White Wolf Elitism: Still Alive and Well

Back in the day, White Wolf and its fanbase sometimes had a bit of a reputation for elitism and looking down their nose at people with different gaming preferences. This perception was sometimes overstated, but wasn’t entirely without basis; they did genuinely wheel out a bunch of “roleplaying versus rollplaying” rhetoric which came across as suggesting that those they deemed rollplayers had immature tastes and that true sophisticates roleplayed.

For the most part, the new Onyx Path era has seen a refreshing absence of this attitude, and to be honest White Wolf did get better from the mid-2000s onwards. It’s hard to be entirely sniffy about Dungeons & Dragons when one of your imprints has made you a fat stack of cash off the back of the Open Gaming Licence, after all.

However, it seems that, as affable and open to a range of different gaming styles as Rich Thomas and most of his freelancers are, there’s some in the Onyx Path/White Wolf cloud who are still capable of being amazingly and needlessly rude about other people’s tastes.

A case in point.

Exalted, or so it has always seemed to me, has always had a solid percentage of content that’s in there because fuck you. Even back in 1e, one got the feeling that a big motivator for writing it was that your Tolkien-derivative industry-dominating D&D is bad and you should feel bad.

It honestly, genuinely would not feel like Exalted to me if it weren’t being sort of aggressively confrontational and defiant in a way that feels at least a tiny smidge insulting. I know whenever I include that tone in material I produce, I do it more as an affectation necessary to keep the game true to itself than out of any desire to insult the audience.

(And lest you assert that this is objectively bad artistic form in all contexts, I point you to punk rock performers who give their audience the finger and are cheered for it. It’s a valid approach to art.)

Sheppard seems to miss three important things here:
  1. Making an ideological objection to the very existence of someone else’s product makes you look like a resentful ass. Punk rock is often (but not necessarily accurately) credited with the downfall of dinosaur prog rock bands, and Johnny Rotten might have worn an “I hate Pink Floyd” shirt, but if the Sex Pistols didn’t have something interesting to bring to the table themselves he wouldn’t have been any sort of punk hero, he’d have just been a dick wearing a shirt ragging on other people’s tastes.
  2. The punk middle finger, to my mind, is all about saying “Fuck you, you’re not better than me,” not “Fuck you, I’m better than you”. And a punk musician flipping off their audience isn’t really expressing major-league dislike of them, most of the time; a great deal of the time the supposed antipathy between a punk band and its audience is basically an act of camaraderie and is understood as such by both parties. Gigs where  open hostilities have genuinely broken out between band and audience generally don’t end well – look up the Stooges’ Metallic KO for the quintessential example of this.
  3. There is a huge difference between striking a confrontational pose with your own audience and trying to get confrontational with someone else’s audience.

But hey, it’s nice to have further confirmation that Exalted and I aren’t ever likely to see eye to eye.

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