Representing the Community: Learning from the European Championship

What Happened On The European Championship Stream?

The European Championship was a huge event, and by all accounts, also a hugely successful event — at least until the final game. I’ll leave the tournament reports and congratulations to others, though, because this article is about the community, not the event itself.

Throughout the elimination bracket, eliminated players were brought in to do commentary. This is a common practice at Netrunner events, and in my experience is generally appreciated by viewers, who are frequently treated to high quality commentary on the game state, lines of play, and so on, all from top-tier players.

I’d been watching the European Championship for most of the weekend, and was looking forward to the final game. I was particularly excited to see mediohxcore and terrificy sit down at the streamers’ table. I’d been cheering for both throughout the tournament, and while I was obviously disappointed that neither made the finals, I anticipated high-level and insightful commentary about the game — or, if the game proved uninteresting, about the metagame and community.

Then I saw the half-empty bottle of vodka they were passing back and forth, and had a sinking feeling…

The matchup in the final game was Boom SYNC versus Bad Cards Whizz — a Whizzard deck teched so hard against Moon EtF that it had limited outs against the rest of the field. It was certainly a good call for the overall meta, and for a top cut comprised of 10 HB, 4 NBN, and 2 Jinteki decks. In the final game, though, Bad Cards Whizz was unfavoured and Boom SYNC’s gameplan was one hundred percent linear: score two Breaking News, play BOOM!.

The limited action going on in the game widened the space available to be filled by drunken commentary. It very quickly devolved into the kind of drivel you would expect to hear at a frat party rather than a Netrunner tournament stream: casually sexist, totally offensive, and completely blind to how it was being perceived.

A number of people complained about it in the stream chat, but were met with the kind of equally vociferous opposition that’s typical when complaints about sexism and inappropriateness are levelled. I personally saw several people claim in the stream chat that this was the best tournament commentary they had witnessed to date. Others waved it off with the same “it’s locker room talk” and “but they’re drunk” style equivocations that are invariably used to defend men who say and do exactly these sorts of things.

In light of the unacceptable behaviour of the stream commentators and their defenders, and surprised by the fact that there was any controversy about this at all, I decided to enlist the help of several community members to develop a primer on representing and participating in our community without alienating current players or potential new players.

How To Represent (And Participate In) The Community

We all want to expand the community, which in turn expands the game. We need to remember that we’re all representatives of this community — everyone from casual players who show up for the occasional game night to podcasters or streamers who are known throughout the community. We all have the same responsibilities.

These standards are stricter than what any country’s laws require; it’s not about being technically correct, it’s about being welcoming and inclusive. That means being even more self-aware and polite than we would be otherwise, because the social space we share in the context of this game’s community is governed by the intersection of our perceptions of acceptability, not the full set.

What follows are some general rules of thumb on how to represent and participate in our community in order to make it the welcoming place we should all want it to be. These are in no particular order.

Don’t exclude.

If you’re about to make a joke that relies on gender identity, race, sexual orientation, or stereotypes thereof: don’t.

That’s easy to say, but difficult to achieve. Many common North American English idioms leverage stereotypes, some more mildly than others. When you step back and look at how such statements might be perceived by someone who doesn’t look or sound like you, though, even something as innocuous-seeming as referring to a multi-gender group as “guys” becomes potentially problematic.

“That’s ridiculous,” you might say. “Everyone uses ‘guys’ to describe multi-gender groups, it’s gender neutral!” However, that’s only true in the same way that using male pronouns was considered “gender neutral” at one time — in other words, it’s only “true” because a lot of men do it without noticing.

The #uk channel on the Stimhack Slack has an explicit Code of Conduct that members are expected to uphold. It’s based in part on the Geek Feminist Code of Conduct, which is an excellent summary of what kinds of things you should never do or say if you want to avoid excluding members of the community.

The #uk Code of Conduct also contains the single best statement of intent I’ve seen in a document of this type, so I’ll quote it here in full:

As a small community, we expect all members to embody a level of sensitivity beyond that which may be usual in other online contexts. The below sets out the behaviours and language we have deemed unacceptable, but beyond these standards there is an expectation that everyone contributing to #uk treat each other with kindness. If your words or actions are upsetting to another person – even if they do not breach the guidelines set out below – we expect you to act as you would amongst friends. That is to say, cease the behaviour that is causing distress and apologise to the offended party.”

The Netrunner community is also small, and it’s reasonable for us to strive to interact from a place of kindness.

Include.

Being inclusive is more than just not using exclusionary language. It’s also important to actively reach out to members of minority or underrepresented groups, or just generally to people who you might not normally see on a Netrunner stream or hear on a Netrunner podcast, to remind everyone that the “usual suspects” we see so frequently in our Netrunner content aren’t the only people engaged with the game.

This is one area where I particularly admire the work done by The Winning Agenda. As a Netrunner podcast with a competitive focus, we’d expect them to interview the game’s designers (check), high-profile players (check), and do pack reviews with an eye toward the competitive metagame (check). But they also go out of their way to talk to community members from around the world, who contribute to the game in ways other than pure competition, and who frequently come from outside the set of usual suspects.

Listen.

The aggressively dismissive response in the European Championship finals stream chat when people began expressing objections to the stream content was also a problem. When you’re enjoying something and other people complain that it offends them, it’s easy to believe they’re overreacting. Try, before you leap to the defence of the content, to consider what you think a reasonable objection might look like. Chances are that it isn’t too far removed from the objection being raised, if you account for differences in writing style.

Support others who speak up.

I kept quiet in the Twitch chat during the event, and that was a mistake. I did comment in the #general Stimhack Slack channel after the fact, but that was insufficient. This sort of thing is one of the rare circumstances where “if you see something, say something” actually holds true. It’s important to quickly, firmly, and politely inform both the offender and the rest of the audience that you think whatever’s going on is problematic.

Be aware of your status.

When you make any public statement, you are speaking to the community, not to any subgroup you might be part of — not to your friends, but to everyone, because anyone could be watching or listening. Any community of humans above a certain size is going to subdivide into smaller groups. Inside jokes within those groups aren’t inherently a problem, but it’s very easy for inside jokes to turn into exclusionary or offensive jokes when the members of the group share similar views and no one can offer an outsider’s perspective on how a given joke sounds to people not in the group.

Remember that you’re always representing the community.

Even if you’re just attending a Netrunner event as a player, you’re representing the Netrunner community. If someone’s friends or relatives stop by to see how their player is doing, your behaviour influences what they think about our community.

If you make a mistake, own it: apologize without equivocating.

Too many times, we’ve seen media and political figures make offensive statements and then “apologize” by saying “I’m sorry if anyone was offended, I didn’t mean to be offensive.” This kind of non-apology does nothing to repair social damage.

The sober “day later” apologies issued by mediohxcore, terrificy, SimonMoon, johno, and josh01 are the sort of initial response we should encourage when something like this happens.

mediohxcore:

I’d like to apologize for the off-color commentary of the finals of the Euro champs stream. We were having a hard time keeping the conversation on the game, and in the moment, we did not realize how offensive we were being. Please forgive us. It was inexcusably lewd and extraneous banter and I assure viewers of the Neoreading Grid stream and the entire community that nothing of the sort will happen again.

Thank you for your understanding.

SimonMoon:

There are a lot of people who deserve apologies from me for my actions today. I’d like to apologise to everyone who tried to watch the stream and was put off, made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. I’d like to apologise to the community in general for the damage I’ve done to an environment that was typically fairly welcoming and inclusive for a gaming community. I see some people on here and elsewhere defending our actions, but it’s important to remember if people were made uncomfortable that isn’t okay even if you were. This was a stream of the grand finale of a game many of us love of one of the biggest tournaments of all time and everyone who loves Netrunner should have been able to watch and enjoy. The fact that some people could not is a failure I need to own and should be recognized, even if any individual may have enjoyed it.

Additionally, a couple people deserve personal and public apologies. Laurie is one of the best people for the game who does a ton of work in order to build and maintain the UK netrunner community. He puts in a ton of testing work and came extremely prepared, and I apologise for taking away from this amazing accomplishment that should be a huge focus of celebration. Mike who I hadn’t talked to before this tournament played a great game and made a great meta call and deserves his victory to be celebrated for the amazing accomplishment it is. I look forward to seeing what card you design.

Finally Johno of Neoreading Grid whose streams I’ve enjoyed in the past and puts a lot of work into creating great content that draws and keeps people in the game. We were belligerent and betrayed his trust and didn’t take the clear signs that he didn’t want us on there and we should have respected that. I harmed the image of someone who puts so much work into making the game and community great and you do not deserve this. I’m extremely sorry and hope that you and your channel can move forward.

Moving forward I think I need to take a step back and think about what my role in the community should be in order to minimize the damage of what I did towards making people feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. Beyond that I need to think about my decision making in general and doing a better job of acting in a way that is appropriate for the situation. I hope I can help repair the damage because I love this game and community so much, and I’m heart broken at what I’ve done today and how I’ve made people feel.

Apologies to everyone again. To everyone who was made unwelcome I hope you understand I will do my best to make sure this never happens in the netrunner community again.

terrificy:

I am home now; I would like to say that I am really, really sorry about my actions and comments yesterday. I was completely out of line, and it was very disrespectful – both to the players, the streamers, the spectators on the stream and the community as a whole. Completely inexcusable. I agree in full with the things Dan has said.

I have seen a few people trying to defend my actions or downplay what happened, which they should not. I understand not wanting to throw friends under the bus, but what I did was inexcusable. It was very offensive and disrespectful – period. It made people feel very unwelcome and uncomfortable; that should not be disregarded in any way or for any reason.

Some people have pointed out that they expected better from me. That touches me very greatly, and I feel so ashamed for behaving in a way that is not only unacceptable, but also completely out of touch with standards I have previously set. That makes it very clear that I need to take two steps back and do a lot of self-improvement right now. I am so sorry for letting everybody down, and for being so obnoxious and lewd, and for overshadowing over people’s amazing achievements within the game. I will do my best to make sure this never happens in the community again.

Thanks for understanding.

josh01:

Hey everyone, I’d like to make a statement about what happened on the Euros finals stream.  I was among the people encouraging the unprofessional commentary – I enjoyed the content not about the games (I enjoyed Dan talking about the exchange rates, the bad food, etc.). I did not, and do not, however, think that the comments he made that made people uncomfortable are ok. I tried to clarify my position afterward, but I realize that I failed to do that. I’d like to apologize if I or others have made you feel like we support the things that were said that were over the line.  I have spoken to some people, but I understand that I can’t make this clear to everyone who felt offended by the comments that were made, so I’d like to make it clear to more – all of the sexual comments that were made were over the line, and from what I hear, other parts of the stream were also over the line. This is not ok, and neither I, nor others, should condone this.

Actions speak louder than words.

An honest, earnest apology is a good start after a mistake — but that’s all it is. The hard part comes after the apology, because the only way to truly show that your apology was honest and earnest is to live it. That means letting the above principles guide your actions in the community. This isn’t a form of penance or atonement —  it’s simply doing what you should have been doing all along.

On Community Togetherness

We’re all here because we love this crazy game. We all want to see it succeed and grow. We’re a community of humans, and humans are social creatures; we have an innate desire to communicate, to connect, and form bonds that can last a lifetime. Being human also means we’re prone to mistakes; we can do regrettable things that can break those bonds with others. It’s easy to let these mistakes define us, it’s better for everyone if instead we learn from them, and use that learning to better ourselves and our communities.

Given that, it’s also important to look back at the 2017 European Championship  and remember the positives. We had a wealth of nationalities come out and celebrate this game that we’re all so passionate about. Representing diversity has always been at the core of this community, and most of the time, it shows.

Let’s use this opportunity to learn how to be a better community, and be better to one another.

— Written by ajar with contributions from dien & many other community members. Thanks, all.

Continue the discussion at forum.stimhack.com

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