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The new 'Disallowed topics' rule

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I've personally benefitted from the discussions of sexism and racism; I think it's helping me make richer/deeper game characters.

 

While I agree that arguments about whether discrimination and sexism is occurring in the USA or in the game industry has led to some flamewars, in the midst of those flames we've had some great discussions.

 

Two of the problem threads in particular were, I feel, immensely valuable to me as a hobbyist game designer.

The Extra Credits racism thread

The Anita sexism in games thread (this one was flamebait from the first post, but even in the midst of flames, many of us had a good discussion)

(These two threads I've bookmarked in my /Design/Writing/Characters/ folder)

 

And the confederate flag thread was just in-general informative about some mis-information I had picked up over the years, though not directly benefiting game design.

 

I know you mods walk a tight-rope between:

A) Suspending individual users and being accused of bias by "shutting up" users who "have different opinions".

B) Closing threads and being accused of stifling free speech.

 

Still, I think permitting the threads to start and only closing them when they seem like a flame war is starting (perhaps with a "We'll close this thread if the conversation doesn't remain civil" warning first) is a better option.

 

Even the locking posts of the moderators recognize there is value in the threads:

 

"I think we've reached the end of the productive discussion we're going to have here. In fact I think we reached the end of it several pages ago." - Josh Petrie's lock post

This says, yes, the thread went too far into a flamewar, but despite that multiple pages of "productive discussion" was actually held.

 

"Speaking of respect, I'm going to close this now as insults are creeping into what had been a more civil discussion." - ripoff's lock post

 

The question is, is the value gained worth the trouble caused? For me, as a user, yes! For the moderators, apparently the threads are more trouble than I've realized? Locking it is easy - a click of a button or two - the only difficulty seems to be deciding at what point it should be locked. Locking it from the start, before the flamewar rises, also locks it before the value can occur.

 

It seems to me, most GameDev.net flamewars only really get burning after five or six pages. But before that point, plenty of value has already occurred. If a thread is locked at the appropriate time, we can still get alot of value out of the thread and still stamp out the flamewars. Yea, it's a moving target to hit, but missing the target still kills the flamewar regardless.

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I'd echo the earlier comments that it's not really a matter of resources - it's more a matter of not wanting to ban 'en masse' a subset of the community who are generally productive members of these forums, but happen to espouse reprehensible views on race/gender.

To be clear, I personally don't have an issue with implementing a warning-escalating-to-ban policy for anyone espousing racist/sexist views on these forums, instead of placing the various topics off-limits. I do expect, however, that a small-but-vocal minority of users would consider that a form of censorship as well.
 

"We'll close this thread if the conversation doesn't remain civil"

The civility of the discussion isn't the core issue, in my book. We've been letting such threads run their course for the most part, because we don't have policies in place to deal with this type of topics, and have been treating them much as we treated "OpenGL vs DirectX" threads in the past.

The hard truth, however, is that when it comes to discussions of topics such as racism and sexism, right and wrong are very clearly defined. I, for one, would rather the site not offer a platform upon which those on the wrong side of history may expound their misguided opinions.

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Yes, but at the same time, I feel like if we just ban everybody we consider to be a "problem," we still create a discriminatory, homogenous culture. Only people who agree with the moderators get to stay.

 

I don't mean this as tongue-in-cheek as it'll come across (or hostile, but I have a dry presentation and I could see it coming across that way), but isn't that the point of moderation and having guidelines? You lay out the guidelines and people obey and stay, or don't and leave? I don't see how changing the guidelines alters that dynamic. You're just enforcing a different set of guidelines now (an even broader one, I would say). The widened ban to include any topics on race/gender seems like it would be more difficult to enforce, and as I mentioned, I think that actually serves to homogenize the culture. Additionally you'll be faced with now enforcing those guidelines on otherwise respectful and well-intentioned people (see: earlier comment regarding a hypothetical post addressing issues facing minorities in the game industry). You also mentioned that you "arbitrarily ban those who misbehave," but I don't think that's quite accurate, as the ban aren't arbitrary, but due to offensive behavior (behavior that is against the guidelines). Anyhow, I don't see how enforcing behavioral guidelines would be considered discriminatory or homogeneous, unless the guidelines themselves were.

 

 


I'd echo the earlier comments that it's not really a matter of resources - it's more a matter of not wanting to ban 'en masse' a subset of the community who are generally productive members of these forums, but happen to espouse reprehensible views on race/gender.

 

It seems like instead you've just bent the guidelines to accommodate people who can't keep reprehensible views to themselves, at the risk of pushing away others who may actually have productive, respectful things to say regarding race and gender within game development or who might actually find those topics pertinent and relative.

 


To be clear, I personally don't have an issue with implementing a warning-escalating-to-ban policy for anyone espousing racist/sexist views on these forums, instead of placing the various topics off-limits. I do expect, however, that a small-but-vocal minority of users would consider that a form of censorship as well.

Any guidelines regarding behavior are a form of censorship. But, I'd argue that outlining acceptable behavior within a community is completely valid for any community whose membership is voluntary. It's certainly not a violation of anyone's rights (you're not the government). Anyhow, as moderators, you have the ability to shape what type of community this is, and the guidelines you set and enforce determine the outcome.

 

I guess the easiest alternative I could propose is actually enforcing the previous guidelines, and creating a space where everyone is welcome and can discuss things like adults, provided they're not espousing views that reprehensible, hateful or alienating others? But, as you mentioned that wasn't working out, as moderators seemed reluctant to enforce the guidelines and risk the blowback and anger from doing so (also due to borderline behavior, but I would think issuing private warnings could alleviate and course-correct much of that). I couldn't propose anything that didn't involve the moderators enforcing respectful dialogue between members. But, it seems like you've decided to blame the topics rather than the problematic people and views. The topics, I think, are important and relative to game development, whether or not the moderators are able to enforce civil discussion.

Maybe just really clarifying what the guidelines are, after crafting them carefully to be inclusive to everyone, and then enforcing them (it doesn't have to be a 1-strike implementation or anything. Behind the scenes moderation can go rather far, sometimes), I think would be a good approach. Ultimately, any time you're dealing with a large community, you'll have your share of problem people. There really isn't a way around that. 

 


The hard truth, however, is that when it comes to discussions of topics such as racism and sexism, right and wrong are very clearly defined. I, for one, would rather the site not offer a platform upon which those on the wrong side of history may expound their misguided opinions.

 

As a suggestion then, I'd propose making sure the guidelines are clear on not providing a platform for discriminatory/hateful language and opinions.

 


Banning is permanent. This injunction against particular topics that have shown to be extremely inflammatory isn't; it should be looked at as a stopgap until we have a more precise and objective toolkit (moderation policy) in place for dealing with it effectively.

 

I didn't realize this was a stop-gap measure, so my apologies. I assumed these were the new guidelines. Stopgap away tongue.png

 

**to note: I totally understand moderating is extremely difficult, and I don't envy the position in the least. It's not something I would want to do, and I don't mean to oversimplify or be too harsh in my criticism of the moderators here. The current solution just seems to be rather broad, and have some unintended consequences to the community, and in my opinion, probably won't really resolve the issue in the long run. Anyone who ignored the previous guidelines will likely ignore these as well. Anyhow, respect where it's due, I think in general, you all often do a really good job, and the forums are more or less civil, and I recognize I'm armchair-quaterbacking here, to a large extent.

Edited by Misantes

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it's more a matter of not wanting to ban 'en masse' a subset of the community who are generally productive members of these forums, but happen to espouse reprehensible views on race/gender.

On second thought, I like the mass ban idea better.

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I don't mean this as tongue-in-cheek as it'll come across (or hostile, but I have a dry presentation and I could see it coming across that way), but isn't that the point of moderation and having guidelines? You lay out the guidelines and people obey and stay, or don't and leave? I don't see how changing the guidelines alters that dynamic. You're just enforcing a different set of guidelines now (an even broader one, I would say). The widened ban to include any topics on race/gender seems like it would be more difficult to enforce, and as I mentioned, I think that actually serves to homogenize the culture. Additionally you'll be faced with now enforcing those guidelines on otherwise respectful and well-intentioned people (see: earlier comment regarding a hypothetical post addressing issues facing minorities in the game industry). You also mentioned that you "arbitrarily ban those who misbehave," but I don't think that's quite accurate, as the ban aren't arbitrary, but due to offensive behavior (behavior that is against the guidelines).

 

 

You're not wrong, but moderators are people too. Regardless of the standards to which we attempt to hold ourselves, it's still very possible for us to get emotionally involved -- and sometimes it's not always very easy for us to realize how much our theoretically-objective judgement may have been compromised before we make a decision. Dealing with extremely troublesome users after they've been antagonizing others in a thread for several posts is much harder than closing a thread on policy. It's much easier in the former case to narrow in only on the user I perceive to be the new-kid-on-the-block stirring up trouble, much easier for my personal bias to override my judgement.

 

I am not wholly in favor of this blanket ban either, but I do see the benefit of recognizing that despite how much we might try we cannot remain perfectly impartial (and we don't necessarily want to anyway, because there is a human side to sorting out moderation issues, which is why we don't write software to do it for us).

 

 

Consequently there is an arbitrary factor to bans in those cases: how the moderators who interacted with the user and handled the infraction felt about it. We aren't trying to create an overly-legalized, rigid and strict system here with a huge laundry-list of rules (as Promit noted) we can run through in a checklist-like fashion, so there has to be inherit human weakness involved in any of our individual decisions on a per-user basis because of the unique specifics of every individual scenario.

 

Further, the intent behind this current edict is not to ban anybody who starts these threads (again, we'd prefer to avoid bans). It's to curb the toxicity that's arisen in recent discussions. We have in general only three ways to deal with that (at the broad level): we suspend or ban users we believe to be the culprits, we close the thread, or we surgically alter the thread to remove all the offending bits. The third option is generally not worth considering because it is effectively the same as the first (gagging the user in question), plus it is extremely hard to do. So let's pretend that's not a thing. That leaves us with suspension/banning, which we've employed previously, and which is taxing for the reasons mentioned above plus the difficulty of evaluating "is this actually a bannable offense, is this user learning from his/her warnings, I am miscontruing or misreading the scenario, is what they said justified in the context of what others have said," et cetera. And also with closing, which is (at least this is how I choose to believe it) us politely asking users to refrain from having these discussions here for a little while. Maybe it won't work, maybe it will give us some time to sort out a better system for allowing-but-policing the threads -- similar to our policy, for example, to in general not close threads we've participated in extensively in a non-moderator fashion. Since we haven't tried it yet, I think it's at least worth giving a shot.

 

 

It seems like instead you've just bent the guidelines to accommodate people who can't keep reprehensible views to themselves

 

 

 

Sure, but I don't like being in a position of passing judgement over what is and is not reprehensible. I think that's an extreme power to have, and I'm wary of a system that places it in the hands of an extreme few (i.e., moderators/staff). Moderation should be an exception in the ideal case; having that power, I want to be very careful how and when I apply it.

 

 

but I would think issuing private warnings could alleviate and course-correct much of that).

 

 

You'd think. But thinking that alone probably makes you more rational than many of the people I've had to issue private warnings to in my time here.

 

 

Can a thread be set so that all posts have to be moderator approved?

 

 

No (not as far as I'm aware), but individual users can. It's not a feature we use often -- in fact I'm not longer sure how to even get to the "content pending approval" queue offhand -- because it tends to be ineffective, being approximately the same granularity as a ban from the perspective of the user producing the offending content.

Edited by Josh Petrie

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I recognize you're trying to do the right thing here, and that your intentions are good. And, I recognize moderating is rarely cut and dry, often subjective, and rather difficult. And, the toxicity that some threads have been reduced to is definitely something to want to avoid and bad for the community.

And, as a stopgap measure, the current actions are understandable.

 

 


Sure, but I don't like being in a position of passing judgement over what is and is not reprehensible. I think that's an extreme power to have, and I'm wary of a system that places it in the hands of an extreme few (i.e., moderators/staff). Moderation should be an exception in the ideal case.

 

My apologies, but I kind of don't see a way around this, other than the blanket ban as this community is just far too large to hope that everyone is just civil. Perhaps clarifying the guidelines so it's not such a personal call. On a fundamental level, I see three options: 1-you can either let no one discuss these issues, or 2- let healthy and civil discussion happen and pass some judgement while moderating the discussions, or 3- go the free-for-all route and not moderate anything. Ideally, I'd say you'd probably like to cultivate civil discussion on these topics, as they are pertinent and important to a lot of people, which really only leaves option 2. To make option 2 more palatable and obtainable, I'd say you need to evaluate and decide what guidelines for behavior are acceptable for everyone and least discriminatory. Make them really clear. And, then enforce them, however imperfectly.

 

And, I'm going to be quiet now, as I've posted way too much on this thread. I'd just urge to consider that while the toxicity is bad for the community, the topics themselves are important, and to try to find a solution that encourages the latter and minimizes the former.

Edited by Misantes

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Fantastic, I was hoping for a discussion exactly like this one.  Thank you all for your opinions so far, and please keep them coming!

 

 

To clarify a couple of points:

  • This is intended to be a temporary measure, although we haven't set any particular duration.  We're hoping it's not something we have to do for long, but we (the moderators) need a break from these topics, and we think a break to cool off may also benefit the community; some members are currently entering these discussions primed and ready to argue thanks to previous discussions, and this isn't helping the matter.
  • I said that dealing with this can be draining for the moderators.  This isn't an issue of workload (on last count we had over 70 moderators!) or technical difficulty (it mostly amounts to typing messages and clicking buttons) but a human issue: our moderators are people too, and it can be difficult to try to maintain objectivity when making these sort of subjective calls, especially when some of us are personally engaged in the discussion or have strong feelings about the topic.  It's emotionally taxing to make decisions that involve censoring people, and it can be tough to find the right balance or appropriate action to take with some members who regularly contribute to on-topic discussions in valuable ways but happen to hold some reprehensible personal view.
  • We do recognise that discussions on these topics can be very valuable, and we do want to allow them in a way that will keep the community friendly, productive, and inclusive.  It is also not our intention to censor members of minority groups who wish to discuss their treatment in the industry, and we do recognise that this (temporary) policy unfortunately does that to some extent -- if you're a member of one of those groups we hope you'll be patient with us in the short term, and recognise that this is just a first step in allowing you to have a voice without some of the toxicity that has been cropping up recently -- these discussions will be allowed again in future, hopefully some time soon.
  • This is actually something we've done before, albeit a very (VERY!) long time ago, and it did work well then.

 

 

I have more to say on the matter, but I also have a 5 month old who needs a bottle, so I'll be back later.  Please keep your thoughts coming! :)

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"We'll close this thread if the conversation doesn't remain civil"

The civility of the discussion isn't the core issue, in my book.

Well, that's the actual truth most people don't bother thinking all the way to. smile.png 
It's not about how civil the discussion is, it's about not liking the content of the discussion. I can comprehend that, though I disagree disallowing discussions we don't like is beneficial to ourselves or those we disagree with.
 

The hard truth, however, is that when it comes to discussions of topics such as racism and sexism, right and wrong are very clearly defined. I, for one, would rather the site not offer a platform upon which those on the wrong side of history may expound their misguided opinions.

 
In that case, I'm one many would consider to be on the wrong side of history. When I saw the new rules, I flinched, honestly expecting religion would be among it - Christianity is something many believe is also "clear defined" in the wrong and on the wrong side of history.
 
To crack down on ideas considered "hateful" is really a huge slippery slope, because "hateful" gets redefined to mean 'anything I don't agree with', and 'intolerant' gets redefined to include 'uncompromising'. Biblically-adhering christianity is tolerant, but also uncompromising - if X and Y are mutually exclusive, then X being true means Y must be false. So if I claim X is true, than I'm offending anyone that holds that Y is true (to water down a theology to say 'Both X and Y are acceptable' is to actually say that neither X nor Y is true, since they contradict - unless they are not actually mutually exclusive (i.e. a paradox)).
 
If 'intolerant' gets redefined to mean 'uncompromising' (as it often improperly does), then most serious religions, and even many non-religious philosophies and controversial political ideologies, become under the censor.
 
Ofcourse, we're just talking about GameDev.net, not the entire government - I'm just pointing out the problem with that line of thought (which I understand is your own line of thought, not GameDev.net's reasoning for the new rules).
 

I don't like being in a position of passing judgement over what is and is not reprehensible.


That is very understandable.
 

we (the moderators) need a break from these topics [...] I said that dealing with this can be draining for the moderators. This isn't an issue of workload (...) or technical difficulty (...) but a human issue: our moderators are people too, and it can be difficult to try to maintain objectivity when making these sort of subjective calls, especially when some of us are personally engaged in the discussion or have strong feelings about the topic. It's emotionally taxing to make decisions that involve censoring people

All of that very much makes sense to me.
 

and it can be tough to find the right balance or appropriate action to take with some members who regularly contribute to on-topic discussions in valuable ways but happen to hold some reprehensible personal view.


If I am one of those people - since my views certainly are offensive to many people - I'd appreciate some form of private message from the moderators. Though I'm not sure how that'd help anything; but it'd at least be good to know.
 
? Helpful
? Polite
? Regularly contributes
? Stays on-topic
? Socially-unacceptable views
 

We do recognise that discussions on these topics can be very valuable, and we do want to allow them in a way that will keep the community friendly, productive, and inclusive.

 
That alleviates my concerns about the new rules - knowing that the staff/moderators recognize it is valuable for game design specifically (not just for knowledge and growth as individuals in general), and that the staff wants to allow those discussions to occur after figuring out how to keep it more civil.

Some thoughts:
You've mostly mentioned warnings and bans, but you also have suspensions (limited-duration bans) as a tool available. I should know. laugh.png
Though, that was with the older forum software - uh, two forum gens ago, so you might not still have that feature.
 
You do have another tool already in the forum software that may be useful: You can ban people from individual sub-forums. It's happened to me accidentally on several occasions where my user permissions randomly blocked me from posting in the more esoteric sub forums like the workshop subforums (I think I mentioned that to Gaidden in the past). I don't know if this is exposed in the moderator interface or not, but if there was a user-group (labeled "Restricted") that didn't have posting permissions to the lounge, but still had access to everything else, you could ban people just from the lounge for repeated infringements.
 
i.e. misbehaving doesn't get you kicked out of the house, but it does result in a loss of privileges.
 
Unfortunately, I doubt you can combine the two (suspensions + sub-forum specific), but I think that would be the ideal method.
 
Anyway, regardless of these new temporary rules (and because we don't know how long they'll remain in place), I still want to suggest that it be permitted to discuss race and gender dynamics, as long as it is in the "writing" or "game design" section of the forum, staying strictly about character development and character interaction in a game you are working on, and without veering into arguments about things in real life (i.e. the USA, the game industry, how games in general portray women, etc...). If it turns out that even this leads to flamewars, then you could later re-extend the ban to cover any discussion instead of just lounge discussion.

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I think this is sad, but necessary. I typically try to stay away from threads of that nature, or leave once I start feeling that urge to post indiscriminately. However, I have seen some rather horrible and ban-worthy posts in threads like these come FROM moderators, so maybe a blanket ban on the subject is best. It would seem that these topics are not conducive to self-moderation, from the staff on down.

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