Overly Attached Community Nostalgia
I don’t watch TV that much these days, but when I do, I’m a fan of shows that break molds and don’t follow formulaic tropes that I’ve seen, though I can make exceptions for strong characters or favorite actors (the new Hawaii Five-O is an example). One of my favorite shows that I’ve found smart and witty and thinking very much outside the box is the NBC show Community, which follows the misadventures of a diverse study group that become friends over the course of attending a community college that’s a caricature of life in higher ed. The show’s been lauded by folks for its fearless writing and quirky characters, not to mention episodes filled with satire. One episode, for example, was a Law and Order parody filled with all the camera angles, contrived zingers, and procedural oddities that have made the show famous. Another took on corporate product placement. Yet another was done entirely in 8-bit. The show’s misfit nature has given it quite a faithful following from geekdom for these reasons and more.
But fandom can sometimes turn on a very sharp dime if the formulae they’re used to is messed with. In this case, the show’s creator, Dan Harmon, left the show before this season’s beginning, for reasons and dramatics that I won’t get into here. Fear and trepidation about how this season’s Community would feel without its creator at the helm were rampant, and as I’ve watched the reaction to the latest episodes unfold, I’ve seen a distinct attachment to “how the show was” and a lot of comments about how “it was better when Harmon was running it” and of course, “bring Harmon back, the show is ruined”. As a result, there’s a disinct aura of negativity surrounding each episode and a greater attachment to the nostalgia of the show’s rise to fame among its fans. In games, we see this most commonly when a franchise changes developer hands, or when a prominent member of the team leaves, or when sequels are perceived to change mechanics and gameplay to try to attempt to improve the experience for players.
I’ve never really understood this attachment to the way things used to be being better as a reaction to someone not feeling right about what they’re currently experiencing. Don’t get me wrong – I think that it does have legitimacy at times and it’s perfectly valid to feel that something isn’t quite the same as you want it to be (the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra). But I think it gets a little detrimental when you get attached to the nostalgia and the idealism you hold onto to what you’ve watched or played before. This is where communities get in trouble, because the nostalgic attachment of how a previous title in a game series or a past season in a TV show is contagious – and it tends to create an echo chamber of criticism tinged with grumpiness over how things don’t seem right. I know that the /r/community subreddit for the show is rife with “this doesn’t feel like Community” commentary that has pervaded every discussion, with the requisite accusations of fanboyism towards those liking what’s being done (and I thought I only saw those in game communities, heh).
I try not to get sucked into this mentality, and I think the reason why I’ve mostly succeeded is because I’ve learned to accept that by its very nature, when you change something that appears to be core or fundamental, what’s left is inevitably going to be different. No matter how hard a developer or a writer, or someone else who inherits the existing property works to try to preserve the aura of how something used to be (and they should, if for nothing else respect for what’s come before), it’s going to have their touch, their flair, and their flavor. Duplicating what something was with someone different is pretty much impossible – all you can get is the general preservation of what was plus some of what’s new, and see what happens. When you think about it this way, it gets a lot easier to be open to the new possibility of a direction for a show or a game that might actually be good for it in the long run.
I get that there are times when a changing of the guard hasn’t worked, and I’m sure there are a litany of examples someone could rattle off to me. My contention is with the people who attach themselves so firmly to what something was that it clouds their judgment when trying to figure out what they think of what something is. I would hope that these people try to detach the claws a little from the rug and let themselves be dragged a little more into how someone or some other entity changes something that they’re used to. I think they’d be surprised, perhaps pleasantly, at what they might find within. It seems that in the case of Community that folks have been easing up a little with the nostalgia attachment with every passing week. I can only hope that the mentality of accepting what’s different and judging on those merits without excessive comparison is something that more people will adopt.