Okay, warning time: this blog will contain links to sites that are NSFW. Nothing to unfamiliar, and likely sites everyone is likely familiar with (and probably linked from the main WotC site). But I feel I should caution regardless.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of negative comments aimed at the Wizards Community. Mostly the forums. Sadly, most of this talk is true. I find this a little annoying as I’ve settled into this site as my place to blog, rather than setting-up my own site or trying to hitch my proverbial wagon to another blogging site, such as Critical Hits or This is my Game or Gnome Stew or RPG Musings. (Excluding my time posting on the At-Will blog, as that was a chance to scratch my crunch itch.)
Without repeating too many libelous statements, the consensus is the forums are hate-filled: edition wars continually flare-up as people needlessly bash editions (old and current), posters rail against the publisher, complain about the crunch/fluff ratio of books and e-magazines, and every bit of news is met by a concentrated dose of weapon-grade nerd rage. Even something as small (heh) as a new race which flies is met by cries of “doooom” and complaints about how it’s going to break the game (because Eladrins teleporting after “five minutes and a sandwich” isn’t similarly powerful). There are posters whose sole activity on the forums is to pop on every six months to inquire about the status of the Virtual Tabletop or the digital tools promised before launch and then start a rehearsed tirade against WotC when the current status is mentioned.
Acting like a jerk on a Message Board is a bad thing.
It’s bad for your reputation when you overreact in writing, acting like someone on Youtube breaking a keyboard over their for a couple extra views.
It’s bad for the increasingly small and niche gaming community to act like a walking, talking example of John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory.
It’s bad for the game to reinforce the stereotype of gamers as misanthropic losers with the social skills of someone with terminal Asperger syndrome.
Don’t Give a Damn About my Bad Reputation
I’m going to start by invoking Wheton’s Law which can be summarized as “don’t be a dick.” Elegant in its simplicity. (And so potent that Wheaton couldn’t even be an evil version of himself on Big Bang Theory for long before they had him make amends.)
Hidden behind an internet alias it’s tempting to unleash a Red Bull-fueled hyperbole-laced tirade against the topic de jour. But this is not good because it leads to being dismissed, even if your points are valid. Other posters will react emotionally and write contradictory pieces just to oppose you. Inevitably, people blocking your posts and ignoring what you say. What’s the point of arguing something if no one is going to read? I make liberal use of the “block” feature on the message board, cutting posters off for the telltale signs of trolling or fanning flames. My list has gotten pretty large at times.
It can be hard not to give into the dark side of the internet. After the launch of 4e I let my initial disappointment over the edition and early failure of DDI taint my posts and penned some comments I really wish I could take back. I don’t know why Mudbunny and others didn’t banhammer me with extreme prejudice but I’m glad they exercised restraint. And while my blogs still tends to veer into the critical, I try to balance my opinion and strike fairly, and offer redactions and voice my changes of opinion.
If I had kept going down that direction I certainly wouldn’t have seen my name published in Dragon. Which is something to remember: it would have been totally fair for the editor to check my past posts and shoot down my submissions after all the unkind things I said about the game/ / edition/ company/ designers/ CEO’s mother. As I hear teachers at my school tell kids over and over, once you put something online it’s there forever.
More often than not when I’ve posted something harshly critical – such as a post-announcement pre-release rant against Essentials or the direction of the game – I’ve been proven wrong and forced to eat a sizable amount of crow. I should learn my lesson and hold my tongue until I have full command of the information (or develop a taste for crow). Good advice for everyone.
And five years from now, the whole issue will seem silly. Laughable. It’s hard to even imagine the fuss when the Tome of Battle was released. Does anyone remember that? It seemed huge at the time and now it’s forgotten. We should all write with a longer perspective in mind, considering how things will look later, striving to avoid anything that will just seem silly in three years, let alone three months. After Heroes of the Feywild has been released the pixie fervor will quickly die down (just like the vampire complaints dwindled) as new content emerges to spark ire. It’s a fairly pathetic and unnecessary cycle.
I encourage everyone to pop over to the General Discussion forum over at the WotC board and look at how many threads are complaining about the game or some element or bordering on a divisive flame war. There’s a lot. Far more unhappy and negative threads than actual general discussion on the hobby.
At the end of the day we are all on the same side. We all play the same game. The WotC site should be a place we go to happily talk about a game we love with other gamers who share our common interest. It should be a place to swap stories, laugh over mistakes, freely ask advice, and look for ideas. It should be a community.
The game is a shared hobby. No one comes to the Wizard’s forum or pops onto ENWorld because they’re indifferent to RPGs or tried it once in high school and didn’t like it. We’re united by a shared hobby; it’s a common interest that ties us all together. We’re brothers and sisters in gaming, be it 3e or 4e or Pathfinder or GURPS or Vampire. (Except Palladium. Those guys are at the kid’s table at our gaming-family gatherings.)
Many of us have been divided and separated in real life, or know the sting of ostracization. Why must we repeat this hateful cycle: divide and separate ourselves from likeminded friends for the most minor differences? I’ve rolled dice with left-wing and right-wing individuals, gay and straight, male and female, clean and filthy… why should I let the edition preference be the back-breaking straw? Or sub-edition? Or style of play?
The game is growing, but hardly at a record pace. And we should be welcoming to newcomers, presenting a friendly face and happy atmosphere. Right now, anyone who goes to the official D&D site and reads any of the articles will be exposed to the full vitriol of the community at the bottom of every page. It’s intense. And if said newcomer stumbles their way into the forums they’re taking their sanity into their own hands. There are many, many, many great people in the Wizbook community, great posters with sound advice, but when you mix them together and the associative regression kicks in you get a toxic environment of venom and bitter arguments that spill out from locked threads into every other conversation.
It’s not a great introduction to the game. It’s like trying to get into video games and finding yourself in a bitter console war, or stuck in the middle of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray all over again. It’s scary. No one needs to see that, no one needs to be introduced to that.
The community needs to work harder to be accessible, friendly, and inviting. It should encourage people to return, to visit the site more often, and engage in banter with co-gamers and e-friends. We all want the game to grow; we all want to see more gamers and more people rolling dice.
This starts with us.
We’re not Anonymous. We’re not some faceless group or Hobbes-esque leviathan, interconnected but overall dissociated. Instead, we have to put forth a friendly face. Embrace newcomers and old friends, accept change and differences of opinions like mature adults and work together to spread the game. We should welcome new options & different playstyles: people who think & play differently. The game cannot grow or improve if everyone comes at a problem the same way.
To do otherwise hurts the social aspect of the game. It portrays us, as a whole, at our worst and most unappealing. A dozen nice threads and warm comments can be undone by a single snarky troll.
Gaming and gamers do not have such a great reputation that we can afford not to be image conscious. We should be working to fight the stereotypes of gamers, both personally and publicly.
Each and every one of us is an ambassador to the game.
We should all act as if we’re being watched and judged. Manners are not optional, hygiene is mandatory, and you should never say anything in public you wouldn’t feel comfortable repeating in front of your grandmother. It’s impossible to change someone’s first impression, and we should be defying expectations of what a gamer should be and how one acts.
If you’re older than six, if someone thinks poorly about you, you don’t try and prove them right. Instead, you try and prove them wrong. Partly out of spite, but partly because deep down you want to be better. Falling to meet someone’s low expectations is incredibly silly. We’re all geeks, which is something we should be proud of. If not, we should make it something to be proud of.
Acting like a jerk is bad. Gaming jerks do not get listened to, diminish the community with their presence, and reinforce negative stereotypes.
Instead we should be embracing fellow gamers as friends, engaging with them in fair discussions and walking away before things get heated or personal. We should respect other’s opinions and embrace opposing views and attitudes. And we should present ourselves as polite, friendly, and professional.
If we don’t then it hurts the game, it hurts the hobby. The penalty for failure is that we all lose. And that is unacceptable.