Michael A. Goodwin (nephilpal) wrote,
Michael A. Goodwin

Dealing with Detractors

Ok folks, I have a sort of dilemma for which I'd like feedback. This is a gamer/writer matter, so those who aren't involved or interested in either can just move along.

There is a very vocal gamer forumite who goes variably by UnrequitedThai and Four Willows Weeping. I have, in the past, been able to win over many of my more vocal detractors in the online gamer fanbase by contacting them, discussing their concerns, and correcting occasional misconceptions that crop up. In some cases, the person in question never ended up agreeing with an approach I take/took, but we both left the discussion with a sense of mutual respect. In many cases, taking this approach has improved the quality of later work. Four Willows is the first individual that I've encountered who seems utterly unwilling to participate in such a dialogue, and it's somewhat frustrating. I realize I shouldn't be frustrated. I realize his opinions appear to be a minority viewpoint rooted in a very acanonical approach to Exalted (and that's just going on his assorted forum posts). I realize that I'm probably never going to satisfy him and that all attempts to be amicable are doomed to failure. I get all that. And even so, it gets to me. I want to be able to reach him, or at least know I have exhausted every method I can think of to do so.

With all this in mind, after reading over comments he made here in a recent RPG.net thread, I decided to IM him. Here's what was said:

Nephilpal: Wow, I've just realized why you are not and probably won't be a fan of any contributions I ever make to the Exalted setting.
Auto response from unrequitedthai: brain for eat
not for think.

zombie day! yay!

Nephilpal: You don't want mortals to matter.
Nephilpal: Nor to have them addressed in any meaningful rules-supported way.
Nephilpal: Whereas I proceed from the operational model and developer outlines that it is to be a Bronze-age post-apocalyptic world in which demigods roam and fight and make power plays
Nephilpal: And yet, Exaltation only sets you above them a little ways.
Nephilpal: And it is precisely your proportion of awesomeness above them that degrades your humanity and ultimately leads to ruin and debauched tyranny.
Nephilpal: I write Exalted as a game of humanity, where for all the invulnerability you may have, Lois Lane is not.
Nephilpal: And you'll have to choose between stopping the demon incursion on the Blessed Isle and opposing the march of Juggernaut
Nephilpal: Wherever you aren't, people will die.
Nephilpal: Or more importantly, people will die.
Nephilpal: And when you march them into battle, your friends, your lovers, your followers: they're probably going to get sepsis and die.
Nephilpal: And the beauty of it is, when it comes to those heroic mortals, they weren't any less cool than you. Just not as lucky.
Nephilpal: They didn't Exalt. You did.
Nephilpal: And their deeds can ride up, but never catch up.
Nephilpal: And in the end, their end will be gruesome and horrible and unfair.
Nephilpal: In any case, those are my thoughts.
unrequitedthai: i think lois lane is the essential poison here. this fixation you have on imitating other things severely damages the integrity of the game.
Nephilpal: Condensed language,
Nephilpal: I could say "The mortal love interest who cannot protect him/herself.
Nephilpal: "
Nephilpal: Or I can say "Lois Lane"
Nephilpal: And you immediately know what I'm talking about.
Nephilpal: As for homage, Exalted is rooted in it. It sells books.
unrequitedthai: this lesson of condensed language would be well applied elsewhere, in the world of pagecounts and finite sizes.
Nephilpal: It's also an integral part of both developers' visions for the game.
Nephilpal: My overwriting is using my condensed language, actually.
Nephilpal: I wrote 90K words for Alchemicals.
Nephilpal: I was contracted for 40K.
Nephilpal: I trimmed it to 73K for the first draft
Nephilpal: and 60K for the final.
Nephilpal: That's part of the process being invisible to you guys.
Nephilpal: You see the results, and you go "Damn, that's a lot of words!"
Nephilpal: And behind the scenes, we writers ruefully laugh.
Nephilpal: Unless, of course, your comment wasn't directed at my tendency to overwrite.
Nephilpal: In which case, I'll be better able to answer you with clarification.
unrequitedthai: you realise that my position toward you is hostile to the point that anything you say goes in my mental ridicule bucket, i hope.
Nephilpal: Actually, I hold out hope, however futile, that I'll win you over. I did it with StephenLS, and with other detractors in the past.
Nephilpal: At the very least, I lose nothing by trying to actively address your concerns and be polite.
unrequitedthai: aside from your time, i suppose. i do appreciate that you are making this effort in good faith, but i think that you are wasting your time.
Nephilpal: I'm a diplomat at heart. It doesn't offend me personally that you don't like my work. You are, as you well know, neither a developer, nor a peer writer, and so your opinion is, ultimately one consumer out of a vast sea. However, you are my most vocal detractor, so if you actually have any desire for open, courteous dialogue, I offer it.
Nephilpal: I pinged you earlier because of your RPGnet post.
Nephilpal: It struck me that your operational model might be irreoncilable with the stated vision of the developers.
unrequitedthai: this ex cathedra attitude of yours is not particularly, how do say, appealing
Nephilpal: I have to give you some fodder for labeling me arrogant. :-) I'd be remiss in my Nephly duties otherwise.
Nephilpal: The point is, you've got a beef with me, and you've been active enough in saying so that it's caught my attention.
Nephilpal: I don't read all the forums. I barely skim.
Nephilpal: So whether there are other folks out there or not who feel similarly (and obviously there are), they are invisible to me.
Nephilpal: You are not.
Nephilpal: You are quite visible.
Nephilpal: Thus, I'm happy to address your animosity and see what can be done about it, looking to you to do likewise.
Nephilpal: Selfishly, if you aren't willing, well, then I get to say I did everything I could.
Nephilpal: And that's nice for my conscience.
Nephilpal: See, I even share my inner thought process. :-)
unrequitedthai: i have a fairly simple solution for one aspect of this problem of focus
unrequitedthai: i simply remove or alter contaminated rules!
Nephilpal: Wonderful! I addressed that in great big bold in the core rules of X2.
unrequitedthai: but this does not alter the unpleasant reality that i am purchasing material laced with toxins
Nephilpal: Does the negative impact upon you reach levels worthy of such a label, or is this hyperbole?
Nephilpal: Not that you aren't entirely entitled to your opinion in either case, of course, but it helps me understand what I'm dealing with.
unrequitedthai: i find the phrasing to be pleasingly colorful. these things are items that immediately kill my fun.
unrequitedthai: poison is a good metaphor
Nephilpal: If you do not use them in a game, I trust you understand my confusion as to how they poison your fun.
Nephilpal: Or do you mean the fun of reading the product?
unrequitedthai: my not using them in my personal games does not exclude them from other games i play.
Nephilpal: Ah. I trust you are aware that we writers must try to accommodate as broad a cross section as possible in our treatment of rules and setting material, knowing it is easier to delete/modify on the user end (for those outside the "target" audience) than for the rules to fail to address such.
Nephilpal: And this is true of the industry regardless of the company and game.
Nephilpal: I want to make sure you know that as an operational foundation which I am subject to.
Nephilpal: Or, you can go idle. If something came up and you wish to resume the discussion, I'll be around. If not, well, sorry about that.
Nephilpal: Best wishes with your Exalted experience.
unrequitedthai: yes, unfortunately you are constrained by business, and i have pool to play
unrequitedthai: enjoy
Nephilpal: Enjoy your pool.

Later on, he blogged this:

"So, I had a conversation with a certain distasteful White Wolf persona, who is still convinced that he can change my opinions by telling me how great his point of view is.

Um, yeah.

Don't try to "win me over." Don't try to convince me of things, especially when you are simultaneously acting like an overinflated prima donna who deserves to be punched in the mouth. Don't pretend that you have all the answers. Particularly, don't try to argue from your dubious authority.

This only inclines me to further discount your opinions and feelings. "Convincing" is not how I work.

Rather, you should learn from Jonathan: Raise an interesting question, and play the exploring ideas game! Make me respect your creativity and craft and it is possible that I'll look at your work in a different light, but there is no way that you can do that by telling me, "Oh, what I do is so important and great and your point of view is so prominent and well-articulated that it causes me discomfort."

Fuck that."

Does anyone have any constructive ways of reaching him, or should I just give up? Please note I'll be screening any replies that are mean to him. I'm not trying to be mean to Four Willows. I think he's a fairly articulate fan of my favorite game.
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As for him personally, I think the ignore route is in order. He's always going to view you as 'the enemy' and quite honestly, he is at this point niether worth your time or worry. I do understand the point of view as seeing him as a challenge to try and make your writing more agreeable to him, but overall the ONLY people that your writing matters to are the people you work for, and the fans that DO appreciate the effort and your vision of parts of Creation.

I finally took that route last year against some haters of my art. YMMV.
Articulate and arrogant, and selfish. I'm sorry, but I have to say he sounds like he thinks that the game should be written to his whims and desires alone. He feels lessened by you all addressing things that he chooses not to include in his game but that other players might want to include in theirs? Come on. I'll restrain on my judicious use of vitriolic language as you specifically requested it, but I have some creative things I could say about this guy.

The discourse over IM seemed fairly civilized, but then he turns around and puts a public post up skewing the conversation to make you sound like a dick. Nevermind the fact that he uses no quotes or actual references from the conversation.

"unrequitedthai: you realise that my position toward you is hostile to the point that anything you say goes in my mental ridicule bucket, i hope."

I greatly respect the fact that you want to try to at least want to try to squeeze some mutual respect out of him, and to that end I would
say persistence is the key. Keep asking him what he wants to see, what his complaints are, and attempting to address them.

I would, however, point out that you did this and he had no answer but instead left the conversation and posted the above on the public boards.

And I again refer to my restraint in not using my extensive college dorm, locker room, frat house vocabulary of pure filth. Instead I applaud your attempts and say that you are, in fact, the better man for at least attempting to begin discourse.
You asked my opinion over AIM, and I gave it. Don't sweat it if he hates Lois and remains unable grasp the concepts of Mary Sues, tiger pits, non-elemental elementals and dwarves in power armor.
Hello there. I'm a big fan of the Exalted game, and had some of the work I liked in it linked to you. I read through your conversation and something occured to me. I don't believe you asked straight out what rules or aspects of the game he thought were "toxic". I looked at his comment in the RPGnet Forums that you linked, and then read through some of your dialouge with him. A couple of the exchanges stood out that I think should be addressed.

The first comment was "unrequitedthai: i think lois lane is the essential poison here. this fixation you have on imitating other things severely damages the integrity of the game."

You go on to discuss the necessity for condensed language for making a clear point and then the discussion moves to talking about condensed language for the purpose of writing game material, but his point about "Lois Lane" being the one essential element of the game he doesn't like never gets addressed.

He makes two other comments that lead hint at other problems he has with the game: "unrequitedthai: but this does not alter the unpleasant reality that i am purchasing material laced with toxins" and "these things are items that immediately kill my fun." Again, you never asked what these things were.

He refers earlier in your discussion that your attitude through the process is "ex cathedra" and that he doesn't like it. However you do continue with it, if not as heavy handed as your comment "Nephilpal: It struck me that your operational model might be irreoncilable with the stated vision of the developers."

While if it was myself you were talking to if I had a problem with the game, I found your mostly friendly attitude to be quite refreshing and also your attitude of trying to come to a mutual respect. I didn't particularly see you saying that because you are a developer you are more right than the fan. However, I believe he sees it that way.

In reflection, I believe what you need to do to get something more with him is get in his face with it. Ask him point blank what he doesn't like about the game. You might have to sit there and pull teeth with it, but find every last thing he thinks is "toxic" about the creation. Then try and explain why and for what reasons those ideas were chosen over others. Take him through the envisioning process through both debate and through the Socratic method of learning. However, don't treat him like a student, but treat him like you would another developer.

You ask whether you should give up. From his comment in his blog, you seem to have caused a lot of damage to your case. However, this does not negate one last shot. The thing to remember is, you can't particularly "win him over" from what side he is on, without clearly knowing what his side is. So, don't try. Find out what all of his problems are with the game and debate them. Find where his views differs from yours and talk about the creative process that goes behind making games in general, not Exalted in specific.

I hope my comment here was helpfully if not too long winded. Good luck, and I look foreward to reading what you did with Exalted 2nd ed.

One Humble Fan

Think of somebody you find absolutely distasteful with some position of authority, perhaps a politician who you dislike for whatever reason. Imagine the politician contacts you personally and tries to convince you he really cares, he's doing the best job he can do. He informs you why you don't like what he does (which is at best an educated guess on his part) and tries to personally convince you to come over to his camp.

Now go reread the IM conversation, where Nephilpal's lines are all stated by the distasteful politician and unrequitedthai's are all stated by you. File the game terminology off and replace with whatever hot issues lay between you and this politician you dislike. Depersonalize it from yourself and see what he saw. I'm not saying you are a whiny politician; that's not the point. I'm saying that from his (presumed) point of view it sounds like the height of arrogance for a lofty game writer to go dictate what he should want out of the game. (That's not how I see it, but it's not at all about how I see it.)

Four Willows has a very specific view of how Exalted should work and should be. That's great, actually - he knows exactly what he wants and reworks the game to fit his vision of it. Where it breaks down is that he has a dislike of your writing which has become a personal dislike of you, Michael A. Goodwin. This has blossomed in a way that can only occur with semi-anonymous communication.

It is not worth your time to respond or make attempts to win Four Willows over. Ultimately your writing stands on its own. People will either like it or hate it for reasons that are mostly out of your control. In my opinion, Four Willows has made up his mind and nothing you say or do can change that. It is clearly not his cup of tea and he seems to be holding a personal grudge due to his previous interactions with you. For him you seem to be the distasteful politician. It just is not worth it for you to a) take it personally because he doesn't like your writing or b) respond to anybody who takes your writing personally. I hope Four Willows gets as much enjoyment out of Exalted as possible and changes the stuff he doesn't like, because that's really the best case scenario - however, you shouldn't have to beat yourself up if that's not the case.
This was exactly the point I was going to make. Well done.
4Willows/unrequitedthai has a vision of Exalted that his very powerful, very much his own, and very much not open to interpretation or re-visualization, from everything I have read. This vision is very much not compatible with commercial reality, the vision of Exalted held by many of the writers and (afaict) the designers, or much of the gaming community. Which is fine - everyone's vision of Exalted is their own.

He has apparently chosen, for whatever reason, to sublimate much of his dislike for the parts of Exalted he finds "toxic" in you. Which is perhaps not so fine, but there's literally nothing you can do about it - and attempting is simply going to further the animosity.

Let it go. He has his illusion, and you your reality - or perhaps vice versa. It is unlikely that he will come round to your POV - so don't bother.

I will admit that, at this point, I've gotten to the point of not giving much of a damn about most of the Exalted online community - it's not worth my time and effort to try and explain or justify my decisions. So long as the LD is happy - screw the rest. There are still really cool people doing really cool things with Exalted - but it's something I can't work up a lot of effort for anymore.
I find this reasonable analysis of the situation! My respect goes out to you.
I find this also in WW Forum's Tornado Wolf. Fortunately, he only manifests his disatisfaction by imagining a vast White Wolf conspiracy that despises Lunars.
So is this a lead up to the White Wolf gaming police? Teams of crack Storytellers making sure we do it in the artists vision?

Seems to me the guy has his own opinion, doesn't much care for another view, and that's fine for him, and possibly his group.

Don't see how it affects you at all.
This was discovered to be far too cost prohibitive in the mid-90s.
If it is, then I worry I'll be next, what with not being a White Wolf employee and all.
Nah, they'll have there hands bust mopping up all the people who cling to the Old World of Darkness before bothering with us deviants.
Willows very deliberately cultivates this personality and enjoys both enacting it and its fallout.

This is something of a shame, because he has some fantastic contributions to make, and this can quite seriously get in the way of it.

(I think I might, after a very long love-affair, start growing away from canon Exalted a little myself, incidentally, if Exaltation truly does only set a Solar a little way above a mortal - Invincible Sword Princesses who never take a HL of damage, and absolutely unstoppable social monsters are my cup of tea. I like humanity to matter *through* becoming Exalted. But I think I can manage that without insulting anyone!)
You're just saying this because I've been overloading you with Final Fantasy god-blooded goodness. >:P