Coming clean in my complicity

In the 24 hours before I did the most idiotic and hurtful thing I’ve ever done on the internet, three public entities I’m associated with all got called out for highly problematic actions. I need to talk about them, and me. There is a statement from my company over here, but this is just me. It isn’t a “statement,” just my thoughts. It’s long and could be more organized. If you read it, let me know what you think.

 

This weekend, my former collaborator J.K. Rowling leveled an unwelcome and defensive attack on trans people. There’s no position you can get to where you can feel comfortable with something like that. Trans people don’t need their lives marginalized. Anyone of us that literally creates fantasy worlds should know that it’s our job to be inclusive of all sorts of people, where readers can see themselves reflected. 

 

I’ve tried to reflect that inclusivity in my work, but I’ve been guilty of working with people like Orson Scott Card and on properties by HP Lovecraft, telling people that authors’ views are not the same as what they create. This has to stop. I need to only work with and on works by people who stand up for people, not knock them down. I haven’t spoken to or worked with J.K. for a decade, so I doubt she will see this, and I’m not going to pretend I know what she’s thinking. I did read her statement, and thought it failed to acknowledge the hurt she caused, and added more harm on top of that. I can’t just let it go by while there are games with her and my names on them.

 

I was considering making a statement about that on Monday, and then I learned that Wizards of the Coast, the company I made those Harry Potter games with, was accused of fostering a culture of racism and lack of accountability. The accusations pertaining to Magic and African Americans were expansive. I haven’t worked there for 17 years, so I’m not going to say I know what goes on in those halls now. What I will say is that a lack of accountability was rampant while I was there, especially in my department of R&D. It was especially bad regarding women designers, and I can’t speak to how it treated its African American designers because I never met one there. 

 

As somebody who hired a lot of those designers, I was absolutely complicit in that. I was not especially concerned about breaking the walls down for people of color, nor with people who were not in a small in-group of favored designers and editors (myself included), both on the card and RPG side. If there is still a culture of complacency at Wizards, I helped build it. I think it’s better now, but I think it’s on Wizards to prove that by its actions. As far as I can tell it hasn’t come to grips with the complaint yet. Yesterday, the company posted a statement that promised to remove several cards from play and its online database, and alluded to the discussion about their actions, but did not mention the source of the complaints, the harms that they caused, and any sort of remedy for those harms. It’s a publicly traded company, so maybe there are some needs there I don’t know. But it doesn’t seem like enough to me. I love Wizards, and I want them to be right on this. (At Lone Shark, we do things somewhat differently, but we still don’t hire enough people of diverse backgrounds, and that’s on me too.)

 

Back to Monday. As I was processing that and figuring out what I needed to say about Rowling and Wizards, my friend Anita Sarkeesian sent me an email about her post about Cards Against Humanity, a company I have worked closely with and love dearly. They are in many ways everything I want my company to be: activist, irreverent, and beloved. In her email, Anita detailed two separate issues, which I’ll deal with in sequence.

 

The first was a sexual assault accusation against one of my best friends, Max Temkin. This accusation was from 2013, when Lone Shark had a policy of not allowing its employees to say anything about our partners unless we all agreed to say it. Not only did we not say anything, we agreed that people who had concerns would not share them publicly. We’ve since abandoned that policy, but the damage was done. I admit I am failing to deal with this one well. I know what my friend says, and I desperately want to believe him. I have split the difference, in believing my friends when they accuse others, and sometimes not believing their accusers. I have to figure out a better way. It’s not good enough to stop there. For me or anyone. It would help if this is addressed by Max soon, and if me calling for that helps, that’s good. (If you want to hear a much more eloquent version of what I’m trying to sort out, listen to Alex Cox here. It’ll rip you up.)

 

Regardless, I absolutely need to not do things like plaster my name all over the works of friends who are accused. I do that all the time. I need to fix this in myself, and my friends need to know that convincing me that they are good people is not the important thing. They need to be accountable before they can expect my support and to associate my name with their work. I will be more careful about that.

 

The second accusation was about CAH’s culture and how working with Max and others affected people of color and women who worked there. It has seemed like a wildly diverse workplace, with people of all races, genders, and backgrounds. That said, from my experience being around them, a culture of micro-aggressions sounds plausible to me, just like it did when I was helming my groups at Wizards. This seems plausible at any white-owned business, actually. (It certainly is likely to be true at mine.) As with Wizards, neither Max nor CAH has said anything yet. That’s not good enough, especially when the accusations are supported by other former employees. CAH is not a company I can work with until it figures this out and gets a plan out that people can evaluate. I’ve given my take above on what Wizards said, so maybe that can guide them if they choose to address it.

 

I’m not going to say it’s easy to figure out what to say about charges like this. It’s incredibly hard. But it’s important. I have not been a great boss or partner to everyone who’s worked with me. I should expect to get called out for it, and I expect I will after this. If that happens, I need to not just hope it goes away. I need to stand up and admit my part in creating the negative culture people work in. I think that’s a thing all of us white men in the game business ought to consider doing.

 

One of the criticisms leveled in both the Wizards and CAH cases is (I’m paraphrasing) the people in charge only listen to their friends. Well, I think I count as their friends. Maybe if they hear me out, they’ll come to the conclusion that saying something is better than turtling up and hoping it will all go away.

 

And boy, this week, I know how strong that urge is. While trying to deal with what I was going to say about all of that, I committed a macro-aggression, inserting myself into the discussion on declaring the KKK a terrorist group in the worst possible way. If you know me, I’m sorry I didn’t live up to the standards you expect from me. If you just found out about me this week, I’m horrified that that’s how you met me, and what some of you think of me now chills me to the bone. 

 

If you missed it, I wrote a tweet that appeared to defend a group I have spent my life fighting against: the Klan. It was stupid, irresponsible, harmful, and tone-deaf. I wrote a piece that rips apart the argument I was foolishly trying to make, if that’s something you’re interested in. But you don’t need to understand me to process this. That’s not your weight to carry. I shouldn’t have done what I did.

 

I walked away from the computer after posting this arrogant tweet. Over the next hour, my replies filled with friends and newcomers expressing shock and dismay. When I opened the computer again, I didn’t quite get what people were saying and started to explain my argument. I tweeted an apology with an explanation of intent embedded, which is a bad idea. Then I read further down and saw the depth of the damage I caused. I tried to apologize to everyone, which didn’t help either. At this point I was in panic. I never have been described in the way people were describing me. It made me want to do anything I could to fix it. Some of my harshest critics were helpful in telling me how I should respond and what I should do. I’m grateful for the direction, even if it came laden with anger. You could have just walked away, but you stayed to help me try to figure it out. Thanks.

 

I’ve apologized for my action, but not only because people had a negative reaction to it. What I did hurt people. It’s not relevant what I was intending to do. All that matters is that people felt betrayed. I did harm and compounded it with explanations and rationalizations. All of that is wrong. I will try to own it. Importantly, I don’t want people defending me. That’s wrong-headed. This is my screwup, and I want to be held accountable for it.

 

Unfortunately, this screwup destroyed any shred of high ground I had for the pronouncements above. Maybe if I hadn’t committed such an unforced error, I’d have more moral authority to lecture my friends and colleagues about what they should do. I don’t think people are irredeemable, especially since I think I’m redeemable. I especially don’t like giving my own bad behavior cover by talking about other people. It’s a terrible look. But for me, and I hope some of my friends, it’s important to share in public about this. Care, speak, change, heal.

 

I’ve lived a sheltered public life, where people see this cartoon character of me railing at the barricades. The truth is that I’m not out there in the streets marching for justice. I’m frightened of being arrested and being in the same space as so many people now. I sit behind a desk and craft carefully worded warning shots in a revolution I expect others to fight. It’s better than doing nothing, maybe. But I can and will do more.

 

I’m going to start here: Max Temkin wrote the foreword to my book Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, which is a strategy guide to fighting fascism. I’m pulling all copies of that book off of our webstore next week. Next month, after I get two critical projects out the door, I’m taking a leave of absence from Lone Shark. I’ll use that time to make a bigger edition of Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, with a new foreword by someone else. Then it will be made available to people in the US for free, as long as they make a contribution to organizations fighting racism and/or minority and women candidates for office. We’ll need to charge for shipping, but otherwise, it’ll be on us. This isn’t about getting forgiveness. This is about doing more to help. It’s a start.

 

This was really hard to write, and I’m sure I compounded some of my errors with more errors. Please call me out on them.

 

Thanks for listening. I’m going to shut up now and do the same.

 

Mike

 

Postscript: After I wrote this, but before I posted it, a number of broadcasters pulled out of Origins Online—a convention at which I was scheduled to be an interviewer next weekend—over its parent company GAMA’s failure to promote the important idea that black lives matter. Origins responded in the most shocking way, by cancelling its convention outright. It saddens me that it got to that point, and looks like it could have been avoided by an open acknowledgement of the community’s concerns and a strong statement in favor of change. I don’t know enough about how this went down to comment deeply on it right now, but will educate myself further and comment if it seems appropriate.