Saturday, 23 March 2019

Rise of the Community (the reason I was asking)

So I asked the 'Community' question mainly because of my own feelings on the matter.

(Yes this is my yearly Doom Saying Post)

Deleted my G+ when they shut down notifications, but that had been dying for a while for me.

Tried the OSR Discord, kind of a 'Greetings Fellow Kids' situation.

Facebook is pfft.

Twitter - NO.

Instagram is for minis.

Am in a handful of less-visited Discords where not much happens (exactly how I like it).

So there is silence. Which I both like, and is slightly discomforting. I genuinely have no fucking idea what is going on with the 'scene' or if there is even still a 'scene', sometimes this is a relief and sometimes it perturbs me somewhat.

I feel old and essentially out of place in a way I haven't before. Seems like the Zaklash combined with the death of G+ really does mark a new age of sorts. Like most historical moments, this is a culmination of slowly-growing historical trends reaching a kind of tipping point, not that different from the moment before but crossing some kind of line where you can reasonably say 'yes, this is a new thing now'.

The age of Wizards in towers is over, or at least, in permanent decline. (Wizards in towers kind of half-like being in decline though, so it might remain that way for a looong time).

But the twin gods of loneliness and capital have formed a Kaiju for the new age and its has risen from the deeps and is roaming loose.

The Community.

What is a Community?

The community is integrated, and has rules, the rules are for everyone's benefit. It is emphatically not just a group of random people who happen to share an interest in something, its this other thing, you can buy a T-Shirt for it.

I've been looking at pictures of the crowds for stuff like Critical Role and its derivatives and yes, that looks like a 'community' (and holy fuck there are a lot of people). DCC definitely has a community. LotFP almost doesn't. Possibly more people may or may not play LotFP, but, even though they have T-Shirts, they are not a community, they are just a group of individuals, you can't see them together in a crowd in facebook photos, if you asked them to chant something it would take a while for them to work out what and it might get bleeped out. The Gauntlet is definitely a community. RPG.NET is a community, even though they don't have a T-Shirt.

Deep in my heart I am an alienated man who sees a community as a group that I will fail to fit into and that will silently judge me and freeze me out when I can't match its gestures and noises. Then slowly and invisibly turn on my and destroy me. That is why for me, freedom from community is more important than right *to* community.

And I am probably the worst community actor in whas is/was the OSR, silent, irregular, unsupportive, carping, diffident and not willing to make friends.

And I have a dark mind so I'm curious about the paradoxes.

A thing about communities is that they repeat again and again and again that they are open to everyone, its really important that they be open to everyone, and that everyone feel safe. But in effect, the views, gestures, behaviours and usually politics for getting in and staying in are, while often intuitive and unstated, really fucking precise.

So these things which are 'for everyone' are actually prefect filters catching a really specific band of people.

Which - nothing necessarily corrupt about that. Every group on earth is for a particular range of people, that's why its a group, and not just 'humanity', but the unrecognised conflict in narrow groups of cognitively, socially and political similar people strongly maintaining Universal values is interesting.

And I'm interested in the interaction between groups and capital. Sometimes it seems like human groups are like these schools of little fish that like to hang out, and that capital is a big shark hunting them, and if too many of them hang out in too big a school, they are going to get Capitalised. So they scurry away and disperse.

But it also seems like Capital often aids people in making connections, like it wants and doesn't want people to be friends, it has this schizophrenic relationship with society where integrated groups can make money, provide markets, do marketing, even create product, but it also makes people less lonely and capital really needs people to be a little more lonely so they buy more. So there is this continuous push-pull situation with that.

And the extent to which we have adopted the values of Capital as our values without realising - "support marginalised creator buy buying their stuff". What if you wanted to support them without buying their stuff? It almost doesn't make sense as a statement. Without deeper connections the money relationship becomes the dominant, maybe only relationship.


  1. There is no "community." We all play similar games and hang out with similar people. But the "community" is your buds who you actually play with, and no more and no less. You can't buy a T-shirt, but you could probably have one made by some company for a decent price.

    RPGs is not a lifestyle. It's not a brand. It's a hobby and one enjoyed in solitude or in small groups.

    This is not a bad thing. It just means that we're not marks for the purposes of marketing or a shared political ideology. So... that's good.

    1. It looks to me like to a meaningful part of the world RPGs and D&D in particular are both a lifestyle and a brand.

      And it looks like we pretty much are marks for marketing and shared ideology.

      So there's a question I tend to ask whenever someone has a point of view that is in large conflict with the world as I observe it.

      Are you seeing different things? Or seeing the same things and defining it differently? Or something else?

    2. I agree with Scott. I think some people make the mistake of thinking RPGs are a lifestyle, but in doing so they're committing a category error that will probably make them unhappy. RPGs are like fishing, football, karate, or ballroom dancing. Something to do to get to know other people and enjoy spending time with them in a communal activity. There is a big difference between that and a "lifestyle".

    3. I've always thought that RPGs are an activity, and that there's not much point if you wouldn't want to hang out with the people that you're gaming with in another context, but it also seems pretty clear to me that some people do consider them to be a lifestyle, and invest enough of themselves into that idea that, while I also think it's a mistake, I don't think that they're necessarily wrong to categorize their investment in that way. I think there are also people who make fishing, football, karate, or ballroom dancing into lifestyles. I know "people who fish," and "fishermen" (also one woman who works seasonally on Alaskan fishing boats - I'm not sure if that's a lifestyle or a career, I suspect there's some overlap there). There are people who play video games, and "gamers". A friend of my mother's devoted her entire life to making sure she could ride her horse as often as possible, a choice which (not being wealthy) involved considerable sacrifices in basically every other aspect of her life. An uncle of mine did the same thing for skiing. I don't think the defining line between activity and lifestyle is always very clear, and may largely be a matter of self-definition, but I think that it is there.

    4. All those people I'm talking about (with the exception of self-identified "gamers," who perhaps not coincidentally don't seem to be very happy) tend to be doing their lifestyle activity with people that they know in-person. I think that probably does make a difference.

  2. On that last paragraph, from the perspective of a marginalized creator-

    I think for the most part, all of us who engage in whatever we call or used to call 'the community (and what have you)', exist and act as both artists and audience of the media produced- in whatever small little ways we contribute to one side or the other, like a punk band jumping off the stage and watching the rest of the bands playing afterwards, sharing beers and loving like the rest of them.

    Thereby; when the subject of support comes to mind- It is easy to broach the subject with capital at the front of our minds, as is our systemic/cultural instinct.

    But as is the nature of capital- this is uncomfortably situated (if not antithetical) to the actual human means by which we really digest 'support'.

    The artist that walks down and becomes the audience, does not find validation for their work in their paycheck. They find it when those who they respect do as they do, jump down from the stage, and tell them that they view each-other with the same lens of mutual admiration.

    Hearing that my work enjoyed by those who inspire me is, at the risk of sounding saccharine, an honest to god beautiful moment- 100 bucks is nice but fuck id pay that money for a moment like that, any time any day.

  3. Thank you for this post, Patrick. Got me thinking scattered thoughts:


    I am / have been part of various "communities". On a broad level these exist in two kinds.

    One kind is immediate, material, and geographically bound: I live in Port Dickson, and my local neighbourhood shares physical space, and shares similar interests (refinery pollution, water cuts, swapping recommendations for good places to get dinner, etc) because of that. Because of how tied this one is to physical space I don't really have a choice about whether this community is relevant to me; the only way it stops being relevant is if I move away.

    The second kind is abstract, imagined. The OSR-y art-punk-y RPG community, for example. These are bound by similar values; the practice (optimistically) or public performance (more cynically) of those self-same values. It isn't tied to place, so it's generally more opt-in, depending on how lonely I am / how comfortable / how much its mores conform to my mine.

    A community that has vacillated between these two poles, for me, is the "Malaysian art community", which Sharon and I are part of; it's simultaneously geographical ("Malaysian") -- but also imagined, since it is deeply, deeply urban-centric, and we no longer live in the city.


    I'm not sure, because (embarrassingly) I've never read it, but I imagine that Benedict Anderson's framework of "imagined communities" (ie: socially-constructed communities, such as nation-states) would be relevant, here.


    Regarding "support marginalised creator buy buying their stuff", specifically -

    I am a big proponent of this, for stuff regarding "colonialism" / PoC stuff / "representation" / the constellation of issues that surround cultural hegemony. For me, at least, it's mapping to Capital is not unconscious, but entirely the point? Because if the rhetoric is about "colonialism" / "appropriation" at all -- then by god, you've got to account for the flow of (colonial) Capital, which created the material conditions that allow problems like "appropriation" to exist in the first place. So in this context "pay marginalised creators!" is one way of saying: "redress the imbalances that colonial capitalism created!"

    I dunno. If the forces that shaped my current reality weren't such industrial slash-and-burn operations I'd feel differently about this, maybe.


    That previous point is mainly a way to hold folks accountable to their performed rhetoric. And yeah -- the money relationship is the only *material* option available for that, in practical terms, most of the time.


    If deep, and human, and -I'd insist- material connection is the point-

    It's definitely not a natural end-result of abstract online, geography-less communities. But it has happened. Because of the effort folks in it (folks like you!) take to establish private, personal, and vulnerable connections.


    Like, going down the ladder of Human Interaction Online:

    - People buying my stuff is how I buy food, not how I get community;
    - Talking to folks on blog comments and socmed is potentially useful, for ideas, and may closer to "community", inasmuch as internet friends can be friends;
    - Seeing people's faces in live games on Hangouts is more "real", a peek through windows into each other's physical lives;
    - Private emails swapping stories / advice / observations is good, and legit support (though psychopaths can still make it a pretend connection);
    - But getting personal mail from you (like, a literal letter, not an email) is as Real as it gets, for a relationship with a person I've never breathed air with, ever. The online relationship, gone offline.


    Sorry for the ramble. With the protracted end of G+, I really relate to the feeling of being out of place. That sense of evaporation vis a vis the RPG OSR-y space has been bothering me.

    Thanks for being a friend, Patrick. Truly.

    1. I think the three rough "bands",

      Physical and tied by geography,

      Purely or nearly-purely virtual.

      And virtual-physical which is usually relationships shaped by physical space but sustained in virtual space.

      Is a decent way to conceptualise it.

      I haven't read that book either.

      And DON'T MAKE ME FEEL. >weeps< Don't you know I'm too tough to feel?

    2. I really like this answer Zedeck. I feel like accounting for the flow of colonial capital and ideas (appropriation) is a huge point, and part of why I try to buy your stuff whenever I can; I don't think I'd ever run any of it (I feel like I have no business running it, it's not really for me) but I love reading it and giving it to other people to read, I think it's beautiful and has a depth and texture that I could not conceive of on my own (like, if RPGs were a dark object, you light it from a different angle and throw parts of it into relief that I otherwise wouldn't see, if that makes any sense). And I think that there should be more like it. And also that you should eat something (but I think that about everybody).

  4. I posted a kind of reply:

  5. "Sometimes it seems like human groups are like these schools of little fish that like to hang out, and that capital is a big shark hunting them, and if too many of them hang out in too big a school, they are going to get Capitalised. So they scurry away and disperse."

    This seems very gameable.

    Imagine a group in a typical West Marches type of campaign - centered around a safe outpost and venturing forth in variable configurations, etc. Maybe if there is a certain concentration of one type(fighters, clerics, magic-users) that get too numerous (or have too much gp) - some sort of para-sympathetic macro-organism descends and simultaneously pumps them up and drains them - eventually destroying the entire place of refuge or making it all infrared gothic nightmare.

    Thieves being a special case : too many of those and it's a bad investment for these cosmic entities and they stay clear. Thieves redistribute things, even if its only for themselves.

    So you want thieves. That's what thieves are for.

    West Marches L.L.C.

  6. Bit of a half-baked counterpoint to some of the other perspectives here, but I can empathize with some of your feelings towards community membership and I would validate parts of your definition. It's easy for people to say, "we have nothing connecting us except we play RPGs, don't take it so seriously" but the reality is that the relationships that exist between many of us are just not that simple. We don't /just/ talk RPGs on all these platforms, we ask each other for advice and support each other and learn details about each others' personal lives (at least the bloggers' lives) and follow drama and meet each other at cons and maybe collaborate professionally and so on (for better or worse). Parasocial relationships are weird but definitely more communal than merely having a fun fact in common with each other.

    I've always had a weird relationship with the idea of community because I don't think the fundamental instincts for it were ever cultivated in me. Most people growing up are born into group identities that shape a lot of their life, even if it's just in small ways once a week. They go to a church, they support a sports team, their family always votes with a certain political party, maybe they hang out with kids in their neighborhood, they go to a camp every summer, etc. Never had those things for most of my life, and now as an adult I still never feel fully connected to the groups I'm a part of (and now I'm in way too many groups).

    But I also don't think that's a bad thing or the "wrong" way to participate. I disagree that the worst type of community actor is someone who is "silent, irregular, unsupportive, carping, diffident and not willing to make friends." I don't think there's anything wrong with having those qualities. I don't make friends easily and I don't fully commit to the OSR. I don't think I'll ever get into that Discord server because I just don't like Discord, and Twitter, and Facebook. And that's fine, because I still get a lot out this space and I occasionally put something into it and who cares if it's basically just a casual/sometimes selfish interest?

    One of my clubs that I'm in charge of, I guide and organize with a philosophy of "you can be as involved as you want to be. Get out of it exactly as much as you'd like to." If you just want to be on the email list and read weekly updates, be my guest. If you want to attend a view events, or go to one competition this year, or just attend the weekly meetings for fun, then by all means. And if you want to commit really hard and volunteer to help organize half our events and take on a leadership position, that's awesome. But there's never an expectation put on you by the club, only expectations that you put on yourself.

    I think there's an understanding that Patrick Stuart is a private guy and while we love anything he puts out there (whether it's a product we can buy or a dope miniature he painted that we can admire), at the end of the day the only level of involvement I hope for you to have is whatever level you're personally comfortable with.

  7. Coming in late on this one.

    The more i ruminate on it, the more i think that the rpg scene is much more like an expat community than anything else. Expatriation self-selects for a certain kind of person (open to experience, access to funds necessary to sustain trip) but the reasons for making the journey and the beliefs they hold outside of that can and do vary wildly.

    Of course, its easier to feel closer to those that share more similar outlooks to themselves or that share a native language or nationality (which i carries over into rpgs as well, though in different terms) but the overall communal atmosphere is still there because the central tenet of 'im an other like you' is respected and empathized with.

    Whether this is a good thing or not for an activity that has group-play and commercial dynamics remains to be seen, im unsure myself as those two parts are insidious andill-researched

  8. I've always interpreted the idea that "there is no community, only individuals," whether its advocated by Reagan, Thatcher, or whoever, to be a myth meant to disempower basically every kind of civic, voluntary, or inchoate online association that might challenge the power of Capital or the State.

    The perspective of sociology, which I agree with, is that "groups are real." There is nothing a centralized power likes more than to have all its opposition atomized, and telling potential opponents that organization is impossible certainly furthers that goal.

    Call this a "scene" if you prefer that to "community," but it seems obvious to me that there's SOMETHING there when you have a whole host of people who regularly interact online and in person regarding their shared interests and (often) shared goals for how they'd like to see those interests developed.

    The network perspective would say that it doesn't matter if you WANT to be part of a community or not. If you interact with the same people regularly, and they interact with each other, then you are. Those interactions have a kind of objective reality that exists whether you WANT them to add up to something or not. Call it the "unanticipated gains" effect if you like.

    I'm not really arguing against you here, just trying to push back (gently, I hope) against a few voices in your comment section whom I disagree with.

    You seem like you read academic writing from time to time to try to understand the world, as I do. You might like to look at the article "A general theory of artistic legitimation: how art worlds are like social movements" or to look at a few of the essays in the edited volume "Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual." I liked them, at any rate. Feel free, of course, to skip them, if you don't think you'll find them helpful or interesting.

    1. I think in the case of Thatcher that it was probably the opposite of that - her famous motto was that there is "no such thing as society". What she meant by that was that there was a duty for people to associate with each other and look after each other rather than just expect some amorphous notion of "society" or the State to do it. For example, people shouldn't wait for a public authority to look after the local old folks - they should actually do it themselves. I am not a massive Thatcher fan but she wasn't actually making a very individualistic argument - if anything it's the opposite: you should be active in your community and not think that your obligation ends at paying taxes (because it's the latter of those which is the really individualistic position).

      My own perspective is that yes, groups are real but you have to be realistic about what they are. "Scene" is much better than "community" because a "scene" represents what the OSR is - it's something that people drift in and out of and which has no legitimately appointed leadership, but which is dominated by a small number of relatively loud and vociferous voices. To my eye that is most certainly not what true community is.

  9. You can come play D&D with me.

  10. Community, tribe, nation,'s a trick. You evolved social instincts to relate to the Dunbar's Number of people in your hunter-gatherer band--which is just code for extended family. But there is always someone preying on those emotions to get you to invest in a bunch of strangers. Usually because they are going to profit from it at your expense. Don't fall for it. Treat strangers politely and save emotional investment for the people you actually know.

  11. I think the "scene" descriptor is a lot more apt than drawing comparisons to a "community".

    A community strives to achieve a few, tangible, inward-facing goals, related to cohabitation of a limited number of persons in a geographically delimitated space, invariably relating to matters of public hygiene, security and preservation of social norms with the occasional engagement in amiable neighbourly behaviour, well exemplified per David's post, if all the rest is already going well.

    A scene's motivations are primarily outward-facing, being that each of us is, generally speaking, creating or drawing ideas, inspiration and motivation to then apply to each of our home games, for the benefit of people wholly outside the scene (our "public" or actual community).

    Communal concerns are mutual and arise from circumstance, whereas a scene's drive is a lot more drawn from widely varying levels of commitment, afforded by the low barriers to entry (and exit).

    Markers of cohesion and belonging are also important to a community but markedly less so to a scene: most of us doubtlessly share certain RPG axioms as well as some degree of aesthetic affinity, but what these might concretely be will change given any pairing between two scenesters. Rather than working towards a single "canonical object", our personal rulesets are all over the place as are our modes of employing them.

    Sometimes certain creators will achieve a level of clout that blurs the line between the scene and their public (as pool of consumers for a creator's output). These might emerge as outliers, but are orthogonal to the aims of the scene as a whole and nonessential to its definition.

  12. I think there was a community for a bit - and OSR/DIY or whatever community for a couple years there. I played games with people, talked and made friends and everyone seemed to be making stuff - pouring it out onto blogs or into their weekly games where it was shared, refined adapted and changed. It's certainly soured for me since late 2015 or so though, even if there's people I like and friends I've made, a sense of something larger or collective has died off.

    Perhaps it was never there, but cliques, publishers and individuals all grinding away at their next kickstarter or publication doesn't feel the same as this all did in the past - the OSR or whatever has grown up and become a job or a brand, not a hobby or a clubhouse is the only way I can really express it.

    1. Interesting...2015 is when I moved to Paraguay; I mostly missed any implosions that occurred in the 2-3 years that followed.

  13. I miss the easily accessible G+ blogroll, and the conversations on your posts. I don't have a good way of tracking blogs other than leaving a huge number of tabs open. I have joined a half dozen other forms of social media just to get notifications of pipostin from those I followed on G+ and I miss the interactions of them all in one group.

  14. You can just use my blog. You don’t have to read my content but the blogroll in the sidebar is very good and updates in real time.

  15. Keeping doing your thing. I am drawn to your thing and cant find it anywhere else on the internet. You will slowly become the center of the community as all the fractured pieces gather around you. Push forward and we will follow you.