#AprilTTRPGmaker Your community?

b72a27f74a6da9794b87085c37582927--the-devils-rejects-rob-zombieWhat constitutes my community? Is it my audience? The people I talk to most regularly? My usual gaming group? My patrons on Patreon?

I don’t really even know what would constitute ‘my community’! I have pages for my company and for me on Facebook. I’ve got communities on G+ but nothing is hugely active. So I guess to talk about my community I have to talk about who my audience is.

  • My community has a sense of humour, frequently a dark sense of humour.
  • My community cares more about fun than about politics, even though my material is frequently political (just it tends to be implicitly so, rather than explicitly so).
  • My community is neither wedded to the ‘new school’ Indie style, nor traditional roleplaying.
  • My community likes trying new and different things.
  • My community is less squeamish about sex and violence than most.
  • My community is interested in transgression and controversial topics.
  • My community appreciates that my work has ‘layers’.
  • My community cares passionately about the hobby, protecting and improving it.

#RPG #TTRPG #My30dayWorld – What Mystical Material is Valued in Your World?

combat_alchemist_at_work_by_fstitzThe raw stuff of magic exists in a separate realm from the main, material reality and is channelled into the reality and made manifest by various forms of practice. At its base magic is the source of everything, every rock, every tree is just a material expression of magic. The same way a sphere passing through a two-dimensional plane manifests as a growing and shrinking circle. Magic is brought through and made into things – effects, items, fireballs and so on – by patterns of speech, gesture, writing, patterns and other configurations. Raw magic rarely makes it through to the real world, and so it is rare, mystical and valuable…

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Gamers. The Nicest White Terrorists You’ll Ever Meet

I shouldn’t get embroiled in this, especially right now, but this has been turning up everywhere and passed around by people who should know better. So here we are.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to take a look at this: “Tabletop Gaming has a White, Male Terrorism Problem”. Then take a look at the gallery below. Then reflect on why ‘listen and believe’ is such a terrible idea, what has happened to the atheist/skeptic community and pause to recall the depredations of Wertham, Pulling, Thompson and Sarkeesian.

That’s as much time as I’m going to spend directly on that post, and I’m not even going to make the usual set of debunkings and rationalist arguments. I’m not going to point out, at length, the inherent racism and sexism of the article or that its accusations are just that – accusations.

I am, however, disappointed that so many people unquestioningly and uncritically regurgitated that post everywhere, and that the slightest bit of misapprehension or skepticism has been – as usual – characterised as misogyny.

Instead, let’s talk about something positive.

I’ve been gaming for some 30 years. In all that time I’ve found gaming to be a very inclusive, very liberal, very accepting, very caring place. All my best friends are gamers, indeed I think all the best people are gamers. I’ve never, in any other area of life, met such an accepting, open, warm hearted bunch.

Gamers are awesome.

Sure there are creeps and very rare nasty incidents, but by and large we take care of our own and we don’t need to stoop to bullshit to do it.

***

I’m at a LARP which is winding down. We’re chatting and waiting to leave, one of the girls is just quickly pulling on some jeans for the walk home when a guy oversteps the mark and tries to wedgie her.

He’s lucky to still have his teeth.

***

We’re in a big, packed hall when a woman suffer a wardrobe malfunction. Without a word being said a group of burly chaps form a human changing screen so she can change into her spare clothes without being seen.

***

A couple break up minutes before a game session. We cancel, we commiserate, we make sure they’re both OK and can both get home safe.

***

“That guy’s creeping on me.”

We haven’t seen it, we’re not about to just throw him out, but we take it in turns to keep an eye on him. Turns out he is a creep and a few quiet words later the problem is solved.

***

The non-gaming girlfriend of someone at the event turns up, drunk, sits down at a table and – unbelievably – gets a vibrator out of her handbag and sits it on the table. Switching it on. Without prompting someone sits with her to talk to her, distract her and to ‘disarm the device’ so everyone else can carry on unmolested.

***

The guy causing problems is obviously and pitiably, quite mentally ill. He’s taken aside and gently – and with compassion – calmed down and banned from attending, with the minimum of fuss and drama.

***

This is the gaming community I know. The one I’ve encountered year in, year out. In America, in the UK, at LARP events and conventions, at tabletop games big and small, at stores and model shops and trade fairs. Its a community where people look after each other and when there’s a problem they come together and they deal with it, as a group. As friends and colleagues and people with a common cause.

Gamers want more people to be gamers and it doesn’t take pointless policies, spurious accusations or abject virtue signalling to make it so. Indeed that tends to create the opposite. If you pretend there’s a problem when there isn’t, or you make it seem bigger than it actually is, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Imagine, if you will, a restaurant that made a big song and dance over how they took steps at every stage to ensure nobody was poisoned. Nobody expects to be poisoned when they eat out and most places don’t act like this is a big threat. So what’s going on at this place that they have to make such a big fuss about it?

Gaming is great. Gamers are great. Encourage and spread the good and there’ll be more of it. If you’re going to spread the bad, be sure of what you’re talking about and be sure you’re advocating things that will make people safer, rather than merely making them feel safer – at the expense of the things that make gaming great.

#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.