Four Current Long-Running Fandoms That Either Cost Nothing Or Very Little To Join

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This article is a little different from my usual articles, since it isn’t really about creating things – but about being part of the audience. Still, given the mild writer’s block that I’d experienced recently, this ultra-long article idea seemed too interesting to miss out on. So, please bear with me.

A few hours before writing this article, I was watching computer game/videogame-themed Youtube videos when I realised that modern mainstream gaming was a subculture that I was even further away from than I thought.

These days, it’s as much due to a preference for older games and modern retro-style indie games as anything, but it’s also to do with the cost of gaming. New mainstream games are expensive, and that’s not even including the cost of the PC upgrades and/or consoles you need to play them.

One of the strange things about a lot of modern games-related media is that it assumes that literally everyone can easily keep up to date with the latest games. But, mainstream gaming is an expensive fandom to belong to. This, of course, made me wonder about fandoms that don’t cost an arm and a leg to belong to.

In fact, some of the best current (eg: lots of fans still exist for these things) fandoms can either be joined for free and/or for very little. Best of all, since these fandoms have been going strong for a long time, there’s also lots more fan-related stuff on the internet, more discussions about them etc… than you’ll probably find for more expensive trendy new fandoms. Here are four of them:

1) Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Holmes is one of the most timeless fictional characters ever created. He is also one of the most influential characters in the detective genre.

If you don’t mind the slightly old-fashioned (but not as old-fashioned as you might think) narrative style, then Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original “Sherlock Holmes” stories can still thrill, chill, puzzle and/or surprise you when you read them for the first time. They also have one of the largest and longest-running fandoms in existence.

“Sherlock Holmes” was a modern-style TV series from before television was even invented. The original (mostly self-contained) short stories were first released in monthly magazines and then collected together in book-length collections. Like modern TV shows, there was even a “to be continued…” two-part story (“The Final Problem” and “The Empty House”, if you’re curious). Likewise, there are also four full-length novels too. These can all be read in any order that you want to too.

But, best of all, this is a fandom that you can join for free (or for very little, depending on your preference). In most parts of the world, the copyright on the original Sherlock Holmes stories has expired.

What this means is that you can either legally download and/or read all or most of the original stories and novels for free on sites like Project Gutenberg or Wikisource, or you can find extremely cheap “classics” reprints of them in many bookshops.

A good place to start would probably be “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes” – or, if you can’t find that, then “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. The best short story collection, but the least common in print form, is probably “His Last Bow”.

However, whilst all of the original stories/novels are out of copyright in the UK, mainland Europe etc… one short story collection (“The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes”) is still copyrighted in the US. But, if you’re American, then don’t worry. It’s probably the worst of the original books. Seriously, all of the other books are twice as good, and aren’t copyrighted in the US.

2) Classic “Doom”/ freeware “Doom Engine” games: If you are a fan of first-person shooter games and you’ve somehow never heard of a trio of games from the 1990s called “Ultimate Doom”, “Doom II: Hell On Earth” and “Final Doom”, then you are in for a treat!

Whilst these games didn’t invent the FPS genre, they popularised it and – like Sherlock Holmes – they’re timeless too. They are as thrillingly fun today as they were in the 1990s, and they still have a huge fanbase and modding community too. These games, and free legal alternatives to them, also don’t require an expensive modern computer to play either.

Although the classic commercial “Doom” games are best, there are also some really good free legal alternatives too if there isn’t room in your budget for these (fairly inexpensive) games.

This is because the underlying computer code that allows the games to function is open-source (eg: the programmers have given permission for it to be freely modified and freely distributed by anyone). As such, this underlying code has been used as the basis for new free “Doom”-like games.

If you have the internet, but no gaming budget whatsoever, then start by downloading a free program called a “source port” (I’d recommend one called “ZDoom) that will allow “Doom”-based games to run on your computer (and to use things like modern-style controls too).

Once you’ve done this, you can legally download any of the following free game files to use with your source port – “Freedoom”/ “Freedoom: Phase II“, “Hacx 1.2“, “Harmony” and, of course, the official “Doom” demo (get the “v1.9” version at the bottom of the page).

If you get “Harmony”, then (if I remember rightly) the download also comes with a source port already included – so, it’s probably the best one if you don’t want to be bothered with setting up a source port. However, the “Freedoom” games are the closest in style to the original ‘Doom’ games. “Hacx 1.2” is more of a cyberpunk FPS game.

With the sole exception of the official “Doom” demo, these free games will be different from the official “Doom” games. For legal reasons, they feature totally different levels, graphics, sounds, monsters, weapons etc… but, in terms of the actual gameplay, they will be very similar to the official “Doom” games because they use the same computer code. And they’re a lot of fun!

If you’ve got a little bit of money, then buy either “Doom II” and/or “Final Doom” from a reputable direct download site. They shouldn’t cost more than a few pounds, euros or dollars, and you can easily use the game’s files with the source port of your choice (rather than the one they come packaged with). The reason to buy “Doom II” or “Final Doom” instead of the first game, is because they are also backwards-compatible with fan-made levels for the original “Doom”.

Yes, the reason why the old “Doom” games will give you more than any other FPS game is because there are over 20 years worth of free fan-made levels (called “WADs”) freely available for them on the internet. New ones are still being made too. In fact, some of these levels (eg: ones that don’t add new textures etc..) are also compatible with the free “Freedoom” game files that I mentioned earlier.

3) “Star Trek”: Yes, there isn’t a completely free equivalent to ‘Star Trek’, but it’s still a fairly cheap (and large!) fandom to join if you’re a sci-fi fan.

This is mostly because it is one of the most widely-syndicated, well-known and frequently-repeated TV show franchises in existence. Likewise, there are literally hundreds of mostly self-contained novels – many of which can either be bought cheaply second-hand or found in libraries.

Despite a reputation for extreme nerdiness, it’s a lot easier to get into “Star Trek” than you might think – I mean, I was first introduced to “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” sometime between the ages of ten and twelve and I still really enjoyed them even back then. Seriously, they’re still compelling drama shows, even if you might not understand every precise detail of the futuristic technology that the characters use.

So, if you’re new to “Star Trek”, I’d recommend looking through the TV listings for repeats of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. If you can’t find any, then look for repeats of “Star Trek: Voyager” (it has different characters and a different premise, but is slightly similar in many ways – if very slightly gloomier in tone).

If you live in the UK then, the last time I looked (in 2016), the channel you want to look for to find various ‘Star Trek’ repeats is a freeview station called CBS Action.

Both of these shows are new enough (eg: “The Next Generation” ran from 1987-1994 and “Voyager” ran from 1995-2001) to still seem slightly modern and they also mostly consist of self-contained stand-alone episodes. So, you don’t really have to worry too much about watching them in order. After all, these shows came from a time before modern binge-watching, so they were designed to be more easily-accessible to new viewers.

The original 1960s “Star Trek” TV show is good, but looks very dated by modern standards. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is also good, but the later seasons have a long-running storyline that is best watched in order (on DVD etc..). “Star Trek: Enterprise” is also surprisingly good too, but it’s more like a typical mid-2000s sci-fi show in tone, style etc.. than classic ‘Star Trek’. So “The Next Generation” and/or “Voyager” are the best ones to start with.

Likewise, because of it’s age and popularity, you can pick up a lot of “Star Trek” stuff fairly cheaply second-hand. As I mentioned earlier, the hundreds of novels (many of which are self-contained) based on the TV shows can be found cheaply in second-hand bookshops, charity shops/thrift shops or online. Likewise, DVD releases of many of the TV show episodes, and the films based on the series, can often be found relatively cheaply second-hand too.

4) Iron Maiden: If you like rock music or heavy metal music then, it almost goes without saying, but take a look at a band called Iron Maiden. Even if you just watch the free music videos on their official Youtube channel, listen to them. Like Sherlock Holmes and “Doom”, they are also timeless.

Not only have they probably influenced almost every metal band that appeared after them, but they’re still going strong too. Plus, since they’re one of those rare bands who have never released a “bad” album (yes, even the two albums released during Blaze Bayley’s tenure as lead singer are surprisingly good), just choose the cheapest Maiden albums you can find if you’re on a budget.

They also have one of the largest, most widespread and most enthusiastic music fandoms that you can find. They aren’t “mainstream”, but you can find literal hordes of fans in pretty much every country in the world.

Plus, because they’ve been going for over four decades, their fandom is completely generation-neutral.

I’m in the latter half of my twenties and I discovered the band when I was a young teenager. Yet, there are also lots of thirtysomething, fortysomething, fiftysomething, sixtysomething etc.. Maiden fans too. Being an Iron Maiden fan is neither a “young” or an “old” thing. It’s also probably one of the best, if not the best, music fandoms you can ever find – with very little “trendiness”, pretentiousness, politics or elitism.

Likewise, because of their popularity, there are also a lot of Iron Maiden tribute bands out there too. So, if you want to experience their songs played live but don’t want to spend a fortune, then check out some of these bands. Yes, they aren’t quite as good as seeing Iron Maiden perform (something I’ve only done once) but, since they often play in smaller venues, the atmosphere of these tribute band concerts (at least the ones I saw in mid-late 2000s Britain) is really something!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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