Us vs Them

As I attended NYCC last weekend, I was struck by the massive difference between the comics audience and the tabletop gaming audience. There’s a lot of cross-over in various geek-niche interest groups, but the contrast between the comics fans and professionals that I spoke with, and the gamers and professionals at GenCon in August was profound.

Both industries are having a hard time of it in this economy, and have been on a decline for a long time. Both hobbies are losing fans to other pursuits at a fairly regular rate, and not really experiencing an influx of new blood from any source. Both have fans prone to orthodoxy and “nerdrage”, driven to expressions of negativity on the internet with unfortunate regularity. Yet the comics crowd seemed far more energized, positive and hopeful than the gamers — even at the relatively positive GenCon.

Comics have taken a massive hit in the past few years — perhaps even worse, financially, than the gaming market. Individual issue sales continue to plummet, and some estimates place the drop in graphic novel sales (the only positive segment of the past few years) at nearly 30% this year. That’s brutal. Sure, there’s a massive pop-cultural awareness of the hobby’s core properties, thanks largely to Hollywood — but that isn’t translating to success for comics. And yet — the 95,000 people at the NYCC were energized, positive, hopeful and celebratory. Even the new artists that I spoke with were still wanting to break into comics, despite the gloomy news.

Contrast this with the gamers — GenCon was definitely positive this year, 30,000 attendees who actually were spending money and many publishers reporting record sales. But even at this relative love-fest, the negativity was there. Gamers were excited and positive about their own thing, but snarky and dismissive of that thing over there. My game is better that your game. My edition is obviously superior to your edition, and the publishers who tailor to your preferences are corporate shills who are only out for money. The designers I like are more artistically pure and possessed of integrity than the ones you like, who are obviously pushing lowest-common-denominator fast food. The negative poison that you see everywhere online was present even in the supposedly communal “gathering of the tribe”.

I’m sure there was some of that at the comics show — and maybe it just wasn’t as obvious because there were WAY more people there. I don’t know. Maybe it’s also that I’m more keyed-in to notice it with gamers, since I’m very familiar with the patterns and behavior over the time I’ve spent in the business. Again, I don’t know. All I know is that one crowd gave off a uniformly positive energy, genuinely excited to be gathering with people who shared their overall interests, and seemingly thrilled to be exposed to new stuff as well — and the other seemed far more cliquish, divided into camps even when celebrating their hobby.

That’s not even getting into the diversity thing. There were SO MANY MORE women and minorities represented at NYCC — not only the fans, but pros as well. Maybe that has something to do with it — maybe the presence of *actual* divisions (gender, ethnicity) among the base means that they don’t need to find divisions, as appears to be the case with the largely white, upper-middle-class, male gamer culture. Who knows.

What do you think? Has the gaming audience gotten to the point where it’s devouring itself, the negativity having poisoned the discourse to the point where not only are a lot of folks turned off and turned away, but the crowd is dividing past the point of a cohesive hobby?

6 Replies to “Us vs Them”

  1. I think it’s because more game people have suffered discrimination and exclusion than comic people have. Comics have gone almost completely mainstream now, whereas Table top gamers are seen as much more niche and outmoded in the age of WoW and the like.

    And as people excluded are wont to do, they create groups of their own and find reasons to exclude others. Never a pretty picture.

  2. Earlier this year I went to PAX East in Boston, the inaugural East Coast version of Penny Arcade’s celebration of console, computer, board, card, and roleplaying games, and I gotta tell ya, it was an amazing experience. I ended up attending as a last minute idea because it happened to coincide with a visit to my folks in New England, and I’m glad I did.

    There were a lot of good things about that show: the Enforcers, the voluntary staff, not only have the ability and desire to help people, they often follow up with you if there’s an issue to make sure it’s resolvedresolved

  3. The big thing was the attendees: no matter how many people were there, attendees were friendly, polite and patient. It was weird. Maybe it’s because the audience all had some kind of handheld tech to entertain themselves, I don’t know, but the console and PC game fans were the best behaved I’d ever seen at a convention. They seemed to recognize you as part of their gaming tribe.

  4. Yeah, I need to go to PAX or PAX East. I think part of the problem with tabletop gamers is that they’ve segregated themselves from the rest of the wider gaming field.

  5. Saw your most recent tweet and thought I’d chime in with some support. Earlier today I made this off the cuff post on FB:

    “Why are tabletop gamers (specifically RPGers) such damn negative nellies? I am hard pressed to think of any other hobby I’m involved in that’s infused with such snobbery toward that game/system/style/publisher -that-they-don’t-play. badwrongfun, indeed.” This was based on reading grumpy posts about the new Gamma World and a number of other topics that can be summed up in the same fashion you indicate.

    IOW, I don’t think you’re full of shit on the numbers or characterization.

  6. I saw a lot of new faces and entire families at GenCon this year and everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves. But, I also was witness to far too many laser-focused gamers who seemed to blot out everything but (enter favorite game here).

    Maybe it’s the interaction factor? Gamers are taking part in these worlds, interacting with them, changing them, and (depending on the game) creating them. Comics fans, like fans of other fiction, are pretty much just along for the ride. So RPGers have that sense of ownership. Then again, I sometimes see the same from fans of just about anything and everything. How many people said Lucas “raped their childhood” with the Star Wars prequels?

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