Tribal Discovery and Adoption

Dinosaur Jr performing at Stockholm

Gaming is a conservative medium. The dominant vehicles of play, like D&D, are centered on the conservation of the past, and has foster a culture adverse to the exploration of new ideas. Even people deeply progressive in their politics are deeply conservative when it comes to gaming. Why is that?

I believe it has a lot to do with cultural shifts in engagement with the medium brought on by the evolution of the internet and social media. I have defined that cultural shift as moving from a tribal discovery model to a tribal adoption model

What do I mean by that?

Well, prior to online engagement, teenagers had to build their tribal identity through their local community, and the signifiers, particularly clothing, was limited by direct exposure. This meant if you wore a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt, you likely saw them in concert. This is what I mean by tribal discovery, exposure translating into sense of identity.

After social media’s explosion, this direct exposure became less necessary for identity creation. Add to that the rapid commercialization of pop culture and hustle culture, teenagers can get an unguided and wider, but sometimes shallow, exposure to new ideas. This allows them to select and discard aspects of their identity ala carte, which creates both fluidity in their identity, but also openness that no self-professed liberal of my generation can match.

Not to make a value judgement, but this  illustrates why it is easier for people my age, who make up a huge demographic of gamers, continue to engage with the same gaming content over and over again. They have over invested in the struggle of tribal discovery and any deviation from that is an attack on their identity. It is why hundreds of Kickstarters with the same core underneath a veneer of nostalgic nonsense like, Game of Thrones meets Spirited Away isn’t met with derision for its clear cash grab, but desire for more.

Okay, maybe I am making a little bit of a value judgement there. I am in awe of my kids’ generation and their ability to appreciate and support new things. It is probably why, even if the economics were more in their favor, they still wouldn’t be buying the work from boring old men of my generation.