Human society has been experiencing a great leap in mental and emotional growth in the past two decades. Some of us were prepared, and even perpetuated, the growth, filling into the progressive, empathetic mindset that has slowly developed. Others have been reluctant to adopt the new ideas, resisting change in subtle but dangerous ways. Still others adamantly refuse to change, adhering to their traditional views and values, both consciously and subconsciously, afraid to let go of what they consider the foundations of their beliefs and identity.
For those of us in the tabletop gaming community, we have seen the ugly heads of the latter group arise and we have more or less separated those heads from their malignant owners. However, there are still those of the middle group, those seemingly acting in congruence with the new progressive, empathetic mindset, that are manipulating those who have adapted into heinous acts of abuse.
This issue arose once again this week when Ray Winninger, the new head of D&D at Wizards of the Coast, announced on Dragon Talk that Mike Mearls has rejoined the D&D team (the segment starts around 23:00). Mearls had not been involved with the D&D team for some time now. Instead, he’d been working on the video game end of the company, assisting with Baldur’s Gate III.
Mearls was involved in the controversy about Zak Smith, an RPG contributor to D&D and writer who had four women accuse him of abuse, sexual grooming and assault and death threats. Mearls was approached by victims of Smith’s abuse with evidence of his deeds and he allegedly proceeded to give the names and evidence to Smith, who allegedly doubled his harassment efforts upon them.
This enabling of a known harasser and abuser set the community alight, calling for Wizards of the Coast to fire Mearls. Instead, Mearls’ social media presence disappeared and his weekly Twitch show was promptly canceled. According to Jeremy Crawford, lead rules designer on D&D, on Twitter on April 28, Mearls had not worked on D&D “since sometime last year.”
Mearls’ return to the D&D development team has sparked the D&D community to call for his head once again, and rightfully so. Wizards of the Coast is coming off its most successful year for D&D ever and not dealing with the Mearls situation swiftly might cost them in 2020. Boycotts by fans have already begun in the #fireMikeMearls hashtag on Twitter.
For a company that promotes inclusion and harmony amongst their players, Wizards of the Coast has dropped the ball when dealing with Mearls. However, they aren’t alone. Popular DM Adam Koebel of Rollplay still has a job with JP McDaniel even after forcing his players to endure a sexual assault scene. He took a self-imposed hiatus from streaming and his GM duties, but he has not suffered much else in a professional sense.
What tabletop RPG companies need to realize is that their players are of a generation where abuse, harassment and sexual assault are zero tolerance offenses. They demand that perpetrators be held accountable, both professionally and personally. Creators and contributors to their favorite games committing these crimes taint the community’s experience with the games. Trust is lost, and it is very difficult to earn back if the company does not rectify the situation promptly.
Those who give the games a face, the GMs and DMs of the community, are held to even stricter scrutiny. They represent the community on a large scale. Their actions not only make them look bad, but mar the image of players of the games in general. Popular opinion of the game takes a nose dive and soon those who play are slapped with horrifying stereotypes that set the games back thirty years.
Abusers and harassers have no place in the tabletop gaming community. Those who exhibit such behavior should be immediately held accountable, regardless of whether they work for a game company or run a home game. The level of accountability needs to match the severity of the offense and whether the person has developed a habitual pattern of behavior. Adam Koebel should suffer professionally for his offense, especially since he has been a champion of inclusive and empathetic GM’ing. However, I feel that an honest attempt to rectify his behavior will earn him a place back at the table, under an even more scrutinizing eye of the community and rightfully so.
Mike Mearls did not harass or abuse anyone. However, he aided someone who was a known abuser to step up his abuse of known victims. In my eyes, that is just as bad, if not worse, than actually being an abuser. Mearls has not suffered enough of a penalty and firing him will be a good first step by Wizards of the Coast. Then, they should offer the community a massive apology for harboring Mearls for so long. Only then can they begin to rebuild the trust of their fans. It will take a while and any subsequent issues will have to be dealt with as they happen. No more tucking the offender in a closet. Push the offender into the spotlight to face not only his accusers, but the community at large.
Tabletop gaming is for everyone. It’s for everyone who will treat other players and members of the community with empathy and respect. It is for people who look after each other and defend other members from harm. This community is not for those who take advantage of others, harming them physically, mentally and emotionally. It is not for those who aid and abet those who abuse and harass. It’s time for gaming companies and home groups alike to adopt the same method for dealing with abusers: cut them out. Remove them from the community.