In which direction lies progress?

Autumn Leaves

I have not forgotten that I promised to go back over the “Two Minutes Hate” issue for the three-month assessment of its impact onto the tabletop role-playing community, and particularly the parts of the community centering on indie and small-press games. Since I started the assessment, I have tallied responses from a variety of threads online, and discussed with and interviewed many people closely involved with and/or affected by the events.

In short, based the evidence I collated I believe that after three months (I’ll get back to this in a moment), the impacts of “Two Minutes Hate” and its follow-up FAQ have been more negative than positive, and that the negative impacts are disproportionately felt by a few people who were already on the receiving end for frequent online abuse. The post failed to clearly convey Mark’s intended message and caused harm both directly and indirectly to people singled out as examples. I see the following as key errors:

  1. Focusing on a problem that seems iffy at best, a perceived conflict between aficionados of two gaming styles.
  2. Conflation of this perceived conflict with a very real lack of diversity in the tabletop game design, publishing, and playing community.
  3. Grouping a series of situations Mark disliked in the gaming community around his conflation of the two issues.
  4. The choice of several of these illustrative examples as poor ones to support his argument.
  5. The calling out of individuals who were not equal offenders in evenly-matched conflicts but the long-time victims of online abuse (or their infuriated allies.)

Because of the tangle between issues, between illustrative examples, and between call-outs, it became practically impossible to discuss individual elements without bringing in distractions and derailments.

But wait, there’s more!

In the past two weeks, we’ve also seen game designer Avery Alder take flak for a very thoughtful update of her new Kickstarter campaign in which she explained why she was temporarily shuffling stretch goals to take Mark Diaz Truman and Marissa Kelly off the next immediate line-up item while she looked for a solution that would neither brush away the victims of harassment nor throw valued collaborators under the bus. As a result, she received a number of hostile comments and even loss of pledges.

I can’t wrap my head around this: having to take “sides” between Avery and Mark, between Buried Without Ceremony and Magpie Games, between Monsterhearts and Cartel (1)? How are we not all the poorer for this sort of rift in the role-playing community? Then we saw the process all over again when Avery announced her final decision to re-instate the stretch goal!

I understand where a lot of this is coming from. A lot of role-players are idealists: we dream of changing things for the better, even if it’s just in a game — or with a game. And we idealists can second-guess ourselves to nothingness: “Am I using the tools of the Adversary?” “Am I standing up enough to my values?” and so forth. Usually, that’s good — we should check ourselves against self-satisfaction, confirmation bias, and hypocrisy. But excess can result in shooting ourselves in the foot.

And we’re all the heroes of our own tales. For what it’s worth, I believe that even a lot of people that dish out online harassment may be doing so in the name of high-minded principles. I’m not questioning motives, here; I’m assessing results.

Dark Backdrop

All this, of course, happened against the background of Gamergate, Sad and Rabid Puppies, mass shootings, Black and Blue Lives Matter, post-Brexit racism in the U.K., Front national capitalization on terrorist incidents in France, and a toxic presidential election in the U.S.A. which stretched over nearly two fracking years.

That background cannot be discounted as extraneous. There is a continuity at all scales, and the looming, larger conversation about which voices get to be counted and who gets to be scapegoated only increased tension for those who have learned through experience to expect abuse, and for their allies. We’ve all been so stressed and now it feels like the worst is coming to pass everywhere.

Is a little fracas now and then in a tiny hobby worth worrying about compared to this? I think so. We create and play our little games to express a key part of ourselves and to connect with like-minded individuals. Where will we start if not with those close enough to share our offbeat, niche passions?

I don’t believe in simple answers to complicated questions. And I am not upset about disagreeing with friends and allies from time to time, as long as we discuss with good faith and respect, and recognize our errors. There is no one I agree so much with that we won’t have an earnest, passionate discussion on some topic we disagree on which we both hold to be important.

So what now?

I didn’t want to repeat the error of packing into a single post too many things that deserve separate examination before they can be clearly linked. I pencilled an extensive assessment of “Two Minutes Hate” and its impacts, but this draft still collapsed too much in one post. I will publish my assessment soon, including authorized interviews with some of the principals (i.e., no quoting private conversations I’ve had, just formal interviews in writing or recorded with permission.) But I will publish it as part of a series of posts addressing individual issues such as:

  • Our House: What is our community?
  • Are We There Yet?: Representation in RPG publishing
  • Prism: Visible and invisible privilege (or lack thereof)
  • Bubbles or Airbags?: Safe spaces and curating conversations
  • Missing Stairs: Silence, calling out, and calling in
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Issues of scale in a tiny pond
  • The Wall: Boycott, blacklisting, and shunning

Several people knowledgeable about these issues have already agreed to upcoming interviews (time permitting, of course.) So I ask you, if you take an interest in our little corner of geekdom, to bear with me as I attempt to peel the onion and examine these issues (and more) in good faith. I would also love to receive your suggestions of topics relevant to this conversation.

Edited to Add Notes

(1) Cartel later turned out to have problems of its own, but just substitute any of the excellent titles Magpie Games produced. Return.