#Gamergate – #Weheart Games too – that’s the point

Iheart
A response to weheart.github.io – We feel it is the actions of ‘Social Justice Warriors’ who with shaming, mob tactics, blacklisting, mass blocking, insults, harassment, threats and attempts to control games media, production and content who have damaged the gaming community and we’re making a stand against it. Both sides are predominantly left/liberal. We’re just anti-authoritarian and want things to progress naturally.

#Gamergate – Jack Thompson Disowns his Descendants

Jack_Thompson_by_martyisnothereIn a bizarre twist to the whole #Gamergate affair, Jack Thompson appeared on a preview of The Sarkeesian Effect in an excerpt from an interview and condemned Anita Sarkeesian as a censor. Needless to say, this is a shocking turn of events.

Thompson seems to have mellowed with his disbarring and with age, presenting a somewhat more reasonable view that adult content shouldn’t be accessible to kids. This is, of course, impossible – especially in the age of the internet – but it’s a far cry from the days of ‘ban everything’.

Thompson didn’t endorse Gamergate but he did condemn the new coterie of pseudo-critics. Thompson’s attempts to control and ban video games were pursued in the courts in a formal, legalistic manner while Sarkeesian et al have pursued their ends via mob tactics, harassment and abuse. Where the crossover lies is that both generations of moral panic have used bad pseudoscience to try and push their agenda, whether it be the unproven assertion that videogames cause violence or the unproven assertion that videogames cause misogyny.

Thompson is in no way being endorsed or forgiven by #Gamergate, though you wouldn’t know it to read to the AGGro feeds. He has hardly been welcomed into anyone’s bosom. It’s just shocking that gaming’s ‘great Satan’ now appears to be reasonable and sane compared to the current crop of critics, the McIntoshes, the Fishes, the Kucheras of this world. That’s worth noting and a valid comparison to make.

Censorship endorsing shitbag condemns worse censorship endorsing shitbag as ‘too extreme’, there’s your take-home from this.

Things are certainly very strange.

Introducing FOAMY-OS, a REVOLUTION in Creativity & Inclusiveness!

Gamers Aren’t Over

dead_on_computerThis weirdly out of synch article is doing the rounds and has stirred up a lot of the same old vitriol and hate, yet again. Why? Well it all stems from the same ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing I blogged about not so long ago. As I said there, the ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing is almost entirely bullshit, but it has raised some important issues about integrity in games reporting, nepotism and more broadly the relationships between studios, publishers and review sites. The best advice remains ‘listen to fan reviewers’ but that’s difficult if you want to pre-order and get all your extra shinies.

Whether the ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing is bullshit or not (it is) is largely irrelevant to this larger conversation and also irrelevant to the wider conversation about game content, creation and tropes that has been going on for some time now and that is a much more important issue to which this idea of the ‘erasure of gamers’ is a final, ungrateful, kick in the teeth.

Obviously, coming from tabletop gaming I have a slightly different perspective, but computer games are really just going through what we’ve already been through (and continue to go through) only tabletop games are smaller and more vulnerable and – perhaps – even more sensitive to these kinds of attacks.

I’ll be repeating a lot of the same sort of things I’ve said before, but there’s no harm in collating them in a single blog post and updating them.

I also think that this is a good time, not a bad time, to speak up on these things because there is a head of steam and an existing, engaged, public conversation with a relatively high degree of awareness that can’t just be swept under the rug this time.

So let’s deal with some of these things:

  1. Corruption in games journalism.
  2. Social Justice Criticism
  3. Gamers Are Over
  4. Where do we go from here?

Corruption in Games Journalism

Video games journalism has hardly ever been particularly honest. Perhaps in the early days of hand-coding and fanzines things were different and the internet has allowed the bloggers and youtubers to create something more like that where the message can’t necessarily be controlled and you can – perhaps – get a halfway honest opinion out of someone.

Big sites and what remains of games magazines though? As I talked about in the other blog on this subject, if you want free product to review, if you want early previews and information and to get into launch parties etc, you’d better do what you’re told. A friend who used to work in games journalism once reviewed an MMO and gave it an average, not even a bad, score. This caused a series of issues with editors and with the publisher of said game, relations between the site and the company and eventually led to them leaving that job. This is why scores tend to congregate around 7 – as one of the lowest ‘acceptable’ scores.

Smaller studios, foreign ports and indies can’t – usually – have that much pull but issues such as reviewing games you’re funding or those written by people you have personal relationships with are a problem there too. Even if there’s no actual problem it can create the appearance of one.

If you want an imperfect analogy, most games journalism is like Fox News. It’s ‘a news’, not ‘the news’.

Where this starts to get a bit muddied is when it intersects with…

Social Justice Criticism

Gamers have basically been being shat on via dubious, ‘social justice’ based criticism for some years now and the only reason – I think – that there hasn’t been that much of a backlash to it is because the tactic of branding any dissenters as misogynistic trolls is such an effective tactic. This is especially true when there ARE horrible trolls out there (personally I doubt many, if any, actually hate women they just know how to get a rise).

Still, without condoning the nastiness that does go on it is very easy indeed to understand where the resentment and anger comes from. When you’re told you’re evil, toxic, hate women, hate minorities, are shallow and every other horrible accusation in the book – as a community – day after day, week after week, year after year, resentment is bound to build up and it’s bound to explode in the form of anger.

Is there valid criticism to be made? Is there constructive criticism to be made? Absolutely, but we don’t get that. We get hit pieces and hatchet jobs, we get frauds like Anita Sarkeesian being elevated and lionised by an industry that is apparently running scared and unwilling to plant a flag in the ground and say ‘no, we support free expression and we’ll make what we want to’.

And yes, I’m satisfied Sarkeesian is a fraud. There are plenty of exhaustive resources online detailing the hows and whys and I’ve found it sufficient to convince me of the fact. If you want to see things that address her actual videos I recommend Thunderf00t’s series about her on Youtube and you may also wish to back The Sarkeesian Effect (its far from perfect as a project, or in tone, but it’s at least something).

Why get so worked up over the censorship and attacks on gamers and gaming? It’s only games right? It isn’t important, it it? The people attacking it seem to think it is important and to a great many people their safe haven, their escapism, their fantasies, are tremendously important and as a maker of art, games and other creative endeavours its important to me in terms of both livelihood and creative freedom – a basic human right.

From a gamer perspective, Sarkeesian and her ilk just look like yet another Jack Thompson or Patricia Pulling – and there’s really no reason to think they’re not.

Gamers are Over?

People just love their bad statistics and will often quote various spectacular sounding figures, especially when it comes to the gender split, to justify criticising whatever game or product has upset people at the time. Over the last couple of days it’s been talk about a near 50/50 split, or that adult women gamers now outnumber teenage male gamers.

The problem with this is obvious to anyone who has been through this roundabout before. It’s including games like Farmville and Bejewelled, it’s including people who watch Netflix on their Xbox and it’s not reflecting the reality.

What makes a ‘real gamer’? I have no bloody idea really. I guess it’s someone who isn’t just a consumer of games, but a fan. Someone to whom that’s a part of their identity much as you might identify yourself as a punk, a goth or a heavy metal fan. A lot of people look down on what you might call ‘casual gamers’ but I don’t want to do that. It’s great that more people are playing games of all kinds, but the fact that a lot of grannies started playing Wii Sports or that Madge in accounting spends her whole lunchtime matching fruit tells us precisely nothing about how we should approach AAA console titles (which are still predominantly a male audience, generally 3/4 male or more).

I write tabletop role-playing games. What can the popularity of monopoly (an awful, awful game that’s nonetheless hugely popular) really tell me about designing dungeon encounters, combat systems or how to make my – very different – game appeal to a wider audience?

It can’t tell me a damn thing.

The data is bad – and it would be useful to have good data. If we had accurate data from the appropriate genres and subgenres – and we wanted to reach out to a larger female or minority audience – we could do so based on actual data, rather than on hearsay, rumour and opinion. Of the triple A titles, which ones do appeal the most to women, and why? Which ones appeal to racial minorities, and why? ‘50% of women are now gamers’, when you define ‘gamer’ to include people who play Minesweeper on their office PC, it’s effectively meaningless.

Another analogy. What can a successful romantic comedy tell us about how to cast and direct our next blockbuster action movie?

Answer, almost fuck all. What makes a successful romantic comedy is hugely at odds with what makes a successful action flick.

Are ‘gamers’ over? No. No more than comic book fans (as opposed to ‘people who read comic books’) are over, or film buffs are over.  Some people are more than just consumers of a particular form of entertainment, it’s part of their identity and who they are. If ‘gamers’ are anything they’re the fan-leaders, the opinion formers, the motivated consumers that shape and lead and can make or break a game.

They’re not over, they’ve not vanished, they’re still important and trying to erase them or characterise them as trolls is to insult your main fanbase.

Where do we go from here?

The whole ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing might be bullshit, but it has created a large scale public discourse that could become useful, if it’s not derailed in the usual way by painting every critic and concerned gamer as a misogynistic troll. There are real issues that need to be discussed but it needs to be an actual, respectful, thoughtful discussion.

It needs to be a discussion with two sides.

It needs to be a discussion that uses all the facts, not just the convenient (or inconvenient) ones.

Will that happen? I don’t know. I can hope so and – as a hopefully reasonable, intelligent and engaged gamer and game creator – I would like to try and steer things that way.

I guess we’ll see.

Dangerous Verbiage: Gaming’s ‘Race Problem’.

tumblr_mc433h7HhT1rztdgoo1_1280So I’m going to touch on another taboo topic, because I a) never learn and b) find these kinds of things fascinating c) I think a lot of people are too ready to just freeze with fear and nod along when these subjects come up.

This is prompted by, and in reply to, THIS article over on Tor, about Gencon. So I’m going to structure it as a reply, but I’m also going to go off on tangents.

As has become painfully obvious over the last few years, disclaimers and prefaces and explanations are seemingly needed before touching on sensitive topics. Nobody who wants to take something the wrong way will ever take in the right way, but perhaps one can minimise the damage by taking a bit of time out first to contextualise things.

  • I’m a ‘cishetwhitemale’ which means, according to some people, that my opinion on anything is worthless. If you think that’s true then do us both a favour and skip the fucking article.
  • I’m British, which means my context on matters of race is different to that of the US, as are my experiences. I cannot help but be coloured by that perspective.
  • Understanding a situation doesn’t mean endorsing a situation. Understanding a situation is the only thing that can lead to a useful solution.
  • Not agreeing with you doesn’t make someone ignorant or that they need to be ‘educated’. It’s possible to disagree AND be informed.

As an ethnic minority, I am apprehensive about going to GenCon.

Why? That’s the instant question I find myself asking. While ethnic minorities are scarce in many aspects of nerd and geek culture and many within the broad umbrella of general nerdery are lacking in social schools and sensitivity I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone rejected on the basis of race. If anything – like with gender – people are inclined to be TOO welcoming, even smothering.

For all that GenCon offers, it lacks in minority gamers. Last year was my first GenCon, and as I explored the convention, I saw almost no one who looked like me. By far, the most visible minorities at GenCon were the hired convention hall facilities staff who were setting up, serving, and cleaning up garbage for the predominantly white convention-goers. It was a surreal experience and it felt like I had stepped into an ugly part of a bygone era, one in which whites were waited upon by minority servants.

That seems something of an extreme reaction to me and the implicit assumption in it that this is some sort of ‘plantation wedding‘ is insulting both to the staff and to the attendees. This dichotomy is the result of a huge number of different factors and blaming it on the end result seems simplistic, blind and presumptive.

Gaming has a race problem. For all its creativity and imagination, for all its acceptance of those who find it hard to be themselves in mainstream society, gaming has made little room for people of color.

Is this right? Is this accurate? I don’t think so. The room is there for anyone and everyone to join in the fun of gaming. If that space isn’t being occupied by some people then whose fault is that? Is it anyone’s fault really? Is it gaming’s fault? What is there in gaming that actually excludes anyone? Nothing. It’s a realm of imagination and yes it accepts people of all kinds, sometimes when it shouldn’t.

“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that…

Racism is ‘prejudice on the basis of race’. The source can be involuntary (indoctrination, bad experiences and their associations etc) but the act of racism is concious.

Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.” –Scott Woods, author and poet.

Yeah, I’m never going to agree with a lot of these terms as they’re used in social justice circles, even in terms of race. ‘Privilege’ especially is an insidious, abused term that silences the very kinds of discussions needed to make any sort of progress on social issues. After all, it’s the people with (presumed) power and agency who need to be talked to and won over if you want to make real change. Also, as a liberal lefty I see many of these problems in terms of social class and wealth, rather than race, though the nature of society (US society in particular) makes the two broadly congruous.

More on this later.

I am the first in my family to be born in the United States. The child of immigrants, I struggled between cultures. I was the only non-white kid in the neighborhood and one of only a half-dozen minorities in my high-school. I was an outsider. I found refuge in Dungeons & Dragons in my freshman year. I could escape who I was in those heroic characters and epic stories. I could be someone I was not. I could be strong. I could be fierce.

See? This is gaming’s value as an escape but as an escape that is a social one. It’s refuge in a group – by necessity. It gave you a safe space just a it has for so many others for so many different reasons.

I could be white.

OK, that’s your problem. Not a problem with gaming.

Most games—the genres, the artwork, the characters, the stories—were Eurocentric and white. It was easy, perhaps even expected, to be white when playing a character. I was always Eric, or Gunthar, or Francois; I was never a person of color. My name was never my name. And no one thought it was strange that I played people so different from myself.

Much of the canon of fantasy stems from European myths and European authors. The Greek Myths are probably the archetypical fantasy genre source, followed by Scandinavian, Germanic and Arthurian mythology. Fantasy wargaming and role-playing originated from that culture and so it’s little surprise that gaming started out with those sources. We now have a much more diverse gaming canon though and it can no longer realistically be said to be purely European. Then again, this is causing some issues with suspension of disbelief in pseudomedieval game settings under pressure to be inclusive.

Of course, the audience remains primarily white, educated and (broadly) middle class but that’s – again – down to factors outside of people’s control. More on that in a bit.

It has been a long and complex road to finding myself, and comfort in my own skin and ethnic identity. The first step was simply realizing that white wasn’t the only color of value. It came in drops: a character in a movie or a book that was of my ethnicity, who I could empathize with and imagine myself as. These characters, when they appeared, gave me my own heroes, heroes that were like me.

All well and good, but there’s a couple of issues with this.

Firstly, there’s a catch 22. If representation is that important it not only places a huge value on race which is counter to the idea of eradicating racism, but it also means that by choosing heroes of colour you are alienating your core, white, majority audience. I don’t put that much stock in this idea because it seems like human qualities that transcend melanin content are – and should be – more important.

The other issue is that of tokenism. Some (mostly Guilty White People) are making good money by making ‘socially concious’ game material, good money for the Indie scale anyway and especially off crowdfunding but none of this is making that much of an impact. Possibly because the debate is so charged that it matters too much and nobody can get it ‘right’. Look at 5th Edition D&D, they took a relatively small step and have caught a huge amount of flak over it. As a designer that makes me less inclined to try, especially when my views on free expression and the gap between reality and fantasy don’t seem to be shared by the crowd leading the charge.

Gaming never afforded me those options. I had to force them, going against the pressure to conform. The pressure was so intense that the first time I played a character of my own ethnicity was actually online. Eventually, I did become confident enough to bring non-white characters to the table, but I still sometimes faced puzzled looks, and questions about ‘whether I was trying to make a statement’ when all I wanted was to simply be me.

Was it canon? Were you being the ‘Ninja guy’ by doing this? You know the ninja guy. You’re playing a romantic fantasy game of political and social intrigue set in a royal court inn bronze age Greece, and he… insists on playing a ninja. It’s possible, of course, that you’re playing with arseholes but based on my experience I don’t find that especially convincing.

I don’t think there are official surveys and statistics on the gaming subculture, but perhaps this study on the top 100 domestic grossing films in science-fiction and fantasy is an indication of similar trends in gaming: There are only eight protagonists of color in the top 100 science-fiction and fantasy films. Six are played by Will Smith and one is a cartoon character (Aladdin). None of these protagonists are women of color.

Again, which order are we putting the cart and horse in here? Are there less media because of the audience, or less audience because of the media? A while back I looked at the general stats, outside the genre but in the top TV and films and only looking at ‘significant characters’ and most things were within not too far a distance of the demographic division, save for music where non-whites were over-represented by a significant margin. It seems likely to me that nerd culture’s demographic is more skewed white than the general demographic, so you’d probably expect to see a wider divide.

Things are changing in the world of gaming, but too slowly. The designers are mostly white, especially lead designers and executives. Equally, the key officers of most conventions are almost entirely white. Usually, they are well-meaning people who do not realize how their roles and decisions impact the larger gaming community and its lack of diversity.

The business is small and runs on contacts. People tend to work with people they know and people tend to know people similar to themselves. Cons tend to be run on a volunteer basis and to value experience and recognition. If you’re drawing from a majority white pool – especially from older generations that were less diverse than current nerdery – then it’s little surprise that these people would be the majority involved at this level. To even begin to suggest that this is due to some subconscious racism is, again, to be insulting and may even help make the problem worse by making people resentful and wary, as it has with other SJ issues.

GenCon is emblematic of this problem. Of the twenty-seven Guests of Honor (in various categories), only two are people of color. The judges of the prestigious ENnie Awards for role-playing, hosted at GenCon, have been almost exclusively white since its inception. The same is true for the nominees and winners of the Diana Jones Awards. There may be more efforts to include people of color in gaming artwork, but where are the real life people of color on the grand stage of gaming?

2/27 is roughly 7.5%, assuming your presumptions about people’s racial background is correct. Given the (likely) breakdown of nerd culture on ethnic lines, that doesn’t sound too bad at all to me. Of course, we need proper data and the last time we had anything like good information on gamer demographics was from WotC leading up to D&D3, and that’s ludicrously out of date, so we have to work on shitty assumptions.

Furthermore, GenCon is disturbingly tolerant of deeply offensive material. Shoshana Kessock wrote about her experiences with Nazi cosplay and paraphernalia at Gencon shortly after returning from GenCon 2013, and I had similar encounters. It would be impossible to imagine minority players running around GenCon in t-shirts that read ‘Kill the white man!’, yet the convention welcomes and profits from images of racial hatred. GenCon has weakly worded policies to prevent these horrific violations, but it has failed to enforce its own rules.

The assumption here, again, unfairly being that simply because this stuff is there, and exists that somehow that indicates approval of the Nazis. There are games set in WWII and most often the Nazis are the villains of the piece, they make good baddies. There’s also a fetishistic side to militaria that often shows up in pinup art, an aesthetic that informs many games. Star Wars draws on the fascistic aesthetic for its imperial designs and symbology, even its terminology. Where do you draw the line?

Who would WWII re-enactors fight? Should DUST excise all Nazi iconography from their alternative WWII game? What about Weird War or Achtung Cthulhu? Does that seem fair? We already have a big problem with over-reaching anti-harassment policies how far are we going to extend that? This is edging into denial of history and that can be dangerous.

These are symbols, important symbols. If the color of all the leadership, of all the roles of power and recognition, the entire structure is white, and if this same leadership is tolerant of hate-speech, it gives a clear unspoken signal to the non-white community: You can join us here, but only if you leave your history, your people, and your emotions at the door.

Calling something ‘hate speech’ doesn’t make it so. It’s not like RaHoWa hardbacks are being sold on the main floor. Right?

I’ve been told time and again by gamers, “I don’t see race” as if they were doing me a kindness. This is not enlightenment or progressiveness. It is ignorance. If you do not see race, you do not see me. You do not see my identity, my ethnicity, my history, my people. What you are telling me, when you say “I do not see race,” is that you see everything as the normal default of society: white. In the absence of race and ethnicity, it is only the majority that remains. I am erased.

This is the ultimate goal though, is it not? For race to no longer matter. That’s what the eradication of racism looks like. People being taken on the ‘content of their character’. That’s a good, simple, achievable message and while history is important, people today aren’t responsible for it. By ‘not seeing race’ people are telling you that they see you, the person, the actions, the personality.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many people of color in the community try and submerge their own ethnic identity? They do not wish to stand out or to be recognized. In most societies it is dangerous to be an “other,” and in a subculture as white-dominated as gaming, things feel especially unwelcoming.

femalecaptainamericaAnd yet, time and again from gamers of colour that I know, I hear that the pressure and the problem comes from their own communities. The anti-intellectualism that is rife across races, but especially in inner city schools and especially in the afro community. The anti-white racism that exists and the suspicion of anything seen as ‘white’, which would include nerd stuff. In other communities the dislike of anything ‘frivolous’, such as games, which to many minds appear to serve no ‘useful’ purpose. A lot of this is to do with class, which is congruent but not identical to race.

Too many conversations on race and gaming die before they even start. I have seen more energy, debate, and engagement by gamers on the minutiae of rules and trivia than I have on the weighty topics of race and gaming. Gamers will spend endless days and millions of words fighting over the pros and cons of the Wacky Wand of Welding, but when a person of color brings up issues of race and diversity in the community, too many gamers roll their eyes and say, “Oh not again. Why do they have to be so politically correct? Can’t they just have fun?!”

And they do have a valid point. What is stopping you? Perhaps even more important, what is stopping you from creating something? Stepping up? Getting involved? This is a question I ask myself a great deal when people bring up these issues. If I can’t get it ‘right’ due to my ethnicity, class etc then what’s the point of appealing to me to do these things? If every attempt is met with hostility then why even try? The barrier to entry of making the kinds of games you want to see is very low now, but still mostly what we see are Guilty White People engaging in a much less fun and less creative form of ‘blaxsploitation’.

Listen. The Gaming as Other series is a great place to start. There are a handful of panels at Cons on the topic and I’ll be sitting on two of them at GenCon: “Why is Inclusivity Such a Scary Word?” and “Gaming As Other.” Keep engaging, listening and supporting. We notice your support and it gives us the strength to keep going.

Note: Listening does not entail agreeing and doesn’t mean being silent. It’s just the first step. It’s necessary for listening to occur in both directions and preconceptions of both sides to be questioned. Case in point ‘Why is Inclusivity Such a Scary Word’ betrays a preconception in the questioner. I don’t think ‘inclusivity’ scares anyone, it’s the things done in the name of it – censorship, death threats, boycotts, petitions, hatred and bullying – that scare people.

Hire more people of color and give them agency, visibility, power, responsibility, and credit in a wide variety of meaningful and important areas in your organization. Do not simply hire a token minority. Do not use people of color as a form of marketing.

Who? How? Where? In what capacity?

A lot of my hiring of freelancers is done via the internet via open call, unless I have someone specific in mind. I often don’t have the first beginning of a clue as to what colour they are, their gender, their age, anything. As a result of this merit/availability based policy I’ve ended up working with a lot of people who have turned out to be far, far away from my person demographic position but most have still been white, educated and broadly middle class (in outlook, if not situation).

We can’t all hire in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of prejudices and nor can we hire from a pool that doesn’t exist. Positive discrimination is just going to cause problems as it has elsewhere. The best solution is going to be to hone your craft (art, editing, writing, layout) and put yourself forward or do your own thing, and again, barriers to entry have never been lower. Just be careful you don’t become Christian Rock, or Billy Bragg. Nobody likes being evangelised.

Reach out to minority groups and invite them personally to conventions. Your neighbors, your co-workers, the people at your church, all of them.

Nobody likes being evangelised.

Offer and play games that are actively and intentionally more inclusive.

How is a game of imagination not inclusive?

There is a lot we can do together as a community. Gamers have always prided themselves on being accepting of those outside the mainstream. People of color want to be accepted too. GenCon is the flagship of gaming, and thus is a golden opportunity to start this process. Let’s start to have a conversation about the structures that led to the low number of minorities as Guests of Honor and ENnies judges. Let’s push GenCon to make changes to those structures so that people of color have a seat at the table for those important decisions. For many of us, gaming is not simply a hobby, but a home. Let’s make it both inclusive and diverse.

OK, now’s the time to have the serious conversation. I’ve touched on it a little before but pinning the blame on Gencon, or the nerd population as a whole is getting it backwards. To get what’s going on we need to take a look at WHY people of colour aren’t that well represented and to this hoary old socialist it’s pretty fucking obvious why.

Wealth and class.

That race and poverty are so linked is a damning indictment of ‘trickle down economics’ (it doesn’t trickle down) and the state of social mobility in the west, especially America and the UK (there’s very little). Poverty and city life – both associated with ethnic minorities for these same reasons – are also associated with crime, which leads to a connection between ethnicity and crime in the minds of many which is unfair, but not entirely without statistical basis.

Then there’s cultural issues which I’ve touched on before. We have a general problem with anti-intellectualism and while nerdery is much more accepted than it once was this is still a problem. It’s a problem which, according to the non-white nerds I know  is especially bad in the black community and especially in the african-American community. There’s a hatred of ‘white stuff’, a macho mindset and a rejection of education that just perpetuates victimisation. You see it in the urban poor of all races and cultures, but the pressure seems especially strong here.

  • So, really, what can we do? What can we do that makes an impact?
  • We can’t change government policy to invest more in schools and education, that’s not our responsibility as gamers but as citizens.
  • We can’t drag people out of poverty all by ourselves, that’s not our responsibility as gamers but as citizens.
  • We can’t shift the existing culture of the inner city poor, that’ll take generations of concerted effort.
  • We can’t force people to like what we like.

Original Steampunk 2 by Yaya HanMake inclusive games? Sure, but what do you even mean by inclusive? Would you insert black hobbits? Do you want to shift a creators vision on the basis of your perception of racism, regardless of intent or vision?

Work with people from minorities? Sure. They have to exist first, they have to put themselves forward and – for the foreseeable future – they’re going to be a minority smaller than the overall demographic divisions of our nations. I’m not going to hire someone on the basis of colour, I’m going to hire them on the basis of talent, reliability and price. Colour, gender, sexuality, none of these are of any concern and shouldn’t be a concern of anyone else. I’m fairly certain nobody wants to be hired on the basis of these things either.

I don’t know that there’s a lot else we can do, other than to encourage people who feel marginalised to make their own stuff and to help them do so. The history of trying to do that with other issues hasn’t gone so well though.

Just a suggestion though, don’t start by calling everyone explicitly or implicitly racist, even if you think they are.

Also check THIS out.

Why I’m not Supporting Contessa (But you can)

blog_header

Much fun has been had at the expense of some people choosing not to support Contessa, which is allegedly having problems filling its games, panels and so on this year (though the organiser has said this is not the case).

  • Online conventions face a lot of problems. People view the commitment to any kind of online gaming scenario with less seriousness than they do a physical meet up.
  • Technical issues, despite ubiquitous internet, webcam and microphone access, can throw everything off in an instant.
  • People drop in and out constantly.
  • Everything runs more slowly.

Contessa has some additional problems over and above other online cons in addition to this.

  • Games are played and recorded over hangouts and posted to Youtube.
  • The organisational and game-running parts of the event are explicitly exclusionary. Men are not permitted.

The video thing tweaks a lot of people’s sense of security and safety, inhibits RP (much as playing at cons can, but tenfold) and makes people very self conscious, especially of their appearance. I find it likely that SomethingAwful, YourDungeonIsSuck and others will succumb to the temptation of ‘video mining’ as they have forum mining, in an attempt to bully and ridicule people.

The second part here is what has put me off and has meant I won’t support the con. When the event was conceived this was my objection and it remains my objection. I would not tolerate or support an event where women, people of colour, LGBT or others were specifically excluded and so just as I cannot tolerate prejudice against those groups – in any form – nor can I tolerate prejudice against men.

You’re free to disagree, but my conscience and principles will not allow me to do so. I will not try to stop you attending, I will not try to ban or silence the event. I think Stacey (the organiser) is a great person and not your typical Social Justice Warrior type and I don’t think she did this with any malice. It’s just not something I will support. There’s no reason men’s expertise and opinions should be absent from a con about women in gaming any more than women’s voices should be absent in any other con. There’s no reason men can’t offer their perspectives on women’s contributions and no reason men can’t run games by women or for women.

If you want to attend, go right ahead, I won’t be.

That’s it! Quite why it’s such a horrible position to hold or so hard to grasp, I don’t know.

Outreach in a Deflating Market

Taken from a comment by Fred Hicks (Fricks?) posted on RPGnet, which I’m not going to link to, because RPGnet are wankers. That aside, I think he makes some good and bad points and Evil Hat are successful enough to be worth paying attention to, even considering their poor choice of forums to post on. It’s a forum post, so I’m not going to consider it ‘gospel’, just as a jumping off point for comment and consideration from my PoV.

So yeah, this’ll be a boring technical/gaming business post. Deal with it.

But why does the state of the RPG market at least seem poor? Lots of reasons.

I think the ‘seems’ part is important here. I don’t think the state of the market is poor, it’s just different. With so much shifting to electronic consumption and trading the true state of things is nearly invisible outside of the convention environment and that’s not so representative either when it comes to it. It’s an elite ‘alpha geek’ environment but it does put on show the sheer scale and breadth of material out there.

Retail stores are struggling. The shift to online shopping for specialty needs certainly plays into this. Without an easy ability to browse RPG product offerings, folks don’t necessarily get exposed to the options that are out there, so most RPG products get stuck at a small audience reach.

OK, I’ll say it. As far as our hobby is concerned, regular retail is on life support. Book shops are struggling as it is and their staff are terribly ill-informed about what to stock. Outside of D&D and – maybe – the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs you’re don’t see RPGs in book stores and they always understock the corebooks and overstock the supplements.

When it comes to hobby stores, they make more money from card games, board games, miniatures, supplies (like dice) than they do from RPGs which take up shelf space and don’t shift fast enough to be worth it. Only stores like Amazon can shift enough for it to be worth it, as well as a few legacy stores that managed to carve out a name for themselves and retain/gain a direct internet ordering business niche of their own. Leisuregames being the best example of that I can think of.

There’s more and better money in other things. We can do a few things to keep things going a while longer but I think we need to reconcile ourselves to the loss of RPG hobby stores and the loss of play spaces. Honestly, the second is probably the more important side.

Exposure to product is probably the bigger issue here. We have an advantage over the ebook market in that we’ve already gone through what they’re experiencing, a glut of crap, and the fall-back to a more sane position with some modicum of gatekeeping.

Speciality retail stores like game stores need to get very smart and very efficient about capturing their local-market dollars, and honestly RPGs aren’t particularly efficient ways of doing that. They require a lot of on-staff expertise to sell well, and given their price point and volume sold, developing that expertise is not necessarily a high return on investment. You can learn about the board game or card game offerings out there a lot faster, so those tend to get the attention. That’s why a lot of game stores have shrunk the floorspace and variety of their RPGs. They need RPGs that carry and communicate intrinsic value without putting a heavy burden on the staff to know each and every offering’s key selling features (which most RPG publishers don’t really know how to communicate; and those that do have a hard time getting those communications TO the retailers who’d care enough to read them).

Yep.

Steadily lowering barriers to publication (yay!) have supported an explosion of diversity in the hobby (double yay!). This is great! It also means that there are a LOT of options out there for a slowly shrinking audience, though. This is the fragmentation effect some folks have talked about in this thread. When you’ve got 6 great RP games and hundreds of thousands of geeks interested in them, that divides pretty attractively. When you’ve got hundreds of great RPGs, even if you still have hundreds of thousands of geeks out there interested in them (arguable), it divides a bit less attractively. This in particular can really contribute to the appearance of a poor market when instead it’s a very diverse market, way more varied than at any other point in the hobby. Those lowered barriers to publication also haven’t necessarily come with lowered barriers to distribution, so while you can get your game out really cheap and in small quantities today, the opportunities to take it beyond small quantities are a lot harder to come by.

Yep again.

We’re in a relatively golden age, made ‘better’ by the current absence of D&D. Last time that happened the gap in the market – and tapping into a resurgent goth subculture – helped White Wolf carve out a winning position. This time things are different. That space has not been occupied by a singular game explosion but – rather – a huge variety of independent games long on ideas and short on print runs.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing. The problem is standing out, getting exposure, getting people playing and not having shelf or demo spaces is a problem. Having a vibrant, creative and experimental market isn’t.

The RPG market is ageing and isn’t doing much (at least not much that’s successful) to bring in new blood, in part because the old blood sneers at the validity of new blood vectors. It’s not a case of “we’ll teach the kids about the games the way we used to play them!” It’s a case of a lot of continuation to do things the way they used to be done instead of, I dunno, figuring out how to get folks who are big into fan fiction or reality TV or romance novels or [insert your topic of choice that folks don’t think of as “gamer” or “geeky”] into the hobby.

Here I disagree. I used to think this way but recent experiences are changing my mind.

What I am noticing is that RPG gaming seems to be skipping a generation. It seems like people born in the 70s and 80s form the bulk of the traditional base, there’s a gap, and then there’s that older generation’s kids. Rather than rejecting their parent’s hobby a lot of them seem to be intrigued by it, interested in it and end up getting into it. There’s a strong presence of tweens and teens at the cons and events I’ve been to over the last few years and I find that very encouraging.

What that tells me is that exposure to enthusiastic gamers and the games themselves is the key (and possibly not being allowed to join in while too small, making it forbidden fruit). That’s probably the best outreach possible and that’s why the loss of play space, rather than stores is the bigger of the two concerns in my opinion.

Tribalism in an aging hobby hurts the hobby. The tent needs to be defined as a much bigger thing and there need to be many more ambassadors for the hobby who buy into the big-tent vision. A friend of mine likes to say that there are a ton of RPG fans out there who don’t know they’re fans yet. And he’s right. And we’re not talking to them. And we’re not making the hobby and its occupants un-scary to them. Nor are we always making it seem like the hobby is a potential home for folks who aren’t white dudes. All of this is a multi-facet problem that needs to get a lot of attention in the coming decade.

Enthusiasm, which is what fuels tribalism, is fine. It just needs to be about the RPG hobby (and we could have a massive argument about what an RPG even is) as a whole, rather than a particular game. At least when dealing with ‘outsiders’.

I think it’s naive to think there’s a huge number of people out there just waiting to become gamers. Mass media exposure for gaming has rarely been as high as it is at this point. Geek culture is acceptable in a way it wasn’t when we were growing up. Something that’s hard to grasp for a lot of old-timers. What we do have, though, is increased competition and more time/money pressure. People have a shitload of other entertainment options, many of which are more accessible, can be picked up and played, don’t need you to get friends together and so forth.

RPG gaming still has a lot to offer and strengths that other interactive entertainment lacks, but we need to acknowledge that it’s not for everyone and that there are barriers to getting into it.

Hobbyists are not scary and never really have been, sure there’s horror stories but there’s horror stories in everything. We dwell on them because we’re sensitive and scarred and because we want people to like the hobby.

The ‘white dudes’ comment is eye-rollingly irritating to see, as though it’s somehow inherently threatening or terrible to be such or that it should put anyone off. There are plenty of understandable reasons why the hobby is dominated by white dudes, just the same as – say – model trains are. They’re not anybody’s fault really, nor is it something to be ashamed of, you’re also going to have a very hard time appealing to the other demographic groups and racially diverse images in books and abrogating genre/historical conventions isn’t going to do it. The problems exist at a far more fundamental level than our hobby and aren’t going to be undone by well-meaning but naive and misguided social-justice types pissing off the existing audience by trying to shame them and tell them everything they like is bad.

There is a huge risk in diverting funds and attention from your core market to pursue others that you end up losing your core market. Attempts have been made in the past to reach out, even in a modest fashion to card gamers, board gamers and MMORPG gamers to no good effect. What it did succeed in doing was fracturing the existing fanbase, most obviously in the case of 4e D&D, leading to a rapid move to a new edition and no appreciable new gamers to the hobby.

There’s precious little money and man hours as it is to go around and one foolish venture could sink a company with the resources to try and lesser companies and individuals don’t have the resources even to try.

Should we try and expand our audience? Surely. At the cost of our ‘soul’ and appeal? No.

What’s the solution? I don’t really know but judging from what I see, the best way to get new gamers is to get them to take part in a game – at least once. The best way to do that is to have spaces in which games can take place and ways to introduce people to them. That takes us back to the breeding grounds of games in the past – schools, colleges and universities.

That, at least, is a start.