Thoughts on Hobby Gatekeeping

This article was submitted by Aaron Pollyea. I find it relevant since we want to encourage more people to play Star Trek adventures RPG.

I wanted to write about this because I’ve heard people worrying about getting into games if they don’t have all the rule books, or after having a crappy experience with an online game.

I think all of us people who are gamers have encountered gatekeeping at some point or another in our lives. It’s when one person, or a group, sets unreachable or unrealistic standards for entry into their group. It’s generally a way for a group to maintain either a self-assured sense of correctness or to limit entry into their hobby by newcomers who haven’t invested the time or money they have into it.

May be an image of 4 people and people standing
“I’m on the far right. This is October 1990, so I’m 13 in this picture. The other people are my Soviet (now Russian) friends.”

My first experience with it was at a Battletech game when I was maybe 12. I owned the old Battletech boxset that had cardboard cutouts of the ‘Mechs. I had played against myself and my friend Steve tons of times. We probably played hundreds of games in the first years after discovering Battletech. I absolutely loved the game and the bare lore that had been released for it in those early days. I remember being so excited that I had saved up spare change enough to buy the old Davion sourcebook, I read through that dozens of times. Then I got to go to a game store in South Bend Indiana with my Dad because I’d heard indirectly about a regular game happening.

I packed up my box set and House Davion book, my dice, and was really excited to play against different people to experience the game in a new way. I can’t even remember the name of the game store anymore, but Dad dropped me off and said he’d be back in a couple of hours. He was probably going to the airport to watch airplanes while I got to geek out.

No photo description available.

There was a big gaming table, maps laid out, actual BattleMech minis from Ral Partha, and a half dozen players all older than me. Looking back they probably were late high school or early college age. I went up to the table, my boxset in hand, and introduced myself. A couple of the guys were really nice, asked me about my favorite House, etc. But as soon as I opened the box and they saw I didn’t have metal minis hiding in there, that’s when it all went to shit. “Nope, we don’t use cardboard here. If you don’t have minis, you can’t play.” So, I pleaded, begged to borrow minis, asked if I could stand by the table to watch.

Nope. Get outta here kid, you aren’t worth our time.

I sat at a table by a comic book stand for two hours waiting for my Dad to come back. It was a time before cell phones, so it wasn’t like I could just tell him to come to get me early since jackasses said they didn’t want a dorky kid with a lot of love for the game they also loved around. Dad bought me a mini that day when he picked me up, a Banshee (I later painted it jet black with neon green highlights) that I still have in my collection.

We all start somewhere, and every beginner is going to need help.

Since then, every game that I am a part of, every hobby, I make damn sure I welcome new people who don’t have anything like the experience or money invested I do. We all start somewhere, and every beginner is going to need help. Ignoring them, excluding them, refusing to help just means you’re shooting yourself in the foot because your hobby isn’t going to grow. Even veteran gamers, man, if they get a rule wrong you don’t harass them or treat them like garbage…you help them out because in the end you made dumb mistakes too.

For the longest time in Battletech, I thought that an LRM 20 used 20 rounds of ammo, so if a ‘Mech had only 6 shots from a ton of ammo, it only fired 6 rounds. Who knows why? Maybe those early rule books weren’t super clear, maybe I had interpreted something entirely wrong because of how something else worked. I couldn’t tell you now, all I can say is that a guy at my local gaming store, later on, told me that I was wrong, and here was how it worked. It was dumb and I’m glad someone took the time to explain it.

All of this is to say that you should always welcome people into your group, don’t exclude them. Help them grow and develop and don’t ignore or fail to address mistakes they make because then they can’t grow and become the best part of the hobby they can be. Always remember that you started off being as prone to messing up as they are. Grow your group and hobby, expect it to change and adapt as it does. And as it does you’ll see things in your hobby that you haven’t experienced before because there are new perspectives at the table.

Just remember folks, there are people out there who want to see their hobby grow. You’ll find them. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, am I right?

7 comments

  1. You truly do, and Thank You for that.

    Also I’ve seen political gatekeepers in our hobby as well. It’s quite unsettling

  2. I’ve been told to leave groups once they discover I’m not of a progressive liberal mindset. And I keep my gaming apolitical and it still happens.
    I had people find my Facebook (before I deleted it) and kick me from discord’s over it. Very disheartening, to say the least

    1. Oh. I don’t do politics, so that stuff goes over my head. You know you are always welcome in my group.

  3. Those People where complete morons. Battletech is very much a “miniatures optional” game. it’s not exactly 40k. the minis aren’t even scaled right. I love battletech and am very sorry you had such a bad experiance.
    but hey you picked the right house 🙂

Leave a Reply to Brian Davion Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.