So, how about that Critical Role Kickstarter, huh?
I’m seeing a lot of conversation on this, and while a lot of it is elation, there is also a lot of serious discussion about funding of creative endeavors, and finally, some generally not positive things about Critical Role.
Definitely be happy about this. Enjoy the things you enjoy. The only thing I would add is to be mindful of other things going on in the industry. We just had a round of discussions about people of color being underpaid for their contributions, discussions about underpriced RPG products in general, and how much work goes into products and what is reasonable to expect to recoup those efforts.
It’s cool to be super excited, but sometimes, if the only commentary coming out of fans is “look at all the money my favorite thing has now, that validates my fandom!,” it can come across as a little tone-deaf.
I don’t have a lot to say about this, other than it makes perfect sense to pump the brakes and ask “how did we get to this point,” and also “why is this working, when other people can’t even make enough to pay for basic necessities?”
The only cogent thing I would add to this aspect of the discussion is that the comparison is valid, but it’s also not a 1:1 comparison. This isn’t a Kickstarter for a game product, or some product that facilitates gaming. The most direct comparisons, in this case, would be for independently produced films or music projects. There is definitely overlap with the tabletop RPG industry, but it’s not a perfect correlation for a Kickstarter for an indie game or for a small craft supplier trying to get into making products for the gaming industry.
The Opposite of Positivity
Finally, I’ve seen a little bit of a flare up of “Critical Role ain’t all that,” and I’m not sure that’s the best takeaway from all of this. I think to some degree, this may be fueled by a feeling that all of the money that went to a Critical Role animated project is money that would could have gone to other tabletop RPG projects, but that’s not the well that all of this money is coming from.
Critical Role has fans that have always been RPG gamers, they have fans that have become RPG gamers, and they have fans that will never be RPG gamers. That means that only a part of the money flowing to this project comes from people that may also have been interested in backing some other RPG related project.
I have seen a little bit of a resurgence in resenting Critical Role in general, for making RPGs a passively enjoyed hobby instead of an actively engaged hobby. I would argue that by reaching a broader audience, there may be some enthusiasts that start to enjoy the hobby passively when they once participated at a table, but there are also new gamers, gamers who would have fallen away entirely without a weekly game, and brand new people that may never game, but now understand the hobby much better now that they are fans.
It like assuming that the Marvel movies were a mistake for Marvel, because all of the money that has been spent by consumers on the movies would have spent on comic books if the movies never existed. The movies draw in an audience of people that like the concepts that were originated in comic books, but would never have spent money on comic books. This is a very similar paradigm.
So while there is definitely overlap in the Venn diagram between RPG gamers and Critical Role fans, it is not a 100% overlapping circle.
Critical Role has played indie games on their platform, made RPGs, in general, a better-known thing, brought more gamers into the hobby, raised money for charity, and regularly portrayed LGBTQ+ characters in the campaign. They may not be perfect, but they have definitely done positive things. That doesn’t put them above reproach, but it should put them above contempt.
I would argue that the most devastating time for RPGs regarding the Satanic Panic was not the fervor of the 80s. When Dungeons and Dragons was “the enemy,” and was being actively campaign against, the passion of that movement created an equally passionate response that spread the hobby. The problem came with the next generation of gamers.
There wasn’t really a “winner” in the wars of the Satanic Panic, because the people fighting against Dungeons and Dragons didn’t see Dungeons and Dragons as the problem, they saw anything that wasn’t “normal” as the problem. Anything that wasn’t understood in the very mainstream paradigm was potentially dangerous, because it took effort to understand. In the end, the anti-D&D forces didn’t surrender or get defeated, they moved to other entertainment media, because D&D was only ever one front of a greater war.
What that means is, for a generation after the Satanic Panic, there wasn’t a passionate crusade against tabletop RPGs, there was kind of a dull, pervasive “understanding” that RPGs were a weird and potentially dangerous counter-culture thing that “almost” died out. If you were into them after the height of the Satanic Panic, you weren’t a punk revolutionary, you were someone that kind of liked something weird and dying, and it was best to just ignore you while your creepy game died out. That’s way worse than having an active, passionate, and ultimately, engageable opposition working against your hobby.
What we have now is the opportunity for people to “get” what the hobby is about, even if they never fully engage with the hobby. In both comics and Star Wars fandom, we’ve seen a tendency for a part of the hobby to prefer the hobby potentially die out, so long as everyone that is still part of the hobby enjoys it on the exact same terms. Instead of a broad category of people that get 65% of what you love about something, there are aspects of the fandom that would be happy with a dying property that everyone has about a 98% agreement about.
These are random numbers to illustrate a point. I don’t have answers, I just see trends, and worry about outcomes. A lot of movements garner a great deal of energy, only to burn out as members of those movements turn their energy and attention on keeping one another ideologically pure, which ultimately helps very few people in the movement, but makes anyone that would benefit from the movement losing momentum very happy.
Call out bad actors. Tell people when there is an outcome that you wish had been different. Enter a dialog. Don’t build walls and call yourself the real representatives of the group and create new divisions that don’t need to exist, when communication might keep everyone moving in the same direction.