22 April 2006

Ben Can Convince You to Do Anything

ME: what i've been trying to say is not that "Forge games are inaccessible to women" but that Forge games are inaccessible to a largely untapped audience that would really enjoy a specific type of roleplaying experience.
BEN: Ah!
Yes. Okay.
That's a completely reasonable thing to say.
Ron says it a lot, too, actually.
ME: that's what i think.
BEN: See, I'm interested in tapping the large audience of women and minorities who are interested in gaming as it is right now but have problems with the social arrangements surrounding it or simply the white-washedness of the hobby.
ME: yes.
BEN: So yes, cool, go you.
Hey, can I make a proposal to you?
ME: yes.
BEN: I'd really like there to exist a place where you, Jess, John Sneed, Jere, and other folks could feel at home.
Like anyway is for me.
"our turf."
I don't think that exists right now.
And so I want you to start a bulletin board for this purpose.
ME: no.
okay, well, i was going to have to start an online forum for Push anyway.
that could be it.
BEN: That seems totally reasonable.
And I really want to help you promote it.
ME: thanks, i would appreciate it.
BEN: Because I don't think that there can exist a functional neutral ground until everyone has a place where they feel comfortable.
ME: see, this is why i wanted to talk about this, because people seemed to get the sense that I was shitting on their lawn.
BEN: Because neutral ground is inherently uncomfortable for everyone.
ME: yes.
which is why Story Games doesn't quite work.
it's still too broad.
BEN: And so Pease is like "I'm uncomfortable." And I'm like "yeah! It's Story Games! So am I!"
ME: ha!
BEN: But I can go post on Anyway or the Forge or my blog. And Jess really doesn't have a place to go other than Livejournal, which is non-ideal for other reasons.
But I can't really start a place and be like "you people who don't like me! Come here!" That'd be awkward.
ME: right.
well, i'll talk to some of the people i'd want on-board such a project and see what they think.
BEN: I would take it as a personal favor, at least :-)
ME: but it may be one of those "if you build it, they will come" kinds of things.
BEN: Oops.
It always is that way.
But I think there's a hunger for it.
ME: indeed.
especially after recent conversations.
BEN: Yes.
I want it :-)
I want to lurk.
ME: i was just telling Rich "35 people, invite only, one open forum for people to discuss the discussions, but that would get pulped every 3 months or so."
BEN: Hrm.
You know, I thought that people were really into the inclusiveness angle.
But you never know.
ME: inclusiveness is hard.
if you let everybody in, the people you want won't feel comfortable there.
that's why the Forge and Story Games doesn't work.
BEN: Hrm.
See, I think the Forge works just fine.
ME: there would be an application process which would be like, "link me to another online discussion where you talk about related issues"
BEN: Because if you let the people who are unwelcome know that they are, in fact, unwelcome, they usually leave.
One notable exception.
ME: yeah, but i don't want to have to become Ron.
BEN: But also you miss out on great folks like Kleenestar.
ME: kicking people out does not set the right tone for inclusivity.
BEN: Who just drop in and are awesome.
No one has ever been kicked out of the Forge. A lot of people have been told "we don't discuss that topic here."
ME: right, but i'd also be lurking on various online places to find people to invite.
BEN: Hrm.
ME: and members could recommend their friends, like Gmail.
BEN: Well, it sounds interesting, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. I will hit up Jess.
ME: i'm just thinking that everyone has to be there for a reason.
what do you want, Ben?
an open forum where people discuss inclusivity?
BEN: :-)
ME: if you want it done YOUR WAY, you're the only one who can do that.
BEN: I want a place where Pease feels comfortable.
ME: like, I can't make Andy K make Story Games what I want it to be.
BEN: And her crew.
ME: how is that not what I'm describing?
BEN: And it seems that her big issue is inclusivity in discussions.
Of course, I could be wrong.
ME: i think you're wrong.
she was really rattled by having everyone talking about her afterwards.
BEN: But, also, I think that there are more than 35 folks out there who want that.
I want a place where they can all go and do their thing.
ME: she wants inclusive discussions, but she doesn't want to deal with a ton of people who aren't on the same page.
well, 35 would be like, a starting limit.
it could go up.
i just don't want to become another Story Games or The Forge, where you don't know people.
BEN: See, but if what you're actually talking about *works*, you're going to want 10,000 people talking.
ME: i couldn't read 10,000 people talking.
it also has to be semi-managable.
i guess i don't want a forum so much as a think-tank, but that's how my social circles usually run.
i have small groups of close friends instead of a ton of sorta-friends.
BEN: It just seems to me to be self-defeating. It's like the by default assumption is that not a lot of folks are going to want to participate.
Which seems to be opposite the rest of what you're talking about.
ME: i guess i feel it's hard for 10,000 people to be productive.
well, we could do both.
BEN: I don't think it's going to be 10,000 people overnight.
ME: have an open forum and then a think-tank forum.
BEN: But the premise is that there's this great group that's disenfranchised from the current discussions. And I don't see how franchising a couple of dozen helps a lot.
ME: true.
BEN: Now, you may not be the guy to do this.
In which case I will go to other people.
ME: maybe if i start coming up with forum titles, like "Inclusivity" "Designing for New Audiences" etc.
it may be that i'm not the guy to do what you want, but that doesn't mean i can't help out the cause in a different way.
BEN: Sure...
ME: well, i'll start a Story Games discussion about it and see what comes up.
BEN: Heh.
Good luck.


Blogger Brennan Taylor said...

I would definitely be interested in this if you do end up setting it up. I am one of those people who don't post at the Forge or Story Games very often.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Fang Langford said...

Me too.

3:47 AM  
Anonymous Claire Bickell said...

Hmmmm. It sounds interesting but fraught. How do you stop the enterprise coming across as totally patronising?

11:27 PM  
Blogger John Kim said...

Dude. Get PUSH out, then worry about forums for it... after everyone clamors for them because they are totally blown away by the awesome coolness of PUSH.

Also, I think there's good

1:51 AM  
Blogger Malcolm Sheppard said...

Uh, forgive me for being bold, but a couple of white guys talking about how especially exclusive they're going to make a forum is probably, if anything, the exact opposite of moving gaming away from a stereotypical locus of power. Because it actually is about power, you know.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Bradley "Brand" Robins said...


Depends how many non-guys and non-whites we can get on the forum, I guess. There are already a number of women interested in joining the forum (I can think of a dozen without trying), so it might be able to work.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Mo said...

It's all a terrible Catch 22. If you close the door, you make it exclusive, you miss opportunities and send the wrong message, but if you keep the door open, dominant discourse - the discourse of power - will prevail, and edge other voices out.

I don't think that Ron and Clinton started out with the aim to create a place that comfortable for Ben and Vincent and Brand but not for me and Jess - hell, I'm not even sure they recognize or admit (or if they don't for that's matter) that it's uncomfortable or unwelcoming to us. They opened the doors and said: "Let those who want to discuss this, Come!" and everybody showed up, and the majority of people had a common discourse, and as the majority, their discourse becomes discourse of power, and without trying (and without trying not to) it marginalized out those with a minority discourse.

So what's the solution? I'm not sure. I think there has to be an open door, and that there has to be a lot of moderation, and a lot of clear expectations. You'll lose some valuable people, because a lot of people don't like to be moderated, but you might make an environment where everyone can bring something to the table. That might not work at all, but it might. It would take a lot of energy and effort, and there's no guarantee.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Malcolm Sheppard said...

My suggestion would be to make some basic theses clear with whatever you do. Obviously some agreement is necessary. Uncomfortable environments are, in my experience, those which do not really embrace a bias in an unambiguous fashion.

Obviously, you want to start with race and gender mattering. And in fact, you probably want it to matter as more than a subcategory of some Capitalized Term. If you don't give it that preeminence in the whole enterprise then it will be marginalized with totalist ideas every time. That tendency has been the largest sources of geniune (dare I say it?) "brain damage" among people thinking about games.

And this simple idea, that race and gender and sexuality all matter, and matter enough to have their own intellectual edifices, will offend and threaten a great many people. If it didn't, there wouldn't be a problem. As it stands, though, it is a problem, and the idea that this can be solved by making the comunity more exclusive means that you'll get your buddies, but not the people who have been punished over and over again for fighting for this. They are the ones you want to reach: the people who've been run out of other communities for thinking those ideas are important.

So better to have an open community that out and out eclares its bias, and says that challenging it is a waste of the community's time and bannable, than cozy chatting through small networks.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Malcolm, if you see the thread about this on Story Games ("Building the City of Lost Children"), you'll see that we eventually ended up describing something much more like what you're talking about. Then initial Ben + Me conversation was just the preliminary discussion, before we were really sure about what we wanted.

In general, it looks like Jess Hammer and I, once we finish up a couple other projects, are going to try to go out and recruit a group of admins/moderators from diverse areas of roleplaying and other related mediums (online freeform, MMORGs, etc.) who are interested in diversity/accessibility issues. And we'll try to work from there to figure out the details of what specifically we need to do.

At least, that's the plan right now. Hopefully, that process will deal with both Claire and Mo's concerns here.

8:38 AM  

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