On Cliques – A Response

Cliques... how very.
Cliques… how very.
Clique: a small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them. Deriving from the French: noun ‘Claque’.

1a group of sycophantic followers: the President was surrounded by a claque of scheming bureaucrats

2a group of people hired to applaud (or heckle) a performer or public speaker.

Origin: mid 19th century: French, from claquer ‘to clap’. The practice of paying members of an audience for their support originated at the Paris opera.”

Mike Bithell is a game maker worth listening to. He gives his time generously. He is talented and ambitious. He has made a very good video game without the backing of big money or the marketing of big publishers. It’s called Thomas Was Alone. Having spoken to him, I like the man. We share some views on game making and the purpose of gaming.

Mike has also written a blog post (which you can read here) entitled, ‘On Cliques’. It was inspired by rumours of secret, exclusive, indie game developers’ email list. This is the kind of list known in academia as a research list or listserv and which is by invitation only in order to cut back on noise over signal. Or this is the kind of self-aggrandising list know among adolescent kids on Whatsapp to exclude X, Y and Z. I don’t know, I’m not on the list. I have no reason to be. I’ve not even used Whatsapp.

Prior to writing the longer post, over on Twitter, Mike defined a Clique in a way that dilutes its meaning as “cliques = friendship groups.”

His post expands on this idea. It concerns a younger Mike, “a couple years back I had less twitter followers. I wasn’t known. I was nearly done on some crappy little rectangle game you didn’t care about. I had been busy being ignored by every major portal, game site and indie forum, but I had hope, because this might be a good game. Possibly.”

Mike attended an ‘Exclusive’ video game industry party and was upset that some famous game developers didn’t know him from anybody else they had never met, and this made him feel excluded and angry.

It transpired that rather than a clique, these developers simply didn’t know Mike. The post then dealt with post-success, post-coverage and post-fame Mike’s realisation that:

“I’ve since gotten to know a lot of those people I got so angry with that night. I am acquainted with them. If I see one at a bar at an event, they’ll come over and say hi. We’re not sharing friendship bracelets, but I ‘know’ people. And they are all lovely people. Well. Mostly.

“And again, damn, just look at my twitter follower count.”

Mike’s revelation is that, “Me at that party was a dick.

“What I’d seen as cliqueyness, as being exclusive, was a group of old friends catching up. They weren’t interested in the slightly timid nerd on the other side of the room, because OH MY GOD THERE’S THAT AWESOME GUY I HAVEN’T SEEN SINCE THAT THING LAST YEAR.

“I was angry at people for being friends, I’d made myself the star of a story I wasn’t even in. I’d probably even glared at them at some point.

“Perspective is useful.

“There are important conversations about secret email lists happening. This is good. Indies talking openly with indies about indieness and the general improvement of the community is awesome, and shouldn’t stop. But we need to be very careful about glaring at people at parties, misreading disinterest or unawareness as cruelty.”

As I say, I like Mike. I like Mike’s old game and I like the idea of his new game – Volume. But I think he might be a little off here.

The idea that a party in which new people are invited or, because of their enthusiasm and drive, they manage to get into; a party not at some clique member’s abode; a party in which current ideas are discussed and networks extended, and new ideas embraced should see a cadre or cool clique at a bar not openly welcoming those new ideas and people, I find disappointing in the extreme.

I also object on a purely linguistic level to the conflation of ‘Clique’ with ‘Friendship Group’. This balling up of concepts into a homogenised mass of meaninglessness is especially worrying when it comes from a highly intelligent man as Mike Bithell.

But I am an old man, and arguments about language today are mostly swept away in effluvial phrase making, “Language is evolving this means that meaning is consensual’ repeats as if it was wisdom rather than comforting to people who privilege self-satisfaction over the challenge of learning. So, let’s move on.

So, irrespective of actual historical meaning, the fact is that Cliques do not want new members. Cliques exist to exclude, that is their survival function. Cliques are gangs that comprise weaker members in the orbit of the central, more talented or more often simply more charismatic central cadres or leaders.

Once that central, organising group or individual is attracted to another clique or group in order to extend their own reach, the clique usually falls into itself and disappears.

“Hey, you used to be me friend man, before you got famous.”

“I still love those memories man but you wouldn’t like this club. It’s not your thing. See you soon though, man. We’ll catch up, yeah? See ya. Hey! Barry! It’s me, Tim… Tim Smith… yeah, awesome, you?”

That’s a Clique conversation.

“Hey man, it’s cool that we all still catch up once a month even though you got famous. I’m busy with the family, business, husband’s cancer, kids’ school no big deals compared to your successful thing I know.”

“Don’t be stupid :) We need to touch base, it’s good. See you Thursday at the bar?”

“Sure. Hope your kids get over those mumps.”

That’s a Friendship Group conversation.

Friendship Groups or Communities are human organisations. Flexible and open to stresses and strains and changes in make-up and personal dynamics.

Cliques are not closed research groups that require expertise to encourage new ideas. Nor are they teams, singly purposed and hungry for a goal.

Cliques are the darker side of human organisations, they exist purely to exclude and minimise non-members. They are based on mutual sycophancy and ego-wanking.

I was at a game convention a few years back in Germany when lad came over to a group of video game hacks I was in. We were sharing shibboleths; well learned, easy to use phrases and ideas that are learned along the way like swimming strokes in a closed off, too warm professional pool for convenience.

An excited lad came up to one of the people in the group and asked for some advice on writing a review.

“Go and write it. Be honest to yourself,” was the drivel tossed off as advice.

It had a big effect on me. I decided to give the lad my email address and explained that time was tight at the show but he could send me the review and I’d read it over and, if necessary, provide some advice. Not a saintly act; it didn’t take up my time and when the review came it gave me a new insight into what younger people thought about what was important in a gaming product.

To me the Friendship Group at the time involved people interested in games and my time could be allocated to including more people in it.

So, no Mike, I don’t think you were to blame first time around. Not at all. But equally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking Cliques are anything other than negative holes in which real human contact evaporates like an air kiss.

For balance, please do read Mike’s post). He is a talented man who thinks deeply about his trade. He is worth listening to and gives his time with good grace.

One thought on “On Cliques – A Response

  1. Seriously? What have you ever done to think you can write this about Mike Bithell? Go away.

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