maintaining two. That’s silly.

So, depending on if you listen or not (and you SHOULD!), I’ll either see you in 2 weeks or a few days.