Of Communities and Cabals
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about our little community. This slice of the internet that revolves around dice and cardstock and myth and imagination. I’ll be honest – some days I hate it so much I have to just shut off all of my feeds and keep my mouth from overloading my ass, but most days I sit and revel in how great of a time it is to be a nerd. I have a thousand ideas spinning through my head about things to write about at any given time: things to analyze, games to try and review, editorials, and how-to’s. Unfortunately I only have enough time to actually do one or two of them a week, all of life’s obligations don’t leave me with nearly as much time as I’d like to have for blogging. Luckily every day, (especially those the ones where I don’t have time to write) thanks to all of you, there are still plenty of things to read and catch up on in our little microcosm. So much stuff in fact, that I can almost drown out the rest of the worlds blathering about politics and honey boo boo.
Even those things, the things I attempt to block out, or other things I would have never guessed anyone would care about have communities too. I’m sure there is an entire message board (or at least giant forum threads) dedicated to meeples or which set of Magic cards had the best artwork. Everything has a community, and most communities make people happy about whatever it is they are doing – even if it’s one focused on something not particularly happy like charities and support groups.
So when I get teased by co-workers about my “D&D thing” that I’m part of I can’t help but snicker. I’m part of something, it’s something that impacts people’s lives and hopefully brings more joy than frustration. I get to go to a fancy award ceremony once a year and play games for 4 days straight and have the time of my life. Do they? What does that person poking fun at me have anyway? I’m writing today to discuss what makes our community great, what weakens it, and whatever the hell else comes to mind in no particular order – be warned.
A Cornucopia of Jubilation and Terror
What I’m saying here is that sometimes I’m 100% amazed at some of the things that are out there. For example, I’ve recently become aware that things such as bronies exist and while I wholly don’t understand it, find it relatively mind-boggling and somewhat scary, I suppose if that’s what you’re into then more power to you. I mean, my kids watch this show, it’s kind of clever and has some cool stories and slick animation. I’ve watched a lot of episodes but I don’t consider myself a pony enthusiast by any means. Meanwhile here I am doing reviews about every book and board game that I find remotely enjoyable and discussing the production values of cardboard tokens and book spines. There are thousands of people out there doing the same thing, only with games that have existed since forever. Did you know there were a million ways to play poker on any device that has basically ever existed? There are poker TV shows? Apparently so, it’s wild to think about.
There are huge communities out there that give critique to everything from extremely professional standpoints, there are honest to goodness communities that care about and speak objectively about games like Sorry! and Monopoly on board game geek. To me, games like this are just part of the ether, they exist but don’t need analyzation, right? Wrong. We feel the need to debate and analyze these games right down to whether dice should have rounded or sharp corners, and it feels good.
We blog, and write, and tweet, and obsess because we can. It’s a luxury to be part of all of this in any capacity. Even when it seems like it’s at its worst, it is at its best. Sometimes we post about things we’re not sure about, or that we’d like to know more about and we’re attacked or interrogated for it but we keep on going because this is what we love to do. When I got an angry email last week being accused of giving handies to everyone a Privateer Press for my recent coverage and obsession with Level 7 Escape, IKRPG, and Warmachine I got a little upset, I won’t lie. Hate mail is kind of fun sometimes though, and in the end I just wound up laughing about the whole ordeal. If a company puts out a bunch of cool shit that I like, I can’t help if I like it. If you don’t like it that’s fine too, as a wise sage once reminded me to just move along and embrace something you do enjoy instead of tearing others down.
So yes, our community is both beautiful and terrifying, it is also extremely fat in that jolly just-want-to-give-hugs-to sort of way. You see, what I’ve begun to realize more and more is that some people fanatically collect stamps or memorabilia in the same obsessive compulsive way we collect dice or obsess over who shot first. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a fire that burns in their bellies somewhere, they care about it the same way I care about why a goblin shouldn’t look like an orc. Remember the crazy ten billion ways to play poker I mentioned earlier? Apparently there are so many poker apps that they too need to be weeded out in blog posts with titles like ‘5 underrated poker apps worth downloading‘ just like we do with our die rolling apps and game supplements/DLC.
(As a sidenote, I think perhaps the only other type of mobile app to compete with these might be to-do list apps because never before has something as simple as playing cards or making a list become such a nuanced and critique-able experience.)
Not only do we have issues with glut when it comes to the gizmos and gadgets we use alongside our games, but the games themselves flow like a never-ending stream. How many fantasy RPG’s actually exist? There’s no telling, but DriveThruRPG sure is flooded with enough half assed, hair brained, overpriced supplements for games (and full games) to sink an entire fleet of plane-jumping airships. The thing is, granted there’s a lot of garbage floating around out there, without that garbage we’d not have any gold. I think this is a good thing. Every bad game out there is a contribution to our hobby because we’ve got to hash out all the bad ideas before we unearth the great ones, each one of these things is part of a personal journey that contributes to our whole. I’m also not saying DriveThruRPG is only filled with crap, for the record.
Almost every person out there today has access to a word processor and some sort of publishing/formatting tool even if it is the word processor itself (huzzah for MSWord layout wizardry!). It’s astounding to think about, and there might be a lot of bad stuff to sift through until we reach the good, but hey – that’s what we’re here for, right? To cut through it all and find the good stuff!
I know a lot of my D&D Next posts have been not so positive lately, they’ve not necessarily been negative either but I haven’t just said what the game is actually getting right for some time now. I hope I accomplished that last week in my Playtester Profile interview that I did with Trevor from WotC, it was nice to actually put some of my thoughts down about the game as I’ve not really done that a lot lately. Mainly because I’ve actually been actually playing the game instead of philosophizing about it, which believe it or not does wonders for the forming of opinions of the game!
Anyway, the tabletop industry is a lot different from say…the video game industry in that we’re small and relatively invisible. This means when we’re making blog posts about our interests we’re usually talking in a tone aimed at fellow hobby enthusiasts, but I hope that in the future this can change to appeal to a broader audience. I hope that shows like Tabletop on Geek & Sundry help change that, and yes, despite my distaste for Wil Wheaton I believe he’s doing a damn good thing with the show. Using a kitchen table as a gaming console really needs a renaissance, and we need to be its orators. I’ve encountered a lot of negativity in my few years of blogging, and generated enough of my own I’m sure but I’ve never attempted to be mean toward another person, ever. Sure sometimes we don’t like things, or ideas that people have, but that’s no excuse to tear people down at a personal level.
Since I’m approaching 1500 words now I guess I’ll skip to what all of this yammering means: use your powers for good. Don’t be afraid to do what you love and try not to let too many external sources bog you down. Our community is an awesome place and there is plenty of room for everyone. Also, as I mentioned on the Haste podcast not too long ago – if someone writes or makes something that you love, tell them.
Lastly, don’t treat those people like machines, none of us are entitled to anything. George R.R. martin isn’t writing books just for you, d20Monkey isn’t writing comics just for you, and Mike Mearls isn’t a public scratching post for your “D&D is ruined” blog posts, and every ‘lowly blogger’ out there isn’t some corporate sponsored spy. Among many other people in many other avenues of creativity. These are people, treat them that way.