Who Games the Gamesmen?

Internet Dickward Theory

I don’t find myself particularly drawn to being active in online message boards. There are plenty I read, especially when a big story happens, but overall, I don’t post much. I find myself getting my “feathers easily ruffled” when there are vocal internet dickwads, which seem to thrive in the message board environment. I find myself mentally putting posters into that category when they use statements like these:

“This is not Fallout.”
“This is not D&D.”
“This is not Dune.”

I find the presumption to be very off-putting that these people have put themselves in an authority position to decide what does and does not belong in a particular IP. I find it even more off-putting when it’s about a product that hasn’t been released yet.

But, at the risk of being a total hypocrite, I know that I’ve done such things myself, which I will admit to. I know that I’m sure to have said “This isn’t Star Wars” when confronted with Episodes 1-3. Same goes for Batman & Robin.

There are also plenty of examples of products that clearly were handed off to some other company to make a quick buck off an IP. The general term for this is “selling out” but another more correct term might be “crappy merchandise.”

So who does decide what is the core of a game? Is it only in the eyes of the original creator? Is it the die hard fans who have lived and breathed the game moreso than those who worked on it? Or is it the strictly legal definition: whoever legally has the rights to produce the material is the canon? Those seem to be the three big ones. Let’s take them apart for a second.

It strictly cannot be the original creator of a game who decides if a sequel or newer version of a property is a part or not. Games do not exist in a vacuum, and so owe a lot to other people as part of the process- the fans, the producers, the culture. Additionally, it is a function of Art that pieces can take on unexpected meaning from what the creator originally intended. So while there are disagreements over whether games count as Art or not, there are still always going to be elements that are intrinsic to a game’s experience that the designer did not intend when making the game.

So, the fans? They’re the ones that obsess over material, and add to it, and ultimately determine its success. You could lump in the critics too, who have trained analytical eyes. But I think it’s important that people realize that NO ONE PERSON decides what is and is not a vital part of a game. You are always free to give your opinion on what aspects you like and dislike, and at what point something doesn’t feel right to you, but that does not make it so for the majority.

Then there’s those who legally own an intellectual property. They have one big leg up over the other two because they are the final deciders of what a game will be called. A fan, critic, or game designer who no longer owns the rights can do very little to stop a company from releasing something with a game’s name and added number after it. The only thing you can do is not buy it. If enough people don’t buy it, you’ve done something about it. You’ve made your voice heard way more than any posting on any message board.

All of the listed elements contribute to what makes the essence of a game (which I’ll talk about more in tomorrow’s Critical Threat.) There needs to be participation from designers, fans, critics, and publishers/IP holders in order to make a product succesful. There is no way to make every single person in every one of those groups happy, but compromises must be made all around. And simple screaming that a rule breaks the feel of a game (FOR YOU) does not accomplish all that much.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Some problems usually arise when the producers realize that simply slapping the name on the product will guarantee them a certain amount of sales no matter what they do.

    Also, the biggest issue most people have with Fallout 3, I think, is the fear that it will appeal a great deal to the mass market because of similarities to other FPSers and to Oblivion, so no matter what the Fallout fanbase does the game is going to be a blockbuster. It doesn’t matter if the game rocks or not, the fans could simply be pissed that they have no way of controlling the product whatsoever?

  2. That’s the aforementioned “sell out” idea. If you’re saying that the reason they’re claiming “it’s not Fallout” is out of frustration, then you’re probably right, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct… nor is BethSoft necessarily making something that will be considered part of Fallout.

  3. I totally agree. And that Greater Internet Dickwad Theory picture is hilarious!


  1. […] touched on this idea before: in many people’s minds, there’s one definition of what a product/line IS. Whether this is determined by the original creator, the fans, or whomever happens to legally own […]