The Friendly Linux Players (FLiP) get it: Video gaming on Linux-based platforms has never been a straightforward, uncomplicated affair. In fact, it's been notoriously intimidating.
A community of open gaming enthusiasts, FLiP wants to build a better future for gaming on Linux — one that begins with a more inclusive culture and participatory spirit.
The group recently joined the GitLab for Open Source Program, and I caught up with some of their members — Andrew Conrad (he/him), Lara Flynn (it/she), Andrew K. (he/him), Nell Hardcastle (she/her), and Stephan Lanfermann (he/him) — to learn more about how they're using GitLab to build a friendlier, more welcoming gaming community with open principles, protocols, and tools.
Tell me about the Friendly Linux Players. What brought your community together?
Andrew C.: Friendly Linux Players started with a couple ideas I had in 2017 for a new Linux gaming community. The most important of these ideas was creating a specifically inclusive space, which I don't think existed elsewhere in Linux gaming at the time.
Andrew K.: One of our primary goals is to make gaming on Linux less intimidating for everyone, which we believe will further promote the growth of our community. With FLiP, you'll find a welcoming and supportive community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about gaming on Linux.
Lara: I joined sometime between 2017 and 2018. I didn't really think much of it, just was interested in playing games and Linux and that's where Matrix's room search led me. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of the kinds of things one would deal with in an average "gaming" community, or why that would be of special impact to me. I remember being asked to read the code of conduct and wondering why half the things even need to be specified. FLiP is the first community I decided to settle into and feel comfortable, which, evidently, I still do.
Andrew C.: Another of my ideas was to create a place where anyone could host a gaming event. We were able to implement this idea earlier this year, using a new bot I made: flip-matrix-bot, which is available on GitLab.com. Since creating this, regularly hosted gaming events have brought a surge of membership and participation in the community.
What does a typical FLiP-hosted gaming event look like?
Nell: Events usually [involve] getting together for a multiplayer cooperative or competitive game. We are mainly talking via voice chat while playing the game chosen for the event. For me, I've been learning a lot of the games we've been playing, so I've asked questions about how the game works or what's the best approach and strategies. There's also some general chatting about off-topic things before we start or once everyone has the basics of the game figured out.
Andrew K.: When we have a gaming event on FLiP, we usually start by hopping on the Mumble (voice chat) server and making sure everyone's in before we get going. The host gives us the lowdown on how to join the game (like which server we're playing on) and then we're off! There's no pressure to stick around for a certain amount of time; you can come and go as you please. These events usually last from two to five hours.
Andrew C.: Our first event was on January 29th. At the moment, we have 31 events scheduled on the calendar, through July 16th. We've held around one or two events per week. At most, we've had about seven participants joining each one.
What does flip-matrix-bot do to empower community members and promote a more inclusive environment?
Andrew C.: flip-matrix-bot is our community bot, which can be interacted with through a CLI-like interface in the Matrix chat protocol. It is written in Rust. We use it primarily for scheduling events, sending reminders about events, and making event data available outside of our main Matrix room (such as in an iCalendar feed or the events page of our website). One particularly fun implementation detail: Instead of using local files or a relational database, event data is stored as custom "messages" in a separate Matrix room. This makes it more portable, and lowers the requirements to build and run the bot. This helps realize another motivation behind my original dream of allowing anyone to volunteer to host a gaming event: It decouples event hosting from community admins and moderators, which allows for the events to be more community-driven. This lower barrier to entry makes it easier for people to host events at different times of day, to accommodate different regions (I live in the U.S., but the community is international), or for someone to host an event for a game that none of the community leadership owns. I am excited to participate in the first event scheduled by a regular community member, and I am dedicated to keeping this open to all.
So community members can also contribute to flip-matrix-bot if they'd like?
Andrew C.: Yes. I've worked to make it easier for people with different skill levels to contribute to flip-matrix-bot, including a good for new contributors label on issues. Several community members have already contributed to the bot. One contribution even came from someone entirely new to Matrix bots and the Rust programming language, illustrating one benefit of our open approach.
Why do you think gamers are attracted to the community you're building?
Andrew C.: I think there are a few main categories of people who have interest in joining FLiP. Most community members probably already have an interest in playing games on Linux, and already have a PC or Steam Deck running Linux, though this is not a requirement to participate in the community. Many join because we have created a specifically inclusive space, which is not very common in any community, let alone ones allowing anonymity on the internet. Some like the option of joining regularly hosted gaming events, including several of my fellow GitLab team members. There are certainly members who are drawn to the fact that the community is centered around Matrix and Mumble, with open source clients/servers/specifications, as opposed to something like Discord.
Andrew K.: For a long time, gaming on Linux was considered a niche hobby, but thanks to recent advancements in compatibility layers and the introduction of the Steam Deck, it has become a viable option for many gamers. However, there are still unique challenges and obstacles that Linux gamers face that gamers on other platforms don't. This is where FLiP comes in. I think our friendly community is a perfect match for gamers who are seeking others who share their struggles with gaming on Linux. We're always ready to offer assistance and guidance to help you overcome any issues you may encounter.
Lara: In my opinion, what makes this community so great is that it doesn't appeal to all gamers, but only those who don't spread the toxicity you'll find elsewhere.
Nell: Speaking as a more recent member, I've been gaming with Linux for a long time but was drawn to FLiP due to the inclusivity commitment. Many gaming groups are not concerned with this and they can be especially hostile for women. It takes planning and moderation work to make sure any online social group is being careful to not exclude people and I appreciate what this group does to make sure members are comfortable participating.
What measures do you take to ensure the community remains inclusive?
Andrew C.: I feel that a community cannot be inclusive unless it is known to always exclude those who would create an unsafe environment for others. So the most important aspect of how we ensure inclusivity is having a strong code of conduct, which we strictly enforce.
Nell: Beyond the code of conduct, I think our members make the extra effort to include people and provide a welcoming environment. Everyone involved cares about this and puts in effort.
Lara: The community does a great job promoting inclusivity, so it doesn't need many specific measures in place to stay friendly. So I suppose the biggest measure in place is to provide a safe space where folks are and feel heard, and where people can point to issues when they arise.
You mentioned compatibility and general availability as two barriers to popularizing gaming on Linux. What are some of the other barriers your community hopes to lower?
Andrew C.: Game compatibility and availability are technical challenges to playing games on Linux. The biggest challenges that FLiP tries to address are social ones. By creating a friendly and inclusive Linux gaming community, where people can feel safe participating, I like to think that we help make Linux gaming more accessible for many. Of course, we also have a Tech Support Matrix chat room, which allows for individual members to ask for technical help from the rest of the community.
How does using GitLab help you build and serve your community?
Stephan: GitLab helps us embrace the 'free software by default' culture that many in the Linux community expect and FLiP swears by. What good is it to build our community exclusively on free software platforms and then keep the things we build ourselves a secret? With GitLab, everyone can see how FLiP is made, contribute to FLiP resources, and potentially re-use the software for their own benefit.
Nell: The accessibility of GitLab as a platform is excellent, and using a platform that is well-aligned with our group's values is nice. Being able to host the organizational tooling with public code management and allowing for member contributions and feedback is really valuable to building a community like this, where we really want to take that seriously.
Now perhaps the most important question: What are you playing right now? What games would you recommend?
Nell: For FLiP's multiplayer events, I've really enjoyed Deep Rock Galactic and recently Nebulous: Fleet Command. I'm also playing Dredge at the moment; cozy fishing horror is perfect for the Steam Deck. I recently finished Hi-Fi Rush and I loved how polished and fun that was. I recommend it.
Lara: I've been recently getting back into Teardown and especially Geometry Dash, which, funny thing, work way better on my setup than they would with the same hardware on Windows (I measured), despite not having native Linux releases. This is because of how much better Mesa's implementation of OpenGL is, compared to AMD's Windows drivers. Also A YEAR OF SPRINGS, a cute visual novel I can recommend to anyone and Entropy: Zero 2 (surely it would be "Entropy: One“ at that point), arguably the best Hλlf-Life² mod there is, that also more recently got a native Linux release and is continuously updated, such as with the same controller/ Steam Deck friendly UI that Valve updated the original Portal and Hλlf-Life² with.
Stephan: I have been greatly enjoying the Resident Evil 4 Remake, which is performing absolutely flawlessly for me on Linux on top of being an amazing game. Beyond that, I regularly go back to Squad as my main multiplayer game.
Andrew C.: I've been hosting most of the community's events so far, so I've played a variety of multiplayer games recently. Among those, I have also been enjoying Nebulous, where I can't stop thinking about different fleets I can create! In addition, I've been playing Arma Reforger, though I'm not sure if I would recommend it right now, as it is in a pretty early state. Along a very different vein, I recently picked up Liftoff, a first person quadcopter simulator.
Andrew Conrad and Stephan Lanfermann are founding members of FLiP. Andrew K., Lara Flynn, and Nell Hardcastle participate in FLiP as community moderators, software developers, and event participants.