Monday, February 27, 2017

The Cost of Being Creative, The Cost of Lying

Seven years ago, when I first started to click and google my way into the online RPG community, here’s what I (like most people) saw:

1. Hundreds of people who were trying—often quaintly, sometimes dazzlingly, always earnestly and by-and-large without the huge professional benefit that a successful gamble on student loans had given me in the way of an expensive art education—to make some creative things.

2. Hundreds of people on messageboards and blog comments trying--by any means necessary and with no holds-barred or fact-checking--to make doing that as painful as possible

3. The more daring and interesting a thing was, the more aggressively thing #2 happened

…and have no doubt: it worked. A great deal of middle-of-the-road stuff was being published while the best stuff languished on blogs or in obscure corners of still-obscurer forums.

When I started this blog, folks would write in, asking questions about which way to take their projects, always including “I want to_____ but I’m afraid people will say _____ “.

This isn't just about hurt feelings, either, in an online scene where the only way to make a profit is to get your project talked about: making a sustainable living requires attracting hate speech. To a far larger degree than in non-nerd media.

Here were people not recognized as artists in any sense, not influential to anyone, with mortgages or student loans or both, working tech jobs or at banks or biscuit factories, trying in the few hours between commute and sleep to do new things but sure of only one thing: they would get attacked for it. And whatever -ism the attack involved would be forever attached to their name on the internet as the price of trying to be creative.

Trolls are not a government. This wasn’t censorship or directly free speech issue—and people should not use those terms. What post-fact criticism in volume does isn’t censor, what it does is raise the cost of being creative.

The problem is not so simple as criticism or censorship being good or bad--the issue in small online creative communities is about when the cost of being creative is higher than the cost of lying (or, to be very charitable, talking without googling a single word of what you're on about first.)


A lot of the attacks on people like James Edward Raggi at LOTFP, at Stacy Dellorfano at Contessa, and like me presume that the internet controversies we were involved in are somehow failures of professionalism or decorum—mistakes, brand-damaging eruptions of resentment, lashing-out, rants, screeds penned against better judgment.

In fact, they’re nothing of the sort. I am proud of every stand I ever took and I suspect so are they.

When a white person attacked an artist of color for daring to make pin-up art, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When designers attacked Contessa for only having games run by women and erased the involvement of trans women in Contessa, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When a mom claimed that the D&D With Porn stars girls appearing in a magazine was bad for women, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When a bunch of dudes without facts told Shanna Germain her space succubus was sexist, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When the same dudes told a trans woman a trans character in a game she co-wrote was transphobic, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When groups of designers started a years-long thread behind a paywall dedicated to harassing other designers, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When the girls and I quit working with a company because they hired a transphobic commentator and people attacked us for it, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When a designer lied about rape to frame another designer, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When a designer accused a movie he’d never seen of vast moral crimes despite never having seen it, fighting back and pointing that out made the RPG community better.

When a designer claimed a rival he didn't like was secretly courting Nazis, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When an asexual, married, cis-presenting mom with a kid falsely claimed she suffered more homophobia than the LGBT game designers criticizing her, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When a dad claimed that Kingdom Death was somehow hurting his daughter while ignoring the feminists who were calling him out, fighting back made the RPG community better.

When major game designers, publishers and gadflies casually support these wild claims, fighting back makes the RPG community better.

The controversies are not proof of having done something wrong, they are proof of having done something right.  Before people started taking a stand in the post-internet RPG scene, basically nothing good was getting published. Now that people have, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Everyone who took a moral stand in any of these incidents has lowered the cost of being creative by proving to creators that the honest elements of the game community have their back and by proving we want to raise the cost of lying.

But the cost of being creative is not yet zero: my co-author Sarah Horrocks has responded to recent attacks by cishet dudes on RPGnet by saying she’ll never work in games again. That avenue for exposure and side income has been denied this particular up-and-coming trans creator. Not a single one of the folks who attacked her work has been forced to make a similar announcement.

As long as the people who can do that pay less of a price than the people who stick their necks out by trying to change what we are allowed to see and read and play, there will alway be a need for ”drama”—no matter how unpleasant that word is.

Those of us privileged enough to be able to tank in these fights can and should. The maker of things is sometimes innocent, the liar never is.



thekelvingreen said...

Now that is a rallying call. Well said, Zak.

Kent said...

Why don't you stop for a second and think.

There is no such thing as a trans person, just mental illness.

There is no such thing as a 'person of colour' just black.

You virtue signalling cunt.

gagsmith said...

Jesus! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, apparently this troll.

Sean McCoy said...

How can I help?

Zak Sabbath said...

Stay tuned, Sean.

In the meantime, if you see someone lying, push back.

DazzleEngine said...

Now, now Julio, Kent here is just demonstrating the truth of the old adage:

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Very well said.

There is something else going on as well. Not just liars, but people in it just for the sake of drama. They want to "be involved" and sometimes it seems (to me anyway) that the "side" is less important than being in the thick of it.
It's a behavior I have seen time and time again. People become addicted to the online drama. They get some sort of dopamine feedback loop when online.

Recent case in point, I didn't have to know anything about a current controversy to be able to predict where the lines were drawn and what one of the sides was saying. As turns out (and as it often turns out) one side had not even bothered to actually read/know/investigate said thing only because they were focused on the creator of said thing.

Some people I guess just can't stand to see other people succeed/do well/have fun.

Zak Sabbath said...


You can't just comment with unwarranted personal attacks, if you have an accusation: make it.

Jimshido said...

Right on, man. Right. On.

Seth said...

While I think this post serves a point as proof of the bile some of these toxic people regularly spew, it's also hate speech and deserves to be deleted.

Ro said...

I would say, that in this Braver Newer World it's even more effing tantamount to question so called conventional wisdom. I used to care too much about what people thought, now I have reached an age where not caring has been like throwing off chains of enslavement. What am I going on about? Oh yeah, keep on doing that thing you do. Sometimes the ideas you post make me crazy, but this has made my own thinking razor sharp. Your logic and writing are powerful. You make it seem effortless while I am struggling to scratch out every word. And I hate you for this. Don't ever stop.

Peter Webb said...

Hey Zak can you provide examples of "When I started this blog, folks would write in, asking questions about which way to take their projects, always including 'I want to_____ but I’m afraid people will say _____ '." Thanks

Zak Sabbath said...

The oldest emails go back a long way and a re hard to find but Stacy addresses that here:

Anonymous said...

I am a little confused by the "post-fact" rhetoric vis a vis criticism as discussed here. I think that's because with the Trump Lugenpresse invoking concepts like fake news and alternative facts, I'm a little wary of anything that remotely sounds like someone saying "the only facts that are REAL facts are the ones of which I approve."

The language of "the cost of lying" is interesting and compelling and worth considering, but I don't think a person failing to do their due diligence is exactly twirling their cape and cackling madly with malice. They are just failing to back up their sources, right? Frustrating and drama creating sure, but I'm not sure the action falls in line with the definition of what a lie is: a deliberate untruth.

A closing word about the troll "Kent" and the comment of his you've left here: be careful with your syntax when you do this stuff, man. You will be caught out.

Zak Sabbath said...

when the charge is as serious as harassment etc, failing due dilligence is exactly as bad as lying.

as for Kent: do your due dilligence and yll see he's an old osr troll who was around loooong before me

Fonkin said...

I thank you and your group for being a part of this. And Stacey!

I also thank you for my daughter's sake. She's 8, and she's got gamer blood, for sure, and given the shitstorm that was GamerGate, plus all the horror stories of women being marginalized (at best) in the gamer community and at conventions, it's been a real relief to see that I'm not the odd duck out. My fear is that she would have been pushed away from that scene due to the prevalent misogyny, but you've all opened my eyes to the fact that there are a LOT of people besides myself who just aren't going to take that shit.