Friday, February 6, 2009

Communal Food For Thought

Although I am not a big anime person and don't like about 90% of what is out there for Anime these days, I have friends who are more into it and one of them - a fellow gamer - pointed me to this thread on some anime message board. Don't bother reading the whole thread - it's not important. But what is important and what I'm pointing at, is the block quote in the middle of the first post, which I'll reproduce here:

Honestly? I don't really feel any sense of overarching community whatsoever, not even at conventions. The notion that "we're all united in our love for Japanese animation" is a colossal lie, and the reasons for this while numerous have a lot to do with the nature of the Internet combined with what Japan has been making for the last several years.

It's the same story whether you're in the US or Japan. In the formulative days of "anime fandom" the anime interest of fans was generally in conjunction with something else: usually SF film or literature on account that anime conventions and gatherings are an offshoot of SF fandom. If you wanted to meet or talk to other anime fans, you had no choice but to interact with the diehards for various other pursuits as well. But now we have our own communities, both online and offline. You can be a fan of just anime--like I largely am--without having to deal with other fandoms. There's no need to have to deal with things unrelated to your sphere of interest.

In and of itself, there's no problem with this; in fact, it's beneficial! But in the realm of anime fandom it's happened so many times that everything's sub-factioned into isolation. Things that were once casual sub-interests under the greater umbrella of "anime fandom"--cosplay, AMVs, fanart, fanfiction, you name it--now have their own dedicated communities where one can choose to reside in all the time exclusively with other people who share your same interests. What was once a side pursuit becomes a primary one. There's nothing necessarily WRONG about this, but it doesn't exactly foster a sense of overarching community. Indeed, there are several entire communities dedicated to single titles and the like such that the statement "I'm an anime fan" no longer implies any sort of common ground whatsoever; it's the equivalent of saying "I watch television" or "I watch movies." You might say this is a sign of anime's growing acceptance as an entertainment medium among English speakers, but I think the effect is more than just that.

In Japan, most of the anime that gets made is targeted towards the otaku market. But since the same thing is happening in Japan and there are so many interests becoming progressively more focused and specific, the otaku-targeted titles being made nowadays must now cater to those ever-narrowing interests, often at the expense of appealing to people without said interest. The most popular shows now have to be carefully constructed in a manner that they appeal to multiple distinct otaku groups at once (as a basic example, giant robot shows that also have fujoshi-targeted character designs...which itself encompasses multiple things of increasing specificity). The end result is that there's little sense of community even among fans who like the exact same show. The only real sense of community to be had is found within one's own Internet faction.

The only shows that don't universally follow this "gotta make sure to have something for everyone to latch onto" approach are the remakes of older titles, the fans of whom are now themselves a splinter faction of the whole. And even some of those have to update themselves in a grab for more viewers. So sure, without the Internet I never would have found thousands of other people that share my admittedly minority interests. But thanks to it, I might also actually be more isolated from other anime fans than ever before.

There is a lot there that can be carried over into the realm of RPGs and the Forum-spheres/Blog-spheres that are out there now. I'm not going to go on a soapbox about what I think of this idea, but I would like to hear any comments other people have with regards to what the author is saying.


Chad Thorson said...

If I ever start to sound like that guy, just punch me in the face! :D

I don't really think about communities that share the same "gaming values" as me. It's nice to find commonality, but what I really want is to have fun playing the games that I want to play.

I play a variety of games, and not all of them are RPGs. But I have other interests outside of gaming as well. I think focusing on one thing can lead to obsessiveness (not all the time).

Just enjoy doing what you want, and don't flame other people for enjoying what they enjoy. That's my philosophy anyways.

Anonymous said...

Masakari here - I'm the guy who pointed Badelaire to the anime discussion thread being quoted. Just wanted to give the post a little context.

The question under discussion was, "Do you feel a real sense of community with your fellow anime fans, or is it all just split up into internet factions?" The thread meanders from there, naturally, but the language around this one particular post (among others I've been noticing here and there) eerily reminded me of the "Should Old School Gaming Be Big Tent, Small Tent, or Get The Hell Out Of My Tent?" debates raging around the Old School D&D 'verse over the last year. Hence my sharing it.

I've had my fingers in a lot of different nerd fandoms over the last 25 years - the short list includes miniatures gaming (all kinds), video gaming, RPGs (all kinds), science fiction (all kinds), and most recently anime. It's interesting - over the last two years in particular, I've been seeing discussions of "fan community" (or lack/fragmentation thereof) popping up all over the place with increasing frequency. I've been finding the commonalities about what fans argue over, and how they argue, quite striking. One could write books about the sociology of it (wouldn't surprise me if someone already has)...but I have a GURPS-based star system generator to code, so I'll just toss off a throwaway reference to the monkeysphere and leave it at that.

Speaking of commonalities, Atom Kid: for what it's worth, you're not alone in your philosophy (across many, many different fandoms)!

Sham aka Dave said...

I blame the internet for overeducating all of us along these lines. Back in the days BC, it was normally enough to be say a D&D player. Or even a FRPG dude, if you must. This is the information age, and joining a wargaming club or gaming club doesn't do it anymore. We have allowed ourselves to be divided by information.

This post does a good job in making an analogy that, brace yourselves here, uses an example of something far more popular than our own hobby. Anime is huge, so it's growth, evolution and subsequent segmenting outpaces our own little gaming corner of the world.

I'm not ashamed to share my D&D preferences, but I've said it before and I'll say it again, we are all playing D&D and should be in pursuit of a good time. Hell, I'm even playing currently in a 3.5 game I found through the internet. Fancy that.

taichara said...

As someone also interested in (certain series of) anime, I have to chime in and ... both agree and disagree.

Anime "fandom" has certainly chunked itself up by subgenre more than it used to, but it -- in my opinion -- only makes sense. because saying "I like anime" as an umbrella statement was a false unity to begin with. It's like saying "I like all comic books" or "I like speculative fiction." It was an umbrella fandom because people got interested in what they could get access to, and that access is a hell of a lot easier now.

Despite that, I have to agree that the post you repeated here definitely looks to have a certain amount of bearing on the state of RPG life. Especially in regards to factionalism and / or continuing specialization.

Anonymous said...

Internet changed the scope. Before, something like speculative fiction was niche. Now something like old school roleplaying is niche. It is not like something essential is being lost; rather, what is essential is getting more focused and refined.

One may say this is a bad thing. Or a good thing. I don't know.

On roleplaying games; personally, I can read material about 4e, OD&D, Forge games, or Finnish larps and benefit from all of it. I see roleplaying as one large hobby with several different flavours. I don't necessarily like all of them, but I try to understand most, so that I can learn from their successes and failures.

DMWieg said...

I guess one thing to think about is this: in high school and college, before internet communities were quite so widespead, I joined sci-fi/anime/gaming clubs sponsored by my schools. In those clubs, we had people who had very different interests. I met some good people that I might not have if I'd been born later. Now that we can fragment ourselves into a niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche group, we can isolate ourselves from anyone who doesn't share our particular brand of nerddom. On one hand, it's nice to be able to find people with whom we can share a very specific interest, but at the same time, you deny yourself the chance to broaden your horizons in terms of interest and in terms of people you might befriend.

Anonymous said...

I think "might befriend" in the post above is the operative term. Once factionalism begins, wanting to or even thinking of befriending someone from another "camp" becomes anathema. Indeed, the xenophobia gets so ridiculous sometimes I wonder if society itself isn't coming apart beneath a blanket propaganda.

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