5 Things You Can Do To Be a Better Ambassador For Your Hobby
Because We Are What Make Our Hobbies Grow
We all have hobbies. From historical reenactment, to tabletop RPGs, to horror movies, comic books, and more, these are the things that make us happy. They're the activities and media we turn to when we need to decompress, and they're often where we go to find community. However, something we often forget is that in order for our hobbies to grow, we need to actually expand our numbers. Without fresh blood coming in, our communities will shrivel. Worse, for those built around a particular type of media or a certain franchise, it's possible that a shrunken community won't be able to support production of more of the content we want to see. Which is why it behooves us to be ambassadors for our hobbies if we want to see them grow and flourish.
The problem is that a lot of us geeks, nerds, and "enthusiasts" don't seem to know how to do that.
So if you want to be a better ambassador, and help your hobby continue to grow, keep the following tips in mind. Also, if you'd like to check out more geeky content, nerd ephemera, and gaming-related stuff, then don't forget to stop by my full Vocal archive, or my gaming blog Improved Initiative!
#1: Be a Guide, Not a Gatekeeper
We've all encountered gate keepers in our hobbies. They tend to be the bearded oldsters who lurk near the third shelf in the comic store, or who sit at the head of the gaming tables with books and cards laid out in front of them like the universe's geekiest wizard. They treat all those who enter their domain as aspirants, and they pepper them with questions. But whether it's which artist is their favorite in Batman's canon, to what is their favorite splatterpunk film, to which of three obscure manga did they like best, the questions are actually irrelevant. They exist solely to determine if the person the gate keeper is speaking to has enough knowledge of lore and trivia to be allowed into the kingdom of "true" fans.
These people are the worst.
Gate keeping is one of the most harmful things you can do, as it drives people away from your hobby, and creates artificial barriers to enjoyment. If you are someone with a deep knowledge of your hobby, who can call upon plot arcs, directors, film makers, and gaming systems, there is another role you should choose to take on instead; the guide.
Guides actively help those who are newer to a hobby, or who may not know the more obscure corners, leading them to areas of enjoyment they might otherwise miss. Rather than judging people as not being worthy of the title of "fan," a guide is more concerned with inducting new people into their hobby, and ensuring they aren't left floundering, unsure of where to go next.
A guide is someone who uses knowledge and power responsibly, and they set the example for how other fans should act when they get a chance to bring someone into the hobby.
#2: Make It About Your Audience
Something that a lot of us forget when it's time to make a pitch to someone about our hobby is that just because we love a certain property, activity, or aspect, that doesn't mean the person we're talking to is going to be on the same page.
As an example, most social media groups dedicated to tabletop gaming have posts where people are asking what game would be best to introduce their friends to the hobby. And while there's always a slew of people recommending the games and editions they learned on, the smarter move always comes in the form of a question. "What's their favorite property that has an RPG attached to it?" for example, or, "What's their favorite fiction genre?"
Too often we try to bring new people through the same doors that brought us into our hobbies; a strategy that only works if the person you're talking to shares a lot of your interests and likes. Everyone is different, so it really pays to tailor the experience to what you know they like. Then, once they're in and enjoying themselves, see if they're game for visiting your particular corner of the hobby to see if it suits them as well as it suits you.
#3: Facilitate A Positive Experience
It's one thing to guide new people to the parts of your hobby you think they'll enjoy, but if you can, then you should go the extra mile to provide a proper experience for them yourself. Whether it's hosting a movie day, running a one-shot game, or handing them your copy of a particular graphic novel so they can read it, this is one of the best things you can do as an ambassador.
This is particularly important for hobbies that are hard to get into, or which tend to be expensive. As an example, someone might really like the idea of joining the Society for Creative Anachronism to learn how to sword fight (or trying out the whole boffer LARP scene), but they aren't sure about spending the money it would take just to put together a starter kit. If you've got spare gear, though, then you can give them that, "try before you buy," experience that lets them figure out for themselves if this is something they want to invest in.
There's a reason drug dealers give you the first one for free, after all. If your hobby is for them, this will be all it takes.
#4: Don't Tolerate Bad Behavior in Your Community
I touched on this way back in It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems in Your Hobby, but it bears some serious repeating. Do not tolerate bad acting from your community, period. Sometimes that means you need to wield a spray bottle, and sometimes you need to let the sun disinfect the problem areas, but don't let things fester on your watch. You're trying to make your community a place you want to invite your friends to, not a haven for cockroaches.
Whether it's people using slurs when they get mad at the table, creeping on and sexually harassing newer members, hazing, an inability to control one's temper, or any of a slew of other bad behaviors, don't just shrug your shoulders when you see it. Call it out if you can do so safely, report it to anyone with authority (owner of the comic shop, moderator on a social media group or board, etc.), and do what you can to clean house.
Sometimes you might have to take it a step further, and create a safe space of your own. Start a new LARP where the broken stair players won't be allowed to join, for instance. Open your own social media group for talking about sci-fi and fantasy TV shows and book series where standards of discourse will be enforced. And so on, and so forth. Create the change you want to see!
#5: Big Up Your Likes, Instead of Venting Your Hates
This was, without a doubt, the hardest thing for me to do on this entire list. Because, as several of my friends have pointed out, I have a talent for disliking things. With that said, I cannot stress enough how important this is.
Negativity can be overwhelming, and if all you do is complain it can give people the impression that your hobby and its community are intensely negative places to be (or have extremely high or nit-picky standards, which is still a black mark). On the other hand, sharing things you love with people can lead to infectious pleasure, and create a positive shared experience instead of a trauma bond.
Don't worry, you'll still get to complain and criticize things you disagree with. However, if you want to get people to walk through your hobby's front door, don't lead with that. It sends entirely the wrong message. Also, if you can break the habit of just being negative about things you dislike in your hobby all the time, it actually allows you to enjoy the things you like that much more... so in the end it's a win-win situation!