Did we see progress?

Trigger warning: Online harassment in the tabletop role-playing community.

Three-month check-in

depression_hurts_by_deadlywolfqueen-d50nfp0In late July, Mark Diaz Truman posted a reflection on his company blog (Magpie Games) about a perceived conflict in tabletop role-playing sub-communities, followed by a FAQ a few days later. I gave my own opinion back then when Mark asked, in response to my disagreement:

I’d also encourage us all (including me) to look at the effects 3 mo, 6 mo, and a year down the road.

It’s time to check in on the effects of the post after three months. Mark concluded his posts with:

I want to inspire conversation and self-reflection, and I believe that people have engaged in productive discussions both online and offline as a result of the post.

If you have been following the various conversations that Mark’s thoughts sparked, if you have some familiarity with the tabletop role-playing community and particularly with the subsets Mark focused on, OSR and story games, what if anything did you observe? For example:

  • Do you feel this has affected the way you post? If so, how?
  • Are any voices more frequently heard since these posts? Or less frequently?
  • Has the tone of community influencers changed in any relevant way?
  • Have certain frequent or prominent discussions changed in tone, style, or frequency?

If you can cite data, like Jessica Price and Jason Corley did last time, extra special thanks.


Credits: Illustration is called “Depression Hurts“, by Inkin Oddity; released under Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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20 thoughts on “Did we see progress?

  1. Wundergeek’s gone.

    She cited harassment and feeling abandoned by people she thought were her allies. Given her post(s) right around the time that the Two Minutes’ Well Actually was posted, it seems like that may have emboldened her harassers and centred discussion away from her and other targets’ experiences.

    I personally contacted Magpie to cancel an article submission they scheduled after they liked my pitch. I haven’t written any commercial RPG publications before or since.

    I don’t want to have anything to do with like 99 percent of the tabletop RPG “community” or “industry,” when these are its values and this is what it lets happen to people.

    1. Oh, um, Jessica Price style demographic data … I’m female, and Wundergeek is agender IIRC but hasn’t specified pronouns anywhere that I saw since coming out on her blog.

  2. I know that my company, Growling Door Games, is still committed to hiring women, PoC, LGBT, and displaying diversity in our games. That said, I honestly can’t say I’ve seen a ton of progress. If anything, some of the schisms seem to have gotten deeper.

  3. “Do you feel this has affected the way you post? If so, how?”

    Yes. https://plus.google.com/+FredHicks/posts/SqxaHtp7zkM

    “Are any voices more frequently heard since these posts? Or less frequently?”

    I was already on a decline as far as my reading of blogs and social media went before the post. I read less now. This may be more a function of my increased focus on work and a decreased classification of social media as work, but it was a factor. I simply didn’t want to engage with much of any conversation in the space in the wake of the thing. Result, I haven’t even been taking in enough anecdotal data to be able to say, tho Jewelfox points out one very obvious way things have changed.

    “Has the tone of community influencers changed in any relevant way?”

    See above.

    “Have certain frequent or prominent discussions changed in tone, style, or frequency?”

    See above.

    My company has continued to step up its efforts to address some of the criticisms levied our way in Mark’s post, but frankly we were already on that path. Course corrections just take a long time to implement, especially in the RPG space where we’re rarely inclined to rush something out.

    I remain committed to an end-state where the principles I believe in are, simply, on display for anyone to see as de rigeur for us. I’m less interested in parading the efforts around so they can be declared as valid and good — in other words, I want to get things done that make things better, rather than spend time not getting things done but talking about how we could be doing them. This too was the trajectory I was already on when the post came out.

    Demography – I’m a male in my mid-40s with a big pile of privileges by most measures, save perhaps on matters of health (physical — I’m overweight & not particularly fit — and mental — I suffer from some anxiety issues).

  4. Honestly, this coupled with some panels I’ve attended and been on a Big Bad Con and Geek Girl Con have made me more determined to speak out, especially if I’m the only woman I’ve seen in the comments thread. Granted, then I generally mute it, because I’m not here to spend my day dealing with Sea Lions. However, I am more often the only woman in these conversations now.

    It’s made me more, I don’t know, tense? Like every time a dude starts a conversation that sounds surface nice, I’m bracing myself for the “But…” Fortunately, due to the caliber of dude I tend to surround myself with, that doesn’t come often. But I’ve found myself bracing for it more. Because “allies” are letting us down on the regular.

    I’ve been really grateful to Fred’s partner in crime, Rob Donoghue, because he’s stepped up his game significantly. Even when I don’t agree with him, or he’s off base, he listens and converses WITH women, not AT them. Sage LaTorra has gotten a lot better about it too, after changing his mind when shown the evidence regarding the situation. These two I hold up as my examples of “Dudes who now get it.”

    Regarding the tone changing, I don’t know. Again, I know I’m braced for disappointment more so I don’t know if it’s the tone or me.

    Demos: white, cis, pansexual woman

  5. I’ve had a number of backchannel conversations in confidence since that post with people who agreed with the core thesis of it, while disagreeing with, questioning, or condemning its tactics and methods. These people are mostly members of the marginalized communities we claim an interest in protecting who have felt bullied or silenced by members of the indie / story games / etc crowd in prior conversations, or intimidated as a result of lurking on public discussion threads and seeing how others have been treated, and currently don’t feel welcome in it or feel safe expressing their opinions without fear of immediate punitive response.

    I’ve also taken a more detailed look at some incidents and conversations I ignored when they happened, and have been examining a number of case studies of how certain folks have been treated in certain instances by the few institutions we have, such as convention organizers and leadership, etc. I’ve been paying more attention in general to conversations people are having on social media in our circles, how activism is being done (or claimed to be done), who that activism is serving, what the actual power dynamics appear to be. Essentially, I’ve been paying more attention to us as a whole.

    My conclusions are such that I’m afraid to voice them, out of a lack of faith that I’ll be able to inspire legitimate reflection or progress on those topics, especially in a charged environment like the Internet, and also for fear of punitive action and ostracism. I don’t yet know what I’m going to do, except keep my head down and keep making stuff. But in general, months later I feel more alienated and less trusting of this community than I have previously, less safe in it, and afraid to speak my truth. To be clear, Mark’s post did not influence that; the investigation I engaged in afterward did.

    As for data, I don’t feel right about outing the people I’ve been talking to, and I don’t really want to do a link blast of all the stuff I went back to read and look at, and all the conversations / incidents I’ve been following. So you’re just gonna have to trust me, and if you want to talk to me privately about it in more depth, I’m potentially open to that.

    1. I would appreciate hearing your views. If you wish to send them privately so as not to inflame things, that would be fine with me.

      If you don’t, well, I will respect that too.

    1. This may sound like a tangent at first, but I’ve been comparing the Steven Universe and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandoms to each other, and asking why the one is much less toxic than the other.

      The tl;dr is that creepers and harassers feel welcome in MLP, and don’t in SU. There’s a trifecta of it not being subject matter they’re interested in (lesbian space rocks and a kind and sensitive boy vs. furries and teenage girls), the show itself discouraging it (SU is huge on boundaries and “no” being a complete sentence, while MLP is about forced friendship), and the show being written by queer women based on what they wished had been on TV, versus MLP being made by a toy company to sell toys.

      I think that a lot is wrong with the gaming culture and industry right now, as Wundergeek spent years pointing out. And it’s not just sexism, it’s that an awful lot of the basic assumptions we build our games on are rotten to the core. (Example: That different “races” of people can be inherently more or less charming and intelligent, that some “races” can be Always Chaotic Evil, and that it’s okay to kill them and take their stuff.)

      (Bonus example: That it’s normal and okay for one person to be the “master” of what goes on at a game table, and that everyone should have to justify anything they contribute, with the default assumption being “no you can’t.” Especially if you want to play a “special snowflake” character, because doing anything different from the norm means extra work for everyone.)

      There’s an ideological thing going on here that’s deeper than “story games vs OSR.” It’s more like “individual expression vs authoritarianism,” or “inclusion vs displacement by colonization.” Our games reflect this, and a lot of them make creeps and harassers and people who want to dominate others (or just aren’t accepting of differences) feel comfortable at the table. That’s why there’s visceral hatred of story games in some parts of the OSR; some people are deeply uncomfortable with values other than theirs.

      I want to say “we should make more games like Fate and Blue Rose,” but those draw harassment and fire as well. So I really don’t know. I feel like there is a snowball effect though, and like terrible people know this. They try so hard to silence women and women-friendly creators, because they know they are relics and that society is moving on without them.

      1. I have not seen the new Blue Rose, but while in terms of setting it is wonderful, the original version at least still contained many of the problems you mentioned (authoritarianism on the part of the Game Master, some races being inherently more or less intelligent than others).

        In terms of limiting GM power, I really like the trend of games like Drama System and Fiasco, where a GM is not even needed (except perhaps as a record keeper) and games like those powered by the Apocalypse, where GM authority and reach are specifically restrained. When I ran “To End All Wars” in Drama System I was fascinated as the moderator to have a turn, just like everyone else, and have to think about what I wanted to accomplish and where I wanted the story to move and how to bring that about without the ability to just throw random orcs at the party or having to spend hours creating a dungeon.

      2. Yeah, the GM moves and agendas in Dungeon World were eye-opening. I saw an authoritarian GM freaking out that this game would spoil players and teach them they were equal.

        I kind of feel like most roleplay that happens doesn’t actually use dice or rules, and that a major reason for that is that the rules (all the rules) have been broken for decades and you have to make unbreaking them a lifestyle, plus they don’t really work for like Tumblr, forums, and chats.

        It’s really refreshing to see stuff like FAE and PbtA that fit into your lifestyle, and let you run games for whatever your fandom is, instead of paying like $50 for a “Star Wars roleplaying game” with way too much assembly and training required. And then buying supplements, and unique dice, and on and on just to do stuff that’s not in the “core book,” until you realize the game is an end in itself and that’s why your friends aren’t into it.

    2. Just a thought: Maybe the next Blue Rose should be something bad people see as too girly for them or beneath them, so that they don’t even bother with it. Feminizing a medieval fantasy game made them feel threatened / defensive, but gamifying something they already don’t care about (like queer dating sims?) might go completely off their radars.

      Actually, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of games like this already. We just don’t hear about them through the “gaming” culture.

      1. I just figure that anything that makes grognards mad can only be a good thing. But I’m reserving judgment on whether or not I’ll actually play it, since the original was basically just D&D with different fluff IIRC.

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