So that's that. People in general seem to be really wondering What Is Going On At The Escapist? so I am going to do my best to say what I can tell you from the inside about how something this fucked up happens. And maybe under what circumstances it might happen again. This summary was written quickly--and poorly.
So who are these guys over there? We had meetings, some in person and we talked many times.
From the first phone call I got the impression that these are very much people for whom The System Had Worked. Not necessarily the school system or the government system or any institution, but the broader dork version of the American dream where you are smart and ambitious and so eventually by hook or by crook you get what you are due--that had worked for them. "We're smart so we win." They had respect for technocratic smarts. They do like games, for what it's worth.
Yeah, there was a libertarian vibe which I was really not into, but I've heard Daily Show writers say they were libertarians, and that place seems alright. In the beginning I wasn't paying much attention. It was inside baseball video games and that's mostly pretty boring.
The most common comment you'd get when you said something outside their experience was "Cool cool". Mandy might do a column about feminism and gaming? You want this metal band to do the music? "Cool cool".
"Cool cool" was a way of saying "I don't know what you're talking about, but I like that you are thinking and therefore smart about something so I trust you, I am not going to think about this any more, go to it".
You could show them things and they would appreciate that a thing was being shown to them, but lacked curiosity about it. Like your dad when you talk about some band you liked covering a Hendrix song.
I think a lack of genuine curiosity is one of the most dangerous things a person can have on the internet.
Like the women on the show would go "We are getting a lot of hate on your forums and it's fucked up" and they'd go "Ok, we'll see what we can do" but, like, they didn't get it. They had a Keep The Talent Happy attitude but it took a while for it to sink in that this meant that Tons of their users were abusive assholes and this had to be dealt with constantly and you need someone on it. It seemed like they kinda overall did not have a lot of experience dealing with women with strong opinions who weren't in their same line of work.
What did they have a passion for and what could they talk about with passion? In the cases I saw--history. Particularly military history. I don't mean to suggest that they were crypto-fascists, more just that this was something the dudes could wrap their heads around: a clear foe, tactics and strategy, total victory, total defeat, Clausewitz, the greater technocrat wins.
The most common compliment you'd hear was "____ knows more about ____ than most people in the world so _____". The idea was: you divide things up, and you put an expert in charge of each thing. Which makes sense when you're fighting a war.
It reminded me of that Killing Joke line: Business, lawsuits, market forces - No philosophy courses
Here's the problem: the current argument the Escapist is embroiled in requires philosophical thought. And they don't have a guy for that.
I think they're not the only ones. People--especially dorks--like to set aside thinking about whether to do something and just set their minds to doing it. Just assume Bowser is an asshole and the Princess needs to get saved and get to work on the jumping and fireballs.
So to apply this to the current situation. So here's Brandon Morse talking about calling trans people what they wanna be called:
Here's his defense:
You can say whatever you like. People then can decide you're a dick based on that. Every human in the history of the planet has had that experience and is ok with it. When they go "You can't say xxxx" or "You shouldn't say xxxxx" what they mean is just a shorthand for "You say that and I will decide you're a dick and maybe take action based on that".
I don't think Morse thinks this is a dodge, though. I think he actually believes that. I think the emotional logic of "I do what I want!" is as far as he's thought about it.
Like so many people on the internet, he wants to get what he believes out of the way so he can get on to sickburning people for not believing it.
When I went to The Escapist about this dick, the response was basically pretty libertarian: we don't tell people what to think, his ideas are his own, the market will sort it out etc etc. They didn't have a defense of his ideas, just a defense of their right to slather them in money and slide them across the Internet.
The obvious question is like, Would you use the same logic to employ--ok, this is nerddom so we're not allowed to say a Nazi but fuck it, my dad was Jewish--a very polite Nazi?
My honest-to-god read on The Escapist is they're so libertarian it's a 30-70 shot they'd say something like "Well so long as they weren't advocating violence and were putting out great content, why not?" Not because they hate Jews, but because they just believe that hard in the Marketplace of Ideas.
Or maybe they'd go "Well that's different."
And I'd go "How?"
And at that point, no matter what they say textually--it'd be a desperate cover for the fact that we'd just crossed beyond their experience. Because they never thought "Ok, what if we set up rules at our company to make ourselves money harmlessly and it doesn't work and makes the world genuinely worse for people during our lifetime and theirs and you could've stopped it and didn't because greed?" Their whole lives there has literally been no reason to ask a question like that, so it's never seriously occurred to them.
Just like when you ask people how any 140-character life rule they just made up for themselves breaks down.
I'd like to pretend this is just The Escapist, or just libertarians, but it's really really not. It's a pattern you see over and over with people online when push comes to shove.
Most people don't actually have very clear rules about when to take action or what the words they're throwing around mean. They just have loyalties. That's why you can go "Brandon Morse is a bigot and so is that guy Ettin" and the same people will be like "Yeah Brandon Morse is a dick" and "Calling out Ettin in public like that for something he said months ago? Not cool, dude! You don't go starting drama like that."
Not unless it's, like, important.
What counts as important?
I'm not here to debate you.
(Why do people feel ok about saying that? Just so you know: I am always here to debate you. Ask me whatever.)
But if you're on the internet to announce ideas instead of talk about them, you end up basically using those ideas as a kind of faceless fuel to gather steam for a much larger enterprise and one with more certain rewards: fighting on behalf of them. Tactics, strategy, a clear foe.
And the impression I get is that even if they don't agree with Morse, they like that he's offensive about something even they don't approve of because it somehow in some weird realm proves the macho robustness of their libertarian ethic.
I think the level of Nope Not Gonna Think About It dismissiveness here is hard to wrap your head around if you don't share the mindset. Morse's take on trans issues has been consigned to a certain bin of Less Relevant and there it will stay.
Brandon Morse says something transphobic--4 people retweet it and 11 people favorite it--and that hugging fuels Brandon to say the next thing. And the next thing. That is The Job. That stuff beneath where people, like, question the ideas? Addressing that is not the proper work of Brandon Morse. Or the Escapist or anyone else who ever used the "I was just giving my opinion on my blog jeez isn't this a free country any more?" excuse. You are here to advertise ideas, not use them.
And Brandon makes money somehow, I guess, so it's ok--the same reason RPGnet won't just get rid of the ad server that keeps sending them sexist ads. Dudes Need To Make Money.
Long ago someone at the Escapist decided that We Hire Whoever So Long As It Makes Us Bank--and, moreover, they decided that decision wasn't a secret, cowardly compromise, it was What They Believed and they were proud of it. So, cool--now they have something to Fight For. And the rest is just tactics.
If anybody at The Escapist has a problem with what I just wrote:
Hey kids, buy my new D&D book! It's the fastest-selling and best-reviewed indie RPG book of the season!
...if I follow your logic, if I make even a dollar today, everything I wrote up there was totally justified. Because, like, money's the most important thing, right?-