Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why The RPG Community Will Never Change

There was another RPG scandal recently--either an author at (performatively woke publisher) Onyx Path author and moderator at (performatively woke forum) RPGnet is a rapist or RPGnet let someone go wild with false rape accusations against a moderator and author on their site and just twiddled their thumbs in return, doing nothing to address it, then kicked the guy out.

(Oh and Edit: sexual improprieties happened at Blue Rose publisher Green Ronin just now too.)

And before that there was the sexual harassment.

And the other rapist on RPGnet.

And before that there was the stealing money from freelancers and Kickstarter backers.

And the sexist ads.

And the libel.

It's customary at this point for people to write screeds about how backward the community is and how nerds are insular and resist change and how We Need To Do Something but............that is all spitting straight into a firehose.

This will never end.

The RPG community--at least online--will always have an abusive shitshow going on and if you want to make game stuff you gotta come to terms with that.


Because 90% of the vocal people in it are one of these kinds of people:

The RPG Dude Who Just Wants To Roll And Is So Sick Of This Drama!!

This guy likes playing! This guy sees the RPG community as a resource (which it, among other things, is) and dips in and gets online to find something useful to use--or to buy--or maybe even to think about--and then takes it back to a game table somewhere. "Why" this guy wonders "can't everyone do the same? Why does anyone ever have a problem ever?"

This guy will never change because despite all of this he can't stop talking about how much he hates drama. He talks about it pretty much constantly and about how silly he finds it. He does not get that this is, in itself, extending the drama (it makes more people ask about it and more people know about it and more people voice opinions about it--which is The Drama in a nutshell).

But you couldn't possibly convince him of that because that would deny him the ability to come grouse about these highfalutin RPG folk and their drama and therefore deny him the ability to sell his salt-of-the-earth self-image of himself to himself as somehow noble and not just willfully ignorant about like, maybe, genuine abuse his clicks and dollars pay for?

Paradoxically, suggesting he then shut up about the drama and just go ahead and access the parts of the community that he and his game table actually benefit from makes him feel angry like Holy Shit is someone telling me what to do? And this creates drama.

Popcorn Guy

Popcorn guy thinks of himself a lot like salt-of-the-earth Just Wants To Roll guy, but is one notch more self-aware--he actually enjoys watching people fight online and will admit it to himself and say so. Sometimes he even helps by trolling or tossing trollbait or writing anonymous messages to folks he knows will attribute them to the people they're fighting with. It's all in good fun. :D !

Popcorn Guy will never change because he's got nothing else.  He fundamentally decided long ago not to have a life. Popcorn guy's idea of entertainment is--let's look at this objectively--not even Dungeons and Dragons but watching strangers argue about Dungeons and Dragons on his computer. This guy literally has such a low bar for an interesting life that there is no greater social reward you could offer him that would be more important than the glee of watching innocent people fend off crazy accusations online. Ending this would leave them only with their basement and their copy of Fate Core.

Cool Game Guy

Unlike the precious Guys, Cool Game Guy has produced interesting things. Cool Game Guy probably has a degree in something and has some life experiences, Cool Game Guy's takes on the drama are often nuanced and well-informed and take into account wider conflicts outside RPGs and consider social meanings and contexts--Cool Game Guy will write something and it will strike fellow Cool Game Guys as sane and middle-of-the-road and honest.

Cool Game Guy knows the history of games and maybe writing and art and knows that the quality of the work and the quality of the human do not always go hand-in-hand. Cool Game Guy has perspective and thinks y'all should just calm down.

However, Cool Game Guy will also never change anything because in the end Cool Game Guy tends to forget that they have (and benefit tremendously from having) an audience, which includes, you know, some people who are also smart and maybe even women and not-white people and queer people and people who do out-there stuff, due to people who stuck their necks out wayyyyyy farther than Cool Game Guy ever will. And if Cool Game Guy ever takes a risk, they The Cool Guy themselves will be stuck at the center of a drama they'll be damned if they don't fight and damned if they do.

Cool Game Guy will never accept that there are some things worth being aggressive and confrontational about because to do so would relinquish the sort of distance and ivory towerness and "perspective" that allows Cool Game Guy to make pronouncements that sound icily profound and get shared by all the other guys who have little enough skin in the game that a very eloquent "do nothing" sounds like legit advice.

This remove will serve Cool Game Guy well when he eventually becomes Professional Game Guy who can feel however they want about the drama but needs to avoid talking about it or telling the truth at all costs because the market will only punish them for caring about anyone else but themself.

Concerned Sadface

The Sadface insists they are not a member of any "outrage brigade"! The Sadface has feelings and doesn't understand why they don't have the right to have feelings!  The Sadface insists they don't have an agenda! They just feel a certain way!  And they want everyone to know that they feel that way about a specific person even if that sounds like a very specific accusation in a public place of what that person did that they can't prove and in fact isn't true just something they heard that makes them mad!

The Sadface believes in friendship and will support their friends and never ever check to see if their friends are telling the truth or whether the friends that they support are the exact kind of toxic people that they make abstracts complaints about all the time.

The Sadface talks a lot about empathy--but only for the people who play the same game as them or who talk about issues in the same language as them.

The Sadface will never change because The Sadface, above all, does not have the emotional energy to deal with tedious details like who said what when or did what when or whether the people that they're mad at (as opposed to the people they're mad on behalf of) are actually human beings. Paying too much attention to details about people they've decided to attack freaks them out and makes them cry. The only way The Sadface could ever change is:

1--Get enough therapy to realize that they have made some mistakes which extend the very abusive practices they rail against, and

2--Take the desperate and frightening step of risking actually pushing some of their friends away because those friends have done shitty things.

Current developments at RPGnet and Onyx Path and Green Ronin probably make The Concerned Sadface feel like the whole RPG community is a toxic mess and nothing is good (!!!?!), because they can't actually acknowledge the much scarier truth: a lot of the RPG community is just fine, the Sadface just had terrible judgment and has been backing the wrong horses for years because these wrong horses made the right noises about justice and safeness and played right into Sadface's fear of looking too deep into anything.

Righteous Troll

The Righteous Troll knows that what they're doing is technically dishonest but they've decided this is a war. They have a Nietzschean code--even though of course they never say that, because Nietzsche is for basic white boys and the righteous troll is Woke As Fuck. The answer to anyone disagreeing with them is a glib dismissal followed by trying to dunk on them in front of as wide an audience as possible. Who cares if you got the right guy? The point is you launched the drone strike and everybody felt good about it, not that it landed on the target or improved anything.

The righteous troll believes that they are a chaotic good vigilante in a war of all against all where the only possible way (or at least the only possible easy way) to get more justice (or at least more attention) is to be constantly, achingly dishonest in order to mobilize those earnest Sadfaces against people you don't like.

This Righteous Troll will never change because there's literally nowhere else for them to go.  Changing their schtick or leaving games for some other place would be impossible because the only things on their resume are obnoxious troll skills and social capital they developed in front of a vanishing audience who was like 13 at the time and thought griefing people about Mega Man X was cool.

Going "Oh fuck, I just made up random shit about people for liking games I don't know for 10 years sorry everyone" just isn't practical at that point. Pretending they didn't just use accusations about rape, racism and sexuality as a political football against internet strangers for most of their adult life is probably the only thing keeping them from committing suicide.

The Professional

The Professional doesn't much contribute to the drama, it's true--except occasionally paying people who create it to stay in the business (which is probably the greatest most concrete contribution to the drama that you could make actually, if you think about it.)

The Professional doesn't want to take sides despite the fact that of course the Professional has created things and the space to do create these things was the result of people having stridently taken sides in times past.

On the one hand it's hard to blame The Professional for not playing a game that will only cost them money and which will only earn them hate and pain and lose them followers or fans--on the other hand the tragedy of it is The Professionals are the only ones who could genuinely solve these problems all by themselves without collective action. They are the only people with the reach and perceived moral authority to go "Hey! Quit beating on each other you little assholes!"

And this will never change because there just isn't enough money in the RPG business to get The Professionals to risk even a fraction of what they make taking a stand against someone who is causing trouble for all the little people.
So, yeah, this is your game community. Because you asked for it.

As with everything else: If you didn't vote, you can't complain.


CaptPoco said...

Hey Zak, your blog has really cool ideas like giving unconscious players in combat weird visions while they roll death saves. I tried that in my game and it rocked. I don't think you need to defend yourself on the internet. If you or one of your friends turned out to be rapists, I would still read your blog because you're just that awesome. I guess that makes me an RPG Guy.

Zak Sabbath said...


And the real world problems your stance ignores are very directly pointed out in the blog entry you supposedly just read.

You should change.

josh said...

Do you think this is tied to that kind of i h8 jocks, revenge of the nerds mentallity? Now the jocks are whoever they don't like but now they become the big "click", the bullies. And often, tomorrow, the roles change. The abused becomes the abuser.

Zak Sabbath said...


These are common dynamics everywhere, and natural overreactions that stupid or mentally shaky people have in all kinds of social roles.

I do think a lotta nerds (especially performative fake-lefty ones) have an obsession with blaming nerviness for more-or-less universal human behaviors because 1. Self-loathing and 2. They are woefully uninformed about how non-nerds act

josh said...

I really think dealing with 2 would probably help with 1. I tend to think of this as the internet problem but, as per usual, its probably much farther reaching. The anonymity may be allowing people's demons to come forward but that doesn't excuse the fact of those dehumanizing aspects existing in the heart.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yes, but I do not know any wait to help nerds learn en-masse how non-nerds act.

On the one hand, the internet helps, on the other hand it creates larger and larger groups of people create insular communities.

Colin R said...

Vote? not sure I follow your last comment. Presumably you mean a metaphorical "vote", but if there's a way to vote trolls off a forum I don't know what it is.
(I don't read RPGnet and I've never paid any attention to Onyx Path because I've never liked WoD, so I'm missing a lot of context here.)

Zak Sabbath said...

Your "vote" here includes:

Buying or not buying things

Warning or not warning people when you see bad practices online

Warning or not warning people when you see abusive people mentioned

Zak Sabbath said...

Josh: last comment appreciated but deleted as off-topic

PMárk said...

Ok, tried to google it and looked at RPGnet, but I couldn't find anything. What is this whole new accusation against an Onyx Path writer?

Zak Sabbath said...

PMárk said...


anarchist said...

Zak, do you think the online RPG 'community' is more dysfunctional than others?

Zak Sabbath said...


anarchist said...

You don't seem to get controversies like this on (eg) boardgamegeek--but of course that could be a bad thing (same things happening, but not being talked about).

Zak Sabbath said...

Well in the world of boardgames there's that show Tabletop, which features Wil Wheaton choosing to showcase the work of known harassers from RPGland repeatedly, so there definitely should be some noise over there.

But it's quite possible that boargames themselves are (aside form Kingdom Death) still dealing with a tamer range of subject matter than video games and RPGs.

Verad Bellveil said...

Colonialism is the chief concern in the board game community, and there is usually a fair bit of debate about if we really need any more games about Europeans exploiting the people around them. Some of it is useful and has led to some interesting design choices, some of it is not.

If there is something more like what happens in the RPG community, wherein people are either making false accusations or continuing to support known harassers of any stripe, I am not involved enough to see it.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well every time anyone buys, talks about or in any way supports an Evil Hat game, like Fate, then they just did that.

Verad Bellveil said...

Of course a second after I post this I remember that I have seen a fair few RPG Guys and Sadfaces in debates about Cards Against Humanity, so consider this an amendation to the above: They're definitely there.

Verad Bellveil said...

And to the above, I have some work to do in correcting past support I have given in regard to that particular company, not least of which is converting about thirty people off of fate. Efforts are ongoing.

Unknown said...

We really need a summary page listing the names of the harrassers and the games they are associated with. I bet the list would be updated daily and eventually include almost all publishers.

Zak Sabbath said...

Not at all, it's pretty simple and short:

Cam Banks at various companies (he keeps getting fired or leaving)
Everyone at Evil Hat (Fred Hicks, etc)
Every mod at RPGnet
All management at Green Ronin
Onyx Path people including David Hill and Filamena Young and Holden Shearer
Crystal Frazier at Paizo
Wherever Mentzer is at

The rest are clean

anarchist said...

Zak, who's the Wil Wheaton guest/s you're talking about?

Zak Sabbath said...

I never said anything about guests, but he played Fate
by Fred Hicks--Harasser

and Misspent Youth
by Robert Bohl, harasser

anarchist said...

Do you think this is well-known enough that Wil Wheaton would have heard about it?

Zak Sabbath said...

It's showing bad enough taste to promote those games that it's hard to care.

and Wil's track record with open-mouth credulity in the face of Indie RPG bullshit is not good

But more to the point:

Any time anyone mentions these games anywhere people on Boardgamegeek and everywhere else should be making a lot of noise about how shitty the creators are.

If they aren't it either means they're not connected to the good parts of RPG culture OR they are but are refusing to take a stand.

In either case: it means Boardgame Geek has a bad culture if those guys are not getting called out.

anarchist said...

That would be the sister site RPGGeek--I can't say anything about it because I don't go there.

Zak Sabbath said...

If Boardgamegeek discusses the show Tabletop then there is something desperately wrong with the culture if it doesn't discuss Tabletop promoting the work of known harassers

anarchist said...

It's likely that they wouldn't know about it though--a lot of board gamers also play role-playing games, but there seems to be little overlap between board game and role-playing forums.

Zak Sabbath said...

This is an inaccurate perception.

Lots of RPG people post on Boardgamegeek.

Either way: the culture there is either wrong or simply ignorant, neither of which is good.

anarchist said...

Has anyone tried posting on BGG about this stuff? If so, what was the result?

Zak Sabbath said...

I don't know, but anyone who is a member and doesnt' do it when Tabletop is brought up is not helping

anarchist said...

I searched for 'Wil Wheaton' in the BGG forums, and found only one thread. Obviously you're right that people who know should speak up--but I think you're making it sound like there's more connection there than there really is.

Zak Sabbath said...

Somebody is watching Tabletop. It gets a lot of YouTube hits.

s7610ra said...

Quite a lot of Nazis on there, I know what "surf the Kali Yuga" means