The Summer Update — Addressing The Meta
Credits to Doom321 and Defy for the amazing artwork!
I hope you are having a good day! Today, I announce a new seasonal format called the LotC Mission Update. The LotC Mission Update covers community attention, admin outlook, and a vision for the near future. I will try to keep sections as clear as possible for you, my dear reader. It is a bit long, but, I hope it may stir a fruitful discussion.
This post is open for commentary, so please reply below with your excitements, your frustrations, your suggestions, and your thoughts.
I wish you all the best, let’s begin!
A Respectful Community
Every year, we approach toxicity differently. Our diversity of solutions has not been to our benefit though—to the contrary, I believe many agree we've lost our path.
We treat bans thoughtlessly. With an airy and indifferent attitude, both staff and community have come to grow and nourish a system that welcomes malevolence.
When the punishment is one week to a month for truly malicious activity, we confound the message itself. Are we trying to remove a bad actor from causing further harm, or are we trying to reform a veteran to “be better”?
Let’s be real. We neither have the resources nor the ungodly patience to ‘reform’ veteran players. We may guide new folks onto the right path, we may teach people the ropes—we can even reintroduce old players back into the wildly different LotC that we are today. But, ‘reforming’ and ‘reeducating’ a veteran yields nothing. Ultimately, not only is this mildly Orwellian—it is also ineffectual.
Bans are not a substitute for communication and neither are they a method to be used frequently. Especially, as I personally believe—the communication about a ban must happen before it is final (since a discussion when the decision is already finalized is a waste of time and ultimately disrespectful). Typically, after a voice conversation or a cordial discussion it is easier to empathize and understand their point of view (ultimately the ban trigger becomes a lot less appealing).
Bans are the endmost method to remove delinquents and malevolent elements from our community. The ideal ban protects our community, protects our values, and protects our integrity and spirit. Bans must not be a light consequence. Bans are a final option to consider, and, once administered, they must eliminate the problem for as long as necessary. Miscreants do change, but they must bear the burden—not our overburdened and ill-equipped system.
Last month, Moderation identified this issue perfectly well. Their proposed solution, conflict blacklists, deliver a profound and tangible punishment.
If we issue profound punishments, then we must once again consider and respect the consequences. Our goal must not be to remove people, but to find compromise.
I consider several criteria to establish a fair and just punishment.
The person does not cooperate with staff or refuse to communicate respectfully.
They have stirred upset or gained an unfair advantage.
They act generally in poor-spirit and are not interested in changing their ways or adhering to instruction.
They have a history of delinquency or the severity crosses the point of no return.
A situation that merits a ban will easily eclipse one month in duration, and last up to several years. If you are removed from the community in this manner, you have the option to contest the ban and argue for your place on the server. It is important to underline why you are a positive influence, through the use of your privilege to access LotC.
If we shift our perspective this way—then what function do blacklists serve?
We would no longer need them. Blacklists could retire in favour of open communication and respect. We would withdraw the option for staff to issue minor or toned down punishment. However, the player would be expected to discuss the situation with both the staff and those they upset. If necessary, a member of staff will facilitate this conversation. Afterwards, there is no tacked-on repercussion (provided that they act in good-spirit and adjust their behaviour).
This way, we abandon our role of ‘the judge who metes your discipline’, and embrace a position of mediation, assistance, and serving the community.
Addressing the Meta(game)
The battle you avoid or pretend into nonexistence is a battle you lose.
It used to be that when controversy came about onto our forums that it was standard and obvious procedure to remove it. This especially was employed for aggressive and irrational discourse—but all it did was shunt the real conversation into the shadows. By deleting or “feedback noted”-axing threads which address real issues we lost the ability to have a civil exchange as a community.
I propose that we lift the veil behind another, similarly pernicious topic. The effects are not obvious, but subtly it affects us all. Let me see if I can get this right.
We pretend that the metagame does not exist on LotC. —Huh? What does that mean?—The way we act is if it does not cross bannable territory then we pretend as though it isn’t happening. You see, it is in our rules that metagaming is prohibited so someone who is not banned therefore can’t be metagaming, right…? Bear with me for a moment.
There are the rare cases where overt metagaming is punished. However, the matter is nuanced. We forgive a cetain amount of metagaming, as is healthy. Though, while we treat overt meta like a grevious sin, we treat another type of meta as if it does not exist.
Overt metagaming is when your character gains premonition or even specific knowledge that they never had access to. This is the obvious and punishable kind.
On the flip-side, a more subtle form of metagaming I would coin as subversive metagaming. This is the form that you cannot simply ‘ban’, as it is elusive and subjective. In its more obvious form, subversive metagaming can be described as changes in activity and temperament in-character when a player acquires knowledge in out-of-character. In it’s more concealed form, it would be rolling in, all-smiles and rainbows OOCly, while using their character to cause mayhem and disruption.
This issue exists. This issue is not addressed because at the end of the day, we blindfold ourselves and whisper that metagaming is against the rules and therefore it’s all done in-character. We explain it away as a “quirk of their character”, nod and agree that, alas, roleplay is roleplay—so deal with the spite yourself.
This meta-backstab exists, and is immoral. So what does this mean for us?
It means that, beginning with the new conflict rules and moving forward, we will acknowledge the real meta as a staff. Acknowledging subversive meta means that we update our rules based on the understanding of this principle. Not that we ban for it, but that the structure we have in place in this game plainly deters it. The policies and structures we have in place should promote the kind of environment that we want to see.
Certain forms of metagaming remain against the spirit of our community, however, we must be able to recognize meta and distinguish the bad from good without immediately reaching to ban. The goal should not be to punish. The goal is to highlight communication and consideration for the person behind the screen and to design an environment that promotes this. This is the key to our vision for the future on LotC.
What is this vision?
A favourite quote of mine got me thinking recently and it comes from @frill on the conflict faq post. The key to sincere and enjoyable roleplay really is in the backstage wink and handshake. How can we acknowledge the fact that a respectful OOC handshake can benefit our roleplay and LotC general experience—if the moment we witness meta we reach for the ban trigger?
How can we appreciate let alone encourage agreement and good-spirit in our community without this ability? So it’s time to ditch the veil and acknowledge the true meta. The true meta that is beholden to the cooperative story and the game we enjoy and built on these unspoken rules and our individual responsibility to preserve this experience. A responsibility we acknowledge the moment we sign up to this server.
As part of the journey I began in 2017 in this post, I believe this is a crucial step to restoring this crumbled aspect of our beloved server.
How can we make use of this? The answer is, through our agreement OOCly to drop pretenses and respect The Narrative of our story, we let roleplay flow freely, uphold mutual respect, and laugh and banter together while our characters bleed from steel and succumb to sorcery.
The nations that cultivate an accepting, forthright, cooperative, and helpful environment will flourish over the ones that do not. It is a part of the responsibility of a community leader that you role-model the behaviour our guidelines venerate and revere. More on this topic later.
In the meantime, know that we keep this in mind as we brainstorm our next move forward.
Have you read and agreed with the Terms and Rule-ditions?
We’ve got a blindingly long list of rules. Really, we’ve lost track of what a rule means, in its entirety.
What is the core problem of a rule? It shuts our conscience off. Behold, a fictional 3 hour settlement banditry cooldown! Rest assured that at least one pack of morons will log on at 7am and bandit the same settlement at precise 3 hour intervals from the asscrack of dawn to the sunset over the horizon.
What is wrong with specifying a rule here?
As the most official thing we have on LotC, Rules suppress our moral centre. While we may know inherently the prior situation were wrong, the rules stipulate it is perfectly acceptable to do so. The moral question of whether you are deliberately and repeatedly upsetting someone dies. And hence, born and long-living, is the method by which to “follow the rules”.
Ultimately, rules are about preventing discordance. Everyone has the same set of rules and they are the same for you as they are for me. But, if a group of players have a good time within our lore, then… who will honestly agree we benefit from staff jumping in and striking those foul rule-breaking fun-having heathens!? Fundamentally, I say this because our goal as a staff is to create an environment whereby we have fun and try to help others do the same. If nobody is upset, then intervention is unequivocally undesirable.
So what happens when you bury good-spirit and common sense in the name of all-encompassing rules?
First of all, the players who join our community downright don’t read the “terms and conditions”-length ruleset we have. When they inevitably break one of the sacred rules, such as killing your livestock without leaving two to mate—our reaction should not be reach to discipline them. We can spawn the livestock back, confiscate the materials, and then discuss why it isn’t in the interest of our community that we run around wantonly slaughtering livestock (and whether it is in-character for our personas to do so?).
Second of all, when dignity takes such a stirringly subservient role to the iron-law of our rules, we foster an environment where loopholing and toxicity fester and rot us from inside. Integrity and principle are lost when we discard them in favour of a tyrannical penal-first system.
And third, ’all-encompassing’ is a fool’s errand. There is simply no such thing as a ruleset that covers every possibility. If we wish to treat each other humanely and empathetically we must stop demanding authority and rules every time we might have to make even a minor compromise. And we must encourage this by example and not by ruleset.
Do we breed newcomers like cattle to slaughter? From invitation, to ban? Perhaps, the systems we have in place encourage this mentality. We don’t login to read several dozens of rules and get banned because we missed one.
Now is the time we take action to address and consider what our rules and their implicit execution fosters.
Staff — Oppressive Tyrants or Benevolent Facilitators?
I believe the duty of the staff is to discover the direction our community desires and from it extrapolate a coherent vision while staying true to our roots.
The true authority, in my opinion, is the community as an entity. An individual may be wrong, a sizeable group may be wrong, but taken wholly we do understand what it is that we enjoy, even if conceptually we cannot or do not express it.
This is where the staff stands fallible—as the position is inherently vulnerable to personal agenda and disconnection. Fundamentally, what makes or breaks a brilliant staff is the ability to string and tie together the threads of desire and complaint into a harmonious and cohesive vision.
Additionally, I believe we vote with our actions. Many of us remain on LotC despite upsets and pitfalls because we believe in this community. Some of us realize over time that the experience has lost a certain charm that kept us logging in. This “charm” is a different quality of LotC to all of us, something unique for each of us.
Over time the experience changes for better and for worse and we adapt to the times. But some changes grow painfully obvious to be for the worse… and they are solvable.
At the end of the day—my central vision for staff is as benevolent facilitators. For you, we will organize fun activities, prepare our newbies for the journey, design wondrous maps, mediate disputes, develop exciting plugins, and in full, help you enjoy this experience, together.
Hopefully, soon we can come to terms with our position and role on this server, sit down together, laugh together, and take ourselves a bit less seriously.
Community Leaders — Who are they?
Each of us has a duty on this server, to uphold our community guidelines and good-spirit of this experience. Some of us are in a better position to do so, and some folks will point to the staff as the intrinsic role-models we expect and perhaps the “easy” answer.
However, in my observations, there is another key-figure on LotC—the community leader. Charter leaders, nation leaders, guild leaders—you name it—they are all of us and we are everywhere.
It is a demanding job. Your community expects you to provide or else the nature of the gaming medium will lead them to scatter and for you to lose your flock. Provide what? Let’s say, timely and reliable availability, engaging and relevant events, fair and mutual decisionmaking, forthright and helpful discussion, and welcoming and cooperative conduct.
Why have “backdoor” leaders become more popular? Because, the position is not held to the same scrutiny. The puppet may bear the scorn and resentment of the community for the other’s wrongdoings. If a leader acts in the shadows and dishonestly, they will use your obedience and silence to their fullest advantage.
What does it mean for us to officially recognize and respect community leaders? It means that we can acknowledge the meta and it’s relevance to a position of power, we can acknowledge the state of our bans, we can acknowledge the state of our rules and the system of enforcement, and, finally, we can acknowledge the place of the staff to enable and facilitate the virtues of this community.
A Closing Statement
Thank you for reading this address and mission statement of sorts. Like I mentioned prior, I am most excited to read your thoughts and insights into this seasonal edition of communication, a format I present in addition to our monthly community newsletters. I hope using this we can identify pertitent contemporary issues and offer our own comprehension and insight on them.
What do you think?
Telanir & the Administration