Friday, August 8, 2014

A revealing habit of speech

This is a post about rhetoric, but you may need a bit of background first. (Or if you know already know all about #5EConsultancyGate, skip the next three paragraphs)

In the fractal nest of D&D sub-cultures I identify with a group of bloggers, gamers, and forum posters who participate in what's generally referred to as The Old School Renaissance, or OSR. OSR gamers (as you might guess from the name) prefer to play older editions of D&D (and new games that hold to the old style) such as were popular in the 1970s and 80s, while eschewing the newer Editions. There's no formal mailing list or membership organization though - it's just a conversational identity.

Now new edition of D&D, 5th Edition, is now being released and one of the things that sets 5th Edition apart from the previous two editions is that Wizards of the Coast (the publisher of D&D) deliberately set out to win back the OSR gamers' business, and towards that end they hired two of the more prominent OSR community bloggers/forum moderators as consultants during the three-year development process. The free basic edition of the rules (Hey, free PDF! Share it with your friends!) credits Zak S. and The RPGPundit (the latter is very private and never shares his real name) as contributors. Good for them, right?

Well immediately after the rules were released both Zak S. and The RPGPundit were libeled by another group of gamers from a different set of forums. (The linked post is merely one example of what was going around) The claims made were obviously untrue to anyone who knows anything about either man, but they gained some traction for a while. It seems to be dying down now, but was ugly for a bit.

But what interested me, and this is where we get back to rhetoric, is that the people who were defending Zak and Pundit referred to D&D, and gaming generally, as "a" hobby, while the people who were lying about them called it "the" hobby. I think that's a relevant distinction and suggestive of the liars' motivations.

The Church. The government. The company. The hobby.

A habit. An interest. A preference. A hobby.

The first list is one of structures with hierarchies. The latter is one of personal matters which are internal to an individual.

You see, there are already formal structures with hierarchies in gaming. Every company that publishes a game has a hierarchy from CEO down to the mailroom. Fan-run groups like the Adventurers League have a hierarchy. But "the hobby" generally - what's that?

What I think is going on is that the liars who attacked Zak and Pundit talk about "the hobby" to imply and try to persuade their readers that "the hobby" is a group, and as such (like any other self-respecting group) it has standards of conduct and rules for admission.
"But what standards? What rules?" 
"Well, I'm glad you asked ..."
This is what's really going on. The liars want to be in charge of something, but they know that they have no hope of ever being put in charge of any of the existing hierarchies like the Wizards of the Coast corporate management, or even the Adventurer's League fanbase. Their personalities are too abrasive and their beliefs too fringe for that to ever happen. But if they can imply the existence of a new hierarchy, and get some gullible fools to believe in that, and then present a system of conduct and rules for admission that seem reasonable to someone who has never received the benefit of common sense or a classical education - then maybe they be in charge of something. They get to point the fingers. They get to say who's popular and who's not. They are the alphagirl at the lunch table, dispensing social rank to whoever accepts their authority.

It's a mind-game, all of it. A sort of sleight of hand where they first create the need for rules and order, and then provide it in the form they prefer. Don't fall for it. Your hobbies are just your hobbies, and yours alone. If you want to join a larger group, I won't stop you, but make sure it's a real one with a fair and transparent hierarchy and a means for leaving easily if they cease to meet your needs. You deserve better than mind-games and tricks.

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