Cracks in the Community

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By now, I’m sure everyone reading this has seen – or at least heard about – “Crackgate”. An attendee at the 4300 player Grand Prix in Richmond went around the site taking pictures of himself standing by exposed rear ends around the hall and posted it online. The image collection quickly became one of the most viewed posts on Reddit, and from there exploded across the internet, showing up on sites like Kotaku, Gawker, and even Time. I’m not going to link it here – I’m sure you can find it if you want to.

This incident has spurred a lot of debate around the Magic community, with some condemning the individual’s actions while other defend him. The official response from Wizards of the Coast was swift, with Helene Bergeot (Director of Organized Play) firmly stating that it was not okay, and re-linking the WotC policy on “Maintaining a Great Environment at Events”. That original post came in the wake of a similar situation a few years ago at Grand Prix Indianapolis, when a player was taking pictures of attendees at that tournament and posting them on Twitter with derogatory captions. That individual received a DCI suspension of 18 months as a result.

I have seen a lot of arguments from people saying that this situation is somehow different, but I’m here to tell you that it is not, and that I hope (and expect) that the individual responsible is punished by the DCI.

Even if you set aside any question of the morality of the issue, it is in the best interests of Wizards of the Coast to ban this person. Wizards wants their events to be a safe space, where players feel like they can come without fear of being mocked or bullied. Magic is a game that has among its many strengths an incredibly vast community, and that community includes many people who struggle with low self esteem and social anxiety. It is of incredible importance that the policy of Magic tournaments exists to protect people from being afraid that someone can just decide to come to an event and take pictures of them with the intent of publicly shaming them and face no repercussions.

Some people have tried to argue that this doesn’t constitute “bullying” because the faces of the individuals in the pictures weren’t shown. I’m not sure how that could possibly make a difference, since I’m certain that I could recognize myself from kind of images seen in these shots. Indeed, I’ve seen commentary from multiple people who have either recognized someone that they know or who have seen themselves in the images, and those people depicted were understandably upset.

I have seen people argue that this person shouldn’t receive any kind of punishment because their intent was to “be funny”, rather than explicitly to mock or shame these people. But jokes at the expense of others who do not give their consent to be the punchline of said jokes aren’t given a blanket pass. This isn’t some comedy act where everyone is in on the joke – it’s just pointing at someone and expecting your audience to laugh at them, not with them.

I have seen people argue that the people depicted in these pictures signed waivers that gave their consent to be photographed or videotaped, and therefore this whole thing is okay. Except they signed waivers that gave their consent for their image to be used for promotional purposes by the organizers of the event, not blanket permission for anyone with a camera to capture them in an unflattering light and use it to publicly mock them.

I have seen people argue that this whole thing is somehow okay because of “free speech”, which is always the go-to excuse of someone looking for license to be an asshole. Free speech is a legal concept that protects individuals from prosecution by the government for what they say, and has no bearing on the rights of private company to exclude someone they deem to be a negative influence from their private events. The concept of “free speech” is so incredibly twisted by the modern internet bully culture that it’s absurd. Yes, you can say what you want, but you aren’t protected from the repercussions of it. Free speech isn’t a shield from responsibility for your actions.

I have seen people argue that this whole thing is somehow truly a crusade against exposed butts and is thus a noble endeavour. Because, you know, publicly mocking people has always proven to be the best way to effect change in them, and can’t possibly have any negative repercussions. What all these people needed was just for someone to finally try to shame them, because there’s no way that had happened before.

Here’s the thing. I was a fat kid growing up. I know the kind of treatment that many overweight people deal with. I was mercilessly mocked by other kids in school. My own brother told me that I would never get a girlfriend. Even to this day, I habitually tug on my shirts to keep them from hanging unflatteringly over my body. That feeling is something that never goes away – the sense that everything just fits wrong on you, and feeling like you’re never truly comfortable in your own skin. Public shaming was hardly a new and novel experience. It was often just what I felt from *being* in public. It certainly wasn’t going to be the catalyst for some sort of change in my behavior. And I’m sure my ass hung out of my pants from time to time.

Want to change the way people dress at Magic tournaments? Be a good example. I’ve made a point since I started playing again to always dress up for tournaments, and you know what? I’ve seen people emulating that. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, as they saying goes – not “Be the asshole who makes fun of other people because they aren’t how you want them to be.”

I also think it’s important to point out that this whole situation would be very different if someone were posting unflattering pictures of, say, me, or LSV, or any other pro player from a tournament. Catch me scratching my ass or picking my nose? Feel free to post it. Hell, make an entire Tumblr devoted to it, and I won’t care. There’s a big difference between a public figure, who has the expectation that they will be in the spotlight, and the average tournament attendee. Once you’ve put yourself in a position to expect public attention and scrutiny, there are different expectations about your privacy, and you have to develop a much thicker skin. I’ve read all kinds of horrible things about me on the internet, and that’s fine, because I chose to be in the position I’m in.

It really just boils down to this – don’t be a dick. Try to have some empathy and realize that other people are human beings and not just props to be used as the punchline for your jokes. If you can’t do that – just that –  then I sure as hell don’t want you at any tournament that I’m playing in, and WotC shouldn’t either.

 

 

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