Dungeon Masters, Game Masters, Labyrinth Lords, it be like that sometimes.

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Gate-keeping in any community is not a joke, it is a real problem. If you’re a fan of anything, there will always be some malformed morlock hiding underground who crawl out of his lair to tell you that you’re not a real fan because you don’t meet his special criteria — be that your physical plumbing, some obscure piece of trivia or your difficulty preferences. Sprinkle a little ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy on top to garnish this toxic cocktail with the emphasis on the first syllable. I think I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel about this behaviour.

I do, to some extent, sympathise with the urge in humans to be part of a special club with its own secret knowledge. Being one of only a handful of people at my school who knew or cared about Dungeons & Dragons sometimes felt like being in a secret society with its own language, and encountering other people at school who spoke the same language often felt like treading water in the ocean and finding a chunk of flotsam from a shipwreck — when you find it you cling on and you don’t let go. There were a lot of people at school who gave me shit because they thought they were cooler than me, whereas I always thought of ‘cool’ as being yourself and liking what you like — and I always thought dwarves, elves and goblins were pretty cool, and I still do. Sometimes it was tempting to think of myself as better than people who couldn’t see what I saw. When you’re being bullied, a sense of superiority to your bullies can be a great comfort. They’re just jealous et cetera. Teenagers do that, they find things they’re good at and build their whole identity around it. A smart kid will build their whole identity around being very smart, with… unpleasant results.

But there’s a difference between high school and the world at large. In high school I was top of my class in English, then when I got a degree in English I met a lot of people who were smarter than me. A lot. Compared to them, I was normal. When you got through high school by thinking of yourself as Very Smart, just being normal is probably the worst thing you can be. It can lead to a big quart-life identity crisis.

And then of course there’s drawing. I was always that kid in class who was surprisingly good at drawing. And people would come up to me, even people who thought I was a loser, and say “Wow, you’re like really good at drawing, aren’t you?” And I would act all fake modest and say “I’m okay,” whilst secretly glowing like a halogen lamp. But then we got the internet, and I started finding cartoons online by cartoonists who were a million times better than me, and I was confronted by the fact that I was, actually, pretty bad at cartoons compared to them. Pretty bad at one of the only things I was genuinely good at — it was a psychic kick in the balls.

So you have all these things that make you… you. You love fantasy, you love tabletop RPGs, you paint Warhammer, you draw comics, you’re a theatre geek, you’re extremely online at a time when the internet is still seen as a hobby for bespectacled shut-ins, you’re smart. And one by one you realise these are not special things unique only to you, these are normal things for normal people to like. This puts you at a crossroads. Down one path you embrace the fact that you’re a basic bro, you take your seat at the House Hufflepuff table. After years of being called a weirdo you have been given the gift of being a normal human being. You’re not cursed to walk the earth alone like the Incredible Hulk while sad piano music plays, there are thousands of people out there just like you. Go out, form a community, make friends, get a girlfriend. And, if your old shopping list of traits aren’t what make you you, what takes their place? How about being kind? That’s a good trait to have.

That’s one path. The other path is to feel like something is being taken away from you. Not only are you losing what makes you special, your identity, but these newcomers to the party, they don’t get it, man. With their ignorance, they’re eroding the very thing you love, turning it into something it never was to begin with, or even deliberately lopping off the parts they don’t like, mutilating it. You used to define yourself by being smarter than other people, by being better than them. So you double down. You find ways you’re better than other people, you pick up on small mistakes and you hold them up as examples of how they’re not as special as you. Being a true fan becomes a zero sum game; there can be only one. In layman’s terms, we call this “being an arsehole”.

So what did I do? I chose the arsehole path. I was a teenager when I started my comic, I had a website and a platform. A platform I constantly used to make fun of other people. I was a complete dick. Then, later, I outgrew it. I met my wife — who is smarter than me — and every time I went into my “I Am Very Smart” mode she just laughed at me. When I asked her what her favourite thing about me was, she said it was kindness. Me, the perpetually sarcastic know-it-all. I hadn’t seen myself that way in a long time. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. She showed me how to stop being a jerk by showing me a better way to live, wringing every last drop of joy from every moment, and being kind. So you could say she diverted me back onto the right path.

So I can completely sympathise with the impulse to be an arsehole, because I have been that guy. I find Bob very easy to write because I am Bob. I have been Bob, I am trying not to be Bob today, I will probably accidentally be Bob about something else in the future. I get it. I really do. I was a teenage morlock.

So, when I see these guys on the internet being complete dipshits I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and scream “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Brothers, in our lifetimes we have seen the internet, video games, comic book characters and now D&D all hit mainstream success. Do you not realise how special and awesome that is? It used to be when you found a piece of flotsam you clung to it and you didn’t let go; now you don’t need to cling on at all because the flotsam is the size of a continent, you can just walk around on it comfortably. You can live on it. The things that we thought were cool when we were kids, everyone thinks they’re cool now. We’re cool now. We used to get frustrated because other people didn’t get it. Avengers Endgame made 2.8 billion dollars. They get it. Heck, they made a Warcraft movie, for Pete’s sake. If that fact doesn’t convince you we are living in a Golden Age, I’m sorry to tell you

  • we are and
    you’re missing it.
  • My wife has been a lifelong gamer. To recap, I met a clever, funny, beautiful woman in her twenties who claimed to love video games as much as I do. When I found that out I didn’t quiz her for fifteen minutes on obscure gaming trivia to see if she was faking it. Reader, I married her. I am married to a gamer, our kids are gamers, it’s fantastic. When we first met, she had never played D&D, but so evangelical was I in my love for the game that I converted her. And you know what? It was so easy. There was already so much out there in the pop culture that’s like D&D that we didn’t have when we were kids — Lord of the Rings movies, Game of Thrones TV shows, Harry Potter — the work was done for me. And I didn’t just get my wife into it, I got all our friends into it, not typical nerds, all first time players. Now I DM for them on the regular. My 14-year-old self wouldn’t have believed it possible, but this is just my life now. And it’s so awesome. Exclusive secret clubs are over-rated, if you find something you love, share it with as many people as possible.

    So when I go on-line and hear about arseholes doing shit like this it makes my blood boil. I can’t believe I was ever that stupid, whilst thinking myself so smart. You are on the threshold of a whole new world of awesomeness, for yourself and others, and by gate-keeping you are standing in the way. It’s a freaking Golden Age. Stop being an idiot. Be kind.