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Roleplaying Community [the/a]

I often read socially mediate laments that this or that roleplaying community disappoints. That the dnd community, the indie community, the osr community, fails in some terrible ponderous way.

Smoke and confusion, all these cries. These roleplaying communities are figments.

Roleplay is a genre of language play, without masters or gates. Its natural home is the circle of friends, or folk who would be friends, round the metaphorical table.

It fits into a lineage of play that stretches back through time, possibly as long as humans have been humans. The earliest people gathered to gaze into fires and tell stories of what they saw there. Oracles pondered to invent explanations from random events. Poets sat to drink wine and compose words on a theme.

There, in such intimate setting, one can imagine commonality and conviviality: a personal connection, a construction of friendships and relationships. Community, if one will.

This is the great strength of roleplaying as play, hobby, and pursuit. It sparks human imagination and empathy, makes fun of languages and conventions, and creates a bond between individuals through shared invention. It is lovely, creative, and friendly. It fits a shared human yearning to make and perform, which is so often lost in our contemporary mass-produced world. Through roleplay, we all become the artisans of our transient, unique, invented worlds, rather than merely the consumers of a pre-packaged cultural product or a dozen-fold recycled intellectual property.

When we are lucky, this play turns strangers into acquaintances, acquaintances into friends.

Sometimes, small (or large) groups might coalesce around a particular game or play style or location or figure from agglomerations of acquaintances.

Even I have seen something like a digital hamlet form around my work, helped immensely by the patreon and discord server formats. It has some aspects of a community, and through care and attention, it is an oasis of camaraderie and companionship on the wild ocean of the internet. I appreciate it deeply.

But it is a small place, of limited server scope, where we recognize one another by avatar and name.

In the broader wilds of the internet, on the vast social media savannahs, on the twitter tundras, in the facebook forests, in the yawning tubes of you, however, I find no community. It is a wilderness where no one has anything but the name and history they have built up over months and years. And even then, who knows, but perhaps we are all just canines at keyboards. There are individuals I recognize and remember. Some I’ve read regularly, a few I’ve even interacted with personally.

There are many people, millions now, there on those universal intermedia, sharing their love of roleplay, creating new games, finding new stories, discovering new friendships.

Yet it is worth remembering: there is no community. Perhaps small groups in those wilds, circled wagons, flocks of the like-minded, but no overarching community.

Why do I rattle on about the absence of community?

As warning. As survival guide.

I see people proclaim themselves leaders of ‘the community’. They are not because it does not exist. Everyone has just their name out there.

I see people put their faith in ‘the community’. They are vulnerable because it does not exist. There are just floating words in the electric aether.

I see people demand ‘the community’ do something for some just cause. It cannot, because it does not exist. It is a wilderness out there.

Beware out on the giant social media because they are not communities. They are battle royale battlegrounds, where the algorithms promote strife to draw eyeballs to generate advertising centimes.

I still miss the G+ creative rpg vibe these days. I don’t know if it was actually any safer than the current crop of social mediernesses. Perhaps it was just less popular, which made it feel more like a community.

I don’t have a good answer for those seeking community. Especially after a year of plague, the lure of society and the torment of loneliness are both strong.

I’ll continue to put my trust in the slow accretion of reputation and connexion rather than virality or hashtags.

You, dear readers, good luck and good friendships and strong community to you, whichever path you take.

But seriously, be cautious on the social medierness. It’s a viral jungle out there.


Now, let me cross streams. I write and illustrate games over on the stratometaship patreon. It is hidden behind the wormway.

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3 replies on “Roleplaying Community [the/a]”

I’ve heard people making the same or a similar argument to this. Immediately I resist and I’m trying to figure out why. I’m sure, as with many things, it comes down to definitions. We probably have different definitions. Or different priorities.

Not that this necessarily matches *either* of ours, but the Merriam-Webster definition of community includes what you don’t: “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” And, of course, it has nearly a dozen others. The Oxford Dictionary’s is similar: “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.”

But, again, that doesn’t necessarily get at either of our definitions. I’m trying to imagine what your reasoning is. Why you are saying there isn’t a roleplaying community.

Most likely, I think, is that you’re trying to warn others of some sort of harm. That there are dangers in trying to make a community out of those you don’t know. Is that close to the mark? I’m pretty sure this is what you’re saying here: “Why do I rattle on about the absence of community? As warning. As survival guide.”

Please elaborate.

And I try to understand my own reasoning. I mean, my resistance is a gut feeling, so I don’t immediately know its source, but trying to suss it out, I also come down to caution. I worry that when people think they aren’t part of a community, they’re *more* likely to behave poorly. That is, I think engaging in a community and including others is will create positive relationships among those people.

Of interactions online, you say “[they are] a wilderness where no one has anything but the name and history they have built up over months and years.” Isn’t this true if in-person communities?

You go on to say, “And even then, who knows, but perhaps we are all just canines at keyboards. There are individuals I recognize and remember. Some I’ve read regularly, a few I’ve even interacted with personally.” Isn’t this also true for in-person communities? As close as I get to a person, even a best friend, I still can’t know what it’s like inside their head. And, for example, the community I live in has plenty of people I don’t really interact with. That doesn’t mean we’re not part of the same community, that our behaviors can make life better or worse for each other.

In my experience, if I think of those other people as part of a community, part of something positive we help make, I’m more likely to be constructive. But if I think of them as unattached to or outside of me, it’s easier to dehumanize them in my mind.

You warn that “I see people put their faith in ‘the community’. They are vulnerable because it does not exist.” Part of community, part of any relationship, is being vulnerable. I make myself vulnerable by engaging with my family, my loved ones, my friends, and here with you. Yes, there’s a risk, but there’s also a potential for connection. For something positive, even something great. That’s part of why I engage and be vulnerable, to have connection with others.

I think I just hit the border of rambling, so I’ll stop.

I’m eager to read your further thoughts and clarifications.

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