Barriers and perceptions of the Forge

So, here my friend Kevin Weiser interviewed my friend Ron Edwards. They talked about the Forge, and the notorious “Forge cult” thing came up. That then had a small echo effect on Twitter, including this post by Josh of the Brilliant Gameologists (whose last name I don’t know — sorry Josh).

On Twitter, I remarked to Vincent Baker (also a friend!) that the cult label is a distraction, but there is something going on with the label. He basically agreed. Now, keep in mind, Vincent and Ron operate the Forge! And, that I have long been a Forge proponent and all that. But, in last couple years, I haven’t participated there much at all.

So, the “Forge is a cult” thing. What’s going on here?

Well, one thing that’s not going on is idenity politics and posturing. That has gone on (and probably will continue), but that’s not the issue here and now.

The “cult” thing is really about barriers. There are different kinds here.

First, there’s the barrier of entry — someone who observes the Forge, appreciates it’s mission, but can’t penetrate the language or the social rules or whatever thing. Despite wanting to participate, they bounce off the surface instead.

Next, there’s the barrier of ideas. This probably comes in two forms, and these two overlap some. There are people who see the philosophies of the Forge as single-minded or wrong or just not very useful to them. And, there are folks who see the business model (i.e. creator owned publishing) as not right for their purposes. So, at best they see the Forge (and to some degree the Forge sees them) at best as tangential, and at worst as contrary. Perhaps even to the point of challenging their very profession and livelihood. I’ve seen people describe themselves and their games as attractive in part because they are not associated with the Forge. In essence, leveraging their identity and marketing as contrarian in effort to appeal to others who confront the barrier of ideas.

And, there’s the barrier of play. This is more true of players rather than of publishers or would-be publishers. There is a sense out there, I think, that if you interact with the Forge, “they” will critique your group’s play as wrong or awful or something. That you’ll be shamed. That you have to go through some kind of odd purification before you’re accepted. This is profoundly not the case. It’s an unfortunate misconception that contributes to the “cult” thing. But, still, it’s out there in people’s thoughts.

Finally, I think there’s an emerging barrier — the barrier of obscurity. I think we can confidently point to a declining trend in the Forge’s reach and relevance. It’s presence at GenCon is smaller. It’s influence online is lesser. Now, the Forge is still purring along as it always has. It’s still doing the same thing in its forums. But, there’s growing perception that it’s become quieter and less important. And, people and designers wander elsewhere as a result.

All of these barriers add up. People think, “Hey, there’s this thing over there called the Forge. And, you know what, it has some weird qualities to me. It sort of seems like a cult.”

And, then we’re all ships passing in the ether.

Now, so what? Right?

The Forge has a perception problem, whether or not the barriers have factual merit. Ron knows this, and he doesn’t wish to remedy it for various reasons. He’s doing exactly what he wants to do with the Forge as a thing in the hobby, as is his right, of course.

I still support the Forge with that. But, my activity there remains scant. I’ve just recently started to move in other directions that are, in their small way for just me and my games, confronting the perceptions described above.