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Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: “We Need to Talk”, Trouble in River City, Competition Among RPG Companies, Death of Games Journalism, Hydra Cosplay, and the Chilling Effect

Notice the chain of events here. It was not just a “we need to talk about this” tweet. Portraying it that way is completely disingenuous. It starts that way, sure… but it is followed by this slightly more ominious “DTRPG has some choices to make” line. (I imagine a baseball bat in his hand: “nice store ya got here; be a shame if anything happened to it.”) Then, almost immediately, DTRPG pulls the product. An Evil Hat customer complains, Fred Hicks immediately piles on the guy, more or less saying, “if you are not with us, then you are against us… and we can do without the business of filthy people like you… so piss off!” No, Fred Hicks was not the only person out with a torch and pitchfork here… but is clear that he was brandishing them. I think that’s problematic.

Trouble in River City — Notice that he has to establish his gamer bona fides before he can begin to vilify them. Also notice that he stands to benefit directly from the hysteria.

Rob Donoghue writes:

If you think that RPG publishers are in competition with one another, you are overlooking that we are all in a desperate battle against the vastly more popular “none of the above”.

This is not to say that every RPG publisher sees it that way, and hell, it might not even be true in certain very selective slices of the market.  I won’t rule out the possibility of walled gardens.

But taken as a whole? That idea that we’re in competition tends to be  naive, toxic or both.

Oh please. This idea that hobby gaming publishers all sing kum-ba-ya together died with SPI. David Trampier might have been a simpleton for not reading the fine print, but he found out real quick exactly what kind of hippy skippy collaboration process he was a part of. And Fred Hicks, of course, represents the sort of warm welcome anyone can expect if they don’t toe the party line.

Get a grip, man!

On The Death of Games Journalism: They could afford to do this because they simply weren’t making it. The field is currently a dead end job done mostly by twenty-somethings with blue hair. They had no incentive to clean up their act because they could not compete with amateurs that actually had the trust of gamers. That’s why they could attack and slander their own audience with impunity: it was a way to signal their bona fides as part of their job searches.

Joseph Bloch asks, “do you think that cosplaying a Hydra officer from World War 2 (using the SS-type uniform from Captain America and Agents of SHIELD) should be acceptable, or not?”

My answer: Our social sanction needs to be focused on the people that act like Nazis, not the ones that dress like them.

Okay, let’s talk about “chilling effects.” This is a term that free-thinkers, journalists, and artistic types would have frequently invoked back in the eighties but which they have gradually forgotten about in the decades since. If you would like to see an example of it in action, watch the guy on +Courtney Campbell ‘s upcoming Hack N Slash TV episode where he attempts to briefly summarize what   #gamergate is without saying anything that smacks of badthink. He can barely explain it because he repeats several times that people have lost their jobs due to saying the wrong thing about it. He almost quakes in fear. He was suffering an acute case of Chill and is desperately afraid of ending up like Brendan Eich or Zak Smith.

Who did this to him? Well… people like Fred Hicks. People have pointed out that Evil Hat pulling out its products could barely impact the bottom line of the guys at DriveThruRpg. But that is not what they are afraid of. When the torch and pitchfork mob indicates they are displeased with something you’re doing, they are tacitly threatening you with a smear campaign, scathing op ed pieces through their media megaphones, and relentless character assassination through social media. Even if later proved innocent, you’ll carry the stigma of political unreliability for the rest of your life. No one wants to go through that. That’s why most people back down when faced with the prospect of such a threat, even if it’s just an implied one. We all know where the lines are and who not to cross.

One more thing you’ll see in apologists for +Fred Hick’s actions is a pedantic, almost Pharisaical approach to free expression. Oh yeah, Fred has free speech to talk about stuff he doesn’t like. Oh, sure, OBS isn’t required to carry everything. You really don’t understand the first amendment; congress isn’t involved here. Well no it isn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that the torch and pitchfork crowd is a bunch of bullies looking for easy prey to terrorize. They don’t care about free speech at all. They are self-appointed thought police, and given that people like them dominate media, academia, and bureaucracy they really do have the power to make good on their threats.

They are cretins, yes. But they are also cowards. That’s why they are picking on +James Desborough . And they spend so little time around people that are different than them, they have no idea just how repugnant their behavior is. (They’ve already blocked their friends that would quietly pull them aside and tell them they’re acting like a bunch of dicks.) I think it’s time they got the message.

Note: I am not calling for boycotts of OBS or Evil Hat. (I have not ever sent a letter to the advertisers of Gawker or Gamasutra, either.) But my enthusiasm, say, for pointing people towards their sites on Recommend has cooled; I’m happy to dig into my backlog of todo items to promote the work of other designers and web stores that don’t have the eyeball share of OBS. I am not calling for “war”… but I am calling these people out.

I have not yet heard back on my complaint to DriveThruRpg. I will share if I hear anything.

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12 responses to “Random Thoughts: “We Need to Talk”, Trouble in River City, Competition Among RPG Companies, Death of Games Journalism, Hydra Cosplay, and the Chilling Effect

  1. Trimegistus December 11, 2014 at 7:48 am

    It’s notable that the argument used to defend banning products this way (“the company can sell what they like”) is exactly the opposite of the argument used by the same people in favor of “Net Neutrality” (“the companies will be able to sell what they like!)

  2. Jeff V December 11, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Well, sadly, it looks like Fred Hicks has chosen to live up to his company name. I’ve backed both him and Sine Nomine in various kickstarters and purchased both their products before, but if Hicks chooses to act this way, I guess he won’t be seeing any more of my cash. And that, Mr. Hicks is both being allowed to exercise, and actually exercising, my freedom of speech and association. Something that people like you only seem to believe can be exercised when you decide to permit it.

    Tellingly, Hicks also resorts to an “incident” based on a series of lies throughout — the Ferguson stupidity — as a justification for his reasoning. I’m truly disappointed. If you want to make an argument, fine, but at the very least try basing it on something that wasn’t already completely discredited as a lie when you do. Next he’ll be talking about “rape culture” at UVa as a justification for his doubleunrightthink process.

  3. Cirsova December 11, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I’m not one to troll, but when I get my free OSR supplementals up on DriveThru, I seriously want to include a one-page PDF for a Giant Gamergate Ant monster along with the Wishing Well & Several Cat monsters I wrote up, just to see if insane reactionaries try to get it pulled.

    • Jeff V December 11, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      Personally, I’d say go for it. You might find that most of us who feel Hicks was over the line really couldn’t care less what you choose to say or do. If we don’t like your work, we simply won’t download it — which seems a much more civilized response than to go around waving pitchforks and torches and demanding people be silenced just because their opinion is different.

      • Cirsova December 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

        Well, DriveThru responded to Des with a long “We Hate Censorship, and because we hate censorship so much, this is literally only the first time we’ve censored a game, so keep in mind how few times we’ve censored people (because we hate censorship!) when you think about this game we censored (btw, it’s not like we have as big a monopoly on cards as we do RPG, so you’ll be fine)” reply.

      • Jeff V December 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

        So they’re not only cynical and hypocritical, they also have no respect for the intelligence of their customer base. Good to know.

      • Cirsova December 12, 2014 at 10:56 am

        As a DriveThru publisher, I even got Steve’s bullshit excuses in my mailbox. I told him his reasons didn’t fly given that DriveThru hosts games like Crack Whore and Prison Bitch and said “Shame on you”

      • Jeff V December 12, 2014 at 11:05 am

        That’s precisely what I was thinking when I wrote “cynical and hypocritical!” ;-) Ah well, thanks for having the courage to say what needed to be said to a person that is apparently willing to ban folks for being politically incorrect.

      • Cirsova December 12, 2014 at 11:13 am

        This did come at a really lousy time for me, though. “Hey, I’m about to shift my stuff from Amazon to DriveThru, so I can offer my stuff cheaper!”
        “Oh, crap, DriveThru is being absolutely terrible!”
        So now I’m left wondering how I’ll feel about telling people to buy on DriveThru two weeks from now. There’s no point in playing the publisher card, since I’m both against publisher-advocated boycotts and I’m too small a fry to matter anyway, but after what happened to Des, I’d feel pretty low saying “Go buy my stuff from this hypocritical exclusionary business platform that I spent the last two weeks criticizing!”

        What I can’t believe is the overall silence and/or tacit approval of what’s going on from the rest of the gaming community. I mean, I expect it from the Usual Suspects, but RPG Pundit & yourself seem to be the only people I’ve seen genuinely concerned about this.

  4. Cirsova December 12, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I kicked a pretty detailed rundown of what’s been going on along with a link to your post here, Pundit’s post, and James’ blog over to Milo. I’ve spoken with him before and he’s tweeted out one of my Cirsova posts before, so who knows?

    • jeffro December 12, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      That statement from OBS kind of says it all, really.

      • Cirsova December 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm

        Ultimately, I think I could’ve been okay with DriveThru pulling the game if it weren’t for the blatant hypocrisy shown in that statement. I almost feel like it would have been better if DriveThru were the kind of site that willy-nilly took things down because of hurt feeling rather than go out of the way to say “Look how against censorship we are, so you know that things must’ve been pretty bad for us to have to censor this!”

        The funniest thing I’ve seen are people saying that James is profiting off the publicity of being a victim. Isn’t that what we’ve constantly been told NOT to accuse people of doing?

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