There are moments in time where you declare that you will hold a position no matter what. You will not fall back. You pick your hill to die on. These can be dramatic and important moments. But there are other times when it is just as important to look back and realize how you ended up standing on that hill, and why you need to defend it.
When someone is comfortable, it is too easy for them to ignore the danger that others find themselves facing. A lot of us in the RPG hobby have been very comfortable for a very long time, and that means that we have allowed others to be subjected to dangers that they should never have faced.
Many of us have heard about people in the industry that are a problem. They are abusive and destructive. They treat those that they dislike terribly and make them fear for their safety using online terrorism. They make the RPG hobby a place that holds nothing for the victims of this abuse but regret. When these same abusers have any kind of gravitas in the RPG hobby, this also includes ruining careers and smashing dreams. Those abusers pull strings to make sure the industry regards these people as “unstable” or more “troublesome.”
The abusers are terrible. But many of us in the RPG hobby have seen these tactics used. Many of us know the people involved. But when it doesn’t involve us, the problem goes away. If we never had the sights set upon us, we can go back to whatever corner we call our own and live our lives. Others dread any interaction online. They worry about when the next shoe will drop. Will someone get them fired from a project? Will hundreds of people send threats of physical violence or death? Is that strange person across the street someone that found out their address — someone that has decided that online persecution isn’t enough?
The damage that is done by abusers often isn’t defined as a single terrible incident. Often, it is a long term pattern that does not abate. It’s harm that is revisited every time that person looks at the things they used to love. Beyond the fear of violence and death, it is the theft of part of who they are, something they cannot revisit on their own terms any longer.
For those of us that have always been comfortable, it is very easy to point at the abusers when they come to our notice and say, “isn’t that awful,” and go about our business. It is much harder for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I let this happen.” When the evidence of the abuser’s actions is not in front of us, we forget the abused and their daily contention with the effects of that abuse. We can turn away when they cannot. We are complicit.
It sounds heroic to pick a hill to die on. It’s a grand gesture. It’s the heroic finale. But one hero dying on a hill doesn’t create change. Building a safe community that doesn’t let someone stand on that hill alone is what we need. Having a community that looks out for their own, so that no pack of predators can come for our own is what is needed. We need communities where we don’t need martyrs to remind us of the dangers that exist.
Staring Down the Mirror
We need to make sure that the companies that we support are hiring diverse employees that are in positions of authority, so that they can understand the perspective of the marginalized. We need to listen to marginalized voices and believe them. We need to stop reflexively assuming that everything is fine unless presented with overwhelming evidence. When we are the ones in the comfortable position, we need to stop thinking that we, the comfortable, get to determine what constitutes real danger for the people in harm’s way.
Privilege is watching a fight from a distance and deciding if you want to participate. Privilege is showing up for the fight and assuming you will take the lead. Progress is knowing they are all your fights, and your job is to support others when they want to lead.
Too often, those of us that are comfortable descend from on high, get involved in one specific issue, then spend months patting ourselves on the back, while just behind it, more people are being abused and marginalized. This must end. No one deserves praise for doing what they should be doing. They just deserve to be chastised when they abdicate their responsibilities.
I have long believed that one of the greatest aspects of roleplaying games is the ability of these games to teach us empathy. We continually put ourselves in the place of people that are not who we are, in places we are not. If we cannot engage that fundamental skill to make the spaces where we play more inclusive and safer, we lose one of the most precious gifts that this hobby can give us.