James Joyce's 1939 novel Finnegan's Wake is a dream-narrative one of whose protagonists is Humphrey (or Harold) Chimpden Earwicker, called "HCE" in the text. Joyce plays freely with the meaning of this abbreviation, at various points stating that it means "Here comes everybody." The interpretation of almost any of Joyce's books is a difficult business, particularly so for Finnegan's Wake, which defies convention on almost every level. In one controversial interpretation, the phrase "Here comes everybody" is seen as a metaphor for the Catholic Church in Ireland in Joyce's day -- a mishmash of sinners and saints, fools and philosophers, all united by a bond that keeps them together despite their near-constant squabbling, often to the brink of destruction.
Thinking about this, it struck me that "Here comes everybody" is a pretty good motto for the old school community. One of the myths that people like to perpetuate about old school gamers is how narrow-minded and crabby we all are and it's true that, as a group, we sometimes are both, myself above all others. But I think that, much of the time, what outsiders see as narrow-mindedness and crabbiness are rather a willingness to stake a position about our gaming preferences and to defend those preferences. Nowadays, having an opinion that runs counter to conventional wisdom is often treated as a social disease, something for which one should be embarrassed, particularly if doing carries with it the implication that other preferences are ill-considered, if not outright mistaken. Part of the problem too is that "preference" is treated as a synonym for "arbitrary" and so it's bad form to argue in favor of a preference or to treat it as if rationality were exercised in doing so. I like chocolate and you like vanilla; what is there to discuss?
Take a look at my "Links of Interest" on the right. What you will see is a very long list filled with gamers and game companies whose preferences are different than mine. Indeed, in some cases, I think those preferences are based on a number of fallacies and I've taken time to argue against some of them in this very blog. Yet, I haven't kicked them out of the clubhouse and don't intend to do so. Whatever our differences, there is in fact a bond that unites me with every one of the people behind those links. We argue and debate and occasionally get a little overheated in doing so, but, in my experience, that's the nature of human interaction, especially when dealing with friends -- and we are friends here.
The old school community is a contentious bunch; we like to argue. We argue about everything and it's always been this way. I can see how, to someone on the outside looking in, it might seem as if we're nitpicking and obsessing over things that don't really matter or that should have been allowed to rest decades ago, but why? Of course, none of what goes on in the old school community "matters" in the wider world. Debating whether or not the thief is appropriate for OD&D isn't going to cure cancer or bring about world peace, but since when was a hobby ever supposed to do such things?
What I find funny is how often the community's amicable disagreements are overlooked. That's understandable, as it's always easier to caricature a group when all one sees is its vices and not its virtues. As my list of links attests, though, our virtues far outweigh our vices. Scoff all you want but the sheer amount of gaming goodness -- including actual gaming -- that the old school community has generated over the last few years is enormous. And some of that goodness is the direct result of our narrow-mindedness and crabbiness, as the defender of one preference contended with the defender of another. I myself have changed my preferences on several issues in just the last few months and I will almost certainly change them on many others in the future. I see that as valuable.
The problem with HCE is that it makes it all too easy for outsiders to see only a riot of sinners and fools rather than ever comprehending the bond that unites them not just to one another but also to the saints and philosophers as well. I've spent nearly a year articulating the nature of that bond, so I'm not going to repeat myself (any more than I've already done). Suffice it to say that I think the old school community is more or less as it should be. We're not going to win any beauty contests and we certainly won't be invited to any formal dinners anytime soon, but that's OK. We don't have much interest in either anyway. Instead, we'd rather continue on our journey together, sharing thoughts, opinions, and ideas -- as well as elbows -- with one another as we do so.