Many of you know that I spent a considerable proportion of the last decade working in games workshop stores up and down the country. While doing this I had the opportunity to watch gamer psychological dynamics at close quarters and how cliques and opinions form. See if you recognise this scenario from your younger days in the hobby:
You are talking excitedly about your latest doodad or project idea. Some kid who has been doing the hobby longer (usually about a couple of months longer, oh the experience) comes over and tells you in dense, jargon-heavy language why what you are doing is wrong. There will be declarations about how this unit and that are "pointless" and you've wasted your money. There will be references to rules pulled - usually - not from the book open in front of them but from their living brain (gasp). Clearly this person is a hobby god. Your opinions are meaningless; your shiny doodad is a waste; maybe you should just do what he says and be a better gamer.
Now that was a very sarcastic paragraph but I think we can all remember those times and maybe for a while we were "that kid" until someone open our eyes to how ridiculous it all was. Some of you might be saying "so?" right now but the internet is rapidly becoming "that kid" - what am I talking about, its always been "that kid". This I genuinely believe is creating a damaging environment on line for our hobby and especially every new hobbyist entering cyberspace. Why? I'm glad you asked, let me expand:
1) Credentials established by confusion.
This is a jargon rich hobby, all of them are really, it's kinda the shibboleth by which we recognise a kindred spirit. There are thousands of named weapons and rules, weird terminology and dense passages of rules. You should see a parent's face in a game shop if you forget yourself and use even a term like 40k. Blind, panicked, confusion. So in the face of all this jargon, why the hells do we feel the need to complicate it further? Abbreviations, named army builds, oblique nicknames for units? We all do it to a greater or lesser extent. When it is just between you and your gaming buddies it doesn't matter. It becomes a shared cant that binds you rather than divides. The problem is when these same linguistic tics are used with strangers. Not being able to understand the local jargon puts you instantly on the back foot and allows someone with no more experience or understanding of the hobby in general than you to sound authoritative. I've been doing this hobby for twenty three years. If I can't understand you then you are using a smidgen too much jargon.
|Example: these are CSM termies with MoN, 2 PF, CF, PW and PLC. Ranged: 2SB, Combi-melta and a RAC.|
So when we start to debate (and isn't that a misnomer on the internet, argue then) hobby on line we will run in to these people who can sound terribly authoritative and don't actually know any better. As a result, it is these opinions that will be listened to. Now, here is a central tenant of this hobby. You cannot be truly wrong. You can be mistaken in your understanding of a rule. That is about it. There is no army build that is "wrong", no means of playing that is "wrong", no paint scheme, dice rolling method or victory dance that is "wrong". What there is, however, is wrong for you. Any advice for example that comes from a dedicated tournament player for whom the win is their enjoyment will probably not work for me. Some of my advice probably won't work for you. The problem is that there are people who set themselves up as the experts, their shining pedestals not the commitment of rules to memory of the playground. No, it is a big shiny blog to speak from. Clearly they must be worth listening to, not just anyone can have a blog right? Oh, wait, yeah we can.
I think the central summing up of point one is that we must be careful not to be "that kid". To use a spurious bestowment of authority to shout down others and their opinions. You all have the right to your opinions. Just as I (and you obviously) have the right to disagree. That doesn't make either of us wrong. Just different. That brings us neatly onto...
2) The polarisation of Tournament vs. Fluffy play.
See what I did there? Jargon. Fluffy is a term used - incorrectly, I think - to mean someone who plays for the story rather than in a competitive fashion. These two groups, on line at least, have become as polarised as Republicans and Democrats in the United States. You have to believe in one of those philosophies on line, declare your allegiance, NOW! This is complete nonsense. Wargaming is a spectrum of opinion and styles of play, not some battleground divided into camps.
|From the oftimes excellent Bunny webcomic|
Oh, dear, god. Now we've strayed into crazy-making territory for me, I will be deleting a rewriting sentences regularly to remove vitriol. Math-hammer is the term I - and lots of others - use for the practice of using statistics or just the bare rules to judge a unit. In other words, declaring it's worth before it ever, ever is used on the table. A typical mathhammer opinion would sound like "yeah, but you're going to get twenty shots, half will miss, you'll only wound a third and two thirds of those will be soaked by armour so at most you kill one marine".
There's a lot wrong with that statement. First the words "most of the time" have to be added regularly. This is a hobby where dice are involved, where luck plays a role. People will tell you that it averages out. No, it doesn't. Not in one game. That unit will act, at most, six times. That is not enough for randomness to be shaken out of the equation. Ask scientists why, we'll tell you, really we will. Secondly, that is a space marine we are talking about. There are nine codexes out there that are not space marines. The only time that it matters to talk that way is if you are trying to guess what your opponent will bring and thus beat them.
|Me and my boyz is about to become a case in point see...|
There is a bigger problem than those, however. That is the assumption that our hobby is a game of World of Warcraft, where all that matters is damage per second. That is ludicrous. Lots of people have told me that Ork Kommandos are worthless because they won't survive long enough to kill enough things to "make back their points". As though that is how we should judge a unit. Ask the people I play with Orks. Dayum they hate those Kommandos. They are a little bit to strong to ignore but not so expensive that I won't sacrifice them. They tie up a couple of units killing them for a vital turn or two while the rest of my under armoured bullet magnets run into position. Their worth is not in what they kill but in how it allows me to influence my opponents actions. Ork players will know this, so how can a dedicated Tau player who has never fielded Orks in his life tell me that they are worthless? The answer? They can't. There are NO worthless units, just ones that don't have a place in your strategy. Please, I beg of you, if you regularly mathhammer. Put away the forums and play some games. Your opinions will improve because of it.
A big complicated word for everything kinda becomes the same. Ask yourself why handmade food tastes better than pre-made in a factory. Go on, think. The reason is because the pre-made stuff has been made to offend the least amount of people. Its all about market share. Companies who don't care about the quality of their product would rather have 90% of people think their product is "alright, nothing special" than have 25% LOVE it and another 50% think it is "alright". In their deluded minds this is better. Its a capitalist model, market share equals power. But it means that everything winds up tasting "alright", nothing is stand-out, nothing is delicious.
Where am I going with this? If everyone winds up agreeing with a few authoritative talking heads then everyone gets the same army, the same build, plays the same game. I'm yawning as I speak. Worse, it can have a toxic effect on anyone whose instinct is to go another way, isolating them. It works for painting too. Look at Cool Mini or Not, it started as a nifty idea but has turned into its own Voice of Authority. There is one style of painting that gets results there. Non metallic metal, over blended cartoony. That is what is considered good. This may sound like sour grapes "aww, whassamatter Jeff, the nasty people on CMoN didn't give you marks?" but I don't care about that. I like my painting. Not everyone does, when people say "oh, that's a bit dark" I say, "yes it is!" not "oh, is it? I'd better repaint it.". There is not One True Paint Style any more than there is One True Game. But listen to the intertubes and you would never know it.
Where am I going with this? Well there is one central point to consider when it comes to Homogenisation = Bad. Almost everyone complains that there are too many space marines out there. Usually while owning two power-armoured armies themselves. Why are Space Marines so ubiquitous? Because when we were young some Voice of Authority told them that Space Marines were best. So they bought them. This sets up a loop where demand drives supply. Whose fault is it that there are so many Space Marines? Not GW's, it is ours.
So to sum up...
And that is it. My four bugbears associated with the Voices of Authority. Why does this bug me so much? Because our hobby is tough enough to get into. It is complex, expensive and intimidating in the number of skills you have to learn. Why do we then also make it Clique-ey? Why do we put up barriers to understanding? Why, oh, why do we tell people that their opinions are wrong? It can only be to make us feel a little bit important, an ego stroke. If you think this I am overstating the impact this can have consider this. I do not attend any gaming clubs in a city the size of Cardiff. There are loads of them. I avoid my local gaming store (not a GW) if I can possibly help it. Why? Not because of the staff, not because of the stock. It is because every time I go in I feel like a stranger in the room, an unwelcome intruder. The few loud people holding court and declaring their superiority. They drive me away. I've been doing this twenty three years. Imagine how a kid would feel, with all those hormonal brain wonks telling him he's worthless anyway, imagine it. Walking in to an established clique and then being told his ideas have no merit.
Our hobby is a niche in a niche. In a world where entertainment can be found at the push of a button ANY new member who is willing to sacrifice the time to paint and game is precious and shouldn't be shoved away. We can't take responsibility for every new player, and they don't need baby sitting. They should be able to find their own way. It is up to us to make sure we don't abuse our positions as apparent authority figures and allow them to have their own way. Even if it bugs us.
Here endeth the ramble. [edit: Now read the comments, I know this is usually the point where your eyes begin to bleed on the intertubes. Comments have become a CAPS LOCK shouting match between trolls, not these ones, the debate continues...]