“Isolation is the sum total of wretchedness to a man.”
Good day, NPCs.
Such a great descriptor: NPC. I am happy to have come across that little moniker for anyone reading this. It wasn’t my idea (I believe the Black Humor Mage suggested it, but I could be mistaken) though I’ve come to enjoy using it. Calling someone a non-playable character isn’t an insult of any kind. Nothing derogatory. It’s a non-qualitative term simply used to describe someone who reads TWRM and isn’t on our writing staff.
So if you’re a contributor and you’re reading this… uhh…
Anyway, calling our readers NPCs allows me to escape having to make relational or value-statement associations for our readers. Of course I value you and I’m thankful for you taking the time to read our work, but in this way I don’t have to be trapped into calling individuals “friends” who are evidently not “my friends”, in the context of fandoms.
See what I’ve come to realize is that there’s an actual barrier to establishing a friendship with someone based on the franchises, the movie universes, the characters, and the video game publishers that they like and the consoles they play. Is that such a revelation? Not really, but “fanboyism” demands a set of suppositions which prescribe what I must enjoy and what I must hate; not to be left out, there’s “fangirlism” too, though “fangirling” seems to be used more frequently to describe freakouts whereas being called a fanboy seems to be used more frequently to dismiss someone’s assertions. I’m sorry, this is just the way it is. We are all imprisoned by the brandings and logos we consume, incapable of associating with “the other”.
Of course if I enjoy DC comics then I must hate Marvel comics. Certainly if I play PlayStation then I must despise Xbox. Obviously if I like Coke I can’t drink Pepsi (in actuality I hate Coke, who on Earth would drink that?!). This trickles down to the individuals on the other “side”. Fandoms automatically draw lines and borders across which wars must be fought to establish which region is better. Fandom involves fighting, ah but not “in-fighting”. Fans in a single fandom debate but fans across fandoms hate.
I am reminded of the opening scenes in Kubrick’s unparalleled 2001: a Space Odyssey, wherein prehistoric man fought tooth and nail, tribe against tribe, over a muddy waterhole full of mosquito larva and tapir feces. You may remember how one group of apes chased away the other and I always wondered this: what did those tribes talk about that night? Undoubtedly they spent their time concocting elaborate conspiracy theories about how the other tribe wanted to destroy ape-country. Surely they assured themselves of their impending victory or eased the sting of their defeat by convincing themselves of their moral and intellectual superiority.
If those dull grunts and growls could be translated, perhaps they might’ve said “that other tribe doesn’t appreciate deep puddles like we do. We like them deep. That other tribe is into all that shallow stuff. They suck for liking tapir meat. Bison is much better. They don’t know squat.” Millennia later, how much has changed? This kind of infectious tribalism has corrupted all discourse in our critical thinking, in our political landscape, even in our discussion of video games and movies, things which are meant to bring us joy. It is all too easy and tempting to ridicule someone based on their likes.
We are trained to pick sides and stick with them. Somebody else must be wrong and our side must be God.
The catalyst for this post was a noisy falling out with someone who formerly wrote on TWRM. Unfortunately, the discussion turned debate turned character assassination turned ugly and it occurred in our group chat so it wasn’t private, but even more sadly, I severed an association. Not with a “friend” by the standards of fanboyism but with a human being. This isn’t about naming someone and throwing them under the bus, wielding whatever audience this post may have to elicit sympathy for my “tribe” and hostility toward the “other”. This is about what went wrong.
I wanted The Well-Red Mage to be a place founded on mutual respect where discussion can freely take place and to my shame I contributed to an argument that ran afoul of that dream. It was, hilariously and pointlessly, a debate on whether games are an art form or not.
It’s not enough to say “well only trolls out there in the void say inflammatory and deliberately provocative stuff like that”, because then I’m just creating another “other”, yet another tribe to align myself against. This recent event is on me and now it’s my responsibility to try to bring the group back to positivity, if I can. To whatever extent the group was harmed, that’s on me. I don’t know what I can do in the future but I only have the power to change myself. I know what I need to work on. Not pretentiously steamrolling over people in an argument is one of them.
This isn’t a “why can’t we all just get along?” kind of post. That’s too simple.
But is it possible…? Can there exist mutual respect between two “opposing parties”, if indeed they can see themselves as more than that? Can respect still be worked toward even if a rogue agent in the mix is personally against it?
Maybe things don’t have to be this way. Maybe I can have a conversation with someone who disagrees with me. Maybe I can talk to somebody who likes something I don’t like. Maybe I can convince someone to like what I like and see my side of the picture, or maybe I can’t… but either way that doesn’t change the fact that they’re a human being, nor does it change the ancient admonition to love my neighbor as myself.
In your service, my friends,
-The Well-Red Mage