Friday, 7 June 2019

On inappropriate content in games and where we as a community need to be going next...

So, my week has been completely mullered by the events that took place over Expo this year, we normally get some problems over Expo, some you can deal with easily, some are the sort of thing that you hope to only ever have to deal with once.  This is my personal thoughts (I do not speak for Expo in this) and resolutions from what happened.  Just for the record, I’d like to say that there hasn’t been a single waking hour that I’ve had in the last five days where something about this hasn’t come up, so I’m putting this out in the hope that it will stop some of the questions

On Friday evening, I was advised by a good friend (Thanks Anthony) that there had been a situation in one of the afternoon games whereby a GM went completely off the reservation and subjected the entire groups characters to gang rape and other things that shall not be mentioned.  In the seconds following reading the advisory, my immediate thoughts were both that I know the gm in question, and that it couldn’t have been true.

My investigation was swift and through, as I have always promised it would be, the GM in question did not dispute the charges and was summarily removed from the Expo so that no more harm could be done.  In the two days that followed, I spoke to all but one of the people who played in that game, and the general consensus was that they were all having an excellent time, when about two and a half hours in (the game finished at three hours), the GM made a shift in tone that none of them (or anyone who ever knew that GM) could have predicted, resulting in the horrible situation that all of them found themselves in.

I have to give every credit to the Expo Directors and the support team that we have in place to deal with anything like this, I was allowed to investigate and report back my findings and recommendations, and then they make the decision based on that and their own investigations.  The GM in question was removed from the Expo roster, the game he was running at the time was halted, all future games were pulled, and he was expelled from Expo.  Given that I am also RPG manager for Airecon, Dragonmeet, and Longcon, he will also be pulled from those conventions for the foreseeable future, a question many have been asking.

What I need to address, in the aftermath of what happened and the resultant hysteria, is the truth of what happened, and what we as a community need to be doing, going forwards.

And we do need to go forwards.

I’ll start by saying that I have known this GM for more than a decade, he’s now been identified by someone who was seeking to use these events for their own publicity, whose name I won’t give out because it will give him the publicity he wants. Prior to that, the GM wasn’t named by Expo and he wasn’t going to be.  He always turns up to events on time, always runs his games, and until now, has never (at any event I’ve been running) had a complaint levelled at him or his style of gaming.  He’s worked for almost every games company out there, he’s done demo’s at nearly every shop out there, and he’s absolutely worked at every convention at one time or another, and up until now, never an issue.

Which is why it was such a shock.

I’ve been hearing a lot in the last few days about #Notinmygame and #Notatthiscon, and it’s missing the whole point of what happened here.  Someone who had a previously spotless record went completely off the board and betrayed the trust of everyone who’d ever known him, this behaviour was so far out of context that many refused to believe it was him. When we confirmed that it was him, we dealt with it immediately and without any consideration to the years of service that he’d put in for the roleplaying community.

Because when you do something like this, you have to be taken to task, the world has to see that we do not tolerate this sort of behaviour, not from a newbie running a first game, not from a person who’s put in decades of service, no one gets a free pass.  We have a duty to our players and to our community, and that cannot ever be forsaken.

But here’s the other thing, because social media is a wildfire, and I’ve seen so much unsubstantiated nonsense in the last few days that it beggars belief, so here’s the truth of it.

The reason why the Room Captain didn’t step in on the game when it went sideways is because the GM in question was the Room Captain, he’d earned that position with years of good work and trust.

The scenario as listed did not include anything about Gang Rape, and given that the setting deals with teenagers, would have been rejected had anything of a sexual nature been suggested by the scenario listings.  There are those who say that BBFC age rating guidelines should be used to assess the nature and content of games, and to those I would say that while it’s fine as a general guideline, there’s a massive difference between the content of Stir Crazy (Rated R) and Hostel (Rated R), and in this particular case, the description was deliberately vague.  This is not uncommon in game submissions, but going forwards, the description will have to match the scenario to try and head this sort of thing off.  As anyone who’s ever organised a convention will be able to tell the world, that will add a massive amount of work to the preparation of a good games schedule and even then, isn’t a guarantee that someone won’t go off the board.

The system and setting used for the game bear no responsibility for the scenario that was run using them.  There have been a number of people saying that certain game settings should be censored so that things like this can’t happen.  Roleplaying games occur in the boundless world of human imagination, anything can be done with any setting, Rule 34 really does exist, it’s not the setting that makes the scenario, it’s the person running the scenario.  If it wasn’t, Call of Cthulhu could never be run at a convention.

The reason it took Expo as long as it did to make a resolution on the situation was because the problem was reported over social media and not to Expo directly.  Nothing was reported to the Expo front desk, the Hilton Manager, or any of the roving staff.  There was an email sent to me directly, but that was sent more than half an hour after I’d been made aware of the situation and by then, I was already investigating. 

And that brings us to where we are now, a community still in shock about what’s been done, some people trying to profiteer off the controversy, and everyone looking around to see what we need to do next. 

What we need to do is act in a rational manner.

We need to vet games more carefully, the descriptions can’t be what they have been previously.
We need to ensure that everyone is familiar with what to do if there’s a problem (several cons I know already do this).
We need for people to know that we don’t stand for this, and I think that Expo’s response has gone a long way to letting people know that, but it needs to be everywhere.

What we don’t need is people spreading wild rumour and supposition, consider that I’ve had more than twenty people contact me, both at the show and afterwards, saying that they’d splashed the name of the GM out there, so as to make sure that they could never do it again…

Twelve of those people had the wrong name…

Now if you’re talking about someone cheating at a board game and getting caught, or storming off from a game because they didn’t like the ruling against them, that carries little weight in the non-gaming world.  An accusation like this one can have real and serious impact on that persons life, particularly when they aren’t the one that did it.

We need facts before we act on them…

The initial complaint wasn’t put in to the Expo team, it found its way to us half an hour later, after several people had pointed out that getting me involved in something like this was probably going to be a good idea.  I’m glad that someone pointed it out to me, because I’m not normally on twitter (and after this week, I’m turning it off again), so I didn’t see what had happened, and most of the Expo team work the whole weekend, so we don’t get chance to look for things like this. 

People need to let us know that a problem has occurred…

Please, if there’s a team at the convention, you take it to them, they’re the people most likely to know what to do in the situation and they’re absolutely the best people to talk to about it, because not a one of us does this for the pay, we do this because we want other gamers to have a great time, and when someone pulls something like this, it puts into jeopardy all the works that we’ve done before.  In my particular case, I offered my resignation when this came out because it happened on my watch.  Everyone in the world has told me that there was nothing I could have done with this, no way I could have seen, but it still happened on my watch and I feel responsible for it.

We are all responsible, these are our shows, our people, we are all responsible…

We do not stand for behaviour like this, and I’m glad it made the national news, because anyone looking can see that not only did it happen, but that it was stamped on hard and that the community does not stand for it.  A short while back, I did an interview with ENworld, the content of which can be found at with my comments on Harrassment policies being found around the 1:13 mark.  This was how things were back then, they are still my comments now, we did what I said we would, and we did it fast.

And that’s it for now, if anyone’s got any questions, please let me know, but if I don’t respond immediately, forgive me that, it’s been a very long week and there’s been a lot of questions.