I’ve been working on Designers & Dragons: The ’10s for four years now, and from time to time what I was writing about has been uncomfortable. That’s most frequently been due to topics of sexual harassment and abuse by industry professionals. It’s not that the problem appeared in the ’10s, but rather that whispered discussions of missing stairs got daylit for the first time, much of it in response to the #MeToo movement of 2017, and for the first time there were repercussions and corrections for the behavior.

But the first time I wrote about it, the first time that I hit a history of the ’10s where a major designer had been impacted by credible revelations about sexual harassment at conventions, I really thought about how much I needed to talk about it. Were personal issues appropriate for an industry history?

I’ll have to admit that there was also a bit of an uncomfortable counter incentive in there. I write my histories based on as historic of documents as I can get, but then I send them to principals of the company I’m writing about to see if they have corrections (and then I see whether their corrections mesh with the historic record or not, and if they don’t I present the principals with the historic record and go from there). In the case of my first history to approach the topic of sexual harassment, one of the designers that I wanted to get comments from was the person in the history who had engaged in sexual harassment.

I’m relieved to say that I did not self-censor in that history. But when I previewed it to friends and patrons, I talked about my discomfort. And I got the best response. Someone in the industry who I respect said that they were grateful I’d put the discussion of sexual harassment in because my histories will be the historic chronicles for many of these companies, and for the trials and travails that our industry faced in this time period, and so it was important to record what had happened, to put it all into the daylight, good and bad. Doing so helped those who were harassed and abused to come forward and it helped to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I’ve taken that to heart and it’s helped me tackle increasingly difficult histories with an appropriate sense of responsibility. In 2022 I penned my first draft of the Frog God Games history, where I was wrote about the owner of the company’s harassment of a guest at PaizoCon, and the repercussions of that for both the company and for con safety generally; and last month I wrote about Onyx Path Publishing, who had multiple creators credibly accused of harassment and abuse in 2017 and afterward, and who was already seeing problems with their game Beast: The Primordial (2016) because some fans thought that it glorified abuse … and then it came out that the main designer was an abuser.

That last bit is another reason that I think that talking about concerns and problems within our industry is vitally important. It’s because the roleplaying games that we play are things that we really throw ourselves into, and so they have the opportunity to influence our own viewpoints. It’s thus important that we know the biases and prejudices of the authors, so that we can consider them when engaging with their work. It’s why I was deeply disturbed when I learned that M.A.R. Barker was a Neo-Nazi supporter, because it made me wonder what might be encoded within the world of Tékumel. (Fortunately, two years down the road, no one has turned up anything damning in the design of the world itself, which was formulated in the decades before Barker’s authorship of a Neo-Nazi novel.)

This all came back to me this week with the leak of emails from the 2023 Hugo Awards, which revealed the nominations had been corrupted not just by the political censorship that many of us had expected, but also by bigotry and even the doxxing of authors via the creation of dossiers detailing why each might be problematic to the Chinese government.

The immediate reaction of one of the censors to the release of the emails was condemnation. Not of the censorship (which they participated in), but the email release! Like most people I applaud the leak: it daylit the problem and started the gears going to ensure that this corrupted nomination process doesn’t repeat itself. The fact that that censor was also the administrator of the 2024 Hugo Awards, and that they have since resigned, says both how powerful and how necessary daylighting of information is, no matter how uncomfortable.

And that’s another lesson that I take in writing Designers & Dragons, for when the next uncomfortable history hits my desk.

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