Monday, June 25, 2012

Sympathy and Nerd Culture

I hate writing this. I just want to talk about toy soldiers, fake fighting, and how the bourgeois class should be destroyed, but here I am talking about sympathy and empathy.

I don't know how or when, but sympathy and empathy have become a bad words. Having either is seen as a weakness, when it is even considered at all. More often people don't even think about the words, let alone exercise them.

Sympathy is being able to understand and care about another person's feelings. Empathy is being able to understand another person and fully feel where they are coming from because you can imagine living their situation out. Apathy is the act of just not feeling anything. Unfortunately in much of "nerd culture" there is a total lack of all three. Things are getting so bad that I would gladly accept apathy from people rather than what has been coming up instead.

Recently there has been a lot of discontent over Mongoose Publishing and their relationship with James Desborough. I had only just recently heard of James Desborough in relation to the Tentacle Bento Kickstarter, which he was apparently not part of but has tried to make a game about a similar idea previously and has since become a vocal defender of. I'm not an anime fan or anything, but even if I was I doubt I would be enthusiastic about a game dealing with heavily implied tentacle rape of teenage girls. Kickstarter eventually took it down, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I don't think there are too many people that want to be associated with a game that makes light of rape.

James Desborough has also worked with Mongoose Publishing and Steve Jackson Games. His work for Mongoose Publishing has had a similarly peculiar perspective on women. All the same, I really don't care: Tentacle Bento was disgusting and anyone that supported it has some serious issues with women. I get the impression that this guy has some real serious problems with women, but that could be waved away as his being an aberration if it wasn't for the defense he's received from white male nerds online. This Desborough guy is a real class act and he is one of those people you can easily hate just by reading what he says and does. Seriously, go to his website. This is a good example of him being awful, just watch him try to defend his work glorifying rape as "satire" or something. It's pretty awful.

I don't want to get too bogged down in this, especially since Quid Quid has a great summary of her experiences with Mongoose Publishing, but instead I would like to use this as a point to illustrate a complete lack of sympathy and empathy in society. My problem is not with the people who were bullies and threatened to rape the woman who started the petition, though they are despicable, but rather with the people who argued that others shouldn't be so sensitive about rape and the depictions of women in media. The first group aren't reachable, they have problems more serious than I can ever address, but the second group is very reachable because I used to do the same exact thing.

I used to be an angry young man. It was not uncommon for me to be right about a topic and to then be completely insufferable about it to those that disagreed. Hell, I'm sure I did it plenty about things I was wrong about as well. I would try to apply some Greek ideal of logic to every subject and get angry at those that weren't on the same page. I was oblivious to how my being a white straight male gave me a skewed perspective on topics of race, gender, and sexuality. I would instead just try to batter people to win any debate or argument, no matter how petty the topic of discussion was.

That's what Matthew Sprange of Mongoose Publishing did here. He tried to apply reason and logic, at least as he sees it, to a sensitive subject that clearly mattered more to the person who started the petition than it did to him. The correct thing to say is that while he may disagree with any outrage over Desborough's work and that he may not be able to fully understand the source of that outrage, that he does trust the people who are upset with it. Disagreeing but respecting and trusting the person you disagree with is powerful and important. No matter who was logically "correct" in this situation, Matthew Sprange should have ceded ground to those that were emotionally affected by Desborough's work.

Doing so demonstrates respect and sympathy. Who cares about the logic of the argument (although in this case I think Desborough's critics are clearly right), what really matters is respect and sympathy. Us nerd types want to win arguments. We care far more about winning an argument than in being respectful and sympathetic to those we're talking with. This attitude has become so ugly that many of us have started to use the language of those we disagree with in very ugly ways. By asserting "reverse sexism", where it is men who are harmed by sexism, and other such things many guys who are into nerdy hobbies are starting to get increasingly petty in their argumentative ways.

From Penny Arcade's childish defense of their sexist habits to everywhere else in gaming and nerdom, we see white men trying to assert that any view point that differs from their own is somehow wrong and worthy of contempt. This branches into another point I want to make, and hope to do so this week, about how we need to stop seeing the "white, straight, male" perspective as being the default perspective from which all others deviate from, but for now I'd just like to say that this is a larger problem throughout our society.

The larger point I'm trying to make is that being able to sympathize with people is important. Understanding that a joke about rape causes more harm to someone than it can ever cause happiness to another who might find it funny is important. Instead of arguing over the taste of jokes about rape, sex, race, or other such subjects wouldn't it be better to just trust that these are sensitive issues to people and let it go? Is being right more important than having someone feel comfortable and included?


I've been writing this for a few days and I'm glad to see that Mongoose Publishing has done the right thing. For as long as Desborough wants to pout and talk about how he is being discriminated against he should not be employed by a company like Mongoose Publishing. I used to be a big fan of Mongoose, too, as I loved their Mighty Armies, Starship Troopers, Battlefield Evolution, Victory At Sea, and other miniature games. Their initial response was enough to make me never take a second look at Noble Armada again, but since then they have come out and said the right things. Good on them.

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