With Apologies for the Rant

Just a Hater

My mother has a rule. It’s the Kubrick Rule. Perhaps it’s more of a theory than a rule, but it goes something like this…

“Stanley Kubrick is a terrible filmmaker. His films are terrible films. The problem is, some guy, some movie critic decided they were good movies – probably just to make a name for himself – and then came the result that others began to agree, just so they wouldn’t seem to not be in the know. It became “hip cultural currency” to be Kubrick fan and that’s how guys like him get to be worshiped, even though it’s inexplicable if you consider their body of work.”

So, the Kubrick Rule is a strange little introduction, but it sets up what follows here. It’s a little bit of a rocky road but I’m going somewhere, stay with me. This is a point that has a lot to do with communication in the gaming hobby.

I am definitely my mother’s son (insert mama’s boy joke here…). I find many things that are popular and well thought of to be inexplicable. I think Grant Morrison is a terrible writer – if a comic has his name on it, I’m going nowhere near it. I hated Batman Begins. I can’t stand R.A. Salvatore’s books. I can’t stand games based on the FATE system – or FATE-style play. I wish Games Workshop would put me in charge of writing the next set of rules for the 40K wargame – because they’re currently awful. I think the Serenity movie is a terrible piece of film and it nearly ruined my love for the original material.

That list is restricted to “geek” things, but I assure you, this carries over into the rest of my life as well. I have serious problems with a lot of what is considered high-concept “art.” I’m willing to admit that maybe I just don’t get it… but sometimes I think I really do…

Now of course, that last statement sounds a little arrogant, but it sets me up to move into the point. And that is, I want to talk about communities and the way we communicate in our hobbies. My problem is – I tend to buck the trend. I’ve noticed two significant trends in this arena I find interesting and instructive.

The first goes a little like this: “Don’t listen to that guy, he’s just a hater.” I find it interesting that forum communities don’t support opposing views very well. A strong tendency exists in the communities I’ve frequented to assume that if a poster writes anything contradictory to the “common opinion” that clearly their opinion has no value because “they’re just a hater.” It’s frustrating to have a well-reasoned idea shot down, not because it lacks inherent value, but because the argument is in any way contrary to the “group-think” of that community.

But hey, it’s the internet, what do I expect? Well, I expect more, but that’s not really as important or as frustrating as my second point. I was recently lurking on a conversation taking place on the D&D forums over at Wizards. In this discussion, a poster suggested some ideas for how he or she would improve the game – from a business standpoint. Of course, this was a terrible mistake because he was immediately vilified by the community. But the reasoning was interesting to consider. What everyone jumped on him (or her) for was lack of expertise.

That part really intrigued me. Specifically, the idea that this poster was some “wanna-be” who wouldn’t know is head from his *** because if he was sooooo smart about how to run a gaming company, wouldn’t he be running one himself? I’m paraphrasing the responses and condensing several which were much more rude to the original poster – but really, that’s a strange argument.

After all, what does the poster know? Well, for one, said poster may be a successful business owner of their own company. Perhaps a professor of business at a university? But his or her day job keeps food on the table. Running a gaming company may not. Heck, this person may be an idiot. That’s possible. But it wasn’t what the poster actually wrote which was attacked, but the poster’s presumed lack of ethos to write about it.

Let me put it this way. I’m a student of Rhetoric and Writing. I am something of an “expert” of several topics in my field and my particular interest is technology and composition pedagogy, plagiarism, and interdisciplinary studies. I have also been a manager for a corporation, studied leadership, and currently I am teaching composition at a University. My professional credentials do not include game design, film-maker, or professional comic-book writer. However, I’ve been gaming for nearly 30 years. I’ve written two games of my own and countless pages of material for games I’ve run. I assume that most people who read this blog have a similar experience. When I (we) make a comment about something in the gaming industry or a game I’m reading, I think (and I do) that I have enough experience to realistically make intelligent inferences about those things and I don’t expect to be told that I can’t simply because I don’t work for Wizards… it’s such an odd argument that it really boggled my mind. And if I make a comment (and I’m putting myself in the shoes of that poor poster over at Wizards) about the business side of gaming, well, it’s true that I don’t make games for a living – but I have 13 years of practical experience running small to medium size businesses and again, feel fairly confident in making inferences from those experiences.

Again, I’m not entirely certain that I should be surprised. I’m not certain that I can change it. But consider this a call for intelligent discussion, a call for reasoned response, and above all, a call for reading what someone says and judging the merits of the writing, not just the writer.

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10 responses

  1. Perhaps some people watch movies/view art and just like what they like and tell their friends. I only started reading critics reviews a few years ago.

    Love Bladerunner, love Serenity, like 2001, sequel not so much, clockwork orange, great. I don’t actually know what reviewers said about any of these.

    As for writers on forums, I judge by their ideas. I have no idea how WotC form their judgements, I only know what is exposed to me, and base my opinions accordingly. As for inexplicable … – I think Kubricks body of work includes some gems.

    However, you are right in that the majority of geeks are haters, and shoot down any idea that does not gel with current “geek-think”. That is why (IMO) the majority of folks who have yet to play 4e still talk badly of it, because some opinion leaders have set the tone, and they follow.

    I meet them every week in my FLGS, and I convert them, one player at a time, into more knowledgeable players, who either quite like the new game, or have some actual personal experience to tout the next time they argue the merits of game systems.

    BTW – my conversion to 4e ratio is about 6:1. Now this could simply be because I am providing a game in an environment of scarce supply (which I doubt) – or even that I am providing a great gaming experience in spite of the system (which I would find flattering). Either way, a lot of the hate is unsustainable in the face of actual game play.

    1. BTW – I know bladerunner was not a kubrick. Just using it as an example of what I like.

  2. In my experience a lot of hate seems to stem from fear of change, or the unwillingness to accept change. In the case of 4e, the hate has been compounded by WotC’s struggle to wring revenue from their product (which has not been a graceful process.)

    Willingness to listen to an argument and respond requires a bit of extra work, and in the anonymous world of the interwebs, it’s often easier just to light a torch and grab a pitchfork.

  3. Thinking some more about your general point, it is true of all fan cultures.

    For example, I am a Hockey fan. I believe that the North American sports system is a bizarre communistic monopoly that serves only the interests of the owners, and those only in the short term. So far, I would raise no eyebrows amongst sports fans. Then I add my idea: expand each league by about 60%, divide each league into 2 divisions – First and Second (best and not so good), and let the worst 4 teams of the first get relegated at the end of the season, and the best 4 get promoted.

    Then for some reason, people in the most ardently capitalist country on the planet get all weird and shoot the idea down with no real argument other than “it just won’t work”.

  4. There is a huge difference between arguing to determine what is right, and arguing to be right… to win, in other words.

    Most people just want to win.

    Once a discussion or actual disagreement crosses the line between sharing ideas, or proving my ideas have more support to winning the argument, then all coherence in the exchange will be lost.

    In the end, people who choose to argue that way are simply electing to be filed under ‘ignore.’ 😉

  5. Thanks for all the comments. This really was a rant and I don’t mean to offend anyone if they like Kubrick movies or Batman Begins or Serenity (I’ll never understand why, but I don’t have to…).

    I think that Dominic is right, this happens, not just in all fan cultures, but in any tightly knit group… look at the Republicans and Democrats…

    But ultimately, it is what Runeslinger said that gets at the heart of my point. The problem is that most forum communities (certainly not all, but the WotC forums are very bad for this) have the exact opposite attitude. People who have anything opposed to the “groupthink” view to offer get hounded right off the discussions, because the majority of the posters share this irrational style of argument instead of discussion. You really can’t ignore them because they’re already ignoring you and turning discussion into attack.

    Since I’d been investigating Essentials I stopped in to see what discussion had popped up about the products and stumbled across a thread that just really, really upset me — not because of the specific content, but the attitude of the posters.

    I just have to remember to stay away from the D&D forums. It’s a lesson I’ve learned too many times for me to have any excuse.

    Thanks.

    1. Could be that the particularly vociferous reactions forum communities have to dissent comes from years of troll attacks. It becomes sort of ingrained in regular forum users to suspect people being contrary of trolling for attention; because well it happens constantly regardless of what the forum is discussing.

  6. I think that, often, although not always, it is an evolution of forum mods that make the tone.

    Someone starts a forum on a topic, for our purposes say a D&D forum. As it gets popular, it needs more moderation than he has time for, so he promotes some users into mods. He picks two or three that seem to match his view of things and gives them the permissions. One or two of them have, shall we say, certain notions of what needs to be on the forum, and what does not. Lets say, they like 2e over all other editions, and start to hassle anyone that posts otherwise. As the forum grows, and or other mods leave for what ever reason, this mod promotes more mods. Once again, this is done to people that seem to match his agenda, often even more strongly than he himself does. Before long, anyone that does not match the “party line” is driven out. The forum starts to become a self feeding, insular body, in which most posts are spent deriding anything that is not the “special thing”.

    I see this in a lot of “OSR” forums. They have a version, edition, or retro-clone that is the most perfect thing ever created, and anyone that even suggests otherwise is pelted with stones. The very stats of the monsters are sacred, and cannot be altered in any fashion. Everyone is a purist, and they compete with one another to demonstrate how much purer they are than the next guy.

  7. Just to give my movie opinion, I never could sit through 2001, but really like 2010.

  8. This is an article on prejudice, but I think it also applies to any sort of ‘group think’.
    http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/2533/politics/the-pride-cul-de-sac

    My personal “Kubrick” is D&D in any form or variation. And I tend to equate the same qualities I don’t like about the game to the players that play the game.

    This is one of the few blogs that is an exception.

    Remember that ‘fan’ is an abbreviation of ‘fanatic’.

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