Diversity and Inclusivity in SpyParty and the Beta Community

When you’re making an online multiplayer game, you have to worry about the community that builds itself around your game.  In the beginning the worry is, “Will there be a community at all?”  If you’re lucky and don’t screw things up too badly, and people like your game, a community will start growing around it, and as the designer, it’s your job to nurture it and help it stay healthy.  The analogy with parenting is pretty obvious.  And, just like with parenting, while you have some influence over the community’s health, in a lot of ways all you can do is set a good example with your own behavior and the feel of your game, and hope for the best.

One of the aspects of SpyParty that I’m most proud of is its community.  It’s really hard to describe how it feels to play the game, or hang out in the lobby, the forums, or the TeamSpeak channel, or watch a stream, and see all these people who were strangers to each other before they started playing your game…and they’re friends now.  What’s more, they’re welcoming new people into the community with open arms, setting their own good examples and helping it stay healthy!  Let’s just say it’s a pretty great feeling.  It’s an even greater feeling when you know you’re making an insanely hardcore player-skill competitive game, and they’re still all helping each other out, both beginners and elite players.

Another aspect of SpyParty that’s incredibly important to me is diversity, in terms of allowing people to choose characters that fairly represent a wide array of different colors, body shapes, ages, genders, sexual orientations, and physical abilities.  In fact, I have a goal to make SpyParty the “most diverse game ever”, in the sense that you will be able to kick somebody’s ass straight into next week as the Spy while playing as a queer octogenarian of color in a wheelchair.  You might move a little slower, but you’re low to the ground, so it’s easier to hide that listening device!  I am very lucky that the fiction of SpyParty is compatible with making an intense player-skill game that can still be diverse in this way.1 You are unlikely to see this kind of playable character plausibly slashing dragons with a sword or shooting space aliens, but as a Spy at a cocktail party?  I say it’s perfect cover!

You can see a start to see this diversity in the initial batch of new characters we’ve revealed:

They're a good start, diversity-wise.

They’re a good start, diversity-wise.

I’ll talk more about this “in-game diversity” in another post.

Today, I want to talk about a complementary kind of diversity, that of the community.  I don’t have any data on this, but I think these two kinds of diversity go hand-in-hand, because if the game is setting a good example with its design, gameplay, and aesthetics, I think it’s probably more likely the community will follow suit.

But, a more important part of community diversity is the community valuing inclusiveness and speaking up for it.  Below is an example from last week in the beta forums.  The influx of new people from the open beta happened, and one of the community members felt the need to post a note to the new players.  Some mature discussion happened, including some respectful disagreement, and people arrived at a consensus.  This is not how conventional wisdom says it’s supposed to work in hardcore multiplayer gaming communities on the internet, but yet, it can if everyone wants it to work that way.

I thought this thread was a perfect example of the SpyParty beta community in action.  Some of the players posting in this thread are at the top of the leaderboard, the best players in the game.  Way better than you or me, and I made the damned game.  But they’re also respectful, humble, mature, and open to the fact that there are other ideas in the world that may not come naturally but are worth the effort to consider, and they’re working to keep the community a healthy environment for all kinds of people…a healthy environment to ruthlessly shoot each other2 over and over again.

If you’d like to be a part of this kind of community, you are welcome to join us!

Subject: PSA to the new people about community and language
noche Posted: 2013/06/11 17:10
Hey everyone -

I know we recently got a lot of new people what with the prepping for the open beta and now with the beta open the server is flooded with new people and it’s great! Thanks for coming and playing with us. I just have something to mention since we do have so many new people:

Please be polite – we do have girls, gay people, queer people, trans people, people of every color, shape and size playing the game. Don’t make disparaging remarks about another group of people (or even your own). You don’t know who the other person(s) watching are. It alienates new people trying to get into the community that aren’t typically seen openly in other gaming groups. It also makes those of us who have been here a while not quite as excited to have so many new faces.

I know for me (yes, I am mostly a girl) I am more hesitant to play new people when my friends aren’t on the game or in ts because frankly I don’t want to deal with people making comments about girls, the two larger characters, etc. It’s not pleasant and I am nearly at the point where I don’t want to play new people that I haven’t seen play my friends on stream. I love to mentor but I am not going to put myself through the awkwardness of telling someone that just made a disparaging comment about women that I am one. Or that I am not skinny, or that I am queer, or or or. It’s just not fun and has been known to ruin my evening enough that I get off the game. Between my two accounts I have over 1000 games – clearly I really like spyparty.

This isn’t just about me though. I want to see more non male people playing spyparty. Right now Gun0m and I are the only two regular females that are active (as far as I know). We have had a lot of other females go through the game and bump right back out and I can’t help but think that a part of that is the attitude about anyone that isn’t male that some people have. I know that out girls are a largely unseen part of gaming but there are a lot of them, many just hide behind their screen name because to come out openly as a female is to invite ridicule quite often. It’s not as bad in spyparty as in other games but that doesn’t mean that the fear isn’t there still.

Seeing someone make a comment about ‘female logic’ or calling bertha ‘brown cow’ is a real turn off. While we don’t have as much open hostility it makes new people that don’t know that turn away because this is just like every other game. I know how great of a community we have – I have made some great friends through this game and I want more people involved. I also want it to be an inclusive community, not one that makes people like me feel bad and want to go play something else (that doesn’t involve other people).

Just have fun – that doesn’t have to involve putting other people, or groups of people down.

kcmmmmm Posted: 2013/06/11 21:59
I don’t intend to, but if I ever cross a line, please let me know, and I’ll do my best to correct that behavior in the future.

_________________
KCMmmmm

icarox Posted: 2013/06/12 03:19
I agree completely, and I have nearly zero tolerance for that kind of behaviour.

When some jackasses chat on Drawns stream, they always ask about the graphics and every single time there’s been comments of how ugly the ladies are and etc.

If you expect me to be your friend; please use a language that reflects the manner of somebody who is respectful to the highest amount of people possible.

If you can’t do that, fake it ’til you make it.

emotedllama Posted: 2013/06/12 12:25
I, uh, don’t have anything to add other than that I completely agree with the OP. Let’s not be discriminatory.
checker Posted: 2013/06/12 19:57
Stickied for truth.

It’s very important to me that SpyParty be the most diverse game ever, both in the game, in the sense that there is going to be a more diverse set of playable characters in this game than any other game in history, and that the community is diverse and supportive. I love the idea of having an extremely hardcore player-skill competitive game, but with an awesome and helpful community. I’m an optimist, and I think it’s possible.

So, please don’t be afraid to remind somebody to be cool about words or phrases. It’s a very big adjustment from “normal gaming communities”, so new people will need to be cut some slack. Some people don’t know that saying “fat chick” is offensive to some people, and just giving them a heads up is enough to make them think about it and adjust their behavior. It’s easy to describe the characters using their clothes instead of their body shape, “orange dress” FTW, for example.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to somebody, just PM me with a timestamp of when you heard something alienating and let me know, and I can check the logs and email the person and explain how we do it around here. If you do bring something up in a kind and empathetic way and the person is not receptive, also PM me. If somebody gets really out of hand and doesn’t respond to warnings, I will ban them from online play, of course.

Thanks to everybody who helps the community stay awesome, helpful, kind, and mature,

Chris

PS. I’m going to post this thread on the blog, assuming everybody is okay with that. It’s important to be clear and public about this stuff, and it’s way more powerful when it’s the community saying it first, not just me. Also, kate is back with a vengeance lately, and I believe there are other women playing who don’t announce that fact.

noche Posted: 2013/06/13 01:41
Checker you’re awesome. Go ahead and post away btw, I am chill.

on a side note – I don’t think I have met kate. hmmm. when is she on?

zerotka Posted: 2013/06/13 11:04
I know of at least 4, not including noche and kate. Our community is probably more diverse than we know.

good post. +3

_________________
ZeroTKA

kcmmmmm Posted: 2013/06/13 16:04
This is a bit off-topic, but I wish to add that the SpyParty community is ecstatic to have new members join and contribute to the forum. Whether you’re here asking questions, posting bugs, offering opinions (positive or negative), making suggestions, or just chatting casually, we’re happy to have you join in. Worry less about posting everything in the exactly perfect place or about reposts, and more about the stuff in the OP; be respectful to others in the community, and we’ll do the same for you. Welcome to the SpyParty beta, and – perhaps more importantly – welcome to the SpyParty beta community!
cornergraf Posted: 2013/06/14 05:45
I don’t try intentionally to be rude in the chat, and I try to stay nice and polite, but I think some of you are taking this to the extreme a bit too much. Remarks like “female logic” are absolutely wrong to use, I agree, but some of the other examples given here are not so bad.

If someone is fat, they are fat, and I will call them fat. “Fat chick” is not any more offensive than “fat guy”. This is not to offend fat people, but it’s just how it is. If you have a problem with being fat, then do something about it, don’t tell me to not offend you. Or just ignore me if you think I am stupid – “sticks and stones…” and all that.

Just to reiterate – I do not mean to offend anyone but political correctness can be taken too far. And some (insecure?) people have a tendency to take offense at the slightest word, even if it was not meant to offend. To those people I would like to suggest to relax a bit.

bl00dw0lf Posted: 2013/06/14 12:37
I don’t actually think I can change your mind on the Political Correctness front, but hopefully you can see reason just for being considerate. If one or more users don’t want you using those terms for two characters out of 20, and have provided alternatives, does not doing it really inconvenience you that much?

You may not see yourself as using those words in a harmful way, but there are certainly people out there who will. Detecting intent through purely text is impossible, there’s all kinds of hilarious and sad examples on the Internet of people failing to catch the use of sarcasm.

Body issues are a serious thing, and using words like “fat” when there is no reason to may be jarring (Maybe, I’m making this up as I go). Telling all people who are unhappy with their body image to “do something about it” is unhelpful. For all you know they are doing everything they can to better themselves. Obesity has a genetic factor, so not everybody has to put equal amounts of work into maintaining a healthy weight. It may be easier for you to stay healthy with your genes and age than others.

Lastly, we are all trying our best to foster an amazing community. We don’t want anyone to get turned off of the game because of things that the community does. If you want to grow the community like most of us do, being respectful of all people is a part of it. I would much rather see a mature respectful community than a community of younger teenagers who think using slurs or calling people fat is funny (To be clear, I do not think you are a part of this second group). Accepting everybody, even those you personally think take political correctness too far, will keep the community awesome. Calling the OP names does not benefit the community.

checker Posted: 2013/06/14 13:13
Yeah, I want to be clear here: this is not reddit, or the internet at large. This is my house, and I am incredibly delighted and incredibly almost-indescribably grateful that everybody decided to come over for this party I’m having, and people do seem to be having a genuinely great time, which basically brings me almost to tears of joy on a daily basis. But, everyone needs to be polite to each other. There aren’t going to be debates about free speech and truth and whether some words should or should not be hurtful and how somebody else should feel in one situation or another, that can happen elsewhere (almost everywhere) on the internet.

No single word or phrase is important enough to keep using on principal or out of habit if it hurts somebody else’s feelings, no matter how truthful and purely descriptive and well intentioned you feel it is. If you are the kind of person who would call someone with a higher than average BMI “fat” when they’re standing right there in real life, especially after they ask you not to, or act awkwardly when you say it, then you need to keep that to yourself around here, both in the forums, and in the lobby. How you talk when you’re not at my place is none of my business, of course, but if you’re over here, then these are the rules.

This is not aimed at cornergraf specifically, but that post was a good opportunity for me to write this post. I totally empathize that “political correctness” can be taken to extremes and can sometimes seem absurd or like a minefield, especially when there was absolutely no intent to hurt anybody, but as bl00dw0lf says, here it’s not so much about political correctness as it is about just being nice to a bunch of people who share the same interests around this video game I’m trying to make awesome with all of your help. So, if somebody asks you nicely to not use a word so casually, I hope everyone will agree that the right thing to do is to be a kind human being and say, “oh, yeah, sorry, didn’t realize, no problem” and then just continue on with talking about the fun stuff you were talking about before, and the wrong thing is to get upset and start some discussion about how that other person shouldn’t feel some way. Language is rich, and there are plenty of words to describe something or someone without needing to use ones that may hurt somebody’s feelings.

It’s a two-way street, of course. Often people aren’t used to being sensitive in this way, don’t know which words might hurt somebody, make mistakes even if they do know (I am guilty of this too!), and need reminders. I don’t think over-sensitivity is anywhere near as big a problem as insensitivity in communities, but it can be a problem, so people who are sensitive to this stuff need to be empathetic as well. I have never seen anybody here intending to hurt somebody else’s feelings, and intent matters a lot in my book. But, it takes a lot of social courage to ask somebody politely to stop using a word, so if you’re asked, please understand that.

The vast majority of people in the world are considerate and mean well, and if given the chance to communicate and have an identity they will behave like good people you would invite over in real life. I believe that completely, and this community is designed around that premise. No, that does not mean you’re all invited to my real house, my house is tiny, you’d never fit.

Thanks for understanding, and <3,

Chris

cornergraf Posted: 2013/06/14 13:29
Edit: trying to make it short and sweet, I will not post any further on this issue as I think everything worth saying has been said. Checker, your post is spot on I think.

I am/will be doing my best to be polite, but I am not going to second guess every word and every statement as to whether it might possibly ever offend someone else. I would hate for players to turn away from this community because they feel like they constantly have to walk on egg shells.

That being said, if someone tells me in a reasonable tone that they object to my statement, I will of course apologize and try to avoid making similar statements again.

bl00dw0lf wrote:
Calling the OP names does not benefit the community.

That was in no way my intent, if it came across as such I apologize!

Last edited by cornergraf on 2013/06/14 14:55, edited 1 time in total.

checker Posted: 2013/06/14 13:38
Okay, I think cornergraf was writing his latest post while I was writing mine, and it’s a great edition to this thread, but for people coming here from THE FUTURE, no more debate on the merits of the topic, please. I don’t want to silence anybody, I just also don’t want it to turn into a thread about topics that will not be resolved here. I totally empathize with both sides, but I think I pretty clearly spell out the kind of community I want in my post a couple up from this one.

Now, I want to go finish up this build today!

Chris


  1. There are other important kinds of diversity SpyParty probably can’t explore effectively, like class and income diversity. []
  2. and the occasional innocent civilian []

9 Comments

  1. Jasper says:

    Good job on building such an excellent community. It must be exhausting some days to act as community manager alone, but from this post alone, I can tell you’ve done a good job, and you’re proud of what you’ve built, as you have every right to be.

    I don’t really have any real insight, I just want to congratulate you on your accomplishment, because you deserve more compliments for doing such an outstanding job. Hopefully, as SpyParty takes shape, its community grows in the way you want to.

    • checker says:

      Thanks for the kind words, and I hope it continues on its current healthy course!  It’s hard and scary to watch your kids grow up!  I keep pushing down on the top of my daughter’s head but she keeps growing for some reason.

  2. Calitar says:

    I want to thank you so much for writing this. As a transgender and queer person I often feel I have to join specific LGBT subgroups of gaming communities just to not be verbally assaulted all the time. I really don’t want to do that with SpyParty (especially since the community is currently too small for any subgroups). Even here I’m afraid to post this comment and out myself. However as my favorite line from Cloud Atlas says “If I had remained invisible, the truth would have stayed hidden.”

    • checker says:

      Thanks for posting, and yeah, even as the community grows, I don’t want people to feel like they have to retreat to subgroups or anything like that.  The goal is to keep it healthy and inclusive the whole time.

    • Calitar says:

      It just occurred to me that the underlying theme of Cloud Atlas, of individual actions having ripple effects, is pretty easily applied here. One person uses hateful/hurtful language, another sees it and thinks it’s considered appropriate by the community, rinse, repeat until you have a hateful community. I saw this happen at giantbomb.com. I remember it having a friendly community when it started. Now I just do my best to ignore the comments and forums there.

    • checker says:

      Yeah, I think that’s true.  It’s amazing how much influence a single individual has at the start of a community.

  3. Scallions says:

    It’s always the queer octogenarian of color in a wheelchair.

  4. Jack says:

    While your intentions seem good, be careful with your soundbites… the media could easily spin this one as, “Sadistic Indie Game Developer wants to make game in which you murder minority groups” :P

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