Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Say & Respect “It’s Just Not for Me”

 If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

Benjamin Franklin

As members of the adventure gaming hobby and fans of many media properties related to it, we enthusiastically promote the things we love that provide us entertainment, respite, and joy. It’s a pretty human quality; we want to share our happiness with others to enrich someone else’s life and to make more like-minded friends so our community grows. We do this across the broad spectrum of our interpersonal interactions: at game stores, parties, conventions, family gatherings, in person and online, with anyone we suspect has similar tastes. Unfortunately the more specific we get – and even the more zealously enthusiastic we get – the more we risk turning someone off from the particular thing we like. We’re also susceptible to others vehemently recommending things we might or even should like if we consider ourselves part of a particular fan community. Sometimes something we love isn’t someone else’s “cup of tea.” And sometimes another person, even a close friend, recommends something that’s “Just not for me.” We should respect others’ decisions in what’s suitable for them and hope others afford us the same courtesy.

Way back in high school, when I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy – and babbled on about it in the context of my engagement with roleplaying games – a friendly teacher who shared my interest in fantasy literature encouraged me to read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels. Every time I ran into this teacher, even after I graduated high school and college, he’d glare at me and growl “Gormenghast!” in some attempt to influence me to read the books. (I’m certain if I encountered him again today, almost 40 years later, he’d still remind me.) To this day I’ve still never read the Gormenghast novels, partly because, from what I’ve heard of them, they’re not really my flavor of fantasy, and partly because, well, one overly zealous fan turned me off from them. (And perhaps one of these days I’ll overcome both misgivings and pick up a used copy to read so I can judge this first hand.)

Like many, I am enthusiastic about my passions, mostly related to games, a pastime one can enjoy solitaire only so much and which most folks see as a social activity involving several people. I sometimes cringe thinking back about how much I badgered people to try the things I really enjoyed in my youth. I pestered neighborhood kids to come over and spend after-school time playing games; mostly roleplaying games, but also board games and my own very juvenile designs. In high school I was the odd geek who fixated on roleplaying games, which, along with a host of other personality traits, marked me even more as an awkward outsider. College offered few opportunities for gaming – although a chance to refocus myself on other interests – but when I discovered the Star Wars Roleplaying Game and tried finding any interested players on campus, I had little success. I was later fortunate enough to find friends who also enjoyed gaming, but even then I fear I pestered them into trying games that really only engaged my interests. I once convinced some gaming friends to try Empire of the Petal Throne, for which I’d devised some introductory adventures; we only played once, as I soon realized the preponderance of silly names they chose for their characters reflected their disinterested attitudes about the game and setting. In my older years, however, I’ve learned to take a gentler approach, making suggestions about things I like other people might want to try...and respecting them whey they mention, for whatever reason, that they’ll pass. It’s not always easy – my enthusiasm can still gleefully bubble over – but I’ve learned to repress my disappointment.

I have not reflected enough on how I receive other people’s recommendations about things they think I should enjoy. Years ago a friend suggested I might like Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries set in Egypt, which I embraced since it merged my interests in ancient and Victorian Egypt. No doubt if I spent some time thinking about it I’d recall other instances where fortuitous suggestions kindled new enthusiasms for me. But far too often folks encourage this old dog to try something new, a sci-fi or fantasy novel, a streaming series, or some game that I’m pretty sure isn’t my thing...and I humor them anyway; I give it an honest try, but more likely than not it fails to engage me. Most of the time they respect my decision despite their personal disappointment, especially because I tried it instead of dismissing it outright based on my instincts. On rare occasions people become offended that I don’t quite care for the same things they do; this tells me a bit more about them than it reveals about me.

Deciding something is “just not for me” isn’t a condemnation that it’s bad or that those who enjoy it are bad. Who am I to disparage someone’s favorite thing? But it doesn’t need me to approve or embrace it to bring joy to someone else. (Of course I’m talking about good-natured entertainment here; obviously I’m going to speak out against something that’s harmful to others.)

Unfortunately our current American society has become polarized on numerous levels, including entertainment. We cheer and thump our chests for our favorite sports team. We advocate for films we love, thinking everyone should at least see them once, if not multiple times because they’re so meaningful. Society’s general acceptance of geeky pursuits as comic books, games, and science fiction/fantasy broadened their appeal to more people who want to revel in what gives them joy. Fandoms are communities of like-minded people, but they remain susceptible to peer pressure: I love this, so, if you’re like me or a fan of things I like, then you should naturally also love this. This becomes more problematic if rigorously enforced, especially the more specifically one defines the fandom. Perhaps this stems from our society’s current inflexibility and an overwhelming need to define people with labels. If you like this, you should enjoy that. If you think or say this, then you’re a particular kind of person (according to someone else’s imposed rationale).

Humans are complex creatures. We’re amalgams of our past experiences, upbringing, personal philosophies, and exposure to different ideas. Despite many common traits, we’re all still quite unique. Try it, you might like it,” was a common saying when I was growing up, notably at the dinner table. Trying new things can lead to positive experiences; but we should respect when, after trying something, or even just considering it relative to our own tastes, we turn away with a gentle “No, thanks.” The concept works both ways, when we receive a suggestion or make a recommendation ourselves. We should foster a willingness to admit someone’s favorite entertainment isn’t right for us...and similarly respect when someone else voices that sentiment about something we suggest.

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”



  1. A good reminder, man.

    RE Gormenghast: I'd never heard of these books until a couple years back. I picked up an omnibus, but it's large and dense and my (limited) free time for reading has prevented me from getting through more than a handful of chapters. It is my Don Quixote.

    RE Elizabeth Peters: I've never heard of these books, but this seems to be in my wheelhouse as well...are they easy reads? Kid appropriate? (I have a couple avid readers in the house that like Egypt, 19th Century England, and mysteries)

    1. I found the Amelia Peabody mysteries an engaging read. Peters has a voice that’s accessible, first-person, grounded in Victorian sensibilities, and accurate in Egyptology details (Peters is the pen name of the late Egyptologist Barbara Mertz, who wrote some core and equally accessible histories of ancient Egypt). They’re probably kid appropriate, assuming murder, betrayal, etc., is okay (I don’t recall it being terribly graphic or gory). Not sure kids can appreciate the pacing and Victorian tone (almost mocking the adventure fiction of the time, like H. Rider Haggard), but if they like mysteries they might manage. They’re best read in chronological order, with Crocodile on the Sandbank the first in the series. Available online and I’ve found them in new and used bookstores. I haven’t re-read them in a few years, but they still offer some good escapist enjoyment at this intersection of interests.

    2. Thanks…appreciate the info. That actually sounds pretty good!
      : )

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