Icculus, The MUD Connector, and the Jesus that died for me

I had a post written up about our new community policing system, but instead I am going to take a little detour to talk about a different subject – that of the ‘Saga of Jesus Died For You’. Settle down kids, Uncle Drakkos has a story to tell. This isn’t an *important* story, or about a particularly important issue. It is however relevant to Epitaph and the community I want to encourage here.

A while ago, I posted about how the various mud sites, especially The Mud Connector, had become ‘unfit for purpose’. The roaring, raving trolls and hatemongers had made any discussion a long, unpleasant tirade of half-wits taking incompetent verbal swings at other half-wits. I have absolutely zero time for the site and its community, but I do still check the forums every so often just because sometimes there’s something of vague, passing interest posted by an unfamiliar name on an unexpected topic.

Recently, a new banner had made its way into the ad rotation of the site – one for the website ‘Jesus Died For You’. Someone made a post saying ‘Hi, this seems inappropriate, and it seems like someone may have slipped it into the rotation. Can an admin remove it?’

Well, the site admin responded. ‘I put the banner there, because it’s a message I think everyone needs to see’. Subsequent issues were raised regarding the fact that the banner violated the site rules, and if anyone else at all had put it in there that it would have been prohibited. The emergence of a double standard was criticised.

Press the fast forward button on this thread and you’ll see it follow a predictable pattern, whereby the atheists go to war with the theists, the Christians refer to ‘the gays’ as animals, claim their persecution under a system that gives them almost blanket political authority, and burble on about the world being six thousand years old. The non-believers rejoin with accusations of stupidity, intolerance and naive credulity. Even if you had no idea of the people involved or the site itself you could write a passable summary of the thread just from your own experience of the Internet.

Well, the thread just got locked. Not just locked, but every contribution anyone had made on the subject was deleted[1] on the grounds it contained ‘nothing of substance worth keeping’. The rules of the MUD site were adjusted to make religion a forbidden subject for discussion. The banner stays – so, proselytising is permitted by the admin, but the only recourse any of the community have is to use ad block[2] or quit[3]. Those are the choices the admin of the site has given you. It’s fine for me – I don’t contribute to the site and had no intention of doing so. It costs me nothing to remove the site from my regular ‘rotation’ of MUD sites[5], and that’s what I will do just as soon as this particular drama runs its course. My view of Icculus (mostly a kind of weary sad contempt at this point) will make no difference to anyone at all. The fact I won’t be registering Epitaph within TMC (more than it already is) will not change anything in any direction for anyone.

All MUD drama is almost microscopically small. This drama though does harken back to something i have written about with regards to Epitaph.

A while ago, I wrote about how I wrestle with issues of proselytising within Epitaph[4], and how I try very hard to keep my own political and religious views out of the game. I don’t always succeed, because it’s often impossible because of the need to extrapolate a game world from current events.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this because of my own strongly held political views regarding Scottish independence. Despite the fact that this is, from a certain perspective[6], ‘my game’ I feel very uncomfortable about forcing my views on the people who come here. I also feel very strongly that if an admin is allowed to pontificate on a topic it *needs* to be open to everyone to respond. As soon as you have a special list of topics that only you are allowed to discuss, you have overstepped your role as the ‘leader’ of a community. Your community is only as valuable as the people within it, and an admin must be respectful if that value is to be retained and grown.

What I find most objectionable about this incident though is the ham-fisted way in which the topic has been dealt with. The simple fact is that one person *can* unilaterally delete content. It is though almost insufferably dismissive to simply delete that content without giving people a chance to capture any of the posts that they submitted. People submit content to forums under the implied agreement that their content will be available later. To violate that implied agreement is to show contempt for your users. I understand if you feel that you can’t justify your stance that it’s easier to simply shut down dissent, but there’s a reason why we as a society tend to look down upon those who exercise that level of authoritarianism. I understand if your position on an issue has been comprehensively demolished you don’t want to give the ammunition used back to the aggressors, but it’s *their ammunition* and it’s disrespectful to make them construct it again. You *can* delete it, but you *shouldn’t.

Locking threads is sometimes required when a topic gets so bitter that it generates heat and no light. Deleting content and then banning objections over the deletion is never required because it encourages revisionism and discourages analysis over your actions. It has the paradoxical effect of making you look weak because you will crush dissent rather than attempt to engage and convince. It makes you seem as if you’re too uncertain of the validity of your own position to be able to express it logically in such a way that people will see your point.

Your community only has the value that the people within it provide. You can put the tools for them to cohere in place. You can create the circumstances under which a community can flourish. That doesn’t mean you own the community. It doesn’t belong to *you*, you’re just the caretaker. That might seem unfair, but as soon as someone pulls the ‘it’s my ball’ card out of their deck, they’ve just shown me that they aren’t worth my time.

I guess what I am saying is that come Epitaph’s opening day, I am prepared to make this deal with everyone – your work, whether in character development or in producing content for the community, will never be treated cavalierly. You can criticise me to your heart’s content[7]. I will never summarily delete dissent[8]. I understand that while the game *mechanics* belong to those of us in the creator base, the game itself is something that becomes valuable only as a result of the people playing it. Those who invest in a community deserve at least that from those who would seek to benefit from their ongoing engagement.

Drakkos.

P.S. ┬áIf you’re interested in more, you can always check here.

[1] http://www.mudconnect.com/discuss/discuss.cgi?mode=MSG&area=general&message=26606#26606
[2] And thus cutting off numerous MUDs from one of their few outlets for advertising their existence.
[3] And thus diminishing what little community there is there even further.
[4] http://epitaph.imaginary-realities.com/wp/?p=651
[5] That list is becoming very small it has to be said. I’m not sure what it is about the MUD community, but it seems to breed the worst kind of people.
[6] And it’s not *my* perspective. I think these kind of communities are ‘owned’ on many levels by many different individuals in many different ways.
[7] I don’t promise to care, or even listen, but you’ll certainly have room to raise any complaints you have.
[8] Although I obviously reserve the right to lock topics and shut down conversations that are straying into the area of unacceptability. I’ll never make it look like they never happened though.

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3 Responses to Icculus, The MUD Connector, and the Jesus that died for me

drakkos says:

Postscript

Crikey, developments. I went out for dinner with my girlfriend’s aunt and uncle, and bam – things happened. This post went viral[1], and Icculus restored the thread he had deleted[2]. I think that’s a gutsy move, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. The banner itself remains, but that was never something I cared all that much about in terms of ‘outrage’. I won’t engage where the admin tries to proselytize on the back of the ‘core competency’ of the site but that’s hardly a loss for anyone. I wasn’t contributing anyway, and I will simply continue my policy of detached vague interest.

Unfortunately, while Icculus has been big enough to restore the thread, I pretty much feel that the damage has been done. Community trust is *immensely* fragile. The reputation of both the site and its admin follow the same well known rule – it takes a lifetime to build and a second to destroy. A Rubicon was crossed here. This is a site where controversial material might end up deleted without warning. I hope it never happens again[3], but it will take years before I have any confidence this was a one off. For now, I have to mark TMC down into that category of websites where the admin, given the power to do whatever he wants with the site, will exercise that power without self-restraint.

It seems unfair that my postscript can’t simply draw a line under it since the ‘offense’ was reversed, but that’s the way of ethics really. It’s what governs your behaviour when there’s no higher authority in the land[4]. I have a new measure of respect for Icculus having reversed his decision, but unfortunately a reversal doesn’t always heal the wound that the original action caused.

C’est la vie.

Drakkos.

[1] Or as viral as it can go within the tiny mudding community. Justin Bieber has nothing to worry about.
[2] I doubt there’s a connection between A and B here.
[3] My interest in this largely focuses around ‘admin ethics’ – the banner, which is a minor thing in the great scheme of things, and the deletion which was hugely troubling. Norms on the Internet are already flimsy enough without this kind of thing going unchallenged.
[4] Save for Jesus, I guess, in this case.

drakkos says:

http://www.mudconnect.com/discuss/discuss.cgi?mode=MSG&area=general&message=26716#26716

I guess becoming born again is like remorting in a DIKU. You lose all your previous experience. The only way to describe how Icculus is behaving now is to liken him to a fifteen year old running a forum for their friends.

My forecast – the end of TMC, not with a bang but with the whimper of alienating your core contributors. Most online communities are made up of lurkers – those who read, but don’t write (much like myself on TMC). If you lose the people who write, you lose the people who lurk.

drakkos says:

Michty me, things have progressed fast. Now the forums are completely gone. I’ll say this for Icculus, when he wants to make himself look like a completely clown he goes all out. No pussy-footing around, just screamimg hissy fits and then an act of self-destruction. This is how it ends. Not with a bang but with… whatever the hell this is.

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