Roll20 has made some awful mistakes and I think that they’re worth exploring.
The clusterfuck of mismanaging their social media aside (seriously don’t do what they did), I want to talk about how they treated YouTuber DawnforgeCast, specifically when the incredibly lifelike NolanT said words to the effect of “we don’t need more white guys.”
I assume they have done this not out of some weird self-hatred, but rather from some misplaced sense of social justice and inclusion. It’s the only assumption that I think makes sense. And if I’m right, Roll20 has completely misunderstood inclusion.
There are doubtless some folk out there who are chuckling about all this. After all, a bunch of white dudes suddenly have ruffled feathers (and I won’t say we don’t need our feathers ruffled) because they couldn’t have something. But I don’t think Roll20 put out an applaudable message, even if it is an deeply layered and ironic one. I think Roll20 is being racist, but not for the reasons you might think.
I use the word “racism” to always mean systemic racism. When I mean something else, I tend to just say “bigot.” Or “asshole.” I’m clever that way. White people in the US can’t really be targeted by systemic racism. They can be targeted by bigotry. And by assholes. Roll20 has managed to be all three of those things.
Roll20’s racism against other groups is implicit in their message to DawnforgeCast. If they don’t need more white guys, that means that they do perceive some need for people of color. In what capacity? Certainly not as a player base, because while DawnforgeCast is a white dude, his viewers almost certainly include other groups. It’s pretty easy to infer, I think, that Roll20 only cares about people of color if they can exploit them for brand imaging. “We don’t want our brand image to have nothing but white people” is probably a smart idea, but it’s phrased badly and that bad phrasing is indicative of bad thinking. Inclusivity isn’t about chasing white dudes out of the hobby (though a certain kind of snow-flake will be self-excising when enough minorities come in); it’s about making minorities who are interested in the hobby feel welcome and to have spaces where they can enjoy it.
NolanT’s recent actions are just another boring manifestation of systemic racism from a white dude, who, I fucking promise, thinks he’s ‘woke.’ If Roll20 wants to be more inclusive, they should hire some people of color, reach out to non-white gamers and not spend energy worrying about whether DawnforgeCast is too white for their brand image. But that will never happen, because their corporate policies do not see humanity (and that’s evinced by how they treat users on forums they control.) They do not understand the benefits of going out of the way to include minorities (new ideas, new people, new friends) nor do they exhibit an understanding of why representation is important (seeing ourselves in a positive position that might otherwise have seemed impossible).
The point of inclusion is not to try to dictate who minorities are and aren’t. It’s to try to make society safe for as many people as possible. The point of representation isn’t to lie about how many people exist in a hobby, it’s to let minorities know that they’re welcome in that hobby. If NolanT’s goal was to make Roll20 a safe space, his reaction to DawnforgeCast needed to be, “okay, if this event is worth our time, can we also organize one that is representative of more groups?” If the event wasn’t worth their time, they needed say that. Politely. Instead, what they said amounted to “you aren’t worth our time because you’re the wrong color. The right colored people are worth our time because we could exploit that in a developing market.”
NolanT’s reaction was rooted in negativity and hostility — exclusion at the cost of inclusion, and in a space where resources besides time were effectively infinite, which makes his messaging puzzling from a standpoint of profitability as well as social justice. His reaction shows that Roll20 as a corporate entity does not see its customer base as players, or even as people, but rather solely as means of generating profit. The type of social justice NolanT was trying to advance by giving DawnforgeCast the boot lives in the same cynical spirit that Nike had when making Colin Kaepernick their sponsor while donating money to the same groups that hate him. You can’t have social justice or inclusion if the bottom line is more important than people, and all that Roll20 has done is give a nice, easy strawman to people who hate the idea inclusivity and who want to chase off new players and new ideas.
So yeah, I suppose count Thieves Can’t among the groups that will no longer be using Roll20’s services.
I’m hemming and hawing between GM Forge and Fantasy Grounds. Help me decide in the comments.