Gatekeeping is a term used to describe a community that’s preventing newcomers from partaking in their selective hobbies and taking it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. However, I have come to realize, or maybe I have always known, that gatekeeping has not always been about stopping new fans from joining any hobby, but ensuring that said hobbies aren’t corrupted by new fans. It’s a complicated topic that hasn’t been given its fair share of analysis!
To boil it down to its simplest form, it is virtually impossible for any community to prevent newcomers from participating in any media they’d like. You can’t stop someone from watching anime, you can’t stop someone from picking up a new sport and you can’t stop someone from getting a new PS5 (if they can) and calling themselves a gamer. Anyone can become a fan at any given moment and the process tends to be rather natural.
You can, however, as a community ensure that these new voices don’t change, dictate or destroy the culture and the media that has been built around it. And the reason why veteran fans may do something like this is to ensure that these newcomers don’t take their fandom or hobbies in a direction that may ultimately destroy the hobby. The veteran’s goal instead is often to allow it to be as open as possible to draw in more fans.
Essentially, they want the hobby to remain as open and as inclusive as possible while avoiding the scenarios of a small minority controlling the outcome for the majority! Something that is already happening in many other cases. Media and hobbies evolve over time as their fanbase grows, that much is fine and accepted, the real problem arises when a small minority of people decide to partake in a said hobby or media and want to forcefully direct where the hobby should be going next.
An example of this has always been anime or gaming. These two forms of media are where you’ll hear the term gatekeeping used often when talking about inclusivity! When someone online (which is where a lot of the discussion tends to take place) accuses a fan of gatekeeping, what they’re been accused of often involves being a -phobic, misogynist, and even supporting negative traits in the said hobby. However, it’s frequently found that the accuser is not always interested in the hobby at all and just wants to control what is been displayed. The discussion of how women should be portrayed is another fine example of it. If looked no further, you’d assume that all women want a particular representation of women but when you take a step closer to the ground and listen in, you’d realize that it coming from a very loud minority of people.
Nevertheless, there are cases where real gatekeeping does happen, and it is often found in things like cosplay, where non-white people are accused or even threatened to not cosplay anime characters, as they’re “ruining the aesthetic” of it or can’t cosplay the character because they don’t look like the anime character.
Gatekeeping shouldn’t be looked at with a one-dimensional eye, it’s multilayered and must be given the proper time to investigate and listen to what the gatekeepers and the accusers of gatekeepers are saying. It’s so easy to yell “they are gatekeeping” and disregard what the community is saying. It’s easy to go “they not REAL fans” and disregard the opinions of new fans if they don’t align with what you have come to agree upon. Context to these things is important. If we want our communities to remain open, it means we must be willing to hear opposing opinions from fans who may not always agree with what the fandom is doing. From there we can have the dialogue.
It’s true that you can’t technically gatekeep anyone from watching anime or playing video games, but can make them feel unwelcomed by harassing them in their posts, leaving nasty death threats and verbal abuses in their comments. You can gatekeep a woman by never really acknowledging her knowledge or skill in anime or gaming when they’ve proven themselves for years!
These are methods to gatekeep someone into dropping their hobby or even worse, not wanting to participate in events and online discussions anymore. Like I said, gatekeeping is nuanced and complicated and there’s more than one way it can be done!