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December 18, 2013

Dear Reader,

I may be about to commit a BBB mistake here, but I’m just a bit incensed and, to be honest, out of gaming topics to write on since I’ve been busy with work stuff and not playing as much.  Regardless, I’m just tired of seeing the wrong kind of response to poor judgment from people who supposedly wish to put forth a cause.

Years ago, I wrote an indirect open letter to Gevlon about how he handled his blog.  Of course, the idea itself was ludicrous; his blog drew (and I assume still draws, though I don’t read it any more because he moved away from WoW) many exponents more viewers than mine; I was still a start-up at the time, and, besides, he knew what his audience wanted.  Still, he was kind enough to take the time to respond, and do so in a polite and intellectual way.

My point back then was that delivery of your message was as important as the content of your message; in fact, it may even be more important, because poor delivery can completely ruin the content, but great content often isn’t enough to overcome poor delivery.  It’s the now age-old idea that the media is the message.

Thanks to ubiquitous celebrity filming and large-audience instant communication platforms (like Twitter), we have more and more opportunities to reply in knee-jerk reactions to everything that happens.  Today, I see a large group of people jumping all over Martin Freeman because of the incredibly stupid and in-poor-taste joke he made.  However, here’s the thing: we all make bad jokes.  Everyone.  If someone recorded my buddy and I on vent when we’re playing games, I think people who read my blog would be shocked.  I do scold my buddy for making rape jokes.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a running commentary that I’ll make a joke in poor taste and he’ll reply, “Oh, so you draw the line at rape but not (whatever joke I just made).  Part of it comes from the idea of closed groups; that our small circles of friends trust one another enough to know that comments in poor taste will be taken for what they are: bad jokes.

My private persona and my public one aren’t the same, and I daresay that celebrities aren’t, either; we just don’t have cameras in our face when we commit a social gaffe.  Additionally, our now instant and large-audience communication tools make it very easy to drive ourselves and like-minded people into a frenzy over what was, at its heart, a bad joke in poor taste.  And even he realized it, but he responded with a comic’s defensiveness instead of a celebrity’s social savvy.  That’s something worth discussing, that when he knew he’d said something wrong, he pushed further instead of withdrawing the comment.  But that’s not the sort of response I’ve seen.

What bothers me then is not the completely warranted unhappiness towards those jokes, but the way that unhappiness is communicated.  I’ve seen a lot of tweets today that were also in very poor taste, that generalized groups of people rather than discussing the actual topic at hand: Martin Freeman made an inappropriate joke and then made it worse instead of backing off.  I see the same sort of response with the new PAX Diversity Lounges.  Yes, it’s a stupid idea, and if they continue to go forward with it, it will likely cause the exact opposite effect than it’s intended; I’ve seen a lot of people write on that point already: opposite of what they intended.

Well for goodness sake, at least their intentions are good.  When you respond with acidic criticism instead of helpful suggestions, it’s likely to draw the same kind of response as we saw from Martin Freeman.  I fully support the thought that it’s a stupid idea, but rather than nastily attack them for trying to respond positively to criticisms and being ignorant about how to do it, perhaps instead we should try to help them understand how to do it.

What bothers me is the glee with which people attack this poorly-conceived attempt; it seems like it’s confirming something everyone already thinks they know about PAX.  Well I’ll tell you this, I’ve been to 3 of the 4 Boston PAX’s with my wife in attendance.  She’s gone off and done things on her own, a solo woman out on the game floors.  She’s never once had a bad experience.  Not once.  Hell, she yelled at Gabe once at an impromptu panel about not using female characters in his D&D campaign – yelled at him.  And he responded that he didn’t feel comfortable because he didn’t think he knew how to roleplay a woman in a realistic way.  Then, the two of them had a dialogue about it.  Gabe acknolwedged his ignorance and my wife, instead of criticizing him for it, provided helpful feedback.  Later that same conference, Jerry saw her on the tabletop gaming floor and asked her about her ideas.  My buddy and I were of course over-awed (and my wife, who never introduces anybody to anyone else, didn’t introduce us).  So both Gabe and Jerry spoke to her about incorporating women into their games.  Who knows whether or not he took it, but regardless, everyone left those exchanges better than they’d entered them.

However, on Twitter and elsewhere, I see a lot of people publicly grooming themselves and self-aggrandizing as if all their nasty criticism has finally been vindicated because again PA has done something that shows their ignorance.  Why not take this opportunity and, instead of preening one’s own feathers, offer thanks for the attempt but some suggestions on what might be a better idea?  Why not come off the attack  – an attack that often shows a level of hypocrisy towards an inclusive environment – and instead offer a helping hand?  Does showing compassion to someone whose ideas you’ve spoken out against show weakness?  No, quite the opposite.  It takes a big person to help pick your enemy up out of the rubble at the end of the battle and try to help them rehabilitate, which supposedly is everyone’s goal: a better world, not a better chance to humiliate those you dislike.

Consider how it would help your own public identity to be seen helping to rehabilitate a repeat offender?  I’ve already seen it when my buddy, not having a thought in his head about how female gamers might be treated, started calling people out in LoL for using the term “rape” to describe a gank after I took him to a panel of female gamers talking about their experience at PAX last year.  He changed thanks to that panel, started being more thoughtful, and began to try to change others.  That should be the goal.  Think about whether or not your public communications are designed to further that goal or to exclude people whose ideas you disagree with.


Stubborn (trying to offer a helping hand to those who don’t know how)

P.S. This isn’t intended to call out any one person on Twitter or elsewhere but instead just to make a point about how our behavior helps our causes or inadvertently hurts them.

P.P.S. I told you I was bad at tags!  #Twitter #PAX #Tolerance

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2013 1:23 pm

    “It takes a big person to help pick your enemy up out of the rubble at the end of the battle and try to help them rehabilitate, which supposedly is everyone’s goal: a better world, not a better chance to humiliate those you dislike.”

    Why is helping PAX get better everyone’s goal? That seems like a pretty big assumption. Some people just like making jokes about the topic of the day. Some people are truly frustrated by dealing with diversity issues for years, sometimes in violent or upsetting ways, and want to vent. Some folks have already tried to reach out to the PA guys during the multiple incidents in the past, and have given up because there is really only so much effort one can be expected to expend on what seems to be a lost cause.

    Look, I’ve been to PAX Prime for the last six years, and I always have a wonderful experience, so I understand where you are coming from. But it is not everyone’s job on Twitter to teach Mike K. to not a jerk to marginalized people — it’s nice when someone does, but that is Mike’s job as a reasonable human being. I mean, the dude has said some pretty terrible things. Calling frustration a “wrong response” and expecting people to eternally, continually turn the other cheek no matter what crazy nonsense PA comes up with next seems really unreasonable.

    • December 18, 2013 2:16 pm

      I don’t claim it is everyone’s job, and I agree with you that it’s not. And I have no problem with jokes; in fact, that’s part of my point: we all make jokes at might not be in the best taste from time to time. However, some of the stuff that’s put out there are not jokes; they’re vicious attacks. And even that I don’t have any particular problem with. What bothers me is that some of the people who are making the attacks don’t realize what a setback that mindframe is for coming to a solution that they claim to be seeking. They’re letting their message delivery ruin a very worthy message.

      I’d also point out that “reasonable” and “unreasonable” are very subjective terms; I daresay most people think that they are reasonable human beings when in fact in their own ignorance they may not be. Just as your comment here is attempting to correct what you think is unreasonable or ignorant about my argument, I’m doing the same with people who I think are damaging their own message by the way they deliver it. I do think it’s the wrong response. Joke, vent frustration, try to help, or not: if people have stated a goal, which a lot of people have on the topic of inclusion or PAX or diversity or whatever, I don’t want their ignorance of communication strategies to get in the way of it. All of those goals are fantastic and optimistic views of a brighter future, so I want to do what I can help them, as I’m sure do you.

      And this very conversation is precisely the sort of dialogue I’m seeking: something that both people engage in civilly and walk away from better understanding one another, even if no formal agreement is found.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. December 18, 2013 2:12 pm

    I’m afraid I can only agree with your basic appeal to a certain point, Stubborn. while your trust in PA’s ignorance or willingness to learn is very kind, there are many people who are justifiably over it. it’s not just once or twice that the two figureheads have not just proven to be completely ignorant, offensive and hurtful but basically full of BS when it comes to handling criticism and dishing out lukewarm apologies (only to act just as thoughtlessly soon again. “sorry – not sorry – sorry”). I don’t know how much of this history you’ve followed on twitter, but personally I don’t feel obligated to trust any political PA moves, especially when it comes to furthering causes they clearly know little about. who’s to say the whole diversity hubs idea is genuine and not just another smirking move? Can you pledge for its sincerity?

    There’s a point where a brand / a certain group of people have lost the benefit of the doubt. maybe we just draw the line at a different point in time.

    • December 18, 2013 3:39 pm

      I’m glad we can agree at least on the basic premise, and it may just be that the two incidents juxtaposed today happened to get my blood up, but when I see someone (and it’s not you, to be clear, though I know you were discussing it earlier, too) make comments on Twitter that put Martin Freeman’s stupid response to realizing he made a bad joke and PA’s uninformed attempt at responding positively to criticism side by side, then brand ALL males by those two things – which I saw more than once, mind you – it irritates me. Not so much because I’m a male, but because this person purports to be about gender equality and treating everyone the same, but then makes such a stupid statement that it taints the positive messages.

      I think you make an interesting point there about brand, and I think that may be part of what bothers me. While the two figureheads – and really, to be frank only one of the two – seems to have a knack for putting his foot in his mouth, there’s a lot more people at that company and that sponsor those events. Should we boycott Child’s Play because of it? I remember when the initial Dickwolves incident happened, there was a post not long after about how they hoped one day Child’s Play and PA would be completely separate events specifically because of the kind of bad press PA sometimes generates. The brand and the individuals need to be separated to some extent.

      I can’t, of course, pledge for its sincerity, but I would if I could, because I daresay that Mike and Jerry don’t have much to do with the planning of PAX anymore. It’s pretty fully in Robert Khoo’s wheelhouse, and whoever below him’s actually responsible for PAX. The fact that a bunch of computer game geeks don’t know much about how to handle diversity training doesn’t surprise me much more than how a bunch of ivory tower college researchers don’t know how to fix the public school system. There’s just not the appropriate background there. At least they’re trying.

      However, those who have the background and who truly want to make a better world as they claim should take these kind of opportunities to do so. If anything, I think my post is as much about the hypocrisy of some of those who claim to want to solve the problem as anything else; there’s a huge batch of them on Twitter who I’m just about done with, which is a shame, because not too long ago I was completely ignorant to the female gamer perspective, too, and now, thanks to the efforts of a few and my own interest and dedication in looking into it, I try to be better. I wonder how many people like me are out there that aren’t going to have that interest or dedication because they see some of those same people being hypocritical instead of analytical or making attacks instead of offering constructive criticism? I just want more people to be brought into that group of common interest instead of excluded for it simply because they’re starting from an background of ignorance.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. December 19, 2013 11:11 am

    Being a teacher, you probably are familiar with the scene from the school yard where a group of people is standing aside and whispering and giggling to each other, making nothing but negative remarks about everybody they see. Basically they would like to feel superior, and they do that by talking badly about everybody else.

    To me, Twitter is the virtual representation of that scene. Its very format is better suited to negative pithy remarks than to balanced and thoughtful constructive criticism. It is a micro-outrage site for people to vent without much thought. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.

    • December 19, 2013 11:25 am

      I don’t; and it’s not the behavior that’s bothering me, really. It’s the unintended setbacks to legitimate causes that these so-called advocates (of whatever cause) beget (couldn’t use “cause” there a third time with a different meaning). In fact, when I saw that on the school grounds, I didn’t interrupt it. When it’s kept private, it’s fine, a basic human behavior, I’d go so far as to say. When it’s made public, from a school-yard point of view, it’s bullying. And it may be in these more “adult” cases that the Twitter hawks are in fact bullying the bullies, people like Mike who might have deserved it (or might even continue to deserve it), but it seems amazing that it’s lost on these people that bullying a bully makes you just as bad. That’s what drives me nuts; the almost blind capability to ignore one’s own hypocrisy.

      Thanks for the comment!

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