By their very nature, gamers are competitive. We may just lie back in our underwear with thumbs aloft, mouths open and eyes glazed, yet it's sheer passion that keeps us playing. But often our biggest gaming battles take place away from our HUDs and health bars, and we wage an altogether different war on the pixelated turf of the net.
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Of course, we kid ourselves that we're all mature these days, what with our games about child abduction, 15th century renaissance Italy and, you know, firing fistfuls of bees, but ultimately, we're all itching to indulge in a bit of digital dick swinging. Childish? Yes. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it's an intrinsic and crucial part of the culture - that burning desire to champion your console to the detriment of the other 'side'.
We should embrace these absurd clashes and enjoy them for what they are; a tongue-in-cheek bit of leg-pulling between friends. Plus the discussion, the nitpicking, can actually drive development. Take the recent storm over Skyrim's woeful disintegration on PlayStation. Early complaints - ignored by Bethesda - were suddenly taken very seriously when the 360 camp's enormous bellow of schadenfreude alerted the developers to the PS3's 'epic fail'.
Incessant in-fighting amongst the community is key to the industry's survival. Nobody wants to back a loser, so each company is forced to compete for our affection, our aggression, and our downright intolerance. "Xbox is getting a web browser and the BBC iPlayer!" wrote a friend of mine on Facebook, "Two less reasons to own a PS3!" To which someone else instinctively retorted, "When is it getting a Blu-ray player and free online community then?" Needless kneejerking to some; to others, this is progress-driving competition in action.
The point is nevertheless clear: keep fans on side, or die by reputation. There's a reason Sony and Microsoft bid obscene amounts for console-specific DLC or single-platform releases - bragging rights. If we can boast about our rival's lack of envy-inducing exclusives, such as LittleBigPlanet or Uncharted, it's a genuine boost to the PlayStation brand. If better regard means more sales, then that means more money - which in turn means more and better games.
Of course, to many such behaviour seems downright peculiar. A console is, after all, an electrical appliance. If our parents started bitter, poorly-spelt rants aimed at those who had purchased a rival to their preferred trouser press, we would - quite rightly - think them a red light short of a meltdown. But that's to confuse a console with gaming: gaming is so much more than ironing leg wear - it's something that defines us as much as our music, clothes or our favourite video on YouTube.
The occasional overheat of internet flame wars shouldn't detract from the majority of players indulging in a spot of light-hearted banter. We should be able to express ourselves without fear of the zealous, keyboard-mashing idiots that would otherwise have the run of the playground.
it's in the flame
Football's trouble-makers carry knives and use violence. All ours carry are a cloak of anonymity, some disappointing hyperbole and an armful of exclamation marks. Yet we're the ones who shy away from a bit of cheeky bickering? Soccer hooliganism doesn't dictate the terms of their level of fandom - City fans still openly mock United and vice versa. If they're able to chant at the opposition during matches, then surely we should be free to do the same?
To flirt with the rage is to show that we're actually mature enough to disengage the caps lock and engage in debate. Like football teams, we're rivals, not enemies.
With the average age of a gamer pegged in the mid-to-late 30s, the pastime becomes ever more determined to take itself seriously. As it strives for legitimacy as a serious form, its supporters strive to be seen as grown-up too - hence the disdain for the excesses of the flame wars. But conflict needn't compromise that; conversely, it can serve to support and shape the future of gaming. Wars drive technology forward, and they always have. So get online, get disputing and help shape the future. Just be aware that calling a rival electrical appliance 'gay' won't help anything.