Here’s an incredibly loaded question: What makes you trust a creator? Specifically, what makes you willing to engage with and support a game designer or TTRPG publisher? Having spent some time lurking on various communities I have some conclusions. You probably won’t like them any more than I do.
Having been in this hobby for a long, long time, I can say that things have changed. Things have gone from sentimental to practical to ideological. In the early days, at least from my perspective, you’d like a creator based on the things you had in common. You like dropping Monty Python quotes? I also like dropping Monty Python quotes! We’re best friends now! Warm feelings toward a creator could be formed simply because they mentioned in an interview or column they wrote that they enjoyed the same books, movies, and TV shows as you.
Sentimental reasons could also stem from the fact that they worked on a game you enjoyed playing. A creator has instant credibility if the worked on a game were even slightly familiar with, or even did something for a publisher you’d heard of. When you could connect them to something you’d actually read or played, and enjoyed that work, you tended to think of them fondly.
Over time, people developed thoughts about mechanics. Everyone has preferences, of course. Others think they know what makes an objectively good game. Their opinion of a creator could rise or fall based on their use of dice pools, playing cards*, or the D20 System. This assessment was at least practical, rather than sentimental.
(*I seriously had a long-time acquaintance stop talking to me after I designed a game that used playing cards for resolution instead of dice.)
While practical considerations had some kind of logic behind them, things still got hateful for silly reasons. Honestly, is a strong opinion about a game mechanic really the hill anyone should be willing to die on? This was the stuff of the Edition Wars; it was just as pointless and stupid then as it is in retrospect.
The current filters that I see are ideological. They have less to do with the creator’s work — but I’ll circle back to that — and more to do with the creators themselves. On one level, I’m all about this. By all means, let’s support more women in gaming, BIPOC creators, and artists and designers that are part of the LGBTQ+ community. As an old white guy, I agree that old white guys have dominated the industry long enough. We need new ideas and fresh perspectives.
On the other hand, we have the fascists, misogynists, and all-around bigots who hate the idea of more inclusivity. At best, they see it as forced, or are living in a bubble where they can’t see that a problem exists. There is no recognition of the need for greater diversity and inclusivity, both in the hobby and the industry. At worst, they’re openly racist Nazis who throw around slurs and tweet out screeds against “the SJWs”. Their personal politics have spilled over into gaming.
What Makes You Trust a Creator?
Much of this has to do with the internet and social media. If you just read the Players Handbook and Dragon Magazine, you probably would never know about Gary Gygax’s sincerely held beliefs about biological determinism. I mean, when I was 14 years old I probably could have sussed it out from 1st Edition rules for races and female characters. Now you can just open up Twitter and see his son Ernie posting transphobic and racist hot takes.
Honestly, I’d like it if people employed all three of the above criteria, but with a degree of self-awareness. By all means, use mutual fandoms and shared interests as an icebreaker. Don’t rest on sentimentality alone, though. Judging a creator’s work on it’s merit, whether it’s to some objective measure or subjective taste, is fine; just understand the not liking something personally don’t make it bad. As for politics, well, this is the world now. I have no problem with wanting to lift up peoples whose voices have gone unheard, and holding hateful, abusive people accountable for their words and actions.
If you want to leave a comment below, I’d like to know what makes you trust a creator. I want Dancing Lights Press to be the lo-fi publisher you deserve, and that means understanding and connecting with the audience. I’ll respond to comments in a future post.