On Jaded Online Communities
This is another personal entry, instead of a writing prompt.
To sum it up: I've found an online community in which I want to be a contributor, but it really doesn't seem like I'll ever warm up to the pre-existing community culture. Further, the culture itself seems incredibly resistant to change, or things outside the norm. I'll have to promise myself to maintain my distance or change my attitude and expectations, since up until today I was feeling a bit down about recent events.
More details: I'm a hobbyist video game maker. I make retro-styled video games that, if you compared it to some technology timeline, you would see these kinds of games on "old skool" consoles, ranging from the NES to the Sega Genesis. I don't do 3D games, since it would take a lot of time to learn and I'm only marginally interested in them. However, I spent a fair amount of my late 20's and early 30's deep-diving into a software development kit/SDK that allows me to create games without knowing an actual programming language. For nearly 15 years now, I've been making games to share with my friends, family, and other online hobbyists and game communities.
In one community in particular, I host and organize an annual "secret santa video game" event. The idea is that everyone who wants to participate submits a wish list of what they'd like to see in a game made specifically for them. I mix up the wish lists and then secretly distribute them to all the participants. So for example, I receive Bob's wish list and my goal is to make a game for him, inspired by the things in his list. Meanwhile, some other participant has my list, and they will try to make a game for me based on the things I listed there. I'll only know who it is when they publish their gift on the community's website. I'll play with it, enjoy myself, and then of course thank them for their trouble and efforts in making something just for me.
At least that's the expectation. But this year, I need to re-examine the process.
So that event has come and gone. There's usually a bunch of people who aren't finished on time, and I was part of that subset this year. New this year is another, smaller subset of people who publicly announce, "I'm dropping out this year, shit's real right now and I need to bail." I did my best to mitigate the negative effect these kinds of announcements would have on the rest of the event, because I was wary of the possibility of it affecting everyone and the event grinding to a halt. That seemed to work. There's about a 40% completion rate, approximately 4 weeks after the admittedly and conspicuously "soft" deadline. Factoring in the two people who obviously bailed this year, we're at almost 50%. There was also a person who missed the sign-up date for the event, and so they took a little bit from everyone's wish lists and combined it all into a brief text adventure, which I thought was very kind and creative of them.
Beyond this landscape, I ended up participating as a gift-maker and recipient this year (I've typically focused on mostly organizing the event). The game made for me is quite fun and challenging, and it definitely met up with my wish list in a number of ways. As for what I made for my recipient, I believe it's some of the best work I've done, in particular with storytelling and definitely with artwork. Within this community however, reception of the game is largely muted, beyond those who had a hand in playtesting the game in progress. Now that it's been released I was expecting a lot more feedback and/or acknowledgement that has failed to materialize.
I feel like I'm at a crossroads regarding my participation here. So it's pretty clear that there are some members of the community who earnestly provide encouragement and feedback, and even offer playtesting and critique while a project is in development. But generally they're not the ones who are the most vocal and opinionated within the community. There's also the notion that I have a much higher opinion of my work than it deserves (more about this in a moment). Also, it seems like I'm considerably older than the average member of this community, and that has provided some clashes whenever I've jumped in on public discussions. When I've begun topics for public discussion, it seems like the trend is to slag-on and belittle even benign topics, and I perceive this to be largely negative where no negativity is really warranted.
So is my contribution not wanted, and no one has spoken up about it for whatever reason? Is this simply how online communities relate to one another, and I'm the odd man out? Am I delusional and harboring unrealistic expectations? Am I simply bitter and passing judgment on the younger generation? Is it a combination of all these things together? That seems likely, as none of them seem mutually exclusive.
For the time being, I'm content with doing a few things:
- Keeping my thoughts to myself.
- Not initiating any discussions or presenting new topics.
- Not sharing any more personal opinions and thoughts, unless I'm specifically asked.
- If I am ever asked for my opinion, I'll offer some thoughts but I'll also make it clear that my response is guarded.
- Revisit the notion of being the organizer for events in the future.
It may just be that I'm not a significant part of this community and I will not become a fixture or an integral part of it. On the one hand, I feel that this is in equal parts surprising, disappointing, and unfair. I've contributed more to this community in terms of pieces of software and hosting events than most of those other people have. But on the other hand, I was never asked to do any of those things. I was given the opportunity by default, not by earning it or whatever. I've given myself a reminder in my own personal discussion board, directly in relation to participating in this community in the future: "Just don't."
Meanwhile, my Czech pen pal has seen the game, and provided a wonderful response that boosted my mood. A relevant excerpt is below.
"I'm stunned, [...]. It's so touching. A story adapted to a game. It's wonderful and you are very creative.
"We went through the game with my daughter together. I put my sons to bed and begun to play when she came to me and took me the keyboard and we played and laught a lot and then I took the keyboard from her again... she said the bat is beautiful. However I didn't introduced her to that furry fandom, she is twelve:-)
"I liked the searching with telescope, it was unexpected and playful. And that bicycle under the sheet, there could be anything, it wasn't for the story important, it's just like you sign your work. I'm smiling right now.
"So, I'm supposed to translate this? It will be my pleasure. And besides, I had already done it for [my daughter]. And as she said she would play tomorow again, the boys'll see her and they'll want to play too. I bet they will like it too.
I'm still stunned.
I couldn't have asked for a more positive critique. So that one response helps me in taking all (including a lack of) feedback and critique into perspective.