[Confessions of an English Zombie Fancier] Embracing the Fanboy Within
“How come you’re not in the Press Gang?” they would ask, in the imaginary conversations I frequently hold – the ones in which my decisions are important enough that others are interested in their justifications, and in which I am also a foot thinner around the waist, still have all my hair, and talk a bit like Andrew Eldritch. I would give a wry smile, a sage nod, and explain that I reserve the right to call a turd a turd. Being on the volunteer squad which runs demo games, judges at tournaments, and otherwise represents a company’s products would mean that I couldn’t say “this thing is a turd!” without biting the hand that fed me. Such would be the action of a base ingrate, and so I choose the freedom to say things are turdful, over membership in a thriving international community which gives you free stuff for teaching people to play games – you know, that thing I do on a regular basis.
If you can spot the gaping hole in my logic here, well done: you are officially smarter than I was until this week.
I have two problems. Well, more than two, but two which are of relevance here. Firstly, I have trouble with enthusiasm. I am cautious about allowing myself to enjoy myself. I get carried away, that’s my trouble. I ‘make a spectacle of myself’, a phrase I still hear in my grandmother’s voice every time I get a bit larger than life, and it still has the power to make me cringe and scan the room to see who’s giving me death glares, shaking their head in despair at this sad-act, or leaving the room in embarrassment and horror at the sight of a grown man behaving in this fashion without being on the television and coming with a canned laugh track. I suppose it would be OK then. It doesn’t help that I associate enthusiasm with hurting myself and others – whenever I get too involved with things, I tend to end up endangering people in some way. Thwacking myself in the eye the first time I tried to mend my bike, permanently ruining my right knee the last time I took up a sport, drinking myself sick because my alcohol tolerance is so unsteady, and this is before we get into all the other children who had scraped-to-the-bone injuries or near-dislocated shoulders because Tiny Von didn’t know when to stop when it came to horseplay. So yeah – I’m wary of this thing called ‘fun’. ‘Fun’ makes us forget ourselves and behave in ways of which we won’t be proud in the morning.
Secondly, I have trouble admitting that I’m a fanboy. I think it’s because ‘fanboy’ implies someone who flies off the handle if you criticise a thing that he criticises all the time, and… I try to be better than that. I’m very clear that “I like this thing” and “I think this thing is a well-made example of thingness” are discrete statements and not mutually inclusive. We can like things subjectively without claiming that they’re objectively good. I like bread and butter but that doesn’t make it haute cuisine. I like Ashes to Ashes but that doesn’t make it quality crime drama. I like The Sisters of Mercy but that doesn’t mean Mr. Eldritch can actually sing.
These two qualities make me a poor choice of advocate. I am well aware that things I like have flaws, and I am wary of over-enthusing about them. Yet, somehow, for some reason, I agreed to run a demonstration game of the new-ish Iron Kingdoms Unleashed RPG at SmogCon, and by some strange alchemy… I had a nice time. More to the point, so did the players, or at least nobody left with the frowny face on (apart from the one guy who showed up two hours into the session and ended up taking over some 5-box NPCs with the life expectancy of rice pudding on a cold Sunday night, but even he accepted that these things happen when you improvise).
The thing about SmogCon, you see, is that it is far more than just another Warmachine and Hordes tournament. It brings out the board gamers, the roleplayers, the garage gamers who just want to play until they pass out and receive swag for doing so, win or lose. It’s not a day out to see who’s the best at toy soldiers, it’s a long weekend in a moderately fancy hotel where you can see who’s the best at toy soldiers if that takes your fancy. Every bloody time I go I’m reminded that there’s more to the Privateer Press games than the attitude I’ve spent too much time pissing and moaning about on the Interwebs.
This year had extra bells and whistles on because I was helping. I find conventions awkward if I’m only there as an attendee – after a while my initiative dries up and I end up wombling around not really doing much with my time, because there are so many people and I don’t have any obligations to structure my day. It’s very, very different if I’m there to do something – like sit behind a round table for three hours, twice a day, and convince people that the IKRPG is just as fun as Dominating for Control Points in an ARM-skew meta. All of a sudden I have a purpose, and responsibilities, and I’m a lot happier.
It’s not as if I haven’t introduced people and clubs to all this stuff before – I enjoy it more than I enjoy drifting around playing for the sake of playing – so why shouldn’t I wear a fancy shirt and receive the odd free model for doing it?