In addition to posting blogs on here, I’m also going to have written work going up on the Monochrome Patreon. I wrote about some level design philosophy last week: read it here.
Fandom, as we know it, is very unique. Lifelong friendships are forged, and millions of people are brought together every year, at the same time as cruel harassment, savage interpersonal drama, and consumerist factionalism rage unrepentant. These incongruous clouds hanging over this pointed admiration could be collectively referred to as a sort of “Fandom Funk”. When working on the game design document for Monochrome this week, I thought a lot about what makes a fandom, what births a fandom, and how to foster it to be strong and positive.
First, we’ve got to analyse what fandom even is. I believe strongly that the act of taking in, understanding, and deeply reading media can be as expressive and artistic as any act of creation. If you watch a movie and take away something wildly out of line with what the mainstream understanding is, you didn’t watch it wrong. You watched it personally. It’s from this seed that the modern idea of fandom sprouts. If you saw something outside of the canon which called to you, you can take it into your own hands.
Urged on by the advent of the internet, fan art, fan fiction, alternate universes, romantic shipping, and more were born. It can connect other people that tap into the same wavelength, especially those in marginalized groups who may feel alienated by the mainstream take. The characters you love, or the world that’s been built, or even just a conceptual frame from the original work can be the birthplace of something excitingly new.
What causes a fandom to begin? The simplest answer is to write memes and jokes that appeal to the same internet denizens who would be likely to make up a fandom. As Leighton Grey helpfully points out in her GDC talk, this would likely just end up being embarrassing and pandering. After some significant brainstorming and some discussion, I narrowed down what I think helps birth a fandom into three core factors.
– Strong varied character designs
It’s important to consider all aspects of fandom as you design to encourage it. Players like to cosplay. They like to draw fan-art. Many like to create their own designs based off of characters. Characters have to look identifiable and varied, with enough interesting choices taken to entice an artist or cosplayer. This isn’t a call for complicated designs, though. There’s a fine line to walk.
– Relatable and authentic characters
While it’s often just a factor involved in writing well, fans want to project themselves onto a character in the game. This character doesn’t have to be the protagonist, in fact it’s often better if they’re not. Give characters depth, but keep them relatable and sympathetic. If a player identifies with a character’s struggle, they’re going to be that much more invested in their arc.
– Deep world with established rules
A lot of fandom activity is around characters and their relationships, but a deep and varied world can inspire as much if not more interpretation and imagination. What Hogwarts house are you? How about in Westeros? Would you be a storm trooper or a bounty hunter? If a world is sufficiently large, fans will want to explore the possibility space set up by your lore. Destiny does this well. It hints at grand battles between militant space marines. Operatic succession crises amongst eldritch horrors, that it doesn’t explicitly spell out. Whether or not I wrote dozens of pages of Destiny fanfic isn’t important, what’s important is that players love to fill in these gaps. If you provide a canvas, they will paint themselves into your picture.
The fandom funk is real, and it lurks in every community. While the creator is not responsible for the actions of their audience, if it is not treated as an afterthought, they can be very helpful in steering the community towards something more positive. Silence will only breed speculation, so if any negative situation maintains relevance, it’s important to address it if possible.
Also, keep the official community dialogue personable, set the tone that your community should follow. It’s very hard to get people to accept a tonal shift, so the relaxed personable tone must come early. Monochrome has already taken great steps towards beating the fandom funk. The Workshop has fans actively becoming a part of the development process. They also least having a very open and honest dialogue with the talent behind the game.
Of course, fostering a fandom is only useful if your game sells well and is successful in a dozen other ways. I can’t claim to have any actionable advice based on experience there. My advice on fandom comes from years of being a fan, and time in customer support. I know fandom funk well, having been on the receiving end before.
Community is hard, but vital. I didn’t include any pictures of my work this week as it was mostly textual. Hope y’all are in good health, peace.
If you liked what I had to say, check out my previous blog post about how it can be hard to make games in an uncertain world + attempting a humanist touch in level design. Or follow my twitter, @virtualvolt, where I’ll probably sound a lot less coherent than I do here.