The Imitation Game

You may or may not be aware, but there has been a recent development in the VGP community - the replication of some well-established and beloved communities, in the form of new social media accounts.

Upon the discovery of these accounts, emotions ran high, as it understandably caused some confusion and upset in the community. There were some initial rumblings of drama, which has mercifully died-down, but there is still the risk that the situation may create division in a presently caring, cooperative and supportive corner of the internet.

I have no insight into the motivation behind the individual(s) who created these new accounts on social media. I prefer to assume the best about everyone, until proven otherwise, so I can only conclude that they are well-meaning, and may even be just as confused and upset by all of this, as everyone else.

I felt inspired to write a blog post, in an effort to present a rational, calm and non-antagonistic perspective on the matter. Obviously, I write this as a member and supporter of both of these established communities, with the sense of belonging and loyalty that inevitably comes with that, so this perspective will be biased, but I felt it needed explaining, less as a matter of ego, but rather one of the heart.

Some context then. “What are you going on about, Cats?!” I hear you cry. Let me try to explain the facts as I know them.

If you partake in the hobby of taking in-game photographs then it is very likely that you will have encountered the hashtags: #VGPUnite and/or #Gametography. The former, #VGPUnite, was coined by UrbanTentaclesTJ Marinelli and stands for ‘Video Game Photographers Unite’. It has since been adopted by VirtuaCam’s Chris Carry, and supported by other collectives such as The Gametographers and Visual Moods for roughly eight to twelve months, since its incarnation. The latter, the ‘gametography’ portmanteau, was popularised by the aforementioned The Gametographers collective, which was established in November 2017. There may be some previous usage of these hashtags that I am not aware of, but to my knowledge, this is how they both began their lives on social media.

Since September 2018, two new accounts have appeared on Twitter. The first, created in September, is simply called ‘Gametography’, invites people to ‘Join our Gametography Community’ and has an email address which begins ‘gametographyofficial’. The other, created in December 2018, is called ‘VGPUnite’ and has recently been updated, the bio reading ‘We Are #VGPUnite Official Fan Page’. There have been only three tweets from either of these accounts.

I am privy to a private conversation which then took place, as an individual worked to understand who created one of these accounts and why, but I don’t wish to air any of that publicly, in the spirit of remaining accusation and drama free. The internet is a most frustrating medium for communication, and there really is no way to know for sure, what a person’s intentions may be, without the context of their personality, sense of humour, up-bringing, life-style, facial expressions, tone or simply what life may be throwing at them at that time.

So, without jumping to any conclusions, allow me to unpack why these new accounts may have caused some ripples in the community.

Running social media accounts for a fledgling new interest/hobby, is very much a labour of love. It requires a great deal of personal time and energy to be dedicated to it, and in the case of The Gametographers, VirtuaCam and UrbanTentacles, even more effort is required to maintain such loving, supportive and inclusive communities. I’m not aware of any personal or professional gain as a result of running these communities, the only financial requests have been for charitable causes and there are no accolades to be earned, or awards to be won, from this work. Everything is done for the benefit of the community, to keep folks inspired, challenged and motivated, to circulate work, offer feedback, and to share experiences, techniques and stories.

It isn’t difficult to imagine then, that a strong sense of identity, responsibility and ownership would develop for those involved in running these collectives. When content runs dry, if photographers are looking for a new challenge or abusive behaviour rears its ugly head, folks look to these leaders and they themselves feel accountable. They work tirelessly to nurture the community ethos, spirit and (depressingly, in this internet-age) most importantly: branding. That stuff is really important for growing strong, healthy collectives, and carving out a unique identity, for folks to hang their hat on.

Now, granted it is not a thankless task to run these accounts. It is clear to all, that these community leaders are beloved, and all of the work that they put in, is very much appreciated. Perhaps it was the appeal of this, that motivated those individual(s) to replicate the accounts - a desire to feel that sense of community and to give something back? (I can only hope that this is the reason, rather than for any nefarious purposes).

Why then, is this an issue?

Firstly: common courtesy. This is subjective, and perhaps the inevitable perspective of an over-polite English person, but it is most vexing that no-one was asked, or even told, about the creation of these new, duplicate accounts.

Secondly: using another person’s branding. If something is copyrighted or registered, to avoid a costly legal battle it’s best not to use it. For example: it’s not such a good idea to create your own entertainment hub called ‘Inspiring Glorious News’, or IGN for short. To quote South Park: you’re gonna have a bad time. This shouldn’t be limited to ‘the man’ - you should also respect your fellow man. It’s just not nice to take someone else’s idea. I’m sure it can’t be difficult to imagine how this would feel if someone were to take or copy something you had worked very hard to create.

Thirdly: splitting a community. How will this play out? Will virtual/game photographers or gametographers, tag all accounts from here on. Will some folks tag the ‘original’ or ‘official’ accounts, and others only the new accounts? Will there be rivalries, gate-keeping or even bickering between accounts, communities and individuals? WIll this ripple out to game studios and reflect very badly on the community? This all sounds very confusing and unenjoyable for all.

Fourthly: giving to the community is easy. You don’t need to replicate a community to feel the love, become a part of it. Create your own work, share others’ work, offer feedback, come up with your own challenges, contests and content. You will be welcomed with open arms and will find a place in no-time.

To paraphrase what a good friend and community leader said to me, in response to all of this: it’s hard to untangle what is protectiveness and what is ego. No-one in the community wants this to become ugly or unpleasant, and everyone is checking themselves to decide whether they have the right to feel upset. It is my feeling that it is both inevitable and understandable that these community leaders feel unsettled. I firmly believe, based on their actions and behaviour in the community to-date, that these leaders are not egotistical. They are not petty people, put-out by any perceived loss to them personally.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and these collectives should feel flattered by this, but the individual(s) who made these new accounts should also now understand why this is not the best way to establish themselves in the community.

To the individual(s) I would like to say: welcome! Feel welcomed. Don’t see this as gate-keeping. Your ideas are appreciated and we can’t wait to see your work, or for you to share/promote ours. This isn’t an aggressive, mean, community. There won’t be a witch-hunt, and no-one will hold this against you. Just be yourself - we can’t wait to meet you.

Thank you to anyone who read this massive block of text, in full. This wasn’t easy to write, and I sincerely hope this doesn’t cause any offence or upset. This is just one person’s perspective and so I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter - maybe there is a view-point I hadn’t considered here - but please be polite if you reach out to me.