Tuesday, October 16, 2018

(Re-)Forging Gamer Communities

We fear change.”
Garth, Wayne’s World

The announcement that Google is shutting down Google+ by August 2019 has sent shock waves through the gaming communities that found refuge and flourished there in recent years. Many users are migrating to other platforms – MeWe seems to stand out for me, and I’ve joined – but others seek to retreat to their blogs and no doubt some might withdraw from this kind of social media engagement altogether (goodness knows I’ve considered it). Amid all the social media turmoil I look back and examine how essential platforms like Google+ have been in forming gamer communities that share inspiration, give us voices, and connect us through a common hobby.

Back in the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (the early 1980s) gamers met people at the local game store or regional conventions, or played mostly with our small, isolated circles of friends from school or work. Connecting with others relied on face-to-face interaction or communication through post or phone. We gleaned most of our news, content, and inspiration from print gaming magazines the postal service delivered to our mailboxes, with occasional promotional bits from the game store and rare mailings from publishers who’d somehow acquired our addresses.

Certainly the interwebzes have transformed all aspects of the adventure gaming hobby over the years...particularly how gamers connect and find inspiration. Gamers can now connect with each other and publishers through e-mail, forums, chats, blogs, and social media. Over the years my favorites have come and gone, some disappearing and others falling by the wayside as they fail to engage or satisfy me. I’d never done much with social media before Google+ came along (Griffon Publishing Studio maintains a Facebook page more as a formality). A gaming friend invited me to the beta of Google+ in 2011 and I really found it useful. Here I could create circles of fellow gamers, both to share my work and to find inspiration among theirs. Those in my contacts and communities helped broaden my gaming horizons through exposure to their personal posts, blogs, fanzines, game lines, and the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR) that cultivated fan followings on Google+.

I’ll really miss the concentrated access to the gaming community Google+ offered. The platform served as an easy-to-use tool to communicate with various gaming communities about my work in development and new publications; but it was also a venue where I could buy and sell used games, offer occasional promotional giveaways, share and comment on gaming-related facets of my life, and find near-constant news, content, and inspiration to broaden my perspective on the hobby. I suppose my Google+ stream was like an old-style gaming magazine, like Dragon or Challenge, beloved print publications about which I’ve opined before. The people and groups I followed cultivated similar interests; their posted content, curated by their inclusion in my circles, offered a steady stream of new perspectives, gaming inspiration, exposure to novel game products and experiences, links to blogs, companies, and designers to follow elsewhere, and a feeling of being connected to the greater gaming community. Like any edited magazine or curated experience it contained nuggets of pure gold and some complete dreck. Not quite as physical as a print magazine, and certainly subject to the transience of the ephemeral interwebzes, but it offered a daily flow of interesting gaming material to inspire and inform.

I’m not looking forward to seeking and rebuilding a new community hub that can satisfy all these needs. For the moment the Google+ gaming community seems to be migrating to MeWe. I’m reluctantly going there to try re-establishing my contacts with gamers and communities leaving Google+, but I don’t look forward to hiking up that steep learning curve to get used to a new social media platform. Hopefully the gaming community will find a new home where it can continue to flourish with the same vibrancy as Google+. Until then – and toward that goal – let’s keep creating, keep sharing, and stay connected.