Eldrad Wolfsbane recently wrote Reevaluating My RPG Gamer (NON) Life. It’s an angry and melancholy story about work sucking the hours out of your life, at least that’s how I read it. Also, termites. But also soul and sweat poured into a thing that nobody uses. It breaks my heart.
The rest of this blog post is not about Eldrad Wolfbane’s decision to go back to his gaming roots: “All on paper, scratchy drawings and maps on graph paper. All hand written dice rolled stuff. I am just going to create stuff for my own personal games.” The rest of this blog post is about capitalism and how not to be professional, i.e. how not to “prosecute anything for a livelihood”, as Webster had it in 1913.
I’m only doing the stuff I want for my own games. The amount of effort I put into the Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #15 which never got published showed me that every step of the process has to be enjoyable. If it is not, if it is premised on some later reward and recognition, what happens when the reward does not manifest? Time is wasted and life passes and then we grow and then we die, that’s what.
It’s why I decided to only do the things I like doing. I don’t believe in “when you build it they will come” because in today’s society we have a “winner takes all” setup: we can produce PDFs in infinite numbers, we can send physical books all over the world, we can reach a global readership, we have ways to fund projects... everything is possible! It’s exciting! It’s liberating! But it’s also possible for everybody else. That includes the people who know how to play the Marketing Organ, that know how to blow the Trumpet of Hype, that have the experience. And when somebody wins, they win globally. Everybody knows them and second place is first loser.
Ah, now we’re back where we began: how much are you willing to sacrifice in this time and age of capitalism when you don’t have the capital? How much work will you do upfront, exploiting yourself, working in the great lottery of life hoping for a big break? It’s dreams and fantasies, and we are as prone to them as everybody else. And the big machine will eat us up and spit us out, thoroughly chewed and maybe even spit upon. Just look at show business, at the music industry, anything where capital and fame is important. The winner takes it all. How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to be a winner? You life? Your relationship? Your family? Your hobbies? How about: None of the above! 😁
A year ago, I read this great blog post by Molly Conway, The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles. I recommend you read it. It starts with the author meeting a friend who made herself a wonderful dress and is dejected when asked about an Etsy shop. The tension dissolves when the author says the magic words: “You don’t have to monetize your joy.”
I feel this pressure to publish in the RPG design sphere, and I don’t think it’s healthy or good. Some people enjoy making these products. And some people like buying products. And capitalism is made for this: capital allows people to make products that satisfy demand. As the capital flows, it creates incentives of its own. I’m not Karl Marx but even I understand that the people involved in this trade have an urge to communicate their joy, and the incentives are in their favour. For some, it’s marketing. For some, it’s unboxing videos. For others, it’s reviews. But for all of us, it’s capitalism at its best: creating demand, and satisfying demand by producing things.
But here’s the rub: if you’re strapped for capital, then it doesn’t work that way. That’s why when we work for money, we often feel bad about it, disenfranchised. Because if we were doing it for fun, then somebody else would be doing it for free. That’s why fun isn’t something you’re getting money for. It’s work. Of course, some people try to tell us that work should be fun, and that we should enjoy it, and love it, and pour our soul into it. But remember: all they’re saying is that they’d like us to do the work for free. That’s not how it works, but if enough of us believe it, then wages go down. Work is not about having fun, and having fun should not turn into work.
I’m not poor, so I don’t know anything about the realities of hustling. But it seems to me that if you’re poor, you need to work and make money. But for the love all the things you love, don’t turn the thing you love into a hustle. Flip burgers or something. Keep work and play separate. Don’t turn your game into a poorly paid job.
Instead, consider how the act of playing our beloved games is fundamentally anti-capitalistic: you don’t need to buy much of anything to play. Pen, paper, dice, maybe a book or two. And then: no money required for years and years. You can’t grow a global reach by playing at a table. I guess you can grow a global audience with YouTube and Twitch and all that, and maybe monetise it, but mostly the providers of these services are going to monetise you. The actual game needs no money. You talk and laugh, and scribble and dabble, howl and haggle, and a good time is had. There is no “growth.” There is no “increased productivity.” It’s about the basic joys of being alive: talking to people, imagining things and telling others about it.
Focus on the things that you love doing.
If you want to put that thing you loved making out for other people to see, write a blog post, create a PDF using the means of production you have at your disposal, and do it, for the joy of it. Don’t expect a reward or later recognition. That’s not how it works for the great majority of us. Make it free and keep capitalism out of your hobbies.