I should have mentioned yesterday in my disappointment of the online experience that there was something I did gain out of running online. Something that didn't add up to failure. I met some terrific people.
Yesterday, following through a generalized discussion on game theory that can be found here, I found myself thinking about the basic tenets of social networking theory - all that crap that makes Facebook, a habit I don't possess, go. That people gather together in "clusters," and that clusters link loosely together according to degrees of - to borrow those from the linked presentation - social distance, frequency of contact, interests, importance of scale (how big and important the clustering is) and so on. And how, if you examine D&D from a clustering perspective, the overall community is a huge dud.
You have specific tables of a few players who, because of how rabidly they love the game and how often they play it, possess a fiery passion for playing the game ... to the extent that they want to do so in exclusion of anything else on Saturday nights. They reorder their lives outside the game in order to make room for the game.
Outside of that gaming cluster, however, ranging from two to fifteen people, there's virtually nothing to bind a greater community together. Clusters do not agree upon the rules from gametable to gametable; the frequency of larger gaming opportunities are few and far between, numbering less than ten a year, and involve a round table of stranger's faces; the relative importance of D&D - or any roleplaying game - to the rest of the world's function is largely dismissive; isolated gaming clusters are totally self-sufficient and have virtually no need whatsoever of other gaming groups, eliminating any requirement for reconciliation; there is no organization of any kind that is not based upon selling products, which are not produced with an eye towards any cohesive game structure, but are instead random ventures put forth by disconnected merchandising think tanks; and finally there's no custom or tradition that holds any true meaning for the participants, since the game is still less than 40 years old, barely reaching over two generations.
Fundamentally, to play this game, I don't need anyone except two players who will play regularly. I don't need any new products, it doesn't matter how anyone else plays the game at their table and I don't feel guilty for playing the game in a way different than the "old way." There just isn't any kind of social influence on my gameplaying because I learned decades ago that to play this game, I had to not give a hang what anyone thought of me for playing this game.
So there you have it. We are hopelessly isolated from each other by the very independent spirit that enabled us to embrace the game despite what our teachers and our parents said, despite the mocking of our peers, despite the bland and ignorant rhetoric of the media, despite the sad pathetic quality of the first gaming stores we had to enter, despite the cheap and aggressive surroundings of gaming conventions, despite all the crap we had foistered on us by merchants, despite every moronic clown bitching at the way we played and despite all the hurt feelings of players with dead characters and the eye-rolling of would-be girlfriends. We endured it, we mastered through it and we raised our middle finger in one great 'fuck-you' gesture to the whole world for their lack of understanding, and it has made us the unyielding, inflexible, self-righteously certain and confident masters of the game we are today. So confident that the last thing we feel we need to do is submit to the way the game is played by any other schmoe without a good, goddamned decent reason. And if they have one, that doesn't mean we have to change. Hell no! Sometimes a reasonable argument doesn't stand up to my personal sense of what this game is.
Yes, if there's anything we're certain of it's our certainty. There's no question about that. I made mention that there's no universal tradition to the way the game is played, but at every table there's a tradition that is so dyed in the wool the sheep's internal organs have become that color. We can't help it. We've had to fight our way against too many chair-warming critics over too many years not to have it become codified.
With all that, and the way it plays out online again and again, if we meet anyone through this internet thing that bends, or gives us reason to bend, we ought to be damn grateful. There are too many unyielding sentiments, too much "my way or the highway," not to be stunned when someone pronounces your work and effort to be something that's good and worth emulating. And I am appreciative. I have read and researched and stolen ideas and reworked the hard work of a lot of other people to produce the material I have produced, and I am grateful to those who have taken part, who have helped me out, who have offered thoughts and ideas without hesitation, who have stood toe to toe with me to make their point, who have decided I'm worth reading or who have decided to add me to their collection of blogs so that others might read me.
So thank you to the players who came along for the campaigns, such as they were. And thank-you for the rest of you bastards out there who have put up with me being such a bastard. I don't have any faith in a growing community of players - what happens at our own tables holds too much importance for us - but being able to join up with a few bright souls in this virtual soup has meant a lot to me. I appreciate it.