Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Threat Assessment

There comes a point where to remain silent endorses the problem. And so you get a story.

Back in the '80s, we were in the grip of what is now called "The Satanic Panic". The devil was supposedly abroad, sowing suicide among the young people, led by things like rock, videos, and of course, role-playing games.
Jeff gets a death threat.

I was working for TSR at the time, and received hate mail addressed to me at work. All caps. Lot of exclamation points. Suitable biblical verses and extremely graphic descriptions of my inevitable fate as a sinner. I will be struck down. I deserve to die. And the final line was "God will judge you and >I< shall be his instrument".

And of course I handled this with the derision it well-deserved. Well, no. Actually, I beetled into Kim Mohan's office, sounding like Beaker from the Muppets. This guy was coming after me! It was a Wisconsin postmark! He had my address! He knew where I worked! He was god's instrument! (Oboe? Bassoon? Flugelhorn?).

Kim, to his credit, merely opened the bottom drawer of his file cabinet and said "Drop it in, on top of all the others".

So I did, and as I put it together later, this particular chucklehead, hepped up on god and cheeses, went to his local Waldenbooks and pulled down a copy of Monster Manual II and sent copies of his death threat to everyone on the credit list. Nothing further came of it, but in the years that followed, this became my defining line. The point where the discussion just stops being stupid and goes full-on dangerous.

And in the years this has served me pretty well. I work in an industry where it seems that half of its people are mad at the other half at any one time. I have seen personal vendettas and principled stands. I have seen good peoples' names besmirched and scoundrel justifying their crimes, but also justice done, talent rewarded, and good people recognized. I have seen the blistering stupid and the inspired. And for the most part, I don't feel an overriding need to comment or take sides, trusting that truth will win out.

But this. This is way over the line.

Anita Sarkeesian does feminist criticism on a series of youtube videos, most recently a series of Women Vs. Tropes. Go check them out - they're really good. A couple days ago, she was here at ArenaNet speaking to interested members of the company (we have a program where we bring in people to give lectures - yeah, it is pretty damn cool). And she shared not only the history of her criticism but also things she working on. And she provided numerous examples of her points, Numerous. A lot of them are fair cops. And some of them, actually, were really teeth-grindingly bad. Stuff that makes me want to stand up and declare "You have to understand, in the 90s drugs were cheap and readily available".

And I picked up a bunch of things as well, such as the fact that we're STILL engaging in obvious and questionable tropes, but often doing the "ironically". Which is like me "ironically" having another donut - in the long run, its still the same thing as far as my weight is concerned. It was a good talk, and while I did not agree 100%, there was nothing there that made me feel threatened either for my gender or the future of gaming (in fact, I think criticism is good for the future of gaming, which is a good thing since we get criticized all the time).

Anyway, Ms. Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at a college in Utah the next day. And that engagement was canceled when some chucklehead threatened a massacre if she showed up.

So now we're over that line.Way over, into deluded domestic terrorism territory. Such a cowardly attempt to shut down communications is a threat to everyone and poisonous to our industry. Yeah, its one utter nutter and does reflect the bulk of humanity, but hell, it makes the gaming community look like a hopeless bunch of vindictive losers. It reflects badly on all of us. It is reprehensible. It is shameful. And it saddens me that clownballs like this will become the poster kids for our industry. Enough. Debate on the facts. Share your opinions. Keep your death threats in your pants.

There is a point were, to remain silent becomes a tacit endorsement of such behavior. No. You don't get that endorsement. You may think you are the chosen instrument of your particular dogma but you are not, and the rest of us will not let you drag us down.

More later,