Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Real Normal

These days there is an awkward disdain many creatives and fanatic consumers share with each other. It is not one that used to exist, yet is very prevalent now. While both sides tend to fetishize and overestimate the importance of their preferred corner of fanatical fandom, they also tend to hate the normal Joe Sixpack as some sort of leech on their hobbies, arts, and general interests. These normies are the one polluting and subverting what you love!

I've already shown how this was wrong before. Normal people are not to blame for anything going on in your hobby of choice. Normal people don't put that level of thought into usurping things they don't care that much about. The correct culprit are called poseurs. These are fanatics with a hyper-focused interest in a warped corner of their area of choice and believe they should be in charge to shape the future of whatever it is they think they want. They are the ones that should be watched.

However, the initial mistake is understandable. Poseurs, after all, come in with normal people during the most successful stage of a medium's explosion. They only difference is that they stick around long after said medium has soured and the smarter normal people have walked away. That's right, the normies are the ones who are the ones who walk away, while the poseurs burrow in deeper.

It's a part of five different levels of a subculture's growth and eventual death. All of this repeats itself over and over. Most subcultures in the western world are currently in the final stage, unable to understand that lashing out at those who left will not bring their slapdash "community" back into prominence. The normal people don't care about your makeshift communities out of dying subculture trash: they already have a normal community to fall back on. When it is on the way out, they walk away and take their money with them.

A subculture's five stages of life:


The first stage is self-explanatory. Creators use their unique perspective on a medium to create a new subculture cobbled together from bigger parts of the tradition they are a riffing off of. Other like-minded creators join in, and new content is made. This stage can last a long time, or a short period, but it takes much work for the originators to build this new arena.

The second stage is the point where normal people take notice and join in. Some become fanatics, some become casual, some are there because it's cool, and others see ways they can exploit it for themselves. This leads to an expansion on this subculture that allows different shapes to form in what was thought to be a smaller thing. Ideally, this is the peak. The most amount of honestly interested parties are involved, and what was once thought to be niche turns out to connect with many people in many different ways. Future classics are made that many will look back on years to come, and memories are made that bring joy to many.

The decline stage happens due to lack of satisfaction with the way things are. For certain fanatics, what the subculture is simply is no longer good enough! Now we need more, more, and more! This is the period where creatives get overindulgent and lazy, and the cracks begin to show as a result. Originators tend to leave (or are forced out) during this stage, whether to move on to new mediums or to self-exile back to a smaller space. Normal folk begin to think it's not quite the same as it once was, and walk away with their financial support. The poseurs use this chance to push their way in and steer the ship: their ideas of fetishization ends up making the problem worse and chases even more normal people away. Fanatics plug their ears and go to their corners, whether ignorant to the problem or deliberately ignoring it no one can say. What was once unified has now fractured, and is crumbling. This is the beginning of the end.

Subversion happens because the poseurs have seized control due to everyone else leaving. This is the downhill slide. All that is left are two camps in the dying subculture: fanatics who still care about purity and poseurs who demand their vision take center stage. Normal people tune out at the first signs of subversion. Because boredom has set in and few care anymore, the poseur uses his chance to subvert under the guise that it will reach some mystical new audience that exists in their head. This audience share's the poseur's views on the dying subculture and will jump in once it caters to them. This will bring the medium back into focus and these poseurs will be looked at as revolutionaries! But it does not work, because the audience does not exist. The war between fanatics and poseurs rages on as irrelevancy becomes more and more of an accepted reality. Normal people are long gone by this point.

Death happens when the market is gone. Somewhere else a new medium has been made and the poseurs flee for it with more stars in their eyes. What was once a creative subculture full of optimism and bright ideas is now the camp of nostalgic normal people and former fanatics who now force themselves to accept its death. Perhaps there is a revival down the line, enough to please the nostalgics and some new normal people who weren't alive at the time, but it will not regain its same prominence again. All that remains are memories of the good times.

That is more or less the pattern of every rise and fall in subcultures, especially in the last century. We repeat this every time.

If one were to scan the five stages above they would come to a few conclusions, but the one I wish to focus on is a specific party in this mess. Aside from the originators, the only party to notice what is happening during the decline is the normal person. They depart just as things begin to turn sour, taking their support with them and shrinking the bloated subculture for the better. Far from being the one "causing" the problems, they are the first one to notice them while fanatics and poseurs are battling with each other.

This is a good test to use if your subculture is failing or not. Take note if normal people are involved in it. If not, you are either still in the incubation stage or are on the way out. The second someone who isn't an originator takes charge and begins making rules is a good sign that your decline in terminal and will be dead sooner than later. It's the way of the beast.

None of this is to say any of this is bad, but merely the way it works. Everything moves in cycles, not a linear line, and eventually collapse is inevitable.

Now for an example.

Video games have staved off this natural decline with gimmicks and flash for ages now, but with this generation of consoles it has become clear that the facade is wearing off and normal people are beginning to see the emperor's nakedness. Software sales this generation as a whole have been tremendously lower than previous, and many successes simply aren't good enough. Unless you are Nintendo, you aren't doing too well.

But that's getting too far ahead. How did it get to this point we're at? Surely normal people getting into games in this last few years caused this issue. After all, gamers have always been purely hardcore. Normal people need to get out and stop forcing publishers to casualize everything!

If you've paid attention to the cycle above then you know that can't be the case, and it isn't. This is what is known as coping.

Much like moe anime fans who watch the most casual shows imaginable while passing judgement on others for liking shows that got said medium popular overseas in the first place, these hardcore fanatical gamers have not been paying attention to what was going on outside their subculture. These normal people are why you have an industry to begin with.

The original gaming boom in the '70s that ended up crashing is like this process in hyper form. It didn't last long enough to hit the decline because of bad corporate decisions. However, we do have the arcade and home markets the later sprang up to consider.

As you can see from the photos in this post, normal people were all over the arcades at its peak in the late '80s to early '90s. I know, because I was there. When the most creative and successful games from Double Dragon and Final Fight, to Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, to Time Crisis and Dance Dance Revolution, were around, arcades thrived. By the end of the '90s, the crowds got smaller as the games were shifting to home consoles. Normal people left, and developers abandoned the subculture. At the end, the only ones who now go to arcades are those nostalgic for the experience. But the growth of the home market consumed it before the scene could get to the subversive stage. It's not enough to quite give us a full cycle.

Home consoles, however, has not had the sudden ends both the early boom and the arcades had. Instead, they used rapidly evolving technology and quick new console releases to keep the wheels rolling. They did this until it the shell game was revealed for what it was.

Consider the NES as the Creation stage above. At this time the market exploded and franchises such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and countless others were made. It is impossible to note just how big Nintendo made the home scene at the time with cereals, TV shows, and eventually, movies, dedicated to video games. The Game Boy also revolutionized handheld gaming. The PC market was exploding at this time with companies such as id Software, Origin Systems, and Apogee, setting the stage for things to come. Normal people bought these things: I had a friend whose father owned games like DOOM, Quest for Glory, and the original Leisure Suit Larry. And he wasn't even a gamer. This era is when many things started.

The 16-bit era would have been the Saturation period. Consider how much things had expanded. The Super NES, the Sega Genesis, the Turbografx-16, and the Neo Geo, all changed the game and added much to build on the creative 8-bit generation, reaching a new saturation point and hitting a fever pitch. Everyone knew what video games were now. At this same time, LucasArts, id Software, Bethesda, 3D Realms (formerly Apogee), Blizzard, and Sierra, had all radically improved the PC world from where they were only a small few years before. Everyone in my class in grade school played video games during this time. Boys, girls, athletes, nerdier kids, it didn't matter. Every one of them knew who Super Mario was.

However, what happened next was more of a pivot. Instead of continuing in the 2D space (or 2.5D, as it has become known) games threw in a new perspective to keep things fresh. This would be 3D. Certain genres, such as the FPS, flourished in this new perspective, while genres such as RPGs used it to allow flashier cinematics and polygonal graphics, and platformers and adventure games used it to add a new dimension to their traversal challenges. Even though the games were as good as ever (even if they haven't dated well, graphically), the dirty secret is that the 32-bit generation didn't really change that much on a pure game design level. Even on PC, Deus Ex and Thief certainly benefited from these technological advances, but the core design was still very traditional--the new tech merely allowed them to do what they wanted. There isn't anything wrong with this, but 3D being touted as a game changer didn't really end up changing much in the bones of the design. Nonetheless, it was still in the Saturation stage. The tough guys in my class at the time, players and the like, all knew what Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Final Fantasy were. They also knew what a Dreamcast was, but that was a sign of things to come.

Then came the 128-bit generation: the last time bits really mattered, if even then. It was essentially a rehash of the 16-bit generation. The graphics were improved and the rough 3D was sanded down, but it the games were essentially more of the same yet prettier. This generation also benefited by the advent of DVDs and widespread online gaming to add some fuel to the fire and mask the fact that little changed. However, by the end of the generation, cracks were beginning to show. We had staved off a decline masterfully with the 3D turn. But that novelty was wearing off. At the same time, Sega departed the console business and entire founding genres such as the 2D platformer were being shelved, fulfilling the requirement to enter the decline stage. This wouldn't be fully felt until next gen, but it was a change. But it's what came next that really dealt the crippling blow to the industry and led us where we are.

The first HD generation began in 2005. Because HD was all the rage, every company besides Nintendo jumped on this bandwagon immediately--and immediately ended up killing dozens and dozens of studios who couldn't afford to make the sorts of games HD development required. The industry was irreparably harmed. Unless you could afford the insane costs like an Electronic Arts or an Activision, you were out of luck. And even then, if the game was a sleeper hit it still wouldn't be enough as it was before. This effectively locked out a majority of the developers and audience members with more unique tastes were left high and dry. This is a decline.

If it wasn't for the advent of digital download games, entire genres would have been destroyed. In fact, it has devalued them--you can read articles by game journalists chastising Nintendo for releasing a 2D platformer for full price on their Wii system, a game that eventually ended up being the highest selling game of that generation bought be normal people. Poseurs had already infiltrated the industry and began making demands opposite to what normal people wanted at the same time legacy companies were dying and being devoured by megacorps. Software was still selling, but unless you were AAA that wouldn't be enough to save you. By the end of the first HD generation in 2012, there was nothing left of the industry that had existed and built the landscape back in the '80s. It was merely an industry running on momentum. It was the decline phase in action.

The second HD generation is the prime example of the subversion stage. Software sales are down, and companies put on expensive commercials at E3 that no longer even show gameplay footage, and instead advertise politics as their selling point. No one is buying software anymore, they appear to be buying systems as Bluray players. At the same time these companies subsist on remakes of older games that subvert and change the products from their original intent. Censorship runs amok from unimaginative character design, to the same hackneyed orchestral soundtracks being trotted out for a decade+, and stale game design is creaking under its decade old weight. The 3D pivot is no longer enough. And PC games are no better, suffering from the same changes and corporate mandated creativity to appeal to audiences that don't exist. No one can deny this current generation is the worst since the original console crash, and yet these same companies are planning on rushing out new consoles this year (even during a pandemic!) to make you buy more of the same while touting it as revolutionary. We are in peak subversion.

Considering normal people are buying less games than they did a mere generation ago, and the games are still rehashing formulas over a decade old? I do not expect them to stick around in this industry much longer. The first part of Final Fantasy VII Remake sold surprisingly well, yes. But when the next part sells less next time, do you think it will be the fanatics who have stopped buying it, or the ones who didn't get what they came for? I think we know which one it will be.

We are in the subversion stage and inching towards death. Disaster is coming for the video game industry. We are 180 degrees from where we started, a clear sign of the end.

But that's just the way it works.

You can also look at the music industry. Normal people bailed on that before idiots like me got a clue. By the end of the '90s it was already a husk of what it once was.

You can blame an interference like Napster, but the fact is that music had already hit a rough patch by the time it came around. You could turn on the radio and be treated with Britney Spears, or you could discover an artist like Donnie Iris on a file-sharing service and get what you actually wanted. If you were one of those millions who liked rock music and were told to swallow bubblegum and shut up instead, you didn't really have much else in the way of options. The industry was selling you subversion. Nirvana's era was already the subversion era anyway. Napster was a mercy-killing that accelerated the decline.

While my aunt was downloading the entire Joe Jackson discography I was still buying the latest Green Day CD and wondering if I should get the special edition. Even though I was a fanatic, I was still supporting an industry that wasn't really giving me what I wanted. My aunt was far ahead of the game, while a fanatic like me was still feeding the beast that had long since lost its way. She left before I did.

The music industry did change, and the record labels aren't the ones controlling it anymore. There are whole scenes such as the retro/synthwave movement that thrive in this new environment. But that old era of high priced CD stores, Total Request Live, and screaming fanatic teenage girls, is long over. And that wasn't because of people like me, but because of those who weren't fanatics and didn't cling to products made by those who hated me. Normal people did it.

In summation, it is the normal people that tend to get a bum rap in creative circles, mostly due to not being there to defend themselves, because they have already left. But they are the more savvy among us when it comes to Noticing Things. Once a medium diverts from its core purpose, they are the first to walk away and find something better. As creative folk, we would do better to realize that we don't know everything. We are also blinded to certain things.

In the end, they are normal and it is their normality that allows them to spot the unnatural, even if subconsciously and deep down. If they notice anything it is probably a good sign something is amiss. Those submerged and consuming are not as aware of our surroundings, and we we do good to remember we have our own weaknesses.

As for the loss of a good subculture? Don't pay it too much mind. These things come in cycles, and it will come back round again in a different form.

It's something that happens. Things change. It's what comes next that is always the most interesting, and I expect the normal people to be there for it, too. They always are.


  1. Save us from poseurs

    Also - related to an older post of yours:

    1. Great post! I like that passage from Sword of the Samurai Cat. That's how it should be done.

  2. The gaming industry's fanaticism and HD obsession can even be seen in modding communities for PC games. At best, you have the SPV3 mod for the original PC port of Halo: CE. It's a fun and challenging mod that bridges the lore of the games with the lore of the novels, but it also stutters on older hardware because of the mandatory graphical enhancements that run on terribly optimized extensions. At worst, you have mods for Bethesda RPGs that keep Bethesda itself on life support. I have yet to meet a single PC player who can play a game like Skyrim or Fallout 4 without fifty mods installed that fix Bethesda's oversights.

    As for me? I rarely install mods anymore, and I game on a "lower" definition 768p monitor that allows my older games to look good at their original aspect ratio.

    1. The entire "mods will fix the game" mentality astounds me. Gamers shouldn't have to do the work of the developer to make a game worth playing.

      There's apparently a mod that "fixes" Daikatana. That's nice, but it doesn't excuse the product originally put out.

  3. I'm one of those normies in the gaming scene. I was right there for the SNES and N64 generations. Between consoles and PC I only had about 30 games. Those were good enough for me (although Halo nights with the boyz was still great fun). The cost of the newer gen consoles got to be too prohibitive for a spendthrift like me to justify. I had other interests like books, tennis, and school. The Wii was cute, but a novelty and not something I saw myself spending 20 hours a week playing.

    1. The console manufacturers have forgotten how to appeal to people who just want to play games. They are more interested in being Hollywood-style tastemakers.

      Last year's abysmal E3 showing demonstrated as much.

      They will soon learn the lesson the music industry did, and the one Hollywood refused to. Turn away from the majority and find yourself with no one left to prop you up.