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Storyboard: Dramatic community

Eliot Lefebvre

A couple of friends of mine recently found themselves knee-deep in roleplaying community drama. For those of you who have not seen this dread beast before, let me assure you that it is the most vile of all forms of drama, in which people wind up angry at one another over elements that virtually no one else cares about. I've seen it strike many times, and it's always frustrating and unpleasant due in no small part to its sheer pointlessness.

I've talked about community drama on one occasion when it comes to the Final Fantasy XIV roleplaying community, but the fact that I'm seeing it passed around elsewhere means that it's a topic worth addressing in a general sense. This isn't drama centered around what happened within the game but drama about the managerial aspects of the community, about handling site ownership and moderation and all of the associated stuff. And there are a few tricks to help minimize this before it starts.

You are not the guy with the statue, you're the guy standing at the base.  Along with everyone else.Realize that you are not even a little important

Let's assume that you put together a site for a game's roleplaying community, complete with forums, a wiki, and all the other points necessary. This is undeniably cool. Let's say you even pay for the whole thing out of your own pocket, although most sites rely on community donations. This is also undeniably cool. You might even feel as if you're cooler than the other people on your site, like the person in charge, like a boss.

That's where you start verging into not being cool because no, you are not important.

Organizing a community site just means that you're creating a common ground for roleplayers to occupy, a way for everyone to be on the same page and have a shared form of communication. The people you have to work with you on varius community projects are not your employees, and they are not your lackeys; they are people who volunteered their time to create something of use to everyone. You deserve many tips of the hat for that effort, but that does not entitle you to lay down the law for others, nor does it make you anything more than a roleplayer who got things organized.

The vast majority of people I've seen who started to go down this route quickly backed off, and that's to their credit. I have heard horror stories of people who have resolutely believed that they were the alpha and omega of the roleplaying community, which is less encouraging. But remember, even if you are running a community site, you are still just another roleplayer. I have been writing professionally about roleplaying for three years and I'm still just another roleplayer. I just happen to be a roleplayer who talks about it for living, that's all.

Let go of your ego and let the community develop as it will. Don't try to be a celebrity because it will only end in tears, possibly including your own.

Don't be like Malvolio.  He is not a nice dude.Recognize the lack of any real stakes

Let's be clear here. When arguing over the administration of a roleplaying community, you are not arguing over a real sword. You are not arguing about an in-game sword. You're not even arguing about a pretend in-game sword that's meant as a character prop. You are arguing over who is in control of a site solely devoted to discussions about those pretend in-game swords.

I say this not to belittle the concept but merely to point out that this discussion is several degrees removed from anything resembling a big deal. For many players it really doesn't matter one way or the other. The stakes are only as high as you make them.

Arguments tend to get more vicious as the stakes get lower, and it's easy to start getting more possessive about silly things when they matter less. I don't know exactly why; somehow we human beings are skilled at determining that the person on the other side shouldn't care even as we care very strongly. But it helps to realize that before you get pointlessly nasty, you're fighting over essentially nothing.

This goes for both sides. If someone wants to start a separate community site, fine, no reason to start a thing over it. The door will be open. If you don't like how someone is managing the community, there's no reason to start a fight over it. There are times when it's appropriate to step up and say something, and times when it's equally important to take action, but getting into an online screaming match over it is not going to help. This brings me nicely to my last point.

Remember that you will not win a shouting match on the internet

Arguments on the internet are the most pointless thing ever. A worthwhile argument leads to something changing; an argument on the internet just leads to people getting angry.

I know, you weren't looking for an argument. The problem is that once you've found one, the correct response is to let it go. You are not going to convince the other person of anything, you are not going to be convinced of anything, and the only thing that continuing a long argument will actually achieve is getting everyone good and angry for an extended period of time. Maybe if you try really hard to you could split the community into multiple factions and have everyone be bitter and vindictive!

No matter how right you are, no matter how polite you are, no matter how unambiguously it's someone else's fault, you have to let go of the idea that you'll put together the perfect counter-argument and everyone will agree with you. Your best option is to take a deep breath and move on to the plan after that argument didn't work. If that means moving on to another site, do that. If that means accepting something you disagree with, so be it.

I'm not saying it's fair. But avoiding drama sometimes means disagreeing with something, possibly even profoundly, and accepting that you're not going to change anyone's mind about it. Be productive instead of argumentative.

Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to Next week, let's look at villainy, a topic I'm surprised I haven't covered more. The week after that, I want to talk about artifacts and other props.

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.

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