X marks the spot

So, this will make X happy, anyway --

All right.

Give me a minute to lay this out. This is tough for me.

It‘s not admitting to error that I find difficult. I don’t have any trouble with that. I’m not invested in maintaining some façade of personal perfection; I make mistakes and it really doesn’t bother me to admit to it. I’m far from perfect… as everyone who’s paid any attention to my behavior on this site already knows.

I’ve been both incorrect, and ethically wrong, in some or much that I’ve done, and I’ve caused a lot of bad feeling here. I regret that, and that’s a sincere declaration of contrition and remorse. Not so much for the consequences it’s had for me, but because I genuinely don’t enjoy confrontation or hurt feelings. Regardless of how it may seem when you look at my track record with these things, I really don’t like causing these kinds of emotional explosions that spread so much ill will so far, so fast.

These kinds of conflagrations do seem to follow me around the Internet. For what it’s worth, there are general reasons for that, and then, specific reasons for each specific instance.

In general: I’m a strange guy. I don’t fit in anywhere all that well, not really. Just as one example, while I consider myself a progressive liberal, many of my political and social opinions put me at odds with most others who identify themselves that way. I don’t mean to go into details on that here, but trust me when I say, when I get into it on things like affirmative action, or gun control, or legalized abortion, or any number of other hot button political/social issues, many if not most others who identify themselves as ‘liberal’ look at me with horror.

I try not to have knee jerk opinions. I try to think things through. I don’t think quickly, but I try to make up for that by thinking both deeply and broadly, by doing some research, by listening to a lot of different people, before I synthesize all of this, think about it some more, and then finally formulate how I feel or think on any particular subject.

Because of this, I’ve learned that whenever I voice an opinion anywhere, it will nearly always be a controversial opinion. Long ago, I tried very hard to be extremely diplomatic when I voiced such opinions. I employed circumlocutions and verbal finesse. I went to great lengths to express myself in the mildest possible terms, mortaring every statement with delicate euphemism and subtly artful understatement, if not outright vacillation. I was at great pains to find ways to state what I felt about a subject in such a way that I could not possibly offend anyone.

It was an enormous amount of effort, and it had the following results:

(a) Many, many people had no clue what I was trying to say, and
(b) there was always somebody who got offended anyway.

After this happened again and again and again, I, perhaps, overreacted. I shrugged and said what the hell. I decided diplomacy was not my bag. I decided it would be better to be clear, to be straightforward, to try my best to communicate my points and views as saliently, as openly, as simply, and as bluntly as I could. I decided that, given that I couldn’t seem to avoid offending people with a controversial, non mainstream opinion anyway, I might as well stop presuming other people couldn’t handle my truths, and start presuming that honesty really would be the best policy.

The results of this have been a mixture of success and failure. Success, in that nobody ever seems to have any great difficulty figuring out exactly where I stand on any subject I voice a view regarding. Failure, in that I now offend a great many more people.

But, again, I’m going to offend people anyway, because my opinions are rarely opinions people seem to want to hear, regardless of where I go. That being the case, my choices seem to be that I can either (a) shut the hell up about what I think on subjects when those subjects are being discussed, or (b) I can lie to make other people happy. Circumlocution and diplomacy don’t keep people from being offended, and they don’t make people happy. They simply make people more confused.

You know what makes people happy? Agreeing with them. On every subject they bring up. At all times, and under all circumstances. They will love you forever for this. Anyone will. It is nearly impossible to dislike someone who feels exactly the same way as we do about every subject that is important to us. Or at least, who presents a persuasive and convincing charade of doing so.

But I never agree with anyone about everything, and I rarely agree with any group of people about anything.

As a general rule, if you’re out on the Internet talking to people, you aren’t inclined to shut up about your views. And as a matter of personal ethics, I’m not inclined to lie about mine.

That’s how, in general, I’ve reached the point I’m at now, as regards how I communicate with others, especially on the Internet.

In specific, on this site (and I’m not trying to excuse or justify my behavior, I understand and accept my own part in recent events, and as I’ve said, I regret those events -- I’m just explaining, for what it’s worth to those who take the time to read all this):

Here’s how I remember things. And this may be wrong, and if someone with more emotional fortitude than me wants to prospect back through old threads to try and confirm or deny this, have at it, but I can’t handle that kind of stress right now. Anyway, what I remember happening is something like this:

I came on the site looking for players for my home brew campaign. I posted a lot of stuff about the campaign, mostly having to do with the setting, which, for what it’s worth, I’m very proud of, as it’s entirely original… which is to say, it isn’t based on any other game setting I’m aware of. There are bits and pieces I’ve stolen from some of my favorite novels and movies over the years, sanded the serial numbers off, and repurposed to my game setting, but still, pretty much the entire setting, and it is a very detailed setting, has come out of my head.

I heard from several site members saying things like “Sounds really interesting. I read those articles you linked to about your GMing style too and that sounds good. I’m very interested.”

And hope would soar in my heart that I had actually found someone who would genuinely enhance the gaming experience for myself, my wife, my daughter, and my buddy Nate. I would get all excited. I would actually dare to dream.

And then: “Are you running 3.5 or 4.0?”

I’d say “I don’t play D&D; I’m using my own original system.”

Please understand, I have been largely unaware until I came to this site that over the past 20 years or so, Dungeons and Dragons has come to so completely and utterly dominate the fantasy roleplaying scene. When I was younger, there was another pattern entirely. I hesitate to describe it for fear of offending people again, but, well, let’s just say, when I came to the campaign that I picked up the precursor of the system I use from, my fellow gamers there were all people who had started with D&D years before, and who had wanted to play in a different style of campaign, and who, not finding that kind of campaign commercially available, had made up their own, along with their own rules systems that allowed them to do the kind of roleplaying that D&D really wasn’t set up to facilitate.

In other words, I came out of a context and continuum of gamers who did not view Dungeons and Dragons as the only acceptable sword and sorcery system; who, in fact, felt that Dungeons and Dragons was much too limited for the kind of roleplaying they wanted to do. And I was not prepared for… well… the kind of response I immediately got from people who had told me they really liked what they’d read about my campaign and my DMing style, when I indicated I did not use D&D, which was:

They’d say “Oh. Not interested.”

And that was the end of it. Even if we’d already set up a meet. The instant they found out I wasn't running D&D, they were done. None of them were willing to try out anything new and/or different, none of them, despite liking the setting and what they‘d read about my GMing style, were willing to give me, my campaign setting, my rules system, or my other players, a shot. These were site members who had ardently advertised on the site about how much they wanted to get into an RPG… but… if it wasn’t D&D -- they were flatly not interested.

To be as fair as I can be, I didn't know D&D was a prerequisite, but by the same token, most of the members of this site have no reason to believe they need to specify, when they advertise they are looking for a game, that they are only interested in D&D if the setting is sword and sorcery. They take it for granted, and that's perfectly reasonable. I simply didn't know.

And I didn’t react well to that. In fact, I reacted poorly to that, and I'm aware of it. And again, I’m not trying to make excuses. This is simply where I was coming from. I was extremely disappointed, and somewhat insulted, and rather offended.

So, I got snarky about D&D, and by extension, about the D&D players whom I had just had such disappointing interactions with. It was never my intention that my snarkiness be taken as a general statement about everyone who played D&D, but, well, I was pissed.

So that’s specifically where all that came from. I was disappointed and angry and upset and I let it show. And that's a deep regret for me.

That, in and of itself, didn’t have to lead to volcanic insult exchanges, though. The flame apocalypse happened because of a second, compound aspect of my personality -- I dislike being disrespected when I don’t feel the disrespect is merited. (Most people feel similarly in this regard, but, still, I am genuinely strange this way; I cannot stand having people praise me, either, if I don’t feel the praise is deserved. Asskissers bother me as much or more than ad hominem attackers.) And I enjoy writing, and I love crafting insults.

The way those two combine is, if I feel someone has launched an unmerited and unprovoked personal attack on me (a flame, in other words) I will do my best to return the favor to that person ten fold. I genuinely feel that when most people flame, there is little artistry in it, little actual wit… it’s usually the same old tired sexual aspersions, genitalia references, and strings of profanity one can see on any unmoderated message board anywhere on the Internet, or hear, for that matter, in the back of any public or private school bus inhabited by kids older than 9 any where in America. I enjoy attempting to elevate the insult to an actual art form. I don’t start out going for the jugular, but I feel that if someone steps up to me and aims a kick at my crotch, well, they are licensing my response… and I enjoy accepting their invitation.

In fact, I must confess that I've lately been moved to admiration for a site member I never liked very much before this, when I read something he'd said just recently that seems to justify the flame in all its glory: [i]"In this medium, flame wars and vitriolic commentary are the only fire and acid with which to properly slay a troll. They will come back from everything else. "[/i] When I read that, I felt a genuine bond with the site member that wrote it. I cannot tell you how heartfelt and fervent my agreement with that sentiment is. If I could get a good Latin translation of those two sentences, I would carve them over my mantle. Seriously.

Unfortunately, we’ve all seen where that attitude, however wise or cogent or sapient it may seem to me to be, has led recently on this site. And however much those words resonate with me, still, I regret my part in the recent flame wars, and I sincerely apologize for my contributions to them.

One significant reason that things have gotten this far -- much farther than on other sites -- is that Sysop says he values freedom of speech, and he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. The behavior that has been manifest in the flame wars that have erupted all around my presence on this site over the past four months would be enough to get me banned forty or fifty times on any other hobby site I’ve ever been to. Sysop doesn’t want to do that. I respect that. The result of that has been that I’ve been able to be the catalyst of much more prolonged hostilities here than on any other site I’ve been to… but also, that I’ve had the opportunity to really think, for probably the first time, about the consequences on a community of (a) being extremely blunt in voicing my always non-mainstream and generally provocative, controversial opinions, and (b) in reveling in opportunities to return flames tendered towards me ten or a hundred fold back on their originators.

So I’m rethinking my approach once again, and I have this site, and Sysop particularly, to thank for that. Also, specifically, I have to thank Caesar Agumbus and DefJeff, for their sage counsel through PM and in threads, that has helped me work through all this in my head. As I say, I do not think fast. But I try to think both deeply and widely. And I try to listen to others, when I have the opportunity.

So I've come to a point where I have this to offer: my sincere apologies for the truly excessive amount of conflict I've caused on this site in the past four months, and my genuine willingness to undertake to try to be more aware, and more considerate, of the various hot buttons and tender spots of various site members in the future, all in an attempt to maintain a greater level of civility in future exchanges between me and other site members.

Obviously, much is going to depend on the reception this particular apology receives, and in point of fact that's so obvious I don't think it needs any further elaboration. Presuming that, as a result of this apology, there are further interactions between me and other site members who are not immediately involved in game sessions with me, then I'd like to make the following respectful observations and/or requests:

As I will be trying earnestly to avoid provoking further hostilities or reigniting past ones, I'd like to pray forbearance from other site members. If I offend you, and you feel there is even the remotest chance that I did it inadvertently, please let me know in as civil a fashion as you can, and give me a chance to work things out with you. Either a PM or a "WTF, Doc?" in the thread will be fine. But though I'm going to try hard, I have to say, if I write something that I don't feel is aimed at any one in particular, but which is just me saying what I think about something, and I get a truckload of obscene personal abuse back, it's going to make it much more difficult for me to stay civil.

To this I will add, I am very proud of all my stepdaughters. They are all smart and strong and they take zero shit and that's because they all take after their mother in these regards and it is the constant wonderment and delight of my life that all four of these amazing, unique and incredible women have allowed me to share their lives. My middle stepdaughter has come to this site looking to make friends and increase her roleplaying experience, and she can certainly take care of herself, and I have no problem with her making friends with anyone she chooses to. She's got a good head on her shoulders and is a very good judge of people and whatever she wants to do with her life and her time is okay by me, because she has to date demonstrated an extremely unusual level of maturity and wisdom in those choices she has made. Based on what we have seen of her intelligence and decision making abilities, my wife and I trust her judgment implicitly.

That's not to say we don't worry about her, because that would be impossible, and I'm sure those of you who are parents know exactly what I mean.

Still, barring absolutely dire circumstances, I'm going to let her take care of her business herself, and I'm not going to get in the middle of anything unless she specifically asks me to... and she won't. But anyone who cares at all about maintaining any kind of friendly or even civil interaction with me on this site should remain aware at all times that, just as everyone else has their buttons and/or sensitive spots, my children are one of mine.

If I annoy you or displease you, if you wish to maintain a grudge against me, if you don't think you can ever be friends with me, or even for the sake of politeness and the general well being of the community attempt a facade of civility towards me, okay. I doubtless earned your opprobrium and I'll wear it.

But I'd ask you to leave my daughter out of it. If you're mad at me, be mad at me. Don't snap at her. Don't put her in the middle of it.

I hope that's understandable to, and understood by, everyone.

To summarize: I've fucked up, I know it, I'm sorry, and I'll try to do better moving forward. I hope we can all play better together in the future.

In terms of pouring oil on troubled waters, this has worked very well... while responses came slowly at first, eventually a few of those I'd been feuding with allowed as to how gracious I was, and once it began, as always happens with our essentially herd dwelling race, the effect snowballed. Now I'm, if not exactly popular on the site, then, at least, reasonably well respected.

A few of those who dislike me most were very grudging in their acceptance of this apology, hedging their bets with "well, okay, as long as he behaves" type nonsense. But once a lot of other people, especially a few tribal elders, had accepted, they really had no choice; either they publicly manned up or they looked like utter tools. (Either was fine with me.)

Which was the point of the exercise. It's psychological jui jitsu. With one stroke, I turned everything upside down. When you're the guy who has offended everyone at the party and you just go sit in a corner and sulk because they're all such assholes, it doesn't matter if you're right. Everyone else at the party feels very righteous in their indignation as regards your behavior. (Especially if you're right about them all being assholes.)

But when you come back with your hand held out spouting a sincere seeming apology, they often don't know what to do. It befuddles them. It sure isn't anything that THEY'D ever do.

But it puts the onus on them. Where before I would have had difficulty meeting many of these people in real life and staying pleasant, now I can walk into any group any of them play in with my head held high. Some of them I'm sure still don't like me at all, but now they're required to either be hypocritical or look like jackasses. Either way works for me... although, to be honest, the hypocrisies that civility always requires are a big reason I don't mix much in real life.

Now, mind you, the wild card here was my stepdaughter. If she hadn't been on the site, and if certain of my jackass attackers hadn't been so willing to hold a grudge against her as well as me, I'd never have apologized. I would have made a career out of trolling those motherfuckers until either they left the site in tears or the site administrator broke his own rule by throwing me off it. I would have flamed them down to the bedrock; as Heinlein has noted, some jerks you simply have to insult until they apologize. But with someone else in the mix whose feelings are important to me, I had to take a different approach.

I don't regret it; everyone is happier now, and the apology, for what it is, is sincere... I certainly acknowledge that I played a big part in all the trouble. But here's what tact is... not saying all the shit that's really important, because all the important shit is what really offends people. And the problem with that apology is that it's a tacit agreement between me and them that (a) I will no longer point out the hypocrisy of imposing one standard of behavior on a stranger while not requiring yourself or your friends to adhere to that same standard, and (b) I will no longer express my opinion that D&D is a fucking retarded system and anyone who has been gaming for longer than five years and who claims to be a roleplayer and who is still rolling up half-gnoll ranger/wizard/ninjas who will spend their entire imaginary lives killing imaginary orcs and goblins with an imaginary sword in an imaginary underground dungeon has something badly, badly deficient in their essential character matrix. At least, if that's the only kind of game they're comfortable playing, they do.

This is a basic truth. It offends many of the people on the site, surely. Yet one of the people who plays in my regular RPG session also plays in another D&D session, mostly because he's pretty young and has a lot of free time. He admits my game is much, much better with far better roleplaying and a much more believable setting and rules system, but he has buddies at the other session. Still, he's described all the other guys at the session, and apparently he's the youngest by a decade, the only one there who weighs less than 300 lbs, and other than one of the guys who is married, he's pretty sure he's the only one there who has ever actually had sex with another human being who was conscious at the time and not being paid for their services.

And this is hardly an atypical description of an adult group of 'roleplayers' who play D&D.

Once upon a time, D&D was what you started out with if you wanted to roleplay. It was, in Nate's wonderful term, 'training wheels'. If you roleplayed and you liked it, you would invariably and naturally begin to find the inherent shallownesses and limitations of the D&D rules system and two dimensional backdrops frustrating, and look around for something else to play. And if you couldn't find another system you liked available at your local game shop, you'd make up your own that suited you better, and which didn't require your Lawful Good character to kill every Chaotic or Lawful Evil entity they ran into... or die trying.

To me, when I walk into a geek shop and there are a bunch of 30 year old guys sitting at a table playing D&D, I can't help but feel a vague contempt. It's probably a character flaw; who am I to be judgmental? I roleplay too. But to me, D&D is the roleplaying equivalent of Chutes & Ladders, while my game system and campaign setting are, I don't know, Civilization, or at the very least, Risk. You walk into a public place and see a bunch of obvious adults spinning the little arrow and getting all excited because they hit a ladder, or screeching in rage because they landed on a slide... to me, that's pretty much the same thing as watching a bunch of adults rolling d20s so their 17th level Paladin can do 12 hit points of damage to a beholder, while the thief is picking the lock on a door down the hall, and the cleric is standing by to throw a Cure Light Wounds when necessary. It's just childish. It ain't real roleplaying. And the people I know who get into their late 20s and early 30s and D&D is still the only RPG they want to play? It may be tactless to say it, but anybody that looks at these guys knows there is something badly wrong with them.

However, these are truths that I may no longer articulate, else I shall be exiled once again.

Now it will turn out that out of the three people who still read this blog, two of them love D&D and never play anything else. And I will be in deep fucking doo doo again.

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