The Cost of Being Creative

Zak Smith has a good post The Cost of Being Creative, The Cost of Lying on the state of the tabletop RPG hobby a few years ago, around the time I decided to shelve the game I was working on, at least in part because the environment had become too toxic for anyone without a very thick skin.

Seven years ago, when I first started to click and google my way into the online RPG community, here’s what I (like most people) saw:

1. Hundreds of people who were trying—often quaintly, sometimes dazzlingly, always earnestly and by-and-large without the huge professional benefit that a successful gamble on student loans had given me in the way of an expensive art education—to make some creative things.

2. Hundreds of people on messageboards and blog comments trying–by any means necessary and with no holds-barred or fact-checking–to make doing that as painful as possible

3. The more daring and interesting a thing was, the more aggressively thing #2 happened…and have no doubt: it worked. A great deal of middle-of-the-road stuff was being published while the best stuff languished on blogs or in obscure corners of still-obscurer forums.

When I started this blog, folks would write in, asking questions about which way to take their projects, always including “I want to_____ but I’m afraid people will say _____ “.

Read the whole thing. He gives plenty of examples, though he stops short of naming names. And if you’ve been told that Zak Smith is “one of the most toxic indivduals in the hobby”, go and read this post from Stacy Dellorfano which lays it out straight.

It’s a shame the grassroots tabletop gaming scene got this way, and I can remember when it happened. There are a lot of parallels with the dysfunctional nature of Science Fiction fandom, though there doesn’t seem to be a Requires Hate figure that everyone can single out as a scapegoat.

I really hope this madness never comes to music fandom, though clickbait thinkpieces titled “Alternative music genres are safe spaces for white people” give me every reason to fear the worst.

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5 Responses to The Cost of Being Creative

  1. Synthetase says:

    Isn’t that just role players generally though? That’s what most of the role playing group was like at my uni. Pedantic, obnoxious and often closed-minded. They picked their favourite camps and then did war upon those who did not worship the “right” system.

    It’s one of several reasons I never actually joined that club, despite spending a lot of time hanging out and playing. I always preferred free-form games because the fewer rules to argue about, the better.

    You’ve written before on the propensity of nerds to be overly combative and critical. To a certain extent I think a lot of it comes from the creation of a personal narrative that casts the nerd as the hero in their own personal story of toughing it out against the mainstream.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    There have always been pointlessly stupid Holy Wars over rival systems, but this was different and far worse.

    Small press or independently-released games (and by implication, their designers) would routinely be denounced as racist or sexist, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. There was a loud faction who wanted to police and bowdlerise the content of other people’s games, and far too much of the performative outrage we’ve seen in other contexts.

    To make a game you needed to walk on eggshells and bland-down your game if you wanted to publish.

  3. Michael says:

    Oh dear.

    I have been away from the RPG world for over a decade now and this sort of thing does nothing to make me wish I had time to return to it.

    This is the old problem with freedom of speech appearing again, plus people forgetting that a set of RPG mechanics is not the same as an RPG setting.

    If you like the mechanics but don’t like the designer’s world then that is fine. Use the mechanics in your own world.

    Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom to insist someone listens to you.
    Freedom of speech requires the ability to say “I disagree with you and I will not act the way you do. I suggest this way of doing things would be better, because [fill in why], but I accept you are free to ignore this advice.”

    RPGs are about a group of people spinning a tale together. There are lots of tales, many of which I am not interested in sharing. I like Space Opera, and that frame of reference requires moments where lines like “Flash, Flash, I love you! But we only have 14 hours to save the Earth” just have to be said. If you don’t like worlds with heroines like that play in a different frame of reference. We can both use the same set of mechanics, be they Pacesetter or TORG.

    If you do like the same frame of reference then we can share a game world, but that does not mean I approve of your lifestyle outside that game. If we are in an online world then I would rather your lifestyle, profession and everything else never get mentioned because they have nothing to do with the game. If you cannot keep fantasy and reality separate I suggest you need a different hobby, and you are not going to be happy sharing a game with me.

  4. Synthetase says:

    “Small press or independently-released games (and by implication, their designers) would routinely be denounced as racist or sexist, often on the flimsiest of pretexts.”

    Ah I see. I sit corrected.

  5. PaulE says:

    I suspect that things like this *are* being said by some music fans. But the communities are larger and occupy separate spaces, so it doesn’t appear like some kind of fan civil war.