I think we’ve all been there: sitting on our hands and biting back the nerd rage after one hissy comment too many on a fan forum and trying not to type “really? Have you tried not being a total jerk?” Of course, you can’t actually write that – not if you want to retain your membership – but anonymity and silly one-upmanship make for an ugly combination. An unfriendly fan community can really spoil the experience of fandom. Most places have the impersonal, chaotic atmosphere of an airport departure lounge. Some are outright vicious, but many scare off new members through sheer aloofness, and that’s aside from the downright strange.
Some fan communities, however, bring out the best in the members. They enhance the experience of enjoying whatever is being celebrated, and are more than the sum of their parts. A good fan community goes beyond the pleasure of mere media consumption and fosters a sense of belonging among all its members. We all know people who’ve forged friendships and relationships within fan communities. To the artists in question, such long-term presence adds value – a fan can spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars over a lifetime – but most of all, it’s that warm fuzzy feeling of reciprocal affection that makes being a fan so much fun.
The cutesy anime-ish Facebook game revolves around pets that you feed, pet and race. Unlike Tamagotchi, your pet won’t die if neglected, but it will get very, very sad (you mean-hearted bastard!). You can “adopt” anything from an elephant to a piece of tofu, and some 340,000 people are playing the game. What makes (fluff)friends an awesome community is the forum’s trading post, where members can swap pets, props and habitats for the free currency “munny”, or real-dollar currency “gold”. $5 buys you 50 gold, and items fall or rise in value like real-world stocks and shares. One of the most expensive habitats, at around 500 gold, would therefore be $50 in real terms. A kind-hearted forum-member gave me the habitat, for free, “just because”. Such wild generosity isn’t even unusual – random acts of kindness are just part of the (fluff)friends culture.
The Elder Scrolls
I must admit to some bias here, but this video game fan community was around long before I was part of it. The huge official forum is supplemented by hundreds of smaller fan-forums, ranging in size from a handful of members to many thousands. Bethesda’s in-house studio has often recruited from among this fanbase. The friendly atmosphere of the community is best expressed through its collaborative projects: Morrowind and Oblivion shipped with “construction kit” editors, allowing players to make and share thousands of modification files with each other. Almost all involve some level of community co-operation – either through team-work, sharing of resources, or advice and feedback from other members. Other collaborative projects include Wiki information sites and the exhaustive Imperial Library lore resource. Since 2007, the TES forums have shared server space with Bethesda’s other published titles, including the Fallout franchise, with a resultant crossover of communities.
Written by and starring Buffy actress Felicia Day, this web sitcom about online game addicts has just finished its fourth award-winning series. The show streams on MSN, Zune and Xbox Live and has spawned comic books and music videos. The single Do You Want To Date My Avatar reached number 1 on the UK iTunes chart and was the top download at Amazon a day after its release. What makes its fan community awesome is that The Guild barely got past episode three. After cramming the first three episodes’ filming into two and a half days, they ran out of money. Day uploaded the first episode to YouTube and garnered nearly a million hits. The next two episodes were financed entirely by PayPal donations from fans.
If there was a category of music called “just bats*** insane”, Cardiacs would be number one in its charts. Such eccentric music proves Marmite-levels of divisive, with many people developing a passionate hatred on first listen, and the rest becoming evangelists for this particular brand of prog-pop. Such fans “tend to display the comradely zeal of people who’ve passed through some sort of initiation ceremony together”, as Melody Maker put it – “like Jesus or herpes, once you’ve got it you’ve got it”. They’re bound for life through fandom, both to the band and to each other – like the Masons without the silly handshakes. Much of the friendly warmth the fans exhibit to each other has been directed back at the band of late, since singer Tim Smith fell dangerously ill a couple of years back. A special email address has been set up to send “positive vibes” his way – but what makes this one special is that most of those sending the emails will have hugged him (and each other) for real.
Yes, I know – Trekkers have one of the worst reputations in fandom for being snotty and humourless with an exaggerated sense of their importance. Still, it had its upside too, in the form of Page’s Bar – a Star Trek theme pub in London, which was an outrageous giggle if you suspended any sense of dignity in the 1990s (sadly, it closed in 2004). Fans would dress up, sing silly karaoke songs, and one of the essential souvenirs of your evening was posing for a caricature sketch (which would undoubtedly turn out like either Janeway or Riker, depending on your gender). Humourless? Really?
Are you part of an awesome fan community? Are you a Little Monster, googoo about Guild Wars, psycho about Star Wars or just a raving sports fan? Comment below or drop me a line.