Late last month, I received Assassin’s Creed Syndicate as a late Christmas present. I had nervously placed the game on my Amazon Wish List after listening to my coworker sing its unending praises. The truth was, I wasn’t confident enough to buy it for myself outright because I didn’t think I would be any good at it. I didn’t want to waste the money only to embarrass myself.
So when I tried the game out, I was surprised to discover that not only am I pretty good at AC Syndicate, I freaking love it.
I love every minute. I love climbing buildings, I love killing Templars, I love exploring the city and listening to NPCs and collecting pressed flowers and riding trains. Every time I turn off my PS4, I feel disappointed that I don’t have time to finish just one more mission.
So why didn’t I try this series earlier? Why was it such a surprise to discover that I can play a game when I have been gaming for my entire life? When I write about games for a living?
Intentional or not, many popular game franchises have trouble creating access points for new fans. There are a few different things that work into this.
First, giant fandoms are rife with inside jokes. This isn’t all bad—who doesn’t love a good reference? But it sometimes makes a community look impenetrable from the outside. When someone says “The cake is a lie,” and everyone laughs except for you, it can feel kinda alienating.
Second, many popular game franchises started over a decade ago on consoles that are now outdated. Getting caught up is daunting, to say the least, and not all new installments include tutorials. I love The Legend of Zelda, but that series has 17+ installments (depending on how you count) dating back to the ’80s. Nintendo has done a good job at porting the older games to new consoles, but it’s easy to see how that lineup might look intimidating.
Third, there’s an element of any large fandom—sports, movies, games, hometowns, whatever—that is committed to competition. There’s a constant need to figure out who is the best, the fastest, the most committed… To some, you’re not a “real fan” until you can prove yourself worthy. Not all fandoms are equal in this regard, but it is common enough that the perceived fear of its presence has an impact.
It can be even harder to break this barrier if you are not of the same race or gender identity as other fans in the group.
Joining a fandom can feel wonderful. Whether you’re discovering an amazing new movie or connecting for the first time with fans of a longtime favorite, it’s empowering to share your excitement with a group of people. It gives you a flag to wave and a team to cheer you on.
But as with any kind of team, there’s a fine line between celebrating your brand and protecting it from “outsiders.” Too many people forget that the foundation of any fandom is not anger, but love. I know, that sounds super tacky, but it’s true. We should be glad to share our enthusiasm with others, even if their love isn’t as, er, intense as our own. And until we can take active steps to welcome outsiders, many potential friends will feel unwelcome as the default.
Be aware of when you are competing with the other people in the room. Pay attention to the way you describe your relationship with your favorite game/movie/book/etc. This is important: They don’t need to know if Han shot first in order to be a “Star Wars” fan. They don’t need to have “Life On Mars” memorized to be a Bowie fan. They are allowed to mourn his passing as much as anyone else. And the same goes for you.
Playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate wasn’t just awesome because I had discovered a new game that I loved. It was thrilling because I had broken through a wall that I didn’t even realize was there. Now I can do my part to keep it down for other new fans.