Recently someone I think is wonderful decided that they would no longer make games because they found that their community was toxic and in a way that affected them personally. I’m white, male, and apparently heterosexual so things that are toxic don’t impact me much (that’s what privilege is: it doesn’t directly affect me so I don’t have to care (but I can choose to)) and so I need to think about that. A person I like and respect is hurt. That does affect me. A really great creator is going to stop creating, at least in a field that interests me. That does affect me. My world is a little less wonderful.
But I of course map this onto my own experience in order to make sense of it. What if I was part of a community and it was suddenly revealed that I wasn’t welcome? What would that do to me? Would I stop making games?
And then of course I have to wonder, what would that community even be? So for people that are “dropping out of a community”, what is that community? Where is it? Because when I try to map this onto myself I just can’t — I’m not in any communities (apart from the meatspace one I live in) that I can see. Is this community a place? A facebook group? A G+ community? A discord server? It’s for sure some place I have never seen before.
What if the indie community decided that something about me was intolerable and they shunned me or worse just quietly hated me. What would that look like to me? I mean, honestly, it would look pretty much like it does now: for the most part no one is reaching out to communicate with me about making and selling games. No one’s banging on my door looking to collaborate. Are they all out there somewhere in a sekrit clubhouse that I don’t even know exists?
I did spend some time once trying to find the sekrit clubhouse. I never found it. I found a lot of forums and G+ communities and such but they are all pretty quiet. No one’s banging down anyone’s door looking to collaborate as far as I can tell. So what would it take to get me to quit making games?
I sometimes wonder if it’s about making connections at game conventions. That might be it. I don’t go to conventions as a rule (one I’ve broken a few times) because they mostly make me anxious. I’m not really interested in playing one-shots with strangers, and certainly not with my games which are designed neither for one-shots nor for strangers. Do these communities form out of real-life associations like conventions and then maintain themselves digitally somehow? E-mail chains, mailing lists, sekrit forums? I have no idea. Most of the networking I’ve done at conventions has been perfectly useless as far as building ongoing relationships. But I probably need to do it more to get an effect. And dress weirder. That seems to be a big factor.
So where are these places people are getting chased out of? Take it from someone who’s not in any of those places, someone standing outside them yelling inwards (but of course, failing to identify where they are, I am mostly guessing which direction inwards is): wherever that place is, it’s not a place you need to be in order to make games. People will come to you for your games. And your art. And whatever else you make. Not as many people, perhaps, but maybe, if that community is chasing you away, then there are too many people. Maybe you could trim just some of that, the toxic part of it, away, and still keep creating.
I’ve always said that I create for me and my close, real friends on a kind of honour system with the rest of the universe: I trust that me and mine aren’t all that unusual. That if we are digging a game then there is somewhere other people that will too. I don’t have a brand to hang on the door so you won’t find them by looking inside, looking into your clubhouse for OSR or indie or whatever. You’ll have to look outside. But we are most certainly a match. So my gaming community is six people with no label. No brand. And you are invited and all you have to do is grab a VSCA game and play it.
So obviously I’m still confused. I’m still wandering in a kind of desert and occasionally I meet people fleeing from something or somewhere. I have no idea what that is. I march in the direction they came from and find more nothing. I am beginning to believe these things don’t exist in a way that I can sense them. That maybe we fabricate community in our heads and then get betrayed by a fabrication.
So here’s my advice: it’s lonely out here but it’s honest. If the positive attributes of a community are entirely in the model you built in your head and not in the actual community, yeah, you’re going to get hurt. Better to be a nomad with some close real friends.