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Cascade Arcade: BIRGing and CORFing

As an admitted fan of the YouTube legend VSauce, I was excited when I saw this week’s video was entitled, “Why Do We Play Games?” While the 12-minute video answered this question with a number of fascinating facts—including the difference between a toy, a puzzle, a competition and a game—I was most fascinated by his explanation of the terms BIRGing and CORFing. While these apply most obviously to spectator sports, they can also be related to gaming as a whole.

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By Joel Smart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: March 27, 2013

As an admitted fan of the YouTube legend VSauce, I was excited when I saw this week’s video was entitled, “Why Do We Play Games?” While the 12-minute video answered this question with a number of fascinating facts—including the difference between a toy, a puzzle, a competition and a game—I was most fascinated by his explanation of the terms BIRGing and CORFing. While these apply most obviously to spectator sports, they can also be related to gaming as a whole.

BIRG stands for “Basking in Reflected Glory.” This is that sense of pride and entitlement that people receive after a team they’ve identified with has accomplished something favourable – say, winning a game or championship. In other words, these people feel the rewards of a successful moment without having to actually do much work. By putting on a sports jersey after your favourite team has won, you gain some prestige and excitement for yourself.

CORF stands for “Cutting off Reflected Failure.” Much the opposite of BIRGing, CORFing is when people disassociate themselves from the negative emotions—embarrassment and frustration—that come from a tough loss. This can range from turning off the TV to skipping past the next day’s sports section or even giving up being a fan altogether.

It makes sense why people would BIRG and CORF – it’s one of the simplest ways to improve their standing and their emotional state. Real life is complicated – so too are the rules and goals. Games provide a simplified and reliable model for experiencing the rewards of success. Easier still is to gain these rewards by association; not everyone wants to put the time in (or has the ability) to become an expert at a game.

Video games have not traditionally been open to spectators. Increasingly, however, certain gamers have begun to develop followings. Gamers post videos of themselves playing games with commentary on YouTube and often times thousands of people tune in to see the experience. While associating with one of these gamers won’t necessarily increase a fan’s prestige (except among a select few), it does allow them to easily experience the rewards and failures the player faces in the game. BIRGing and CORFing is increased in team-based games where rewards and failures are intensified by human-to-human competition. Many who play massively multiplayer games online, like World of Warcraft, form into clans or guilds – these teams of players then experience pride when their team does well, or shame when they don’t. Because it’s just a game, players who don’t experience success might distance themselves from the game to minimize their emotional harm.

In The Sociology of Sports, Tim Delaney noted that there have been some theories as to what players are more likely to BIRG and who are more likely to CORF. One theory is that individuals with more self-esteem are more likely to BIRG, without needing to CORF, however studies have so far not proven this hypothesis. Sports fans would argue that hardcore fans would be most likely to follow this pattern, while “bandwagoners” are the ones to CORF the second things look bad.

Of course BIRGing and CORFing seems to happen in many other ways as well. Take the console war as an example – gamers often become entangled in a bitter war based on the video game system they’ve purchased. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all have “fans” that pride themselves on their preferred company’s successes while ignoring (or denying) the faults.

Perhaps it does make sense why it happens, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it in mind. Sometimes it is fun to enjoy the thrill of fandom. However, it can often happen subconsciously. So, BIRG and CORF to your heart’s content, but also remember that it’s no substitute for the real rewards.

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