Surviving Negative Fandoms and How Xenoblade Taught Me to Move Forward

Before diving into Xenoblade proper, there is an anecdote I have to share that directly correlates to the point of this piece, and that has to do with the worst set of experiences I have ever had online.

I have a rocky history with fandoms, to put it mildly. I have always had some negative interactions with members of communities that have steered me away from enjoying some titles and have generally skewed me to viewing particular franchises in negative lights.

It is definitely an issue of having thin skin, which is quite problematic to have on the internet, but after years of online interaction, I have learned that this is just how I am. Fire Emblem and Atelier are more notable examples of fandoms with negative outcomes. Still, the most impactful franchise this has happened to me was with the Trails community, or Kiseki as it is known in Japanese.

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Trails is my second favorite franchise, and it has had a profound impact on the way I view stories and characters. However, I had several experiences with the fanbase years ago that forever tainted my love for it, and to this day, make me feel a certain sense of shame. I used to be regularly active on Twitter, far more than I am now, and interacted with several communities.

Things were all generally fine until I played the Crossbell duology. These 2 games; Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki, are heralded as the greatest entries of the franchise, especially Azure. However, after playing both titles, I found that I immensely disliked both, which obviously earned much ire from fans in the vicinity.

What made it all even worse is that I vastly preferred the Cold Steel saga, which is detested, so I was an indescribable outlier in the vocal community. Come to think of it; I do wonder how those same people would react if they learned that the final Cold Steel entry is my favorite game of all time. It would be a real sitcom reaction, that’s for sure.

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I received threats upon threats for voicing my thoughts on these games. My opinions were discarded, and it felt truly awful to have my passion for a series I loved so much be treated like it was something that needed to be avoided. It reached a point where I was canceled and blocked by several notable individuals of the community.

It hit me like a truck. I was far from sinless, however, because looking back, I was hardcore baby raging and whining for being an outlier, a very immature thing to do without a doubt, and that was likely the catalyst for the outcome.

At the same time, I can’t say the ones who harassed me were much better. Rather than treating me like a human being and trying to better understand my opinions, I was treated like a member of an insane asylum. It was intensely dehumanizing. I entered a depressive state for around a year before finally being able to look at the games and not want to run away, though it is admittedly still difficult not to think about it now.

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The purpose of telling that anecdote was to illustrate a clear picture of the level of suffering that fandoms can induce. And my experience with the Trails community was far more impactful and elaborate than with Xenoblade’s fanbase, thereby making it a better fully-fledged story to tell. However, make no mistake, the same general pain can still be attributed to my time with this community. Speaking of, let’s actually dive into that subject matter.

I first played Xenoblade Chronicles on 3DS about 6 years ago. While I doubt anyone would want to play such a massively scaled title on that piece of hardware at the time and even now, it impresses me that that game managed to even remotely fit on the handheld at all. I enjoyed myself for a few dozen hours but honestly did not pay much attention to the mechanics and barely did any side quests. I beelined for the main story and paid the price for it, as I hit a roadblock during a certain boss fight. At that point, I dropped the game and promptly forgot about its existence for a few years.

Cut to years later, where Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had been released, and the series was more prominent than ever before, I started to become more active online. I engaged in gaming communities and got involved with social media. And while I made a few good friends, I experienced many interactions that steered me away from media that would have potentially engaged me had I otherwise stumbled into them of my own accord. Xenoblade was one of them.

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To sum it all up, the basic gist for why I was so turned off by this franchise that initially interested me years prior was because wherever I went at the time, I would always see games that I enjoyed being used as stepping stones to elevate this supposed masterpiece the first Xenoblade was.

I was endlessly harassed and ridiculed for possessing unpopular opinions that did not mesh well with the general collectives. The games those harassers enjoyed quickly became subjects of my own contempt. It felt like there were two opposing sides; games that I enjoyed and games that others did. Looking back, that was incredibly narcissistic, but I digress.

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We all trash on some pieces of media to make others look better, including me. However, due to my infancy with online communities and how intense it was for a newcomer, these times were solely negative influences that served as inherent detractors rather than motivators for growing thick skin.

Everyone has different tolerances for online communication, and at the time, I had bad luck finding places where I felt I could justly express myself without being ridiculed. It is undeniable that running from a series’ solely due to outside influences is weak and almost cowardly. However, not everyone is built the same, and that is one of the key lessons I learned from my time online.

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I recently dove back into Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. This would be my third time attempting the remake and my first without skipping any scenes. These attempts were more about overcoming the unreasonable distaste I held for it rather than actually enjoying it. It was a personal journey, I suppose. At this point, I have strayed far from the fanbase, and it helped because something clicked this time. I ended up falling in love with Xenoblade Chronicles.

I do have my own general critiques with it, but as a whole, this became one of the most addicting JRPG experiences I ever had the pleasure of going through. The soundtrack, conceptually enticing narrative, fun cast, and most of all, thrilling combat had me hooked for hours on end. I had trouble putting down the controller, honestly, which is a scarce feeling nowadays.

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But what was it that specifically shifted my perspective this time around? To be honest, as cheesy as it was, it was one particular character’s arc. Not to spoil key events, but one of the central, broad themes I got from Xenoblade Chronicles is learning to move forward and not be tied down by past vendettas. It is a story of maturity that struck me. Its execution left much to be desired, but the fact that this game tackled a theme that I directly experienced regarding it from an outside lens was such a bizarre twist of fate that I couldn’t help but be transfixed.

There was a character who felt ashamed of their appearance due to story spoilers, but on a base level, it was also due to being different, an outlier from so many other members of their race. This oddly resonated with me. To be honest, this conflict was barely touched upon in the game proper and is only given real attention during a Heart-to-Heart, but it still stuck with me.

My relation to this arc is so contrived and seemingly disconnected. I found myself relating to this specific struggle of that character and tying it to my own experiences of being an outlier in various communities, especially Trails. The dread of being mocked and not taken seriously because my tastes differed from theirs connected with this character fearing the ignorance and trauma of others would cause an irreparable rift.

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As wildly dissimilar as these struggles were, they were both rooted in desiring a common understanding. I found a legitimate degree of comfort in that introspection I had. While I’m sure this type of relation is far from intended by the developers, I think this perfectly encapsulates the beauty of not just video game expression but with media in general. Regardless of how linear an experience is, interpretations vary from person to person, no matter how slight. However, aside from just that, I realized one other pivotal factor that led me to suddenly enjoying Xenoblade; mentality.

I went into Xenoblade, truly desiring to enjoy it. And as obvious as that may sound, you’d be surprised at how preemptive people can be with experiences. It is arduous to really, fully desire enjoyment from something you have a harmful history with. While this is not always the case, chances are if you go into something expecting it to be unfun, your mind will shape the experience to fit that expectation, and in this case, vice versa applies too.

I am no psychologist or anything of the like, but that is how I see things. Going in with a positive and excited mindset takes time, but it pays dividends. At the end of the day, I’m now able to look back on those strenuous moments and really feel like they are behind me. I’ll probably always possess at least a small degree of unreasonable contempt towards series I have negative experiences with. Still, I think everyone feels some semblance of unreasonable distaste for some aspect of their lives. As long as that contempt doesn’t shape your life, the world of entertainment is your oyster to derive joy from.

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.