Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A New Front, Part 2

The number of comments left on last week's essay tells me that plenty of people are as interested in this topic as I am. 

One of the people who offered his thoughts was Will Mistretta. Will posted a fuller response on his own blog, "It's OK; Gary Sent Us." I don't mean to pick on Mr. Mistretta, because I think he raised some interesting points. I'd like to borrow a few of them as jumping-off points for today.

Will wrote: 
But I guess two things come to mind:
1.     4E's reception and marketplace performance are completely, 110% WotC's responsibility (or fault, if you don't feel like being charitable). The audience did not do the product a disservice by not being willing to overlook its lack of quality and fidelity to the D&D tradition. Rather, it's the product that let the audience down.
2.     One man's "hooliganism" or "attacking" is another's "honest, passionate disagreement" or "sincere attempt at dialog/debate."
I don't believe in attacking players of a particular game, either. But is that really a that common a problem, or are some defensive fans engaging in the classic geek fallacy of equating criticism of their hobbies to criticism of their persons?
I take no issue with the first part of point 1. D&D is WotC's product, and its success or failure in the market is wholly WotC's responsibility. If bad word-of-mouth becomes a problem, it's up to WotC to counteract that with positive marketing. That effort was only partly successful with 4E, but it imparted some important lessons that will be invaluable in the D&D Next playtest and rollout. (History, of course, is filled with examples of lessons that were obsolete by the time their teachings were brought into play.) 

As to the second part of point 1, whether 4E lacked "quality and fidelity to the D&D tradition" or "let the audience down," those are subjective evaluations. Clearly a lot of people feel that way. I don't begrudge them their opinion, and no one else should, either. I like some editions better than others, too. There are a few RPGs that I passively dislike, meaning that they don't appeal to me and I have no interest in playing them. There are none that I actively dislike, meaning that I revile them, consider them a knife in the gut, or think the world would be a better place if they'd never been published. No game--not even an international soccer match--merits a riot, whether it's in the streets or on your computer. I nearly added a YMMV at the end of that statement, but thought better of it; it should stand as an absolute.

"Passionate disagreement" is where we get into really interesting ground. I've read many variations of this argument: "The intensity of my response is just a reflection of my passion, and that passion should be appreciated by others." Let me rephrase it the way it plays in my head: "It's OK for me to be offensive and antagonistic, because I'm angry." To which I respond, "no, it's not OK." 

As a fellow reader of an online forum, I'm not the source of your anger, but you're making me its target. If D&D Xe doesn't live up to your expectations, that isn't the fault of Conan_the_Beerbarian, HedgeGizzard, or Drizzt129 up to Drizzt953. Even if your fellow forumgoers and tweeters disagree with your opinion, that doesn't make them the cause of your frustration. Once that's acknowledged, it should be obvious that treating fellow roleplayers as if they are the problem won't get you anywhere.

If you're angry at Wizards of the Coast, then let them know. Call or send an email to customer service; the phone number and address are on the website. Send a tweet to the publisher, make a comment on their Facebook page, or even post in one of their forums about your dissatisfaction; social media are gaining validity as avenues for customer feedback, as long as the feedback is directed properly.

Just don't turn your disappointment with a product or your anger toward a publisher against fellow D&D players. That's where the line needs to be drawn. 

Humans yearn to belong to groups. We identify ourselves by the groups we belong to; we congregate and take on the collective aspects of the group by dressing alike, talking alike, eating and drinking alike, watching the same TV shows, listening to the same music. We also define ourselves by the groups we're aligned against: mods vs. rockers; Coke vs. Pepsi; dog lovers vs. cat fanciers; Mac vs. PC; Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Most people will look at that list and think, "eh, so what. Nothing's wrong with some good-natured rivalry and ribbing." Such pairings seem innocuous to most of us, but every group includes a strident minority that wants nothing to do with members of the opposite party. Who gains from that situation? Dog lovers and cat fanciers have more in common as pet owners than they have in conflict. How much is lost when D&D players vs. D&D players winds up on that list? 

I'll close by reiterating the two key points from my previous post. I support spirited debate, even argument, about the pluses and minuses of different games and editions. But when spirited debate crosses into malicious flaming and trolling, it tears us all down and harms the hobby as a whole. No publisher or game makes people act like jerks. The fans who engage in that sort of behavior are responsible for its negative effect and should be held to account for it by the rest of the community. 



  1. This link appeared in my Twitter feed about 30 seconds after I hit "publish" on this blog. It's the perfect exclamation point for my attitude.

    The Dungeon Bastard on "Edition Wars."

    1. Hey, Steve. I'm cautiously poking my nose into places it's not been for nearly 15 years, and I have to say: You're still one of the most reasonable, well-spoken voices in this arena. (It's good being back in touch with you again, in case I haven't said that before.) That being said, I watched the "Edition Wars" and found myself applauding, cheering, laughing, and nodding.

      Hear, hear.

  2. There's also a more simple way of saying it, and a video that goes with it:

    Its Okay to Not Like Things...

  3. I personally read (and in some cases had to moderate) comments that suggested specific acts of violence against Wizards of the Coast and certain employees. While there's certainly a gray area in "attacking," I think it's very important that we take a step back as a community if the hobby is going to survive and ask if the kind of behavior- however you classify it- is actually helping anyone. I find it hard to believe that threatening to blow up a building because they don't like a game is the company who released the game's fault.

  4. The one RPG I passionately dislike is the fascist one from the early 80s. Iron Dream or something like that. Made by neo-nazis for neo-nazis. Other than that one, I am good with most any out there. I do get tired of people telling me I am not having fun playing my RPGs or that I play them the wrong way. Waaaaay back I learned that different groups play the same games in totally different ways and it works for them. I am not sure how the true zealots miss that lesson.

  5. Again I agree with your points here completely. As someone who works in a game store, I often find myself on the front lines of the edition wars. As someone who was burned out on 3.5 and ready for a change, I embraced 4e wholeheartedly. Many of my customers took a violent dislike to the game.

    The two biggest gripes I have with Edition Warriors lies in two statements that I have heard many times. These two statements, more than anything, drive me crazy.

    Statement 1: I guess 4e isn't a bad game, I mean if you don't like to roleplay.

    This statement drives me crazy. It is such a backhanded insult that is hidden in a statement that presents itself as a concession. The person who uses this statement is saying that the game I love is not that bad, as long as I don't mind liking a bad game. Instead of just saying "Hey it is not my cup of tea but as long as you like it" the person using the above statement is getting in one more little jab while pretending to seem conciliatory.

    Statement 2: D&D 4e is a solid game, but I think we can all agree that it is not D&D.

    This one also drives me crazy. Again it is an inflammatory statement that is disguised as a compliment. It is a way of saying "let's not argue anymore, let's just agree that I am right and move on". I am not willing to concede that 4e is not D&D. I am not willing to accept that as a fact for the purposes of discussion. I here this a lot from my Pathfinder customers. I like to point out to them that they are the ones who literally are not playing D&D. They don't really like that.

    Anyway, I apologize for the rant, but as frustrating as edition wars are on the web, they are so much more irritating when they happen at your job, where I can't just log off and stop reading.

  6. Just a few points:

    "'The intensity of my response is just a reflection of my passion, and that passion should be appreciated by others.'"

    What I appreciate is simply *honesty*. If you love 4E, don't like it but don't hate it or wish it didn't exist, or despise it with every fiber of your being, I don't want you to mince words and feel the need to be wishy-washy about it. Whether you're happy, angry or somewhere in-between: Just say how you feel without shame or apology. That's the kind of discourse I like to see and contribute to.

    "Let me rephrase it the way it plays in my head: 'It's OK for me to be offensive and antagonistic, because I'm angry.' To which I respond, 'no, it's not OK.'"

    Well, let's break this down. Here's a statement: "WotC's every attempt at producing a D&D game thus far has been an unmitigated disaster, a cynical betrayal of a noble legacy, and, to be perfectly blunt, a vile, contemptible, utterly irredeemably piece of s***."

    Question one: Is this statement "offensive?" To this, I say: Why would it be? Are you, the reader, D&D 4E? Of course not. D&D 4E is a game, not a person. It's not anybody's parent, spouse, sibling, or friend. It has no feelings to hurt and no ego to offend.

    Question two: Is this statement "antagonistic?" I'd say so. It's "Showing...active opposition or hostility toward someone or something." The key here being "...or something." You've bemoaned gamers attacking gamers several times in this discussion, but I have yet to see any real examples of this phenomena provided. Where, exactly, is Conan_the_Beerbarian being called horrible names and having his character slandered? I'm not doing it. The gamers I associate with aren't doing it. I don't even see strangers doing it. I'm just not seeing it. I'm seeing gamers who know the difference debating the merits of games, not each other. Perhaps I just happen to socialize in fortunate circles? I don't know.

  7. I'd say yes, you're socializing in fortunate circles. Or at least different circles from the ones I oversaw as the D&D community manger. The WotC forums have a reputation for being nastier than other RPG forums such as ENWorld. I have ideas on why that might be, and they don't involve any deep, hidden insights. At its height, the situation there involved an alarming amont of trolling and flaming, but it's improved significantly from a year ago.

    I agree with your assessment of your sample statement. As is, it's a simple expression of opinion that could easily be taken as trolling because of its antagonistic tone. It would move into the realm of solid debate if the writer offered evidence to back up his opinion or the reasoning that led him to that conclusion. Then we could have a conversation about something tangible instead of an acrimony circle.

  8. Will, obviously some forums are far more civlized than others, but honestly, it's not hard to find examples of forum members attacking or insulting other forum members over issues as minor as who enjoys what edition.

    But I also agree with some of your points, in that it can be very easy to take a comment as a personal insult, even if it is not intended as such.

  9. Will,

    While it is easier for you to state that you like blunt opinions as long as you don't attack others, there are examples of you yourself "crossing the line", which I think Steve is addressing.


    So I guess some random self-loathing gamer guy is pissed because his anonymous friend tried to sell his (the friend's) anonymous product to anonymous "tabletop gamers" and failed because they (the gamers) are cantankerous doodyheads too busy having the temerity to question which products are actually worth buying to bother marketing to. Same old song and dance, new outrage.

    Why is this guy "self loathing". Why did you feel the need to attack the person just because he has an opinion. This is a classic example of taking the difference of opinions and moving them into an antagonistic tone. From this example, it's very easy to cross the line from having a blunt opinion to being rude and obnoxious. There's a few other examples on your own blog where it crosses the line.

    I think it's okay to have strong opinions, but I think the reason we created manners and message boards have things like rules is to prevent this type of confusion. Passion is okay, but if we are passionate about minor things that are less important in life (in the cosmic scheme of things games are dumb distractions), than what is more important in life (the state of the world, treating our fellow man with respect), that's where passion becomes dark and dangerous.

    1. Eh. So you caught me not living up to my own ideals, although you had to back to 2010 to do it. It happens. Your point?

    2. I thought I mentioned my point, in that people take this hobby WAY to seriously. Here's another example like that which is more recent.

      It's not hard to imagine WotC's designers, who are, we can assume, RPG gamers with some respect for the form and reverence for a classic like D&D, being told by some executive at Hasbro who wouldn't know Dungeons & Dragons from death & dismemberment insurance: "What about that Magic thing? That makes money. Just make it more like the Magic!" Right before he adjusts his snappy Gordon Gekko suspenders and snorts a three-foot rail of coke off a naked $5000/night escort before bellowing his best Al Pacino "Hoo-ha!"

      Do you honestly think that Hasbro employees are akin to corporate raiders. Maybe adding CCG features to the games And that whole rant about CCG games includes statements like this.

      Because of a little thing called respect. Respect for a great game, that is.

      Games are little distractions in life, people are more important. "Respect for the game" to me seems to be taking the game too seriously.

      There are way too many fans who like to go into rants against the actual creators who, because you don't like what they did, actually attack them personally. It is a fair example, and this is happening a lot more today than it does. And it's indicative of bad form in this hobby.

      So, this is why passion can be a bad thing. Like pride, it can be a virtue or a sin.

    3. The joke about Hasbro executives being insane stereotypes is just that, a joke. If you like, blame me for not adapting well to the Internet, where asking whether grilled babies go better with barbecue sauce or ranch dressing is likely to garner largely sober and sincere responses unless it's bracketed by over 9000 ludicrous "smileys."

  10. Steve,
    Again a great post. Perception can be reality. And the perception argued by loud angry people can shift a viewpoint. Which is what I think really happened to 4th ed. RPG is not the only space to succumb to this. Belief rather than fact drives the trolling and fighting. Since you can't change a belief of a person it ends in a shouting match. The more passion the more noise the more noise drowns out people who are not tied so strongly to the belief system being argued. My lesson in this, was that when I read 4th ed when it came out I could not see in my mind how it would play, it seemed like it was way different. Reading not playing seemed like it would be so different from 3.x that it would not work for me and would not "feel" like D and D. That was my belief at the time. But in playing I found the opposite and have been running the same group for almost 3 years now. Which made me think that the most venom on the boards was coming from people who did not even play 4th ed. They just read it and formed an opinion and then held on to that "to be right." Instead of just going.. "This is not for me..." and moving on.

    Thanks again for your post

    1. I chose your post because I found it representative of many opinions I've seen, and not for any malicious reasons!

      'the perception argued by loud angry people can shift a viewpoint. Which is what I think really happened to 4th ed.':

      The insinuation that 'Edition Warriors'/'Grognards' 'sabotaged' 4E is utterly astounding. I mean, why did Paizo's Pathfinder do so well, is it because people Raged incoherently and without any real foundation, against Wizbro's latest and greatest? Or because a significant number of people enjoyed Paizo's approach to D&D as opposed to WOTC's R&D's baby? And, of course, viewpoints can shift due to valid reasons, as you point out further down in your post.(In your case, playing the game for a while.)

      I respectfully disagree with the view that a bunch of jerkasses tanked 4E.(You've obviously seen a lot of online vitriol against 4E, and assume that it plays a HUGE part in current events!) I would posit that there obviously has to be real dissatisfaction with the game for Wizbro to take the actions that they have, e. g.: multiple online errata revisions, the Essentials, the open playtest of 5E/D&D Next. None of this is to say that online bickering had NO negative effect on 4E, however! Sales, the ultimate arbiter in 'Edition Wars', could have been affected by trash talking to some degree, I'd say, but not so much as to justify what we're seeing now.

      'Belief rather than fact drives the trolling and fighting.':
      Not always, but it helps a LOT!

      'Which made me think that the most venom on the boards was coming from people who did not even play 4th ed. They just read it and formed an opinion and then held on to that "to be right."':

      This befuddles me. I don't understand why people CARE much about any Edition they don't like. Debating merits/drawbacks of rulessets is interesting and entertaining, but slinging insults is fruitless, even counterproductive! This doesn't exactly promote the 'goodwill' Mr Winter is looking to foster, I'd say.

      And of course, being a GAME, and not a career choice, health issue, or some such major life event, being 'misinformed', as in not playing it a few times before coming to an 'informed' decision, about 4E/1E/B/X, etc...(Quite a few players of 4E I came across seemed to simply 'hear/read about' 'stupid' elements of previous Editions and dismiss the games out of hand, for example.) is quite ok, in my book. But, in this case, PLEASE don't dictate to others that the game 'sucks', is for 'retards'/'kids'/'fogeys'/those 'scared of change/unappreciative of the foundations of the hobby', etc.... And most especially, don't assume that someone is 'lying' or 'deluding themselves' about their preferred reasons for playing this version or that of D&D!

      'RPG is not the only space to succumb to this.':

      Absolutely! Check out WWE's forums or Destructoid for just two Wars(even on youtube, for Gygax's sake! :-)) that dwarf anything seen, and that quite regularly display behavior more hateful than any verbal altercation EVER seen in the RPG hobby!

      'Reading not playing seemed like it would be so different from 3.x that it would not work for me and would not "feel" like D and D.':

      Substitute (any Edition for 3.x).
      For many people, it doesn't.(This view point goes all the way back to the Original D&D/(A)D&D split, so far as I can tell!) While this view is legitimately supportable(or not, depending! :-)) due to subjective preference, I personally find your original example(3.x vs. 4E)puzzling, as I saw 4E as a more 'High Magic' version of D&D compared to the versions that came before! ;-)

      And, of course, another evenhanded post by Mr. Winter!

  11. Interestingly, other gamers can indeed be a valid target as the source of anger, precisely because of the argument you make about people wanting to belong to groups. For example, if you like AD&D second edition and the company moves on to D20 third edition, all the people who say they prefer the latter are from your perspective part of the problem and outside your group. Their very preference for the new edition supports the company in its new direction and undermines your own preferences and sense of belonging. I am not saying this is fair or justified behaviour, just that it is actually not completely irrational to be angry with other gamers, even if it is petty.