Friday, May 26, 2023

On the Importance of Fandom

[I ask] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. — John 17:20-21

One of the important principles in Orthodoxy Christianity is the idea that multiplicity is capable of becoming one. Through Christ, the various nations of the earth become one church despite all of the various things that we humans do to try and separate ourselves from each other.

This idea of one and many exists in every order of creation from the most high (God is both One and Three) all the way down to subatomic where electons, protons, and neutrons are gathered together as the building blocks of matter.

I don’t normally lead with such theological musings, but I want make clear the persupposition for why I find such beauty and joy in the idea of fandoms. When a fandom manifests itself properly, the love that each individual has for said franchise, game, hobby, sport, etc. can overcome all kinds of differences we impose upon ourselves and each other. 

For example, the majorty of the folks who read this blog are not Orthodox Christan, and I would venture a good chunk do not even consider themselves Christian. Despite this, we can all gather in this corner of the internet and revel in the love we have for RPGs. That love overcomes the fact that we do not all agree about religion. It can also overcome all kinds of barriers such as language, race, politics, ethnicity, gender, etc.

To put it theologically, the unity that Christ gives us through the Cross, the Resurrection, and His Church manifests itself in a small way through fandoms. Conversly, the unity we find in fandoms demonstrate that the unity promised by Christ is very real.

As a consequence, I firmly believe that the reason our beloved IPs from Star Wars to Indiana Jones, to Star Trek, to Dungeons & Dragons are in such bad shape is the fact that the companies that are in control of these IPs have roundly rejected the fundamental premise of unity from multiplicity and the role fandoms play in overcoming differences.

Companies such as WotC, Disney, Warner, etc. have almost universally adopted ideas found in Critical Race Theory, Intersectional Feminism, and Diversity Equity and Inclusion. At first glance, all of these concepts are laudable. There is no question that various groups of people have suffered at the hands of others throughout history and that trying to fix the various problems that come from this suffering is something I would hope everyone is on board with.

There is one very large however here, though. All of these ideas are based on a dialectic — the Opressed versus the Opressor. As a consequence, every single one of these ideas requires division. Not a single one of these ideas can ever unify humanity because the smallest possible number in a dialectic is always two.

Thus, when the fandom becomes hostile to the direction a company is taking a particular IP, these ideas don’t allow for love to overcome differences of opinion. They don’t allow for fandoms to become part of the solution. Rather, the fandom is moved from the in-group (the Oppressed) into the out-group (the Oppressor). This is why fans have been accused of being bigoted in all kinds of ways over the last several years.

Those of us who participate in RPGs are very fortunate because the OGL was born out of fandom. It was designed in such a way that the love we have of D&D could empower us to produce a plethora of products for this hobby. We have seen the fruits of that love and don’t every want to go back. This is why WotC’s attempts to ditch the OGL has been received with such a pushback from across the entire fandom. At some level, we have come to understand that the unity we find in participating in this hobby at all levels is much more profound and valuable than anything WotC could offer alone as the gatekeeper of everything D&D. 

While RPGs are a different medium than television or film, nonetheless, what has happened in the world of TTRPGs is a blueprint for fandoms to move forward and beyond the dialectic being imposed upon us by the likes of WotC, Disney, etc. We can participate in our fandoms (and make money doing so) in all kinds of ways that don’t involve us giving these corporations a dime.

We have a capacity to be one. They have limited themselves to merely being two.

They need us far more than we need them. 

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