For the last couple weeks I’ve been thinking about gatekeeping, inspired mostly be Irina’s post about why she doesn’t participate in it.
Here’s the thing. There was a time when the people that liked video games, roleplaying games, Magic cards and anime were the outsiders. These were the people nobody else wanted to know. They were the stinky, the socially handicapped, overweight or just generally unacceptable in some way.
I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but we were the kids that were pushed out of the mainstream, so we found our joy somewhere else.
The thing is we all learned how to pass in normal society. We might all be socially awkward, but I can’t imagine walking up to someone in the late 90s and saying, “Yeah. I had a rough night last night. My d20 was rolling like crud. I crit failed my way into cutting off my own head.”
The person would likely look at you like you had two heads, and they would be right to.
I mean there was always the guy who forgot that D&D should stay in the D&D group, and talked about his +3 longsword of goblin slaying in the middle of class.
The rest of us learned how to pass. Sure we might get together for our Thursday night game, but we never talked about it to other people. We certainly never dreamed there would be more than one filmed show of people playing D&D.
Now don’t get me wrong. There was still gatekeeping, but it was less. Partially because no one wanted to be part of our group.
The kind of gatekeeping that existed was on a societal level.
Then the aughts happened.
The invasion of the normies
I can still remember the first time I saw anime in a brick and mortar store that wasn’t a comic book shop. It was circa 2003 and I walked into a Sam Goody’s in Moscow, Idaho and they had an actual anime section. It wasn’t huge, but it had stuff I never heard of before.
What I didn’t realize is that this was part of a larger cultural shift. Geek culture was being co-opted by normal people. Well maybe not normal people, but they certainly were way more mainstream then I am.
At first, I was excited. Having things like video games and anime and D&D all start to move into the mainstream was awesome. I mean the more money they get, the more likely I am to get more of it.
The problem was the normies who started adopting geek culture wanted the culture, but they didn’t want the geeks.
This one fact is what I believe has caused the most tension and heartburn throughout all aspects of geek culture. The people who were the most invested in the products got sidelined by well-meaning people who didn’t understand what that culture meant to them.
I keep going back to D&D because it was my first fandom. The thing is for the people coming in, it was a fun pastime that uses weird dice. But for me, it was literally the thing that kept me sane.
This led to Magic and anime and all of the other hobbies that I’ve dipped a toe in because they all shared a community of outsiders.
So where does that leave us on gatekeeping. The problem is that the normies have won because they have more money.
In a lot of ways, that is a good thing. I have far more access to anime then I did a decade ago. It’s great that I can turn on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon and find shows that I want to watch streaming. Trust me, that wouldn’t have happened without mainstream buy in.
If you want to be mad about Hot Topic having My Hero Academia merchandise, just remember that you don’t have to wait for an torrent to populate with a questionable subtitle job just so you can watch it.
But there is a part of me that does wonder whether Matt Mercer really played D&D before it was “cool.” There’s definitely a part of me that revolts when I think about people who got into Game of Thrones because of the TV show.
It’s not a nice part of me. It’s not even really a healthy part of me.
But it is the same part of me that would sit up late at night drawing maps of fantasy worlds that I wished I could visit while I dreaded going to school the next day.
Thanks for reading.