Friday, August 19, 2016

Monte Cook and You

What Monte Did This Time

It turns out Chris Pramas of Green Ronin jerked around and misled folks running his GenCon Blue Rose games to the tune of hundreds of dollars.  1

It turns out Loren Coleman of Shadowrun scammed freelancers writing their material out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 2

Are folks hopping mad about these things? No. These things only affect real people in a real way. What are people in game circles hopping mad about?

RPG celebrity Monte Cook put out a very expensive game. Nobody really knows what it's like and it's called Invisible Sun. Clearly he is a fierce villain and begetter of untold woe.

Standard Operating Procedure

The anger map follows a familiar pattern:

1) Anonymous folks who dredge the game internet looking for the holes in their soul notice a game announcement they don't like, put it on a forum, then trip over each other racing to see who can perform their cynicism about This Industry the hardest. 3

2) Trolls with grown-up identities use them (like, anonymous goon Guilty Spork talks to anonymous goon Evil Mastermind who then turns into responsible wannabe game writer Sean Dunstan so he can talk to genuine game industry guy Rob Donoghue on Google+) to move the outrage off the trollnet and into the light and then post the same takes for a more sincere but still unquestioning audience and then these people trip over each other, this time in a contest to perform pain instead of cynicism. 4

3) Supposed adults with jobs doing game stuff see gamers and wannabe-designers in pain and ask in public posts why oh why doesn't anyone Address These Problems Seriously? And they host hand-wringing conversations with the trolls and feelers awash in grievance and unchecked libel.

4) Nothing changes at all in any way. Even a little. Ever.

What Is Monte Thinking?

Familiar events bring on familiar cries: What is Monte Cook thinking? Why doesn't he see the problems? Why is he so out of touch?

I'm going to educatedly guess what Monte is thinking, because Monte will never tell you, nor will co-designer Bruce Cordell--Monte Cook Games' third pillar, Shanna Germain, might tell you a little bit, but only obliquely. They are professionals.

Let me stress I have no inside knowledge, this is just based on my experience with them and every other person at every other game company who seems to drift ever aloof from the concerns of the outraged. WOTC, Kenneth Hite, Goodman Games, everybody.

Monte and co are thinking: Yes, angry internet, we are out of touch. With you. We are only ever punished for being in touch with you. We decided to be in touch with some whole other bunch of people who aren't you.

Aside from customers, MCG is in touch with the people who actually want the problems they are complaining about to get fixed.

What does that kind of person look like?

-When they see a problem in a Monte Cook Game their first response is to contact Monte Cook Games about it. 
This is, like, instead of forcing this company of three people to sift through Google alerts and carefully pick through hate-threads in order to find substantive complaints in between doing all their real other jobs.

-They answer questions and counter-issues that MCG might have about their complaint.
Generally people do things because they thought it was a good idea to do them. In order to make your complaint meaningful and effect genuine change, you have to address these reasons, not pretend only your priorities exist. The thing to not do is vent your feelz but then immediately shut down the discussion when asked any reasonable question about the relationship of those feelz to actionable reality. 5

-They notice when the problem gets solved.
After the worst parts of the RPG internet called MCG's Shanna Germain sexist for putting a space succubus in Numenera but before the current uproar about a pricey cube, the worst parts were complaining about the treatment of Native American themes in MCG's The Strange. MCG reacted by putting some amazing Native freelancers on the project--Anthony Pastores and Alina Pete. In short, MCG were a model of doing what you're supposed to do in response to outcry.
This meant nothing to the people complaining.
The same folks who were so angry at the misrepresentation of fictional Native peoples (and who participated in every other uproar about MCG) completely failed to notice the tremendously talented actual Native people who just got some work out of the mess. Even if you think MCG's response was too little too late, anyone genuinely worried about the condition of actual people of Native American descent in the hobby would have good reason to shine a spotlight on Anthony and Alina even if they didn't bother to mention MCG while doing it.

-They don't lie about the problem.
Nobody cares what you think if your "concerns" are openly clownshoes--like if you're asserting MCG is demanding players coerce their GMs into playing this game, there's nothing anyone could ever do to address your issue because you made it up.

...and note none of these things is about tone--you can swear and scream and use exclamation marks and be angry all you like and you're still well within bounds of acceptable discourse. This isn't tone-policing your complaint, it's about the content of it: Lying isn't a tone issue.

The People Complaining Know They're Complaining For No Reason

The outrage alarm is not being raised to warn people about MCG (none of their behavior is secret), the alarm is not being raised as a cautionary example to other publishers (nobody else but MCG has plans to make a fabulously expensive game, and very few even could), the alarm is not being raised to explain a hidden flaw in Invisible Sun to fellow gamers (it's immediately obvious that this game is expensive and the game's contents are unknown--these are not secrets), this isn't a cop recorded shooting a child (where the mere existence of the problem suggests the person who can solve the problem will act in bad faith when contacted).

In short, there are as yet no utilitarian reasons that any complaint about Invisible Sun should primarily be addressed to anyone other than the people making Invisible Sun.  Yet still folks are doing it.

Why? In the words of Rebecca West: They want to be right rather than to do right.

There is no sense in which these kinds of complaints can honestly wear the guise of activism--an activist, above all, wants problems to go away, and these complainers have deliberately cultivated a system of complaint which makes addressing the complaint impossible. The difference between critique and whining is critique is directed at actual change.

Meanwhile, much like any other halfway-sane company of its size, the 3 people called Monte Cook Games will restrict their worries to people who actually treat them like human beings you can email, rather than distant constellations you shake your fists at.

1 One GM, Kiel Chenier, is selling the adventure he ran in order to recoup costs he was told the Blue Rose people were paying for--get one here.

2 C- digs in deep on the Shadowrun scam here.

3 For example:

"RPG Despot Monte Cook is telling players to force their GMs to run his new game!"

4 For example:

"Want to play D&D with us?"
"I can't, ever. I saw that there's a Kickstarter for another game, and it's....expensive." 

5 For example.


Reverend Dak said...

Bullshit sense of entitlement rears its head, yet again.

You know, I was intrigued, until I saw that price. But I'm also intrigued by going to space. And by owning a Highlander, or a Tesla. But, I'm broke as shit, and I can't afford any of that. So, guess who's not getting any of that shit, especially that fancy black box.

Zak Sabbath said...

I got an ASK.FM question about this but ASK.FM is apparently full of malware right now so I'll answer it here:

No one is acting like Invisible Sun being ridiculous requires activism. They're just saying they think it's ridiculous for various reasons (expense, Cook being cagey about what the game actually is, his name being the main selling point, disliking Cook's design work in general, etc)

You are lying. The quote above clearly shows Evil Mastermind claiming something far beyond "It's ridiculous". Brie Sheldon, too.

They are both claiming genuine harm.

If these complaints aren't activism then they still beg the question: Why is anyone voicing them?

Solange Simondsen said...

But think of the 19yr old children!

WithintheDungeon said...

I'm disappointed I can't afford the full game... That's not Monty's problem.

Unknown said...

I dropped $300 on the Delta Green kickstarer, as a result I couldn't go all in on the Conan game from Modiphius.

I guess I should should start sending Arc Dream angry emails about how they're problematic attitudes about being fairly compensated for their hard work are unfair to me and my wallet.

Parvel Shunk said...

It's jealousy. These obscure nobodies are upset that Cook can not only sell a very expensive game, but do so with little more than his name and rep.

Morbrin said...

Geez. In high school, my players bought me a copy of Torg and told me they wanted me to run it. Here I thought it was a cool gift and a real compliment on my DM skills. But apparently I should have either felt enslaved or put upon. Or waited 25 years for a $200 game. It's like these folks think the potential DM isn't an adult with the ability to say thanks but no thanks. Or that players are thoughtless and wouldn't consider their DM's interests. Says more about who they game with than about Monte.

Zak Sabbath said...

Members of the Something Awful crowd (and the RPGnet cliques that spawned them) have exhibited a very consistent belief over the years that the shitty people at their game table aren't just shitty people, they're somehow products of various game designers they don't like.

Marcel Beaudoin said...

Sweet flying spaghetti monster. Obviously MCG thinks there is a market for an RPG where the cost of entry is almost $200. Either there is, or there isn't. To me, the cost of entry is way, way to high. But, and this is the important thing, none of the employees of MCG have yet to show up at my house (or work), put a gun to my head and force me to buy it.

It looks real interesting, and the marketing campaign (and kickstarter) also looks interesting. Seems really different from my (admittedly limited) experience, and different is always good, because things that are different from what is out there will drive creativity.

Somewhere, there is a 16 year old who is going to play in the game on Invisible Sun that her older brother picked up, and is going to go on to develop a completely original and mind-blowing tabletop RPG when she hits 30.

Anonymous said...

Brie Bries's thread is the funniest thing I've read in weeks. I realise my fun might be bad and wrong, but these days I take what I can get. Thanks for Blue Medusa.

Zak Sabbath said...

Brie Sheldon is a chronic harasser as are many of the participants in her thread, if you can't laugh at them you can't laugh at anybody.

Venger Satanis said...

She shut her own thread down because of logic. Priceless!

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Anonymous said...

Well, it's been established that adventure modules can turn normal 12 year olds into raging monsters.

Adamantyr said...

If I was going to spend $200 on a game, I'd trust Monte and his crew to make it worth my while. I'd love to run into them around Seattle sometime but I think I work in the wrong area...

As for Ms. Sheldon, I read several of the G+ threads after the whole public post thing a few weeks ago. She is pretty much a perfect model of the Drama Club; thin skinned, opinionated, blocks anyone who disagrees, and uses her G+ as a support group and reinforcer of her behaviors. Leave them in their little blocked G+ circles to grouse about things, but definitely jump on any public attempts at libel.

Ugh, I knew FASA of old was an unscruplous company, but knowing the current Shadowrun is run by even worse people is good to know. That's why I like buying good products from good companies like LotFP and Satyr, knowing the money IS going to the creators, artists, and writers.

Harrowed said...

MCG is trying something different? Cool. They want to charge 200 for it? Again, Cool. New and different things need to be tried, and if it flops, again cool.

Mick said...

I always knew there'd be repercussions from all that damned boxed text...

Mick said...
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The Pretentious Fool said...

I'm curious to know more about the Green Ronin/Blue Rose thing. What's the deal with that?

Zak Sabbath said...

Kiel is still, weeks after Gen Con, trying to get it resolved, so he hasn't made a big public stink about it, but if you want more info, go to the Dungeons and Donuts blog (on my blogroll) and send him an Ask about it

Unknown said...

What I find the most amusing thing about the furor over Invisible Sun is the people making the most noise about how expensive it is, are the very same people who were saying, mere months ago, that game designers were not being fairly compensated for their work. I mean, please make up your mind.

This is a simple purchase decision. Do you like Monte Cook's previous games, and do you have a few hundred spare dollars? If yes - back it, If no - don't.

Renegade Paladin said...

I haven't followed Monte's latest projects, but I posted on his forum way back when and have had dinner with him a few times at Gen Con back when the forum meetup was still a thing and we could get reservations in downtown Indy during the con (which you just can't anymore). He's a very cool guy, and if anyone has a problem with him SELLING HIS GAMES to the tune of public slander of him, I have a problem with them.