Saturday, July 17, 2010

'Zines and Blogs

This will be my last post of the night (really), but I want to get it down while I'm thinking of it.

Today's question of the day at Grognardia was regarding 'zines...self-published fan-zines of the hobby...and whether or not the purpose they served "back in the day" has been usurped by the blogs, forums, and web sites of today...and if their original purpose HAS been usurped, is there any use to the damn things at all?

First off, I myself don't read 'zines all that much. I never have really and while I recognize I'm missing out on a lot of creativity (check out the free back issues of OD&Dities and maybe you'll want to get some of the new ones) I already download and read a ton of stuff. "Keeping up" with a subscription to anything can be crazy-time-consuming.

But let's put MY laziness in perspective for a moment. I have never been accused of being gregarious or a "social butterfly." I'm just not all that into it. I like to get to know individuals on a deep, intimate level rather than having a ton of acquaintances with whom I share only the most surface similarities. And because of this I have (and have historically had) very few close friends.

Not only that, I tend to put a premium on my own time. Much as I see the value in being part of vibrant communities...not just the gaming community but neighborhood committees, local business groups, charities, astrology conferences, fencing often feels like a pain in the ass to do so. It doesn't come easy to me...and I lose out because I don't make more of an effort to be a part of something bigger than myself.

My participation in the "Old School" blog-o-sphere is my first real, extended duration, concerted effort to be an active part of ANY kind of community...and yet it is still, basically, a self-serving thing. I get to (instantly) publish my thoughts. I am beholden to no one. I can choose which other blogs/forums to read/follow and I am under no obligation to participate or be accountable to...well, to anyone. And the worst thing that can happen is no one will buy or download or read anything I write/publish...but so what? I still have my day job after all.

There's no DISCIPLINE involved in writing a blog. Oh, I can plot my posts and re-write and edit and spend a lot of time researching topics...but I don't have to do so. I can be as sloppy as I want. I can be as off-the-cuff as I want. I can suspend posting for days or weeks or months if I want...I have no deadlines to make. And commenting on forums is even less disciplined.

Writing a 'zine takes more. Publishing ANYthing with a real lay-out and table of contents, takes more. More discipline. More focus. More effort. And in the end, they generally yield more value.

Even if someone likes what I write on my blog MORE than something published in a 'zine...can you find it? Buried under hundreds and hundreds of posts? Even I can barely find stuff IN MY OWN BLOG to link to...and some posts I look at and say, man, I don't remember writing that.

Blogging (or "blarging" as I call it) is valuable. It helps me hone my writing style (look at those dangling prepositions in that last paragraph...sheesh!) and it allows me to link up with like-minded folks and belong to a(n on-line) community. And it gives me a soapbox to rant from in relative anonymity.

'Zines - paper or electronic - are an actual RESOURCE. They CAN be stored and organized. If they have good stuff in 'em, keep 'em. If not, delete/recycle 'em. But to me, they provide an actual currency of much less transient/ephemeral than mere blarging.

What's more, a printed 'zine can do something that all the blogs and the forums in the world can't do, namely, lead someone to the hobby that didn't even know it existed. Or, while they may know of its existence, didn't know what it was all about. James notes that in the past, 'zines contributed to both the growth and vibrancy of the hobby, and I think he's right. And what's growing the hobby NOW?

Anything? Nothing?

I mean it's all well and good for ME...a 36 year old guy with more than a quarter-century of RPG knowledge and run searches on the internet for old school D&D products or specific publishers/authors/artists to check on their most recent product. I know what I'm looking for...I know what I want. But as my wife has often noted, I am weird.

When I was a kid, I spent many hours poring over a flimsy TSR brochure of all their games, reading the descriptions over and over, wishing I could purchase everything on it, from Fight in the Skies to Gamma World to The Snit's Revenge. I would read the reviews and ads in Dragon Magazine and feel the same. And when I ran out of ideas for my own games, Dragon had plenty of good stuff to provide me with inspiration...inspiration that still serves me today (really!) even after Dragon has folded up shop.

Hell, let me put it this way. I started this blog in June of 2009. I first discovered Grognardia in February or March of 2009. It was the first role-playing blog I had ever stumbled upon...and I had been on blogspot (with a non-RPG blog) since 2007! I had no idea there was an internet community of gamers...I never thought to look for one.

But long before my enlightenment, I was still going to my local game shops...buying games, collecting games, reading fliers and any free publications they had. Even when I was on a several year hiatus from role-playing, I was still visiting the game shop (I just like games)...and the right 'zine at the right time is all it would have taken to get me back into the hobby. I see other people stumbling around in the same shop, looking for Bananagrams or Magic with their kids, but still eyeing the RPG section. Probably turned off by the 156 page re-make of Tomb of Horrors...

'Zines do more than spread fun and creativity...they spread the Good Word, dammit. I'm often intrigued to see any of these...amateur-looking or not, it doesn't hurt to pick 'em up and flip through 'em. And if they're only a couple bucks I might just pick up one or two (the coffee shop by my house carries these tiny little self-published comics that are TERRIBLE...but they're $3 and I'm into supporting local art so I'll get 'em when I have the cash).

If re-growing the table-top RPG hobby means returning to our roots (smaller, more accessible games as opposed to video-games masquerading as text books, for example) then the self-published, guerilla gaming 'zine might be a necessary component to that re-birth. Yeah, print media may be a dead (or quickly dying) art form...but if it is, then so is table-top gaming. The same thing that drives me to play non-computer games, is what draws me to print media over e-media. The latter is great for the local headlines...but when you want something deeper, you need something that someone has put the time, focus, and care into.

You can get THAT more readily from a 'zine than your average blog.

1 comment:

  1. Before I started my zine (Oubliette), I put a lot of thought into how it would sit alongside the mountains of content available on blogs and forums. Aside from the differences you've mentioned here, and have been raised over at Grognardia, the thing that most appeals to me about them is that they make excellent legacy publications. In 10 years time most of the blogs and perhaps forums will be gone, whereas the magazines and fanzines will still be there as a reference point. I still regularly flip through old copies of Dragon and White Dwarf. In years to come I'm sure I'll enjoy doing the same with the current publications.