At the beginning of 2019, I made the difficult decision to end Deviant Robot’s involvement with the social and tabletop meetup groups I started back in 2014. While I think it was the right choice to step down; I fear this decision may be interpreted as a rejection of those groups and what they have become. I hope this post will help explain that is not the case and provide some context to my decision for those who are interested.
A clearing of the throat
I might almost think it should go without saying but let me state it plainly so as not to allow for unintentional offence or frustration. This is, of course, my perspective on events; it’s also a brief recap of events spanning many years. If you feel I am misrepresenting something or not confessing some personal responsibility here, please know that I do not do so intentionally. The many mistakes and failures were mine and mine alone, and if there is any success or credit due it is almost exclusively due to those amazing people who attended our events over the years and the fantastic team of people who helped me run things.
Deviant Robot was born
Deviant Robot was born out of onemetal.com a heavy metal news and reviews website that also featured content on comics, video games and movies. Deviant Robot was created to provide a better home for the non-music content from OneMetal and as a result, when we launched, we already had a bunch of articles and a small team of writers. The idea of running events of some sort was there, but it seemed a long way off.
I'm not sure where the idea of using meetup.com came from; I personally had never attended a Meetup before and wasn’t sure how it was supposed to work. However, as we looked into it, it seemed like it might be a good fit for us; or at least worth a go. We would see if we could find a community inspired by the content of the site in the hope that the website and community could then grow together.
That was the plan. However, almost immediately, the events changed everything.
The Big Bang
Our first event was vastly more successful than we ever anticipated, starting a trend that would continue with each subsequent meetup. The meetups grow to dominate the project as we swapped intangible, insubstantial website traffic for the manifest flesh and blood of real group members. Eventually, we abandoned the reviews and articles on the site and began running an ever-growing number of events; starting new groups in new locations around the UK and even internationally.
Early on, the Deviant Robot team were well organised, excited and energised. We wore white t-shirts with the group's name printed on the front and back so that we were easily identifiable in a crowded venue. We continuously engaged with the community throughout our events and worked hard to support each other and the attendees. The team was there to make sure everyone else had the best time possible, and it was both fun and rewarding. We were so well organised that people were initially a little suspicious as to who it was that was running things. A mystery I was happy to exacerbate by informing people in my introduction speech not worry, and that we were "Almost certainly not a cult". Almost certainly not being a cult quickly became an in-joke amongst the group members who, to my surprise and delight, were now proudly referring to themselves 'Deviants'.
The team members focused the events, allowing them to feel like a shared experience and ensuring everyone was involved. Tabletop games were all hosted by the team and often by team members who were very experienced in the games; allowing them to be more accessible to those new to the game but also by those new to the group and who didn’t know others at the table. Group conversations were always centred around the more lively and confident team members with discussions on a wide range of topics from hobbies, jobs current events to movies and video games. There was a sense that this was the start of something. The team members were the backbone of our events, a key reason and demonstration of why our events were different. They were foundation of our early success and to all those who were part of it; I thank you.
Running these kinds of events takes significant effort, drive and commitment. As we ran an increasing number of events and groups, the quality began to suffer. Ultimately our growth out-paced our capacity to engage. This was a key mistake, out growing our quality. With resources spread, thin team members began dropping out.
With limited team support, we began to build an increasing reliance on tabletop gaming to entertain our attendees. Initially, as team member numbers became unreliable these games were run by trusted community members, but eventually by anyone who wanted to. Groups began to form within the group. Friendship circles formed natural, unintentional barriers for new members being able to engage. With no unifying element, the events stopped feeling like shared experiences and started to feel more like a regular venue and a communal box of games.
Exciting, unique monthly events gave way to regular "sessions" running multiple times a month. Formerly proud responsibilities came to feel like a burden. Motivations to engage wained further as did the number of active team members; putting further pressure on those who remained. It was understandable, and perhaps inevitable.
The rise of the table top
As the focus on tabletop continued our much of our original community slowly dissipated, mostly through the natural course of events, but also I think because the events had stopped feeling as unique as they once had. As new members found the group, the ones who stayed did so because they liked what they now saw, and soon the “It runs itself” tabletop sessions not only came to define our events but also our community.
Attempts to recapture the spirit of the early events were now met with confusion and resistance. Whatever my original intention or aspirations had been, I now found I was running and supporting several tabletop social groups. Trying to change that would now not only take a lot of effort, but even if it could be done, it had already proven unsustainable. Worse still; changing it would damage something that a large number of people were getting value from.
If I wanted to do something different, well, I would have to do something different.
Changing the story
And so it was that at the beginning of 2019, I found responsible community members, handed the groups over to them and stepped down. I only asked that they rename the groups; as the Deviant Robot project was still my baby and I had plans for it; new plans; but also familiar ones. But more on that another day.
In the book 'Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Taleb describes a process that can only be damaged by events as being fragile. The idea is to have a system that gets stronger or is improved with every interaction; this is the essence of 'Antifragile'. Our events were fragile. The more events we ran, the more groups we started, the more diluted our identity became. Our identity did not scale with our community. I mostly believe this was due to not having a strong enough core, being too loosely defined outside of the personalities of a few key individuals; or perhaps even just one. Our team was also held together by superficially similar but potentially fundamentally different objectives; the united front we presented was only masking a conflicted narrative about what we were attempting to achieve, and how we should achieve it.
I learned a lot from the experience; and fully intend to apply what I learned.
I have so many fond memories of the meetup groups; of the many fabulous parties, adventures and events we ran; not to mention the fantastic people got to meet. I didn’t get to know nearly as many of you as well I would have liked to, my main regret is not spending more time getting to know you all better. I wish the new groups the very best of luck and continued success for the future.
Although we have gone our separate ways, for now, I hope that those who attended our old events will think fondly of my efforts running the groups, and forgive my many many mistakes. I hope that you remember the good times we had and sincerely enjoy the many more to come all be it under a different banner. And although the names have changed, I hope that those who remember the mighty robot will still feel they are, and will always be, a little deviant.
The Former Deviant Robot Groups
For those looking for our former groups they can be found here at the time of writing: -