Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Gaming's Central Finite Curve...

I loved Google+. After an adulthood avoiding social media, it was my first experience, as both publisher and online denizen; and when the end came, I mourned what must have been the hobby's Camelot. Older and wiser now, I realize it was the central finite curve from Rick and Morty; a device joining only those parts of the multiverse where its unsympathetic hero, Rick Sanchez, was the smartest man in existence. Google+ took cues from that...

Now Google+ was a flop. For a Facebook alternative, it lost its fight like a kobold loses to Demogorgon; I'm talking no chance territory. But its ultimate failure, ruinous to the platform's long-term existence, gave rise to a vibrant small-press scene as great at it was brief, with plenty to offer while the good times lasted. It was gaming's central finite curve, shutting out the big-press people (beyond fan impressions) and setting up a delightful facsimile of the professional scene in its place. The result was a truly amateur space.

You couldn't follow Wizards of the Coast. Or Metallica. Or any artist, brand, or publisher having anything resembling mainstream success. Brands didn't flock to Google; they politely declined the inevitable loser G+ would become. This didn't help the platform catch on; but small-press gaming found opportunity in the space they left behind and built its own universe, a central finite curve of sorts where the little guys were its dominate lifeforms...

Google+ had its own publishers. And journalists. And artists and freelancers servicing the same in imitation of the professional scene. It had its own celebrities and fandoms. You could set up shop and operate there, and many small-press classics got their start in its rich soil, aided by an architecture designed to provide the same basic experience, although scaled to a decidedly amateur, small-press form. In short, Google+ gave the little guys a space beyond the shadow of the bigger names - and all because of its ultimate 

Of course it helped that 4th edition D&D* fumbled. Tabletop gamers were looking for other alternatives; and while Pathfinder was popular at conventions (from my own experience), people were exploring the ascendant OSR, itself a small-press phenomenon, along with other fresh options on Drive-Thru and Lulu in its prime. Google+ added an online platform, large, active, and public facing, where the scene could work as a self-sustaining thing.

It was (and remains) real, just like the carefully curated realities from Rick and Morty are technically real. But it was also a compelling illusion born of notable failures converging on a single point of opportunity. More than anything though, it was a textbook example of what happens when the big names go away and the little guys can come out and build their own economies. Oh, and it was an awesome place to land as a small press publisher in 2014, although the metaphorical winds of change were already beginning to blow.   

Fifth edition was a return to form. Demand for small-press fare waned, although the OSR remained popular, being a flavor of D&D. Hell, Stranger Things - and Critical Role, propelled the game to new heights of popularity (and fashionableness) unthinkable in decades past, which changed the scene pretty much forever. Google's failure was the killing blow; and while the scene continues to thrive, it's scattered now, sharing precious oxygen with a victorious Facebook while its alumni mourn the lost Camelot of gaming's central finite curve...

*Totally subjective; lots of people loved it; please don't hurt me; I want to live!


  1. Interesting. Something that I appreciated about Google+ was that it simply honored your interests and let you live in the ecosystem of your own choice. As you suggest, it's refreshing nature (that no one but little niches were on it) was its doom.

    But I don't know that Facebook is particularly victorious. I read the following recently and it's given me hope:

    1. Yeah, Facebook might have beaten G+ in the short term; but what you shared gives me hope that the landscape gets better...

  2. I miss G+ too. The closest these days is Discord but even that isn't the same thing as it is too fragmented.
    The article by Cal Newport shared by mjulius is indeed full of hope for a different online climate. Here's a another take, a podcast, on the same subject:

    1. Thank you for that. The Creative Good post attached to that link (I haven't yet listened to the podcast) was insightful. Tik-Tok is terrifying and dangerous:

      "...the algorithm gets many more data points about a user’s preferences and thus can quickly detect and begin to exploit the user’s vulnerabilities. The speed of YouTube and Facebook looks glacial in comparison. Using all the unethical tricks of a Facebook but tuned to a higher pitch, TikTok and its Chinese Communist Party sponsors have the power to wreak havoc."

      Newport suggests that it's disruption will change the game enough that they'll all just be internet footnotes. I hope so. My optimism rests on a collective exhaustion and eventual desire for human to human connections not mediated by algorithms and AI.