Games, Gaming, and Human Beings
There have been a few stories circulating around the RPG and tabletop world that have been very troubling to me. I’m not going to go into details. The details aren’t as important as the pattern, and giving them a name invites the specifics to become the topic, instead of the trends.
What it boils down to is this: sometimes when people become enamored of a person’s work, they become enamored of the person; conversely, sometimes when people become troubled by the work a person does, they become less enamored of the person doing the work.
Games and gaming are very important concepts. They allow us to socialize, to vent our creativity, and to remove the ongoing stress from our lives. Gaming allows us to visualize ourselves in situations that we have never been in, and to craft responses to those situations filtered through the lens of a protagonist that is not the person that we are in real life.
The irony is that gaming still has it share of people that have a difficult time having empathy for others in the hobby, or in the industry as a whole. While it is certainly true that if you are going to publish a product, you must be ready for people to dislike or criticize that product, it seems wrong to assume that people that create a product for public consumption must also assume that they, themselves, are going to be the target of criticism.
Most of us never know the people posting on forums, making tweets, or publishing games. Unless we are their personal friends or family members, we don’t know who they are at their cores. To assume that they are either universally a saint or the Devil Incarnate is equally wrong. If you know them through gaming, that is the means through which you should be engaging them.
There is a huge difference between, “you are a terrible game designer,” and “I have problems with your game design because X.”
There is a huge difference between, “you are fraud and a cheat, so I know you can’t deliver a new game,” and “your company failed to publish games in the past, why should I expect this instance will be different?”
In the past, I have heard people express the idea that taking the time to rephrase criticism is “going soft”on people. I do not believe this to be true. We are human beings, communicating with one another. If someone has done something you wish them to correct, you need to communicate this to them, but the clearest way to express this is to address specifically what the problem is, so that the other human being can find useful information and act upon it.
The modern era seems to be marked by a rise in hyperbolic criticism and name calling. The optimist in me would like to think that this doesn’t mark a dramatic change in humanity’s discourse with one another, but rather a dramatic change in the availability of new forms of communication. This means that, while we are experiencing growing pains at the moment, eventually our level of instantaneous electronic communication will eventually have the complexity and nuance of our interpersonal communication.
To be sure, that will mean that some percentage of people will always prefer blunt, inflammatory communication methods, but it also leaves the door open to the possibility that some people just don’t fully realize that the words they post, in public, have the same impact on other human beings as a diatribe shouted across a crowded room, in full view of a large swath of humanity.
Be good to one another. Don’t ignore faults, in products or people, but try to have, as your first goal, addressing the problem, not dismissing the person’s value. Until we find someone else to talk to out there among the planets and planes, all we have to communicate with is other human beings. We should probably keep it civil until the Vulcans show up.