Friday, May 21, 2021

Gamers Punching Themselves In The Face

I'm going to use an example, which is almost always a bad idea.

I'm going to use an example because it shows the extent of the problem, it shows that the problem still happens now today, and it shows that I haven't exaggerated or distorted the problem. If you have a blog you know what happens if you use an example: people comment on the example, not the point. You go "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a community affected by global climate change" and someone will comment "My cat's breath smells like cat food". Try not to be distracted from the point by the example.

So, This Happened

A relatively successful independent game designer (not I nor anyone I have much history with) wrote a short, satirical tale.

In his tale, he described a hypothetical indie designer writing a game that (depending on how you interpret the tale) is either very niche or very bad. The imaginary designer complains--to comic effect for the hundreds of people who shared the tale--that D&D is making their niche or bad game harder to sell. The Take is a joke at the imaginary niche or bad designer's expense. That's it.

Now, there are lots of things to say about the story here:

  • D&D does take up a lot of space in the industry
  • An indie game can be successful, though.
  • "Success" can be defined in a variety of different ways.
  • Independently-produced games have, in the past, competed with D&D in significant ways, even financially. They've even out-competed D&D sometimes. How?
  • For an individual designer, financial success might be more likely with a niche game than working for D&D.
  • Many things WOTC does are actually unfair. Which ones?
  • Many critiques Indie designers have of D&D or its fans are unfair. Which ones?
  • Indie culture does have some self-defeating characteristics. What are they?
  • Games are not a meritocracy but to what degree can quality be said to exist or matter?
  • What things that aren't "quality" do still matter in getting to (any definition of) "success".
  • Does popular accessibility ever become quality?
  • What if you do have a niche game and know it? How do you define success for that?
et cetera.

After hundreds of people on the internet shared or liked this story, hundreds of indie game designers got very angry and railed against it and the creator of the story. Everyone yelled at everyone.

The Point

The point is that they yelled about nothing.

Literally none of that stuff above got discussed, because:

  • The indie game creator who penned the original take responded to critics with, basically "I don't have to talk to you because you're not successful and/or have no structural power".
  • The critics responded to him with, basically, "I don't have to talk to you because you are successful and/or you do have structural power".
(If you doubt this characterization, the whole useless pile-up is recorded herehere and here. Feel free to comment if you think I'm wrong)

Both sides have set boundaries on the conversation that are calculated to be impossible to overcome, even for someone who really wanted to engage. The original game creator can't go back in time to be less established any more than his critics can press a button to be successful enough for them to be "worth" talking to. Anyone familiar with nerds will see what's going on here: they're both making excuses to avoid confrontation, and thus to avoid playtesting the quality of their ideas.

The original developer spent literal hours crowing on the internet about his right to use the block button to ignore nobodies.

The critics, in turn, spent literal days crowing to each other about how irrelevant and out-of-touch the original developer was, as were all his kind.

The conversation, such as it was, wasn't about anything that could help anyone make, enjoy or sell a game, it was posturing to each other about who has the right to be listened to, to have their concerns addressed, to make a point, to have a point considered.

More than one critic said "Oh, I would've hoped for better from (the creator who had the original take)" but instead of saying that to that creator, they said it to each other. In other words: the person you're complaining about has done things to make you respect them, but you couldn't even get it together to bring your complaint to them.

Representatives from all the usual hatemob suspects are involved: mainstream careerists, what's left of Story-Games, Troika trolls, Something Awful goons, RPGnet parasites, etc. (Helpfully nobody's calling anyone a Nazi or using the "I won't debate Nazis" loophole. They're just excited to say they don't have to have conversations period.)

"Who has the right to be listened to?" is a real short and boring conversation because everyone instinctively has their own answer. It's about as useful as "Who likes lasagna?".

Everyone wastes a tremendous amount of time announcing and re-announcing and re-articulating their announcement that they're going to ignore each others' points because they don't want to waste time.

And what do they do with all this time they've freed up? The people with experience learn about nothing new and the people who are new learn nothing from those with experience. And everyone's terribly comfortable.


Benjamin Cusack said...

People avoid conflict in general.
Bullies exist in every school, especially schools of thought, and this can be mapped out to any system.
However, avoiding conflict is generally perceived as good. For most people, conflict entails guns and fists and swerving cars and missiles and threats and military and all the other sharp and dangerous directed hazards of the world.
This is an aspect of conflict in the physical world.
Conflict must be broached, approachable, and redefined by the current RPG community, mostly because conflict is actually defined as "a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one".
The conflict is essential to draw out or bring forward what the clash us about, who is offended or affronted, and how both sides play a role in the RESOLUTION of conflict.
This is the key point.
The only way to improve things is to create conflict where there are disagreeing parties so the stances can be clear and discussions and compromises and treaties and agreements and palavering and parleying can commence.
Conflict can be completely civil and polite.
So people ducking out on conflict is not exclusive to gaming culture, but right now, the culture is dominated by a pervasive and invasive notion that conflict has to be harassment and doxxing and blocking and screaming and infighting and petty squabbles.
The problem is that when people argue online, and people who do not have any experience or training in conflict resolution, we get violent, nasty, useless, and damaging conflict, and with a negative conclusion to boot.
This is why police should be trained in conflict resolution, and politicians, and teachers, and parents, and every other position of measurable arbitration.
I believe you have a post somewhere likening sibling disagreements to the scene, and saying that siblings should be made by the parents to work it out amongst themselves, and the parents role is to oversee and make sure the conflict can be resolved peacefully and mutually.
Right now, the siblings are fighting, and there appears to be no parents overseeing, and the children just keep bickering.

Zak Sabbath said...


I appreciate the sentiment but I honestly don't think anyone needs "training" here:

Most people know that in real life you can't just go "I don't need to listen to you" and run away--you have to and should make your case. They know that being online allows them to snipe and flee and they know they're taking advantage of technology to be abusive and evasive. And they know this is kind of shitty.

They have excuses and they make them because they know they're doing the wrong thing.

Benjamin Cusack said...

I disagree.
I think you and I are lucky to have learned to work things out among siblings, but perhaps a large portion of people are not brought up in this fashion.
It seems the way most people communicate online and in person nowadays us marred by a lack of this understanding.
One solution to this missing quality is either conflict and learning from it, or talking to professionals and peers about ways to resolve conflict.
This is also more actionable than decking the lack of civility.

Zak Sabbath said...

"Civility" is not anything to do with this.

"Civility" is part of the problem because it suggests avoiding conflict.

Honesty and directness are what's needed.

Benjamin Cusack said...

Civility, or formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech, has everything to do with this.
It is all a matter of respect.
You can be polite and courteous while being direct and honest.
"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
And of course tone and diction are essential too communication.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Benjamin Cusack

If you think that, then you've completely misunderstood.

Communicating clearly and communicating with formal politeness are at best orthagonal and, at worst, opposites.

The Story Game scene failed, for decades, to curb the excesses of its worst members because when there was a conflict between accuracy and formal politeness, they'd default to formal politeness.

Nobody got the point, everyone was passive aggressive, people got wore and worse.

"Evil Hat pays starvation wagee and the peopel who work their lied about abuse" is true and accurate. and not polite and peopel should say it all day and every day.

Benjamin Cusack said...

I am not saying people need to curtsy and say they are at service to the lady if the house.
I am not saying people need to throw their coat over a puddle or to swear fealty to liar's honor.
What I am saying is that being polite gets the point across much more effectively.
The example could be someone shouting threats holding a gun. The gun overrides most people's ability to listen and think rationally because the hostility or danger outpaces anything they are saying.
Most people react to tone first, and any perceived threat, and accusations and the like are treated as a threat.
This means being honest and direct scare people for the most part, and anybody on the fence is scared away or misinformed. A critical side effect in this example is also that there will be people who shut down and ignore what the gun waving "madman" says, and there will be people who believe the madman and are tarred with the same feather.
The crazy thing is that you are shouting truths, but your aggression is perceived as threats and dangers when in reality, you just care.
Right now, your approach is a shout, a cry for justice.
They see it as the screams of a criminal, a warcry.
We need to look at the way you communicate, and with examples, and figure out how to better sermonize.
Like when you were on role per second, and the host says he saw you at gencon and was scared to come over and talk to you.
At around 29:20, he discussed this, and you talk about "doing your whole thing".
This is good, and fine, but some people get put off by the way you present information, and right now, your dismissal of any kind of civility as an essential in ANY discourse, especially one where the people are emotional instead of logical, is going to put people off.

Zak Sabbath said...


"What I am saying is that being polite gets the point across much more effectively."

And what I am saying is this is totally, 100%, completely, undeniably, provably, incorrect.


"The Story Game scene failed, for decades, to curb the excesses of its worst members because when there was a conflict between accuracy and formal politeness, they'd default to formal politeness."

Anyone who responds to tone instead of reason






and they must be called out for that and stopped.

Benjamin Cusack said...

Agreed, my point is that the tone affects the response not overrides the meaning.
There are boneheads who refuse to respond to either and have sworn themselves against you.
There are uninformed that are undecided or new, and might be scared off by you giving the boneheads any reason to say you are hostile, or seeing something you say or do that is easier to misconstrue as negative or callous.
The near-nihlistic approach of all nerds will forever remain nonconfrontational backstabbers and being polite to them is a misservice to the community is a poor take. Called out is a bad way to do it, asked or requested or wondering and communicating that to them in those terms is a way to get more of the people who are one the fence.
The politeness is not for the hardened criminals, but for the people that are erroneously following them, and could and can look at what you say, and how you present yourself, and realize that this doesn't add up.
I myself loved Veins of the Earth so much I read every post on False Machine, tried to ask questions and discuss with him, and mindlessly was fed Scraps take, Patrick's take, and all the others who claimed you were and are manipulative and abusive.
I hated you, and believed that what all these people in the community wouldn't say things like this without personal interaction or details fueling it.
Then I thought, why don't they share the details?
Then I thought, why did none of them talk to you when you claimed none reached out?
Then I read your responses and looked at what they had and what they claimed.
And I realized that the whole thing was reverse, and saw that all their directed anger and lies were because you made them uncomfortable in their spaces, and asked all the right questions that no-one wanted to answer.
If all I had to go on was the way you communicate to those you have counted out, if all I went on is how you present yourself to enemies, I wouldn't be here.
Truth and it's effects are not enough to exonerate people or convict them, the truth must be presented.
And right now, you are doing a bad job.
I would say I understand why, and I know the burden on your shoulders far outstrips my own, and so all I can do is humbly beg for understanding.
We should not be measured by how we treat our peers, but our lessers.
Being tactful and fair and courteous can be accurate honest and direct. In many ways it would be impolite to be innacurate, and actually lying and misinforming are by their very virtue impolite.

Pubby88 said...


As to your actual post, I think you're absolutely right as to the toxicity of refusing to engage one another.

At the risk of compounding the risk of using an example by asking you to do it again, do you have any examples of what you would consider healthy communities? And by that I mean, a community where fact checking occurs and people who are determined to be liars are ostracized and deplatformed. That seems like another way to further inform the issue of tone/formal politeness that Benjamin is raising.

Zak Sabbath said...


If your point " point is that the tone affects the response not overrides the meaning."

Then the following statements you've made are inconsistent with that point:

-"It is all a matter of respect."

-"You can be polite and courteous while being direct and honest."

-"And of course tone and diction are essential too communication."

-"being polite gets the point across much more effectively."

-"We need to look at the way you communicate, and with examples, and figure out how to better sermonize."

-"Being tactful and fair and courteous can be accurate honest and direct."



Let me be clear and not polite:

You're totally wrong.

Once someone sides with"tone" against the facts, they've become the problem.

If you go

"I, Benjamin, don't care and don't want any stuff out of Zak or for things to be good in the RPG scene"

That's fine--that's your right.


If you want anything out of me, you--and everybody else in that boat--need to not ask me to be indirect, but to all be more aggressive and more direct.

Indirectness has -neve ever worked-. Ever. Ever. Ever.

Zak Sabbath said...


Depending on your definition of community--

The DIY D&D Discord worked perfectly. There was only one ongoing genuine argument and it got resolved, it was productive, people collaborated, made things, got useful advice and no innocent people got hurt.

More broadly:
The OSR from 2011 - 2017 discussion wasn't perfect but the people who wanted to lie were less popular so they didn't affect much. I

Benjamin Cusack said...

"It is all a matter of respect."
Respect can be garnered between parties that have enmity between one another. Daryl Davis proves that. Respect means telling the truth, coming to terms with and discussing with those who oppose or hold differing views, and validating their opinions as their own, but trying to shift those opinions.

-"You can be polite and courteous while being direct and honest."
I have been honest that your methods can lead to misconstrument of intention.
So perhaps I haven't been transparent enough.
Even the most dire enemies of out way of thought must be held to the same standards and treated the same as our paragons of ideal.
We have to treat them equally, and for me and many people, that means being polite. For me, being polite means all the things you want conveyed, such as veracity and sincerity, but also means communicating in a way that is respectful and careful.

-"And of course tone and diction are essential too communication."
They are. All great orators, authors, researchers must have the context and language to understand the intent of the communicating party. That means you must know the intended emotion and understand what words fit best and are appropriate.
-"being polite gets the point across much more effectively."
It most certainly does for people who might otherwise assume you are rude and abusive due to misinformation. We must remember that be have the privilage of already researching, or in your case, living through these circumstances, and others may not be so well informed, and as a result form erroneous conclusions.
-"We need to look at the way you communicate, and with examples, and figure out how to better sermonize."
You talk a whole lot about communication, and have been largely pushed away by your former peers, and as a result, perhaps we must appeal to the average people that follow the peers and slowly garner trust and foster honesty among these people. In them is a powerful asset, but in most cases, we cannot or should not give them cause to reinforce their assumptions about you, the assumptions founded on lies. We must therefore treat them well, and fairly, and judge them as we would our friends. This means asking hard questions and bringing up things that are wrong as well. Who among us has never had to confront a friend, as hard as that might be?
-"Being tactful and fair and courteous can be accurate honest and direct.
No comedy, no name-calling, only presenting facts and saying what the situation is all I have done up til now, and is unbiased and direct. If the questions or comments I have raised have been anything but polite, then I don't know what to say Zak. Common courtesy usually consists of simplicity and honesty, and I think this whole discussion is predicated on our definitions being somehow conflicting.
Could you please give your definition of polite so we can come to some consensus?
I feel we are clashing because you think I want to be nice and happy and avoid arguing and speaking and asserting, when really, all those go hand in hand with being polite in my definition of it, and the definition at large.
Perhaps there is a better word for me to use?

Zak Sabbath said...


I think it all boils down to this:

"It most certainly does for people who might otherwise assume you are rude and abusive due to misinformation."

Those people are not the target audience.

If someone is passing around misinformation they can't possibly be doing it for a good reason. There literally is no good reason to be saying this shit.

You don't confront them -to persuade them-. They are evil and wrong and probably unpersuadable.

You confront them to expose them to all the people who are lurking who have remained quiet.

"Politeness" as usually construed in RPG conversation is a studied avoidance of things you know are inflammatory. Telling people they're lying and they should go to therapy to stop is almost always inflammatory.

If you want to say "Patrick, Stuart, you believed something without proof and that means you need to change you behavior and apologize to your victims" and call that polite, then, fine, polite is great. But the way I see "civility" and "politeness" deployed is about avoiding specific facts and topics entirely.

Benjamin Cusack said...

Yes, quite a few people beat around the bush and avoid things by being overly polite and completely ignoring touchy subjects and topics.
However, the intended audience in this case could be a couple different groups. There are big companies, there are indie content creators, and there are fans or customers of both these producers of content.
The intended audience should be the people observing your interaction, and by being civil and polite in the face of frothing rage, you could and can convince people of the truth.
The process goes like this; people make things, other people support the producers of content. Between production, the producers communicate things with their fans, and so a community or fanbase is formed. The information desired by the fanbase centers around the producer they are following, and any opinions or assertions made by that producer impact their fans.
Therefore, "calling out" or fact checking the producer is important and integral, but usually in our particular case their response can be expected. Usually it is things like "I believe Mandy" or "Zak is an abusive lying trouser ghoul" or "Zak is a harasser". Once they say things like this, they are lying, and this is our opportunity to continue to be polite and simply put out our proof. The people who are fanatics and the person we ask for proof from are often lost causes at present, but some segment of the people who lurk and do not wade in will invariable wonder, "man, why is this super level-headed person who does nothing but ask a question get insulted and then continue to post proof?" The next point is "hmm, this proof is serious" and hopefully, "hmm, the person I am following here does not link proof, is not polite, does not seem to want to actually prove anything or work to disprove this proof Zak presents..."
And then you have a believer or at worse a possible believer.
The inverse is worse, and is simply when fire is met with fire, and consequently the lurkers worldview is reinforced without any questions being brought forth or any reason to think about the other side.
Being polite gives less ammo for the unfortunate people who have simply not looked at both sides.
Once a segment of the people who are more passive observers or polarized people who just want games they like begin to questions and observe, we now have people that are close to the liars and bad actors, and these people are liable to either defect, or to hopefully sway the tide. If there is some population in the RPG community that leaves every circle and section and asks questions that lead to your side being realized as the correct side, we might be able to slowly remove the problematic powers that be.
Essentially we are trying to allow these people to fall on their own swords slightly quicker than normal. Almost all these posers are inevitable caught up in their lies and get caught out anyways, but a good tactic can be approaching them politely and allowing the approached to demonstrate their lack of proof, tact, and overall honesty.
This is slow, but better than aggressively brandishing the truth and continuing to reinforce non-leading people's assumptions about your situation.
What we want is the people that give leaders power to slowly realize or in some cases quickly realize that the status quo right now is incorrect, and is damaging all chances of anything actually good or progressive being produced with the whole community united behind it.

Simon Tsevelev said...


I see your point, but I'm with Zak on this one. In my experience, it really does not work like that. I remember an online discussion, in a different community - a BLM-related discussion. It went on for a while, and I argued politely to the best of my ability. My opponent demanded proof. I did a little research and posted several links that proved my point. I was banned immediately. The opponent then apologized to the people who insulted me - apologized for not having banned me earlier.

Zak Sabbath said...


You're not making sense.

1. You aren't talking about a gaming community

2. That had nothing to do with politeness

3. If you worked alone that was your first mistake.


If you want things to work, talk -to- Benjamin (and other people) instead of talking -to me- about Benjamin.

You work together, you will be more successful

Simon Tsevelev said...



Benjamin Cusack said...

"If you are lurking this blog, reading this story, and thinking "that's fucked up but there's nothing I can do, dude".

There are a few people in an email chat and making a discord to start getting some traction on solving it. Reach out.

Use Zak's email above, since it's already here, he can put you in touch.

I assume if this post gets approved then Zak approves of the above method."

Trent b said this on the Thanksgiving Uncles post, don't know if you saw it.
Not much has happened yet, but we had some preliminary indroduction and J Walkaway is going to return sooner than later to start the discord proper, he is on vacation I think.
And thank you for the response, I also agree with Zak overall, and think that piercing all the surrounding drama and misinformation by being straight to the point and serious can and should be our focus, but disagree with his and your position that it is incompatible with being polite/courteous.
Your example is what I am talking about in some ways, because how they reacted might have impacted other people or bystanders, but you had/have no way to see that impact.
In Zak's case, or the OSR and DIY communities, we can see that impact because a lot of individuals have specific names, interests, and work.
The banning of you and the apologizing to onlookers is all useful examples and proof for your side, and show that dispite your attempt, there was no discussion because they refused to cooperate.
This means the bystanders that want answers will gravitate towards you, or at least some will.
Us working together means more people out there looking for lies to rectify, and in that interaction, to continue to create a basis of trustworthiness and egalitarianism that should and hopefully will define our community in the future.

Kyle T said...

This mode of conflict avoidance also has the disadvantage of making it difficult as hell for external parties to sort out the source of the conflict and identify any truth for themselves. Since there is no direct communication one has to sleuth out the source of vagueposts about each side. It's a disservice to both direct conflict resolution and an audience that might be able to discuss it and arrive at any truth themselves.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Kyle T

They always do this:

If the truth isn't on your side, put barriers between yourself and the facts.

Stigmatize asking questions ("I don't owe you my time")
Stigmatize answering questions ("Don't feed the trolls")
Stigmatize investigation ("Googling my lie = stalking")
Stigmatize finding out what exactly someone's specific take is ("I'm not here to educate you")

And, of course, stigmatize doing the fact-checking ("I'm afraid it'll -look like- sealioning if I point out the lie is a lie")

Sean Whittaker said...

I'm allergic to cats, and therefore don't like lasagna.

Zak Sabbath said...


no anonymous comments.