About Communities (Story-Games)

Posted: August 25, 2009 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

This post is dedicated to my friends. Those who like SG, those who don’t like SG, and those who do, but not in a manner that they feel like participating.

I want to begin this post by a statement. Like an earlier post about politics, there is no assigning blame in this post. There is me looking at something I see and trying to see where it came from. The question of who’s to blame is nonsensical, it has no sense; there’s no one to blame, it is what it is, and it is natural.

The thing I had observed was that some of my friends did not like Story-Games. It wasn’t for them. Some would say it was signal-to-noise ratio being low, but others are having a grand old time there. But it’s not too far off from the truth of the matter, which is to different people different things are noise and different things are sound. I also thought of some discussions that were had on SG lately, regarding the nature of community, and that specific people with shared features (often some of the people who were the earlier crowd on the Forge who released indie games), and I thought of this some more.

The thing that I came to, and when discussed with a couple of these people, they had said it made sense to them is, that there are two kinds of communities. There are "Ad-hoc communities" and there are "Communities for their own sake."

"Ad-hoc communities" are communities that are people gathering for a specific purpose, which unites them. They don’t care about the other people beyond your care for humans, and for their role in the purpose for which you have come together. The Indie RPG scene is such an example, originally. People who wanted to design games, designed games, or such, looked for other like-minded people, and together formed a community which was a community for the purpose of game-design.

"Communities for their own sake" are what most communities become, especially ad-hoc communities where one is "locked", such as family or a high-school class. Well, they don’t really become that sort of community out of necessity in all cases (you don’t have to like your classmates), but since you’re stuck with them, you become a community for the sake of having a community and being friends with these people.
This is what truly is the mark of a community for its own sake, the goal becomes to have this community, to be friends with other people.

Many if not most ad-hoc communities become this sort of community, I believe, because it’s human nature. We talk to someone enough, even if only about something, and we tend to grow to like them, as a person. We talk to enough people long enough, and we like them as people. But this is the thing, such a community has as its highest goal, the community itself. If something is good for our interests, such as discussing game design, then we’d discuss game design.
But the thing is, if talking game design would run afoul of our highest goal, that of maintaining a community where everyone’s friends (supposedly a Geek Fallacy, actually a human fallacy), then talking game design would be jettisoned. The community’s goal is to have this community.

The thing is, that most of the people I seem to have talked to who "chose out" are those who joined in the early days, when there wasn’t actually a community, and they formed an ad-hoc community. Perhaps new people who come to SG with this specific quest in mind leave, but I don’t get to talk to them. In addition, they come to a pre-formed community, so it’s not like they’re surprised by where things are.
But those who "chose out", and that phrasing is important; they weren’t ousted, they weren’t kicked, the community changed and they chose to take themselves out of it for the most part. These people, to them it was some sort of historical ‘bait-and-switch’ (and please disregard any negative connotations). They came for a certain sort of community, and once that did become a community it shifted over the course of time, and the new community is not the one they had originally chosen to join, and so they left. They joined a community, but that community is no more, and had been replaced, by another community which occupies more or less the same space, and the same people.

This does have some actual repercussions, and again, this is not a value-judgment of whether or not this is how it should be, but me pointing out how things are and why. Such a repercussion is what happens when someone presents a tough criticism of someone else’s games. This is not about hurting their sales, this is not about using tough language. This is about one part of the community ‘attacking’ another part of the community.
This actually stems from lack of distinction between one and one’s ideas. Not on the form of the critique receiver, but on the community’s. Yes, this small part is value-judgment by me, I’m sorry. But even though they know the distinction in general, all signs of discord must be quashed, and so criticism is quashed.

There is no anger, there is no hatred. This was a community of one sort, and now it is another. Once this is understood, you understand that this simply is a community with certain goals, with certain restrictions, and that it may not fit those who desire a different community.

So, why do I care about all this? Even though I like SG as it is now (for the most part)? Because I "suffer" from another Geek Fallacy, where I want my friends to enjoy what I do. Where I want them to enjoy what they used to.
I like my friends, I like SG, and this is not judgment, just an analysis.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Real human communities don’t believe “everyone must be friends”. American high school is just one example where that doesn’t happen: everyone in your high school is most definitely NOT your friend, nor does anyone expect them to be your friend. That’s why it’s a Geek Fallacy: it’s not a feature, it’s a bug, of geekdom.
    And if you’re saying what I think you’re saying: SG has been useless as a community about design for years precisely because it has been infected by that bug, and honest critique can not be given or received because of egos and cliques. It’s all about overeducated twenty-something status games and “feelings”. Not design. Not honesty.
    And there’s nothing natural or good about that. You’re trying to play Devil’s Advocate and explain something “without judging” when you actually shouldn’t be withholding judgment.
    Which is exactly why the community dynamic is harmful: you’ve been infected by the bug, too, in that you are trying to withhold judgment and appear not to be criticizing, and think that is an appropriate behavior. But you are only enabling the problem.

    • Guy says:

      I think it’s ok for a community to be a community for its own sake.
      It might be useless for giving and receiving criticism (it mostly is), but that’s the thing: We can have one community for talking RPGs and RPG design, and one community where we’re friends, where the discussion of RPGs is subservient to the community’s “All are friends” needs.
      Trying to talk criticisms on such a community will fail. And if you’re looking for that, then it will fail you. But I don’t think it makes the community intrinsically problematic. Just unfitting for some purposes.
      You could say the problem is that some people believe and claim it does X, which it is most unsuited for. I don’t see a community with different goals being inherently wrong.
      And in the school-setting, it’s less “We must all be friends” and more “We must get along, because like it or not, we’re going to spend 3+ years together.”
      Replace it with family, where I have problems with this assumption, that I must like someone because they’re my blood relative; I don’t. But I need to get along with them.
      Edit: I don’t see the distinction between community types as problematic, but I see some of the results of that distinction, and lack of distinction in the readers’ eyes, or resentment of such, as negative, sure.

      • Anonymous says:

        Then not even “design”, forget about “design”, but as a community itself. It’s an insular, cliquish place to play social games and kick people around when they don’t act like or say what they “should”. Not as bad as some other RPG forums out there, but still.
        I’m saying that because you say it yourself above “all signs of discord must be quashed, and so criticism is quashed” — that’s the real issue. Lack of tolerance for discord or disagreement, that is one of the foundational signs of an unhealthy community, no matter how great the in-group thinks things are (because, of course, it would be for them).

      • Guy says:

        I think most communities do this, isn’t a design oriented community that quashes friendly discussion or friendship-building discussion because it doesn’t promote design-discussion guilty of the same?

      • Anonymous says:

        What is being “quashed” in each instance is not in the same category.
        Consider: an astronomy-oriented work group or a college class is not the same thing as a cult, they are not even similar, not even in that each disallows elements of conversations (ie: “we don’t discuss non-astronomy/class-focused topics here” and “we don’t allow criticism and dissent here”).
        Examining the dynamics and results, you find one is broken/abused at a base social level and the other is not — it should be blindingly obvious: the interpersonal situation each operates with is not the same and can not be compared as equal in terms of regulation or effect on the participants and discussion. It can not be logically argued that “enforced beliefs” are the same thing as “enforced topics”.
        They are very different animals: what is being enforced in the discussions are things on entirely different levels of human communication (and in the one case is factually and historically harmful to people and communities).

    • gillan says:

      I don’t get where the idea came along that SG is a design community. I mean, I know there’s a game design section but I’ve been lurking there for awhile and that was never my impression.

      • gillan says:

        Shit, just look at the thread that states the purpose of Story Games. Design is nowhere in there.

      • Guy says:

        It’s not one of its goals, yes, but the thing is, it’s a place to talk about Story-Games, so people come and talk about all things Story-Games, thinking that design is also something they could discuss there.
        I think most people are quickly awakened, because yes, it’s not one of the community’s goals, and runs counter to it.

      • gillan says:

        I haven’t seen design discussions shut down either, but I think criticizing SG for not facilitating a high level of design discussion is stupid. It’s a secondary goal of the forum at best.

      • chgriffen says:

        Totally agreed.

      • Guy says:

        I think we’re in agreement?

      • Guy says:

        Ok, three points:
        1. Yes. It’s NOT a community for design, this is why it’s not surprising at all that it doesn’t happen successfully.
        2. It does get quashed. Look at Ralph’s thread about the Summertime RPG, or whatever it was called. Even threads which give criticism, rather than talk about how to give criticism, are derailed to that. That is derailment of criticism threads, which are basically design threads.
        3. The above doesn’t happen often, the “shut down” is usually done in a much more passive and much more effective manner; these threads do not get the love they need, because of point #1, and then they stop happening.

      • gillan says:

        1. Yep.
        2. I think that created a conversation about tone and criticism in design. There was a lot going on in that thread, and I think boiling it down to “quashing criticism” or “quashing design” is not what happened as there were people on both sides of the argument.
        3. Not posting to what you’re not interested in is not quashing, even passively. It means that it is not a good environment for design, not that it is an environment antagonistic to design.

  2. Anonymous says:

    John Jenskot
    When I visit a new city, I can post on Story Games and usually find a gaming group interested in playing a story game while I’m there. That’s pretty impressive and valuable.
    Many of the early adopters who opt out don’t just do so on Story Games but do so in most communities they initially join. Sometimes it’s less about the specific community and more about, this is new, small, comfortable, and I get to help shape how it grows. And that’s exciting. But when the newness wares off, when the community grows beyond a certain comfort zone, or when it feels stale… early adopters will look elsewhere.
    Maybe not so strangely, many people who opt out may not post as much but still lurk and visit frequently. But there isn’t a viable alternative to story games. Blogs, twitter, facebook are too spread out, to disclusive, or don’t facilitate enough back and forth conversation as equals. Even people who opt out come back because where else will they post to reach the maximum number of interested people?
    Before we had a group of people who all played the same small number of games, met each other in person at select conventions, were a unified force at Gencon, and were invested in alternatives to mainstream games like D&D (before 4E seemingly incorporated many of their sensibilities). Much of that has faded away. And many of the most influential personalities are advocates of opting out of activities when agendas conflict. You can quit every gaming group that has different agendas and still play but your pool of potential players becomes smaller and smaller and soon our hobbies feels more and more separate.
    My main problems with Story Games is the presence of people who aren’t interested in mutualism. There is too much take, take, take, me, me, me. Yet they post a lot. But the good outweighs the bad for me.
    Also Story Games helped me become better friends with people who were just acquaintances before. That’s a big thumbs up for me!

    • Guy says:

      Re: John Jenskot
      I mostly have “real discussions” via messengers with people.
      I just feel it often works better. Then again, I mostly found the people to bother on messengers via SG 😉

  3. gillan says:

    I was disagreeing with your anonymous friend above.

  4. gillan says:

    1. Yep.
    2. I think that created a conversation about tone and criticism in design. There was a lot going on in that thread, and I think boiling it down to “quashing criticism” or “quashing design” is not what happened as there were people on both sides of the argument.
    3. Not posting to what you’re not interested in is not quashing, even passively. It means that it is not a good environment for design, not that it is an environment antagonistic to design.

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