How to deal with politics in a games community

I’ve been running a community now in one form or another for about a decade, and something I’ve consistently struggled with is how to navigate the various needs that a game community has, specifically with regards to political/social or otherwise highly “controversial” topics. The current KBGames community mostly operates on Discord, and you can check out our channel here.

The typical approach is simply, “ban all conversations about politics”. This is what many, if not most, gaming community forums do. Sometimes conversation is very restricted to being only about the developer’s games. I have two problems with this approach.

One issue is that it kind of feels like you stepped into some ad-cave, like some marketing installation for a company rather than a real community. I just personally don’t like that, I feel like people are kind of commodified to some extent, like we’re all just like +1 User in this chatroom. That’s overstating it a bit, but there’s a little bit of that feeling.

I also am just not all that attracted to companies that feel that… inhuman, corporate, untouchable. I like it when companies are clearly made up of people, who have clear, specific ideologies and ideas and feelings. Partially this is because I think companies’ attempts to paint themselves as these faceless entities that exist in the ether is often a mechanism that’s used to dodge responsibility for anything they do.

Another issue is that people need to talk about politics because politics affects them. There is this meme out there that you don’t talk about politics on the internet. I think that’s always been wrong, but now with COVID-19 and the ways that that has affected human life, it’s less true than ever. We absolutely have to talk about politics, and yes, online.

I think a successful community will feel more and more like a regular part of your life. When you have a few minutes, you go to that particular space. You know the people and the personalities, and maybe you even become close with some of them. A culture starts to form, with particular specific memes, tendencies, and ways of communicating. That is great!

But it’s also like, the more of a “real shared space for a group of people to be social in” it becomes, the more people need to be able to talk about the things which are affecting them, including political and social issues.

Reactionary Politics

A major complicating factor here is, and I don’t know if you know this, but there’s actually a pretty big reactionary/racist/sexist/transphobic population contingent within games and gaming spaces. (I actually wrote a 75 page paper about this last year as part of my polisci degree – I made it available to my Patrons if you’re interested.) Their existence presents someone like myself with two distinct, somewhat opposing problems:

  1. I want to isolate and protect people inside my community who would be vulnerable to their toxic stuff. I don’t want the community to just be a bunch of cishet white guys; I want it to feel like a space where everyone is welcome, and that means somehow keeping out the reactionaries.
  2. I also think it’s important to engage with, push back on, and challenge this stuff. Especially for someone like myself, who has the energy and the privilege (and thus the patience) to be able to slug it out with these people, on some level I think that’s important. (Or, I don’t know. Is it? I go back and forth on this one more often these days, but I just don’t know what other choice there is besides *someone* speaking to these people and trying to work something out.)

Anyway, clearly, 1 and 2 there can’t be going on in the same place. And that’s kinda the issue I’ve been having for… well, years. Around 10 years, honestly.

Going Forward

With the impending release of Gem Wizards Tactics, I’m expecting (hopefully!) an influx of at least some new players and community members. Something that would happen sometimes before was, a person would come to the Discord and pop around through the channels, and in our #politics channel they would see a huge, somewhat nasty fight, often on extremely contentious issues, (like the recent awful JK Rowling stuff was one example). On the one hand, I feel like, those fights have to get fought, right? But at the same time, no progress is ever made. A chatroom has got to be the worst format for that kind of conversation.

For years, some have told me that the #politics chatroom was a problem. They told me that it was a problem for my business, some told me that it made them uncomfortable, some left the server over it, and we even created a “BannedFromPolitics” role that would keep users who wanted nothing to do with the chatroom from being able to read it.

And also, Gem Wizards Tactics has a button on its title screen that takes you to the discord. Do I really want someone who just wanted to play a cute Advance Wars-like game to plop into my Discord and immediately be confronted with some guy attacking affirmative action?

So, as of today, we’ve deleted the #politics chatroom. Instead, we created a new, separate Discord for people from my community (and wherever) who want to talk about politics. You can access that one here. As to the official KBGames Discord, it isn’t that you’re not allowed to talk about politics there. You can, and to some extent, it’s even encouraged, but with a couple of caveats:

  • A guideline is that if a topic is contentious, longer discussions about it should be taken to direct messages or group DMs, or the new politics Discord, and
  • Bigotry of all kinds will actively be banned now.

I’m really bad at banning for some reason and it’s a reasonable perspective to have that I’ve let bigots go unchecked too long because I wanted to confront them. But firstly, sunlight isn’t always a disinfectant; sometimes, sunlight makes things grow. And secondly, it’s easy for me to say that they can stay, as someone who isn’t implicated by their garbage rhetoric.

So, I’ve deputized a few mods and they’re aware that going forward, these kinds of things are not to be tolerated.

I really hope that these changes help to make sure that the KBGames Discord and community is both a real place where people can talk about game design, games in general, and all kinds of other stuff, including personal things, and yes, including politics, while also feeling safe from reactionary bigot garbage.

With that said, I also expect that this will continue to be a process. Community management is really tough. I’d love to hear other people’s ideas about how they’re managing their communities and whether they’ve struggled with similar issues.

Thanks for reading.