>Two short plays in the style of Vincent Baker

>I promise that I’ll get back to criticizing images soon! I have two posts planned out on body customization in MMOs and on terrible webcomic banners. (It’s not games, but considering how many webcomics are based on games I’m bending the rules a bit.) Also, once my article on sexism in gaming goes live with the new issue of See Page XX (some time in December, I’m hoping?) I’ll be discussing that in detail.

Anyhow, what I have for you is two “short plays” in the style of “short plays” done by Vincent Baker. I find that writing small, satirical plays is a good way to deconstruct conversations – especially conversations that happen on the internet. So with no further ado:



GROUP Y: We are a statistically significant number of people who are highly articulate and intelligent, as well as linked by a common background and experience. We all agree that Thing X happens to us because we are a part of Group Y.

SOME OTHER PEOPLE: Thing X is entirely fictitious. I discount your intelligence and experience. I also ignore that a statistically significant number of people are sharing personal experiences to support Thing X.

GROUP Y: We are upset and feel unvalued!


GROUP Y: Thing X exists. Let us discuss Thing X to understand the underlying causes and implications.

SOME OTHER PEOPLE: I am interested in discussing this with you. Let us talk in a civil manner.

STILL OTHER PEOPLE: Anyone who thinks Thing X exists is dumb and/or evil!

GROUP Y: We are upset!

SOME OTHER PEOPLE: We question whether your aggressiveness contributes to this discussion.

STILL OTHER PEOPLE: People over-reacting in a way they would not be were this discussion not about Thing X. Clearly, talking about Thing X makes people crazy.

GROUP Y: Being called crazy because of Thing X pushes our Internet Crazy button! Get out of our thread!

STILL OTHER PEOPLE: This only proves my point. I am vindicated!


A PERSON: I say Thing Q about Thing X.

GROUP Y: Saying Thing Q upsets me!

A PERSON: Upon reflection, Thing Q was not called for. I apologize.

GROUP Y: Let’s move on and have a productive conversation.


ANOTHER PERSON: I say Thing R about Thing X.

GROUP Y: Saying Thing Q upsets me!

ANOTHER PERSON: Whoa! Let me clarify. What I said was Thing R, not Thing Q.

GROUP Y: We apologize. Let’s move on and have a productive conversation.


A THIRD PERSON: I say Thing Q about Thing X! Unapologetically!

GROUP Y: Saying Thing Q upsets me!

A THIRD PERSON: Thing Q is righteous! Your disapproval makes me a martyr!

GROUP Y: We are upset and feel unvalued!

EVERYBODY ELSE: Alas, Internet Crazy has killed the conversation. Let us talk about something else.


I wrote this back in 2007, and sadly I don’t see it becoming obsolete any time soon. One of the biggest problems about trying to discuss anything controversial on the internet, be it racism, sexism, gender issues, or anything else that pushes people’s Crazy Buttons, people never get to have a productive conversation because it always ends in flames and people walk away. As such, important conversations about discrimination in the hobby we love never happen.

Sometimes, however, I find myself prompted to try to educate myself further about subjects that border on controversial. When this happens I will spend half an hour crafting a question that is absolutely neutral and totally controversy proof. And then this happens:


Me: [A Specific Question about a very specific aspect of Controversial Subject that, none the less, attempts to avoid controversy]

A Small Number of People on The Internet: [Thoughtful and informative response to Specific Question]

Many More People on The Internet: [Controversy targetted! Commence strawman arguments and offended flailing!]

Me: [An attempt to clarify the original Specific Question]

Many More People on The Internet: [Philosophic questions about the broader nature of controversial subject totally not related to the initial Specific Question]

Me: [Polite refusal to engage in philosophic discussion of Controversial Subject for therein lies the path directly to Internet Crazy]

Many More People on The Internet: [Internet Crazy!]

A Small Number of People on The Internet: [We will send you whispers supporting you, but have given this conversation up as a lost cause. Turn back! For this way lies madness!]

Many More People on The Internet: [Personal attacks FTW!]

Me: [An attempt to take the high ground by refusing to participate further]

Many More People on the Internet: [Let us continue with personal attacks and strawmen now that the Specific Question has been completely destroyed]

Me & A Small Number of People on The Internet: [Note to self: quit asking controversial questions on The Internet]

Some days I find humanity tiresome.

9 thoughts on “>Two short plays in the style of Vincent Baker

  1. >Don't pretend like you're aren't referring to Story Game specifically. The secret whispers of support and unmoderated nature of the forum all contribute to the frustration you're talking about.

  2. >[We will send you whispers supporting you, but have given this conversation up as a lost cause. Turn back! For this way lies madness!]This is my default Internet Position, which I should have stored as a macro.

  3. >Oh gods yes. This is why I have a few rather strict criteria about places I wind up spending a lot of time on the 'net. Firstly, they have to be largely adult spaces – in the sense of "people behaving in a manner which implies a certain amount of emotional and social maturity" rather than the triple X version. Secondly, there has to be a certain level of moderation occurring in the conversations, if only to keep things on topic (because if the mods are watching to ensure you're on topic, then you can ask question X about subject Q which is rather controversial, and know that the people who delight in starting hares from just about anything will be squelched fairly early on). Thirdly, there has to be an accepted culture of using the brain or the manners, or for preference, both. To be honest, I'm finding blogs with a definite commenting community to be the best places to find these things, if only because the nature of blog ownership means you can have one person basically saying "my space, my rules, if you don't like it, you know where your back button is" when the noise gets too loud and the signal is starting to get drowned out. Sadly, with any community-owned space (such as a message board, mailing list or newsgroup) a moderation decision can be a signal for an immediate sidetrack into meta-discussion about the state of the community itself, backbiting and bitching galore, and the whole thing disappears into a fugue of navel-gazing, leading to some posts asking where the hells the content is…But I digress…

  4. >@Tim: Actually, while Story-Games spawned the second short play, it didn't spawn the first. So, yes both of these are very applicable to Story-Games since it's not moderated. But the first is really applicable to any online conversation, be it through forums or blog comment threads or tweets. The second is more specific, admittedly, but I've had the second happen to me on forums that weren't S-G as well. (But yes, I do have a love-hate relationship with Story-Games.)@megpie: Sometimes the only space you can find to discuss very specialized things (like indie RPGs or RPG game design) isn't moderated, or isn't heavily moderated. Having conversations on blogs doesn't necessarily help either since it's easy for someone to tweet your post and start a shitstorm of people who normally don't read your blog coming to crap on your comment thread. Unfortunately, I don't think there is one ideal solution out there. It's up to the individual to decide what kind of bullshit they're willing to tolerate online.

  5. >I note that while your plays have several references to "talking about the issue", they never mention something like "offering a possible solution to the issue". Generally speaking, offering solutions (even bad ones) as a starting point tends to generate more productive discussions than what amounts to empty (if reasonable) whining about a problem. Granted, starting with solutions also typically degenerates into Internet Crazy, but it gets there in a slightly different way, and that is sometimes useful.

  6. >Wordman: But that's the thing. People being people, a lot of the time talking something over with someone can help new ideas come to light on how to solve pervasive problems. The problem with ANY controversial issue is that there ARE no easy answers – which is why the issue is controversial in the first place. I think it's a totally reasonable thing to say 'hey, there's this thing that happens that I don't know how to fix – what do other people think?'. If I come to a discussion about racism or sexism or whatever saying GUYS I KNOW HOW TO FIX THIS, that just makes people shut off – especially with issues of discrimination.

  7. It certainly doesn’t help that we see few examples of proper debating in media. The “debates” held on most “news” programs are little more than shouting matches, often with the “moderator” encouraging that behavior. By the time the major political debates occur there has been so much mud flinging that the candidates can’t avoid it even if they try (which many do not). Logical fallacies, personal attacks, and sidetracking into other issues seem to be the standard operating procedure. With that as the template set by the media talking heads, it seems little surprise that the majority of people follow that example.

    And all of that is with people who are chosen as “experts” in their fields by the hosts, directors, producers, or whoever it is on those shows responsible for choosing the guests. On the internet, most people aren’t motivated enough to do any research on whatever discussion they have stumbled across (or even reading the whole discussion) before throwing in an opinion. This leads to incorrect statements and assumptions, going off-topic because they didn’t pay attention to what the topic was in the first place, and similar things that quickly devolve into shouting matches (not to mention the existence of Trolls who find it fun to provoke Internet Crazy).

Comments are closed.