If this dynamic is left unchallenged then the community devolves into wallet-flashing and unboxing videos. The point is no longer to engage with the hobby itself but to spend as much money as possible, as visibly as possible, and to critique others' spending habits (when someone spends a lot of money on a thing but suspects they might have been ripped off, some feel ashamed and are quiet, and some feel compelled to defend their decision to anyone who'll listen).
(it's tempting in situations like this to go "This always happens under capitalism." That's a cop-out. Yes, capitalism and the fetishization of consumption are to blame. No, that's not a road you want to go down, because it dead-ends at "Welp, nothing we can do." You can't fix capitalism as a whole all by yourself, but you can fix your online community. Capital will try to persuade you that you can't; ignore it)
This thread is long and unwieldy and hard to process and neverending because the subject is long and unwieldy and hard to process and neverending. If you're intimidated by its length then consider this a taster for what you'll have to deal with as an admin!
This is a stream-of-thought thing where I just toot out whatever comes to mind as I think of it, it doesn't have a table of contents or chapters. I might write a book one day, I might not, consider this a draft.
Thread housekeeping (housecleaning was a brainfart) part 2:
Some folks are asking again if they can turn this into a blog post; by all means link to the thread as it evolves but hold off for now 'cause I'm by no means finished, also be considerate of others replying who don't want that. Check earlier housekeeping posts for my stance on screenshotting etc
Popping this onto the end of the community moderation / admining thread because it's tangentially related and there's notes of responsibility to audience etc.
I'm writing an MotD about COVID-19, trying to encourage those of my players who haven't yet gotten the vaccine to get the vaccine.
This isn't the sort of thing you'd expect a game website to do, and I'm... kind of wondering why that is, and trying to deconstruct my hesitation and figure out why this makes me uncomfortable.
I guess my biggest concern is that I run a game website, and it's not my place to give public health advice. But then I can counter that by looking at the tactics of our enemies; internet trolls, psychopaths and hostile foreign governments are similarly unqualified to give medical advice and yet they do so anyway, to great effect.
Whether I like it or not, whether I'd normally do it or not, these aren't normal times and if I've got an audience, some of whom could be persuaded to get a vaccine, some of whom wouldn't get a vaccine otherwise, then I've got an obligation to make the best attempt I can.
Next consideration, how many minds am I likely to change... probably not that many, but if it's even potentially non-zero then I've kinda gotta make the effort.
"If you live in a country where vaccines are available, and you've been putting off getting one, I implore you to ask your doctor about it.
Plenty of folks figured they had a low risk of getting or spreading the disease and were putting off getting the vaccine so as to let the elderly and immunocompromised get first dibs.
"If this describes you, I applaud your patience, but those of us at most risk have all had the jab now and Delta is killing and hospitalizing people who previously didn't have as much to worry about.
Again, ask your doctor, they (usually) know what they're talking about - don't trust me, I'm just a stranger on the internet, and the internet is full of bullshit."
In my experience, people who are slowly realising they've made a horrible mistake are just as likely to buckle up and double down as they are to actually change their behaviour, unless handed an escape hatch. Hence giving the willfully unvaxxed an opportunity to go "Uh, yeah, just making sure everyone else who needed it more than me got it first!"
Adding onto the community moderation thread:
I just saw a guy in another thread do the whole Let The Lies Spread argument: instead of banning misinformation and propaganda from your site, allow it to stay up because your users will argue it and show it to be nonsense, and anyone watching will see it debunked and form a sensible conclusion.
If that's a thing you believe is true, still, in 2021, when people are eating sheep deworming paste, then you should NEVER run a social website.
If you let the sheep worm paste posts stay up and put the responsibility of debunking it onto your users, then random bystanders (who would have never thought of eating sheep worm paste) will see two people arguing about sheep worm paste.
They won't think LOOK AT THIS DINGDONG EATING SHEEP WORM PASTE, they will think THERE IS AN ARGUMENT ABOUT SHEEP WORM PASTE.
And they'll be right. Because you hosted that argument. You facilitated it. You paid for it to happen on your property.
Your regular users don't want to argue with weirdos about sheep worm paste, but they will, because they like your website and don't want it to become a rabbithole into the upside-down.
They'll resent you for putting this labour on them. Many will leave and the ratio of normal to sheepwormpastebrain will go in the wrong direction.
"The best solution to bad speech is more speech," bullshit. That's been tried by facebook and reddit and twitter for a decade and it's ruined whole countries.
Community moderation thread continued: I recently saw a messy moderation incident play out in a very public and very cursed way, and in trying to untangle the thread of bad decisions that got to this point, I figured I'd talk a bit about power, because it looks like this is where the whole mess started.
Much much earlier in the thread I said that some people will resent you or treat you differently for the "power" that they think you hold over them.
I know, "power" over what someone does on a website in some small portion of their free time doesn't feel like capital-P Power. Especially not here on the Fediverse, where you can just pop onto a different instance and carry right on. But many people don't see it that way - they see your deletion rights over their comments as real, serious, make-my-very-words-disappear POWER, to be feared.
(as an aside, in my experience this kind of thinking tracks with people's mental state; when folks are having a bad mental health day (or week, or month, or...) they're more likely to view you as POWER ADMIN. Some kinds of depression manifest as paranoia, and even being talked to by an admin can be terrifying!)
Now most people don't actually want power, and are (rightly) suspicious of those who do. You made a website to have a laugh with some mates, not to have power.
Well, I've got some bad news for ya, buddy.
Whether you personally think you have power or not is as irrelevant as the distinction between having power, and having a bunch of people THINK you have power.
So while you may think you're talking to someone under your power as a friend, to them it doesn't feel that way. To them it feels more like talking to a boss or a teacher or a doctor or a judge, someone with power over them.
It's very very easy to hurt people from this position.
(this is why I cringe reading guides on how to set up social networks for your real-life friends. This dynamic ends friendships.)
Take this "I have power" dynamic and put it anywhere you need to make a delicate decision. Even though you just run a website, people (especially those in a fragile mental state) think you have power over them, so you have power over them. Offhanded remarks will be taken deeply to heart. Casual banter is ill advised.
Once you're an admin, to some people you're no longer a person, you're a cop. No matter how you act, no matter who you are, Power = Cop to some people.
This is why it's often useful to have informal intermediaries and advocates between you and your users. Most people don't have this "Admin = Cop" mindset, and those who you're friendly with will often (without you needing to ask (you shouldn't ask)) smooth things over with people who might be afraid to bring things up with you. Cultivate these intermediaries by thanking them privately - don't put them on the spot or give them an expectation of future interventions, just say thanks.
It's on my mind, both because of the Bad Decision Train I saw unfold on another instance and because of my own experiences lately - mental health and bans.
I recently had a chat with a player who asked me to erase all of their characters. They were having a very bad time mental-health-wise, the Island was making it worse, and they wanted their characters erased because they couldn't stop themselves from logging on.
Anyway about a week later this player turns up again with a new account. At this point, with the conversation about how they hurt themselves with the site fresh in my mind, I issue a permanent ban - both because I don't want them to hurt themselves, and because I absolutely will not consent to them using *my* website to hurt themselves. I may not be able to stop them from hurting themselves elsewhere, but I don't consent to being made a part of that.
And this is one ban that I don't disclose.
The decision about whether, when and how to talk about bans really has to be taken on a case-by-case basis.
If a player is banned because they pose a risk to other players, then we tell EEEEVERYONE, because Discord is, regrettably, a thing.
If a player is banned for cheating or being a general dick, well, that's a maybe - I might mention it in chat but it doesn't warrant a Message Of The Day.
If a player is banned to protect themselves more than other players, then no, that's not a thing we'll talk about. Because of our position of power (whether it's real, imagined, or whether there's really any difference between the two) it would be at best inappropriate for us to do a public announcement about an issue that involves a user's mental health.
Sometimes this starts a rumour mill churning. Which sucks, but the churn's gonna churn. Refer to earlier "ban for lying about mods" bit.
Refer also to earlier "Be thick-skinned" and "People think you're a cop" bits.
Being an admin means that sometimes people will hate you and tell lies about you, and there's nothing you can do about it that won't make it worse.
There's a lot of good times involved in being an admin too, but you have to be prepared for being hated and lied about. This is important. If you honestly don't want that, if you think that would outweigh the good you're able to see and do, then this isn't a job for you.
More for the community moderation thread? Aye sure more for the community moderation thread.
Improbable Island made a grand last month. For a hobby that'd be AMAZING. For a full-time job, that sucks. Especially for a moderator, sysadmin, artist,
writer and developer all in one.
But this is the way it goes, running a website for money. Some months you're rich, some months you're poor.
Some folks don't do well with uncertainty but if you grew up scrabbling then you'll have an easier time!
One of the things that leads to this feast-or-famine kind of situation is the way people support websites.
The overwhelming majority of people will never give a website any money, no matter how politely the site may ask. A very small handful of people are very rich and will think of donating a grand the way you or I might stick 20p in the Barnardo's box. These people are called "Whales" and I've spent a decade trying to work around them, to limited success.
The thing about whales - quite aside from the dodgy ethics of having one or two people be basically financially responsible for the whole site - is that if you rely on whales, your income's gonna be incredibly inconsistent and you're gonna have a nightmare of a time trying to budget both your business and your life.
Improbable Island's donation setup tries hard to discourage whales and encourage instead small, manageable, regular donations from lots of people.
You'd think this would be an ideal setup for Patreon, but tbqh outside of the top handful of high rollers on that platform I've yet to see any benefit from it. I already took PayPal, and adding Patreon support just meant paying Patreon an additional cut (over and above the cut that PayPal already took!) for the dubious privilege of using their crappy API. The end result was that a handful of players switched to Patreon and now I get slightly less money from them.
(all my adult life I've been on-and-off employed/self-employed/both. It's a LOT harder to be self-employed in America, but elsewhere self-employment can be great, because instead of thinking "I'm a hundred quid short this month," I can think "I need to find another hundred quid from somewhere this month")
Another one for the community moderation thread: DEATH.
We just lost an Islander to COVID-19. I had to knock out an MotD in a hurry to get money and messages of condolence to his widow:
It's very late and I'm getting up very early and I'm emotionally exhausted from writing this, so there'll be more on this subject tomorrow.
For now, think on it, because this will happen to you.
Alright real quick thought on this because it just popped in there and grief does weird things to us:
Remember that bit towards the start of RoboCop where the chief comes in and takes the dude's name off the locker, says when the funeral is and donations to the family can be given to Cecil as usual? For a start, you're the chief, and you're Cecil too, so that's two jobs right out the damn gate
Alright, I'm awake, too damn early, and online death.
On any community website, people will die. When you, the admin, learn of one, it's because they were so heavily into the site that their spouse or whoever reached out to you or someone on the site to say hey this thing meant a lot to this person. That's vanishingly rare and for every one of those people there are scores who appear to just stop logging on, and are indistinguishable from people who just stop logging on but who are alive.
Just as we don't have the cultural DNA to be able to handle living on the internet, which is a huge part of our lives despite being brand heckin' new, we're even less prepared for people on the internet dying. The internet is so new, and death online so rarely noticed, that there's no real cultural consensus on how to process it. We have not yet developed rituals and stories and processes to help us cope with online death, so our range of reactions can be even more wildly varying.
Specific to our game, when a modulator died some years ago, we organized a walkabout through her places (player-created buildings) to find that she had left her character in a bed.
Seeing her name on a computer screen sent adrenaline down my spine and I legit felt like I'd seen a ghost. I reacted to seeing her name, in this context, the way I'd react to seeing a ghost, because although I knew her very well, I knew her *as a name.* I saw her *name* in exactly the context that I knew *her.*
We hear about moments like these, like an app posting on someone's behalf about some dumb game on Facebook or whatever, and although the following emotions can be anger or sadness or comfort or even becoming a part of a ritual of rememberance, the initial emotion in the moment tends to be shock. People literally say "I felt like I'd seen a ghost," because online we're halfway ghosts anyway.
So I remembered this last night, and I warned people that the player's character was still standing in their place. I didn't remove them, because some people would want me to and some would not want me to and the emotions are conflicting and wildly varying (because like I say no cultural consensus on how to handle death online and no stories to give is frameworks for how to grieve), but there's never anything wrong with warning folks so they can prepare.
Other things to keep in mind when dealing with the death of an online community member:
Yes, post a public message. You'll have complex admin-only feelings about the member that do not apply to the general userbase; keep those to yourself unless directed otherwise by the player's friends, because this isn't about you. Search "Comfort in, dump out" for info on that.
(our player's MotD, his friends told me, should be to GET PEOPLE THE HELL VACCINATED)
The family may ask you for kind words from the userbase, or set up a funeral fund.
The member's grieving family see your site as a source of happiness for the deceased member, and want to include it. The grieving family is not thinking, right now, of the nazi troll you banned last week.
The funeral home will set up a memorial page with all sorts of personal info. Don't link to it.
Tell your members to send kind words and money to *you,* and you'll pass them along.
DON'T DOXX THE WIDOW.
Everyone but the very young has known death. Traumatizing and awful as it can often be, it's a common experience for which we have a script to follow. *Online* death, or rather *noticed* online death, is much newer, people don't know how to cope, and there'll be kind of a mess. Be extra gentle with your users for the next little while.
Also be extra gentle with yourself, and try to resist the temptation to view the deceased as the most visible tip of an iceberg of unknown ghosts.
@ifixcoinops it's been so many years since I was on ii, but even I have vague memories of this player as a good and nice person. how sweet that he stayed on all this time; how bitter that he's gone now. 🕯️
anyway, I'm crying now, and part of that is because of what happened, and part of that is the true things you wrote about it. thank you, CMJ.
@twistylittlepassages He joined in 2009. We only opened in 2008! Everyone knew the guy! His circle of friends told me make people get the fucking vaccine, so that was my mandate for that MotD. Tomorrow might bring angrier political ranting because it wasn't just COVID tho killed him, it was overwork, lack of paternal leave, misinformation, governmental negligence, lack of healthcare, low pay...
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