27 July, 2016
As I’ve written before, tribalism is strong in online communication. People divide into groups (perhaps one wearing purple sashes and another wearing green), and look at the other side in contempt. Anger builds and eventually each group just sees the other as a caricature instead of as people. Any engagement is done in angry bursts.
Is there any alternative? Well, yes, but it takes effort and thoughtfulness. So, yeah, not easy. But, let’s discuss it, shall we?
Online tabletop communities
On Google+, I follow a lot of indie tabletop gaming developers. I love tabletop and I love indie (computer game) developers, so it seems like a natural fit. But, there are a bunch of distinct camps. I’ll describe two in particular. I’ll give you the super high-level view; a member of either group would argue that there’s more subtlety and nuance to the groups. And, keep in mind that there are people who don’t identify with either tribe, or with an entirely different group. But, this should suffice for the blog post.
One one side, you have the OSR (Old School Renaissance) group. They generally became displeased with modern versions of D&D and the complexity. They looked backwards, toward the earliest editions of D&D and took inspiration from them, hence the “old school” part of the name. They tend to focus more on game rules and trying to set up a dangerous, adventurous environment for people to play in. The goal is to create an environment where player creativity overcomes problems. Lest you think this is just a crusty old group of people clinging to out-of-print D&D supplements, lot of people in this group have take the original material and brought it into the modern era with games like 13th Age.
On the other side, you have storygamers. This group also rejected most tabletop RPGs, wanting to emphasize the story aspects of tabletop RPGs instead of having rulesets where the majority of the mechanics were about sticking pointy bits of metal into enemy humanoids. In fact, they started to see the emphasis on combat and conquer as potentially problematic, an uncomfortable parallel to the oppression and bigotry seen in the real world. The storygamers use their games to examine serious topics. One of the more talked about games is Monsterhearts, a game about playing literal teenage monsters. I’ve read people talk about how they worked through their own issues from their teenage years using the game.
Personally I like games of all types, but there are some who have strong opinions and loyalty to their own tribe. Some OSR supporters see storygames (and their creators) as preachy and overbearing. They dislike the ham-fisted morality in the game and the discussions around tabletop RPGs in general. Some storygamers see the OSR as childish. They deride the “elf games” that OSR creators make and often make posts about how some “problematic” element in OSR games perpetuates bigotry in the offline world. Both sides have their strong personalities, and occasionally people in each tribe will reaffirm their tribal membership by slinging mud at the other side.
Lately things exploded when someone from the storygaming side posted about how shitty some of this tribalism posing can be, with some examples of the behavior on the storygamer’s side. The author compares it to the “two minutes hate” from Orwell’s book 1984, where people must mindlessly hate “the enemy” in order to reinforce their love for Big Brother.
Now, this post is just one glimpse into a story is full of details and nuance that I don’t have time to go into here. As I said, there are some strong personalities in both groups, and there have been plenty of salvos fired on all sides. This is just a singular perspective at a particular point in time. But, the post was enough to get people cranky, because it started to question the nature of the tribes.
Let’s leave this kerfuffle behind and start looking at the lessons one can learn from this.
Because we’re dealing with tribalism, people of one tribe have to view people from the other tribe as “the enemy”. This means that anything they do must be suspect. Since we’re talking about tabletop RPGs, this means we’re talking about games and how people feel about them. And, as we all know, people are always calm and rational when talking about preferences in games, and never try to view their own personal tastes as the universal best~
As I said, each tribe views the other group’s games as inferior for various reasons. So, usually arguments will spring up about the games in particular. The tribal goal is to demonstrate that the other side is inferior, thus making your group superior. So, tearing down the enemy and their works is important to people committed to the tribe.
And this anger gets amplified, as the video in my blog post linked above demonstrates. Eventually it stop even being about the enemy, and it’s about all the worst things (sometimes completely made up) about the other side. It gets even more complex because a lot of the story gamers are also big supporters of social justice, so they see the “problematic” aspects of some games (such as the explicit, violent racial hatred between Dwarves and Orcs) to likely cause problems in the offline world.
But, isn’t there a better way?
Why, yes there is! The first step to recovery is to realize that your tastes are not universal and that it’s okay for people not to like what you like. People can play the games they like, and you can play the games you like.
The next step is to stop worrying about what other people do until they actually do harm. If someone thinks elf games are childish, then you know their opinion and you can avoid them if you disagree. If someone is bragging about how their dwarf killed a bunch of smelly orcs over the weekend, perhaps some trust that the person can separate fantasy from reality is in order.
The next step is to take that energy and apply it to building up what you’re interested in. Create the type of games you like to play. Offer to run those types of games. Hell, just reach out to the people who made the games you like and tell them how much you appreciate the game. Focus on what you like, not what other people like that you don’t.
This applies to anything, not just tabletop games. Do you like a particular console? That’s fine, it doesn’t mean people who like other consoles are bad. Do you like a particular MMORPG? People who play others aren’t hurting you. Do you like a particular brand of mobile phone? Well, iPhone users are the devil, but we can accept them anyway. ;)
I guess it’s not so easy after all.
But it’s harder to build up than to tear down!
It sounds simple, but I know it’s not. People feel slighted and insulted from past events. People hold grudges. People fervently want to demonstrate their loyalty to the tribe, and they can’t let go of their learned anger. People feel that someone else may be doing actual harm to the world and they shouldn’t stand idly by.
But, if you want the world to change, sometimes you have to take the harder road. Sometimes you have to be the one who sets aside the anger. But, it takes a lot of effort.
Now to wait patiently while I get pilloried by both sides in this argument!