April 9th, 2005

angry

The Right and the Acceptable

I suspect that what passes for cathartic writing will, in my case, only suffice to cement my anger and frustration to more anchored portions of my personality, but this is a story worth telling if, for no other reason, it can act as a marker for others to observe and learn from.

As I have noted on my personal journal, I ran an event at the Galactic Quest Gaming Marathon last night, traveling remarkably light for my usual gaming events, taking only my Donjon scenario that I've been working hard on for the past week, a Wushu scenario in my head, and the copy of Doom: the Boardgame that sutilisfatalisFatal Stitches, stellabambinoMike and I decided to give a trial run to the night before. I arrived on site around 6p and we set up with Doom as our opener as a sort of time-filler until some players interested in RPGing drifted through.

Doom, however, was an instant hit, and we quickly acquired a number of people playing Marines and even tagging out to watchers awaiting a turn when other events started. We had an extremely involved and pleased audience, and it appeared we were well on our way to throwing a very successful event.

At some point, a larger young gentleman asked if he could watch, and we were happy to invite him to. That proved, very quickly, to be a mistake.

At first he was simply content to make disparaging remarks about gameplay actions, which, because Mike, Stitches and I are seasoned Convention-game operators and event directors, are typically not worth responding to. In most circumstances, simply ignoring them or inviting him to take part in the game at the next tag-out is sufficient. He refused to join actual play, but escalated his commentary to more vulgar and insulting constructions.

I must take a moment to be thankful that we had an excellent group at the table at the moment who, while young and ebthusiastic, were extremely well-mannered. One of the insulted players asked nicely and pleasantly if the gentleman watching wouldn't mind cutting back on the profanity. Not "Stop insulting me," which was wholly within his rights, as he'd gone well beyond "That's a dumb-ass move" to "You're a dumb-ass" and well-beyond, but simply to cut the profanity.

Needless to say, it was not well-received.

Eventually, even I have to say "enough's enough," leading to Mike and I asking the gentleman to leave.

It was at this point that the thin line I draw between acceptable behaviour (if undesirable) and the simply unconscionable was crossed.

The gentleman who was being problematic began shouting "I am the Wizard! I am far more powerful than your game! I can beat you all!" This was not entirely outside our field of experience, either. All game directors at major Cons have had to deal with players who get a little too excitable or a little too much into the game, and have a semi-rote mode of response, to wit to use soothing tones, placating gestures, and a little closer physical proximity to try and keep the situation contained. Usually those so excited are attendees with less than full mental capacity. The general response is a sort of folding-in when their need for attention is placated and a calming. The other is one of your assistants slipping away to go speak to security for the area, which Stitches proceeded to do.

Unfortunately, the gentleman in question merely increased his belligerence, shouting "I am the Wizard!" and the like while we tried to soothe the situation while still seeing to the players' enjoyment of the ongoing game, until he finally smashed his hands down in the middle of the board, scattering pieces of map and game figures in all directions.

That was when another of our bystanders, the game-distributor for Galactic Quest decided to go follow up on Stitches' errand.

A moment or two later, Stitches and the distributor returned with the rather imposing form of one of our security team, who invited the gentleman to come speak to Kyle (Puttkammer), proprietor of the shop. Insert several more rounds of "I am the Wizard! I can destroy you all!" while being subtly flanked by a trickle of large, burly men. Eventually, he decided to go peacefully, and I, by invitation of security, likewise followed to deal with the situation with Kyle.

On arrival at the store a couple of doors down, Kyle attempted to first calm the gentleman, and when that was met with louder ranting and shouting, and the dumping of Kyle's on-going chess game with a petulant, "I'm more powerful than your game!" the gentleman was invited to leave, or the police would be summoned.

It was at this point I left, relatively secure in the fact things were being looked after sufficiently. It was, after all, not my show, I'm merely an exhibitor.

After returning to my game table, a few minutes later someone came in to tell us that the gentleman had come clean, and admitted that he was "Fat Kid" from 99x and was wearing a wire, pulling a radio prank.

Just to back-fill, my name is Alexander Williams. I am 32. I work for Hewlett-Packard in a software engineer's capacity, supporting large Unix clusters. I have two fairly middle-of-the-road role-playing game supplements to my by-line, and bits in several more. I am a notional polymath, and self-educated in many fields which I've generally used to improve my ability to write and pursue my interests in various fields.

I am also fairly severely physically handicapped, and Stitches and Mike often travel with me locally as my physical aides. I have congenital arthrogryposis multiplex, Type I, to be specific, meaning my fingers are drawn up into claws, my left arm is permanently straightened and my right surgically bent at a permanent 90 degrees at the elbow. On a good day I stand about 5'4, typically about half an inch shorter. Verbally, I am outspoken and I was taking great pleasure in facilitating the game, teaching the rules, and acting in my role as an educator and entertainer for the event.

There is no way that someone across the room could miss these observable facts.

I am left with the impression that the good folks at 99x think that vulgarity in front of an audience that ranges from mid-teens to older, in a public place, followed by belligerence and violence, in an event run by the physically handicapped, is of first-order hilarity, and worthy of aggressive pursuit. When answered with calm and assurance, their emissary escalated events to an unworthy level, and felt that a verbal apology was sufficient to soothe the waters.

I do not feel this is the case.

It is at this point that Kyle and I part ways on the best response. Kyle accepted it as a "radio prank," in an effort to seek favourable publicity for his store. From a social-responsibility point-of-view, I understand and accept his motivation. It was his show, and the responsibility for how to react to disruptions rests wholly in his hands.

From the personal-response point of view, I would have simply had the man arrested and escorted away in cuffs as a trespasser. My understanding is that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and such behaviour is far beyond that which I accept as socially responsible or acceptable, and should be met with the full weight of possible response.

Needless to say, I did not give my permission, verbally or in writing, to use any portion of my speech on their station.

I have returned home and given significant thought to my best response to this event. I've wavered between actually picking up the phone and contacting my legal council, to sending a strongly-worded letter my registered mail to ClearChannel's legal council, PR department, and the morning show's production manager, expressing my displeasure, to contacting the morning show's advertisers directly and letting them know what the place they purchase advertising time from is putting their money toward and asking if they really want to be affiliated with an entity which thinks that disrupting entertainment provided by the physically handicapped at a teen event would really play well in the media, were it to reach the right ears.

A little research turns up that "Fat Kid" has been arrested for his "pranks" on more than one occasion recently. In light of that observation, I doubt seriously that the threat of legal action, contacting the program director, or even the advertisers directly would be of much import. They obviously already know what they're dealing with.

Instead, I've decided to document the event and share that documentation not only with the readers of my personal journal but the wider Atlanta community and roleplaying groups not only in the area, but nation-wide and beyond. If you read this message and feel that this kind of behaviour deserves social reproach, act on your intuition. If you want to send a sharp letter to 99x, I suggest actually printing it and sending it on paper, as such things are harder to ignore. If you want to encourage others to stop listening to 99x in the Atlanta area and find another station (I suggest Dave-FM, myself), by all means do so. If all you do is share this message with your friends, gaming-groups, or colleagues, do so.

We, as a community, need not blindly accept the experiences others feel that saying, "ha, ha, only joking!" feel entitled to force upon us, especially if those experiences are ignorant, harassing, or insulting. We, as individuals, are free to choose our responses, and together, as a community, we wield significant power.

Remember that, and embrace it.

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