Gatekeepin' it real: On the natural condition of fandom

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Morrus started a very good thread regarding the unfortunate nature of some D&D players to disparage fans of Critical Role. You can find it here-

And I noticed, this morning, the following comment by @Reynard -

It's kind of sad that this thread, meant to clarify that gatekeeping is not acceptable at ENWorld, has turned into a celebration of it by so many. It's kind of gross, frankly.
When I saw it, I immediately thought to myself, "Self, why did anyone find this surprising? If someone started a thread on the internet saying, "Don't be a rooster," at some point there would be people coming on to loudly say, 'Cock-a-doodle-doo!' Because that's the nature of the internet, and, honestly, people."

But is that really true? Is there something about the human condition, and, more especially, about nerd culture and/or TTRPGs that either causes gatekeeping or attracts gatekeepers? I would say .... yes, as a matter of observation, that is true. After all, there is a reason that the Comic Book Store Guy from the Simpsons is a thing, or the stereotype of the obnoxious and officious record store employee (woah, record stores ....). And we see it today.

I am not saying that gatekeeping is good, or should be encouraged. Far from it. Just exploring why it's there.To use an analogy; if you observe that Taco Bell makes you feel bad, that doesn't mean you are advocating for eating more Taco Bell.

I would say that there are the following factors that play into the gatekeeping impulse, in general and specifically for TTRPGs.

1. A. B. J. Always. Be. Judging.
Call this the Paladin Postulate. People judge. People like to judge. Heck, that's why some reality shows are so popular. This has been recognized for so long that, inter alia, Plato and Aristotle argued that the basis for humor itself is judging- "the mixture of pleasure and pain that lies in the malice of amusement." That's right, comedy comes from judgin', and finding other people to be less than you. Eh, that's probably why they didn't get invited back to many parties. Anyway, the impulse to judge is a strong one in human nature. I will let other people discuss the scientific/social/cultural aspects of it (in groups, out groups, etc.), but the specific examples of gatekeeping we discuss at enworld are easily mirrored in society at large, or communities writ small. This type of judgmental gatekeeping was parodied by none other than the great Knight and Philosopher, Sir Mix-a-Lot, when he wrote the indelible introduction, "Oh, my, God Becky, look at her butt. It is so big, she looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends. But, ya know, who understands those rap guys? They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total {harlot}, 'kay? I mean, her butt, is just so big. I can't believe it's just so round, it's like out there! I mean gross, look. She's just so, black."

Those words by the good Knight Mix-a-Lot resonate just as strongly today. Or, as I often put it, Paladins, man, always judging, and probably racist.


2. True Fans.
In almost every field that involves people identifying with a product, a service, a piece of culture, or so on and becoming a fan (fanatic) of that, you see examples of gatekeeping. Which is really just a specialized form of judging that allows a person to feel superior as a "true fan," and thus separate themselves into a different group than others. But to use common examples-
a. Sports fans will say that they cheered for their team since X, while other fans ("bandwagon fans") only cheer for the team when it is good. The "true" sports fan will know trivia about the team and will be able to recite endless stories about how much they suffered, and how much they hate (insert some marker of the new fans, like a new logo, or apparel, or enjoying the new stadium).
b. Music fans, particularly fans of a specific band, will endlessly whine about how they loved the band "before it got big," and were able to see it in Jake and Steve's Rat Emporium, instead of Acme Satan Soulless Megabrand Walmart Arena.


3. NERDS!
Calm down, Ogre. If it makes you feel better, it's not just your movie that didn't age very well; it's most of those 80s comedies. (Yeah, yours really didn't age well).
Seriously, though, nerd culture has long encouraged gatekeeping, moreso than just "regular" judge-y judge-y culture. I would say that this is because, while normal hierarchies and groups in many areas can be achieved or established through various means, in "nerd-dom" it is often done through displays of knowledge.

Ugh. That is so reductive and sociological. Sounds like I'm discussing a bunch of bonobos, except without the sexy time. However, whether it's talking about what happened in a particular comic book, or how particular rules interact, or the differences in various types of programming languages, or discussing trivia, knowledge is the currency of nerds; the traditional way to show that you are In-group" is to show that you have some major book learnin'. It's one thing to argue about Star Trek Captain is best ... but you better be able to name all of them. And if you name drop Robert April? So much the better.


4. And ... D&D.
Which leads me, finally (FINALLY!) to D&D. This is a game born out of wargaming, largely played by fans and nerds for years, with an intricate rule system, math, multiple campaign settings each with their own "canon," multiple editions over time with different rulesets, and (going back) tables and Gygaxian verbiage.

It's practically nerd gatekeeping catnip.


Conclusion

It shouldn't surprise anyone that there is gatekeeping in the hobby. One thing that should be evident, but was not stated, is that the gatekeeping function both necessarily excludes others, and in many areas that it is traditionally strongest (such as nerd culture, sports fans, music fans, etc.) can often serve to exclude ... certain types of people. That's not a legacy anyone should want.

Share the knowledge; we should always be looking to create more fans of the things we love, and use opportunities that present themselves to explain why we love the things we love. Every bandwagon fan of today is a possible long-term fan of tomorrow.
 
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A very good post. I would add that part of gatekeeping is a self defense measure born out of insecurity: this thing is important to me but others feel it is invalid, so I will INVALIDATE THEM! Bwahahah. That sort of thing.

I don't remember the name of the film, and I never saw it, but maybe 5 or more years ago there I recall a trailer circulating for a D&D based drama where the main thrust of the plot seemed to be that a good looking,likable "hipster douchebag" was stealing the nerdy DM's players away from him. This was in the early days of "acceptance" -- when D&D With Pornstars was a blog and just a couple B-listers and maybe Robin Williams had come out as gamers. It's a good illustration of some of what we are seeing now: a reaction against the mainstreaming and "coolifying" of the hobby that was a nerd badge of honor for so long.

I don't think that's something we want -- gatekeeping so we can continue to feel special for liking something for which we were mocked -- but I think it is there and is to some extent understandable. At the aame time, among my Gen-X non-geek friends, I am the D&D Guy and so one friend came to me when her daughter (a sociially high ranked cheerleader type, and very sweet young lady) started a D&D group with a bunch of her cool friends.
 

Esker

Abventuree
Music fans, particularly fans of a specific band, will endlessly whine about how they loved the band "before it got big," and were able to see it in Jake and Steve's Rat Emporium, instead of Acme Satan Soulless Megabrand Walmart Arena.
Ah, Acme Satan Soulless Megabrand Walmart Arena. Or as I like to call it, ASS-MWA.

It's one thing to argue about Star Trek Captain is best ... but you better be able to name all of them. And if you name drop Robert April? So much the better.
He says, name-dropping Robert April.

Seriously though, good post.
 
Yup, great post. Something else that plays specifically into the gatekeeping that seems to be a unavoidable part of nerd culture is the extent to which, previous to this golden age of mass popularity, admitting that you were a gamer was a bad thing for your social acceptance. Gamers were 'weird', and very much outsiders. As a marginalized social group it's perhaps natural that some gate keeping dropped into place to help define the space occupied by that group. Some version of defining yourself in terms of the other. "I have this specialized knowledge that those jocks wouldn't understand even if I use small words", or something to that effect. The hobby has really moved far past that outsider status, but the gatekeeping remains as part of the subculture, and for all the reasons listed above, continues to be an issue.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But is that really true? Is there something about the human condition, and, more especially, about nerd culture and/or TTRPGs that either causes gatekeeping or attracts gatekeepers?
I think you've made a solid case for human nature. Not so much about nerd culture/TTRPGs. When every other subculture you list also shows the phenomenon, it isn't specific to geeks.

Sounds like I'm discussing a bunch of bonobos
Well you are. We are basically bonobos with cellphones.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I think you've made a solid case for human nature. Not so much about nerd culture/TTRPGs. When every other subculture you list also shows the phenomenon, it isn't specific to geeks.
Maybe!

I didn't want to go to deep down the rabbit hole; after all, forms of gatekeeping exist in all sorts of places to help identify in- and out-groups. The signifiers can be different (the clothes you wear, the language you use, knowing the proper etiquette, and so on), but they are there.

...but, there is something about a particular strain of nerd gatekeeping that is different. Either in manner, or in degree, or both.

Perhaps because the gatekeeping is so ... explicit. Something to ponder.
 
Talking of Gatekeeping, does anyone else think that, following Dracula, it would be a good idea to keep Mark Gatiss away from any kind of writing equipment?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
TLDR version: people are tribal and want to belong to a group. People have always divided the world into "us" and "them". Get over it.

On the other hand, I've found gamers in real life to be incredibly welcoming of diversity. There will always be some people who are bitter because they were into D&D before it went lamestream. The internet tends to amplify people's worst tendencies cough**paladin/gnome hate**cough.
 
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TLDR version: people are tribal and want to belong to a group. People have always divided the world into "us" and "them". Get over it.

On the other hand, I've found gamers in real life to be incredibly welcoming of diversity. There will always be some people who are bitter because they were into D&D before it went lamestream. The internet tends to amplify people's worst tendencies cough**paladin/gnome hate**cough.
First of all, there are reasons, GOOD REASONS, we hate gnomes.

Second, I think you are right. We evolved having to look one another in the eye in social interactions and throughout history we have tried to do wrong by one another from the shadows. Now we effectively live in the shadows by way of social media anonymity.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
TLDR version: people are tribal and want to belong to a group. People have always divided the world into "us" and "them". Get over it.
No.

The answer to people behaving badly is not, "get over it."

On the other hand, I've found gamers in real life to be incredibly welcoming of diversity.
Some are, sure... But, if we were really all that open... why do we have a special word for our not being open?

The stories of women and PoC who feel the burden of having to prove they are "real geeks" stand in stark contrast to your report. So, color me skeptical that we are really all that great at it.
 

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