Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Pros' Open Letter: A Case Study in Allies Missing the Point

I’ll join the chorus of applause for the empathy and good intentions on display in “An Open Letter to the Magic Community By VariousMagic Pros”.  Moving a step or two beyond intentions, into the ideas and action plans these allies have presented, I will be holding my applause. 

You Almost Never Solve a Problem without Locating It First

I saw at least one screenshot of an MTGHeadquarters tweet about Christine Sprankle that I found deeply troubling. 





(h/t to Drew Levin who when asked for evidence of abuse showed how easy it was to find it). 


The video has been taken down, but I don’t think it’s hard to see how tagging someone @[theirhandle] into a discussion about cosplayers being raped with the intention of annoying/trolling that person crossed the line into online harassment and bullying.  I won’t be contorting myself to defend this, and if I could snap my fingers and have this never happen again, I would.  People asked, and are still asking, “Was this actually a big deal?”  And I think it was.

The Pros’ letter states,

“The online harassment she has been receiving is demeaning to her as a cosplayer, content producer, and member of the Magic community. Unfortunately, Christine is one of many people whose enthusiasm for Magic has been negatively impacted by pervasive cynicism and bullying.” (emphasis mine)

Wait a minute.  “Pervasive cynicism and bullying?”  Those aren’t close to the same thing.  The Professor understood this, and in his video was clear and deliberate in identifying himself as a critic and saying he was speaking out about bullying, not about criticism.  What The Professor was wise to articulate, the Pros completely missed. 

A bit further down, the Pros offer,

“Everyone should be able to engage with the game however they see fit—whether that’s playing casually with friends at home, competitively at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, judging tournaments, cosplaying as their favorite characters, streaming on Twitch, or any of the million other ways people enjoy this great game. These are all equally valid. It is unacceptable to treat any of these interests as below yours.”  (emphasis mine).

This is now a full bait-and-switch.  People said the issue wasn’t that serious, this group of Pros and others on Twitter responded (and I believe demonstrated) that it was serious, and now when it’s time to propose a solution we are talking about elitism and rudeness regarding cosplay and commander as inferior hobbies? 

The implication here is that Christine Sprankle stormed off upset that her interests weren’t being treated seriously enough.  In fact, she left the community because she was being insulted, personally and professionally, and harassed.  If you aren’t speaking to what she actually faced, you aren’t supporting her, and you minimize abuse whenever you put it in the same bucket as ordinary criticism/elitism/fandom. 

I was pretty surprised to see the press release about a new coalition against bullying not even wait 3 paragraphs before treating cynicism and elitism as bullying.  Usually people wait until at least the second article to make it clear that they don’t understand what they ought to be targeting, don’t have a real solution to the issues they need to target, and are left with a plan that is ineffective where you need it and problematic where you don’t. 

The players here have good intentions.  But allies need to be reminded over and over again that good intentions aren’t enough.  This group of Pros didn’t even speak to the underlying ideology and culture that led to the bullying Sprankle faced.  Worse yet, they pointed to an ideology of gaming elitism which I believe distracts us from the deplorable conduct of MTG Headquarters that was not motivated by that kind of fandom-elitism stuff. 

If you’re being harassed at an event, there is a judge and event staff already there to help you, and they are much, much easier to identify than even top pros like Immanuel Gerschenson.  Judges and Staff may even be trained on how to properly respond - go to them.  With this letter, the Pros add to volumes of other work by well-intentioned allies producing content that doesn’t understand or speak to the issues that matter.  

Specifics of What the Pros Decided Not to Speak To 

Jeremy at MTG Headquarters / Unsleeved Media holds regressive and hateful views towards women evidenced by the way he discussed cosplay and its fans, up to and including a discussion of rape where he tagged a subject of that discussion (see screenshot, above).  He uses the terminology and the thinking of the internet alt-right, and this thinking is toxic (specifically, it is a bunch of immature people more interested in trolling and being un-PC than in finding a better path forward for the societies we live in - the people not even trying). 

Jeremy was willing to name his target.  The Pros were willing to name her too.  We should be willing to name Jeremy too.  And to name what he has done, not create some sugar-coated approximation about which hobbies someone treats with equal regard.  We should speak out not about “cynicism” generally, but about the kind of unproductive and immature swarm of negativity this era of online trolls is infamous for personally aiming at vulnerable targets.  And if we have solutions to propose while invoking the name of an online harassment victim, they ought to be solutions that address what her harasser did, what motivated him, and/or what control we have over whether he can do it again tomorrow.  


39 comments:

  1. Points well-made and taken. Our letter was not perfect, but I stand by it. Perhaps with the benefit of time or a PR department, we might've chosen slightly different phrasing. But the message was in support of inclusion and positivity and I'm proud of it.

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    1. Supporting inclusion and positivity is fine, and something to be proud of. But opposing what Jeremy did and does to people like Christine and Emma and Erin is not 'supporting inclusion and positivity' it is opposing oppression, harassment and toxic behavior.

      A letter in support of Christine that supports positivity and inclusion that doesn't also condemn oppression, harassment and toxic behavior isn't useful.

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    2. This letter is not written in stone. I imagine it was worked on carefully and I am not discrediting the effort and intent at all, but part of this process is that--when points are well-made and taken--that we need to listen and adjust and edit and be open to further discussion so that we go about this in the best way possible, especially if that's not the first way.

      Hammering something like this down with everyone's voice is impossible and decisions do have to be made if this type of process moves forward, magic is not a democracy it's a hobby, but in the spirit of letters let your post not be on where this letter is nailed on, but folded into an envelope awaiting a response with more ideas that are either good or bad but are at least implemented or ignored if they are one or the other.

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  2. Hi
    I would like to preface my comment by saying English is not my first language. Therefore it is totally possible that I was unable to follow your train of thought.

    Because of this I would like to ask you:
    1.) While I understand that a focused effort to speak up against harassment and maybe not dilute this movement by going against "critism" as a whole, I do not get your point of pointing it out specifically. Do you feel it sends the wrong message and/or leads to confusion of the main point?
    2.) is it your desire to outlaw people like Jeremy and shun them from our community? If yes, I am not sure if your method (calling those people out) is the right way. I don't have THE SOLUTION, but giving people who show harassing behavior a forum or a reason to be defensive is the opposite of what I believe will work. This is a really hard problem for which I am not even sure there exists a solution....

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  3. I call out MTGHeadquarters for his actions. He is awful, regressive, cruel, obnoxious and every other unpleasant adjective that has been used to describe him recently.

    Now what? Let's ban him from twitter! Oh, he made a new twitter... Let's ban him from youtube! Oh, he made a new youtube... Let's ban him from MTG! Oh, he doesn't really attend events anyway... Let's, um... We should... Uh...

    We should all make an effort to make the community better, that is what the open letter from the pros was about. That's how we deal with this. Hunting down an asshole will not stop him from being an asshole. Kill the problem with kindness.

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  4. I do find it funny to see Owen Turtenwalds name on the letter. I have witnessed multiple instances of him belittling and harrassing children at GPs. He is a great player but I have seen too many instances where he personally takes it upon himself to degrade his opponents and their plays. If he reserved this kind of crap for adults then I would care but the last GP Dallas I attended (2014 I think) I saw him degrading a young boy probably under 16 because the kid "lucked out.". He is a poor sport and should really examine his own tendency to be abusive before he jumps on the virtue signal express.

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    1. Are people not able to improve in your eyes? Surely that is the entire point? People like Owen and Efro have seemingly gotten a lot better with that side of their personality as time has gone by. Heck, Gerry T recently put it into article form about his own self improvement. I'd recommend you take a moment to actually try and work out whether people have actually had some introspection before you condemn them for incidents from years past.

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    2. Efro has shown maturity and a willingness to admit he was wrong over the last couple of years in public forums. Where have we seen this from Owen?

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    3. Furthermore, being willing to call out this jackass in public is easy and correct. It’s harder for them to call out other pros and friends in public for elitist attitudes or similar flaws. That is something I’d like to see more of. The only opinion that matters to a lot of grinders and pros are the people they consider their peers.

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    4. I personally witnessed Owen lose a win and (probably) in for Top 8 at GP OKC a couple years back. Brutally close Affinity mirror match. He was obviously upset with the result. He shook his opponents hand, genuinely wished him luck, and got up. A little kid immediately ran up to him and asked him to sign a playmat. Owen smiled, signed the playmat, and took the time to talk to the kid right after this heartbreaking loss. Everyone has moments that they probably wish they acted differently, including "pros".

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  5. I don't believe the wording was perfect, and perhaps it could have been worked on a little more- but I think the showing of a united front among the high level players in the game against harassment is important. These people, (because it's not just Jeremy), need to see a positive example from their peers, and those they might actually look up to. I think this statement helps that, to at least a small degree. Silence gives them enough doubt to construct a false narrative about their motives and feelings.

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  6. Why are you conflating cynicism and criticism?

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  7. I'm inclined to be charitable to the pros about the lack of a call-out and assume the letter was intended to stand outside this situation. However, I strongly agree about the importance of precision. Eliding the distinction between criticism, condescension, and actual harassment is what lets bona fide harassers hide behind the label of "contrarian" or "critic." Removing harassers from the community will require acknowledging the distinction between "abrasive," "unpleasant," and genuine malicious, targeted harassment.

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  8. How did you manage to talk about them missing the point and still not talk about gender and women in gaming, my dude

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    1. What exactly are you asking for here?

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  9. The letter essentially said "This kind of behavior is unacceptable and we, as prominent members of this community, are against it and will do what is in our power to prevent and/or eliminate it". It's a declaration that the signers of the letter find this sort of behavior repugnant.

    When you're on the wrong side of behavior like Jeremy's (and his adherents'), the knowledge that the behavior is *not* universally approved of can be an important aid to coming forward, or just ignoring it and working around.

    As a female Magic player, it's nice to have it affirmed that there's a reasonably large section of the hobby community who are not personally affected the attitude demonstrated by Jeremy (and those like him), but who are a) against it, b) willing to be publicly against it, and c) happy to have my back when (and it's a "when", not an "if", even still) the Jeremys of the hobby show up.

    Jeremy isn't the first - or the worst - and won't be the last. Naming him specifically just ties the show of support to this particular incident. There have been others before (so many others) and there will be others after this - a show of support that isn't indelibly linked to this particular jackhole has value of its own.

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    1. I think that's fair. Had I been involved in this project, my advice would have been that the letter can take one of two forms, 1) "Dozens of women have personally shared their stories with members of this group, here is what they described, here is what we are doing about it." OR 2) "Let's discuss Christine Sprankle, MTGHQ, and online bullying, here is what we are doing about it." But the version they published really split the baby in ways that I tried to highlight, which undermine it's clarity and effectiveness.

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  10. Matt is correct when he says that the letter misses the mark and even why it does so. Intentions =/= actions. In this case it's worse because a considerable amount of hullabaloo has been raised over some stupid words written by a classic "Dick from the internet" type who now is feasting on the outrage of the woke progressives Wizards has decided to court as a core constituency.

    Without saying anything about the merits of kitchen table Magic (basically what keeps the game alive) or internet fandom (of which Sprankle is a creation) I really don't know what weight a list of well-regarded pro Magic players have on this particular topic, as it seems outside of their lane: which is the playing of Pro Magic: the Gathering.

    What's next? Are the wokest among them going to tell us how to vote as well, and kindly inform us we're not welcome to play Magic if we hold heterodox opinions about transsexuals, tax policy or Donald Trump? That would be stupid and wrong and nobody ought to do it because for years, Magic was something outside of all of that crap. Now, it's being dragged in and force-fed to people who have no interest in doing anything other than casting some spells and getting away from all of that rot on a Friday night.

    Nobody should be harassed at a Magic tournament for any reason and the judges and staff should see to it that the physical security of their players is a top priority. But the internet is different. It's also awesome in that you can press the "block" button on FB Twitter and various other platforms and ignore Dick.

    If you don't like what someone is saying... Don't listen. Don't watch. And for God's sake don't act offended if you watch something that you don't like or hear opinions that differ from your own.

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    1. I agreed with you about how we shouldn't stoop to harassment for any reason, and that simply having unpopular opinions isn't a good reason to push someone out of a community. However, on your last point, there's one problem that a lot of people overlook. It's easy to ignore a comment if it's one "Dick from the internet" who you can just block and never think about again. But when aforementioned "Dick from the internet" has an audience of over a hundred thousand people who he encourages (explicitly or not) to emulate his behavior, it's less easy. People often dismiss and discredit cases of high-profile online harassment by treating it like day-to-day online harassment, which can be pretty easily solved by using the fabled "Block" button that some people apparently have such a hard time finding.

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    2. I don't disagree that the internet enables people to behave in ways that they would likely never act in real life, and that recruiting a troll army is easier today than it was in 1997.

      I just don't know what this group of pros was hoping to accomplish with this missive. Obvious statements are obvious, I guess? Add in the fact that there was no solution or mitigation to the problem proposed. It's a problem everywhere and I don't necessarily blame them for not being philosopher Kings who have convenient answers to long-simmering problems.

      I can say that they may open themselves up to criticism for stepping out of their recognized milieu and bringing very little to the table.

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    3. Worth noting is that content creators have never had the sorts of direct line between themselves and their consumers in the past and the removal of those barriers isn't necessarily always a positive thing.

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    4. Unfortunately he has enough followers that his harsh criticism result in brigading and collectively amount to actual harassment. Blocking him is easy but expecting her to block all of his followers that have harassed is a big ask.

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  11. I don't give a fuck about how another person feels. Why should I?

    What's more important to me is the right to think whatever I want, and say whatever I think.

    If I think emma handy is a man, I will say so. If I think a cosplayer should quit, I will say so. If I think jeff hooglands kids aren't his, I will say so.

    That's what freedom is. If you don't like what I have to say don't talk to me. Ideas are separate from their sources so if an opinion offends, then it has nothing to do with the source of said opinion. Fuck everyone who wants bans, and censorship.

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    1. https://xkcd.com/1357/

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    2. just want to echo this comment... starting a witch hunt over dumb shit for what???

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    3. People who don't care about how other people feel are called narcissistic or antisocial, and they are seriously ill people who will have trouble forming relationships and getting along in the world for their entire lives. Good thing you get to think and say whatever you want, because you'll be the only one listening to your bullshit.

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    4. The issue isn't the hateful ideas, it's how they're disseminated and targeted throughout the community. The ideas themselves are sacrosanct, as you imply: engaging in a thought police raid is as much science fiction now as it was in 1948. What the community should absolutely not tolerate is those ideas being used as weapons against its members. The blinders defense ("you don't have to listen") is typical, but it holds water like a sieve; bullying and demeaning, offensive behavior is a cancer on society, and no individual can truly ignore repeated personal, disgusting attacks on their character when they start to diffuse throughout the endless channels of the internet.

      If you have these opinions, fine. They existed long before they had as loud a voice as they have now, and nothing anyone does can truly eliminate them. Feel comfortable in your ideas, if you wish. The second you wield those ideas as a weapon of demoralization and dehumanization, you have attacked the bedrock of a community, and given that communities survive through codependence and collective security, you shouldn't be surprised when you receive significant backlash.

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    5. You are allowed to say what you want but that right doesn't shield you from criticism or consequences from non-government entities.

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  12. Crazy that Owen and Efro are signers of the "Letter". Just a short time ago these guys were the most toxic and venomous players. These two and others didn't get a ban from DCI. They got HoF from WotC.

    #GoyfGate was just 2 years ago

    Here are stories... https://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/39jg1d/apologizing_for_goyfgate/

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  13. You use of the term "language of the alt-right" betrays your bias. I am not a member of the alt-right, and I disagree with some pf their ideas, but I respect their constitutional right to express their opinion in any way they choose. I also realize that WotC is not obligated to follow the first amendment in their policies about their events, but I strongly believe that they should and that not doing so damages their credibility and character to a point where they are far worse than anyone accused of "harassment". People in insular groups often use the accusation of harassment to attack people they personally dislike or disagree with. They use the small size of their community to make it appear as though their groupthink is actual objective justice and ethical code. It also becomes apparent through unbiased research that Jeremy really committed very little harassment, he just simply called people out for doing things he thought were dubious, such as emotionally manipulating people into donating money. The only clear thing he has done that could be considered harassment is when he tweeted that people should make fun of Wedge for his weight at a panel, which had nothing to do with Christine Sprankle. It is also apparent the hypocrisy of some of these pro players such as Efro and Owen who are known for demeaning other players at magic events. Jeremy has done nothing other than critique people for their actions in an abrasive manner, which may be impolite, but is not "harassment" or grounds for censorship. He has actually been harassed as a result of this issue far more than he has harassed anyone else, and has also been targeted by corporations who attempt to silence his voice. It is not the duty of corporations to protect people's feelings by unjustly oppressing other people's opinions, and it is an issue if people expect this do be done instead of responding to criticism in a productive and logical manner.

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    1. > You use of the term "language of the alt-right" betrays your bias.

      Sure, but that's what it is? Anti-feminism and anti-social comments are part of what the elitist so-called "alt right" defines. The alt-right is all about making themselves the victim while desperately trying to prove they're not the suspect / offender.

      >I am not a member of the alt-right, and I disagree with some pf their ideas, but

      That sounds like "I am no Nazi, BUT".

      >I respect their constitutional right to express their opinion in any way they choose.

      Which is wrong. Not every opinion has to be accepted. Some opinions HURT the society and yes, you SHOULD go to jail for expressing them in public.


      I won't comment on Sprankle-gate, but I agree with you that players like EFro don't have the best public image. But I wouldn't compare them to this Jeremy junk - bringing rape onto the table as a topic (or "joking" about rape) is FAR beyond anything that should be acceptable.

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    2. Here’s the thing nez cheese.... you almost quoted the exact line I heard from someone condemning football players for kneeling during the anthem to protest how African-Americans are treated in our country. Which side of that do you stand on? I’m guessing with the football players. You can’t have it both ways unfortunately

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    3. " Some opinions HURT the society and yes, you SHOULD go to jail for expressing them in public."

      This is actual fascism, putting people in jail for ideological dissent. And it's a hallmark of the ctrl-left.

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    4. NeZ Cheese- I and most people portrayed as "anti-feminist" are not against feminism. We are against misandry, which is hallmark of far-left "feminists", who are all about making themselves the victim of sexism while desperately trying to prove they're not the suspect/offender. What a coincidence. It is also the leftist protesters that shut down speeches of people they disagree with and answer criticism by plugging their ears and screeching that sound like they are against social commentary to me. The left also has a habit of calling people nazis who have done nothing at all resembling nazism, including family members of holocaust victims. That doesn't sound very inclusive to me. Your opinion on free speech has already been pointed out to be actual fascism, which is ironic as you probably support Antifa. Also, every opinion DOES have to be accepted. Have you read the first amendment? You know, the fundamental basis of our country? If you happen to not like it, you can leave America, because it will NEVER change as long as the United States of America exists. -OP

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  14. Drew Levin got a mob fired up that resulted in a pro player getting a lifetime ban from both Magic & MTGO, for a guilty plea a decade BEFORE playing Magic.

    Rich Stein has literally advocated assaulting people he disagrees with politically.

    Why is nobody considering these clear-cut harassment examples, or is driving people out ok if it's the right people?

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  15. Wow - the MtG community is full of SJWs and white knights. How fucking pathetic.

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