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Forge Hubris

Started by ethan_greer, April 30, 2004, 03:31:25 AM

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So over in another thread, Chris Pramas wrote:

QuoteAnd I think this comment typifies the self-congratulatory hubris I see at the Forge all the time. Some of you have found satisfaction selling products in new ways (PDFs, POD books via direct sales, etc.). Good for you. All hail the DIY spirit. I'm totally down with it. However, it's often coupled with a contempt for other approaches, and the seemingly constant need to reinforce the idea that "we rule, they drool."

What the fuck?  This caught me totally off guard. I must admit I don't see what Chris is seeing at all.

Now, here's the question: Is a calm, rational, and objective discussion about this issue desirable? And if so, is it possible?

Jack Spencer Jr

I have a take on it, but it looks to me to be something should hash out in private message a bit. I think both have fairly good point but are a little callous towards the other's position.

Ron Edwards

It's projection. I replied in more detail in the source thread.


Matt Snyder

My thoughts exactly, Ethan. I *think* I see where Chris is coming from. I also think he's sorely misinterpreting some signals. Well, either that or I'm blinded by hubris, in which case I'd have no idea.

But, I don't easily dismiss this as a "no biggie" or an "agree to disagree" case. That's because Chris runs a significant player in the RPG industry. If there's a perception among that establish that the Forge is a big Fuck You, then we BOTH lose out (we being us, the Forge, and them, the industry ... whatever the hell that includes!). They lose out of what I consider to be the finest concentrated think-tank on what the activity of role-playing is all about. I think they should be paying very close attention to what's going on here. Meanwhile, we miss out on their support, their viability, and their capability to connect the marketplace toegether with exciting products. There are many other reflexive benefits, I'm sure.

I consider it a shame that more industry folks aren't more recognizably involved here. I *sense* -- even more so after Chris' comments -- that there's some unspoken or unconscious understanding that participating on the Forge as a significant industry person is either sleeping with the enemy or playing jr. varsity ball. Both are bullshit, and that perception -- if it indeed exists -- needs to get lost.

How that gets done, I'm not sure. That's because if one DOES participate here on the Forge community, most perceptions are pretty easily swept away. And if one does NOT participate here on the Forge, this community's ability to rectify that perception is extremely limited.

If you like the Forge, keep on keeping on. Be a good ambassador to what it stands for in other communites, please! That said, call a spade a spade. Don't kiss ass. But, I don't see any need to relish our alleged punk identity for its own sake, either.
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

Ron Edwards


Somewhere, somehow, somebody got the idea that I'm getting soft. This is long overdue: a message to any "industry" folks considering posting at the Forge.

1. Your "pro" status means not a damn thing except as a source of information, support, and participation in discourse. In other words, it's exactly equivalent to anyone else's status here.

Peter Adkison, for instance, understands that perfectly. He gains respect here because he posts in order to contribute to Forge-ish publishers' specific needs, to learn stuff from others who have different viewpoints, and to explain things that he has special knowledge of. Is he handing down The Truth from Ye Great Publisher? Is he, on the other hand, humble and supplicative? No, he is neither. He has respect, and that "has" goes both ways.

Many other names could be listed here in this vein, all to their credit and all to the immense benefit and appreciation of everyone who's interacted with them.

2. "Industry" lists and websites are characterized by an especially poisonous brand of geeky sarcasm, often based on catching one another in mistakes of memory or phrasing, and full of snide put-downs. It's frankly intolerable and embarassing to read the mailings from the lists I'm on, most of the time.

Such behavior is completely unacceptable here. The Forge is not an arena for expertise-wars or for escalating points-at-hand into put-down wars. I'll come down on it like a ton of bricks as moderator.

3. The term "independent" means something very specific here: creator ownership and control. It doesn't mean "automatically better" or "fuck you" or anything like that. Yeah, you'll see pride, and you'll see some strong criticisms of what the "industry" seems to embrace as success. You'll have to deal with that as you see fit.

Remember: no one asked you to come here. No one makes you read, and no one makes you post. If you're reading, that means you think the posts have something to offer you, and you should acknowledge what that is in your replies; if you're posting, that means you are committing to contributing constructively, especially when offering corrections or more accurate knowledge. Just like anyone else.



allow me to play devil's advocate, here, and suggest what it is I think some people see as the "elitism" or "smug superiority" (or "hubris") of the Forge, while simultaneously explaining why I don't think the position holds.

when someone who greatly respects the major RPG publishers reads The Forge, they notice two things: the tendency of indie designers to put "industry" in quotes or otherwise question the special place of the major publishers, and the occasional, but recurring, WotC/WW/SJG bashing that some people engage in.

now, the "industry" bashing is really restricted to specific people with specific opinions and is not really "Forge opinion". furthermore, someone will usually call the bashers on this behavior. oftentimes, it's Ron, but other people will occasionally step in and say "no, there's nothing wrong with d20, it appeals to some people... no, some people like White Wolf's metaplot books..." and so on, trying to get the discussions back onto some kind of constructive track.

the other side of the coin -- questioning whether the RPG "industry" deserves that name, questioning whether the big publishers are really doing as well as people claim, straightening out perceptions of what constitutes success, etc. -- all comes from a different mindset than the industry-bashing. the *entire* RPG publishing "industry", from the smallest indie up to WotC, is actually very puny compared to the mainstream publishing industry, the music industry, or the film industry. we're *miniscule* compared to those guys.

now, the indie people certainly realize that the big RPG publishers produce slick products, have actual employees and a stable business structure, and deal with a whole lot more money than any indie company does. nobody questions that. what people do question is that the big RPG publishers are really big players, in the larger media picture. WotC, WW, and SJG are certainly big, but you will notice that they publish novels and artbooks in addition to games; this is hy they can afford to be bigger than the rest. but even the biggest, WotC, is still small fry in the publishing industry.

what I think Chris/Pramas and others see when they look at discussions on the Forge is people are saying something about the big players not really being as big or successful as they claim, which the "industry" people feel is meant to be a belittling commentary on WotC, a sort-of "fox-and-grapes" backlash by "little" people against the big publishers. that's because "industry" people think of it as "big rpg publisher versus little competitors" and don't realize the "indie" people are talking about "rpg publisher versus mainstream media". we're all in the same boat together.

but because "industry" sympathizers feel putting "industry" in quotes is disrepctful and intended as an insult, it's easy for them to perceive this as being linked to or no different from the d20 bashers or WoD bashers... and since the latter people really *are* hostile to "the industry", it makes a sympathizer feel angrier and angrier at "those Forge elitists".

but again, bashing the biggies is not the same as examining the biggies with a critical eye. the bashers *are* frowned upon here. and it's certainly not hubris to say that the big RPG publishers really aren't that big, nor are their standards of success the only standards possible. (hmmm, interesting choice of words, "hubris"; that's what mere mortals have when they "forget their place" and "challenge the gods"...)

so here is my suggestion: we should all be a little more careful about encouraging actual bashing and make it clear that we don't condone it. we should make every attempt to turn any thread derailed by bashing back onto a constructive topic, making it clear why. and, when we talk about standards of success or effectiveness of large-scale versus indie tactics, we should choose our language and our tone of voice carefully, to make it clear we aren't belittling anyone, but honestly and truly examining publishing strategies to understand what we can do, given our position and resources.
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:


John, Ethan:

In reading your replies, I think you've laid out a very intelligent, well-defended argument against the existence of hubris, as it may or may not exist on the Forge.  Which is good.

John, you've also mentioned that the "bashers" are the things that could be giving the site some negative reputation.  I don't think this is true.  In the first, I am a pretty openly vocal bastard about my opinions regarding d20 and the three-tier distribution system... I'll occasionally even give people reasons and defend those reasons in intelligent discourse.  I really don't think that this is what gives the Forge a bad reputation (if such a thing exists).  Hell, I stand all by myself in my positions, and I don't think many people are inclined to think that such verbalization is indicative of the site as a whole.  I REALLY don't think we need one of those dumbass-disclaimers saying: "the opinions expressed in this commentary are in no way endorsed by, or reflective of the views of, Fox Home Video".  I have more faith in people that come here than that (lurker or no).

I, personally, feel that there is a lot of "arcanization" (which I made-up because I can) of RPG design that happens here.  The GNS model is rather straight forward, which is great, hit-the-ground-running style thinking.  Color, pervy, straight (soon, perhaps male, female, or neuter?)...  all of this makes me feel like I am applying for some position in a Baptist community (no offense to communities).  This terminology can be something that drives people crazygonuts (it sure as hell can for me).  I've advocated ideas such as: for each new term created, the creator must create a game showcasing this term; or similar thoughts... which I love, but I can understand people having problems with it.

The other thing that I think people can become confused/intimidated/and-therefore-pissed at is that the Forge has a policy on posting and formulating public thoughts... and it sure as fuck adheres to them.  Little posted indicators of "see previous threads X, Y, Z" can seem, to some, like a slap on the wrist.  In fact, I see even the "regulars" here posting little "sorry, my bad" replies when Ron tosses one of these out.  

Don't fucking apologize... you haven't fucked up... yet.

By posting related thread links, Ron creates a nice living and evolving library.  These links almost NEED to be in a thread because of the Forge policy of not posting to "dead threads".  This way, a discussion can be had, resuming an old thread's thoughts, and taking them in digressive, or at least new, areas.  Nothing wrong with that.  SO STOP SAYING SORRY, acknowledge the gesture and time Ron spent (which is next-to-nil, the guy practically memorizes every thread) digging archived threads up and continue forward.

So, to sum:
-d20 and the like bashing: I do it... whenever I feel it is appropriate, and sometimes when it's not.  But, I really don't think, gauging by the sheer number of emails I get from people saying "it seems unprofessional for a "professional" publisher to be bashing other games and systems", I wouldn't worry about it coming back on you or the Forge.

-Arcanization and Forge posting policy can be daunting to some people.  Rather than ignore forums that scare or annoy them, some people bitch about them.  Who cares?

-Chris Pramas is a rather savvy guy who doesn't say things he doesn't mean... so chances are, his post is about something REAL.  I like Chris.

-d20 is a bad, bad man.

-the 3-tier system is like Jesus: an outmoded freak that everyone knew needed to be pinned down and taught a lesson. (again, no offense toward freaks) (anyone who cannot laugh at that last little bit really needs to cut down on coffee... and definitely NEVER read anything I publish)



I can't speak for Chris, but I CAN say that I've experienced the first two points that Ron mentioned firsthand, and it can be a factor. There are people in the industry who believe that if you're not pushing thousands of units, you don't count for anything, and it's hubris for us at the Forge to think that our opinion means anything. These same people (again, as I've encountered them, mostly outside the Forge) get very angry if you don't give them "respect", which seems to mean if you try to treat them as equals (i.e. you don't immediately kowtow to them), they get angry. Their method of discourse does consist of snide put-downs -- again, I've encountered this personally. I have to admit, sorta shamefully, that I've responded in kind before, though never (that I remember) on the Forge. Being a computer guy, it's tough for me to resist geeky sarcasm, but I try to put on a different hat when I'm at the Forge.

That said, I do think such people are a minority, albiet a vocal one, and I'm not saying that Chris is one of them -- this is the first time I've "talked" to Chris. Perhaps he's seeing something I don't. Like Ron, I recognize the people on here who are polite and courteous, and provide us with insider knowledge and insight without expecting special treatment for good or ill.

As for the "bashing" that John mentions, I think it's a matter of people getting the wrong signals, and, like Ron says, projection. I know I'm percieved in some quarters as someone who "bashes" White Wolf, because of my feelings on metaplot, despite the fact that several times I've praised White Wolf's actions in other quarters, and even defended Vampire: the Masquerade against Ron's charges of GNS incoherency. (Hell, a lot of my metaplot comments were more inspired by the Deadlands metaplot, but no Deadlands fan or developer has ever yelled at me for it.) I've even defended d20 on these fora, so for someone to think I'm contempuous of the "big guys" is amazing to me. But in the sort of environment Ron refers to, which is unfortunately very common on the Internet, people often interpret any sort of criticism as an attack. (And, to come clean, sometimes is is an attack -- I admit to stooping to it outside the Forge, in reaction to the way I was treated. It's so tough to maintain Forge-like composure in a more hostile environment... But even then, criticism, no matter how phrased, isn't always an attack.)

Also, another thing: It seems that if you hang out on the Forge, you're considered (again, by some people, not by everyone) to represent it, which is something I never considered until recently. So, if you blow up outside the Forge, people think you're representing the Forge when you do so, which pretty much amounts to the same sort of thing "any given black person represents all black people" but even more silly. So, perceptions of "hubris" may come from certain individuals being confused with the whole.

(I do agree that the use of "hubris" is interesting -- it implies the big game companies are "gods", which strikes me as an assertion that requires certain amount of hubris on its own. However, it's a common enough hyperbole, so I'm inclined to give Chris the benefit of the doubt on it.)
love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT


Etymology aside, hubris is defined in the dictionary as "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." I doubt very much that Chris meant to imply that he or other major players in gaming are gods. Heh.  It'd be pretty funny if he actually did mean it that way.

And yeah, it's interesting to see how those accustomed to other internet forums, newsgroups, mailing lists, etc. adjust (or not) to the Forge standards of discourse.

Basically, anything else I had to express on this topic has been hit by others.


Hi folks,

I think quite a few things link into the perception of arrogance of the Forge:

•Outside the Forge, often people will get into emotional arguments or personal attacks, which are common on the internet.  This eventually all boils down to, "You moron!"

•The Forge is very pro Indie, pro GNS, but not necessarily anti-anything.  Often people assume Pro X means Anti-Y, which is not necessarily the case.

•The etiquette here does not tolerate those emotional based attacks.  Some folks come here and feel that no one is listening and that they are being shut down, because that is their expected means of communication.   Ironically, emotional attacks are based in not listening.

•Also, with that, several folks will cut away non-relevant topics to a given issue, pretty quickly, which also makes people feel as if they are being shut down, when in fact, the goal is to focus the discussion.

Actually, the real source of contraversy can usually be traced back to one of two general ideas:

-"There is more than one way to play, and all are potentially valid"
-"Discussion can only happen when both parties are willing to take effort to understand the other side"

We can't control what happens outside the Forge, and there's no reason to even sweat that.  We also cannot control what happens when people chose to take issue with either of the two previous ideas.  We can control what is here, and I think everyone here gets a fair shake, a solid welcome, and often folks are willing to go out their way to help a person orient themselves in whatever regard they're interested in.  

If anyone thinks more than that can be done, I'm all ears.


Jason Lee

Quote from: talysmanwhen someone who greatly respects the major RPG publishers reads The Forge, they notice two things: the tendency of indie designers to put "industry" in quotes or otherwise question the special place of the major publishers, and the occasional, but recurring, WotC/WW/SJG bashing that some people engage in.

I protest!  I haven't seen any bashing of SJG games here...

Seriously though, I feel it's my civic duty to point out that there is a certain amount of elitism here on the Forge.  If you step back and look at the big picture, there is a lot of talk about the "industry", "traditional roleplaying", "mainstream gamers", and how approaches discussed on the Forge are better than the aforementioned things.

It may be the same sort of elitism that an auto mechanic has towards how you care for your car, but "you're doing it wrong, this is the right way" still comes off as elitism.  This is especially slippery with the topic of RPG's, because you can't point to solid proof quite as easily.

So, yeah, there is elitism in the form of 'the traditional way of doing things is wrong'.  Sure, it's academic and well thought out, but that doesn't make it seem any less condescending.

With a group image it's not like you can point out specific statements and say "that's an elitist statement" - it's an overall impression.

Honestly, I'll take the elitism, because it comes with the critical thinking.
- Cruciel

Matt Snyder

Jason, I believe there's a profound distinction between elitism and criciticism of dysfunctional traditions.

The difference? The elitist says things are broken because he wishes to make himself look good/better/cool/whatever. The critic says things are broken because they are broken. That is "comes off as elitism" is says far more about the person "receiving" that behavior than the person "exhibitng" that behavior. What it says isn't flattering, I think.

This preceding paragraph is simply another way of expressing the point of Ron and others in this thread have made (including myself, indirectly).

In other words, I don't think there's any need to take the elitism so you can get the critical thinking, too. That's because it assumes that this community, taken as a whole, does indeed condone -- or even perform -- subversive, conscious behavior (i.e. elitism) meant to subjugate the majority of the hobby. I just don't see it.

Hubris? Think that if you like. I can't stop you. I conduct myself in a self-respecting manner, and in a manner that respects others both on and off the Forge. I think this community as a whole does a pretty good job of doing that, too.
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

M. J. Young


When I was in law school, I made the comment to one of my classmates that the average intelligence of law school students was undoubtedly higher than the average intelligence of the population at large. She then demonstrated that I was mistaken by arguing that the example of a certain very intelligent individual of her acquaintance had never continued his education beyond high school.

Note the heavy sarcasm on my part.

I had not argued that all people in law school are smarter than all people not in law school; that would have been very foolish, given the number of very intelligent people just in other graduate schools. I only argued that, given that to be there a student had to 1) be accepted into a college; 2) graduate from that college; 3) believe oneself smart enough to succeed in law school; 4) get a strong score on a post-graduate exam; 5) be accepted into the school; and 6) still be there, there was good reason to think that the average intelligence of law school students was higher than the average intelligence of people generally. Nothing said there weren't very smart people who never finished eighth grade, even, or that there weren't a few people in law school who weren't even bright enough to recognize what was being argued there.

In a sense, that makes law school students a kind of elite.

Forge participants are also a kind of elite. You have to be smart enough and/or determined enough to stick with some of the stuff here, to "get it". You have to be open to dialogue, willing both to contribute and to evaluate the contributions of others, to interact on subjects on which you might well have a strong opinion. You have to have a sufficiently focused interest in role playing games that it's worth your while to do these things. That makes us a kind of elite.

It does not mean that there aren't smart determined people open to dialogue and interaction even when they have strong opinions who are highly focused on role playing games that are not Forge participants. I'm always encouraged when I see someone appear here who is such a person, but I know there are more out there who for one reason or another aren't here.

It does not mean that everyone here is so smart or determined or interactive or focused as some average gamer somewhere else. It only means that on average, these qualities, being very much in demand here, are very strongly represented in the select population here.

On the other hand, I've never seen any post which appeared to me to be trying to push someone away. The attitude here would seem to be, Yes, we are an elite group of gamers; come be part of it.

If elitism is believing that you are part of a special group, we're guilty of it here; the very fact that we talk about ourselves as a group demonstrates this. If elitism is believing that we are automatically better than those who are not part of the group, I don't see it. I do see Forge members becoming frustrated with people outside the group who are against some of the ideas that we have shared and expounded here, but that happens all the time whether or not you're part of a group.

--M. J. Young

John Kim

Quote from: Bankuei•The Forge is very pro Indie, pro GNS, but not necessarily anti-anything.  Often people assume Pro X means Anti-Y, which is not necessarily the case.
Quote from: Bankuei-"There is more than one way to play, and all are potentially valid"
-"Discussion can only happen when both parties are willing to take effort to understand the other side"

We can't control what happens outside the Forge, and there's no reason to even sweat that.  We also cannot control what happens when people chose to take issue with either of the two previous ideas.  We can control what is here, and I think everyone here gets a fair shake, a solid welcome, and often folks are willing to go out their way to help a person orient themselves in whatever regard they're interested in.  

If anyone thinks more than that can be done, I'm all ears.
Well, while the Forge doesn't have an official position anti-anything, in practice the people here are on average pretty negative about mainstream RPGs -- not just saying "I don't like mainstream RPGs", but going further to say some fairly pointed terms like delusion, cowardice, selfishness, self-blinding distraction, and others.  

Now, that's actually fine.  People are entitled to their opinions -- and I think that there is basis behind some of these.  However, if we are going to allow this sort of negative sentiment about mainstream RPGs and their industry, we have to accept that industry people are entitled to say equivalent things about the Forge.  I would prefer there to be more positive sentiment both ways, but as long as people can communicate in accord with the policies I think they can and should express themselves.  In this, I think Chris Pramas' comments were negative but still fairly and soundly expressed.  The Forge can and should criticize the industry, and in turn it should be gracious in accepting criticism of itself.
- John


I think it's more the attitude that conventional RPG's are doing there thing, many of them doing it extremely well, but that their "thing" involves a lot of conventions and assumptions that many of us find restrictive to many valid ways to play.

And Hubris? In my case, hell yes. No design credits behind me, regular impressions of Ego, the living planet... But Le Forge, ce n'est pas moi.
Pete Darby