Playing the Ball
Some of the heckling last event was ace. For me, some was just too OOC, concentrated on the player not the character. I want to say a few words about that.
I have absolutely no interest in being in a silent arena with the odd bit of polite clapping. I love the bearpit. I love the noise. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise up - I can’t imagine how cool it must be to fight a fight that really matters to your character in there. I want it loud. I want it gritty. I want it harsh.
But I want all that to be IC. Not OOC. And I don’t think it’s enough that a heckle could be IC. I think the line is that good heckling couldn’t be OOC. I’ve heard some fabulous IC heckling - more of that please. Every nation has so much to hate in every other. There’s so many reasons for your characters to despise each other - I just can’t see any reason for heckling with language that might make players hate each other. There some hints in the national briefs - if there’s not enough, let us know.
You might feel like using "historical fact" to convince me otherwise. Well, next time a god makes your character’s life a misery, or blesses you until you glow - you ask them about facts from ancient history. Odyssey is not intended to be a recreation of ancient history, it’s intended to be a game people can enjoy while being absolutely confident that other characters are swearing and cursing about their character, not them.
So, basically, I want references to players’ colour, size, race, looks, gender, sexual orientation, etc out of heckling. You pull your blows in a fight, pull your heckles too. The vast and overwhelming majority of players get this; I want everyone to.
Or, to put it simpler; insult the characters’ traits, not the players’.
(Thanks to Donald McQuag for the form of words...)
It’s not over until the fat kid sings
My name is Simon, and I am a nerd.
When I was at school I was overly intellectual - I wore glasses, I did well in exams and I hated sport. I remember vividly enjoying cricket because I could sit and read a book in the outfield, and when playing rugby was never quite fast enough to catch the person I was chasing and have to tackle them into the mud.
Formative experiences like these stay with you for years, so when designing Odyssey one of the early decisions was to look, wherever possible, for areas of the game where the 'fat kid' (as I referred to myself from those memories) wasn’t left out. The most obvious examples of this are the arena and quests. In both these cases more champions are useful - it’s not about choosing between one champion or another, or picking the best team - everyone gets a fight or a quest so the more 'fat kids' you involve the better it is for your nation.
This means that inclusion is built in from the foundations. It’s about producing a game where people are encouraged to bring their friends and make them feel welcome, where the social side of the game sits alongside combat, puzzles, gods and politics.
Inclusion means characters and players. Character inclusion is more straightforward - they are created to serve a purpose and the choices in character creation are clear signals to the game organisers and other players where the players would like to spend their time. Inclusion of players can be more complicated. Superficially it is simple - events are public access and as such anyone can attend; but my problems start when one player’s behaviour makes another feel excluded. This might be because they are fat or thin, bald or hirsute, straight or gay, male or female, tall or short - all manner of reasons. But whatever the issue about the player that can be mocked - and whether it is meant in jest or all seriousness, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable in our game.
There are plenty of ways to insult peoples characters rather than their players; to enjoy roleplaying without it being offensive roleplaying; to keep it fun.
We tried to build a game where everyone who wanted to be in could be, whether they were the lead batsman or the outfield bookworm, so behaviour that makes any player feel otherwise is not welcome.
This event, we have had what I can only describe as a mountain of bad feedback about one particular topic. Here, without attribution, are some examples of it. My thanks to the people who have allowed me to quote them - this is, believe me, just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been in almost every single instance of feedback we’ve received in one form or another.
"Continuing casual homophobia from a few loudmouths. Have you guys *read* your brief? I mean, have you even looked at it?" "I can’t speak for the effect the truly monumental, seriously dude, I am not exaggerating, amount of homophobic 'jokes' had on people who are homosexual, but it can’t have been nice. To get bullied by a bunch o'***** in fancy dress and waving rubber children’s toys, is a pretty bad day in my book." "Transported back in time maybe... I’d say from the sound of it you ended up somewhere within a 60 year radius of 1900."
Some of the quotes above have been slightly edited, not to change the meaning or the real emotion, but because we don’t want to make out that a particular group or nation are solely to blame. The issue we have is with the culture that is developing in isolated pockets across the game.
As a writer I felt uncomfortable putting anyone who was either female or gay or bi in on their own to NPC [because of perceived homophobic bullying]. Which is a pretty ridiculous state of affairs.
Now I understand and abhor sexism and I know the other guys are going to address that issue separately, but I’m going to talk from the place where I have particular experience. I have never been especially quiet about it, so I’ve always assumed that people know I’m gay. I have the good fortune to move in a pretty liberal social circle, so in my day to day life I largely just don’t run up against this sort of thing. So to encounter so much in, of all places, an LRP game left me absolutely dumbstruck. I thought we’d left this stuff behind us in the 1980s.
Let’s try an experiment. Think about the last time you called something "gay" or used that term as a slur or a description of something bad. I’m not talking about the IC slurs used - I’m talking about your OOC language, day to day. Now replace it with the word "black". Or the word "Muslim". Or any other word that means "not like me". Using that kind of language in a racist or nationalist context makes you sound like a pretty vile human being. And let me tell you, so does using it in a homophobic context, and because we look just like everyone else, we hear you use it like that all the time. Worse yet, because we have foolishly opened the door for it by suggesting that other nations express IC homophobia towards Greeks, some players are using that as a justification or a defence - a pretty poor one - for any kind of OOC homophobia and for a whole slew of other behaviours more consistent with a 1970s football terrace.
So many complaints, people. From people who feel too threatened or intimidated to call you on that behaviour in person, but who instead go away from your encampments or indeed from the game thinking to themselves "what a vile bunch of human beings". In what crazy world is that acceptable under any excuse, let alone "I was just pretending"?
My partner, who is not known for his shy and retiring nature, reported back to me that during one after-dark encounter, one of the players turned to him and said "I hope this isn’t going to be anything gay..." That’s not an "IC insult" or justifiable from within the brief. My partner responded with "Dude, I’m gay and I don’t want to be hearing that shit." Not every gay member of the crew or player base has my fiance’s brass bollocks, and sometimes, they hear you and they don’t respond, they just die a little inside and make a note to avoid the hate in future.
And do you know what? Here’s a fun statistic for you. A significant percentage of the entire Story team is gay or lesbian. So you had better bloody hope that the next time you trot out into the dark to find some adventure, that it *is* gay - because if not, there’ll be a hell of a lot less of it.
I put literally hundreds of man-hours into these events. On the rare occasions I manage to make it onto the field IC, I don’t want to spend my time listening to homophobic bullshit. And yes, I can tell the difference between IC insults aimed at characters and lazy bigotry. It’s really, really easy to tell the difference, as the mountain of complaints demonstrates.
As a hobby, we are supposed to be better than this.
Writing this has been one of the most disappointing and unsatisfying roles I have ever had to fulfil for Odyssey. I hate politicising my own orientation and I don’t like laying it on thick - but someone has to draw a line.
I will not permit my crew, irrespective of orientation, to feel bullied or intimidated by homophobic or sexist behaviour. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s okay - the fact they are feeling threatened means it’s not, and that the attitude needs to change. Where I see or hear it I’ll challenge it. And if you use it, you should expect to be challenged.
I’ve changed this blog post because people were offended by my use of expletives to make a point in a formal, professional communication. I’ve also changed it because the key material points I made were also being put more thoughtfully by my colleagues above. I wasn’t trying to be thoughtful I was trying to be visceral and hence the strong language.
Why be visceral? I despise the pretence that says that professionalism equates to being formal. Formal language with its euphemisms and dreary circumlocutions turns issues into memos and ideas into minutes. It sucks the life out of living and replaces it with a passionless monotone narrative that we associate with faceless bureaucrats and corporate lawyers. Words without feeling are not the language of the professional; just the echo of dead souls.
Profound Decisions Limited is a commercial vehicle for delivering LRP games, but those games are created by living people. These people care passionately about that game; if they didn’t then the stuff they produced would be garbage. LRP may or may not be art, but you can’t produce a great LRP game without pouring your heart and soul into it. That’s why it’s so important to communicate that strength of feeling over these issues, to convey how upset people feel about what is happening.
One point that I can make, that my colleagues can’t is that we won’t run a game that we’re not passionate about. If we can’t run Odyssey without upsetting people then we just won’t run it at all. We can’t run a game that we can’t take pride in so we will just stop running the game. Threats like that are useless unless people believe you are sincere, and it is important to underline how sincere I am about that.
If it’s that important, why change it? Because people were offended, and I don’t want to offend people. If I can avoid offending people then I will. And if I have offended someone, then I’ll apologise, take back my words and make what amends I can. Because there’s always a better way to say what needs to be said and because words that don’t offend carry more weight than words that do. And because the defense that "I didn’t want to offend anyone" is no defense at all.
Players at Odyssey make the most incredible effort with their costume that I have ever seen. What we’re asking is that they make a similar effort to be as creative and innovative with their character’s insults. We don’t want players in the stands to be shouting insipid platitudes devised by a committee, but nor do we want them to resort to homophobia, racism, sexism or any other kind of prejudice where the player is the target instead of the character. We won’t tolerate it in the arena and we won’t tolerate it in the field.