Finding Your Voice

February 14, 2008

Over in Joshua’s “anti-publishing” discussion on Story Games, some folks were implying that this was yet one more instance of established game designers trying to tell newbies how to do things. In response, I wrote:

I don’t think anyone is trying to keep other indie designers down or tell them how to run things. Honestly, I used to have the sense that the designers who had “made it” were trying to keep me from doing the same thing, that they wouldn’t accept me because I hadn’t published something, and they kept describing more obstacles to the success of indie games, which felt like they kept raising the bar so as not to include me. This is part of what the internet does to these conversations, I think, turning them into something resembling fucked-up status games when really it’s just a bunch of fellow hobbyists trying to give advice to each other, based on our own subjective experiences.

Vincent once said something to me, like “I make a bad The Man, though I know you want one.” It could have just as easily been Luke or Ron who said it. As much as the indie roleplaying scene can seem like a new establishment, the same old wine in a brand new bottle, something that must be rebelled against in order to break free of the restrictions that hold us back, in person, when you’re not limited by the internet, it’s really just a bunch of people who love this hobby and are happy to talk with anyone about it, whether it’s play or game design or publishing or whatever.

So… if you want to take the accepted wisdom on how to publish or design or play and do completely different, then I say “Amen.” That willingness to challenge existing ways of doing things is what created this community in the first place. Honestly, it’s the only thing that keeps indie roleplaying vibrant and not a slowly calcifying group of roleplaying traditions branched off from the main body of roleplaying. Whether you feel like a part of the scene or not, YOU ARE INDIE ROLEPLAYING, whether you publish in the Forge diaspora model or not. And honestly, I’m always really excited when people do things differently, because my inner rebel goes “Damn straight!”

But that doesn’t make the indie games scene The Man that must be rebelled against, not because it’s some all encompassing blob that’ll swallow you and your game up while chaning “One of us! One of us!” But because indie roleplaying is way broader than the Forge diaspora. It includes folks like Malcolm and Gareth who hate the Forge diaspora. It includes people publishing their homegrown d20 book that are much less likely to be frequent posters on Story Games or participate in IPR. It may seem like we are all fighting each other to make money and, more importantly, to win status, fame, and accolades, but we really are all in this together, fighting as one for the betterment of the hobby.

While it may seem like some indie game designer on the internet is telling you how things must be done and trampling all over your dreams, generally, I think they’re just trying to warn you about problems that they’ve encountered. If you want to plow right into those problems or embrace them as good things, more power to you. If you have to say “fuck all this jazz” and walk off to do your own thing, that’s cool. I had to do that with the Forge in order to find my own voice and figure out what I wanted out of game publishing. Does that mean the Forge sucked? No. It just means it wasn’t what I needed right then. It may be that the stuff that gets thrown around here on SG (or on any other forum) isn’t the stuff you need. That’s cool. But I hope you find it somewhere and I hope you keep doing what you want to do, acknowledging other people’s experiences and learning from them without taking anything they say as gospel.

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