Who measures progress?


abused-girlBrouhaha in small role-playing sub-communities, of little interest to most people but with profound impact to a few. On July 26, Mark Diaz Truman posted a reflection on his company blog (Magpie Games) regarding perceived abuse between two sub-communities of gaming, focusing respectively on OSR and story games. The comments on Magpie Games’ blog and Mark’s Google+ discussion thread numbered in the hundreds, and a myriad of additional discussions both public and private erupted. Today (July 31), Mark followed up with a FAQ explaining his position in more detail [Edit: with its own G+ thread].

I will let people slog through the discussions if they are interested but I will not provide a summary. If you know people involved you will probably form your own views; if you don’t, you probably don’t care. But I will provide my own opinions and then address an answer I received from Mark.

My take

(Adapted from comments made on various threads as well as directly to Mark.)

The original post

I love Mark’s intentions, as a community-builder and a peace-maker, but I believe his perception of the situation of the situation is incorrect on many points. In particular, I think he equates behaviours on the part of various individuals (the ones he cites in his original post) that are simply not equivalent at all. In doing so, he appeared to excuse individuals that have a long, well-documented history of online abuse while placing the victims of such abuse in a position of equal blame.

Second, conflating this with OSR versus story games is odd and confusing. The vast majority of indie/hippie/story gamers I know also play OSR games. However, of course there are  sub-communities within these small circles that are less friendly than others; but describing this as two communities at war is bemusing.

Third, I do believe that anger has a place in effecting change, and “civility” cannot be the sole, enforceable mode of discussion. Let’s be clear: for those of us who  feel invisible at times, deeper change is the goal, not fostering unity in a particular geek sub-community. Rejecting anger and its manifestation skirts too close to a tone argument for my taste.

I have a large number of geek women and non-binary people in my circles (there are more than most people realize and they are the primary targets of abusers.) I saw several privately posting their dismay at Mark’s post, which they perceived as gaslighting and support of abusers, despite Mark’s statement to the contrary. Several mentioned that they were venting privately to their select circles because they did not want to become abusers’ next target. Some were brave enough to post openly on public threads like Mark’s (my hat is off to the ones fearing but standing up!)

I also saw several public posts by known bullies and online abusers as well as their supporters crowing over this perceived vindication and use it as fuel to launch whole new attack campaigns at their favourite targets. I find it nauseating.

It’s worth checking who reports and to believe the women and minority gamers who report having been abuse targets. Again, the uncivil discourse from various parts is not equivalent. The problem is not general discourse, it’s about extreme edge cases. It’s about missing stairs.

I do appreciate Mark’s intentions and his appeal to being the best persons we can be by listening, apologizing and collaborating. I just don’t think the later is always achievable or even advisable.

The FAQ-Pology

Mark’s new post on the topic is intended to “both make some apologies and clarify [his] position.” However, as an apology it falls short of the benchmarks; one stalwart commenter pointed out that it fails to provide:

1. A sincere expression of regret.
2. An explanation of the circumstances that led to the mistake.
3. An explanation of how you’re going to try to not do the thing in the future.

After looking at the after-effects for the better part of a week, I believe Mark’s posts have caused more harm than good to the gaming community(ies) and particularly, as many have pointed out, sent the usual targets ducking for cover rather than providing them with support. When I express my sadness at this step backward, Mark answered:

I’d love to talk with you more about how this is playing out Sophie. I’d also encourage us all (including me) to look at the effects 3 mo, 6 mo, and a year down the road. This week has been hard, but I believe that many of the conversations I’ve seen have the potential to blossom into something productive. That said, I hear you! And I’m eager to discuss more and listen more.

And this is what moved me from sadness to anger.

Let me explain again what I’ve been seeing:

  • An appeal to polite conversation that equates the behaviours of victims and their known online abusers.
  • One-sided calling out of flimsy examples versus complete silence on long-documented bad behaviours.
  • Calling out of victims.
  • Proposal for action that is vague and non-measurable compared to the specific call-outs.
  • Agreement with the sentiments overwhelmingly from white males.
  • Significant disagreement from cis and trans women, non-binary people, and other marginalized groups.
  • Renewed abuse from the original bad actors, directed at their usual targets.
  • An apology that boils down to “I wish I’d said it more nicely.”
  • An invitation to let this ride for three, six, or twelve months and check back if things have improved.

Notice the problem? The same people always on the receiving end of the abuse are told to be civil for a while more, endure the abuse longer, and hope the conversations will “blossom into something productive.”


It doesn’t work that way. No progress can be made this way because the pressure has been put entirely on the victims. Sure, they’re already disappearing from the public conversation and retreating in their makeshift safe spaces when they can. In three, six or twelve months the conversation will surely be more harmonious without their voices.

And how are we to measure progress in this blossoming? On one end, I can count participants, threads and comments. We already have some demographic glimpses from early counts by commenters. We have previously documented abuse we can compare to. These are metrics. On the other side, how will we assess progress? Will it be by this lack of participation from the marginalized voices?

I’m sorry, Mark and the rest of the great publishing team at Magpie Games. While I do want to work for a friendly, welcoming, civil community of gamers, I must stand with those whose voices are being silenced again.

Day 2, Cycle 6: Brickbat to the head!

Cancer constellation in a circleThe chemotherapy process is unfolding as described in the initial orientation, meaning I get a little weaker all the time. Yesterday was my sixth infusion and the first that left me wiped out for the rest of the day.

Edmund and I had a nice breakfast at our local favourite, JoAnn’s Cafe, conveniently located near the medical centre. During most of infusion time, our friend Mark S, a recently-minted Registered Nurse, came to keep us company and take a look at the infusion setup and process.

With scarves from from Mark and Crystal (red wrap) and (Nacy and Larry (southwest pattern).
With scarves from from Mark and Crystal (dark red wrap) and (Nacy and Larry (southwest pattern).

The infusion proceeded from 11am to a little after 3:30pm, plus some time after that to pick up paperwork from the doctor, a drive to pick up some food (we were starving!) so we got home and ate at 4:30pm. (One reason for the infusion taking a long time: the nurse had to use a vein in my right hand and I told her how much it had hurt for weeks after they had used the left hand for a previous infusion. So she took the time for extra flushing with saline solution between medications. Sure enough, it’s not too bad this morning. Thanks, Marita!)

After eating this late LATE lunch, I collapsed for nap, getting up again around 11pm to get a snack and read mail, then went back to bed at 1am and slept in.

Previous infusions left me feeling good enough to enjoy my evening, but we had to cancel the planned game. I continue to feel shaky, but at least no sign of nausea yet. (And anti-nausea meds do a good job when I have to take them.)

Day 18, Cycle 5: Waterworks

The scarf is from Ysharros.
The scarf is from Ysharros.

Today I had a biometrics appointment at the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services as part of the naturalization process. That means fingerprinting and photo, again. When I got to the USCIS office I pointed out that I’d just been there in March to get the very same for my green card renewal, and was told “Oh, that’s a completely different department!” (Same place, same few people, same equipment, I swear it was in fact the very same machine!)

Then the (very nice) technician asked me to take off my scarf.

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it coming.

I asked to keep it but no, no head coverings of any sort on USCIS photos. And I started crying.

I couldn’t stop, I just kept weeping through the entire process. They had a hell of a time with my fingerprints too, because the skin of my hands has peeled off entirely and the new skin is very smooth. (The skin of my soles peeled too, by the way. All of it.) And all throughout, I’m bald and tearing up.

The personnel was very nice (they must be contractors? When the agency was INS, the personnel was awful.) It’s not their fault, there are the requirements, plain in black and white. I was embarrassed I’d made them uncomfortable. And I don’t know why I wasn’t braced for this. Maybe because I’m getting weaker through the chemotherapy process; this time, I was very tired all throughout, even now when I am at top recovery. Low red blood cell and platelet counts, you see.

Since I walked out of there I have been feeling embarrassed, ashamed on the street and at the store when we stopped on the way back for some grocery. I felt I should be hiding.

I really hadn’t seen this coming.

Our friend Phantom

Phantom_shelterTwo years ago today, Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue posted on Facebook about Phantom, a black cat who had been left at a San Francisco animal shelter, reportedly after spending fifteen years with the same people. An older black cat with a blemish (a supposedly benign tumour above his right eye), terrified of the brouhaha at the shelter and therefore not responsive to humans: he didn’t stand a chance. He was was going to be euthanized unless someone stepped up immediately to adopt him. Fortunately, a friend (thanks, Brian!) re-posted and I responded that Edmund and I would take Phantom. It was a Saturday; the volunteer from Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue later said that if we hadn’t piped up right then, Phantom probably would not have made it to Monday.

Phantom was terrified of his change of surroundings at first, and not too keen on sharing the house with two other cats, but he has the most amazing growl and established his little space. (No actual cat fights occurred, just occasional Sturm und Drang.)

Later visits to the veterinarian revealed that the first vet we saw, who had dismissed the tumour as benign, was an idiot. It was a mast cell tumour, and although our (current, really good) veterinarian removed everything she could, the tumour was too deep to completely excise. It’s slow-growing but some day Phantom may have full-fledged cancer.

But in the meantime, oh! What an awesome cat! He is such a lovely friend. He loves to follow us around, curl up in physical contact with us, especially between Edmund and I. Edmund is his favourite but I do get quite a lot of cuddles too. We’re so glad he came to live with us! Thank you, Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue volunteers.


Day 15, Cycle 5: Representation

I had an interesting reading experience yesterday. I’d been waiting for a certain graphic novel to be on sale and it suddenly was, so I downloaded it. The first page hit me like a ton of bricks, and I thought “She’s like me!

I remember being a kid, of course, and being excited when I could find adventure books featuring girls. And I keep picking up and circulating stories on social media, illustrating how important representation is. But I didn’t expect at my age to feel it again as a raw emotional response. And that’s only a small taste of what it is to a child — maybe a girl, brown-skinned, amputee, autistic, trans — who sees themselves represented for the first time!

It gave me a fresh desire to help in any way I can to lift the cloak of invisibility society has thrown on too many people.


Day 7, Cycle 5: Blargh

2016-07-11 11.32.59This is my official complainy bitchy post.

It’s that time of the chemotherapy cycle when I’m weak and have little appetite. Everything aches or itches, I have mouth sores, my tonsils feel look two prickly pears jammed down my throat.

I had trouble swallowing the crushed nuts on my muffin this morning. I’ve been struggling for half an hour to eat the lunch in this photo — cream of corn, four saltines, peach yogourt, banana, and lemon-ginger tea. So far I have been able to ingest half the soup and one saltine.


RPG a Day, 2016 Edition

Once again it’s time for the RPG a Day challenge! In the last couple of years this was a personal project by Dave Chapman but this year he is too busy to run it. However, the good folk at BrigadeCon will be carrying the torch this year! As usual, the challenge runs from August 1 through August 31. The topics have been posted so you can start mulling over some answers.


The challenge feels more difficult to me this year because of my health issues and because the questions invite more complex essay answers, but I’ll try to answer as many as I can.




Day 3, Cycle 5: Chugging along

Dressing up for chemo
Dressing up for chemo

This is just a quick health update. I had my blood sampling on Monday (yes, on a holiday), infusion on Tuesday, and MUGA scan on Wednesday. Everything seems to be going well, although of course I will be getting weaker over the next few days.

Dressing up for MUGA scan
Dressing up for MUGA scan

I’m trying to wear as many of the lovely scarves I’ve received as I can. I don’t have good photos of all of them “from the runway” yet, but I’ll post them as I go.

I also do some writing and some convention planning in-between appointments and naps. I can’t say that the production rate is impressive, but I try to keep at it.

My appetite continues to be reduced but I’m done with some (but not all) of the medications that affected my sense of taste so food tastes a little bit closer to normal. Yay.

JoAnn's Cafe: They were nice enough to give me a half-portion when I asked, even though it's not on the menu.
JoAnn’s Cafe: They were nice enough to give me a half-portion when I asked, even though it’s not on the menu.

My cats continue to administer felinotherapy, and Edmund continues to take care of me. I can see how stressed he is so if he’s on your friend list, send him some kind words. You can read his perspective on the treatment and my illness on his blog.


War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is a 2016 ENnie Nominee!

ENnies 2016 Nominee
The 2016 ENnie Awards nominees were just announced and War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus has made the list in four categories:

  • Best Art, Interior
  • Best Family Game
  • Best Rules
  • Product of the Year

It’s up against high-quality, popular releases but it’s so nice to be on the list. (Now I know that at least four people read it!)  ^_^

I am so very fortunate that on my first professional writing gig in the role-playing world, Evil Hat Productions let me create a book the way I wanted to, with the support of their fantastic knowledge and staff resources. It doesn’t get any better!