Ask anyone who knows me. My favorite thing to do is listen to podcasts, and my second favorite thing to do is probably to bully my friends into listening to the same podcasts so we can talk about them. Podcasting, like any other form of storytelling media, is communal by nature. It’s why I can’t not find a new gem of a story and immediately tell all of my friends to quit their jobs and only listen to this new podcast. I have this need to build a community around a new thing I enjoy so that my enjoyment doesn’t end when the story is over.
My love of podcasts, like many others before me, started with Welcome to Night Vale. Cecil’s melodic tones carried me through some of my toughest college experiences; listening to Cecil blasély recount his paranormal experiences provided a sense of calm to the ever-changing college-Sara’s landscape. But it didn’t only provide that sense of security. It reminded me how much I love a good story.
When I was a kid, I loved creating worlds, incarnating characters, telling stories. I loved storytelling so much that when I was three my mom bought me a tape recorder so I could direct all of my creative energy towards a machine instead of my infant sister, the family dog, or random strangers in the grocery store. Somewhere between middle school and college, I forgot how much I loved telling my stories. WTNV awoke that dormant love. I started writing again. I started reading for fun. I started looking for more narrative fiction podcasts to fill the time between each WTNV episode.
And then I discovered RPG podcasts. Like a lot of people, I started with The Adventure Zone. After listening to the available episodes 3 times through in as many weeks, I needed more content faster. I started drawing again. My ability to draw had atrophied while I had been focusing on educational and professional development, but seeing so much creative work being put out by the TAZ community made me want to give back in some small way. For the first time ever, I started posting pictures of my art and letting other people see the things I drew.
I got into other RPG podcasts. Every time I start a new podcast, I’d get excited about the stories that people were able to tell, the characters they allowed me to fall in love with, the new worlds and rule sets to explore. My friends probably don’t appreciate the seven-texts-in-a-row-about-a-new-podcast texts they are subjected to every few weeks, but they humor me. Not only did RPG and narrative fiction podcasts give me communities to belong to, they gave me the desire to give back something, even if it was my own interpretation these characters, worlds, and stories.
I love the fact that we can and do talk so much about the podcast communities that we have built. It’s so great to jump online and see all of the people who are creating and sharing and talking, to see that people who wouldn’t necessarily have a platform otherwise have found ways to tell their stories, to get their voices out. To see these communities grow and become more accepting, more open, more accessible. But I don’t see enough talk about how these communities push us, the listeners, to stretch our own creative muscles.
Maybe the reason I loved Night Vale and Adventure Zone so much were not just the wonderful people making the shows. Maybe it was also the fans, the community around the show who were always so excited to talk about the latest episodes, the characters, the pull of the story. It was the fan art, the ficlets, the analysis posts that kept me scrolling through social media long after midnight. It was the inside jokes I got to share with hundreds and thousands of people online. It was the community - and all of the things that the communities were making - that made me love these stories.
Creativity begets creativity. Sometimes, I feel like my creative spark has died and that I won’t ever be able to create again. That’s when I look for a new podcast to pour myself into. Finding those shows that make me want to creative fanart also give me the energy to move forward with my own projects. Having that community there supporting you, even indirectly, provides the motivation that an arbitrary deadline never seem to provide (for me at least). It’s the community around a show that makes it either wonderful or terrible to love.
It takes so much work to put out a podcast. Between the planning, the recording, the editing, the sound design, the technology malfunctions, the daily living of life that gets in the way of all of these things, it’s a wonder people have the energy to go out and promote their own work after making it. But finding out that there are people who love listening to your stories about gay orcs kissing makes it worth all of the effort. If you’ve ever loved a podcast, made fanart, written fics or visual art descriptions, or told a friend about a podcast you’ve loved, thank you. Thank you for making the podcasting community such a wonderful place to be.