Monday, March 12, 2012

Community, Upward Mobility, and Oranges

In some tepid, primordial pool in the back of my mind, a thought has been gestating for some months that has only now dared begin the crawl onto dry cerebral land.  It regards Nerf, surprisingly enough, but more specifically the state of the foam hobby as a whole.  Much has been done by the gifted enthusiasts of the hobby for years now, but I believe the confluence of a few newer developments have placed it on something of a new level.

First, let us not pretend that the depth of the influence of the foam hobby is on par with those that have been nurturing their followers for decades longer than Nerf; those based on comparatively ancient intellectual properties or dearly held cultural tropes.  There are no conventions dedicated to Nerf, no blockbuster movies, no commercials during the Super Bowl.  Not yet, at the least.  This is by no means an attempt to discount the relevance of our pursuits, but instead a way to better illustrate how far they have progressed.

Briefly consider the Transformers as an example in parallel.  As a hobby it meets all of the outlandish criteria mentioned above in addition to having a fiercely devoted following of passionate fans.  It may come as no surprise that the most fanatical of these fans are those focused on the toys- the oldest, broadest and most frequently iterated aspect of the Transformers license.  What most folks may perhaps be less aware of is the second layer of this hobby hidden underneath simple collectorship.  Though I myself very much enjoy Transformers toys (principally from a design and construction standpoint), I am no collector, and the source of my knowledge on this particular topic must be credited to another. 

My good friend and fellow Nerfer Chronos, when not pinpointing my left eyeball with a modified Spectre, is principally a Transformers enthusiast.  Through him I have become familiarized with the world of aftermarket Transformers manufacturers; enthusiasts such as FansProject and Make Toys who produce a staggering array of custom parts to modify or enhance existing toys as well as full figures that in many cases put the work of Hasbro to shame.  For Nerfers acquainted with Orange Mod Works, that last sentence may ring of familiar concepts.  The difference is that the Transformers hobby has supported these aftermarket efforts for a much larger span of time, to the point where more than a handful have become well established.

The emergence of a prominent and outright successful aftermarket company within the Nerf community is, however, extremely significant and a powerful signal that the Nerf hobby is coming into the fullness of its adulthood.  It strongly suggests that the overall number of fans has become significant enough that the most deeply devoted among them are capable of supporting a secondary consumer market- one larger in the end than Orange Mod Works alone.  This is a promising thought.

Other companies are already trying their luck, but the time may not yet be fully ripe.  The bold effort by Random Hat to begin providing the Nerf community with a glorious array of new accessories via Kickstarter looks as though it is set to stall, at least for the moment.  This is disheartening, certainly, but I doubt very much that Random Hat is down for the count.  At any rate, there are still others like Xplorer making the push, and anyone can see that the Nerf community is getting larger and widening its demographic.

This brings me to another, more ancillary point.  An interesting trend seems to be taking shape pointing towards a closer knit, more co-reliant culture within the NIC.  The mere themes of many newer sites such as Universal Nerf embody this ideal and grant it significance.  Many Nerf sites have long been happy to post the work of others that their individual proprietors find interesting, but very few are created for that specific purpose.  Showcasing the highest efforts of the community is a potent way of strengthening interest within it and, perhaps more importantly, catching the eye of those who have yet to join in the fun with the rest of us. 

None of this is aimed at diminishing the efforts of the community up to this point.  Indeed, there would be no "this point" without those efforts.  I certainly wouldn't be typing all this if the rest of you weren't out there, either.  The NIC has been a special thing for a long time, but it seems now to be stretching for greater heights.  My real point, in simplest terms, is that the future looks good for foam.

1 comment:

  1. As a newcomer to the foam hobby who is also an avid adult fan of Lego, I can see many parallels there as well. The Lego hobby niche is perhaps a few paces ahead in some areas (i.e. huge conventions all over the world) but I can tell I'm tapping into this Foam phenomenon at a time where the action is really starting to pick up. I appreciated your reflections on the state of things Nerfy.