Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thoughts: Communities and Platforms

Communities ("♫ So happy together... ")

One thing I keep reading on Facebook (on the French speaking groups, notably) is "how nice our community is". Now, I'm definitely not going to argue with that. (Whew! 😮) I'm more worried about the intellectual shortcuts that can be associated with the whole notion of "community".

Like many of you know, I'm in my (young 😛) mid-forties, and I've dabbled in plenty of "geekish" fields of interest. I'm a big fan of board games in general, having been more-or-less involved with a local convention (Ludo-Outaouais) since its inception. Before that, I spent a lot of time involved with "Interactive Fiction" - that is, text (yes kids, text) adventure games. And before that, I was into LARPing. In other words, I have been part of a number of "communities" in the past 25 years or so.

A nerd is a nerd is a nerd

One thing I noticed along the years is how volatile those communities turned out to be. Even those that seemingly endured over several years went through many different incarnations, led by different people. Yes, I said "led", because even when a community doesn't have any real "authority" structure, it will still have leaders. (Authority and leadership being two different concepts.) Heck, you don't even need to want to lead to be leader. In the end, there are always individuals who end up driving a number of initiatives. In parallel, you also have "jesters", "mascots" or whatever you call it - people who, through jokes and facetious observations, help build out the whole culture of that community. Those people will come and go, too.

Communities to the rescue? ("♫ Yes we can! ")

On one of the English discussion channels, I read a room owner stating his wish "that the enthusiast community did more to help owners". As people asked him for precisions, it became clear that what he really wanted was for some high-visibility enthusiasts to come forth and build something - a federation of players, something along those lines. I was once again reminded of Ludo-Outaouais. See, there once was a point in our association's history where members would actively work on promoting board games at large - by hosting free gaming tables during other conventions, for instance. It was a noble goal, and a number of members gave us a hand, back then. But as some of our figureheads moved on, that momentum was soon gone. The community was roughly the same - I mean, it's not like everyone stopped being into board games all at once - but the loss of a couple proactive community members was enough to tip the general balance from "okay, I'll help" to "hm, maybe, not sure". These days, we focus mostly on setting up our own gatherings. Could it change again? Sure.

And so, while I absolutely believe that communities can achieve incredible things, I also think that whatever task you want your community to complete, should stem from your own example, not your wishes.

If you build it...
...well, it'll be there, for one thing.

Platforms and their impact ("♫ Baby, I'm ready to go... ")

Here you could think that I'm going to elaborate on social media platforms, explaining how platform transitions also bring up drastic changes within communities. And indeed, that's a fruitful subject. Hey, I could ramble on the ongoing "Slack vs Discord" debate that drags on and on these days... However, that's not what I wanted to discuss at all, so stop steering the conversation toward your own suppositions, will you? 😆

What I really meant to talk about are the different tools that members of the Escape Room community can use, either as consumers or as contributors.

In the boardgame world, the obvious example is BoardGameGeek. What started off as a "repository of all boardgames" grew to become a one-stop-shop with reviews, discussions, related files, ranking systems, external links - the whole shebang. In our local ER community (I'm thinking Quebec here, even though I'm in Ottawa), the closest match to this would definitely be Escapedia. Guillaume Benny's website does a great job at providing all sorts of useful info for Escape Rooms - including collected ratings. I can't really think of anything similar in the US, although Room Escape Artist has both a map and recommandation lists for some cities.

The thing I wanted to point out, though, is that those initiatives stemmed - once again - from within the community. Same thing with the equally (more?) ambitious Top Escape Rooms Project. Enthusiasts saw a gap and decided to make the necessary efforts to fill it, incidentally gaining further leadership within their own community.

You goin' somewhere with all this, buddy?

Guess my main message is:
  • Never forget that a "community" is just a rough mashup of smaller communities, which are in turn just handfuls of people with vaguely similar interests. You can't really assess the needs and opinions of "the community", but it's ok, because there's much worth in that anyway.
  • You think your community is pretty much perfect? Good for you! Make sure to enjoy it while it lasts. And nurture it, too - it'll be more likely to evolve into something you still love.
  • You think things could be improved? Be the change you wish to see, as Gandhi would have said. You'd like people to use a standard when rating rooms? Explain the one you're using. You think gamemasters deserve some extra attention in these trying times? Bring them some sweets and spread the word.


  1. I also have been thinking about what could be done around our community and the stuff that players can do might not directly meet the needs of owners. Though players and owners coming together though....