Some interesting discussions have been circling social media recently, and they’ve got me thinking about things. I’ve long held that one of the greatest things I can do in the SCA is to remind those who’ve been in it for years,that what they do is pretty bloody amazing. I’ve also long held that one of the best things I could do as a Press Ganger for Privateer Press, a Judge for Heroclix, a Whatever I was for VS System, was help new players get into the game. Helping people find their joy in their chosen hobby is a wonderful thing. Because if we aren’t enjoying the hobby, why are we involved in it? It’s rambling time!
We sink our time and efforts into things that interest us, that engage us. Over time, though, what was amazing can become routine. We can grow weary, and get distracted by other things, and in the end entropy has its way and people move on to other things if they’re not engaged. This is where the new participants come in. Enthusiasm is infectious. Getting to share what you love is an amazing experience, and watching the fireworks behind someone else’s eyes as you invite them to a whole new world is an incredibly rewarding and invigorating experience.
I staunchly believe that the reason VS System collapsed in its first edition was because there was no Starter Decks for way too long and there was no way for a new player to easily step into the game and find their feat. I have seem gaming communities collapse because, quite frankly, the environments were hostile to new players, with more established players refusing to welcome or accommodate those outside of their clique. I’ve seen cliques in other social groups as well, both in person and in online communities, develop a toxic nature that can make newcomers feel that this is not something they want to be involved in.
Her Excellency, Baroness Lucia of Ramshaven (yes, that makes SCA references in all three posts this week) made the following post online earlier this week:
“Warning: Rambly musings about nostalgia and organizations ahead. Bring an open mind and a beverage (or skip it entirely, I will never know!)
I spend a lot of time chatting with people (I know, you’re all shocked.) I’m also unreasonably active on social media. (What can I say, I spend a lot of time at a computer) A healthy chuck of that is with people who have been around a while. Often a very long while, sometimes with breaks in the middle, sometimes not. It’s awesome, I get to have storytime with people, who regale me with tales of Pennsic 23 (or that Pennsic that was just mud or others) or Ealdormere’s first coronation, or The Silent Time ™, or That Time when Those Shenanigans Happened Back in the Day ™ or what their favourite events were like. About half the time, at some point in the conversation, there’s a pause and a bit of a wistful look and some variation on the words ‘Man, it’s not like that anymore, everything sure has gone to hell.’ Sometimes they open with that premise ‘So, now that the SCA sucks compared to <insert arbitrary time here>’, or it comes up when they’re lamenting that <insert beloved tradition here> doesn’t happen anymore, or a new policy comes down and there’s a general panic about how everything has changed forever, how will we ever go on now that <insert policy here> has ruined everything.
Then I get sad, because I missed the Best Times ™, and sometimes I get frustrated, and recently I’ve gotten thoughtful. What ARE they pining for? For the health and vigor and youthfulness that they had 20 yrs ago? For a time with fewer legal realities and social awareness about safety and inclusiveness? For the memory of things that has had the patina of nostalgia haze away the things they didn’t enjoy and only leave happy thoughts? And it’s probably all of those things. Society, both The Society and society, has changed A LOT in 20 yrs (and more in 52 years). Some say too much, some say not enough. Some folks left because they didn’t like a change along the way, some stayed and tried, to various degrees of success, to change along with it, some are trying to come back and finding it not what they’ve remembered and struggling to appreciate what’s here now, which feels familiar and different all at the same time.
For some of us who are relatively new, we’re actively in that happy enthusiastic time. We’re making our traditions, our war memories, our Those Shenanigans that Happened. It’s unendingly sad and frustrating (and if you’ll forgive me the boldness.. wrong) to hear that the only good times are long past. Different than AS 1? or AS 25? You betcha! Different isn’t always all bad. Perhaps some traditions are only gone because their cheerleaders got busy and they would be a welcome addition again. Perhaps some traditions were actually more harmful than awesome, and are best left in the past.
I still love to hear the stories, and the shenanigans of the Good Old Days that are all tinged with the nostalgia of forgetting the irritations, and with the excitement of youth, but temper it with the reality that Right Now IS someone’s Good Old Days in the making.
TL;DR : When you kvetch that the only good times are in the past, you make newbies sad. (And if you really miss something legit awesome, work to bring it back!)”
This resonated greatly with me because welcoming new people into my geeky worlds is important to me. It also put me in mind of one of my SCA peers, who was instrumental in my finding my feet in my first year in the SCA. We discovered after a while that what we both wanted and enjoyed out of the SCA were very different things, but there’s a measure of respect that says “I acknowledge that you enjoy X, and while I do not follow that same path, I encourage and support you.”
If we want to be part of vital, thriving communities, we need to be willing to welcome in new people, to help them find their joy, and to encourage them as they discover their niche even if it’s different from our own.
This rolls into online communities. I loved my time on Privateer’s forums, but they so frequently devolved into toxic behaviour, either through constant complaining or belittling of sub-optimal builds that the only ones where I found any measure of joy in reading were the painting forums. Roll forward to today, and a number of notables have left a painting group on Facebook because they’ve had enough of people exuding constant negativity, railing with a sense of entitlement, and hiding behind the false anonymity of a keyboard. People often seem to forget on some subconscious level that just because they’re looking at a computer screen and communicating with a keyboard that the other people in the discussion are human, and social niceties and dignity seem to go out the window just because someone disagrees with you.
You’re mad about something, okay, but consider the environment in which you choose to express your anger, and consider also just what effect you might have on other people. You are 100% entitled to express yourself – and you are 100% liable to any consequences, which can include people choosing to no longer associate with you.
We are engaged in things that we do for fun, for entertainment, for a creative outlet. To challenge ourselves mentally and artistically and physically. If our hobbies and communities are going to last, there needs to be two things. Okay, more than two, but today I’m just rambling about two.
- There needs to be a welcoming environment for new participants.
Does your behavior in a community encourage people to get more involved, or does it put up barriers? When you talk to new people are the things you share with them enticing? Supportive? Do they make new players want to come back again? Or does it make them question wanting to be involved in the first place?
- There needs to be a level of respect for each other.
Not everyone is on the same nerd path as you. I enjoy the artistic side the SCA. I’m not especially drawn to the idea of putting on armour – but I cheer fighters of Ealdormere as they beat each up with sticks and shields. I love painting miniatures and goofy lists for tabletop wargames. I’m not interested in tournament play – but I’ll offer a hearty thumbs up to those who beat their way through Steamroller tournaments.
Hobbies are meant to be fun. What’s fun for you may or may not be the same as what’s fun for someone else, but if you can’t grok that concept, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself lacking in people to have fun with.