Fandom as Religion Part 4: The following is an excerpt from the editorial in Hippogryph Issue One, now available for download at DriveThruRPG. You can read parts 1 through 3 here, or buy the issue and read it in its entirety.
So all of that geek and nerd stuff is mainstream now. We can get all of the fantasy, science fiction, horror, gaming, and comics we’d ever need or want. There is more content than we could reasonably consume in our lifetime. Because it’s mainstream, we can not only find friends, classmates, coworkers, and general people around us to discuss it with, we don’t need to hide it. The stigma of liking certain things is gone. Media and merch are plentiful, and can be ordered online and delivered right to your door, sparing you the need to prowl the dealer rooms at cons.
The only thing that’s left is the need to feel like you’re a part of something.
There were two common arguments that I kept seeing on Twitter following the release of The Rise of Skywalker. One claimed that if you didn’t like the movie you aren’t a true fan because it validated a bunch of things the person loved about the franchise. The other claimed that if you did like the movie you aren’t a true fan because it didn’t validate a bunch of things the person loved about the franchise.
I used to have this friend who would call you an idiot for liking things he didn’t like. He would also call you an idiot for not liking things that he liked. You were pretty much an idiot if you didn’t like exactly the same things he did, for the same reasons he did, in the same way he did. The takeaway is that I used to have this friend. Past tense.
Everything comes down to who’s in and who’s out. We see this in political discussions all the time. When someone from Party A has an idea, everyone in Party A thinks it’s the most brilliant thing ever conceived of in the history of mankind. If someone if Party B has the exact same idea, everyone in Party A is against it. The relative merits or flaws don’t matter. The same goes for actions. When someone in Party A does something bad, all you hear from Party A people is that he had good reasons and it wasn’t a big deal. If someone in Party B does the exact same thing, though, it’s the most heinous crime ever committed.
People who have no sense of personal identity seek comfort and belonging in a group identity. Once they’ve found that group they will adapt to it, conform to its requirements, and defend its ideology as the One True Way. Challenges to the basic dogma and doctrine of the group are treated as a personal attack against the individual.
These people then turn around and attack those who do have have a strong sense of self. They accuse said individuals of being mindless followers of a group identity. No one can possibly have a contrary opinion unless it’s been fed to them by some nefarious enemy. You know, in the same way their opinions originate within a group.
Such groups require an orthodoxy. This is their creed, their policy, their platform. When your canon revolves around the trinity of Luke, Leia, and Han, and they’re suddenly thrusting Kylo, Rey, and Finn at you, it feels like they’re trying to invalidate your identity. People who lean toward the wargaming side of tabletop roleplaying feel like story games are telling them they’re wrong, so they have to respond by asserting that no, an emphasis on storytelling is wrong. Rinse, repeat.
When I see comments like “that’s not how Gary Gygax intended the game to be played” all I can do it roll my eyes. Gary doesn’t play at my table, bro. You’re not in my game, you’re not part of my group, and the way we play doesn’t affect you in any way. When people try to tell me that I’m right or wrong for enjoying a movie, seriously, it’s a couple of hours’ worth of passive entertainment. What I felt about it has no bearing on your ability to enjoy it or not. You know who has these sorts of opinions? Who insist on controlling the narrative? That step in as self-appointed gatekeepers of the group identity? Religious nuts. To be continued…