Paizo–the maker of the Pathfinder PRG–will be distributing playtest books this weekend for Pathfinder 2.0, creating a disturbance in the Force that has rippled throughout the RPG community and all of Nerdlandia.
To be clear, every single indicator points to the excitement for Pathfinder 2.0 as being off the charts. Pathfinder was already popular and well respected and, with the rapid growth in the RPG community as a whole, nerds in general are pretty darned stoked to be getting a new and updated version of the Pathfinder system, which is now more than a decade old.
Indeed, pre-sales of the Pathfinder Second Edition Playtest have been brisk, bordering on absurd, indicating not just an interest in the product, but also a devotion to Paizo, who nerds have come to trust to create great RPG products.
Yet what we are learning in these interesting times of ours, is that there is always vocal minority that is expressing their displeasure and expressing it passionately and often. Again, to be clear, this article isn’t to throw shade or cast an eyeball at those who are upset about this new edition. It’s their right to feel disappointment and I am not the Internet’s dad, which I’m thankful for because kids are expensive and there is no way I can pay those astronomical Summer camp fees for the entire raging Internet, who would no doubt choose to be miserable at Summer camp, despite all the fun activities planned for them.
No, I’m more interested in the phenomena of nerd outrage, rather than to point fingers. After all, we see it all the time in these interesting days of ours, but what is going on that leads humanity to default to simplified narratives and grab their pitchforks so readily and quickly. Lord help us, let’s try and break it down.
Truism #1: Us nerds love product announcements.
They are like a catnip that grabs our attention, getting us twitchy for a little morsel of a factoid we can blow out of proportion, then banter about incessantly like a sewing circle. Unfortunately, we then take that tiny morsel and project upon it.
In short, we’re greedy with announcements, then eager to jump to conclusions based upon a limited knowledge, even as we were clamoring for it.
Truism #2: Nerds are extremely impatient.
Plus, nerds can be extremely impatient with media as well. The credits haven’t rolled on the film, yet nerds are complaining that the sequel is taking forever. I call it the NERDOSECOND.
The nerdosecond is an impossibly small unit of time, smaller even than the nanosecond and the yoctosecond. The nerdosecond is the amount of time it takes after a new product is released for us nerds to ask ‘what’s next?‘
Truism #3: Ironically, we don’t want anything to change.
Nerds love the things we love, so our knee-jerk reaction is fear when the thought of that thing changing is introduced. (Even as we ironically clamor for new stuff! See Truism #1)
When a new edition (or sequel) of anything is announced, nerds freak out. Despite the unconfirmed source and the lack of objective information, nerds everywhere freak the holy heck out. This is to be expected because we nerds obsessively worry about the health of the fictional universes we love, because we’re, you know, nerds. We love this stuff; it matters to us.
But sometimes only the headline has been read, and hitting the retweet button is easy, meaning product announcements that may not have been truly understood start to create a narrative of disappointment that is absolutely not warranted.
Truism #4: We let our worst instincts seep out.
Bizarrely, some RPG acolytes begin to actively will the product to fail, then go a step forward to disparage it for other on messages boards and the like.
RPGs (as do most things in nerd culture) attract an incredible amount of interest in the finer details of the production process, as well as in the detailed mechanics: there are dozens of obsessives out there surviving on morsels from behind the scenes. Having been subjected to every ghastly detail of the birthing process, the experience of finally playing the game itself is often secondary to a entitled opportunity to savage it early and often.
Many nerds’ mind are made up: It seems inevitable that the first Pathfinder rules set in a decade would be a gross disappointment, sight unseen. Worse, they are going to let people know they feel that way, loudly and often.
Luckily, in the case of Pathifnder 2nd Edition, the developers are handling it with good humor. See the below as evidence:
Truism #5: Humans are prone to jumping to conclusions.
Jumping to conclusions is something all humans do, as it actually has a basis in biology. Each us us have formed preconceived narratives that allow us to attach juicy little tidbits to our brains without having to create a new neural pathway. We just graft the news onto something we’ve heard before, like the time Wizards of the Coast launched D&D 4th edition to commercial failure. Psychologists recognize that us humans do this all the time.
Besides, reacting is faster than thinking. Preconceived narratives allow us to accept at face value, then react. There is no thinking involved. With the narratives already formed, we simply jump to that conclusion and that gives it “legitimacy” in our brains.
Remember, we’re focusing on RPG products, so let’s discuss some of the conclusions specifically associated with that genre:
Conclusion A – There is an illuminati of roleplaying creators that are not just hapless, but are maliciously OUT TO DESTROY US. And who would argue with this? We’ve heard actual horror stories of companies tinkering with products to disastrous effects (D&D 4e). There are real stories out there that make pretty much any over-reaction feel plausible.
So even though Paizo big cheeses Erik Mona and Jason Buhlman have spent decades proving themselves capable of alchemy, some will still doubt them by default, remembering only past industry failures and assuming it must mean bad news.
Conclusion B – Conclusion A correlates with Conclusion B, which is that corporate involvement in products can only ruin products, never improve them. We’ve concluded this as a given. Companies equate to the Gestapo, while independent creators equate to precious artists. Said another way, any new product from a company is besmirched with the phrase “cash grab”, forgetting that the company wanting to make money on a product is perfectly reasonable.
Conclusion C – We automatically assume that new editions are proof positive that an RPG is doomed. But the fact of the matter is that new editions to products build on experience and have brought us more successes than failures. (ie – folks who bemoan the failure of D&D 4e forget that WotC had great success with 5e)
The truth is that rough cuts are rough. And in many ways, the original Pathfinder was a rough cut, as the developers quickly forked the product from 3.5. Just as most people are ashamed at their first draft of something before they’ve gotten any sort of feedback, you know the Paizo folks know they can use experience to build upon what could be considered a “first draft.” Yet the narrative we hold to is that the first product is the purest, and the pinnacle is when a creator can fully express herself without any external influence or feedback. Yet 10 years of feedback should be considered powerful influence and opportunity for good on a product.
I’m guilty here (we all are). As an example, I’m not a fan that the original Star Wars films were tinkered with, so I’ve built a narrative in my head that first cuts are the best cuts.
Conclusion D – Finally, we automatically assume that our current products will wink out of existence. Sure, a new edition naturally diminishes interest in the old, but everyone’s current Pathfinder books aren’t a causality of the Infinity Gauntlet and can still be enjoyed in perpetuity.
Truism #6: We can’t not express ourselves.
Whether rational or not, once we’ve jumped to the above conclusions, us nerds can’t help ourselves from making wild claims and theories about a product that we haven’t even used. Why? OF COURSE BECAUSE REASONS!!
Us nerds should enroll ourselves in a 12-step program for nervous nellies. But once someone has engaged the RUMOR LOCK Key, rational arguments are no longer applicable.
So what do we do? In other words, what are some action steps to help us overcome our knee-jerk negativity?
First, read entire articles, not just headlines! The internet is a medium that is largely dependent on text, but is used by a population that really hates reading, much less paying attention to context. Nor does the population care to note the reliability of what they are reading.
Second, pay attention to the source. It matters. Some folks on message boards unfortunately just get their kicks through stirring up negativity. Bless their hearts. But don’t let them be your primary source. If a creator is saying something different, it’s OK to take a creator at their word and not assume the worst of them. (see Conclusion A and B above)
Third, understand assumed narratives and don’t automatically default to those conclusions. We’re all guilty of it, so we can cut each other some slack. But in tension with that, we should also try to do a little better.
Lastly, take a deep breath. Give something a chance before you automatically hate it. And don’t simply fixate on the bad. Remember that good news about Pathfinder Second Edition has also been leaking out like a sieve that’s had the strainer part cut off and is actually just a ring with water running right through it.
Besides, there will be other disastrous new product announcements to distract us soon enough.