All Fandoms are Toxic

Inspired by some recent discussion on what a dumpster fire Twitter RPG discourse is, I present the Questing Beast Theory of Fandom Toxicity.

Virtually all fandoms are toxic once they reach a certain size. The reason is pretty simple: fandoms are groups of thousands of people that only have a single interest in common. This means that wherever they hang out, members of that fandom will be constantly engaging with people who share their enthusiasm for the fandom’s topic, but whose worldviews are opposed to their own.

This wouldn’t normally be a problem (we run into people with incompatible worldviews all the time) except that modern fandoms are often very intent on uniting the fanbase under a single “community.” This creates several problems:

  1. You’re part of the community whether you want to be or not.
  2. You get the cognitive dissonance of being in a community full of people who don’t share your beliefs.
  3. People within the community are upset at you when they see you in conflict with other members over basic issues.
  4. You get the embarrassment of outsiders lumping you together with people you dislike.
  5. If the fandom topic is a big part of your identity, you can feel that it (or you) is tainted by the presence of bad actors.

This situation causes the constant sniping, gatekeeping, and toxicity you find in fandom spaces. There are a couple ways to solve this.

  1. Make a real community, but be very selective who you let in (preventing disparities in worldview).
  2. Stop pretending that a shared interest group is a community and be very specific in what you allow people to talk about (preventing discussion of worldview disparities).
  3. Ignore the communities question, and just keep the group very small (200 people at most). This is basically why G+ worked. Most people knew each other on a personal level (often playing in each other’s games), so they were able to overlook worldview conflicts.

3 Comments

  • Scott Anderson

    January 30, 2020 at 5:48 AM Reply

    Never submit to a community. A community is another name for people you didn’t choose bossing you around.

    I have a hobby. I talk to other hobbyists. The day it becomes a community I’ll excuse myself and head for the hills.

  • Chris Nason

    February 1, 2020 at 9:57 AM Reply

    I have to agree with Scott, above. I don’t care for the “community” side of the hobby. This is why I tend to just read blogs rather than engage with the “community” at large. They can have their drama. I want no part of it.

  • Alex Robinson

    July 10, 2020 at 12:30 PM Reply

    A very good post Ben. I think there was a time when people were much more cautious about bringing discussion around ‘worldview’ (I always heard the phrase ‘politics or religion’) to anything. I don’t know if this was the case in the US. However this older way of looking things was done for a very good reason, namely that it was a conflict-avoidance mechanism. My personal preference is for ‘worldview’ matters to be left at the metaphorical front door, and concentrate on the shared interest ( -> your solutions 2 & 3), and I think we’d all be better off this way.

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