Enablers! The influence of your friends in the community.

As much as I harp on about only buying the kits, tools and paints that you like and actually need, there are times when your friends enthusiasm overrides your sense of what you actually want. There is a term that some of you may have heard, in the marketing world called “social proofing”. This is when for example, you’re browsing a website and there’s a message somewhere on the page saying “10 people who have the same interests as you have bought this in the last hour!”. The same applies in my case when friends of mine buy certain kits – even if I have doubts that I like it. Luckily, for me, all of my friends have great tastes!

We would all like to think that we’re all in control of our decisions. Some of us are better at this than others and there appears to be an almost measurable spectrum. Some will rush out immediately to buy a new kit, just because it’s a new kit and they want to have it first or are just really keen to get it ASAP. Some, more measured will wait for a while for the price to come down, and then purchase – and some will immediately buy a kit the moment they see one of their friends has it. A mixed bag for sure. The biggest factor of course is budget. You may be much more careful in your decision making because of your budget, despite your wants and needs and I can see how that would be a little frustrating. I think this is more of a problem for collectors, but modelers for sure are not entirely immune.

Now I’ll be honest here, there have been times when I have got a kit super early in comparison with people outside of Japan, and it felt like I had bizarrely got ‘one up’ on everyone. It sounds ridiculous and shallow, but it happened. It’s not something I find addictive or am proud of, but it’s undeniably satisfying for reasons I can’t really understand!

The great thing is, in our hobby we have an awful lot of choice and there’s always something new to discover and share with others, bootleg or official.

My question to you is, how much do your friends, influence your kit-buying choices? How much does the overall ‘hype’ in the social media world influence you? I’m certainly not immune to it bar those kit designs I know I have never liked, especially when I see the monthly’s coming out in Japan being covered in the blogging world, or over on Zakuaurelius’ channel on youtube (who is very quickly being the go-to guy for YT-based mecha modelling news, check him out!). Have you ever got a kit before anyone else, and felt good about it? Are you completely immune to any kind of influence? Share your perspective!

How do you define yourself in the hobby?

When I first started out in the hobby, what made it interesting for me was the creative aspect. Coming from a largely creative background. When I first picked up a couple of kits while travelling in Japan back in 2012, I really loved how they looked, but the initial experience was more of a short-term novelty than a full-on hobby. It was only when I got home, and did a little research, finding the fantastic MAC forums and getting involved in the ongoing learning process of painting and modifying kits when I realised it could be something I will get great enjoyment out of, and it satisfied a creative gap in my life left behind from my music producing days.

Back then, the very definition of mecha modelling was just that, an art form. A creative outlet. Even though I am by no means any kind of expert in the hobby now, I define myself as mecha modeler and aspire to improve my skills, and that has not changed.

Fast forward to now, the vast majority of people in the hobby are collectors and assemblers – who’s interactions in the community involve showing off their OOB assembled kits, collections, boasts, comical memes with Gunpla and to discuss and speculate over Gundam anime and new model releases. That’s all perfectly fine, it comes with a combination of increasing popularity of anime and the ease of access to social media, and I’ve taken part in it myself. With fairly recent and frequent flare-ups regarding the alleged elitism of the modelling community however it begs the question – is it not about time we simply defined our differences, and stuck to the communities that are most beneficial to us?

It appears that no matter how clearly defined a group, page or community is especially on Facebook, certain folk deem it ok to go ahead and post an image of their collection of boxes expecting that ‘everyone in the community does this..right?’ without paying any heed to the name or guidelines of that group.

Imagine for a moment, if you were new to the hobby, after being inspired by mecha works online and wanted to get into the modelling aspect of the hobby, the first thing you’ll come across community wise on Facebook might be something like “I BUILD GUNDAMS AND I’M PROUD!!!” (Yes, it really is all in capitals, and with an unnecessary amount of exclamation marks). I would be a little put off when looking over the interactions on this page, and think it’s pretty much a superficial nerdgasm rather than a passion to grow an interest in. I would expect that asking some genuine modelling related questions in any of these types of communities on Facebook would either result in some terrible advice, some trolling from an arrogant self-proclaiming mecha pro saying “let me Google that for you newbie..” or no response at all! That new-comer would be thinking, “but this group says it’s about Gunpla..?”. This is one of many reasons why, I think community creators should be more actively definitive in regards to their communities interests to make it a better place to interact – and contributors more honest about what they do in the hobby. There’s this strange stigma it seems, that says if you are just a collector and assembler, that calling yourself so makes you some kind of moron in the eyes of mecha modelers – just be honest to yourself and fuck what any elitists think!

Of course, it goes without saying that each should accept each others differences and there will always be conflict and banter among hobbies of similarity. The definition between military scale modelling, and sci-fi ‘mecha’ modelling for example is pretty well defined, and in online communities too. Although there is shit-slinging now and then it’s largely agreed it’s pretty unhealthy. I think it’s about time the same should happen for modelers, and collectors alike – and especially so in Facebook groups as a lot of us in the modelling world perhaps feel a bit alienated by the bastardization of our ‘hallowed hobby’ (lol). Don’t get me wrong here, I hate the idea of tribalism – but you don’t ask for a Chinese dish in an Italian restaurant, and insult the chef and the diners for not being able to cater for your taste. We’re all hungry, and we have our favorite restaurants for good reason. It’s also fine to now and then, go to a world buffet… I hope that analogy did not confuse my point too much..

I was actually inspired somewhat to write this blog after a thread posted in the old Gunpla Forums group on facebook, a place for what I would consider the old guard (or old farts?) of enthusiasm for the modelling aspect of the hobby, and a place to generally grumble about the nonsense we see in the social sphere. The question I asked was (truncated a little) “why don’t people who collect kits, refer to their kits as a ‘collection’ instead of a ‘backlog’?”. The response was largely in agreement, with some interesting perspectives from others that got me thinking about how various people make these definitions. That does not mean that all definitions are subjective of course. I would at least expect that, if I started a community that says “for mecha modelers” it does not take a genius to understand that posting spoilers for build fighters is probably an inappropriate thing to post. Whereas if I posted a model and asked for some constructive feedback in a group all about the Gundam franchise as a whole, I should not expect a very high level of interaction or useful feedback, nor complain at the lack of it.

Gunpla Communities

Running a community for this hobby is often a thankless task. I’ll admit, my experience has it’s limits since I have only been active since around 2012, but my experience is varied across many social platforms, and deeply involved. I can understand why some people go through a ‘burnout’ phase when dealing with the community, let me tell you why.

So what’s the problem? It’s easy, right? I certainly thought this back in 2012. You just need to ensure that contributions to a community fit within their guidelines, and that people get along without turning into keyboard warriors. Over the years I realise it’s rarely as straighforward as this, and requires a high degree of patience to overcome your own frustrations.

It occurs to me that, many people have what I would call an authority complex, perhaps on a personal level or within a group (group ones are the worst..). These people are the ones who are consistently challenging, frequently complaining, and being outirght rude to whoever is putting in the time and effort to maintain a community with little incentive. These people test me the most, as their ignorance blinds them to reason, but I’ll always try not resort to retaliation, through humiliation. Instead, I choose to deal only on a one to one basis, to diffuse emotional thinkers. Perclate to them, by appealing to their emotional level. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Now I understand this is probably comes across a little belittling, but think of it this way – It’s easier to speak to someone in their native toungue, than to shout and make hand gestures which will more often than most, make the situation much worse. There is also a great deal of contextual misunderstanding, or nonsensical, overblown hyperbole. It’s always been a rule of mine, never to ‘read into’ anything written on social media. I’ve fallen victim to this level of misunderstanding in the past, and it’s embarrassing to say the least when your suspicions turn out to be proven paranoia. The sad fact is, many fall so unneccessarily to this, and it’s hard to mediate when all of the fueding participants are contributors of value.

Now every once in a while, I question myself – why bother? Like I opened this article with; it’s a thankless task. I have a great passion for this hobby for sure, and all I want is to enable people to learn, interact and enjoy what they do and provide something useful – despite how I feel about what the hobby is about. I set aside, as best I can my own opinion in order to build and make useful communities, but will not hold back on logic. It takes it’s toll in frustration. I’m thankful to have a circle of friends who are on the same wavelength, who can certainly testify that I will often vent off to them for short term relief, and vice versa. It’s not an entire solution however, as the frustration still wears you down from time to time.

I think this problem has arisen with the advent of social media, and with the apparent ‘death’ of the specialised ‘forum’ (RIP Mecha Lounge..). Without a specific, niche hub of interest that has aspects of requirement of participation and conduct, you have a plethora of niche titled communities that you can join at the click of a button, without any need to digest any community guidelines. There’s also the problem that, everyone seems to think they can do it better – so more communities are formed that have little control over it’s content, further blurring the lines of interest and increasing conflict, crap content and boring, repeating questions. The more succesful and enjoyable communities I have found enforce it’s guidelines repeatedly, and candidly deploy reminders to ofenders. These communities are (sadly in my opinion) labelled ‘elitist’ or ‘admin power shows’. I guess a silver lining is that, these communities are free of those who don’t have any idea of meaningful interaction with those who share your interests, and you can be assured of entertaining content. Like anything though, the crux is down to the people running it, and those participating.

I guess, the main point I would like to make in this article is this; Please don’t abuse those who put the hours in to make things better for you. Much like working in customer services for a company – the assistant is much more amicable to resolve a dispute, and be helpful to you if you act in a polite, controlled and respectful manner. Remember that, if you decide to treat someone who is trying to be of help to you, who is putting in the hours to provide something of use to you, like shit – you’ll be the one being called a cunt by that person among their friends, and that’s the first impression they will all have of you. I expect, one day, I will experience a community ‘burnout’ and retire to my own content production – much like many of us community organisers have. Hopefully, there will always be a person of determination to keep it going. It could even be that i’m just not getting along with this format of confusing and frustrating social media communities and I’m just being an old fart. I’m still entitled to discuss it all the same, just as others feel entitled to abuse others through a computer screen.