Fans and Communities
Over the years I have been a participant in several fan based communities. These have ranged from running film clubs, to creating and publishing fanzines in the pre-internet days. More recently this has included running websites, blogging and creating podcasts. It’s a curious thing the way fandom is cyclical and one’s involvement with such communities seems to ebb and flow. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot of late. Several of the You Tube channels I enjoy have reduced their output or stopped due, to changes in advertising policy and monetisation. The Newbie Blogger Initiative failed to manifest itself this year and many of my immediate colleagues in blogging and podcasting have also begun to fade away or moved on to pastures new. The sad thing is, the true value of many community contributors is never really realised until after they’ve gone.
So where to start regarding fans and communities? Well fans are far more than just mere customers. Sadly, not all of the gaming industry understands this or more importantly, appreciates it. The distinction is quite clear, though. I am a customer of Vodafone. I use their services for a monthly fee and that is the extent of my relationship with them. I do not write about my experiences using their products, nor do I create guides regarding their use. Neither do I arrange social events around their services. Fans conversely do a lot of these sort of thing and more for the games that they love. Furthermore, they are not the sole beneficiaries of such undertakings. A vibrant community is a great marketing and promotional asset for any games developer. Being free, it also has the best price.
Often the debates about community are applicable beyond gaming and relevant to wider social activities. Communities often arise organically, with fans creating a site and tweeting about what they enjoy. Soon bridges are built with other likeminded individuals and an informal network manifests itself. Often specific groups or individuals gain prominence within these social groups, through their own hard work and dedication to the things that they love. More often than not these figureheads have not actively sought such a position. It simply occurs through the dynamics of human interaction.
Now this raises some interesting questions. I read a reddit post recently in which someone thought that there was a burden of responsibility upon high profile community participants (IE popular You Tubers) or websites. To a degree, I believe that they are right, although I think it is very dependent upon what the said individual or site does within the community. Providing guides, sharing experiences or collating data is usually benign and neutral. Providing news or opinion is more complex and possibly does require a degree of responsibility and self-moderation. However, readers of specific sites or followers of certain individuals also have a duty to exercise their own common sense. It is a mistake to put people on pedestals.
Something I have mentioned before with regard to MMO communities is that in the past they have usually formed and grown outside of the influence of the commercial entities that run the games. For more recent titles such as SWTOR and especially Guild Wars 2, this process has been more centralised under the auspices of the developers. Both of those games have a wealth of information created by players but it is more often than not it is found within the official forums for that title. I may be wrong but I have never been aware of either SWTOR or Guild Wars 2 having the same sort of independent community as such titles as LOTRO or WoW. Communities can be a great asset but when it is not directly under any form of centralised control by the developers or publishers, then it can be a "problem". It will be interesting to observe what sort of online societies develops around future MMOs.
Moving away from gaming and looking at other areas of fandom, a common problem that occurs is the impact that increased public interest can have upon a community. This usually happens when an activity or pastime gains mainstream attention and becomes more widely accessible. Cosplay is something that in recent years has become increasingly popular. It is no longer perceived as the prerogative of a small niche group and is beginning to become quite a major marketing and promotional tool. Some perceive this process as democratisation, where others see something they love being usurped by those that simply wish to exploit it for financial gain. Is the community simply growing or is it being reinvented at the expense of some and the advantage of others?
Ultimately, fans, communities and their resulting social interaction are a complex and fluid situation. With regard to gaming there most certainly is an expiry date for most communities. The natural attrition we see as a game wanes in popularity is a perfectly normal thing, linked to factors such as lifespan and individuals ongoing engagement. Most fans directly or indirectly benefit from the services that arise from healthy communities. Although those that form the foundations of these communities seldom seek any praise it is often due. However, it is wise to note that the opposite can occur sometimes, when certain quarters turn bad and seek to disrupt, divide and destroy.
So where does Contains Moderate Peril fit into all this? Well I'm not entirely sure. I've always liked to maintain a tangential relationship to most traditional hierarchies, neither leading or following but simply contributing. Yet to my own surprise I've found myself involved pro-actively in several group projects in recent years, mainly because I wanted to see them succeed, not only for my benefit but for others. Some have proven to be an invaluable undertaking and have introduced myself and others to a wealth of new and talented writers. Furthermore, I put a lot more stock in the ideas, opinions and views of those who walk the walk, rather than the information that comes solely from a corporate PR department.
Involvement in any community has its ups and downs and can be very hard work. But the rewards and the pleasure that it brings by far outweigh any negatives in my view. So, I advocate involvement and participation. This can take all manner of forms and every little helps. You don't have to selflessly give up your time with big undertakings. Give what you can afford to give. Just reading, supporting and expressing an opinion is a positive contribution. Also, don't become too emotionally attached to things. Communities never stand still. Situations move on and change. As for those who become high profile, or go the extra mile; be reasonable when they decide to hang up their spurs. They’ve probably earned it.