Monday, January 4, 2021

Talking (Literally) to Story-Gamers--Ron Edwards, Vincent Baker, Mark Diaz Truman, et al

Indie game bigwig Ron Edwards (with Jez Gordon) pretending 
to be a frost giant at Gen Con for me. He would later claim
that this afternoon (the only time we met) was part of a highly
sophisticated psyop against him and I am not joking.


CONFLICT RESOLUTION 101...

...is you talk to people. So, as a person who has always tried hard to do that I figured I'd show a concise record of what happens when you do that. This is for the benefit of anyone in the future trying to deal with the problems of the online RPG scene  and for anyone trying to figure out what drives hatemobs.


WHY STORY GAMERS? 

This article's about real-life interactions with people from the indie games/postForge/Story Games/hippie games clique for a simple reason:

These were the pretty much only conversations where I ever saw anyone discuss with anyone, in real time, their own toxic online behavior.

The old-school gamers simply never have these conversations (they went straight from being very nice in real life at conventions--and not bringing up any concerns of any kind--to lying online, with no back-and-forth at all), and other gamers just never interacted in real life at all.

So, in no specific order...

RON EDWARDS

Who they are:

Ron Edwards founded and owned The Forge, birthplace of the Story-Game scene. He also is the main guy behind GNS theory. In kinda-relevant news he also is a biologist or biology teacher, so he knows what real theories are, it's part of his job.

How he made contact:

I don't agree with GNS theory but I took it seriously and was not about to condemn it or him until I'd given him a chance to address the issues I had, since, yknow: always try to talk to people before talking about them. He wasn't much part of the online drama the Story-Games people caused so I didn't blame him for that (at the time) but for years I couldn't even find him and he didn't respond to emails. Eventually we did videochat.

The First Conversation:

I shared video footage of my group playing and we talked about fitting it into GNS theory. I asked "Aren't scientific theories supposed to be disprovable? What would disprove your analysis?"

He went "Heh, you got me there! I don't know."

(Coming from an art background I know that theories about art can, yeah, actually be disproved just like scientific ones.)

I mostly viewed him as harmless at that point and he wasn't much involved in online drama and I had no ill will against him.

But then:

Ron got suddenly shitty in an online thread about a painting (not mine). My first comment was like "Hey, do you really mean the thing you're saying?" and he immediately went off (transcript).  We stopped talking online after that.

The Second Conversation:

We met at Gen Con at the behest of a mutual acquaintance and had a nice conversation for an hour or two. It was an hour or two, and lead to the photo at the top of this blog entry. I basically was like "Look, you got asked a question, you teach, right? Why was it such a big deal to just answer and not be a dick? The world's not a conspiracy against you" and he was like "Yeah, I'm sorry".

And that was the end of that and I was like cool, it's nice to talk to people irl and it seemed like everyone else felt the same way: Charlotte Stokely (testified for me) was there and so was Jez Gordon (joined the hatemob) and James Raggi (weird failed neutrality? idk). You can ask them what they thought, they're all on social media.

Aaaand...It All Fell Apart:

After the 2019 hatemob started, Ron posted a long youtube video about me. If this was just "Ok, now I decided Zak was bad" it would hardly be worth mentioning, but Ron went WAY further. Some highlights:

  • Ron says apologizing to me at that Gen Con and me not apologizing back (I hadn't done anything wrong but I guess he assumed I would anyway?) was the worst thing that ever happened to him in his entire life including times Ron was physically beaten up
  • He says he felt completely humiliated when he got back to his hotel. 
  • This still-cited titan of RPG theory claims that because of information he knows from spies in Berlin that this was all part of some kind of either CIA-trained or quasi-religious psy-op technique I used on him. Because I grew up in California. (I didn't.)
  • These highly-sophisticated techniques apparently included controlling his food intake and breathing.
  • I am not joking.
  • For some reason Brendan Necropraxis shared this video, without comment in the OSR discord while they were trying to cancel me as if, like, this was a thing that humans should be paying attention to. I've never figured out why.


MARK DIAZ TRUMAN

Who they are:

Mark Diaz Truman runs an outfit called Magpie Games and also did some kind of social justice-y organizing at conventions I think for profit.  He is or was involved in the Indie Game Developer Network (IGDN) I think.

How he made contact:

I didn't know him from a hole in the ground but one day in a casual online conversation about how toxic Story Games people act toward outsiders he pushed back and acted like this wasn't a thing. I showed him the first and easiest proof I had to hand.

To my shock, this shocked him. Even more shocking, he was like "Ok let's talk." 

We talked over vidchat...

The First Conversation:

Mark admitted to always kind of casually assuming that I was a harasser because that's what people in his community said. I asked whether he ever asked for proof and he said "No" and said "Well isn't that incredibly stupid?" and he admitted, yeah, that was unfair.

This conversation lead to Mark writing a post called Two Minutes Hate about how toxic Story Games people were shitty to outsiders and people of color. It marks a high-water mark of that scene being anywhere near even remotely self-critical, pissed a lot of Story-Gamers off to this day but really soft-pedaled their abuses and avoided naming names.*

The Second Conversation:

Mark got so much hate from supposed friends that he wanted to write a second post to clarify. We talked. I told him the problem with the original post and the new one was that:

-If you want to write a thing like that, you need to define words like abuse and harassment and then accuse everyone whose behavior matches those definitions of those things. By name.

He said, straight up: there is no way he would be calling out Ash Kreider (he said their name) or the other obviously-broken-stairs in his community by name. Not because of any moral issue but because, financially, it would be ruinous. He wrote a milquetoast walkback that pleased nobody.

Aaaand...It All Fell Apart:

Basically, as soon as the 2019 hate started, Mark forgot all that stuff he'd said about proof and caved, apologizing for ever having called out his fellow indie scenesters.


AVONELLE WING

Who they are:

Avonelle runs game conventions.

How she made contact:

Avonelle made this post about her community's Sacred Crackpots. She called them "mad mystics". Around this time she also said that if anyone was dealing with her community's drama and wanted to they should get in touch. I took her up on it. Again we talked over vidchat...

The Conversation:

I basically was like

"Your 'mad mystics'/'sacred crackpots' attack people outside your community and start harassment campaigns."

"Well we're trying to care for our Mystics"

and I was like "Yeah but that's your choice, in the meantime why don't you also try to protect their victims from them?"

I asked "Why doesn't your community fact-check these claims?"

...Avonelle tried to reply with the idea that well Because Women Should Be Believed and...But I pointed out her Mad Mystics were never making accusations about things that weren't recorded--they were talking about online stuff you can link to, so that argument doesn't make sense. There's no reason to "believe" anyone about a recorded conversation.

She then conceded that was true. Then I asked her why she really joined in the harassment without evidence. She said she didn't. I said I have the receipts. She said "I'll take a look at them, we should talk again later". 

Aaaand...It All Fell Apart:

I sent her the proof of her dogpiling an attack and she never answered and then blew me off.


VINCENT BAKER



Who they are:

Probably the most important Story-Game designer, did Apocalypse World. Ex-mormon.

How he made contact:

Vincent added me on Google+. Occasionally when I had problems with people in his scene I'd talk to him about it privately to see is there was a way to cool things down because he's well-respected with those folks. He is the only person in this blog entry I never had a real-time videochat or irl face-to-face with, but we talked in private messages occasionally.

The conversation we had:

Vincent's first piece of "advice" was that he personally, never responded to people like RPGPundit attacking him because he (Vincent) felt that these people advertised him. So he saw it as kayfabe and he was like "Good! It sells books!"

I pointed out that Vincent's harassing friends were, unlike right-wing trolls, both taken seriously in the scene and making criminal accusations so I couldn't just ignore them and it was dangerous. He would  not defend anything they said, but recommended I talk to Paul Czege and said he was nice. Vincent even gave 10$ to Demon City at the beginning.

Aaaand...It All Fell Apart:

When the 2019 mob started, Vincent retroactively painted attempts to cool things down by talking to him privately as somehow bad and evil on his Twitter. Like, "try to get a mutual acquaintance to help create a dialogue" is exactly what you're supposed to do in a conflict but Vincent pretended it was an evil scheme to manipulate him and the force of Vincent's rep and Beardy Adult In The Room persona just ran roughshod over that.

Secondhand people reported Vincent had secretly admitted he stayed out of a lot of conversations because he was afraid I might show up. Needless to say he never mentioned this when we talked.

Also, if he did: you're welcome.


JESSICA HAMMER

Who they are:

Jessica Hammer hates being called a Story Gamer. She's an academic at Columbia University (last I knew) who does things including study games and gamer culture but as far as the online scene goes: she endlessly supports major Story Gamers people and is friends with them and talks to them all the time for years and does not so much talk to the rest of the indie game scene.

So, she's like one of those conservative columnists who constantly yammers on about not wanting to be part of the Republican party. I don't know what she does at home, but from the POV of the rest of us--she supports exactly the same missing-stair behavior as all the other Story-Gamers.

How she made contact:

Typical google+ thread about how toxic Story-Gamers are. She or I reached out to the other and said "Hey lets talk privately".

The conversation we had:

This started with a lot of private back-and-forth-messages. They were not friendly but were basically professional. I was like "Let's talk in real life because this is confusing".

So I was visiting New York and we went for pizza. At the end of that conversation she hugged me and told me she "loved" me. 

She said--

  • She's is upset at how many people in the Story-Games tabletop RPG scene pretend to be theorists and to have scientific authority while not using any of the genuine tools of social science or being up on any of the theories of games that've actually been tested.
  • She has played with a lot of the SG gamers and decided they were "terrible players" and decided they didn't seem to actually play games enough or pay attention when they were playing and they acted like they could talk their way into being better designers or players.
  • She says she had "very strong negative feelings about the Forge and (some of) its offshoots, particularly Story-Games. "
  • When I pointed out specific shitty things that specific major Indie scenesters she was associated with had said (PH Lee claimed George RR Martin wanted people to be raped, Ash Kreider said an artist of color (Hyun Tae Kim) should be denied work because their art was fetishy and sexy), Jessica agreed they were shitty. Jessica said, of one of them, "I see (Ash Kreider) destroy a lot of potentially interesting conversations with people I'd like to talk to because of how [s/he] communicates" and that they were "not someone I'd invite into any conversation I wanted to stay nuanced or productive."
  • Hammer admitted that she was trying to politely groom Ash into being more useful and added that her own (Hammer's) motives for doing this were: "completely self-serving." 
  • Hammer admitted they did not voice these concerns to anyone in the scene because she was considering writing, academically, about the Indie scene and didn't want to burn bridges.
  • "You have no idea what a relief it is to say these things to someone."
  • "As a game theorist, Ron Edwards is an excellent biologist."

Aaaand...It All Fell Apart:

PH Lee and Ash Kreider (both then going under different names at the time) lied about rape threats from a whole other guy, and got caught by a fellow Story-Gamer. I pointed this out to my followers to warn them these were dangerous people and instead of being like "Oh, that also is bad, I am sorry people that I help did that" Jessica Hammer just blocked me.


JOHN WICK

Who they are:

Not the one who's been single-handedly fighting his colleagues for years because they fucked with him for no reason in 2014 and have refused to de-escalate no matter how clearly he signals he isn't going to stop. This is the guy who did 7th Sea and Legend of the Five Rings. I don't really know if you'd call him a Story-Gamer, but whatever.

How he made contact:

He made a video or an essay about how D&D doesn't do "stories" properly. I can't remember if this was his same video about Tomb of Horrors was terrible or not. I made a comment about how that didn't make sense to me--he said "Hey why don't you come on video and we'll talk?".

The conversation we had:

I went on his youtube show and we had a completely friendly chat and I said a story can be about tactics--I used Three Billy Goats Gruff as an example.

He was like "Ok, yeah, true, fair".

I remember saying like "Hey be careful about saying crazy things online about game design, people learn by watching designers they admire".

And he was like ok, that makes sense, and admitted sometimes he gets emotional and says crazy things (he used the word "crazy") and that's a thing he acknowledges. Later when I threw a party at Gen Con he came.

Aaaand...It All Fell Apart:

Honestly I have no idea what his excuse was or when he gave up. Dude just blocked me and I haven't heard a thing.


THE "REAL" PERSON

A leftish reporter I listen to recently wrapped up his long-running interview podcast, and he said an interesting thing in his final "lessons learned" episode basically to this effect:

Often the person who comes out when you talk in real time seems very different than the one you meet online but while the usual interpretation of this is that the real-time persona is "real" and the online one is some caricature, the truth is that it's actually neither or both. The desire of many people (or at least weak-willed or anxious people) to be agreeable in person is as much a distorting factor as the way the distancing of social media makes them apathetic or outright sadistic online and really you can only judge the "real" them (both of them) by their actions.

(I think those two proportions might be related: the more someone is unable to advocate for their real concerns in person, the more likely they are to expel those emotions by acting like a sociopath online, but that's my guess--the interviewer didn't say that.)


SO WHO WERE THEY REALLY?

I think Mark Diaz Truman was genuine at first (otherwise he borrowed a lot of trouble for no reason) and it seems like Jessica Hammer was but since she admitted to being dishonest with and about the S-G community just to write about them she might've been doing the same with me.

The rest it's hard to tell: they may've just been on an emotional rollercoaster, unable to fix in their own minds what they wanted out of these conversations, or they might've just wanted to avoid pissing me off, or they might've wanted the very minor benefits of me saying to y'all that they're a reasonable person unlike their terrible co-workers or they might've just wobbled back and forth.

At any rate, the outcome and the root problem was always the same: either they forgot every precept they claimed to subscribe to the second it became emotionally or financially inconvenient or they were passive-aggressively holding back issues they had all along. Under these circumstances no matter how much you talk to a person like that you're never really talking to them. It isn't a conversation about real thoughts in their heads.

Why would anyone do that? Honestly I'm going to guess because all I can do is guess--they won't talk.

It just seems like they live in a world of fear. Ron is terrified someone is coming for him because of years of arguing with people like this and spawning a scene with people who now hate him, Vincent Baker is scared of not being able to maintain the image of a detached hippie genius and being sucked into being considered responsible for what his shitty allies and fans do (despite refusing to cut ties with them),  Truman's scared of losing money--he said so, Avonelle is scared of activists she courts activisting at her (con organizers get a lot of shit), Hammer is terrified of having to be responsible to anyone for what the scene she's obsessed and claims to be "studying" does and of not just being considered a fly on the wall, John Wick is terrified of his contrarianism being a liability instead of a delightful marketing strategy. 

They agreed to talk because of fear and they don't want to commit to what they said because of fear. It's no wonder they hate being asked why they did things.

The indie business doesn't have to be this gross, I promise.

-----

*They had all these conspiracy theories about why he did it. "It seemed like the right thing to do" is always implausible to these folks when it comes to disagreeing with them. Avery Alder was like "I bet he's working on a project with Zak" and other people assumed we were pals. We weren't and never were.

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21 comments:

Zak Sabbath said...

@PennyD

I didn’t rewatch the video before posting this (
it’s hard to watch) but I am marking that as miss information since I don’t see any exaggeration at all.

I mean that seriously though if you do think part of what I said is exaggeration “the part you did because as far as I know I’m just repeating his own theory

Zak Sabbath said...

@PennyD
If I did turn out to accidentally have exaggerated I’ll repost your comment

Zak Sabbath said...

@Anon

Deleted. No anonymous comments

Simon Tsevelev said...

It all reminded me about the scene in All The King's Men where Jack thinks about what could possible make a person do something wrong - love, money, fear (and just being generally evil). I doubt someone would actually pay them for acting that way (weirder things have happened, but... I doubt it), and loving someone doesn't mean you do the wrong thing, unless you're young and stupid (I did plenty wrong when I was younger and thought I'd never meet a better woman in my life). So, yes, it is probably out of fear.
And people are seemingly not afraid of doing the wrong thing (knowing it's the wrong thing) at all. Which is not good, and also explains a lot about our society.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Семен

Well, these people aren't

Zak Sabbath said...

@Yann ABAZIOU

Deleted. You're banned for online harassment and abuse. You don't get to hang out here until you make a full public apology and take significant steps to rectify the harm you've done to your victims.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Yann ABAZIOU

Proof? Always. You make a false felony accusation about me here: https://armsinthewronghands.tumblr.com/post/639482426623655936/yann-abaziou-spreading-misinformation

You are an abuser.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Yann Abaziou

You asked for proof. I provided a link in my comment above. Unless your next comment -refers to that link- and either:

A) Acknowledges the link and agrees it is harassment and abuse or
B) Acknowledges the link and gives an argument why it is not harassment and abuse

...you're not engaging in a conversation. No further progress can be made until you recognize your request was fulfilled.

Zak Sabbath said...

@yann Abaziou

So we're back to: You're banned for online harassment and abuse. You don't get to hang out here until you make a full public apology and take significant steps to rectify the harm you've done to your victims.

Penny Dreadful said...

@Zak

"[Ron Edward] claims ... this was [a] technique I used on him."

I would call this an exaggeration in that he didn't explicitly say you used the specific techniques he described, and rather said you used vague "techniques" and went on to describe ones he was familiar with in whatever shadowy overseas research he did.

He did say these things adjacent to one another, and in that way implied (intentionally or otherwise) that you did these things deliberately but didn't explicitly say "Zak did X, Y, Z". A very subtle distinction, and one likely blurred under the definition of civil defamation, but a distinction nonetheless.

In any case, his rambling bizarre parable of personal justification was somewhat unsettling. Subtly implying you're some kind of SoCal IndieOSR Charlie Manson is unhinged (so far as I can tell, anyway).

Zak Sabbath said...

@PennyDreadful

No, hedefinitely claims in the video that I used a number of techniques on him and that:

-"normally" he's very good at resisting such techniques,

-BUT because he hadn't eaten, was maybe tired, alcohol etc.

-he did fall for them

-that is why (he draws a cause and effect here) apologized for being a dick online

-and that's why he went home and then felt horrible like it was the worst feeling he'd ever felt

Because of that cause-and-effect logic (how was he fooled into doing the horrible thing: -apologizing for being a dick on the web- ? techniques!) He's clearly claiming I used these on him.

If he's not the middle part, where he (for example) says I consciously waited until he was about to speak, watched his breathing, and interrupted him at exactly that moment, doesn't make sense.

It isn't subtle--he only even mentions my alleged SoCal upbringing in order to explain why I might have these powers.

Penny Dreadful said...

I think we disagree only in that he at no point says "Zak tampered with my food and drink."
I contend he is being more sinister (employing *gasp* techniques, perhaps?) in collecting all of these ideas and presenting them in a manner that communicates that you did all of the things he mentions without an explicit accusation.
He doesn't say, "Zak got me drunk" rather "I had been drinking and Zak is friendly."
He skirts accusing you of direct action by saying "Zak knows techniques" and "I am usually resistant to techniques" and "after speaking with Zak, when I was vulnerable, I left in bad shape."

I'm not saying he isn't trying to implicate you, I'm saying if he wanted to do so while avoiding civil liability, this might be how to do so.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Penny Dreadful

Here are the goalposts. This is your claim:

"I would call this an exaggeration in that he didn't explicitly say you used the specific techniques he described, "

He doesn't claim I tampered with his food and drink (though I offered drinks left over from the party and maybe food idk) and that is not part of his claim. It's also not part ofmy claim. So that's not relevant to your claim, either, which was (to repeat):

"I would call this an exaggeration in that he didn't explicitly say you used the specific techniques he described, "

He claims I intnetionally used an organized program of intentional influence techniques. The breathing thing is an example.

Trent B said...

Fascinating and confusing behaviour, as usual.

Anyway: I was not aware that Jez joined the hatemob - are you sure he did? I thought he just kinda stayed out of it?

Zak Sabbath said...

@Trent B

Jez blocked me, won't talk to me and has continued to follow, talk to, and promote hatemob members so I'd say he's definitively picked a side.

Mosdrosh said...

Autism.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Mosdrosh

Nearly everyone in the RPG community accuses anyone they are in conflict with of autism and/or narcissism, so I am cautious of overdiagnosing them in any serious context or using that alone to explain things.

However there is a consistent set of social permissions people give themselves--permission to avoid conflict, permission to refer to hurting their feelings as "harm", permission to lie in order to avoid discomfort, which they often, themselves, call autism or "being on the spectrum". Whether or not it's medically true, it definitely is wielded as a way to dodge repsonsibility and sucks.

It also makes it so that the only way to be sure you're understood by them in print or otherwise via text is to talk in hyper-clear precise language (like I'm doing now), so they can't claim to have been bamboozled by your colorful speech.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Anon

Erased. No anonymous comments allowed.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Sinon

Repeat: no anonymous comments. Use a persistent identity.

Zak Sabbath said...

@BM

Use a persistent identity.

Or, if this is your first-ever comment on the internet: say so now.

Zak Sabbath said...

@persistent

no problem: make a comment listing the names that you have used previously on this blog