Once again, the specter of harassment and bad behavior has reared its ugly head in the gaming community. This time it came to our doorstep.
For the first time since we opened up the Discord, we had to ban someone in March. The cause? Harassment of another Discord participant. And now the news has started circulating of Adam Koebel (of Dungeon World fame) forcing a sexual assault scene on an unwilling participant in an actual play. The entire thing was captured on video (I don’t really feel the need to link it here, but it’s out there) and his entire cast quit immediately afterward.
Unlike with Zak S, back around this time last year, I actually have had some interaction with Adam Koebel’s stuff (though not with him personally). I own Dungeon World in PDF and have actually recommended a product that plugs into it (albeit one made by an entirely different company). I long thought Dungeon World looked like a neat system and to put it lightly, it’s a bummer to hear this news about its creator. I don’t think I’ll ever be playing it now – there would be too much of a negative association for me.
Unlike Zak S, who folks at least knew as something of an edge-lord and prima donna, Koebel has enjoyed a pretty wholesome reputation until this recent incident. He even appeared on the War of the Spark pre-prerelease with Loading, Ready, Run almost exactly a year ago.
It’s also worth noting that Koebel’s misdeed, bad as it was, still doesn’t compare to Smith’s litany of them. Koebel (as of this writing) is not credibly accused of real-world sexual violence and abuse against multiple people over multiple years. But the incident in that actual play is still beyond the pale. The Discord participant we recently banned also constrained their activities (so far as we know, anyway) to online messaging.
But that’s actually the point. You don’t need to be a violent, predatory criminal do do lasting damage to relationships, communities, and your own reputation. So with that groundwork laid, here are the personal take-aways that I’ve taken from this pair of incidents.
- First and foremost, as always, don’t let this be you. It’s clear from watching the video that Koebel thought he was being funny, even though his players were clearly disturbed. He was not.
- Sexual content has an outsize ability to upset people and wound them psychologically. If you can leave it out of your games, (and usually you can) it’s probably best to do so, even if your group ostensibly doesn’t mind. Tread very carefully.
- While safety techniques are a good start, they only take you so far and are not a panacea. You also need to use them. Especially if you are the GM, you have a responsibility toward your players to look after their psychological well being at the table. “I was kidding” or “it was just in-game” are not alibis. Mild discomfort can sometimes be fixed with a conversation or an apology. But the discomfort from unwelcome sexual content is seldom mild. It cuts deeply into the human psyche.
- Keep your eyes open. I would have never expected Adam Koebel to be the latest high-profile RPG creator to have one of these moments, but it happened. I would have never expected to have to ban someone from the Saving the Game Discord, but that also happened.
- Harassment inside the fiction of the game is still harassment. We have been talking about bleed for years now, but this really drives it home.
- Furthermore, while God is forgiving and we as Christians are called to be, the internet is not. If you screw up and it becomes public, there is often no coming back from that. If your conscience doesn’t persuade you, let the consequences do that.
There’s also a second set of community management take-aways for this:
- If you are in charge of a community and hear about misconduct from your members, you need to clamp it down immediately. We issued a ban less than an hour after the conversation with the person who had been harassed by the former Discord participant came forward. Fortunately in our case, the bad actor had mostly removed themself by the time a victim came to us with it, but in a situation where things are “live” and ongoing, you need to put the fire out right away.
- This may sound harsh, but a Discord, forum, or other internet community is not a court of law. You do not need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to ban someone. A credible report is enough. More than one credible report is more than enough. Frankly, in some cases the proof may be more than you want to see anyway.
- When you do have to act, let the rest of the community know. You don’t need to name names where the bad actor is concerned, and you should never name victims unless they specifically ask you to with no prodding from you or your moderators, but it builds trust with the remaining community to know that you are actually enforcing your rules and is also a necessary bit of transparency.
- At the same time, avoid making the buzz around moderation, banning, and other forms of community policing a protracted thing. Make an announcement, let people know what happened, allow the initial wave of comments, and then move on. You’re trying to establish that the rules have teeth, not create a hotbed of gossip. If the conversation really drags on or you see a lot of speculation, you may want to clamp that down as well.
- If someone is a known bad actor, eject them from everything you have control over. Unfortunately in my case, the bad actor from our Discord was part of my Sunday game group’s Discord server at one point as well, though they had left the game. I had a conversation about the fact that they were not allowed to return there either after the banning from the Saving the Game Discord.