Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Minnie the Moocher, by Cab Calloway. 🎵
Jenn Schiffer asked some questions on communities, so I thought I'd answer.
what was your first community irl? online?
Strictly first irl? I'll count my extended family, especially my cousins. My mom immigrated here with her entire family, and she and her sisters all got married and started families around the same time. Given that childcare has always been a hell (and the realities of immigrant communities often sticking together since, well, you're in a foreign place and don't speak the language) I grew up living with my grandparents in the house, also seeing one set of cousins daily, and the other weekly. We came out in a stepladder fashion, most of us 1-3 years apart. They're more like siblings than cousins, and while we've deviated a bit and made different choices in life, it's likely family will always feel closer to me.
It would be a while before I made friends I'd call a "community," but my Middle and High School's theatre communities did this for me. A bunch of us auditioned for every play we could, and some of us were capital-F Friends outside the plays but all of us got along pretty well.
Online? Hard to say, I was mostly a lurker until college. I'd probably list
- GameFAQs (not the forums, mostly the FAQs themselves).
- DCEmulation (Wayback Machine link because it's rather dead).
what was it about the community that made you feel welcome and included
Theater was the main thing to do at my school that wasn't sports, a packed lot of things I needed:
- Break from traditional masculinity (being an athlete with long hair felt weird, and also I was a terrible athlete lol).
- Cooperative instead of competitive. Teamwork in sports is important, obviously, but people would rather win with a selfish ballhogger than lose, but like, together.
- More diverse group of people (women and queer, mostly).
- Goals that weren't measurable in points or scores.
- Opportunity to explore being someone else.
It attracted a lot of other kids who needed that, even though we didn't have the language for it. I don't list these things as being strictly better than sports (my life got a lot better when I became physically active, and I'm often pretty lonely and think I would have made good friends or built skills to relate to other men by doing sports); just that they were what I really needed at the time.
Online games sites, even as a lurker, was a great place to be reminded that people out there were creative and engaged in the same fun things I was that I had trouble finding in meatspace. I loved video games and wished they were more socially acceptable growing up, so it was comfortable knowing there were people writing 1000s of words in a text file with all the secrets to my favorite games, or remixing the game music on terrible synthesizers, or modding a Dreamcast to play all the games I grew up playing. I guess I found it comforting that there were others, but also inspiring in how creative they were.
are you in that community now? if not, what happened?
Theater, not really. I'll always carry the things I learned with me, which I can't overstate. And I don't think you stop being a student of theater. Just like singers have their voices and dancers have their bodies, actors have their whole damned lived experiences and empathy, which you don't really turn off.1
A few things happened in college that made me decide to get talked out of theater as a profession (it was the dream, what I went to school certain I would dedicate my life to):
- The dominant communities disagreed with me and a minority of us who felt many ways about how to manage, direct, and wield power and responsibilities. An example would be like "should the board produce shows that bring newer people in and be beginner-friendly?" vs. "should we produce shows that we think will produce what some of us call 'the best theater of the proposals,' which often involves producing the projects of our very own board members?"
- I was failing other classes due to commitments I'd made for theater, and didn't feel like it was giving me back requisite satisfaction for it to be worth it.
- The CS classes I took were the hardest things I'd ever done, and I wanted to cross the moat of knowledge I saw advanced CS kids had. They also looked like they were having lots of fun. And most theater kids wouldn't find me there lol.
After 5 or 6 grueling classes I nearly failed, something finally clicked in learning discrete math and the theory classes that made computers a joy. I still nearly failed out of school lol, but that was more because I was trying to write fun side projects instead of doing my classwork.
Games, well, the monkey paw closed when I said "I hope this gets more mainstream" and we've got the shitshow that's video games culture today. I still play and love games, but most communities around them don't really speak to me (though I'm finding a lot to love in speedrunning communities).
Also, well, the things that killed Old Fun Internet came for the sites I listed:
- Mobile phones meant never logging off, + tens/hundreds of millions of new users of mixed technical sophistication for platforms to hoover up and monetize.
- VC-backed platforms consolidated the digital world and flattened it into a paste, now most of your "community" bases are covered by subreddits. A few holdout sites (TeamLiquid) still exist like they did, but most are falling out.
GameFAQs got bought by Gamespot and nobody makes textfile FAQs anymore. DCEmulation died and the emu scene moved to Raspberry Pis, I guess? OCRemix might still be around, idk, though I looked for a remix for Celeste and couldn't find much. WCReplays is still hosted, but it looks pretty dead, and even before I moved from Warcraft III to StarCraft 2 I'd wanted to limit the amount of Warcraft I was playing.
1. ^ To be clear: singers and dancers use their whole lived experiences too! I don't mean to diminish those forms, just that they also have a clear "instrument" and I feel like actors only really have human interactions as they presently exist, to study and how to craft and shape them.
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