Sunglar (of Stargazer’s World) kicked off a blog carnival on the Role Play Media Network earlier this week that focuses on how Social Media has impacted the hobby and the pundits surrounding it. Being keen on technology and its application on the hobby, I felt this was an excellent topic to discuss here at the Labs.
First, let’s define what social media is. Social media are interactive networks and/or tools that store and transmit information. Forums, blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Kickstarter, deviantArt, BitTorrent, Second Life, Digg, Reddit, YouTube, Picasa and multitudes of other applications and technologies are social media. Anytime users can rate, discuss, share, or otherwise interact with the data or each other, social media is involved.
I think social media has impacted five major properties of the hobby. Social media has increased accessibility to the hobby, decreased the time of distribution, expanded the reach of the hobby, made the permanence of the hobby mutable, and finally, social media has bridged gaps in intimacy between hobbyists as well as publishers & designers.
Before the internet and cheap (often free) social media tools, the means to produce and deliver content were cost prohibitive. It would mean spending money at a print shop and obtaining a mailing list of people to actually send it to and/or distributing it at local shops.
Anything beyond simple black & white facsimiles would require specialized skills and tools of the print industry. Today, one can leverage cheap or free drag & drop applications to create surprisingly good layouts for websites, e-books, and print-on-demand solutions. In essence, this means anyone can be a magazine/e-zine editor, webmaster, or author.
Social media has significantly reduced the time required to distribute of content. In the print world, it takes days (newspapers) or even months (book printing & shipping) for content to be delivered for consumption. These days, as soon as the content is ready, it can be immediately published and ready for hobbyists to read and use.
With tools like feed readers, email, Twitter, and Facebook, the hobbyist can achieve near instantaneous awareness of when new content is available. No longer does one have to make a trip to the local shop or wait for a product to appear on a shelf.
Before the internet and social media, the reach of the hobbyist was pretty much limited to people known locally. Programs such as play-by-mail could transcend this limitation, but it suffered from extended periods of waiting by the mailbox and drew out play to a sometimes mind-numbingly slow one action per week.
With the internet and social media tools, the reach of the hobbyist is global. Even language barriers become easily scalable obstacles with a browser like Chrome (recognizes and prompts user if they would like to translate pages). The lone gamer stuck in the backwaters is only a click away from his hobby and others who share his passion.
Social media and the internet have allowed what were once immutable and absolute to become evolving and sometimes even capricious. Before these tools, a game reached the hobby in what would be its final form. In order to fix/change the design, a new printing, supplement, or an entirely new edition would have to be created.
Today, errata and fan-made house rules and supplements make a game a constantly evolving beast (should you choose to let it). It seems like WotC puts out a new errata document while prominent bloggers offer optional rules and mechanics to spice up the game on a daily basis.
Depending on your perspective, the new mutability of the hobby can either be a blessing, a curse, or both.
I think the final property of the hobby that social media has changed is that it has allowed hobbyists and designers to develop (at least an illusion of) personal relationships. No longer are the names printed inside our game manuals some unknown being in the ivory tower.
Social media has allowed the hobbyist to glimpse into those areas that were once inaccessible. We can see behind the curtain and watch the processes that make a publisher run. We can give feedback and get answers direct from the designer (without having to wait to see if our question was answered in next month’s sage column).
All of these factors add up to one property, convenience. Social media and the internet make it easier to organize, play, obtain content, and communicate among ourselves and with the industry. The ability to connect is nearly effortless.
Be sure to return to the originating post for this RPMN blog carnival, Social Media and its impact on RPGs to see what everyone else is saying.
Listening to: Murderdolls – Women & Children Last – Chapel of Blood
 Check out my many posts that deal with leveraging technology for RPGs.