Swords Against Snobbery

I am addicted to snobbery. I recognize this character trait and fight against it, but it’s hard.

There was a point in my late 20’s when I completely avoided mainstream pop-culture. I didn’t own a TV. I wouldn’t read anything that was on the New York Times best seller list. It was next to impossible to get me into a chain restaurant. If it wasn’t craft, speciality, hand made, bespoke, small press, art house, independent; then I didn’t want anything to do with it.

I was convinced that a person’s preferences about food, music, and art, told me a lot about them as a person.

I was a snob.

When your taste in music, food, literature, art or anything else is a major part of your self-image, it is easy to be judgemental. How can you not be judgy when you see someone abusing themselves with a steady diet of high fructose corn syrup and Nickelback?

I’m over the top obnoxious when it comes to barbecue and coffee. Don’t get me started on barbecue restaurants that use powdered mix as the base for their banana pudding. Learn to make a custard you lazy fucks.

Preferences in tabletop gaming.

We all have our own particular preferences.

We are different people. We have different parents, different upbringings and different life experiences.

We develop preferences for certain things over time and will defend them. It feels like a personal attack when someone says, “That sucks.” We also tend to criticize something if we don’t like it. It is very hard to have an objective opinion about matters of taste. I try to do that but it is difficult even when I’m being intentional about it.

It is possible to say, “I don’t like opera but damn that lady can sing.” It is possible to say, “I don’t like Apocalypse World but Vincent designed a good game for people who like that kind of thing.” You can say that, but it can be hard, emotionally, to mean it.

Anyone looking at the #TTRPG hashtag on Twitter will see the phrase “the dragon game” used as a pejorative. It is usually coming from someone who prefers indie games about feelings and relationships.

I’m not immune. I have strong opinions about the adventures and supplements that Wizards of the Coast has been putting out the last few years. In my opinion, they are railroady, twee, vapid, and banal.

We see it in parts of the old school movement as well. One wing of the hobby has a disdain for anything that might be called “generic” or “vanilla” fantasy.

Where I think the biggest dramas come from is that our own preference bleeds over into us making assumptions about the people who like the things we do not like, or intensely dislike.

You don’t have enough context.

I don’t like mainstream pop culture. It is not my thing. I will admit, that people who watch TV shows like The Bachelor, whilst drinking a soymilk decaf latte topped with whip cream and sprinkles from Starbucks tend to be…well…how they are. BUT I have met some very nice people who fit that category. I might not like what they like, I might not want to go on a week long vacation to the beach with them but they are still people and deserve a baseline of respect and courtesy.

I have long hair and a crazy long beard. I wear black boots, black pants and heavy metal band t-shirts with occult symbols and skulls on them. I’m not a small man either. I’m nearly 6 feet tall and I’m kind of hefty. Some people are a little intimidated by my appearance.

People who know me, know that I am a kind and generous person who helps out where I can.

I just like heavy metal and weird shit.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years; You probably don’t have enough context about most people to judge who they are as a person. If all you know about them is that they like a certain game, or watch a certain TV show, or like a certain movie; you don’t know shit about them. Not really. As nerds, we should all know this.

How many of us have been bullied, made fun of, or made to feel lesser than because we have interests that are not in the mainstream?

Someone liking something you don’t like doesn’t make them weird, a bad person or an idiot.

I’m doing the work.

My tendency toward snobbery is not uncommon. Many of us sneer at the casual game player.

“You like games? Me too! My family plays Monopoly every year at Christmas.”

Yeah. Not quite the same thing is it?

I have made no secret about the fact that I do not like 5E. I also don’t like a great deal of the culture around 5E BUT that doesn’t make the people who love it, assholes.

I don’t like lot of the indie games and honestly, there are some people in that space that I hope I never meet based on the way they express themselves online. I know for a fact that most people who like those games are nice people. I did play games with some “story” game designers and enthusiasts when I lived in Western Massachusetts. Most were friendly and welcoming. We had the common ground of enjoying hobby games and being interested in game design. I learned some things from them during our play. One of the things I learned is that I do not like most games where every player has a lot of narrative control over outcomes. Not for me.

It is SO hard not to assume you know who that other person is based on what they like. Human brains seek patterns to know what to look for and what to avoid. That leads to stereotypes and biases that we are sometimes not aware of.

I also understand there are certain specific cases where, if a person likes a certain book, film, or other cultural creation, it is probably because they hold some sort of extreme and anti-social ideological view. Fair enough. I’m not talking about that here.

I’m talking about the fact that you can like Fugazi’s music but not be a straight edge punk. I like a lot of the old timey country music from the 50’s and 60’s. I don’t own a truck or a hound dog.

For those of you concocting a comment that goes something like, “Yea but they were mean first so we have to mean back.”

Grow up. Are you a child? That’s an argument for children.

In conclusion, snobbery in gaming doesn’t help anything.

It’s hard. I know.

It doesn’t help to assume that someone who plays <blank> is a <blank> who believes <blank>.

There are too many of us making false assumptions about all kinds of things to add one more to the list.

Until someone behaves in a way that makes it clear they are an asshole, don’t assume they are an asshole because some other asshole likes the game they like and therefore they must be an asshole too.

Have some humility. Maybe you don’t know what is up with that person and you should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt before you decide who and what they are.

7 thoughts on “Swords Against Snobbery

  1. Daniel

    Well said. I also am naturally a snob and fight against this a lot.

    My problem (and I inherited this from my father) was that I believed that finding fault in something was some kind of virtue, like I was performing a damn community service, when all I was really doing was trying to make my self look good by demonstrating my intelligence.

    If someone enjoyed something that I believed to be unworthy then I would consider them to be ignorant and proceed to educate them. How freaking arrogant is that?

    It was an embarrassingly long time before I realised this and I have been trying to stop ever sine.

    Now when people tell me they like stuff I’m like GREAT! Life is about liking stuff, so I hope that it brings them heaps of joy.

    If someone doesn’t like what I like – totally cool. It takes all sorts. I don’t need them to like the same things as me.

    That said, I am so aware how finding “your people” – people who like what you like – is such a powerful, valuable and validating thing. I just no longer believe that the two things have to be mutually exclusive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That all sounds very familiar to me. I grew up with a similar dynamic. So much so that I am very careful about what I share with my Dad about my life these days. I can’t take that much negativity in my life all the time.

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  2. Identity Fascinates Me

    I think the core issue is that a lot of people create their identities based on consumption. So when they are confronted with alternative forms of consumption, they basically see it as challenge to who they are as people. Different music isn’t just different sounds made by different artists, but the opportunity to become an entirely different person.

    I had a few friends like that. I play a lot of different video games and I tried introducing them to what I play, but they got very hostile at the idea. I wasn’t just asking them to play a new game in their minds, I was challenging their very identity as players of their mainstream game of choice. They viewed the playing of a new game as taking away from their identity, they were betraying what they played before. From the outside looking in it looked like a religion.

    This identity construction made it very difficult to maintain a relationship with them because I rarely played the game they played. And when they only did the one thing, that meant it was the only hobby we could possibly relate to one another on. So I found other people to hang out with and slowly drifted away.

    I wonder if this identity construction is the product of our increasingly mobile society. In the past, people would grow up and live their whole lives in one, or just a few, communities. They could get to know the people around them and identify with a like-minded community. Now it is normal to move across the world for any number of reasons and we probably don’t know our neighbors. So maybe allegiance to brand and lifestyle is a subconscious way to seek out people of similar values and interests to form community. In the same way one might seek out people of similar religious beliefs, nationalist identity, or political allegiance.

    Maybe tribalism of all shades is really just a cry for community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Daniel

      Yeah I think you are on to something. I think tribalism is definitely a cry for community, and I think it makes sense that those who were denied community (those of us who grew up “weird”) would shout about it the loudest. We need it, or feel its lack the most, and get the most scared when we feel like it may be taken away. Sure it can be toxic af at times (which is bad) but it’s also totally relatable.

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