Smeags' Note: This is an opinion piece that has been in my head for quite some time. I only aim to speak for myself, and in the end I am only speaking as Smeags the VGChartz user, not Smeags the Head Mod. All I want for this thread is to spark discussion and talk about what the future of this site holds for this community. I hope you enjoy.
Smeags' Note #2: Yes, I know it's a long thread. I put a lot of work in it because I understand that this is a complex issue that requires solid discussion. I get that a thread such as this requires time and effort. And I do appreciate you all that take your time to read this. So yes, we all know it's a long thread. If that's all you're going to say... then we're well ahead of that matter.
I'd like to take this time to speak about my thoughts on the rise of the Nation culture here on VGChartz. If you're not aware, Nation threads are all encompassing company/console threads (Nintendo, PlayStation, Microsoft, and Vita in this case) that offer an all-in-one hub for all things company/console related. But before I focus on the present, I feel that it is necessary that we take a look at how we got here, and the foundations that have led to the rise of the Nation threads.
Before the Nation Threads.
I find that the Nation threads are a natural evolution of the "pick your side!" threads that have sprinkled VGChartz history. Past examples were the Warriors of Light (Nintendo), Sons of Darkness (PlayStation), and the Greenskins (Microsoft) back in 2010. But even before then, VGChartz has had these "team" threads in which (for fun and games) every member chose a side and lines were drawn. The most current example of this sort of thread was in 2013 when the modern Nation threads became entrenched in the community (but we'll talk about that later). These threads usually happened during a lull in gaming news, or when big gaming events were approaching or just passed (such as E3). For the most part, these threads were seen as a way to invigorate the community, and to pick sides for fun. During their limited run (either the threads died out or the Mods locked them for carrying on for too long) they were inviting, including (as everyone had a side to choose, and once you were there you were part of the "family"), and forged a sense of belonging within VGChartz. I believe that what the threads offered were very enticing, and were a major selling point for when the Nation threads appeared on the scene. I do think that this is where the seeds for modern Nation threads were planted.
But before I get to that, I want to point out a change that had been made after the 2010 batch of "pick your side" threads: the move to VGChartz 4.0. I believe that this change of appearance and discussion mentality for the site supports parts of my critique (which I'll get to later, so keep that in mind). This is VGChartz 2.0, while we now use VGChartz 4.0 (let's not bring up 3.0... it didn't last long ). The biggest change from 2 to 4 was the importance that gamrConnect (the new community forum created with 3.0 and polished with 4.0) received with the update. In 2.0, the forums weren't viewable from the front page, while in 4.0 the "Forum Hot Topics" are a major part of what the user views when VGChartz is on the screen. Not only that, in 2.0,the forums were more segregated (in the 2.0 link, you can click on the Forum tab to see what I'm talking about). Each forum (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, etc.) were naturally insular to the point of cultivating a greater cult mentality (in that each forum had more unwritten rules in how you acted and behaved with that particular company/console). With today, the forum focus has changed to that of including all the main forums in one area (aka the Hot Topic bar), and that leading to the Hot Topic forum. This change has resulted in a greater mixture of conversations that are seen by everyone: Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft gamer alike. This has allowed for a greater diversity of users to voice their opinions on any subject. And here is where the seeds of the Nation threads were watered.
How the Modern Nation Threads Grew.
I believe that this diversification of opinions, thoughts, and criticisms within gamrConnect, combined with the continuation of the "choose your side" threads was a major factor in allowing the Nation threads to begin and grow into what they are now. With the announcement of the PlayStation Vita, the Vita thread was created. It was a place for fans of the upcoming handheld to congregate and talk about Sony's new hardware and software that would come from it. But with the launch of the system and its sales struggles, the PSVita was targeted by that greater group of users who might not have commented on it before the greater merger of forums. This onslaught of negativity drove Vita fans to the thread so that they might be able to talk about the system and games. And with that, Vita fans entrenched themselves in their new thread (that served to be inviting, including, and forged a sense of belonging between the embattled Vita fans). The mod team understood that Vita fans needed a forum in which they could be excited for their platform without an overwhelming negative opinion looming over them, and allowed the thread to continue despite the cries of "cult mentality" from many outside users. And thus, the first Nation thread was born.
The birth of the first Nation thread allowed such threads to get its foot in the door. General "news" threads for each of the consoles were created. And in 2013 the newest installments of the PSNation, XBox Republic, and NintenDomination threads were created. The growth of the PSNation was cultivated by the excitement for the upcoming launch of the PS4, while the growth of the XBox Republic was more similar to the Vita situation, where the Xbox One reveal backlash caused Xbox fans to want to have Xbox conversations without the constant criticism from other fans. By that time, the 3DS and Wii U were already out, so Nintendo fans didn't have as much of a greater need for an "official" Nation thread. But with the other two having a Nation thread, the NintenDomination was created as a way to make the forums equal. And so here we are today, with the Vita Thread, The PSNation, the Xbox Empire, and the NintenDomination thread.
Nation Threads in the Present. A Critique.
I understand the appeal of Nation Threads and why there was a move to create them. In once sense they act as a all-in-one hub for (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Vita) news, which has its use. But I think the main reason why they've become so all encompassing is because they offer a safe haven for fans. At the end of the day, I think fans naturally gravitate towards more insular style of discussion. For the most part, we want to talk about what we enjoy, and we want to talk about that with others who share similar interests. But that's only the short term effects of a Nation thread. What are the long term effects?
- 1. Nation Threads are Redundant by Nature
At the very least, Nation threads pose an issue in the greater forums in that they're redundant. The PSNation thread offers news and discussion that's everything PlayStation... but we already have that in effect with the Sony Forums. The Xbox Empire is a hub that lets users discuss all things Xbox... but isn't that what the overall Xbox Forum is for? The forums are created and categorized so that all manner of appropriate content can be discussed through the creation of threads. And each thread is naturally more specific than the forum in which it's found in.
For example, this is how or forums are organized:
All-Encompassing Forums (All Manner of Topics) > Nintendo Forums (Nintendo Discussion) > Zelda U Thread (Zelda U Discussion) > Zelda U Post (Talking about the overworld in Zelda U)
With the Nation threads, it instead looks like this:
All-Encompassing Forums (All Manner of Topics) > Nintendo Forums (Nintendo Discussion) > NintenDomination Thread (Nintendo Discussion)
- 2. Nation Threads Encroach on Forum Activity
The result of Nation threads being redundant is that they naturally step on the toes of topics that fall outside of the Nation threads. Since Nation threads include all manner of news for that specific company/console, there will be a natural competition between activity. Will users post about the topic in the Nation thread, or will they post about it in a separate thread made for just that sort of discussion?
To show what I mean, let's look at how Nation activity affects the overall health of the greater forum:
The ND thread is the least active: the last thread on the page is 20 hours old.
The PSN thread is the second most active, along with the Vita thread: the last thread on the page is 2 days old.
The XBE is the most active: the last thread on the page is 20 days old.
Now a rebuttal could be that the Nintendo community is the largest, while the Xbox community is the smallest. While true, the size of the VGChartz communities does not affect the overall release of console/company game announcements and overall news. The greater Microsoft forum should have as much to talk about as the other forums do... and they do. It's just that all the discussion takes place in the Xbox Empire, at the expense of the overall Microsoft Forum.
- 3. Nation Threads Can Create More Insular and Segregated Communities
Now, while the idea of a welcoming and inclusive community/thread is by no means a bad thing, the pendulum is *very* capable of swinging too far to one side. The Nation threads invite like minded users to talk about like minded subjects in a like minded way. And from those who do not share similar thoughts, these threads can seem very exclusive and uninviting. Indeed, those who aren't supportive of a certain game or system (or support a different company) are thought of as automatic trouble-makers if they decide to post in the Nation thread, despite the fact that they could just want to talk about a game with a different opinion.
The emergence of the Hot Topics bar/forum in 4.0 means that there is now a greater diversity in opinions among all forms of VGChartz discussion. I understand that the changes aren't all "positive", as different opinions means more opinions that may not agree with yours. However, I believe that as long as you follow the rules and respect your fellow poster, you can post whatever opinion you want to post, and for that opinion to be accepted and discussed. And from what I see, I see increasing instances of users feeling unwelcome because they might not go by the overall mentality that a Nation thread ascribes.
- 4. Nation Threads Can Create a Schism in the Greater Community
This one is going to sound a bit hostile, but my aim here is not to make enemies or to draw lines in the sand. It's come from experience and situations that I've seen over the past few years while the Nation threads have been up. And although I still speak as Smeags the user, I will use experiences as a mod to support some claims I make.
As I stated in point 2, the bigger a Nation thread becomes... the more control it wrestles from the greater forum. And with more control, a Nation threads holds greater influence on the community that it oversees. With more control and more influence, there comes a point in which the thread can overtake the forum for fostering a community. Naturally, that control and influence is given to the user who created the Nation thread. At the end of the day, this power to mold the community (as small or large as it is) as they see fit was *not* given to them by the creator of the site, ioi. I, for example, am only a head mod because ioi has made it so. The goal of the mod team is to promote a healthy community within gamrConnect. That is our job, and we answer to ioi. A user in charge of a Nation thread might not have the same goals to promote the health of the overall community. Maybe they're only there to promote their own community, and that mentality can (and has) lead to clashes with the mod team (who must represent the entirety of the community).
So What Now?
I'm critiquing Nation threads because in the long term, I don't see them as healthy to gamrConnect as a whole. I think they're redundant, they encroach on overall forum discussion, they have the potential to be exclusive and uninviting to those who don't share their views, and they can even lead to greater and greater separation from the overall community.
Listen, I do think that Nation threads have positive qualities. They can be inviting and promote a safe and welcoming environment in which to post. But they've also shown qualities that can hurt the overall and long term growth of the community in question. I believe that the opening of the forums can better the community through diversified opinions and greater debate. It's not easier, it's not safer, and it can be painful. But I believe that where there's struggle there's growth. I hope for a forum where a plethora of unique users adds their own perspectives to the overall picture that is gamrConnect. I hope for a forum where each idea has the potential to be talked about in its own setting, and for users to feel like they can share their opinion without being targeted.
But that's me. What are your thoughts on the Nation movement that VGChartz has seen for the past 4 years? Do you think they're positive to the overall forums? Let your voice be heard. Do you think they're negative? Let your voice be heard. I want to know what you think of Nation threads and what they bring to the community at large.
Thanks for reading.