Forthcoming game No Mans Sky promises players the experience of exploring a nigh-infinite universe of beautiful, dreamlike worlds. But its fans are far from serene. When a journalist reported a development delay, he was sent death threats–a black hole of rage that expanded to the game's creators when they confirmed the news.
The sheer nastiness and intensity of No Man's Sky fandom—it isn't even out yet!—speaks to a deepening problem with fandoms. Phil Owen writes: Game culture is becoming a game cult.
The "No Man's Sky" thing is particularly interesting because it has a different blueprint… We've seen uproars like the ones over "Ghostbusters" and the "Captain America" comic enough times that we can trace a psychological line to the cause….
But "No Man's Sky" isn't a sequel to some beloved thing, and these fans haven't even played it. How could they feel so strongly about it that there could even be this kind of bizarre outpouring of emotion over a six-week delay? …
A friend of mine in the industry remarked to me a few weeks ago that video game marketing isn't selling you a game, but rather a membership in a cult. That video game marketing is, essentially, weaponizing fandom.
In other parts of pop culture, it's simply incidental that kind of intense brand loyalty would spring up amongst a small group of fans. … But in games, that fringe is the entire target audience.
No Man's Sky is fertile ground for the current wave of craziness. A game of secular-spiritual scope and scale with stunning art design, it offers the promise of losing oneself among quintillions of planets. Jonathan Schreier quotes from one threat:
One line in that message is particularly revealing: "It's the only thing I live for." Whether or not he was exaggerating, that's the type of obsession that fuels so much of the nastiness in gaming culture. There are plenty of great gaming communities and, in my experience, most gamers are perfectly pleasant, but too many are unable to separate themselves from their products. Video game fans who are zealously attached to their favorite games—even, as in this case, a game that has yet to come out!—are prone to get aggressive when they feel like they're being attacked. Or when they get bad news.