Saturday, December 3, 2016

What Not to Do

Man, this fucking week. Month. Year.

OK, I'm not going to get into all of the ways that 2016 has sucked, because I have shit to do today. What I do want to talk about, a little, is this little shitshow.

That image is taken from the press release wherein Modiphius announced the writers for their new Star Trek game. I know a bunch of the guys up there, and that's a pretty impressive group of talent. You know what's not there? Any women. At all.

(Now, I'm pointing out that specific fact because I don't know all of the guys in that list, and I'm sure that some of them are LGBTQA+ and some of them might be POC; I literally don't know. So I'm sticking the what I do know, for now.)

That is, frankly, unacceptable. But I understand how it happened.

Why White Dudes Hire White Dudes

It happened because whoever was in charge of making that decision was a guy, and he went with the people he knew. He went with names he recognized, and while I'm sure he talked to some women, he didn't talk to enough. He didn't make hiring diversely a priority, and I'm here to tell ya, if it's not a priority you won't do it.

I've been in the position of hiring writers for RPG products, a bunch - dozens of projects going back to 2001 (when I had my first development gig after getting hired at White Wolf). It's hard when you have only X slots to fill, and you know X people who would be good for the gig, and all of them happen to be white dudes. That means that you know you're hiring qualified, talented people - people with whom you have a history - and that'll make the product solid, right? So hiring someone different means bumping someone you know will be good, on, what, some kind of quota?

There's a very big tendency in this hobby to knee-jerk rebel against authority, to say "You're Not the Boss of Me" to anyone trying to moderate the conversation (evidence: spend any amount of time on a heavily moderated message board or forum, especially if bannings and suspensions are public. Yes, like RPG.Net. No, I'm not interested in fighting about this). Any suggestion that hiring practices are in any way suspect gets met a lot of resistance, often using words like "quota," "merit," and "SJW." And all of that is bullshit.

No, you don't hire on a quota. You hire with an eye toward diversity. No, you don't hire someone whose writing is weak just because they're not a cishetwhitedude, but you might hire someone less experienced because of their diverse background. Ultimately it's a good choice.

Why I Hire Diversely 

Here are my reasons for hiring people not like me:

1) They're not like me. I'm a middle-class cis white man from Ohio. I was raised not rich, but certainly comfortable. I've made a lot of attempts to broaden my horizons as I've gotten older, but I'm limited by time, money, and health (social media helps!). I need diverse voices on my books because they say things I can't say because I don't know to say them.

2) The books benefit. Games written entirely by dudes like me wind up derivative and safe. Games with a diverse group of writers wind up interesting and unexpected. I can avoid being derivative and safe, but it's a conscious effort - much less work, really, to hire people who can bring change and variety easily.

3) It's fair. You can talk about "hiring on merit" all you want, but that's not how our brains work. We look for people like us and trust them more, and moreover, we avoid people we perceive as a threat (this is just an article I found on a quick Google search, but there's a lot more). Hiring diversely is a way to break down our own internal biases, and that's good for us as people, and it's good for the hobby.

How Did Modiphius Handle This

Badly. For one thing, they've kinda hung their freelancers out to dry. The guys on that list didn't make hiring decisions, and they're not accountable for the decisions Modiphius made. Instead of issuing a statement saying "we're aware of the problem, please direct questions and comments here" (where "here" is an email address or comment form so as to give people a place to direct feedback, rather than slather it over Facebook), one of their head dudes is hopping around on people's FB feeds, posting the same bunch of excuses. Basically, it cooks down to "we did talk to women, but they didn't get back to us, so we had to hire all dudes." 

Politely put, I don't believe that for a hot second. 

The press release includes this little coda at the end:

That's nice, guys, that you're looking for "diverse writers" but that's not enough. You need to approach people. You need to track down the people you want to work with. You need to make your team diverse, not whisper into the Internet "we want diverse people!" and then expect them to come to you. You're talking about populations that sci-fi, fantasy, RPGs, and gaming in general have marginalized, abused, and run out of the hobby for years. You want 'em, you need to find them. 

And hey, I get it. I've seen developers track down diverse voices and hire them, just to have them flake out on projects, and it would very easy to say "Hey, I hired a WOC on this project, she bailed or disappeared, if they don't want the jobs why should I bust my back hiring them?" 

My response to that is, I've had so many white dudes flake on projects. Just so many. And I've had women do it. It happens on every book. It's not a problem with any particular demo; if it's common in RPGs, it's because writers aren't paid enough to make the writing a priority and therefore when health, real life, or other things conflict, the little writing gig that you're being paid 4 cents a word for but asked to do playtesting, game design, writing, and world-building on is the thing that has to go. Sorry, little bonus rant for you. 

Anyway, the point is that yes, you need to make the effort. You need to build your team. You need to think about the voices you want to amplify.

There's more to this, but it's already getting long, so I think I'll post this and see what happens.