Nerd References and High-Fives
Oh this whole…thing…makes my skin crawl.
There is a whiff of nerd shame in my reaction. I’ll cop to that. This flavor of virtue-signaling just grosses me out, mostly because I feel like it’s so transparent. And I grew up in an age where being a giant nerd was not a point of pride. It is astonishing and wonderful to me that nerd culture means something different than it used to. But I still have that visceral reaction, that little wince when someone spouts a Monty Python quote or some Star Wars thing.
There’s also this thing that continues to gnaw at me about The Problem With Indie Games These Days. And that is that so, so many of them (premised on the fact that PbtA and Fate largely dominate the scene) feel and play and were conceived of as derivative of other media. Yes, absolutely, this is me #poopingonotherpeoplesfun and I am a monster.
For at least 25 years now, maybe longer, I’ve never quite resolved for myself the tension between dismissing RPGs as trivial entertainments and embracing RPGs as a legitimate and powerful art form. Probably it’s because they can be either, and asserting that RPGs can only be one or the other is unnecessary. Movies can be derivative summer tentpoles, and movies can be art. Also books and live performances and music and every other damned thing. But that tension is there, and it’ll probably always be there. There are so very many derivative, tropesy, trivial entertainments out there and so relatively few thoughtful, meaningful artworks. Never mind the additional social pressure to discount any artful game thing as “arty”, to diminish, to drag down the aspirational work to the same level as the derivative work.
Protestant work ethic (are you being productive?) combined with late capitalism (in what way is this profitable?), no wonder we’re so fucked up. By we I mean me. I’m sure you’re perfectly fine.
Anyway, when I hear players start spouting quotes at each other and reifying their shared identities, I see the game steer toward derivation and think to myself, “There goes an opportunity for real meaning, squandered.”