All right, let’s roll up our pant cuffs and put on our rubber boots, we’re going wading in last year’s sludge.
Last year, 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. A few days later, Mark followed up with a FAQ explaining his position in more detail.
At the time I posted my reactions to these, to the damage that resulted, and to the separate answer Mark had given me. The thing that made me blow my top at the time was this:
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.
What angered me was that people who had been hurt by Mark’s posts were essentially told: “Wait another three to twelve months, maybe something good will come out of it and make the harassment your received worth my while.”
But that’s not the worst part yet. The topper is that there was in fact to be no attempt to evaluate results nor make any corrections. At the 3-month point, I did make an attempt to collect information on my blog, in social media, and by reaching out in private. At the 6-months point I was too sick, and to be honest, too damn demoralised by the whole tale, to write anything.
But today is the 12-month point and I have to wade through again. I would have liked so very much to be able to walk away. I didn’t actually want to play the stereotypical mean bitch who never lets anything go. But I’d rather be that bitch than the fair-weather friend who sees someone bullied yet sits back and lets them take the abuse, with a side of “You have to be patient” and “Maybe if you used a nicer tone.”
What I Learned
From the enquiries I made last year, as well as the behaviours I directly observed in social media, I got a little bit of numerical data and a larger number of anecdotes. As such, it’s what I tend to consider low-quality data when it comes unvetted, but the care I took in observing, interviewing, corroborating, and evaluating gives me some confidence.
Here is what I have concluded:
Community Relations. Mark’s posts generally widened existing rifts and created new ones.
- People who had been known bad actors in the gaming community (mostly but not solely identifying as men), or who publicly supported such bad actors, took the time to harass people who had been singled out by Mark’s post (mostly but not solely identifying as women) or who publicly supported those singled out.
- Many people in the gaming community drew lines and declared that they would no longer work with the principals nor with anyone who supported them (e.g., “I’ll never work with Mark again,” or “I’ll never work again with those who criticized Mark.”
- Self-published and freelance authors who had not declared sides were pushed and pulled by those who had. A particularly visible example was Avery Alder, whose Kickstarter campaign to fund the second edition of Monsterhearts was impacted.
- I have heard second-hand reports of groups of authors and publishers drawing up “black lists.” However, I have been unable to obtain any primary information nor even a first-hand report.
However, Mark’s original essay did reach a certain number of people:
- In particular, a few young people of colour who are more interested in OSR games than story games reported that it had made them feel more considered, more part of the conversation.
Personal optics based on groups we identify with were important factors, although they were by no means universal.
- People identifying as white women reacted more often in opposition to Mark, and more frequently missed the issues pertaining to persons of colour such as lack of representation or cultural appropriation.
- People identifying as men of colour reacted more often with a modicum of sympathy for Mark’s essay and were often oblivious to gender-based harassment.
- Unsurprisingly, people identifying as women of colour appeared to be torn, and perhaps resentful for having their identities once again treated as “either you’re with us or against us.”
- People identifying as white men were the most numerous, but also the most likely to limit their reflections to game types (OSR vs. story games). They were also the least likely to report noticing a change in the tenor or tone of the conversation unless they had been directly targeted by Mark’s posts.
Harm to specific persons is documented.
- I personally observed online harassment directed at at least three persons identifying as women on separate occasions, by trolls gleefully referring to Mark’s post. I have also observed several people posting less and less on related topics, suspending their blogs, or limiting their posts to friends-only rather than continuing to post publicly.
- I have attempted to verify harm to Mark, which had been reported by some of his supporters. To date, I understand that he received a lot of criticism and even angry mails; however, neither the intensity nor the duration he described are on par with the harassment I reported above. I asked him about loss of sales of his products, because at that time Magpie Games was about to release several landmark games. There does not seem to have been a loss of revenue.
Calling out and calling in. There has been a good deal of discussion in wider geek circles about missing stairs, call-out culture, calling in, and so forth. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
- Mark’s original post belonged to the calling-out category, but it was a failure that painted a target on the back of people who were already the victims of online harassment. That’s shitty.
- In response, some called for a boycott of Magpie Games, and that’s also shitty. Publishing roleplaying games is a cottage industry; boycotts were created as the only resort against mega-corporations, not a blunt instrument to destroy the livelihood of micro-publishers.
- I don’t know if the rumours of black-listing are true. If they are, I bet those people drawing lists and reportedly approaching Mark would say they were calling in. And if what I heard approaches accuracy, it was also shitty blackmail work.
- And tolerating missing stairs, pretending that nothing is wrong but whispering unverifiable rumours, that’s definitely not the answer. When we tolerate missing stairs, marginalized people are always the ones to pay the price.
- In the end, call out or call in, it’s all the same. We need to discuss with empathy and intellectual honesty if we’re going to get anywhere.
In The End
In my opinion, the most lasting damage comes from the fact that Mark done fucked up and would not issue a real apology when people got hurt. People who had believed he was their friend felt abandoned or even backstabbed; and while I’m willing to believe it might have been a failure of communication, not of kindness, waving off apologies and corrections to an indefinite future then never actually checking, as he had himself suggested, the impact of his words—and therefore never correcting the mistakes—became douchebaggery.
And the whole thing makes me so sad. Since that first clumsy sledgehammer of a post, Magpie Games has released or Kickstarted several excellent games, but whenever I opened my copies I had to put them away pretty quickly because they made me want to cry. I gave some away to friends so at least someone would love these games. I kept Masks, in the hope that I may want to play it again some day.
So in the end, what’s the point of this post? I guess it’s to say to those who have been impacted: I’m sorry, I want to have your back, tell me how to help you if you can. No, I don’t think you should be more patient or more soft-spoken. You have every right to rage, and I want to fight alongside you.
And to those who felt buoyed by Mark’s post, who felt heard for the first time: I understand. I hear you. I want to have your back, and fight by your side too. I’m trying, where I have the ability to make a difference, to take concrete action.