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The Good Kind of Fanatics

It’s PAX East 2014.  I’m tired, hungry, and surrounded by crowds of people who are equally tried and hungry.  As I finish a preview/interview, I check where my friends are in order to catch up with them.  In the sea of chaotic video game fans, it is easy to get separated and you send a lot of text messages reading, “Where are you?”

This time my friends have found themselves in a panel with two motion capture actors and two voice actors from the Mass Effect series.  The four actors have cosplayed as their characters from the game and are answering questions about their experience with the Mass Effect trilogy.  I crash down into a seat next to my friends, my shoulder aches from the heavy bag containing all of my PAX necessities, I take in my surroundings.  The giant auditorium feels relatively empty, as about 100 or so fans have left the space far from capacity.  My rigid, schedule-driven brain wonders what we are doing here.  Even as big of Mass Effect fans as I am, I immediately start  thinking about all of the games we’re not seeing, the developers we’re not meeting.

Then I start shoving aside that part of my brain.  I simply relax and enjoy the fact I am sitting down.  Listening to these – one would assume, diehard – Mass Effect fans talk to these cast members is something special.  The people on stage aren’t the Hollywood Elite, accustomed to the wealth of love and admiration from adoring fans.  They are actors who took the job as a way to make ends meet in an extremely volatile profession.  These actors seem almost surprised at the situation, some of them confess they didn’t even know their work had been used until after the game had been released.  A couple of them get emotional at the incredible reception they receive.

Fanaticism is often painted – and often justly painted – with a negative brush.  When we think of fanatics, we think of chubby, neck-bearded nerds living in a dingy basement, writing hateful messages on a forum at two in the morning.  Fanatics are the ones who scare developers into changing their artistic vision or publisher business practices, for better and for worse.   They trash games before playing them, emotionally respond when their favored franchise makes the “wrong” choices, they seem to be lying in wait for things to go wrong, only to quickly pop-up and point fingers.  When you think about it, being a fanatic is a relatively safe profession.  Piling into the internet mob mentality, fusing your personality to the roar of a crowd till you are part of a giant, internet rat-king doesn’t put you at risk, doesn’t open you up to criticism, it leaves you safely out of the way.  These are the people we usually think about when it comes to fanatics.  They chased Phil Fish from the internet, they sent death threats to Black Ops 2 developers.

The power of the mob is a long documented science.  You can follow the idea of mob mentality back to ancient Rome, when politicians often bid for public favor in order to keep a grip over the masses and maintain power.  There are striking comparisons between the pomp and circumstance of Julius Caesar’s refusal of a crown and Sony’s promise about used games.  It was the same mob mentality that changed Microsoft’s policies, the same mentality which funded numerous Kickstarter projects.  Whether we like it or not, the mob mentality is still alive and well.

Fantastic, mobs, call them whatever you want.  Sometimes they aren’t a bad thing.  In fact, sometimes they are a good thing.  It irks me, fair or not, when people paint fans with the brush of being stereotypical and nasty.  Many fans are great people, people no different than you or me.  Whether it is Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, or fantasy football, people all have their passions.  These communities, these pre-established bonds are empowering and can be used for great good rather than bitching about 1080p and frame rate.

You may not know the name Sarah Hamilton off-hand.  Most notably, she voices the character of April Ryan in The Longest Journey series, a character listed as one of Explosion’s top ten female protagonists.  In 2002, Hamilton was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  18 months later she was diagnosed with Stage 2 Parotid (Salivary) Gland Cancer.  Back troubles led to more hospital visits and most recently Hamilton had her spine fused on April 2nd.

All of the surgeries and diagnosis left Hamilton in a state of financial trouble.  While the voice-acting in video games may sometimes strike us as Hollywood-esque, starring in big-budget games don’t pay the same as starring in big-budget films.  In need of help, Hamilton has reached out with a site, in which she explains the situation and asks for help.

When I first read about Hamilton’s plight, Monday morning, she had only raised about $2,000, a far cry from her goal.  As I am now writing this article, Hamilton’s page has over $17,000.  Her pages is filled with “get well soon” messages, many of which reference her work in The Longest Journey series.  Hamilton has responded to the messages by posting a thank you from April Ryan and a shout out to the video game community which has generously come to her aid.

We tend to focus on the negative as a society, especially in the media.  We tell stories about the harassment of a developer and the viral negativity of a culture.  We spend so much time doing that, dismissing the incredible people who make up the culture of video games, when something special happens we don’t write about it, we skip over it.  It’s unfair and it’s wrong.  I have said it many times before, the culture of video games is one of the things which keeps me writing about them.  The response to Hamilton’s request for help is only one example of how fascinating and wonderful video game culture can be.  So the next time you are embarrassed by the annoying fanboys arguing over Xbox and PlayStation, or the next time to you see a wave of inappropriate comments fill the bottom of an article, remember they are one type of fanatic, they don’t represent video games on the whole.  There are people out there, like those helping Sarah Hamilton, who make video game fans some of the best.


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