If you ask people about me, people who know me will say one of three things. “We tried to kill it with fire, but we got the incantations wrong *sob*” or “That dude needs to paint his miniatures. He has so many!” or “Dude hates 8th ed 40k, like what’s up with that?”
All of these statements are true to an extent. There are people who own more models than me. I have not been killed by witchfire and I do not like 40k 8th edition. As much as I love many things, the latest incarnation of 40k is not one of them. Many of us have things we don’t like in the hobby. That’s cool, but we all have common ground.
Tabletop gaming is a cornucopia of niches and the myriad of hobbyists that hunker down in those niches. So I find it amusing that there is so much factionalism in Australian tabletop communities.
What are you angry about Tim? I’m not angry dear reader, thanks for the lead in though. I’m more of an observer. I’ve wargamed for 25 years, and boardgamed for a decade. I’ll flit from one type of tabletop group to another. Mostly I don’t CCG/LCG/TCG, but I can understand the appeal.
Recently I was discussing Magic: The Gathering with a friend. He remarked upon the fact that people who play Magic and people who wargame don’t get along. This has to some extent been my experience. My experience has also been that different types of wargamers don’t mix with each other either.
I wondered why this was. Why are there Indy Stores that are Warhammer stores and others that are Warmachine stores? How do some clubs have all the Infinity players and others have all the Kings of War players?
I know a lot of players are as prolific as I am. I have 30 different wargames. I play sci-fi, fantasy and historical. I follow a simple rule, the rule of cool, if the models look awesome… my wallets cries. So why do we still have cliques and factions in our community? Why does one group get upset about the rule set and game play of another group?
After talking to gamers from other countries, I’ve started to conclude this is a uniquely Australian phenomena.
I think there are a few simple answers and some complex ones for this, and in this article I’m going to controversially, and rather ham-fistedly, give my opinion on what they are!
Gamers are to an extent obnoxious!
It’s probably not news to anyone reading this article, but it’s a thing… that well is. You may be thinking right now, about a particularly obnoxious, annoying recalcitrant or malcontent in your local community. There is always an obvious one.
But I have bad news, you’re probably one to somebody as well. Generally, for whatever reasons, there will always be someone that doesn’t like you. I know for myself, between my incessant trading on Buy Swap Sells and my strong opinions about which old editions are far superior to new editions, I have my fans and my detractors.
This simmering pool of egos, annoying personalities and strange or baffling behaviours can often influence how, what, who, where and why we play.
Even within my own circles I know immediately what games I shouldn’t bother buying for boardgaming nights, based on my crews general belligerence. At the clubs I go to, I know what games people are going to play with each other and what new titles will be shunned by the collective.
Who we like has the same effect. If someone you don’t like adopts a game, it can colour the way you feel about the game. I spent four years not playing anything Mantic because I couldn’t stand the messenger who brought the games to the club. Crazy! Luckily at a new venue, I was introduced to Kings of War: Vanguard by an affable chap.
A person adopting a game can often sink that games appeal for an entire community.
Store Owners have their preferences too!
It’s a simple fact of life. People have their favourite things. Gaming store owners are no different. That’s why you will find Warmachine stores and Magic stores. That’s not a bad thing, but it can influence whats played where you live.
If you’re in an isolated area and your local store is heavily into one product it will influence what gets played. We are social animals. So social that we will do things just for the company. I once went to a yoga class to avoid a 26th solitary day at home. Yoga!
So it goes with gaming, if your local community is all about the Infinities or the Relic Knights, there’s a pretty good chance you will find someone to play that specific game. I’ve done it. My gaming buddies have done it. Hell, look at how huge 40k 8th ed is right now. So many people just trying to have some company regardless of the quality of the game. *wink*
If the only local store is a GW, its safe to say you’re in a GW dominated area. Should another store benefit from a tonne of X-Wing sponsorship, guess what? Time to saddle up Red Five baby.
The Australian community is way spread out.
We are living in the platinum age of tabletop gaming. 3rd tier boardgames are now mainstream (I’m looking at you Catan, you hipster bait you). Wargaming stores have been in shopping malls for nearly three decades. You don’t have to sidle down a dark alley and pretend you meant to go to the Adult store before you sneak in to buy miniatures.
It’s truly an exciting time. The Internet and things like Kickstarter have allowed small players to grow and just about every idea gets an audience.
But, here in Australia, gamers are still thin on the ground. Cities have multiple clubs, but they can still be long drives and whole worlds away from you. It also means that groups tend to be smaller, more insular and local.
Smaller groups bring a concept I am going to refer to as Preferred Game Syndrome. PGS is a simple concept. In any group there will be limited budgets. That means that if someone commits to a game and buys up a whole bunch of stuff, its likely they will be limited in what else they can buy. They prefer their game to others because well, they already have it.
This can create animosity towards a new system, especially if it looks like the group will adopt it. If you are in an Infinity club and a new member starts encouraging 40k, you might become hostile. Your whole club might become hostile. To an outsider it can look like you’re all anti-social nobs, even when from the inside you’re all great friends and you thrive on each others company.
This is how a group becomes a faction, and over time as there is antagonism with another faction. The antagonism can reinforce attitudes and validate fears.
I find that this factionalism tends to affect more expensive games and more complex games that require time and or cash investment. It’s why games like Magic and Warhammer 40k tend to suffer the most from this factionalism. These two groups probably clash the hardest too. Not only are their games so different to each other, but both take a considerable time and cash investment, and both have long histories and rabid fanbases.
Fanbases be crazy ya’ll.
I just want to type “Star Wars” here and be done with it, but it is far more complex than that.
Generally when we become fans of something, it involves a significant emotional investment. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Aliens and others, speak to our childhoods, remind us of carefree times and rose coloured joy.
2nd ed 40k does that for me. I played it all through my teens, with all my highschool friends. Many of these people are still my friends now, and we still wargame together. The game is not only a fun narrative driven RPG wargame, it also comes with a montage of great afternoons and weekends hanging out with the people who really understood me. Something that is so valuable in your teenage years.
This gives the 40k universe an extra emotional value to me, beyond the entertainment value. That’s what tabletop gaming is for everyone. It’s about the people you play with, the stories you create and the ideas you interact with.
With any emotional subject though, it’s easy to ‘other’ the experiences and feelings of people outside your own group. This ‘othering’ is just a form of instinctual tribalism and it can and does become exclusionary.
The bigger and more rabid the fanbase, the easier and more comfortable it is to do. (It also means you can get factions within factions. It’s very entertaining if you are into people watching.)
GW. Yep I made them a heading.
Games Workshop has had a significant influence on Australian gaming communities. It all comes down to one defining characteristic that has become so ingrained in the mythos surrounding the company. Profit!
Now before I get an avalanche of comments about how I’m a pinko, I totes, like you know, support capitalism and stuff.
Games Workshop are the kings of exclusion. They exclude outside models, conversions that don’t use their miniatures, paint and tools as well. Until recently they would only offer prize support to exclusively GW tournaments and events, and they never attended cons. It’s called cradle to the grave marketing, most commonly employed by Apple and Disney.
There is nothing particularly wrong with this approach to business. You don’t want your customers being poached by your competitors so you use exclusionary tactics to stop people discovering the superiority of other products. It’s sound business sense.
GW is also the main gateway for new gamers into the community.
In Australia it has had a very singular effect. It has created duality in the gaming community. GW Players and everyone else. That’s not to say that GW players are exclusively GW Players, but more often than any other game they are.
There is good news, GW has stopped occupying prominent positions in shopping malls and the internet has diluted their message to an extent. I can see this waning in the future and that can only be good.
How do we fix it?
Thats a good question. Like many social issues, the answer is often just “Don’t be a dick”. Include people in your games, welcome new ideas, stay open minded and encourage new gamers (and old cranky ones) to join in.
Things are slowly getting better. I can one day see a community where I don’t refer to 40k players as “mentally challenged eight year olds” and Magic players as “broken creatures that inhabit the darkness” and it will most likely be because I followed my own advice… and also caved in and started playing both for the company.
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