22 February 2017

A Revelation on Why I Love my Fandom Clubs

  Earlier today, I read THIS article posted by a friend of mine on Facebook.  It's clear the author's intent was to discuss religion versus the SCA as far as instilling morality and civic virtue in children.  That's a concept I'm going to leave alone, as I've vowed not to discuss religion or politics on this blog- it's about gaming, fandom, etc.  But in that discussion, the author touches on some things that are near and dear to my heart and did give me one of those phantom lightbulb over the head moments as I read.

  As far as anyone can remember, I've had a tendency to martial custom and tradition.  I was part of a Boy Scout troop that was led by senior scouts who were all JROTC, so beginning in Middle School I got my first exposure to formations, proper forms of address, military courtesy, etc.  Now, bear in mind this is the same time period during which my love of fantasy, science fiction and roleplaying games were all exploding into the huge mass of geekiness that sits before this keyboard today.  It all amalgamated together into my particular flavor of geekitude.  By the time I was in High School, I went JROTC myself, then ROTC in college, then a speedbump when I got diagnosed with sleep apnea.  A decade and a half later I would finally get to soldier a bit in the Texas State Guard, but in the meantime I was part of a long tradition of fandom clubs that had very martial themes and practices.

  Beginning with our Trek club at Round Rock High School and continuing to the foundation of the Caladan Highland Dragoons in 1995/96 I was drawn to expressing my fandom in a structured, martial way.  Members had rank and title, there were award systems, formal standards of how meetings run.  At the height of the CHD, a Battletech club, we opened every meeting with a battalion formation- and by that I mean a BattleMech battalion of two companies of 12-16 members each plus a staff.  Our STARFLEET chapter, USS Ark Angel was much the same.  We had an award-winning Color Guard who opened ceremonies for Region 3 for the better part of a decade.  The Royal Dragoon Guards, the 2008 reboot of our Battletech club, got back to the Dragoon roots - roots we still carry on as part of Fort Shorncliffe in the Royal Manticoran Army.

  For the life of me, I could never explain *why* I always wanted to run things the way I run them.  Why it was important to me.  Why our gaming clubs had to have such structure.  After reading this article I finally get it - the structure, for me, filled the same niche the author talks about the SCA's structure fulfilling.  It's a social construct that teaches members a set of values and behaviors- in my head, I can hear the grandmother of one of my young members in the early 2000s commenting how unexpected it was to hear her grandson using "sir" and "ma'am" in conversation and practicing manners he'd never practiced before.  This was a happy side effect of our club insisting on proper courtesies not just to other members - but to everyone our members interacted with while in club clothing or actual uniform.

  The social construct created things like award systems and rank systems that rewarded members for participation and for giving their time and energy for the entertainment and sustenance of the other members.  To me, one of the best parts of being in one of these organizations was seeing people that worked hard to make the club go be recognized for their work.  In STARFLEET and the Dragoons it was with awards.  In Amtgard, like SCA, it could take the form of noble titles.  In The Royal Manticoran Navy/Army - it can be both!  I realize that the structure and immersion that the author ascribed to the SCA - which was missing from the standard church experience - is what meant so much to me about the fandoms I have been a part of.  It's something we live, something we do, something we are up to our eyebrows in for hours or days at a time when we attend events.  It sets expectations of civility and respect that we all adhere to.  It allows us to, as the saying goes, stand alone together.  Geeks against the world, with our own way of recognizing each other for our contributions.

  I never could figure out before why these constructs were so important to me - but after reading the Huffington Post article above, it all makes sense now.  It's my context, my framework for interacting with people of similar values and mores - and I'm not talking religion or politics here.  The members of Fort Shorncliffe include people of many religions and none, people of various sexual orientations, old people, young people, couples, singles, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians...  but for all that, for all our differences in the things that really matter in our mundane lives, what matters to a Dragoon is pretty basic.  We don't care about your race, religion, sexual orientation, political views - are you a gamer?  Do you love fantasy and sci-fi?  Are you able to get along with others who share those aspects if perhaps not others in your life?  Yes?  Welcome to the Dragoons.  Fall in. 

  It's that simple.  Like the article said about SCA, it doesn't care what your mundane job is.  Nor do I care about the personal details of the Dragoons in the club.  I actually find the diversity wonderful, and lament the folks who would give these people a pass because they have body art, or piercings, or are Pagan, or gay, or whatever.  The people I choose to spend time with in the Dragoons are a family I've chosen, and they may be staggeringly diverse and possessed of qualities or opinions repugnant to some folks- I mean, one of them is an Arsenal fan - but in the end we have created for ourselves a social framework in which none of the BS that divides us outside our fandom matters.  We all roll dice, we all love gaming, and whatever else we do- that keeps us together.

  The garb, the awards, the ranks, the titles, just like with SCA all of it contributes to forming an immersive framework in which we play, and thereby learn and perpetuate our social values.  We are accepting of one another.  We are tolerant of one another.  We differ in our opinions on the big issues, but we leave that at the door so that we can all have a great gaming experience.  We show respect for each other both up and down the social construct pecking order - we know that the club can't run without the organizers and game masters, but nor can it exist without the "privates" who only show up, game, and head home.  Each of us is valuable to the organization in their own way, and brings our own talents to the table.

  So let's look at the things the author stated about the SCA that were "good" as far as instilling good things to the membership involved:
  1. The SCA has a practicum.  Yep, we Dragoons have training for members that instills in them the skills, courtesies and customs we expect of them for representing the organization to potential members and the public.
  2. Expectations of behavior int he SCA increase as seniority does.  Yes, the leadership of the Dragoons are expected to be examples of proper behavior and service.
  3. The SCA reinforces behaviors and socialization through play therapy.  Yes, play is what we're about, and in collaborative play we practice the behaviors and socialization skills regularly.
  4. The SCA is all about the carrot.  From service to gaming, the Dragoons uses the Royal Manticoran Army award and promotion system to provide the "carrot" to our members, rather than the stick.  Members who show the values and behaviors expected of our social construct are recognized and applauded for doing so.
  5. In the SCA, how you behave is more important than what you believe.  Absolutely.  If you're not an ass, and you behave with respect of others and the organization, we're not going to question your personal belief system.
  6. Your day job doesn't matter.  This, too, is correct of our social construct.  We have everything from plumbers to massage therapists to soldiers to sailors to professors to retirees to computer techs and more.  None of that comes into what we do.  It's about who you are as a Dragoon.
  7. The SCA is inclusive.  As are we.  Again, we don't discriminate based on any factor other than being a gamer, following our rules, and not being a dick to others.  Do that, and we really don't care what else you are.

  This article really helped me put in perspective why I love the structure of my fandom, and why I've instinctively gravitated toward these organizations since I was a kid.  It provides the context and structure for myself and people like me in a way non-geek institutions just don't.  I'm proud to be a member of the Dragoons, and of the Royal Manticoran Army.  I love recognizing my friends for their accomplishments, be it raising money for Extra Life or passing their promotion exam.  Sure, being a Private First Class in a fictional Army means nothing Monday morning at work- but it means something to all of us as we band together in our geeky pastimes.  Our stripes, our ribbons, our war stories about that time we assaulted the insect shaman nest in Seattle, or fought the Wolf Clan on Trellwan, or were cornered by orcs in Moria, or Stormtroopers in Mos Eisley... those things matter to us.  They're our shared history, our war stories, that which we bond over as brothers and sisters when the rest of the world and our blood relatives just don't understand the preoccupation with Star Trek and funny dice.

  So... I may not be SCA, but the same observations apply.  This is why I geek the way I geek.  Hooah.

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