It’s Hard to be a Fan in Gaming…

… otherwise known as “In Defense of the Nay-sayer.”

Recently, I’ve been spending most of my free “gaming” time over at the Mutants and Masterminds forums. I’ve been posting characters, reading, and discussing. It’s interesting over there because lately, Green Ronin has seemed to be taking a page from the Blizzard playbook. Everyone knows they make great products — they really do — but when they announce one, well, be prepared to wait for it, and don’t expect much fanfare — you’ll wait and wait and then one day — poof — the product will appear. The new DC game has been a source of frustration for some fans and they’ve been voicing increasingly vocal complaints about the lack of information, interaction, or sense of urgency. Of course, there are also those fans who are incredibly vocal in the other direction, they take more of a stance that it’s not appropriate to voice discontent because GR is already doing all they can…

I’m not really in either of those camps… Like most I’d say I’m more of the non-vocal majority. We aren’t discussing our disappointment openly, because it’s not very intense — but we aren’t playing apologist either. We just wait.

But something interesting happened in this discussion — something that prompted me to write — and something that has stuck in my head… but the thread I wrote it on, well, it had gone to a pretty bad place by the time I posted and since then it’s moved on and ignored the exchange. But this thought has been sticking with me. A while back I wrote about how hard it is to voice negative opinions in gaming communities — but what I wrote made me realize that it’s bigger than that.

So I’m going to re-post what I wrote there and hopefully those of you reading will chime in with your own feelings on the topic. To put it in context a little, here is the link to the original conversation — starting at about the point where it goes south — followed by my post. Please read and comment. I’m interested to hear what other opinions might be about this.

Thank you, Here’s my post… I know you can read it there — I’m MrMorrison — but in case you don’t want to read all of the build up, here’s my focus…

You sir, have expressed the frustration many of us feel on a day to day basis at our jobs. All slow clap jokes aside, I applaud your response. I appreciate the honesty, frustration, and (seriously) the polite way you said something difficult. It is easy to be drawn into unproductive conversations on the internet — and especially gaming forums — but you handled that very well. I have been a corporate manager, an auto-mechanic, a middle school teacher, and currently teach at the university level, and you’re right… I wish everyday that my “customers” had more appreciation for my expertise and the work I do. Again, thank you for expressing it in a strong, but measured response.

In defense of some of the naysayers though. It is sometimes difficult to be a fan in the gaming industry. Sometimes people state their opinion in the wrong way — as happened here. I’ve been guilty more than once of mistaking something I’ve written, meaning to state only a personal view, and having it present as a sweeping generalization. We all have at times. I try to clean up after myself when I do say something ill-advised — and this forum is one of the nicest, most welcoming forums to be found anywhere — so it’s important to keep it that way. Almost everyone here contributes to a great community.

But I’m wandering. Sometimes, it is very hard to be a fan in the gaming industry. For one, companies like GR actually do a great job of blurring the line and letting their fans have an inside look. That can translate, for some fans, into the feeling that GR is really listening to them (and I know they are, I meant that last in a more negative way) and that yelling the loudest will get you heard. Such behavior is — unfortunately — often rewarded in other industries (Customer Service anyone?) and thus creates a certain egocentric view for some fans. It is easy to forget (and this is no excuse, but it does happen) that the people working for a company (any company) are professionals and deserve your consideration. I’ve experienced this many times in my own professional life and I’d like to apologize now for any time I’ve done the same to someone in this field.

It is also difficult for some fans because they want to be involved. They want to be a part of the magic — and when they here about a fellow forum dweller getting the ‘golden ticket’ it can be a light-bulb to say “Oh, all I have to do is speak up and I’ll get noticed too.” Of course, this is a clear example of it going entirely the wrong way, but it is an example I think bears mentioning. I have nothing but good things to say about Taliesin and his contributions to this community and to the game, and I think it’s fantastic that a fan as invested as he is has been given the opportunity to work on the game he clearly loves. But envy is a powerful motivator and I think some fans are looking (sometimes poorly done) to have the same feeling of being involved.

A related, but less negative point is the issue of the nature of the gaming industry. I’ve been gaming for 27 years. I started a long time ago… and I don’t write for a gaming company, write articles for Dragon, or do freelance work. I’ve chosen a different professional path and I’m very satisfied with it. But at the same time, I’ve also written more than one of my own games from scratch, I’ve created a million house-rules over the years, I’ve built more characters than I ever want to talk about, and I’ve read more gaming materials than I can even imagine, I’m a gaming blogger, and active in running a convention (having our 20 year anniversary this year!). I’m not special, I’m sure many, many gamers can claim the same. The point is, we may not publish, but we still feel a sense of “expertise” when it comes to these games and that “amateur but not amateurish” (as Lessig would put it) sense of understanding tends to shine out when we talk. I am a gaming expert — just not a professional one, and I don’t feel remotely self-conscious saying that. That doesn’t mean that I have any right at all to tell you how to do your job — I don’t. It does mean that since a very small portion of the people involved in the gaming industry can actually get paid to do what we all love, the expertise pool is not restricted to those paid employees. And sometimes that translates very poorly into conversations between the “fan” and the “designer.”

Gaming isn’t like a lot of fan communities. If you are a fan of an NFL team you don’t get to talk to the coach, or the offensive coordinator. You can’t send letters to the ref who makes bad calls… If you are upset with a movie, based on a major property (say, Lord of the RIngs or Batman) you can’t call up the studio and talk to someone who can give you some insight into casting decisions or why that director got to do the job… The gaming community has that sense of connectedness and it can be exploited well, or poorly, but the idea that you can discuss the game with its creators and get/give feedback is a powerful motivator for fan communities. One difficulty I have noted with the community is the difficulty of giving negative feedback. Even when presented well, negative feedback is often shouted down by the “fan majority” which can lead to some posters being far more strident in their statements than is necessary just to be heard at all. But negative feedback is equally vital to a fan community as positive feedback. I can say, “Great job on the Catman build” and really mean it (It was a good build), but I can also say that I’m disappointed by the builds in the core book and provide some feedback on why that is, and how, given the chance, I’d suggest other choices. I recognize, of course, that I’m only speaking for myself (as it should be) but if I post such a thing, I hope to create conversation, not be shouted down. And sometimes that shouting down is what happens to any “negative” feedback. It’s a bad loop that feeds on itself, but it happens all too often.

Finally, because I know this is absurdly long, I want to say that I respect and appreciate all the work you, and GR do for the DC game. I may not always agree, but I do respect your work and I hope that you continue to make great products for a long, long time. If you read all that above, thank you. If not, well, I was wordy, but I just wanted to stand up for some of the naysayers. It is not always said right, it is not always said well, but sometimes, some of it, does need to be said. Thank you for your hard work and thank you for making games for us to play, and thanks to GR for providing this great forum.

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2 responses

  1. >>>I recognize, of course, that I’m only speaking for myself (as it should be) but if I post such a thing, I hope to create conversation, not be shouted down.<<<

    This decribes what is visible on many RPG forums: the hermetic cycle of a geek circle jerk of nerds that spirals into an elite geek circle jerk of nerds until finally the product design feedback adopts the loudest shouted qualities of systems like FATAL or D&D 4e or something similar and has almost no relevance (or sales) outside of the bullseye. Certainly these are products so far removed from the mainstream that it alienates erstwhile average, everyday people from the hobby, while flooding the market with Geek Street Credit – like a perverse Federal Reserve for Nerds – which the entire hobby pays for in diminished interest and a niche market pays for in splat books.

  2. cauldronofevil | Reply

    Very interesting and I can certainly see that for myself. In fact, I on general principle I stay far away from game forums for these very reasons.

    On the other hand, I feel obligated to point out that while alot of gamers can say they have exactly the same experience as you, I know that even WITH that experience, some of the ‘fan-experts’ are just full of it.

    There’s something else, that distinquishes a ‘fan-expert’ from those who regardless of the number of years they’ve been gaming just aren’t able to contribute anything useful.

    I’m not entirely sure what that is. Off the top of my head I’d say it’s the quality of their writing. Also the quality of their reading. I know alot of people who call themselves ‘experts’ at games, but they don’t seem to read a lot of games – or at least a lot of different games. Also they way they play seems to overlook some fundamentals that make it hard for me to believe they really are experts.

    They also tend to be ‘shut-ins’.

    So I think it’s a case of the difference between 30 years ‘at a desk job’ and 30 years ‘in the field’ and actively studying the hobby.

    All I’m saying is that years in gaming – even with corresponding writing and reading doesn’t automaticaly qualify someone as able to contribute useful constructive criticism.

    But it’s hard to find someone who’s been gaming that long who won’t call themselves an ‘expert’ at it.

    No answers here, but thought the topic merited the conversation.

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