Story Games and collective responsibility

This is not directly rpg-related; rather, it's some musing and questions about forum communities and such. First, a little bit of context about what brought this about:

I've been corresponding with Zak Smith about life, the universe and everything, and along the way Zak has been illuminating me about his recent Internet fights with various people. The history of these disagreements is long and convoluted, but it is all intimately tied with the Story Games forums, Zak tells me, starting in 2010 and evolving ever since.

I'll paraphrase Zak a bit here, so as to get to the point of the matter: the way Zak tells it, he believes that Story Games the forum, and story games hobbyists (insofar as there is a specific community of such) promulgate a poisonous social system that encourages lying and coddles insanity. The reason is a combination of wrong-headed moderation principles and government that enables evil people to abuse power in unjust ways.

The substance of these accusations lies in the fact that Zak has for several years been fighting with many people who used to frequent Story Games, and self-identify as storygamers, over matters that seem to me like a mix of personal grudges and liberal issues of cultural policy, with an emphasis on the former, perhaps. His lists of enemy personnel have many names I don't recognize myself, but there are also a bunch of people who used to hang out at SG before G+ became the go-to place for the cool kids. The argument is that Story Games is responsible for encouraging this clique of anti-Zak people to form, and for providing them with the wrong-headed intellectual tools they've used to wage their war against him.

To be specific, the kinds of social behaviours that Zak specifically recognizes as originating at Story Games are things like attacking outsiders with low social capital freely; tone-policing and generally moderating outsiders while giving insiders a free pass for bad behavior; biased thinking prone to pile on minority views and following opinion-leaders; never admitting to any bias or social gaming; cutting off and preventing any conversations about important issues. He says that these types of intellectual vices are prevalent at Story Games, and his enemies have clearly adopted their behavior patterns here, and basically persist in attacking him because the entire culture of SG is a poisonous morass that legitimizes their behavior. This makes the whole edifice worthless, as it is an environment in which significant rpg discussion can hardly flourish, and where all people with talent or intellectual integrity leave rather than get tainted by the social mores of the place.

Now, I'm not the most Internet-connected person when it comes to this sort of social networks drama; I wouldn't even know about Zak's fights were it not for friends occasionally sending me links to particularly passionate opinion pieces promulgating around the matter. However, I am an occasional participant here at SG (maybe even one of the more visible ones nowadays, with the forum being perceptibly slower than a few years ago), so I am interested in this rather extreme view Zak has formed of the forums. I also don't believe in hiding from the truth, so I felt it appropriate to ask the rest of you generally for your wisdom on this: does Story Games have a taint of injustice to it, and if so, could we improve upon it?

(I'll clarify that the above question might seem like an ironical one, made in jest, because it seems to paint such a negative picture of a forum on which I participate regularly myself. I do intend it in earnest, however, because I think that Zak has argued his case with me in good faith, and it is possible for people to be selectively blind to the injustice and vice that they take as a given in their environment. I also don't know much about this whole fight Zak has been having with storygamers, so for all I know Zak could just barely be right in the substance of his accusation.)

Specifically, I'm looking for information and informed opinions on the following questions: does Story Games suffer from intellectual conceit; does SG discriminate against outsider viewpoints on core orthodoxy issues - does SG even have an orthodoxy, and on what; have people in the wider Internet been using SG-originating ideas and values to rally people to evil purposes; does the SG moderation staff collude with somebody about something (do we even still have a moderation staff, for that matter - it's been so peaceful lately I'm not sure); does SG moderation selectively encourage libel; does the SG leadership have an active position on e.g. Zak Smith, and do they act upon it somehow. General experiences with related matters are also welcome to provide context for these ideas, although I don't really look forward to reading through a million pages of G+ flame war discussion if that can be avoided.

Please note that I do not want to talk about how awful Zak is or isn't, per se - I understand that many people have strong opinions about him, and I cannot prevent you from discussing him (particularly as it might pertain to self-examination of SG community behavior), but my actual focus here is more on us than him, so to speak: I'm interested in whether Story Games as a community indeed has had an influence on the discussion environment, and whether we, or the moderation staff, or somebody else, has some responsibility in events such as these. Considering the way Internet is becoming a part of our lives, where does communal responsibility come into play, and is Story Games culpable in abetting a fight outside the forums? I don't expect the answer to be a resounding yes, but that doesn't mean that we couldn't act better - is there room for improvement in the social responsibility of the SG community, or are we doing well in being good Internet citizens? On my own part I can only say that this forum itself has seemed like a rather chill place lately, as many old-timers have left for G+, but that's pretty much as far as my eye reaches. Perhaps more could be said with better knowledge of the issues involved?

Also, I understand that my question here isn't overall very well-formed. That's mostly because I don't know quite precisely what it is that I am asking. I guess that the core question is whether anybody here has ever wondered about these issues, and what conclusions did they come to. To me this entire idea of SG having a communal responsibility for events occurring elsewhere is a new one, so I haven't pondered upon it before.


  • edited September 2015

    Let me speak as the head person of

    I think this community has managed, in the year and change I've been here, to be fairly free of drama. (Whether or not illusionism is a useful GM technique seems to be as intense as it's ever been.) We, as a community, managed to avoid a lot of social drama that's been stirring over this time.

    I'd like to keep it this way.

    So I'm going to set some rules here: these may be contrary your intention, Eero, but thems is the breaks.

    First, I will have no compunction or hesitation about closing this thread if Zak gets discussed after this post.

    Among many reasons, he's not here to discuss it, I don't have any intention of revising that ban, and it seems poor form to be discussing him in a forum where he can't talk. If any of you do want to talk about Zak S, there are plenty of other forums, and if you want to talk with him directly about his views, I'm sure he'll engage and chat with you.

    Part of what I think has worked well with the drama free last year and a half is that a lot of the internet RPG drama has just been ignored: I've really glad that as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing was written about the list of consultants in 5E, and we didn't have people complaining about who won the ENnies. The history of how people came to like/dislike/support/not support Zak is a complex thing that in my smallish amount of time in the hobby i've barely scratched the surface of, but as long as I've been around, this place has not been a vector for discussing Zak (which as you've sussed, is a topic which is supercharged for a lot of people), and I think that's much the better.

    So as far as this thread being a "how did some people come to hate some other people, and vice versa, and who is right to hate whom?", this isn't going to be that thread. Part of what I was trying to do, very intentionally with Story Games Weekly, was highlight a lot of things (freeform, larp, OSR), that weren't capital SG Story Games. One of the only people I've banned in my time here was banned for shitting on OSR games, and I'm happy to do that at any point if people start trashtalking a movement that has great people in it, whether that's story games, larp, freeform, OSR, DIY D&D, or whatever.

    I don't consider myself the steward of Story Games, "the movement", I wasn't on the Forge, nor the early days of here, I don't describe myself as a "storygamer", my favorite games are mostly freeform games, and from the small glimpses I've had of the past forums, this forum seems to resemble the forum of 5 years barely at all.

    If there's a discussion to be had apart from this, that focuses on the present community, and what kind of blind spots or injustices we might be promulgating, then proceed with extreme caution and care for your fellow posters. Again, this thread will be shut down the moment it gets uncivil.

    But a thread which is all about how awful/not-awful a bunch of people were/weren't a bunch of years ago, where almost all those participants are inactive here at best, or permanently departed at worst?

    Sorry, it's not the thing that I think is useful. If you think it's useful, you have other ways to pursue it.

    People should feel free to PM me or email me if they have stuff they want to talk about, including disagreeing with the rules I've outlined.

    EDIT: several small edits for clarity of language.
  • edited September 2015
    I love you guys, but I know I'm not really of you guys. My personal experience in "interactive fiction design" has been extremely broad, such that I tend to see SG as a beautiful and fascinating tidepool - full of amazing and unique creatures, including some of the smartest and shiniest I've ever seen - but a tidepool nonetheless.

    So here is an awkward gift from your half-smart cousin, the biologist, examining Area X.

    Note: Trigger Words coming. If you've ever been angered by something I said, you may want to stop reading right here. If your curiosity compels you, steel yourself. Pour a drink, roll a joint, breathe deeply, do whatever you do to relax.

    Ok. The following list of words may be used in various ways. Many of them may have a negative feeling or stimulate a defensive response. Others can easily be seen as good things, or may only seem "bad" from the "outside". I consider them "germs of opinion" regarding the SG community, and could write a paragraph on each of these topics. (I won't, but I could.)

    I'll make it a game. Here's how you play. Each turn, choose a word. Take as many turns as you like.

    Cultural Bonding
    Cultural Narrative
    Community Defense
    Artistic Authority
    Social Responsibility

    Think about what your chosen word might mean, in terms of SG. Think about how it might be seen as a good thing. Think about how it might be seen as a bad thing. Think about who sees it which way. Think about whether that bothers you, and why, and who cares. You don't have to say anything. Just think about it. If you come to any conclusion that you've never reached before, you win.

  • edited September 2015
    I will have to ponder a little further to come up with a more thought-out response, but for now I will say what comes to mind first:

    Story Games is one of the very few forums I participate in. Why? It is full of interesting and intelligent people. It is friendly. It makes efforts to improve itself (like this very thread).

    It has been, for me, at least, a very friendly and open-minded place, where I can consistently find interesting and thought-provoking discussion, about games, about people, and about how we think about these things.

    I have seen some minor problems (and a very rare major problem), but this has generally been the exception to the rule (from what I've seen - I certainly don't read everything here).

    Every other forum I have ever read or participated in has been far worse on every account. The moderation here has been top-notch: quick to appear when it's needed (this thread is a case in point), but fades into the background the rest of the time (to the point where many posters don't even know the forum is moderated at all, because they've never seen it happen).

    Curious about my own perceptions on this topic, I searched a few older potentially-problematic threads and started reading through them. While I see some people (often myself included) stumbling here and there, the general impression is of very civil and intelligent discussion wherein - most importantly - everyone often ends the discussion more knowledgeable and with a more balanced view than they had at the beginning of it.

    And, more than any other place I've participated in, its members are interested in improving the quality of discussion as well as its inclusiveness and diversity.

    Here are some interesting links (judge for yourself):

    Does Story Games have a history of silencing people of color and women?

    (The last link in that thread appears to be broken, so here is a fresh link to the mirror thread).

    Some other threads on potentially-problematic topics: ("The Female Gamer Dilemma") ("A Story Games status experiment")

    What I'd like to hear about most is people who have felt alienated, oppressed, silenced, or something similar on this forum. I don't know if this is a welcoming enough space for them to speak up - and they have every right to keep it to themselves - but that's what I would like to hear about, in my secret heart of hearts.

  • edited September 2015
    Answering the questions in order:

    As one of the dumbasses that regularly post here - perhaps the ur-dumbass - I can say this place does not have intellectual conceit; way too many people take me seriously.

    As for discriminating on core orthodoxy, yes and no, for the longest time I was the guy that said "GNS is trash, it's a stupid theory" and everyone yelled at me. But this doesn't seem like discrimination, it seems like they liked the theory and didn't think it was trash. (Nowadays of course everyone has come around to my position (ultra smug smiley here.))

    I don't think there's a wider internet community; I actually don't think we have a community here either. Where's the cops? Where's the janitors? What do we actually do (as opposed to talking about doing things)?

    I don't have information about the moderators here.

    I don't remember this Zak Smith guy clearly, only vaguely (edited here because I read the second post after finishing the response to the OP)

    Mostly when the mods tell me things it's shit like "tone it down" or "don't be such an asshole ok". TYRANNY in other words.

    I don't think we had an impact on the discussion environment; I remember the move from Usenet to web forums (I believe I strongly predicted on this would not ever happen), and now we are experiencing a move from web forums to other social media (I probably also predicted this would not happen.) These natural shifts of discussion have much more impact on things than the actual content of what's discussed, which has not had significant impact (that I can think of) outside of people's individual games, and very little there. It's great that people are playing (say) Apocalypse World and loving it, but the proportion of people playing it compared to those playing D&D and D&D-a-likes is probably comparable to people playing (say) Brave New World in 1998, when D&D was at its nadir. To put it another way, the next time RPG discussion significantly (in the statistical sense) affects the broader world of how RPGs are played will be the first time.

    In part because this is how I see things, I rarely consider these issues.

    I think that's all the questions from the OP in the order I spotted them.
  • Thanks, James - I don't want to discuss Zak's Internet flame wars, either, really. It's more the substance of his argument and verifying/falsifying it that concerns me, that Story Games is an actively harmful cesspool. As people might have figured out by now, I don't really care about the popularity of the forum in terms of the number of participants myself (I guess I participate here as a light-weight alternative to blogging), but the idea that SG might be a net negative for the rpg culture as a whole is interesting, even if it does seem far-fetched to me. There's not many ways to deal with such an accusation, though, except to brush it aside because it doesn't conform with your own prejudices, or take it up with a wider crowd and see if anybody else sees it in a different light.

    Perhaps we could get something out of that without going into the particulars of who-said-what with Zak. As I mentioned earlier, it seems to me anyway that the current SG participant base consists of almost entirely different people - it's pretty much just Jason and me who are both on Zak's grudge list and still participating here. Whether for good or bad, it seems that the kinds of people who are likely to fight with him have largely moved on to G+, so in that regard I guess I'm barking at Story Games of years past - year 212 edition instead of 2015, perhaps. Then again, self-reflection shouldn't hurt, even if Zak's experiences with SG have been with a different place than it is now - I certainly know that I personally haven't really experienced a change, except in that we have less fighting nowadays, and I don't know if that's because there are less people or because the people left here have self-selected to get along.

    Tod's got a good list there, those are all descriptors that surely apply to the kinds of things that have been going on at SG over the years. I also see most of these kinds of things as something people do to themselves - passive and inwards-turning things, not as something one projects out to the wider world. In that regard they don't show up as a moral burden to me. What Zak is talking about is something more active, a community acting as a breeding ground for bad Internet citizenship. I'm reminded of how, when the Forge was at the height of its popularity, there used to be these people who would read up at the Forge and then go to to show off and make asses of themselves, and to push other people's rpg theory to third parties. Not that a community necessarily can do much about something like that even if it happens, but that's the fear/premise here, apparently: that Story Games encourages stupidity outside Story Games.
  • edited September 2015
    Yeah, I guess I can address this: from over a year and a half of scouring different fora and online resources for the newsletter, Story Games as current is not a breeding ground for "bad internet citizenship". It doesn't seem a breeding ground for much at all: some people make games here, some people talk about things, but if other people are taking inspiration or taking their tone from the forums at Story Games, it's very very hard to see. The rest of the hobby is doing its own things, which look a lot different than what's happening here.

    As far as what influence the SG of yesteryears had on the environment of today, positive or negative, (which as you admit, seems at the heart of your thoughts), that is not really a question of self-reflection for almost everybody active here, but other-reflection.

    That self-reflection for yourself (and a few others) might be something useful to you, but I don't think here is the place for it. G+ seems like a much stronger place for that conversation about as you admit, the SG of yesteryear.
  • I think there's less fighting because there's less people. The whole point of your conversation, after all, is that people are fighting on G+ (and that's bad - I myself don't attach any value judgment to people yelling at each other on the internet, as I mentioned, it's probably because they disagree about things.)

    It's nice to be remembered by someone, I guess?
  • So I'm a relative newcomer here, and I'm only tangentially aware of Zak at all - though I confess the small amount of awareness I have of him hasn't made me eager for more contact - so I don't really have a horse in this race.

    But this is the most absurdly CIVIL internet community I've ever seen. I can sometimes come off as more abrasive than I mean to be (Thanks Internet!) and I have Opinions About Things, but this place is sincerely, like, nice. And I certainly haven't perceived any war on any person or ideology during my time here, and I honestly find the idea that SG is perpetrating a war on anything to be humorous, in the face-palm sort of way, and I don't think anyone is doing their credibility any favors by asserting it.

    I guess this place does have a more academic/intellectual (both neutral words for me, BTW) bent than most, simply because the topics discussed tend to be more... difficult for me to wrap my head around, and yeah, there's some jargon (also neutral word) because that tends to be necessary in those sorts of discussions. If you don't like people trying hard to think seriously about games, yeah, Story Games isn't for you, but the idea that that is somehow poisonous, to me, is baffling.

  • edited September 2015
    I would add that in the days of the Forge/GNS evangelists going to the forums, the powers that be over there (this is before story-games existed) didn't end up banning anyone from saying GNS was good, they ended up (topic) banning me from saying it was awful. There are two possibilities, either they were callously silencing a brave truth teller, or telling the only person in the conversation who was really acting like a shithead to fuck off. Future historians will likely debate this point for decades, I would not want to injure their employment by resolving it.
  • I mostly lurk at SG, so take my comments with suitable amounts of salt.

    Some aspects of the community (as they appear to an infrequent visitor) follow. I think it would be most fruitful to take these as observations, not as suggestions, accusations or praise. That is my purpose, anyway.

    1. Emphasis towards social justice. Sometimes opposing or even nuanced opinions face severe opposition. Also, system does matter for most posters.
    Are opposing viewpoints effectively silenced? I can't really say. Maybe you can?

    2. Emphasis on being polite. This makes some discussions difficult or impossible; for example, discussing if a given person is or is not harmful to the community, utter asshole, etc. Discussions about controversial subjects might be inhibited - if multiple people get heated up about, say, social justice matters or railroading, some sort of moderator intervention is likely. Maybe such discussions are not started very lightly by the regulars? I can't tell, but maybe regulars can.

    In some feminist contexts tone policing is seen as undesirable, as oppressed people should be allowed to show their anger (I hope this is an accurate enough characterisation; if not, I'll try to learn more). There are also other people who dislike tone policing for different reasons.

    3. There is certain vagueness to some discussions. For example, the thread on people of colour and women linked by Paul. The thread contains proof that people are being silenced (I take being silenced and feeling silenced to be the same thing.). Hence, some people are silencing them. Let us simplify (for the sake of argument) and say that people are silencing others either on purpose or unknowingly. (There of course are other options.)
    The thread does not point to any examples of silencing. Suppose I am purposefully silencing others. In this situation I would not be caught and could continue. Suppose I am unknowingly silencing others. Then, in this situation, I would be unlikely to learn that it is actually I, and not some others, who is doing the silencing.
    Hence, the somewhat vague thread does not do as much as could be done to stop the silencing. It was not the purpose of the thread in question, but was there another one with explicit focus on fixing of the problematic behaviour? I don't know, but regular members probably do.

    Is this sort of pattern of vagueness usual? I can't really say, but, again, maybe you can.
  • +1 JD.

    I don't want to spoil the good vibes, so please tread carefully when responding to this:

    Can anyone point to an example of such behaviour on behalf of Story Games, or a member (or former member)? (Ideally without identifying the individual, if possible.) What does it look like?

    For example, how does the community (or some less tangible subset) "promulgate lying"? (That seems more tangible than "coddle insanity", so I'll avoid that one.)

    Even if the people involved are, in theory, quite right, we could still learn what about their (or our) behaviour rubs other people the wrong way, and, if possible, learn how to avoid that in the future.
  • Yeah, nope, we're not following that path, sorry @Paul_T. My reasons for not dragging up the past that I explained to Eero hold just as true for you. I appreciate that you're being careful, but rehashing past (even recently past) threads for flaws is not cool. No matter what you picked, it'd be ridiculous to not expect that person to offer a defense, and then we are partaking of trying prior threads. This seems like a pretty unfruitful, drama-rich activity.

    If you want to understand better some of the anger people have towards past threads on SG, I suggest you contact people directly. I'm sure there are people on all sides who will be willing to fill you in on their views.

    I think everybody here is partaking of this with decent respect and care, but am pretty close to closing this. I just think this is not the venue for the action of: "let us examine past forum drama". This action falls solely on me, I am just really drama-averse and rarely see benefit to it.

    I'll leave this open briefly in case there's an angle I'm not considering, and again, I appreciate the care everybody is taking with this.
  • The line James draws makes sense to me, even if I might draw lines differently in his stead. Regardless, I think that this isn't a topic that can benefit from a long back-and-forth exchange; each of us has what tidbits of experience we might have, and we can share that, but we're not going to get to the bottom of this by debating it. I would suggest that we stick to seeing what each person can bring under consideration, more than picking over contributions.

    The ideal response to this thread would be, I think, if we still had some people reading here who had more substantial experience to share about what SG does to people (inside or outside, doesn't matter). Perhaps, if you (you the reader reading this now) know someone who would know, you could ask them for some facts. As you can see, what I have - what we have - for an evaluation of SG's influence seems to basically amount to the place being a tiny virtual salon for a bunch of weirdos who have no idea how someone could think that we're orchestrating harassment elsewhere in the Internet.

    (If James doesn't like us unearthing something here, feel free to contact me privately. I want to know because I'm associating with the forum, so if there is subtle injustice going on, as Zak claims, and I'm too blind to see it, I'd like somebody to set me straight.)

    James, if I may suggest: I don't think it's necessary to close a thread like this, we could just leave it be and see if anybody else wants to say their piece. I think it's a good thing to leave the door open, in case somebody in a few days or a few weeks notices that we're reviewing behavior, and decides that they have something further to share. We should be open to people speaking their minds, surely, if somebody actually does have a gripe against the way Story Games goes about everyday business.
  • Eero, I'm fine with your suggestion. As noted before, I'll close this down if it becomes uncivil (or starts becoming an unearthing ground for long dead threads/trial space), but I'm happy to let it gracefully end.
  • Hope it doesn't get closed and deleted before I finish posting. It has happened to me before in other threads a couple of times and it left me feeling quite frustrated that my viewpoints were totally misunderstood and tagged as "useless internet drama" without consideration.

    Like, really really frustrated.

    But anyway, those couple of times I accepted it with resignation that this was the way the forum worked, that was the social contract we're all using to play and as every social contract in games, it isn't written in stone and there's often no way to be sure of it's contents until you step on someone else's toes.

    Well, yes, you can read the threads stick to the top but even that doesn't prepare you for dealing with all the different sensibilities of the people participating in the forum. A lot of times I've found myself misunderstood and well, can't say "silenced", but pulled into fights. I blame mostly my poor writing skills that make me edit my posts often twice right after I posted it (and twice before posting it, I DO try to be careful but it isn't enough).

    But I also blame the sensibility of some readers here and there. Like, I remember once somebody getting me into a useless argument and derailing a whole discussion because he didn't like it that I used the words "social contract". Up to the day I feel afraid to use that term here in SG and believe me that I've been hesitant to write them up there.

    There's also the cultural taboos that I really find hard to understand and that often limit my interventions so much. Like the use of certain words, that defy my understanding of the english language and make my own vocabulary often insufficient to deal with communicating correctly most of my ideas. Sometimes I wished people around here were more open minded, tolerant and less sensitive, specially to the use of words. As a writer I realize that words hurt, but often people here react like words could kill and you are, not even like pulling a gun when you use this or that one, but like nuking an island full of puppies instead and laughing about it instead. Like I should known all the uses of every word in english used around the world or face a martial court if I dare use them.

    Come on, I'm glad to be enlightened and educated, but not judged!

    Oh, and there has always been the internetiquette that certainly makes difficult to even start threads. But that comes from the Forge and perhaps from before, and thankfully I'm a publicist so it's not so hard an obstacle to pass. I'm mainly talking here about naming the thread in a way that makes people here click it. You will notice if you do it poorly: next time you check on it it will be on the page two of the list of threads with no comments and you will need to doublepost to keep it alive.

    It happened to me a few times when I started to post ideas about the games I was designing. To avoid that and attract readers, posting clear questions and the wrong answers was more useful that saying "hey, I came up with this, what do you think?", because everyone on the internet wants to correct everyone else, not just answer their questions or offer opinions (there are exceptions, but I was kinda sad to confirm that not even SG was an exception to that rule)

    Whew, okey, sorry, but I really needed to get all that out of my system. If you see all this as unnecessary internet drama and feel it's time to close the post, I'll accept it as I've always did. I'll feel frustrated and find my opinions confirmed, but I'll certainly accept it.

    I can't remember Zak. I probably argued with him somewhere and I hope he didn't take it personally. If it was my fault, tell him I'm sorry. Somehow I bet that he didn't get the SG social contract and this predisposed people against him. And that's as much as I can think of some kind of "plot" the users of this forum can make against anybody. No matter how honest, smart or original things you post, if nobody likes what you write here nor finds it useful, you will get all sorts of drama, be banned, closed of find your threads on page 2 and further away. But it's not that you can't criticize anything: you just have to be tactful and use the right words, that's it.

    My apologies if something here offended anyone, it was not my intention and I'm not being sarcastic with this part. It was written this way with the purpose to express my own emotions, not to elicit angered responses or reactions. If it nevertheless provokes that, I apologize again for it. James_Stuart, if you find this reason enough to close the thread, again, I'll understand and I won't take it wrong.
  • Thanks for expressing your experience, @warriormonk, it's valuable. I'm sorry this place has been frustrating for you in these ways.
  • This is one of those threads where I really needed to write my response before reading the whole thing, so I did so, in a conveniently open Word Document. I did read James Stuart’s post outlining the rules, as well as AsIf’s initial post (as someone who has disagreed with him in the past, I didn’t find his post particularly infuriating, merely intriguing, but maybe there’s something I’m missing?), but no further. And I certainly am trying to follow James’ rules.

    Basically, I think if S-G has a problem, it’s low traffic due to the exodus to G+ and perhaps other social media as well. But for those of us still here? It’s… pretty nice, honestly. Relatively little drama, potential big fights are nipped in the bud by James’ and others’ excellent moderation, and we still have a reasonably wide range of thread topics.

    I don’t feel like there’s much of an orthodoxy; to the extent one exists, there is nevertheless room for respectful dissent. In other words, you can disagree that, I don’t know, that Dogs in the Vineyard is a good game, and no one’s going to kick you out for it, and if you do get kicked out, it won’t be just because of that opinion, but because of the way you expressed it. Furthermore, if someone who loves Dogs flames you, that’s the behavior that will be moderated.

    Witness the monster threads about two months back hashing out a bunch of GNS and other RPG theory. They stayed respectful, a lot of important ideas were discussed, and moreover, I don’t believe at this point in time that discussion could have happened anywhere else on the Internet. (Academic/ jargon-y? Sometimes, though again, James does a nice job of making sure people explain their referents as clearly as possible.)

    It’s worth noting that many of the people still here, including some of the most prominent, have a heavy interest in things outside the “traditional” S-G “canon,” making this also one of the best places, at least for me personally, to discuss D&D on the Internet. Sure, for specific technical things, ENWorld or might be better, but I feel like I can talk about it here more comfortably and without my more esoteric ideas meeting silence or derision.

    So, although we are not as busy as we once were, most of what business remains is good business. I can direct friends here without worry that they will be received with hostility, provided that they post in good faith. Although “good faith” is a necessarily nebulous term, and perhaps this is simply my own narrow-mindedness, it’s difficult for me to imagine any other standard we could adopt which would not make cliquishness and exclusivity even worse.

    That’s S-G in and of itself. As for whether the existence or culture or whatever of S-G has somehow influenced the wider Internet discourse on RPGs? I wish. But in seriousness, many of the most influential voices in the indie tabletop scene at this time (I won’t name names, not to avoid shaming people but just to save time and to avoid an unnecessary side-track) simply aren’t active on here; many never were.

    I do think that the indie tabletop movement as a whole has had some impact, and generally for the better. You can go on any general D&D forum or discussion group at this point and there will be a large number of people who are familiar with Dungeon World, for example. But I find it really hard to swallow that this here forum had much to do with that.
  • edited September 2015
    Whoa! What a great thread. I mean, relative to what it could have been. I was thinking, "Why, Eero, why?!?!?" at first, but then we got away from the accuser and started pondering the accusations, and not even really as accusations but more as jumping-off points for reality checks.

    I'm happy to chime in on the reality checks.

    This is partly in reply to what other folks have written.


    I know a very small number of people here in real life, and I've been chatting online with a few more people here for up to 7 years, and I can say that there are plenty of times when I've showed up here and felt like I wasn't "really" a part of S-G. I think it's human nature that, when we show up in a place where other people are already in the middle of something or other, and we missed the beginning, to feel like the people who are currently in the know comprise some sort of in-group that we'll be forever on the periphery of.

    I am not claiming that S-G is perfectly inclusive, not even close, but I do think its exclusivity is of the most benign and unavoidable sort. Basically, to be included here, you have to share tastes, communication styles, and context/background for discussion with enough other people who are already here that you find some traction. S-G just isn't big enough that there's a like mind out there for everyone.

    I am always happy when someone who's clearly outside the typical S-G profile starts participating here, and at the same time I acknowledge that they face more hurdles than I do when it comes to ease of discourse. I wish I had the ability to source the history for every RPG viewpoint or term I ever use and still enjoy my time here, but I just don't. Sometimes I want to start a discussion based on the assumption that everyone participating already knows there are downsides to illusionism, so I don't have to spend time making someone's "but there are downsides!" input feel properly heard.

    So, this is me admitting to not always* making an effort at making newcomers feel just as up-to-speed in my threads as old hands. And, having admitted that, I'll now point the finger and say that everyone else does it too. Everyone, newcomer and old hand. We all want to start the conversation at a certain place, without having to spend too much effort setting it up. Personally, I consider this the necessary degree of laziness to keep a leisure activity feeling leisurely, rather than feeling like work. I don't see any reasonably avoidable harm or need for improvement. But I know that not everyone agrees.

    * There are some times when I do try, very, very hard. Mostly when I've had plenty of sleep. I see the value in trying! I just don't view it as an obligation, and I wouldn't tell anyone else they ought to.

    Anyway! To all you folks who keep bumping into surprising assumptions or unexplained backgrounds or counter-intuitive terminology, and stick around S-G anyway: thank you! Your presence here makes S-G way more fun. I hope you're having fun too and that you'll stick around long enough to shed any unpleasant "outsider" sensations. It took me, I dunno, maybe 3 years at the Forge?


    The civility here at S-G is part of what keeps me coming back. I hate animosity, and finding a place where I don't have to fear it is incredibly valuable to me. That said, I understand that not everyone agrees on what's civil, and where the line is between colorful snark and disrespect. So, yeah, it is a real risk here that participants might be asked to be more polite, when they really haven't acted with any negative intentions at all. Personally, I prefer being admonished for rudeness to being met with more, but I know we all have our different hot-buttons.

    Not that I'm claiming S-G is always polite! Some of the "please don't be rude" requests can in fact be rude themselves!

    But, y'know, relatively speaking, I think S-G is a very polite place. But also, yeah, there's some touchiness. I think the two go together.

    Abstract Academic Preaching

    This is a thing I actually like as long as it's not condescending, and S-G is miles ahead of the Forge on that front. But, clearly, not everyone's cup of tea.

    Tolerance of Opposed Values

    There was a guy here who I liked having around because of his weird stories about extreme play styles, but at times he was quite anti-sensitivity/social justice, so he got the boot. Initially I would have preferred that S-G simply ignore his bad behavior and appreciate his positive contributions, but then I was informed that his bad behavior had actually made S-G feel less welcoming to others (to the point of them leaving), and when I thought about that, I could see how.

    So, yeah, S-G does have certain values, and people are not in fact free to show up here and not abide by them. Respecting diversity and legitimizing disparate experiences is a value I'm happy to back, though. (Not saying that's the S-G value, but it's certainly one of them, and it's the one that pertained to my anecdote.)

    Defending the Status Quo:

    I realize that's what I just did, so I want to encourage anyone who disagrees with my conclusions to separate them from my data and take my data for what it's worth. If you think Story Games can and should be less exclusive/touchy/abstract/academic/preachy/value-driven than it is, then although I disagree with you, I will verify that it is in fact exclusive/touchy/abstract/academic/preachy/value-driven to some extent (detailed above). For science!
  • edited September 2015
    (I'm not all caught up on the thread, but I wanted to respond to James:

    I certainly wasn't suggesting that someone point to a specific thread and a specific person. I just wanted to hear some anecdotes, something along the lines of, "I once saw a person on Google+/ who was trying to be helpful by suggesting lots of indie games, but they didn't seem to realize they were actually alienating people who feel X. A good way to avoid that in the future might be to do Y."

    Or perhaps, "I spoke to a friend of mine who used to post here and has stopped. They said it was for reason Z. What do you guys think? Is that a valid concern? How can we make S-G less Z?"

    In retrospect, I did a terrible job of being clear about that. Should have reread my own post before submitting it!)
  • edited September 2015
    Hey @James_Stuart, question for ya -- there are a few folks I've interacted with on S-G over the past year or so whose opinions I'd like to hear on the whole "what do you make of S-G?" front. Is it kosher for me to "@" tag them here? Or is that kind of request for attention too intrusive, and if they don't happen to see the thread and take interest in the title and click in, then I shouldn't bother them?
  • I'm a relative newcomer here. I stop in to read daily and participate in discussion pretty sporadically. I'm super shy about internet socializing, I participate more here than any other venue for online discussion. So, a few of my feelings and experiences:

    -Despite feeling outsiderly/low-status here, it's been easy to engage in and provoke discussion. Maybe related to the low volume of posts, S-G forumers display an above-average willingness to read and respond to threads by newcomers. There are definitely high-status posters who receive more attention, but that's everywhere. I've seen very little "that's not how we do things here" sentiment, even when it's seemed warranted. (Related to...)

    -there's a culture of extreme politeness here. Even clearly bad-faith arguments are often responded to gently and sometimes (unproductively) treated as good-faith arguments. Bad-faith-good-faith back-and-forths can go on for awhile before anyone sets a hard boundary about them. That said, once those boundaries are set, they tend to be firmly (but not unkindly) enforced. Aggressively calling bullshit on flawed reasoning, bad-faith arguments or general bad behavior seems like a larger offense than the bad behavior itself.

    -When writing things here, I definitely feel constrained by politeness, and have a fear of being misunderstood or categorized. I'm more self-conscious of what I write here than almost anywhere. My guess is that this is a net positive for the community (as a place for focused, productive conversation,) but it places limits on the extremity of territory that can be explored.

    -There's a refreshing absence of progressive-credential-establishing behavior. My G+ feed is full of loud, un-edifying declarations of correct-opinion-holding. I'm interested in "how can we..." discussions (re: loving each other, having better games, improving the hobby) and it's hard to have those discussions when identity labels are more cherished than productive dialogue, or are used as weapons against outsiders. For me, this feels like the most insidious element of the online RPG community right now, and S-G stands in contrast to it. Using labels as rhetorical tools isn't really a thing here (maybe sometimes we have a problem with "trad"/ "indie") and people generally make an honest effort to clarify and understand each other.
  • @David_Berg I'm not James but I'd suggest sending them a direct message with explanation and invitation rather than calling attention to them in this thread.
  • I'm actually surprised that there is someone that dislikes SG that much. Perhaps I should count my lucky stars for avoiding that drama. While my politics do not match some of the folks here, I truly enjoy the game discussion and news that SG brings to me.
  • @Jason_Morningstar yeah, calling attention is not my intent. Perhaps I'll figure out a wording I'm comfortable with using to message people...
  • Personally, I'm glad that during the time I've had the pleasure to be here, there hasn't been political or personal drama. Heated discussions? Occasionally, but everyone so far has been an adult about it.
  • I am an infrequent poster here in part because I feel constrained by the community attitudes.

    I feel like valuing lack of drama means that people are constrained not to express what they actually feel or think. For example, if someone says someone that actually angers, then one should be able to express that anger. It's possible to do that maturely, but it is still dramatic. I consider it to often be more adult to actually express your emotions, rather than trying to seem aloof and find indirect ways to express negativity.

    More specifically, I feel constrained to mainly only expressing positive views of story games, because expressing significantly critical views on story games triggers defensiveness and hence drama. Hence, I've generally just stayed quiet rather than rocking the boat - because I feel that is considered bad here.

    Also, this doesn't seem true of traditional RPGs. People can make express very negative views of them without triggering what is considered drama.
  • I salute with open hand vulcan style.
    Did you pass the story games finger spread?
    You gotta laugh at the difficulty's we face, its our only hope.
  • I've also avoided interesting conversations because of the fear of creating "drama," even after people PMed me to ask me to join in.
  • edited September 2015
    I feel constrained to mainly only expressing positive views of story games, because expressing significantly critical views on story games triggers defensiveness and hence drama.
    Would you mind clarifying this for me? Are you talking about the collective "story games" as a type of game, or about specific individual story games? Just curious about what you've seen.
  • -When writing things here, I definitely feel constrained by politeness,
    Hence, I've generally just stayed quiet rather than rocking the boat - because I feel that is considered bad here.
    I feel the same way, although I actually consider that to be a good thing in the long run. I'm finally old enough to realize that I am too old to still be getting angry and arguing on the internet, especially about a hobby, and the dedication to politeness here helps remind me of that.

    It's not like people here don't commit the heinous sin of Being Wrong On The Internet and say things that make me want to post some snarky rebuttal that verges perilously close to being downright abusive. And honestly, I often still type one (old habits dying hard and all), but -- and this is the nice thing about this place -- I stop before clicking "Post" and go delete that draft. Whoever bugged me gets to still be wrong wherever they are (which is nowhere near me, so really, why should I care?), and I get to not constantly be a dick to random people online, it's a win-win.
  • A thought about the politeness: I don't know if politeness is demanded here so much as it is expected because so many people are so polite, so not being so draws particularly negative attention compared to a context where everybody behaves badly. I don't know if this distinction between demand and expectation matters to people who feel the politeness stifling. It is true that Andy made politeness a special value for SG a long ago, but I've always felt that he's led with example in this - it's an ethos, not a rule.

    I also have a special relationship to the politeness in that while I try to be polite - or perhaps simply gentle - myself (not always as much as I try to be e.g. funny or incisive, but it is a priority), I would be very disappointed if politeness was considered a priority over substance. Nobody's forced to participate, but if you do, you shouldn't require the other guy to be polite when you can simply be understanding yourself. I can't say that people are bullied more for not being sufficiently polite here than they are elsewhere in my world, though, so it's not a special SG trait or anything when people lose their patience with their ruder fellows.
  • Well, I was kinda impolite when I first got here, and I got a very polite mail saying, essentially, "Can you be a little more polite?"

    I took that to heart. But I don't think there was any promise of repercussions if I hadn't, just request.
  • edited September 2015
    I don't know if politeness is demanded here so much as it is expected
    I've privately requested politeness on a small number of occasions when I felt someone was being rude to me. It may have bordered on a demand once or twice. Am I the only one? I don't know.
    I would be very disappointed if politeness was considered a priority over substance.
    I'm torn on that. I think I agree in principle, but not in practice. There are plenty of brilliant people who are rude as hell, but in my experience, being rude comes with not caring about your audience, and not caring about your audience means sharing just enough of your brilliance to make you look brilliant, but probably not enough to really educate anyone. So, if I help discourage the rude guy from participating, I've lost access to his insights, but really all I was going to get of those insights was the unexplained teaser/pitch anyway. That's been my experience most of the time, at least.

    I figure I have the whole internet to incidentally glean nuggets of wisdom from assholes, so it's nice to also have an alternative.
  • For ages (even back at the Forge, as I remember), people have hesitated to be critical of certain games for various "community" (neither a quote nor a concept I subscribe to in this context) reasons. Every year or so lots of people slam their mugs on the table and yell "This year the New Honesty! THIS YEAR!!!" It never happens, you all like each other too much.
  • Yeah, that's a funny phenomenon - I remember the first New Honesty discussion at the Forge in '04, I think. It's not uncommon to have concerns about the realism of perspectives in an intellectually single-minded discussion community, so it's no wonder it comes back regularly.

    I'm an old honesty fellow myself, it just so happens that I tend to see the good in many games, so it doesn't get to show much - it's not that I lie or withhold my opinion as Jason suggests, but rather that there's just not that much to disagree about. I guess I'm not personally massively excited about Apocalypse World, but that's more to do with me than the game. This goes back to that politeness bit, too - is it intellectually dishonest lack of criticism if I don't feel the need to go into each and every Monsterhearts thread to tell people to go play some real games instead of a cheap hack :D

    (No, it's not really a cheap hack as far as I know.)
  • There are plenty of brilliant people who are rude as hell, but in my experience, being rude comes with not caring about your audience, and not caring about your audience means sharing just enough of your brilliance to make you look brilliant, but probably not enough to really educate anyone. So, if I help discourage the rude guy from participating, I've lost access to his insights, but really all I was going to get of those insights was the unexplained teaser/pitch anyway.
    Very much this. I can be pretty abrasive at times, even occasionally on here despite the community pushback, but one of the things I pride myself on is never being deliberately obscure: about what I really think, about the definitions I'm using, etc.
  • Politeness is built into the rules of conduct here. If you didn't know that, please go read the rules of conduct.
  • I don't think it's wrong to express anger, but when I say "drama", I mean people getting overly personal, and generally being tactless. I think that tact can go a long way towards making people understand different perspectives. Honey attracts more bees than vinegar.
  • Ok, there's a small problem then, we can actually overlook it a bit; but why don't we try a solution? We could make something like the "slow down" mechanic, a key phrase everyone can use on their posts/threads whenever they want to vent up about something, so everyone reading knows they are mostly being emotional right now and it will be of no use to argue against it nor take them seriously until they have calmed down.

    It could be something like GODZILLA MODE ON, and then a GODZILLA MODE OFF, APOLOGIES FOR THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE EVERYONE once the rant is over.
  • @WarriorMonk I think that is a bad idea here because, regardless of intention, it gives people permission to violate the rules of conduct and generally behave disrespectfully between the brackets. When you are angry or otherwise unable to adhere to the rules of conduct, just step away for a while.
  • Regulate it more, but without such an option, most people will resort to passive violence, being less expressive, walking away or exploding every now and then. But if you think it still creates more drama than potential good discussion... oh well, at least I tried. That's why I started saying it was a small problem and we can actually overlook it and keep being politely.

    Except that now we have to explicitly add that we're not being sarcastic nor have ulterior passive-aggressive intentions behind our posts.

    Btw, I totally don't have passive-aggressive intentions behind this one.

    Also, I'm not trying to be sarcastic.

    Like, really.
  • I agree that stifling social rules can lead to less expression (and, in particular, people stepping away to other media to express themselves).

    However, I agree with Jason that this does not outweigh the negatives of a "sanctioned" way to violate rules of conduct (and all the problems this could bring with it).

    "Blowing off steam" makes sense when you know precisely your target audience and how they will react - presumably with understanding, because they know you and are able to separate the vitriol and the hyperbole from your true meaning, and forgive your verbal trespasses.

    When you're speaking in a public forum - and anyone can read your words - that's probably not the best way to go.

    Is there a reason it's not possible to teach yourself to step back first, reconsider, and then post later only if you feel you still have a valid point (and hopefully a better way to present it)?
  • Is there a reason it's not possible to teach yourself to step back first, reconsider, and then post later only if you feel you still have a valid point (and hopefully a better way to present it)?
    In the medium-old days of the internet, it was called "read more, post less." Maybe the modern version is "no angryposting," I dunno.

    (In the actually-old days of the internet before the Endless September arrived, it was just called "STFU," so maybe the arc of online conversation has been slowly bending towards politeness all along? ...nah, of course not, I wouldn't believe that, either. But most of the fresh-faced young hellions who have important opinions about things do eventually become old and jaded and tired and aren't so interested in having the same old arguments over and over and over, so any venue that isn't drawing tons of new young hellions to it is likely to eventually calm down. Maybe the kids are all still screaming hilariously obscene invective at each other on whatever's replacing Snapchat, where we can't see it.)
  • I think we're getting off track. "Angry posting" and "blowing off steam" are strawmen in this sense. The topics being discussed - albeit obliquely - are more subtle than that.

  • Not sure I agree with that, @AsIf. I think the more subtle silencing issue is absolutely tied to the politeness rules of conduct.

    The term we've all been dancing around here is "tone policing." Story Games' rules have, at times, felt to me like they silenced completely legitimate outrage at abuse at the hands of other posters.

    This policy of "no outrage" may well be better than any possible alternative at maintaining a generally calm, drama-free discussion space! But it may not be the best way to be genuinely inclusive—not of a variety of points of view, I don't actually care about that*—but of PoC, women, and gender nonconforming folks.

    That ship may well have sailed! A lot of the posters I'm thinking of probably aren't coming back. So this may be irrelevant. But I am suggesting that, while we should probably not have encoded ways to break the laws of politeness, moderators might want to consider using their discretion in enforcing the tone rules when intersectional matters are at stake.


    *I actually don't think it's particularly important to the mission of a place called Story Games that we bend over backwards to accommodate people who dislike that entire strand of the hobby. I see plenty of people who talk about a particular story game not working well for them without getting much flak for it. Furthermore, we have plenty of people who are conversant in traditional and OSR games, and we have many rich discussions about them.
  • How does a policy of calm discussion push away people of minority status?

    That seems like an interesting and potentially fruitful discussion. (In fact, that's what I was hoping to get at with my earlier post, although I clearly went about entirely the wrong way.)
  • I'm going to throw the CAUTION sign up here!

    Jenskot's post from 2011 that Paul T linked probably has a lot of useful info about discussion over this issue in the past, if you're historically curious. Consistent with the rest of this thread, let's avoid rehashing old history/drama. (Not saying either of you were intending that.)

    @Paul_T, If you google "tone policing", you get several answers pretty quickly to how enforcing politeness can but doesn't necessarily end up harmful on intersectionality.
  • Interestingly, I've personally come to conclude in my life (not particularly tied to Internet forums, this insight) that "blowing off steam" is a harmful practice, while maintaining personal discipline is not only a way to save others from having to deal with your weak liver, but also a way towards growth as a society-compatible person. By keeping a hold on yourself and maintaining discipline you become a better person over time, instead of becoming someone jumpy and likely to break down under the slightest stress.

    Thus, while I think that substance should reign over politeness where the two conflict (otherwise one accepts the weaponization of a code of conduct as a debate tool), I also think that "getting to blow off steam" is harmful construct of kitchen psychology, and that there is no need to particularly make space for people to act like animals. I've witnessed people whose social style includes "unloading", and those whose doesn't, and the only thing I've learned is that the former seem to generally develop towards frailer personality patterns, while the latter learn to deal with frustration and stress like adults - almost as if personal discipline was something that you learn to exercise by doing it, instead of acting like a brat.
  • Yeah, I actually think we're about reaching the end of this thread: everybody's behaved with respect and care, and I want to offer huge thanks for that.

    But I think we've both given people time to chime in and have now alighted on a set of diffuse topics which aren't the original OP's question about communal responsibility.

    If the topics want new threads, create them, although:
    1) the rules I mentioned above apply (no historical digging, etc )
    2) My preference is not to have a set of threads spawn which are like "generic forum analysis": for example, while this has no bad reflection on you at all @Paul_T/ not singling you out, I think there's a lot of info and debate out there in the world on tone policing. A kind of generic-y discussion here of that seems not the most useful thing?

    That said, I want to also note that I've read carefully every last post here and am digesting it: I want people to feel encouraged to talk to me or other members of the mod team if they're feeling disgruntled about something or feel like one of these issues is happening in a thread. At the very least, we can talk about it and hopefully steer the thread in a better direction.

    Again, feel free to hit me up in PMs.

This discussion has been closed.