Mandy got out of the hospital yesterday and is recovering. They're feeding her on 12-hour cycles of Total Parenteral Nutrition--a tube of marshmallow-colored goo straight to her heart. She's in good spirits and we'll get to play D&D again soon which'll make me post more ideas about D&D.
Meanwhile we're celebrating of the one year anniversary of the Great Troll War of 2014.
Exactly one year ago today…
…the RPG internet went insane. 5th edition of D&D came out and the conservative elements of the indie RPG scene all piled on to a concerted harassment campaign against the D&DW/PS girls and me.
One year later, everything is fine--contrary to all the predictions, D&D 5 is doing great, my latest game book has record sales and 4 Ennie nominations, and most pertinently, with the exception of a brief, failed attack on Monte Cook, the RPG Drama Club hasn't managed to drum up any trouble for anyone else in RPGs for a whole year.
Their influence is effectively broken--people have been putting out amazing DIY projects left and right without anyone accusing them of hate crimes or fabricating felony charges. It's a marvelous time to be making RPG stuff. But it wasn't easy and took a lot of work.
Of course, they're still there
Four days ago Cam Banks compared you all reading this to the people who voted for Hitler. But like any dumb GW Bush quote ("I know how hard it is to put food on your family"), the cute idiocy is the tip of an iceberg of actual shitty behavior that actually affects things. The behavior is a bigger and more serious thing than dumb words that point to it.
So, for future reference, it's good to collect some lessons learned in the past year about the Drama Club. Who are they? What do they want? How do you keep them from being jackasses in any place where it matters? We've learned a lot.
Comparing the Drama 50--the 50 people most active in this year's harassment campaign--to the 50 people who most actively opposed it, a lot of striking differences emerge:
1. Failed Games
Many of the Drama Club have made games or game products. Nobody in the Drama Club much talks about having played any of these games after they're released. (This is definitely not for lack of talking about what they did that day.) The scene is littered with Kickstarters that failed to deliver or ended up doing worse than breaking even, and a couple of them straight up stole Kickstarter money. Nobody seems publicly concerned with why this is or what can be learned from it. The only exception is Fred Hicks' game, which is relatively old and gathered a good part of its audience before the recent explosion of alternatives. The only tabletop games that you see routinely discussed as having been played by more than one person among the 50 are 'World games and the recent edition of D&D that they tried so hard to tank--neither of which were made by Club members.
2. Playing Games? Maybe. Talking About Them? No.
This is the most immediately obvious thing--the Drama Club may be playing games but they rarely post actual play reports, ideas about rules or settings, analysis or anything else about tabletop RPGs.
The Drama Club's comparatively few tabletop RPG posts in the past year have been overwhelmingly professional: limited almost exclusively to pointing out that they or their friends released a game or are going to. They pitch fits on forums, but not much--and not as much as they used to.
3. Cutting Off Comments
Comparing the Drama 50 to their opposite numbers, Drama Club members are much more likely to close threads--often even before anything contentious has come up, just as a preventative measure while they're away from their computers or phones.
4. They Talk About Mental Illness
Of the 50 most aggressive Drama Club harassers, a wildly disproportionate number--at least 15 of them--have posted about having mental health issues. This isn't my read-between-the-lines armchair diagnosis, this is people openly saying they have clinically diagnosable issues and are seeking care for them or did or have been urged to. That's way more than the folks they opposed, and a big percentage by any count--and that's only the ones who decided to tell the internet.
I hasten to add that I think more "It's salient that The Drama Club members disproportionately see themselves as mentally ill or fragile" than "They only say stuff I don't like because they're crazy".
5. Discussion Is Bad
The Drama Club is basically suspicious or dismissive of contrasting opinions, especially if voiced in public (Soft form: "Clearly there are contrasting opinions here and we'll never sort this out tonight so I'll end the discussion""Twitter isn't a good place to have this discussion" Hard form: "Don't question people"). There's an emphasis on "just listening" even when the voices being listened to are repeating each other and not introducing new ideas. Questions raised rarely get answered.
Which makes most of us wonder: If discussing ideas is bad, why are you posting the ideas on the internet? The sole reason appears to be: to garner support and make connections.
|So, for example, when Bruce Baugh announced in July 2014 that he was dogpiling onto a smear campaign|
he wanted back "shared sympathy", not a request for evidence.
The ideal Drama Club post appears to be:
Drama Club Member: "I like/dislike this thing!"
Friend: "Me too!"
Friend 2: "Me too!"
Stranger: "Me too!"
Drama Club Member: "Thanks everyone! Hey @Stranger, let's be friends!"
Drama Club members who disagree with each other generally just don't voice that disagreement and sit quietly instead until something they do agree with comes up.
Which is all fine--but it then comes as no surprise that they never get shit done or figured out and their conversations go in circles and they have the same conversations year after year.
The only current exception to this model is Something Awful, where discussion exists but in a constant atmosphere of personal attacks, crazy accusations and zero accountability. If this is the Drama Club's only model for discussion, you can see why they avoid it. They don't seem to have enough experience discriminating between what is and isn't fair game in a goal-oriented debate;a lot of them, for instance, don't know the difference between an ad hominem attack and just insulting someone.
6. Fact-Finding, Decision-Making, and Public Projects Are Not A Thing
This is either a cause or effect of 'Discussion Is Bad' (which is itself a cause of 'Failed Games').
The Drama Club model of on-line collaboration is: you make friends with someone by agreeing with them, then you work together in private, then you release the product of that collaboration. The public online discussion itself isn't goal-directed and the idea that you might actually nail down facts or poll opinions or place opposing views in the same place and test which one is right so you can then take action seems totally alien to the Drama Club nowadays.
The only exception here is, again, Something Awful--fact-finding and decision-making aren't things---but there are group projects. These group projects are typically group harassment or elaborate in-jokes. So, again, if Something Awful is the Drama Club's only model for public discussions online that actually have concrete results, you can see why they're suspicious of them.
Accountability is dealt with in three ways:
1. If a target who's perceived to have done wrong is outside the Drama Club (a famous company, a well-known game designer, game, or simply a non-Club indie designer)--post publicly about it, collect agreement, attack anyone who disagrees as horning in on your important discussion with their clearly bad-faith evil-outsider dissent.
2. If the target who's perceived to have done wrong is inside the Drama Club, quietly stop talking to them and say nothing about it and let them do it over and over again.
3. If someone outside the Club calls for accountability for anyone inside the Club, accuse them of harassment.
The last exception to this pattern was when John Stavropoulos called out Ben Lehman for lying about rape ages ago. This immediately immersed John in a shitstorm of harassment and there are many Drama Club members who still back Lehman to this day--including financially via Patreon.
8. There Aren't Standards of Behavior Just People You Like Or Don't
Innocent Until Proven Guilty, If You Make An Accusation Be Prepared To Defend It, Don't Lie, Apologize If You Make A Mistake, Don't Troll, Don't Give People Shit Just For Liking A Different Game are rules that many Drama Club members might subscribe to in theory, but in practice there are no consequences for breaking them.
Everybody is judged basically on a "How much do I like you?" basis and there are no hard lines. Drama Club-dominated forums all have "moderator judgment call" built into their rules and many Club members have expressed the idea that no matter what someone you like does wrong, there should be no consequences and even if someone you don't like does everything right, they're not entitled to confront or address the accusers because…well because you don't like them.
Which, again, is fine--people are allowed to like people or not--but they then still maintain the fiction that their disagreement is based on some kind of principles rather than just, y'know, dude likes Cannibal Corpse and that freaks me out.
9. Refusing To Own Positions
Club members repeatedly claim they don't even grasp the concept of people not having the same ideas as them. Many have been saying "I don't know what I did to piss everyone off" for a year. Uh…you publicly expressed support and lent credibility to a bunch of legally-actionable libel? And still do? If you believe it: own it, say you believed all the crazy conspiracy theories you said you believe to thousands of people on the internet and defend that position. If you don't: apologize and do better. And if you genuinely don't know--why would you not just ask rather than constantly perform your ignorance? Pretending you can't identify the source of conflict is just weird, but weirdly common.
Outside the Drama Club, the usual way to refer to controversies is to say what you did and defend it or, at worst, refuse to talk about it. Inside it, simply pretending you didn't do anything anyone could even theoretically have disagreed with is a viable option and nobody inside the Club questions that choice.
10. Do Nothing To Concretely Support Progress
In the wake of the complaints about The Strange, a pair of great Native American designers got hired to work on the game and put out a fantastic new supplement, Contessa, the female-run gaming con is making big waves and just got nominated for an Ennie, and trans artists like Scrap Princess and Gennifer Bone have put out amazing products in the past year. You'd think, in a community supposedly obsessed with improving things in tabletop, that these things would be front-page news on the lips of every Drama Club member. They really aren't--they're mostly occupied wrangling about whether Sense8 is feminist enough or showing each other dog pictures.
The Drama Club doesn't do stuff like: see which companies are hiring the most women in creative positions, examine demographics to see who is playing what how often, test whether x or y game attracts more marginalized people as players, routinely review games produced by marginalized people as they come out or, really, do anything else you might expect from an activist group other than get angry and type when they come near something they don't like.
11. Volume and Tone Are Policed More Than Accuracy
None of them have taken Zoe's excellent advice to heart:
The fact that someone talks a lot and whether they swear or not while doing it is more important in evaluating them as a voice than whether their claims can be proven or matches known facts. When a Drama Fact is proven to be wrong, it's dismissed as unimportant.
12. The Conservative Demographic
The Drama 50 are more often white, more often male, more often straight, more often parents and more often religious than their counterparts. They don't like to acknowledge this.
13. Actively Avoiding Solving Problems
If a Drama Club member has a problem with someone else, they never contact them to try to resolve the issue--they simply announce it to the rest of the Club and let hatred take its course.
14, They've Been On the RPG Internet A Long Time
Most of the Drama 50 have been complaining about games online longer than I've been blogging, and on average far longer than their opposite numbers.
This All Makes Sense...
...but only under exactly one set of circumstances.
If you assume that the Drama Club is on-line for the same reason people in the DIY D&D scene are--to improve and share their experiences playing RPGs with their friends--few if any of these choices or tendencies make sense. You can't learn or get shit done acting this way.
However it also doesn't make sense if you assume the Drama Club is on-line in order to improve the gaming scene by making it more diverse or fair--in fact in that scenario their behavior makes even less sense. Either I was wrong last year when I assumed that the reason the Drama Club tolerated such shitty behavior was because they were pursuing a big-tent-for-change model or they just suck at it. People who prioritized activism would pretty much do the opposite of everything that characterizes the Drama Club: they'd talk about playing games a lot, they'd be concerned if the games didn't work or attract new people, they'd be really worried about facts because those are the basis of effective action, etc.
So what does the Drama Club want? Only one hypothesis I can see matches all the facts (feel free to propose your own):
The Drama Club is not about games, the Drama Club is not about activism, the Drama Club is a support group.
In case you haven't noticed, I have a very short fuse. I am almost always stressed out or angry about something, and gaming and g.txt are pretty much my only outlets because that's damn near all I got...
Yes, I'm probably biased toward SA because they're the only place that actually gives a shit about anything I have to say about the hobby and g.txt is the only release valve I have for getting mad about the hobby.
-S.D., Drama Club and Something Awful member
Basically, the Drama 50 are this guy. They see themselves as constantly in crisis all the time.
These are lonely, sensitive, often unstable people who have had traumatic experiences in life--many of which are connected to games--and the primary and transcending purpose of all of their online interactions is to connect with other people who feel the way they do about games and pop culture not so that they can improve their games, not so that they can help other people, but so that they can feel less sad and less isolated.
They are talking to each other in game forums because they have nobody else to talk to--the online network of people who know enough about their niche hobby to hate the same things as them is their support system. And the hating is neither an attempt to solve or even protest a problem--it is therapy.
Once you take this into account, not only does their behavior make a lot more sense, the range of behavior they do accept from each other and don't accept from anyone else makes sense. For example, when someone Pulls a Fred Hicks--that is, they make an attack on someone and then refuse to provide support or evidence citing "mental health reasons"--most people would wonder: If they're so worried about their mental health, why did they make the attack in the first place? And why don't their friends discourage them from starting debates they aren't mentally well enough to engage in?
The reason is: the accuser withdraws from proving their accusations for the sake of their mental health but they also made the accusation in the first place for the sake of their mental health. Fred accuses Kingdom Death of being sexist because the game makes Fred uncomfortable and so it makes Fred feel better to make that accusation, Fred's friends back him up not because they (or anyone) can prove the game is sexist, but because it makes them feel better to support Fred in his attack on some random outsider. Everyone feels better because they're not alone in being made uncomfortable.
Whether or not they're nuts (I have no idea), they feel nuts, and calling them on their shitty attacks is seen as missing the point, essentially...
Ben Lehman accuses George RR Martin of actually wanting women to be raped because it makes Ben feel better to voice that forceful, insane idea instead of something dull-but-plausible like "Hey the way rape is used as a plot device in Game of Thrones bothers me and might unconsciously reinforce some bad ideas for some people somewhere I guess someone should do a study and write a paper". Fellow Drama Club people don't question Ben or point out how toxic that accusation is to any useful discussion of representation because Ben's in the support group and they're in the support group and just ignoring how insane that is does more to promote quiet and calm and mental health than addressing it. Not "Taking the Inventory Of Anybody Else" is a classic maxim of 12-step programs all over the world.
A white guy named Tom Hatfield can accuse someone with more women of color in his game group than are in the entire Drama 50 put together of trying to keep women and POCs out of gaming and nobody calls him on it because they accept that making the public accusation itself is a form of therapy. The accusation (technically criminal though it may be in several jurisdictions) is simply an extreme form of an expression of a feeling--"I don't like that porn guy". Supporting him is not actually about supporting the idea, it's supporting the feeling "I don't like him either". Calling Tom to account for it is gratuitous and cruel--you're getting in the way of Tom's therapy, mannn.
Drama Club members claiming they don't know what they did to piss everyone off when everyone paying attention knows what they did is support libel is not seen by other Drama Club members as evidence they're nuts or mind-numbingly dishonest, it's seen as sensibly choosing the path of the least resistance and most mental health--if you keep pretending it didn't happen, you don't have to think about it, and not thinking about all your problems at once is actually a fairly solid technique for staying sane at least in the short-term.
It all makes sense if you think you're constantly in crisis all the time. (And you think outsiders never are, because otherwise they'd be in the Drama Club, right? This is why there's so much emphasis on how much pain it causes Drama Club members to be called out on their shit--there's a failure to grasp that their attacks might have caused pain to begin with. That's pretty much a characteristic of all conflicts ever--both sides feel pain. Presumably the constant crisis mentality cuts off empathy for everyone else.) If a guy's dying in a ditch you don't give him static about that antisemitic thing he said last week, right?
Nobody is taken to account for lying or talking out of their ass because having their corner of the internet full of true and useful things is not a priority--making sure whoever said a thing feels supported and happy and good about themselves is the priority. Only then (which might take decades) can we address the difficult question of whether they're full of shit or not.
This is why discussion with the Drama Club always breaks down and they will never accomplish anything--the Drama Club's words aren't meant to reflect any reality anyone (even other people in the Club) can see or test, they are simply crystallizations of various frustrations. Doubt is never taken as a responsible, good faith attempt to solve the problem, but as pointlessly kicking their cages. Validity is not the point, validation is.
There's literally no fact that could emerge about any of their targets that would dissuade Drama Club members from their attacks because no matter what happens, they themselves will still be terrified people in need of a kind of emotional support that only other terrified people can give them--so it's hard to see how any of this will ever change. They are troubled, they do bad things, they cannot succeed, they have no incentive to stop hurting other people, they never will.
The best you can do is know what's wrong with them and avoid them like the plague.