So we talk about Gatekeeping a lot as it relates to a lot of communities and fandoms in the world we live in, but i want to talk a little bit about how it affects our gaming communities and the very easy way it can become a solution instead of a problem. First off, I am an absolutely filthy casual of a player and as long as you are polite and friendly, i will try to help you with anything i can, IF I HAVE A FREE MOMENT TO DO SO. I am totally happy helping new folks find their jam in a game so long as i am not trying to do a bunch of other things.
So first off, what is Gatekeeping? Well, my operational definition of Gatekeeping is any behavior that is designed to keep out undesirable people from interacting with the hobby. What does that mean? Well, typically it is an interaction that can look a lot like this.
New Person: Oh...that looks really cool! What are those? (New person points at a part of the hobby)
Gatekeeper: You don’t know the Iron Hornets Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes? (Gatekeeper sneers in contempt at new person)
New Person: No...i’ve heard of the Ultramarines though, are they like them? (Big New Person Eyes)
Gatekeeper: They are nothing like the smurfs, you should feel bad for comparing them to the smurfs. (Starts ignoring new person)
New Person: Wha? (Walks away very confused and disheartened)
This behavior happens more often than anyone is probably willing to admit, and it’s a problem for growing our communities and hobbies. I believe that more people in the hobby means that two things are happening. First, more money is hopefully flowing to creators that enables them to keep creating. Second, more people means that i have more people to share the hobby with. Both of these are good things and should be celebrated!
The people who Gatekeep always seem sad to me. They are holding shut the gates on a wonderful game/hobby/experience because they don’t want other people to dilute it, change it, or experience it in their own way. They are the effective masters of that domain and i don’t think they want to let other people gain any knowledge about it without having to “kiss the ring” or bow to their superior knowledge.
Honestly, these experiences are bad for the hobby. They push out new people and encourage a host of other antisocial behaviors that can harm the long term sustainability of the game. This in turn means there aren’t as many products because there is no cash to fund them and then things start to get real ugly. A growing fan base is amazing, and we live in a world where you can experience and learn games from a host of sources.
I know its hard to let go of that level of perceived influence, but joining the larger community and showing off why a game or a hobby or a fandom is awesome to you is a remarkable feeling. Sharing what attracted you to the thing and seeing what attracts other people to that thing is fun. We got into these hobbies and games because they were fun to us originally, and we sometimes lose sight of that. New growth in our hobby will affect these folks in one of two ways. Either the gatekeepers are going to let loose the gates and open up the museums of awesome to the masses, or they are going to get drowned in the ocean of new fans. I personally prefer being a tour guide than a gatekeeper, and one of my happiest feelings is when i get a message from someone that says something i wrote helped them figure stuff out.
We’re in a neat period right now. My friends over at Zombie Orpheus Entertainment are gearing up for a new season of Death From Above with a more traditional Battletech scale and style. (I’m secretly hoping they find the time and resources to do a Let’s play series on the rules of the game). The wonderful folks at Hyper RPG are learning the ropes of Warhammer 40,000 and they are having the best time learning and painting and jumping into the hobby. To the Millions (and MIllions) of you that are putting out podcasts, actual plays, and live rpg sessions, you rock and i love you all. It’s a very easy time to pick up a lot of information about the hobby and learn how to play before you take those first steps into finding your own way to process the hobby.
If you want to play, cool. If not, that’s fine too. You’re welcome to join the community and be counted happily among its members. You can paint tiny plastic fighting mans, play games, build decks for your favorite card game, get lost in the lore (and there is SO much lore for a lot of these games), or engage the hobby of your choice in a million different ways. Welcome to the family, most of us mean well.
To give you an idea of this, I have had a couple of gatekeeping experiences directed at me, and i’ll share them with you. Bear in mind, i am a 36 year old white male who otherwise looks exactly like a 1980s definition of “Gamer.” I was at a warhammer tournament in Wichita, Kansas a number of years ago and i got the trifecta of gatekeepers. One of them meant well, one of them turned out to be a Tour Guide, and one of them was a tool.
I’m in the second round of a tournament, and things are going pretty well and the tool box rolls up and says “well you know you’re not scoring well in the painting portion of our tournament, you need to get more paint on your models.” Nevermind the fact that i don’t remember seeing painting scores on the initial tournament score sheet. Nevermind the fact that painting quality is always subjective without a scoring rubric. NEVERMIND THE FACT THAT THERE ARE TWO OTHER ARMIES THAT AREN’T EVEN PRIMED ON THE TABLE.
“So what about that army over there with the two painted T’au Suits and the unpainted rest of the army?”
“Well we can see what his army is going to look like when it’s done, those are proof of concepts.”
“And the army over there that is completely unpainted?”
“Well (Insert Tool Jr. Name here) has painted three dots in different colors on his models meeting the 3 color standard.”
*Blink Blink* “Kay, well I’m going to get back to putting holes in these aliens then.” My posture goes rigid and he gets the idea that being in my personal space is not a good idea.
About an hour later
Well meaning Grandfatherly Gatekeeper wanders over to my table and says “I don’t think you have your squad markings on your kneepads right for your Dark Angels, Sonny.”
After the incident with Toolbox, i wasn’t in the mood and sort of bark/snarled “Those are Green F*cking Lanterns, not Dark Angels.” The Chaos player i was playing at the time laughed, I laughed, the older guy sort of laughed and i apologized. He rolled around to another table and offered some more advice to a friend of mine who had a hodge podge paint scheme that sent him off the deep end.
The third guy was running a Space Marine army with some original rogue trader models and things i had only seen in old white dwarfs and on the internet. I watched a good chunk of one of his games because i was curious about his army. He walked me through all of the models and was good natured about my questions after his game ended. He’s a super cool guy and one of my favorite old timey gamers ever.
If this behavior has happened to me, I know it’s happened to other people, and i know that it’s driven people out of the hobby. It isn’t localized to any one fandom or hobby and is something we need to work together as a community to make sure it doesn’t push other people out. A Growing hobby is a healthy hobby, and the rising tide lifts all boats. Even the super specialized boats that you’ve probably never heard of.
Game On, Game Fans