The Week the Atomic Think Tank went Nuclear

There used to be an Internet message board/forum called the Atomic Think Tank. It was dedicated to the "Mutants and Masterminds" role-playing game, published by Green Ronin Publishing. And, in 2011, after the RCU started changing over from Champions to Mutants and Masterminds, a poster using the handle "Earth-Two Kenn" joined. In April of 2014, Green Ronin Publishing decided to 'merge' the ATT into their other message boards. The result was an area of the Ronin Army forum also called "Atomic Think Tank" which had several sub-forums. It was a good place, if not as busy as the old Think Tank. Then came the day Batgirl III and Lara Croft got into it.

There was a popular thread where a fellow ("Jab") would post M&M write-ups of existing fictional characters. And he was working on characters from the "Street Fighter" series of video games. And he had gotten to Chun-Li. The discussion went onto the subject of fan-service in video games. This person who uses Lara Croft (the busty, leggy "archaeologist" from the "Tomb Raider" video games) as her avatar strongly objected to busty, leggy characters being in video games and took Batgirl III (who's avatar was Cassandra Caine, one of Batman's more recent sidekicks) to task for saying that she didn't mind fan-service. Their argument got heated. Jab reported his own thread because he was bothered by Lara's vehemence towards Batgirl.

Now, for years, the moderators at these forums had been properly invisible. They stepped in when they needed to step in, and I suppose they may have posted in some of the sub-forums for some of Green Ronin's other games. On the night of 31 October, 2016, this changed. "Fildrigar", a moderator and employee of Green Ronin (his "handle" and real name are publicly on Twitter), investigated the thread and decided that a post comparing the misogynists within the GamerGate community (circa 2015) to the Satanists within the D&D community (circa 1985) was a pro-GamerGate defense of the terrible things the worst elements of the GamerGate community have done. And having made that decision, he replied with a level of professionalism that was frightening. Please observe, and sorry about the language (and thank you LuketheDuke86 for the screen shots).

The "that didn't take long" is that Batgirl had composed a lengthy reply to the discussion, off-line, and had posted it before she saw Fildrigar's warning. She might have retracted it, had she been given a chance to actually see the warning. She wasn't given the chance.

I was on-line, at the time, at these forums. I watched this go down. I barely got the following out to Batgirl at her "backup" account before it, too, was banned.

I just have to say that I am dismayed and confused by Fildrigar's reaction to your post. As a non-gamer, I'm not really up on the ins and outs of GamerGate. But when I read your post, I took it to mean that not all gamers should be painted with the pro-GamerGate brush, the same way that calling all D&D players, back in the day, satanists was wrong. I mean, it always seemed to me that there easily could be satanists who played D&D. Satanists exist, and one would expect them to be "non-conformist" enough that they might play D&D. That doesn't mean all D&D players are satanists (not if my Jewish, Buddhist, neo-Druidic, Methodist, Catholic, etc. gaming friends are any indicator). And painting people in broad strokes is wrong. Obviously, there are some of these GG people who do very bad things. But all of them? You weren't defending the bad behaviour of the few. You were saying the few aren't the whole.

I found Fildrigar's reaction disturbing, and an abuse of the moderator powers the Green Ronin army have entrusted him with. I understand he's close to the issue, but, in my reading, he was reading something into your statements that wasn't there, and his reactions were not warranted.

In her brief reply she thanked me for understanding what she was trying to say.

I contacted another moderator that night, indicating my fear and dismay at Fildrigar's actions. Other posters contacted other mods. There are several of us who were disturbed by what had happened, whether we agreed with Batgirl or not.

The following day, I'll admit, I poked the bear. I'm a little too Browncoat ("I aim to misbehave"), I guess. I added

"Do as I say, not as I do" is never a good management style.

The root word of "moderator" is "moderate".

"There are always men like you."

to my board "signature". There was a discussion in Jab's thread about what had happened, with the few morning posters agreeing that Fildrigar had wronged Batgirl III. This was followed by an 8 or 9 hour period when the boards were down, ostensibly for upgrades and "to give everyone a cooling off period". People were still frustrated and angry about what had happened. But nothing was done to correct what had happened. Eventually, several posts pertaining the situation were removed from Jab's thread, and a more detailed post from someone higher up was supposedly coming.

As of this writing, on 5 November, 2016, at least three more people have received "temporary" bannings for vague infractions of the Terms of Service. Apparently, the act of complaining about moderators violating their Terms of Service is a violation of the Terms of Service. One of those three is me. I consider myself in good company.

More recently, Green Ronin's general manager is speaking of shutting down the forums in their entirety. Continued, more desperate, and, admittedly, more byzantine attempts to contact the moderators to try to encourage them to see reason have been interpreted as personal attacks.

I would suggest that actually dialoguing with the disgruntled forum users would have been more productive. Actually communicating with people, apologising to Batgirl III, simply "controlling the narrative", any of these would have made a bad situation better. Circling the wagons and keeping quiet? That just makes a bad situation worse. Ignoring people who are angry and scared just makes them more angry and scared.

Mutants & Masterminds is an awesome game system. If you had asked me six days ago, I would have said their fan forums were awesome. I still think very highly of their game developers. I think their public relations people have forgotten how to relate to the public.

© Copyright 2016, 2019 - Kenneth G. Hallaron

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Last updated on 5 November 2016