Sunday, 17 July 2011

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by EN World)

I have been involved with the EN World rpg website for some time.  I lurked, then joined in 2004.  At the time of this writing, I have 12,488 posts on the site, and am #12 (of 112,271 members) for XP (a method by which useful posts and posters can be rated). 

I believe that I have made valuable contributions to the site in the past.  I have spent a lot of time on the site, and stepping away from it is going to hurt.  I believe that EN World has been great in the past, and has the potential to be great in the future, but conscience requires me to disassociate myself with it now.

Allow me to explain.

EN World was originally owned by Eric Noah, and had what came to be known as the “Eric’s Grandmother” rule.  To wit, if something was not appropriate for Eric’s Grandmother, it was not appropriate for the site.  This rule was retained (and rightly so) when the site was taken over by the current “Admiral O’ The High Seas” (hereafter AOTHS).

Recently, a thread appeared on EN World that dealt with topics which the Eric’s Grandmother rule would seem to apply to.  Specifically, to the topic of rape.  Rape was depicted in a way as to be offensive to several posters.  And, no, I am not going to go into details about this depiction.  Some of these posters went to great lengths to attempt to get the AOTHS to deal with the problem.  They were unsuccessful.  In fact, the AOTHS perma-banned at least one of those posters from both EN World and its sister site, Circvs Maximvs.

In a Meta thread on EN World about this topic, EN World moderator Piratecat posted:

Up until now, we've never needed guidelines about this. In the recent event a discussion about in-game rape occurred under very congenial "I abhor this in real life but it occurs in my game world" discussion, and it very understandably made a lot of people furious. That's a problem in part because the moderators, quite correctly following our rules, moderated the people who lost their temper and not the polite person who brought up the subject regarding his game. 'Cause hey, using babies as human shields is truly repugnant too, but a thread where bad guys in a game do this won't even raise an eyebrow; shouldn't a discussion of in-game rape be treated the same way?

We've decided, quite correctly, not a friggin' chance.

Baby-shields don't require a trigger warning. One in five people aren't subject to baby-shields during their college years. And while we've been moderating according to our guidelines, in the case of discussion surrounding sexual assault the moderators and administrators here agree that our guidelines are flat-out wrong.

So we apologize, and here's the deal. Like racism or adult topics, this isn't the place to discuss your campaign's variants of rape or molestation. We don't care, we don't want to hear it, and we won't put up with it. We will moderate accordingly. Folks, please report it if you run across it.

All well and good, right?

Well, no.  Because, despite coming to the conclusion that the AOTHS had been wrong to dismiss, repeatedly and vociferously, those who tried to tell him just that – rather than being thanked for fighting so hard to make EN World a better place – have been ostracized.

There were claims that “we don't discuss moderation with anyone other than the person being moderated” but moderation often appears publicly.  Anyone who examines the site can see public moderation appearing frequently in red or in orange text.  Indeed, people are asked not to use red text because that colour is reserved for public moderation. 

Moreover, after publicly castigating individuals for trying to point out the obvious, a public apology is in order.  Or, even, a public admission that, perhaps, said castigation was a mistake.

And, of course, the cross-board drama went a bit beyond castigation.  When the AOTHS threatened to close Circvs Maximvs – when it became clear that there were more people who thought the original decision was as obviously mistaken as the EN World moderators eventually came to realize – the overblown vitriol was somewhat disproportionate, shall we say, and it was not aimed at the individual responsible for both (1) the original error and (2) the threat to take his toys away, but rather at those who pointed out the obvious moderation problem.  And that vitriol was of the type that, in the “real world” beyond the InterWeb, almost anyone would be ashamed of being associated with.

There have been claims that the moderation staff of EN World are not “a big fan of cross-board drama”, and people have been banned from EN World for posts on another site (SomethingAwful). 

Of course, Circvs Maximvs has always been about “cross-board drama” – the staff merely don’t want the drama going in a direction that makes EN World look bad.  There is always an “Asshattery on EN World” thread of some sort ongoing, where people create cross-board drama, including intentionally trolling EN World and then returning to Circvs Maximvs to brag about it.  So, this explanation for the behavior of the AOTHS and moderation staff falls rather flat.

It also rather ignores that the thread arose on SomethingAwful, not simply “to get a rise out of” EN World, but because of the actions of the EN World staff.  To wit, making it impossible to speak on EN World requires either that one goes elsewhere, or that one shuts the fuck up.  Clearly, people on EN World are being punished for not shutting the fuck up.  As though the AOTHS can control people’s reactions to his actions, even beyond the precincts of his little spot on the Net.

(Not long ago, I’d have been surprised if I were banned from EN World for making this blog post; now I will be surprised if I am not.  Of course, not so long ago, I would have denied that anything like this ever would happen at EN World, where the moderation has been historically excellent).

The real problem, IMHO, is not that EN World refused to take action to deal with the “pro-rape” thread – everyone makes mistakes.  No, the real problem is that, knowing this to be a mistake – an obvious and egregious mistake, the AOTHS has apparently chosen to punish those who pointed it out in an ongoing matter.  In other words, it is not the mistake that was made, but the mistake that continues, which is the real problem.

So, the claims about how this is being dealt with, and the reasons for actions, seem to be rationalizations (at best) to avoid fixing the real problem.

“In normal circumstances, people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility…..[T]here were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum.  On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world.  In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.”

-- Albert Speer

“We were completely wrong, and only when we have admitted that and paid the price of our mistakes can we expect the public at large to have much faith in our government or our political system.”

-- Jeb Stuart Magruder

Of course, Albert Speer was talking about the Third Reich, and Jeb Magruder about the Watergate scandal, but the difference is in degree, not in kind.  Those posts have been put behind a wall, so that only members can see them now, but they are not pretty.  And, again, they are so not pretty that I am not going to post them here.  Some selected quotes have appeared on the SomethingAwful website if you really need to read them.

Suffice it to say that what the Third Reich did, select denizens of Circvs Maximvs and EN World expressed a desire to do.  In the case of Watergate, lies, cover-ups, and blaming those who discovered misdeeds was rationalized as just another step.

And it is so easy to take just another step.  After all, this is only the InterWeb, and no one takes anything we say or do seriously, right?

I posted:

If EN World recognizes that mistakes were made, kudos to you.

I assume, then, that those who should have been moderated will now be dealt with appropriately, and that those who were inappropriately moderated -- and, perhaps, banned from the site as a result -- will receive an apology and an invitation back?

Because, if not, it isn't the decision you are trying to undo; it is the consequence of the decision. And if it is only the consequence of the decision you are trying to undo, I don't believe that is acceptable.

Obviously, I am only asking in a general sense. I am not asking you to comment on any specific moderation. But if anyone remains banned for trying to bring the site owner & staff to come to the conclusion that you seem to have here, I cannot in good conscious remain associated with EN World.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.

-- Lao Tzu

Time to decide how great, or how petty, EN World is to be.

My post has been described as “petty” by at least one poster.  So be it.

I have begun the process of removing my content from EN World, from those threads where I am still allowed to edit my posts.  I will continue to do so, periodically, until I am no longer providing content to the site, I am no longer able to remove posts due to moderator action, or the AOTHS takes Jeb Magruder’s advice and restores my faith in his government.


  1. You moving your bookmarks and leaving is about a symbolically pouty as they come. Just leaving would make some sense, but editing your prior comments? Extremely juvenile. Petty would be too generous a description for such an effort.

  2. If you want to consider it so.

    I consider posts as being providing content, and as a content provider I have a responsibility to consider what the content I am providing is supporting.

  3. Also, as the content will eventually become available here or elsewhere, it is only the location of the content that is being affected in the long term.

  4. Your actions are petty. As, in many ways, were the actions of AOTHS at CM. However, he manned up to that, decided to not close CM, and apologized for threatening to do so. He did ban those who had decided to continually harass him, but that shouldn't be a surprise. It's his site.

    The people who were banned from EN World were banned, by your own admission, for breaking the rules. They broke the rules, they paid for it. Nothing more, nothing less. They could have said what they wanted without breaking the rules, but they didn't. They chose to break the rules, and were given appropriate punishment. I don't know this for sure, but I bet that after their actions at CM, those bans were extended, probably made permanent. I don't blame the AOTHS for that, I would probably have done the same.

    At CM, these same people continued to harass the site owner, bringing on a minor board invasion from SA to troll the site. They got their expected reward.

  5. Complaining about moderation in public is against the rules. Mod emails and pms are posted on their accounts for this very reason. You yourself saw them warn about this issue probably 50 times over the years. No mistake was made in disciplining over that violation. If people had an issue, they should have emailed or pmed a mod. You know that, i know that, everyone who has an EW account knows that. You keep pretending that was not the issue, but you know thats a lie.

    But that lie pales in comparison to how juvenile it is to delete your prior 2000+ posts. That action marks you as a spoiled brat. I suspect you're an only child living at home with some aspergers syndrome issues, based on that action. I cannot imagine you work well with others in life, if you think that kind of reaction is appropriate.

  6. You may feel so. Certainly, I didn't come to this decision to win any popularity contests!

    AFAICT, no one was banned for "breaking the rules", although I agree that this might be a convenient rationalization for what happened.

    The AOTHS hasn't manned up yet. Not closing CM wasn't "manning up" -- it was protecting his income. "Manning up" requires admitting your mistakes, and then undoing them. You are not "manning up" while punishing those who point out your faults.

    But I do appreciate your post, and I appreciate your pointing out my own faults.

  7. Btw CM costs money, it doesnt make him money. He was not protecting his income by not closing fact its the opposite.

  8. It is my understanding that CM is funded by subscriptions to EW, and there is a significant overlap between the two. In fact, I know of people who did not purchase EW subscriptions because the AOTHS would not guarantee that they would be separated.

    So, no. AFAICT, CM is tied into the bottom line.

  9. Except that it isn't. CM is on a separate server and has it own subscription service.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I am aware that CM offers subscriptions; my understanding is that all subs for EW and CM go into the same pot. When the AOTHS decided to make this his livelihood, there was some discussion of the same on EN World, including the AOTHS's reasons for doing so.

  12. Leave if you believe you do not wish to be a part of ENWorld anymore, but I will say that retroactively deleting your posts wholesale is a bad idea. Discussions and shared ideas are fragile enough already on the Internet; good forums vanish without a trace and entire hosts go inactiveas time goes by (like Geocities). Whatever importance a poster and his or her contributions have, they are, to an extent, valuable. A lot of good gaming came out of what you have written (this blog is proof enough). Do not deprive the innocent of that, and do not hasten the erosion of content that is already taking place naturally.

    (BTW, while this is an issue where I generally agree with the grognards.txt invasion team, their surprise and indignation that they were hit with the banhammer was entirely misplaced. That's what happens to people who invade forums, especially if they happen to come from a topic with over 42,000 posts dedicated to calling other gamers, including much of ENWorld, idiots. It's a "don't tease the octopus, kids!" thing. And sure, if CM didn't have a special relationship with ENWorld, its members would have been mass-banned all the same.)

  13. This is a reasonable argument, Melan. I will pause in my work while I ponder it.

    I had hoped to simply repost here, or elsewhere, the material that I am removing from EN World. IOW, it would still be available, but would generate no traffic to the original site.

    I have some real qualms about helping to provide traffic to the original site at this time.

  14. Splitting this up due to length.

    I think it's worth mentioning that there was no sort of organized forum raid.

    Grognards.txt is a thread on SomethingAwful that is literally more then a thousand pages long, devoted towards reposting awful things nerds say and do and laughing/groaning/crying about it, albeit also with some amazing tangents regarding tabletop game design, the nature of Catholicism, understanding privilege, and video game aesthetics vs graphics, to name a few.

    When someone (not I, which I specify for hilarious reasons) posted the contents of the EN World threads - all three of them, in fact - we reacted as we would were it to happen anywhere else - shock, revulsion, etc. Your standard "I can't believe he's glorifying rape" reactions. At this time I was still posting at Circvs Maximvs despite having been perma-banned from EN World months earlier for the most boring reason imaginable. I and one or two others brought up these same threads in the "Asshats at EN World" thread and how awful it was, and questioned why the awful posts were allowed, but people stating that they were awful were not allowed.

    Morrus reacted poorly when questioned about this. I've come to believe that it came down to a position of privilege - namely, he didn't understand that the "neutral response" would have been to shut the threads down entirely. Instead, he felt that the threads were not in any way insulting or demeaning to women. When he was called on this, the thread quickly grew ugly. Others from grognards.txt showed up after someone else linked the whole thing there.

    By the end, Morrus not only refused to listen, regardless of how polite people tried to be in explaining what the problem was, he was stating that I had personally called in some kind of invasion to attack him out of revenge for being banned. I don't even know if he was involved in my banning! Nonetheless, he went so far as to claim that I had created grognards.txt in order to organize this. The thread, I feel the need to mention, was started in 2009. I don't believe I was even posting in EN World then. It didn't matter - Morrus painted me as some sort of batman villain who was leading his mooks to attack him personally, a vicious attack that was aimed at...trying to make him see that rape is bad. Truly a most dastardly plan.

  15. At any rate, it was not any sort of forums sanctified or organized raid. Several posters independently joined CM to try to explain to the forums, some kindly and some abrasively, that he was unintentionally condoning rape. The whole thing ended with Morrus declaring that CM would be shut down. Here is, I think, the appropriate place for mentioning the irony in this, considering CM was meant to be the "rougher" and "thick skinned" opposite of EN World.

    Morrus, of course, did not shut down EN World, and wether he intentionally made the empty threat or if he really was going to shut it down will never be known. What is known is that everyone who criticized him (I don't want to name names) were banned not only from CM, but from EN World as well, while those who told people some rather vile things about murder and rape are not only left unbanned but were publically lauded by Morrus.

    As for any sort of invasion on EN World, this is where things get a bit more distressing. Again, there was no organized raid against EN World. The thread in the Meta forums was linked to us, and we reacted in tears or laughter as we normally would. One poster from SA - one who was, I feel the need to point out, defending Morrus and EN World - posted in that thread, asking why it was ok to ban those who disagreed with Morrus, but not those who told us that we needed to be raped and murdered in quite a bit of gruesome detail. He was then banned on his post deleted.

    It seems that all ones needs to do to constitute a "forums invasion" now is to be a "known poster at SA," a phrase that was used unironically quite a bit at the CM forums.

    I know you and I very rarely saw eye to eye, Raven, but I felt this would be the best place to explain what happened from the viewpoint of The Anti-Rape Penguin.

  16. I never thought I would be posting these words, but, thank you very much, ProfC, for your contribution.

    Sorry, Melan, but after having spent a restless night pondering your words, I have come to the conclusion that I will continue what I started.

  17. "A life spent making mistakes is not only more useful, but more honorable than a life spent doing nothing." -- G.B. Shaw

  18. RCK always liked your posts when I followed ENWorld.

    Don't find what you are doing as petty at all. Freedom of speech also means freedom of association. You have the right not to drive traffic to a site you find questionable in it's motives and/or philosophy.

    Hope to see your good content here.

  19. In case it is not altogether clear, I quoted Piratecat's post as reflective of EN World's position, and my response as reflective of my own.

    I do not assume that EN World's position is Piratecat's responsibility -- moderators take their cue from the site owner. Given the apparent stance of the AOTHS, I do think that Piratecat has done, thus far, as well as anyone could possibly do.

    Assuming, of course, that they didn't have the luxury of simply saying "No" to the AOTHS, or assuming that they don't see things in the same way I do. Which is fine. Piratecat is, AFAICT, IME, and IMHO, an excellent human being.

    I have said many times over the years that EN World has some of the best moderators on the Internet, and I maintain that this is still true. However, moderators can only moderate the actions of posters; they cannot moderate the actions of the site owner.

    A recent post by Piratecat on the topic reads, in part, 'Under the theory "don't moderate when furious," I've waited a week before addressing individuals from this debacle. Wow, posting this was bad judgment.'

    I don't agree that the initial post was bad judgement; it made the best of a bad situation, within the powers that the moderators were given.

    This may, or may not, indicate some reflection on the part of the AOTHS. Frankly, if the man apologizes for the mass bans, and invites the banned folks back (whether they accept or not), I will be more than happy to laud him for coming to a sane and rational decision.

    (And, as I am in contact with some of those folks, I will know if that is the case.)

    Provisional, of course, that they are not banned a week, a month, or a year later for "something completely unrelated"!

  20. The internet - although it may seem otherwise - does not make real people unreal.

    Learn to play nice with your fellow humans. *eyerollage*

  21. Thank you for your comments.....Although, I am not at all sure how they are meant to apply to what you are commenting on.

  22. @ Litlbeast: Actually, I wonder if you are aware of the irony of your post. Did those people offended by the pro-rape depictions on EN World seem real to you?

  23. Another funny thing. A few years ago, there was a poster on CM that I didn't know from Eve, but who was in danger of losing her house, if memory serves, and who needed to make some money quick to make a payment. So she was trying to sell dice bags.

    I recall sending what I could without asking for anything back. She ended up sending me two dice bags along with a nice note. I still have the note, although the dice bags went to my oldest two children.

    The person who wrote that note didn't seem to think that I thought the internet made people unreal. Quite the opposite, actually.

    It's too bad that she is no longer here to speak up!

  24. Charity isn't charity if you feel the desire to mention it again (and completely out of context and without prompting, in a pathetically obvious way of saying "see I was a good guy!"). I think that last post of yours reveals more of your character than even your asinine post deletion behavior.

  25. Thank you for your comments, and best of luck to you in the future.

  26. My Lord. What an insane clusterf. Just found out about this. All I got to say is that I am glad not to be associated with ENWorld anymore. I have no confidence in the place's future and current state of affairs, and this is most definitely not the place I liked to post at c. 2004.

    I just would like to point out that I disagree with all the outcry over you deleting your own content, RC. As the owner of your contributions to the site, I believe you are completely entitled to do whatever you want with it. Sure, I or others may disagree with this move, but the ultimate bottom-line really is that "you got to do what you got to do." If you think this is necessary for you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, then so be it.

    And yes, there is a world of gaming after ENWorld, and a community beyond the internet drama going on between ENW, CM and SomethingAwful (or the RPGsite v. RPGnet, or the sporadic tempests in teaposts the OSR bloggites got accustomed to, etc.). I trust you will find life after ENW much more satisfying to your own gaming aspirations, RC, just like I did.

  27. It's so sad what is happening to the larger forum sites. It sounds like ENWorld has started to get infected with the same kind of control freak thinking that has deeply poisoned the well at

    It's like a weird little behaviour study. Once a forum gets to a certain size, the mods seem to grow, the rules grow and the mods become more and more obsessed with control and power for its own sake. They are supported by a loud clique of sycophants who back up their every move and then a relatively silent majority who just wants to hang out holds the whole thing up. The problem is that most of the interesting people are part of the group that are mature enough to not want to be told how they can interact with other human beings and those people start leaving.

    The pull from the success of other forms of social networking continues to draw these people out. Now I get why the OSR was all so pro-blog and anti-forum a few years ago.

  28. I am not sure that this is related to "control freak thinking" so much as a sense of entitlement that leads to wanting no controls over the behaviour of the site owner. I.e., self-moderation gets lost.

    Going through old posts as I have been doing brings the difference between then and now into sharp relief for me. EN World was a much better place when I first started posting.

    Discussions seem to have been far less about shouting the other person down, posters seemed more interested in being helpful and/or sharing material, and moderation seemed to be more even. In this last, I agree about "supported by a loud clique of sycophants"....

    ....and I thank Gary Gygax's 1e DMG for making me learn whay "sycophants" means!

  29. I started blogging to get away from the bullshit moderation over there.