Amicable Disagreement 101

There isn’t a month that goes by online that I don’t see people discussing problematic content in games. [1] While I’m relieved that we’re all trying to talk out our feelings about this content, I’m nauseated by how these conversations continue to go. People disagree about all sorts of things, every day. But threatening people is not ‘trolling,’ ‘drama,’ or a ‘kerfuffle.’ Telling people you hope they or their family die, or that other terrible things should befall them for disagreeing with you, is not logical, rational, or even moral.  It’s just sickening and really, really screwed up.

If you want to be a part of this conversation in a meaningful way, and you like content other people dislike, you need to keep with me to the end of this one.

 

Own the fact that you like something problematic. Do not make excuses.

I’ll go first. I really like H.P. Lovecraft. I geek out the little easter egg nods to his work across fiction and pop culture, and I’m an avid fan of the works Lovecraft inspired. Lovecraft was also a racist. Other people have addressed his racism, and have accumulated a considerable and fascinating collection of posts on the subject. [2]

I’m a multiracial Jewish woman whose own horror writing is heavily influenced by Lovecraft. I’m a bingo card for things he didn’t like! I think it would be ridiculous to deny that he had serious issues, and racism was only one of them. I’m not going to make excuses for liking his work, or make excuses for his work. Saying he was a ‘product of his time’ is the cheapest defense I’ve heard of his prejudices. Lovecraft’s prejudice isn’t just an issue of his personal feelings, those prejudices are writ in stark relief across his fiction.

 

Some people are going to have serious issues with something you like. And you have to deal with that.

I have friends who refuse to read Lovecraft, for reasons ranging from his dialogue to his aforementioned racism. I still have that urge sometimes, though dampened over the years, to try and wheedle and coerce them into at least reading his work. That’s a pretty gross violation of Wheaton’s Law. [3]

If I have to manipulate someone into reading something I like, there are more things wrong with that than I can properly devote time to today. If someone doesn’t like things I like, that’s simply how things are. And I have to deal with that. I can be a petty, nasty person to someone, refusing to treat them with courtesy or respect for that choice—or I can act like a rational adult. They have their feelings and opinions, I have mine. Not digging Lovecraft and his cornucopia of prejudice is not a deal breaker in my friendships. It can—and does—guide who I geek out about Lovecraft with. If I know one of my friends has issues with his work, gushing about rewatching the silent Call of Cthulhu movie to them is rude at best.

This leads into an equally important thing to remember.

 

Some people are going to like things you dislike. And you have to deal with that.

I really don’t like a lot of fantasy settings. They feel generically white, full of chicks in long dresses and brawny dudes who are there to save them. Does that make all fantasy settings sexist or devoid of diversity, guilty of perpetuating a cardboard and banal portrayal of fantasy?

No!

Does my disliking fantasy mean everyone should stop liking it?

No. That’s ridiculous. I might not get what I need in gaming from most epic fantasy games, but that doesn’t give me license to hate on those settings, or the people who enjoy them. Somebody wanting to play a knight in shiny armor is not automatically an old-fashioned sexist. And I have to restrain my knee-jerk reactions to fantasy as a genre, because they are not the be all end all truth of fantasy settings.

 

Respect other people’s feelings and opinions, whether or not you share them.

Sometimes people who don’t dig the games you do are going to express those feelings. Maybe to you directly, or to someone else on social media. They may make a post on a forum announcing something that shocked, dismayed, or otherwise alienated them recently. It’s not your job to tell them that their feelings are why they should get devoured by deathwatch beetles. It is in fact, no one’s job to say that to anyone. Ever. I’ve blown up at people in arguments about problematic content, and I regret all of those arguments, even the ones I’ve likely forgotten by now.

Being horrible to someone else does not make you cool, or a crusader for or against a game. It makes you a mean, petty person. It doesn’t matter if they said what you like makes their chosen deity cry, you do not go to the level of threats and hate speech. Because once you go there, you will find it very hard to take it back. The internet has a long memory, and people’s screw ups are its most cherished possession next to cat photos. Someone being disrespectful of your feelings sucks, but you don’t answer disrespect with orbital death lasers.

 

Don’t start a flame war, no matter what side you’re on.

Once the conversation has opened about problematic content in a given piece of media, derailing it will only make it last longer. It will get bigger. It will likely get angry, even disrespectful. And the discussion may spiral downward at that point, into a dark void of screaming. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. Mute particular hashtags or users on Twitter. Unfollow Facebook posts. Ignore a forum thread. Excuse yourself from a conversation at a party. If you know you’re going to derail the discussion with constructive criticism of the person you perceive as your opponent, get out of the discussion. It’s easier to stay out of a conversation than it is to escape once you’re in there.This still works for people who are calling out content as having issues. Over time, I think most of us develop an intuitive sense of where an online (or offline) conversation is about to go wrong. It doesn’t mean you ‘lost’ to bail before that point, or to try and keep things civil. But if you give into the urge to be nasty?

You might get in a few barbed comments or a rhetoric punch, but you are then ensnared for all time (or blocking/unfriending/thread locking) in a discussion you already didn’t like. If you don’t derail, or start attacking others personally, you don’t set fire to your own corner of the internet. You also keep any defensive feelings you have about something you enjoy screw up how that piece of media is seen by others. I hear creators frequently telling each other how some of their fan base horrifies them. You don’t want to be that fan.

 

Liking problematic content does not make you (or anyone else) evil.

In addition to liking Lovecraft, I am a huge fan of romantic comedies. Many of those movies enforce harmful gender standards, dictate how people should act in courtship, and often degrade choices men and women might make in their real lives. Yet I still consume that media. In my day to day life I advocate for people to use their agency as people, to navigate gender in a way that they find meaningful, and to pursue healthy, happy relationships, however that looks for them. I don’t hold people to the standards of romantic comedies. Being a fan of rom-coms doesn’t make me inherently evil, or sexist, or a bad person. It just makes me a fan of problematic content.

In the end, you’re going to agree or disagree with those who find games (or a given sourcebook) you enjoy a source of problematic content. But if you can at least be decent and courteous when you state your disagreement, you’re going to do wonders for how the hobby functions. It’s not dysfunctional that gamers can disagree with gamers. It’s dysfunctional when we respond to disagreement with cruelty and savage words.

On the flipside, if you’re calling content in a game out, telling its consumers they’re backwoods racists has its own load of prejudice. I can’t count the times I’ve seen what could have been an amazing discussion of prejudice in games devolve into two-way name calling. That’s not even touching the times it started as telling the consumers of problem media that they were abhorrent human beings, without even dialoging first.

Tea: generally better for you than flame wars.

Tea: generally better for you than flame wars.

Tl;dr?

We should be decent in our conversations about game content we find problematic. It should be considered mature and responsible to bail from dialogue if we know we’re going to go full on defensive flame war. Maybe we could simply acknowledge that opinions are going to differ. I’m not telling anyone that they have to word their concerns and disagreements in rated G language. What I am saying is that there is a vast difference between calling out problematic content for its shortcomings, and saying you hope the person who reads a game with problematic content dies alone in a ditch covered in acid. We can have a discussion where both sides can seek an elementary understanding of the other without serving as a case example for why people don’t want to let their kids near the hobby.

 

 

If you have favorite examples of essays, posts, articles or vlogs on addressing problematic content, or how to dialogue about emotional topics, please leave them in the comments as a resource for all.

 

[1] Problematic content can include but is not limited to: racism, sexism, homophobic, xenophobic, or otherwise prejudicial content.

[2] Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most intelligent, talented and eloquent voices on the internet when it comes to modern interpretations of Lovecraft, and addressing the racism and other deeply problematic facets of his work. I recommend reading the entirety of her blog because it’s awesome binge reading.

[3] The Know Your Meme page for Wheaton’s Law is a thorough explanation of this internet axiom, which can be summarized as “Don’t be a dick.”

 

 

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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