It’s another Metatopia-inspired post!
There’s something about the rich offerings at this convention – both in terms of design and discussion – that inspire me to examine gaps of experience and conversation in the overall gaming community. Sometimes, as with last year’s extensive 4–part rant, those gaps are noticeable even at Metatopia itself. This year, I noticed once again that there was something missing in the conversation, and it’s missing everywhere.*
(*Almost everywhere. Brie Sheldon’s fantastic ‘zine Behind the Masc is one of the few exceptions I’ve seen, and very much an inspiration for this post.)
My last post was a rant, so now we get to the follow-up on how to do better.
Specifically, I want to discuss how we can do better as designers. Private games are private games, and we don’t really need to discuss what you do on your own time with your own friends.
But if you’re designing and publishing or talking about your games on a public platform, then that is my concern. It’s everyone’s concern, because it’s public. What you contribute to gaming is part of the ongoing conversation of who we are as a community.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The gaming community has gotten a little tense lately. I’m not going to talk about that specifically, but I will say that this last section suddenly became extremely relevant in my mind as I watched an entire local gaming community collapse in on itself.
I think the points I’ve tossed around in the previous parts can offer some things to think about, but I want to throw out just a few ideas for positive action in shifting away from focusing on our own personal experiences and growing our empathy as a community.
This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while, so buckle in – I have a lot of thoughts.
I had planned to start writing about this at some point in the coming weeks or months, but I decided to accelerate that timeline because of a number of things that I witnessed recently – negative responses to an awesome new gaming venture by people I respect greatly, a nice overview of a common gaming question that Phil and Senda did on Panda’s Talking Games, and a recent episode of Backstory, the wonderful podcast by Alex Roberts.
In that episode, both Alex and her interviewee, Jeeyon Shim, were largely enthusiastic about the topics they were there to discuss, but they fell into a common habit among gamers – they defined something they liked as the opposite or absence of something they didn’t like. This is a practice we notice easily in jerks who speak out against something like New Agenda Publishing, but we often don’t see that it can still be a problem in media and discussions that are otherwise positive and progressive. (Sometimes we even cheer along when we agree.)
Yet it is one example of an overall issue that I have observed in gaming specifically and geek culture in general – the Primacy of Personal Experience. Fandom cultures are particularly susceptible to it because they are built on personal preference and enjoyment rather than an external structure or overarching philosophy. It causes problems in every aspect of our interactions: our social engagement, our habits of gameplay (and game selection), our approaches to design, and more. However, it’s not something we can erase or escape. Instead we must become aware of it and find ways to work within it.
A few days ago, I was inspired by a frustrated (I think we should give more credit to frustration as inspiration) article written by Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games. Her article led me to think about what I do in both my consumption and production of media with regard to people that are different from me and experiences that are different from my own.
Note – Before I dig into this topic, it’s important to acknowledge that anything I say here is built on the work of many other people who have done much more thinking about this than I have. If you are a writer of any kind, you should absolutely read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. That’s a good place to start.