Our Community: Stand Up, Fall Apart, Break Down, Rise Again

I remember years ago when I was first pretending to be a game designer, or at least, wanting to be one, and was getting my hopes up about what the industry would be like, that I saw problems in every corner, a shadow that clung to everyone and refused to be illuminated. It was so pervasive to me, that I quietly withdrew into the corner and just decided to focus on fixing something that I could fix: my local gaming scene. My white flag in the gaming industry meant the raising of a new flag in Toronto. With the help of my local community, we have changed what gaming looks like here.

Our spaces are inclusive, our policies are in place, our harassment is met with reprimand (call ins) and validation to the harmed party, our GMs know to check in, and our conventions boast safety. Of course, that's what people see. That's the surface. Anyone who's been in a safe community that fell apart a little on an individual level knows how quickly that can change. One minute we feel safe. The next we feel like we got steamrolled and we have zero idea of what is happening.

From the outside, it's often impossible to know what's going on. There's been so many instances in the past seven years, as a person only mildly involved in the community, where I saw bullets flying and I didn't understand. There are so many wounds in people now that I don't understand and I can't possibly understand because the histories are so deep and entrenched and complicated. People have been hurt by people. People have been wounded by friends, intentional and unintentional. People are still being wounded.

Those shadows are still here. Coming back after almost six years away from the core side of things, I'm still saddened to see the state of things. Who are we? What do we stand for? What are we apart of? And what are our values? These are big questions and the answers are evolving over time. I know what I want from this community, but that doesn't mean everyone wants that. There are a vast number of people I've heard say "I just want to game. I don't want the politics." They're almost as numerous as the people actively participating in the politics of the community.

But what are the politics of the community? Who is included in our community and who isn't? What do communities members want from the community? Who decides what wants are valid and what aren't? Who chooses what gets called out, gets called in, and what gets ignored and what doesn't? Who says "This is who we are and this is what we're about"?

Inquiring minds want to know.

I can't dictate what the answers to these questions are. But we can examine our behaviour and see what are good practices and what are pretty toxic practices. We can, as a community, try to look at who we are and what we do and say "this is us and this is what we believe" but even then, there will be no mass agreement beyond that we love to game.

And honestly, I've mostly worked with in person communities. The online community is different but the same. In this gaming industry community that we share, we see each other at conventions, but most of our community is now built upon the online presence, where members can watch each other's every move, see everything we do, and find every mistake we've ever made. Like all online communities, we are partially damned by the fact that we can't talk about what we meant, or what we didn't say, or how our intention wasn't correct. All we can do is release things into the wild and hope to god someone gets us. Like this blog. I'm just releasing these little seeds of hope out there and hoping one of them will make someone pause, think, and encourage them to do better.

I want us all to promise to do better. Loose-knit communities like ours function in a free-form space without set rules, with undocumented expectations, and with large social contracts. We agree that gaming is a thing. Some of the community believes that thing should be more inclusive. Some of the community thinks it should be about art. Some of the community believes it should be about fun. Some of the community believes it's inclusive enough. Not all of these beliefs mesh, and so we split off into smaller subgroups with a hobby that unites us.

Communities thrive when everyone is going in understanding that everyone is on equal footing, no one is more important than everyone else, and it focuses on raising those with less opportunities up. It does well when people are entering with open love and assuming best intentions and trusting each other. You can't have communities where everyone sees red when they look at each other. It's natural for disagreements to arise. It's how we react in those moments that will define us.

There are practices that aren't helpful. There are practices that just make everything inherently more toxic and more problematic and more harmful. Things like boycotting, rampantly calling out, and knee-jerk reactions. When we do something, whether it's posting on a thread, choosing a product to support, or openly talking to people without being aware of our aggression, we have to stop, think, and try to ask "How am I helping this situation?" Most of the time, we react because we believe our opinion should be and deserves to be heard. We're not asking how we're helping, we're weighing in because we want to, because what we have to say is IMPORTANT.

For awhile now, I've tried to go into every situation with the idea of being open, assuming best intentions on part of all participants (unless obvious abuse is happening), and going in asking how I can make this situation better and how I can support the people involved and entrenched on either side. To me, a situation can be made better or worse. When we act with the intention to cause harm, to hurt people, to make an argument more intense, or when we don't act with integrity or act carelessly, the odds are we're just going to make the situation worse and throw fuel on the already raging fire. Have you ever asked yourself:"How is what I'm doing helping?"

That isn't to say our opinions and thoughts don't matter. They absolutely do. Every voice in our community should be allowed to be heard, but that means everyone. That doesn't mean only the people we like or only the people who agree with us. It means we have to respect and understand that everyone gets a say. We can disagree with those opinions and thoughts, and if the thoughts expressed are problematic, we should probably check in with that person, but we can't deny people the right to have a voice.

Now, that being said, we as a community must also look at behaviours that are hurtful or problematic and ask how we can prevent them from happening or how we can make it clear it's a problem while also acting with humanity and kindness. We can call in, we can check in, we can speak about a topic without saying hurtful or harmful things, and we can discuss things while being mindful that people are human beings and deserve that inherent respect we like to say everyone deserves.

Are there ways we can act with humanity while also disagreeing with someone? Absolutely. We can remind ourselves that we are all human beings and we are all deserving of respect and kindness. When we take the time to reach out to someone, we can relate with them on a basic level. They are human and we are human. They likes games and we like games. Now that may not be enough to encourage a common ground, but it's a good starting point. If the person we're reaching out to, however, is harmful or deliberately hurtful, that's another situation entirely.

It must be said we have people in this community who are toxic people. Behaviours that, because of who they are or what they've done, we are expected to ignore. If we, as a community, wish to value some members more than others (often minorities) we are saying some very big things about ourselves. If we are saying a person who has creatively made something but is abusive is more important than abused person who hasn't made anything, we are inherently valuing one person over another, and removing humanity from the equation.

There aren't answers on what we do with people who are abusive. There are too many subcultures to fully do a solid thing about it. But it's a conversation we need to start having. How long do we tolerate abusive people? How long do we allow people to silence other people? Why do we value one person above another? And how can we stop doing that in a way that's productive and acting with humanity and integrity? We can, however, ensure we ourselves are not acting abusively, and we can be exceptionally careful about the language we use, being clear and certain that when we call someone abusive, we know for certain that they are. Misinformation can tear a community apart as can perpetuating gross stereotypes and problematic perceptions.

Intersectionality also comes into play in these deep conversations. Naturally, we must be mindful of the fact that some people are valued more by what cultural statuses they have more than who they are. That's called privilege and how that functions in a conversation is important to note. It's important to know that a straight white cisman will be valued more and heard more than a black trans woman. As a community, we have been taking steps to try to break this down and bring minorities to the forefront. If you remember, I said this was a sign of a good community. And it is really, really is.

Some parts of our community are working hard to encourage this growth. Some parts aren't. And sometimes, that gets attention. There's no nice way on the internet to tell someone to do better. But because our primary platform is the internet, we're often caught between shots in the dark. Someone is saying one thing towards someone, and it's not well received, or it's well intentioned and miscommunicated, or all of it's just bad. It's the internet. It is the land of the wild opinion often spoken without talking to those involved or seeking out the truth in situations. It is the space where there is no possible way to gently tell someone they're doing wrong.

Except that's a lie. We like to think there's no way to have an argument on the internet. Because communication breaks down the more people are speaking in a room. If our community were all present at one place, it would just be hundreds of people talking all at once and nothing would get done. We would hear bits and pieces, and random thoughts but none of it would be concrete, and that's often how our online disagreements currently look to those not involved. A whole lot of opinions on what's happening, very few knowing what is happening, and a whole lot of harmful language and behaviours lacking humanity.

All of this is a lot of talking about some good points and bad points about our community. So I'm going to break it down to what I think, and this is just based on my limited experience running a community and being involved in a community and being the person who often is checking in rather than calling out. Even if all of this is wrong, and it may very well be wrong, if all this does is start a conversation on how we need to be moving forward, then I'm content.

Act With Humanity
We can act with humanity. We can act with integrity. We can believe there are good intentions and give space for people to feel what they're feeling while also acknowledging that we have feelings and opinions about things. We must remember first and foremost the people we're talking about or to are people, they are human beings, and we should treat them with the respect we ask others treat us with. Part of acting with humanity, means going in with the intention to make the community a better space, a functioning space, for everyone.

Calling In and Calling Out
Calling in is where you talk to the person on an individual basis and try to explain to them why their behaviour or comments were hurtful or problematic. Calling out is doing that same thing in public on a forum or thread. It's great to call in, because it keeps the human element alive and gives the person space to consider your words and not feel a need to defend themselves in public, where it's much easier to dig our heels in and refuse to see other thoughts. Calling out is a great tool for the established ordered. It's the tool we use for companies (while still keeping in mind gaming companies are often made of people like you and I), and one we should use with respect and gentleness. There's no easy way to say "this is offensive" but there are gentle ways to say that.

Make Things Better
Whenever you act in your community, it isn't hard to move forward with intention and asking how you, as a member, can contribute in a way that makes the community better. For me, that's acting as a support person and trying to be a cleric of emotional labour. I want to make sure people have support and love. For you, that might mean blogging, having inclusive conversations, facilitating for minorities, or creating space for others. Whatever it is you can do to make this community better, I urge you to do so. And before you jump into the fire, ask yourself if this will help make your community better or if this will make it worse. Choose the road of better. It may be filled with thorns.

Foster Responsibility
When our community has problems, and there are abusive things happening, we can foster responsibility in ourselves and in each other by not accepting this behaviour, noting it for the toxicity it has, and by demanding better of those who are perpetrating the abuse. If the person perpetrating the abuse cannot see how their behaviour is harmful, then we come to a new level of responsibility where we must, as a community, decide what we do. For some, that will mean ignore it until it goes away. For others, that may mean repeated conversations asking for justice. Justice, in this case, is often seen as extreme because it may involve removing the community member from the community. I honestly have done this several times in a physical community, and while it's horrible to endure through, it has made our space safer. I have no idea how this looks in a largely online community, though.

Be Inclusive
As shit hits the fan, we must examine the inherent privilege of those involved. Are there women, people of colour, disabled people, queer or trans people? They are often silenced or not given the same opportunities. If they are calling for action about something, it is often better for us to sit and listen, consider, and come to our own conclusions while remembering the world we experience, as those with privilege, may not be the same world other people are experiencing. And we should not invalidate their experiences by saying we don't believe it exists because we don't experience it. We must be mindful of the levels of intersection when it comes to these issues, and make space for these minorities to be encouraged to grow and foster space for them. We must ask how to make it better, and then follow those steps to do so. Forward is better than backward, yes?

Be Accountable
If you are one of those people who's wounded people, fired shots into the dark, said something you may regret later, or stepped on a hornet's nest by accident, own it. I know I've said shitty things and fucked up. When someone calls you on it, it isn't the time to dig in your heels and fold your arms and say "Nuh uh!". It's the time to reflect, take a break if you need to, and let those thoughts ruminate in your head. If you fucked up, say sorry, own it. Clarify things if you have to, or try coming at your point in a non-problematic way. Sometimes our message gets lost on the way, and sometimes we just didn't realize we were stepping on toes. When I fuck up, I apologize for being offensive, not for offending people. Because I was the bad person. They weren't the bad person for being offended. So own it. Be accountable. Ask how you can do better. Then move forward knowing you've learned something valuable that will make you and the community better.

These are all really the tenets of being a good citizen and a good community member. Acting with love, kindness, humanity, and trust. We must trust each other to have good intentions, to be moving forward with kindness, and to be treating each other with respect and integrity. We must trust ourselves to listen, to act, and to create space for one another. We must infuse our community with love and kindness. Metatopia isn't magical because a bunch of designers get to run new games and put their heartbreakers on the table. It's magical because, as one friend said, there's so much love in the air there. It's built to offer support and community.

We need to take that Metatopia magic and foster it in our community. We need to take a stand, demand better of each other, help each other build this community into something that resembles an actual community, and hold each other accountable when we suck. But we can hold each other accountable in loving ways that aren't harmful behaviours and we can do so while still having big conversations about who we are and what we, as a community, are all about.

I don't have all the answers. I don't even have half of them. I do have love and trust. I have the ability and the privilege of having a voice. I have the option to call in, to reach out, to treat people with love and respect, and to choose to remove abuse from my community where I can, and ask for help where I can't. I can be brave, and not everyone can (and that's okay). We as a community need to help voices be heard, and we need to make sure we're being responsible to each other and to our community as a whole.

So, friend. 
How can you make our community better? 
If you can, do it. 
If you can't, how can we support you? 

Be vulnerable. Stay fierce.