Director's Public Address 2023
This message is copied over from the previous forums for posterity. This is a public address from the director, James Kimball.
After much thought, I have decided that it is time to share an extremely large brain dump with you as well as make some changes around here. I am going to share with you my most vulnerable but real thoughts on many different subjects including controversial ones, explain what I believe are aspects of the organization that have gone sour, and what is going to be done about that. This post may leave some of you cheering, but some parts may be uncomfortable to read as I intend to say things that some may find hard to swallow. This is going to be a very long post but honestly is something every Knight Realms player should read to completion.
My Personal Situation
For the last 25 years, running Knight Realms has been my full-time job. Until recent years, it was my only income. Because it was my only source of income, the loss of even a single player, let alone the loss of a group of players, affected my livelihood.
About eleven years ago, I miraculously was able to take out a million-dollar loan to buy a permanent home for the game, dramatically improving its atmosphere and quality of life to a degree almost impossible to achieve by just renting a campsite. Existing under the massive weight of this loan exacerbated my dependency on having a high quantity player base and needing to not lose many players. Under the dynamic of this dependency, I feel as if I allowed myself to be bullied and even worse allowed the community to foster some really bad habits.
Since 2020, my financial situation has changed dramatically. Knight Realms now makes up a very small amount of my income and the uncomfortable truth is that if Knight Realms folded, I would make more money. Thankfully I really don’t need to make more money and Knight Realms is in many ways like a child of mine so my connection to it is more about love and less about income.
Because of this shift in my dynamic, I finally feel free. I feel free to not allow myself to feel bullied or held hostage. I feel free to stop fostering the communities’ bad habits even if needing to be harsh costs me players in the process. I feel free to do what I want to do, which quite frankly after investing my entire adult career and well over a million dollars into it all, I deserve.
When I say that I feel free to do what I want, I'm not talking about abandoning feedback, criticism or reason. I am more than fine with criticism and feedback, it is in fact an extremely vital part of the process. I always have and still do take lots of feedback and criticism. At some point decisions need to be made and topics need to be met with resolution one way or the other. Doing what I want means that I don't have to feel pressured or even worse, bullied into making decisions I still don't believe in after weighing all the feedback .
I have also heard the comment drifting around that because I no longer make my living from Knight Realms, I will be discarding it to the side and not putting time, money or effort into it. That sentiment could not be any farther from the truth. Because I no longer need Knight Realms to survive I am free to tell people when they need to get their act together without survival related fears. This one dynamic alone will herald a big improvement. Without nebulous red tape systems in place I will push out positive updates to the game without fuss. Because I am a wealthier person nowadays, I can spend money on things the game needs without hesitation. The game will not suffer from my lack of necessity for it, it will benefit from it.
Politics, Religion and Bigotry
We have always told people to leave their politics and their religion behind when they are dealing with our community. We are here to play the game and not to get wrapped up in the drama of strong political or religious beliefs. This includes using your own political or religious beliefs as a moral compass for others. It is unreasonable to require that your fellow gamers, larpers, and KR members share your political or religious beliefs and it is absolutely unacceptable to treat them like garbage if they do not. This may sound bizarre to you if you equate your beliefs as the standard of human decency or high morality. The truth that is hard to swallow for some is that your beliefs are simply your personal beliefs and not a standard that everyone else must agree with or suffer the punishment of being labeled a bad person.
Without question, there are overarching topics that the Knight Realms business itself has labeled as unacceptable. Racism, bigotry, bullying, abuse and hate speech are all examples of things that Knight Realms, as a business, takes a firm stand against and does not condone. However, there are other topics that become more nuanced in their discussion and discernment. Political affiliations such as Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Libertarian, Communist or religious affiliations such as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon do not label someone as a bad person. We don't condone statements or behavior that shame fellow members for being a part of any of those groups.
In the same vein, the topics revolving around the ethics of Vaccination status, of AI art, or whether or not you can pay for and enjoy a product that has controversial shareholders, CEOs, or creators behind them are all too nuanced and emotionally charged for Knight Realms to take a stance in. We don't condone statements or behavior that shame fellow members for taking either side in those topics. It is possible you are knowingly or unknowingly friends with someone, possibly very good friends with someone, who has a differing opinion about these topics. Having a differing opinion about these topics does not automatically make someone a bad person or uncaring of their friends within the community. This community is not the place to try to force someone to feel like garbage about their opinions. Simply put, leave it out of the KR community.
Things that we can all agree are unacceptable behavior include: not respecting an individual's requests about their own identity, such as purposefully misgendering people or purposefully deadnaming people, making derogatory statements about a person’s sexuality, making derogatory statements about the color of a person’s skin, heritage, culture, or economic class, or making derogatory statements about a person’s culture, religion, or political affiliation. Commentary, statements, or beliefs like these are completely unacceptable in Knight Realms and I will be the first to tell you that we do not want you in this community.
I was going to say that we are not the thought police, but we are the thought police. If you think being gay is a disease we don't want you in our community. The thing is that we as an organization have a line to cross in which your thoughts and beliefs are unacceptable to the organization. Some of you have a VERY different personal line. Along with everything else on our line, we also do not blanket discriminate based on stereotypes. We do not engage in blanket guilt-by-association behavior. When it comes to levels of association, there is a huge difference between high fiving a self proclaimed clansmember and just wanting to eat your chicken sandwich of choice in peace. You can boycott stuff to your heart's content, but you cannot force someone else to boycott something and label them as a bigot if they are just not at all into boycotts.
When you are in our community you need to be respectful of OUR line and you cannot insist that people in the community live by YOUR line. It is OK for you to have your own personal line, but it is not OK to criticize other people's lines and bully them in the process. If this form of bullying feels good in your head, keep it in your head and out of the community, because we don't accept any form of bullying here, including bullying that you may incorrectly label as righteous.
I want to emphasize the point of this section is that we want Knight Realms to be a safe neutral space for all our players to feel comfortable in. We are all here to play a game and escape reality for a while talking about and playing in our fantasy world. We are not here to suffer the pains, struggles and fights of real life.
Being a reasonable person has to matter and I am getting to a stage in my life where I am growing tired of tolerating unreasonable behavior.
When I originally wrote the Knight Realms rules 25 years ago, I wrote them with the philosophy that whatever is the most fun is what the rules should be. Our original rules might have been fun to many but were wildly disbalanced and unstructured. Over the years people who care about game balance and structure as well as the fun would chime in and get involved with the rule process. In some iterations of the rules the game balance and structure seemed to have a natural side effect of reducing the fun of the rules. All of the rules authors have always had the best intentions in mind and it more or less came down to trying to tip the scales in one direction or the other, finding a balance or not finding a balance. At the end of the day we learned several times the hard truth that you can never make everyone happy because different people enjoy different rules.
Feelings and emotional reactions around the game rules have at times been wild and bizarrely unacceptable. People who have worked on the Knight Realms rules have oftentimes been treated like absolute trash by their peers and in the most extreme cases I recall the occasional death threat being levied. When it comes to rules, almost everyone believes that they can do better than the person standing next to them and almost everyone wants to be involved in writing them. Letting that happen is a recipe for disaster and also pure chaos and perpetual gridlock. No matter who is in charge of rules at a given year in Knight Realms they usually become labeled a bad person with bad judgment who is biased, is ruining everything and does not know what the hell they are doing. They take this abuse all while literally spending most of their precious free time to try to make things better for the players. This dynamic is absolutely wild and also happens to be unacceptable. I apologize to the rules writers who have undergone such abuse in the past, I should have spoken out sooner on how wildly inappropriate some behavior is. It is fine for a player to dislike rules changes, even strongly dislike them; what's not fine is to verbally, emotionally or socially attack the authors behind those changes.
I have also learned over the last two and a half decades that players often have a trauma response to having the rules change on them; this often happens regardless of whether the changes are positive or negative. Change itself can just be flat out jarring. Let me allay your fears and tell you that I have no plans to overhaul the rules again, even if I am not completely satisfied with them now. I am in fact mostly satisfied with them and from here on out I will only be making minor changes and only changes that I can feel confident will be well received by most. Most of these changes I will make on my own instead of using a dedicated rules team, just like the good ole days. I'll follow my gut instincts to make improvements where I feel they will do the most good.
In the past, the staff, and especially the rules team, have worked a tireless amount of hours on Knight Realms, and at times to an unhealthy degree. Part of this is because of unrealistic expectations for deadlines, but it has also been because of players' demands and expectations of the staff’s time. Anyone who volunteers for Knight Realms as staff or marshal is just that: a volunteer. They are giving their time to work on the game, and while the game only expects a minimum amount of time committed, some players have demanded much more of our staff, so much so that previous staff were harassed for doing things not related to the game such as going to see a movie or playing computer games, and most unacceptably harassed for going to school or work or sleeping.
Projects, system updates, and anything else will get done when they get done. We are past the days of trying to meet unrealistic expectations for these things to be put out at the expense of the staff’s well being. There are times that staff members will be unavailable, which may be for a day, a weekend, or even longer, and that must be accepted. They will get to your questions or comments when they operate within their decided Knight Realms working hours, even if they are physically available and even talking to you in the moment. Sometimes they may take time to think about how to answer your question and deserve patience when trying to come to that answer. I myself will often take at least a day or more to craft responses to larger topics and have seen, in real time, the aggression that asking for patience is met with. The staff are not workhorses or robots. They are human beings with reasonable limits and their work hours and their personal time needs to be respected.
Staff and in-game leadership
The staff of Knight Realms and the in-game nobility is supposed to be held to a higher standard of behavior than normal players. Despite this always having been the case, we have never really enforced this higher standard of behavior. Instead, we have had some staff members and in game nobility acting below that standard both in and out of game without consequence. Both of these things are going to have to be addressed immediately if we are going to push for a real improvement to the community. Staff members of all levels and nobility are going to be sent a letter describing what behavior is acceptable to perform while still holding their position and what behavior is grounds for removal. Having this spelled out in detail and very clearly, I will be confident in removing them for infractions. All of these individuals will be given the chance to read over the standard that they need to abide by and if they do not feel that it is reasonable to them or if they do not feel like they have any chance of abiding by them, they can immediately step down with no hard feelings. After anyone steps down, we will likely be posting an application process to fill any of the marshal positions for those who wish to be considered.
I will also be assessing the state of our lands and large game sponsored groups. Some of them lack proper leadership, and I will aggressively be considering and refilling those positions with people I feel will be able to do the job by our standards. It is not a given that those replacements will be already affiliated with those groups although I will do my best to make sure I believe that the people will be compatible with their new leadership.
Take responsibility for your own mental health and well being
On some level you have to take responsibility for your own mental health, wellbeing and comfort levels. Knight Realms as an organization can and does help by giving players an OK check in system and the ability to walk off mods or encounters if the content is too much for them. We also have put some limits on content that is sent out. However if we continuously remove content possibilities because a player has any level of personal trauma about it then you all will be playing some pretty boring stories. We will remove the most egregious of situations from play. You will never have to encounter an NPC sobbing in your arms and telling you they were raped. It’s just too heavy a lift to ask when we are trying to have fun playing pretend. However, past that example, you will not find many other topics that are completely and strictly forbidden to run as content. If content bothers you on an OOG level you have the right to ignore it and remove yourself from the scene or situation. At any given time, there is plenty of other stuff to focus on in an open world game. Disengage, decompress and then re-engage with something else that feels good to you.
This sentiment holds true for non-mental health as well. If you do not drink water, sleep, take your meds, play safely, take precautions equal to your concerns, etc., you will be putting not only yourself at risk but others around you. It is irresponsible for you to not take basic care of yourself and put others in a situation where they must deal with it. Your friends are here to enjoy playing a game with you. They are not here to be burdened with your baggage or saddled with taking care of you. They may be really great people who are happy to help you, but with all honesty they did not come here for that specific purpose, and you are pushing that role upon them by not taking basic care of yourself.
Don’t make people walk on eggshells around you
If we are thinking about asking you a question or dealing with you in some fashion and we pause and stress out because we are worrying about your reaction or your delicate sensibilities, then something is wrong. Whatever behavior you have displayed to put someone else in a headspace of being afraid to deal with you is bad behavior.
Your reaction might be to take things personally whenever you're approached, but you do not need to feed your paranoia, and you do not need to be defensive. At any point we are trying to reach a common ground, so it would benefit both of us if you make an effort to be less difficult, because I am not going to put myself and the staff through further undue stress. We are going to be more willing to let anyone with that kind of attitude go. It’s just not worth the stress that I and the staff suffer. I am simply asking you for a reasonable amount of respect. If you give it, you will get it back. You will receive back, whatever it is that you give out, in equal measure. If you come at me with no chill, I am going to give you no chill right back and you are not in a position to win that fight. There are many people who just need to display like 20% more chill.
The Community’s Worst Bad Habit (Being shitty to one another)
If you have made it past all of the other stuff, congratulations and I have saved the most important thing for last. We/I have been allowing the community to form the bad habit of being shitty to one another with little consequence. We need to make an immediate change and take a complete 180 stance. It’s the only way we are going to shift the community behavior in any reasonable timeframe. What we are moving towards is a zero-tolerance stance on being shitty. Zero tolerance does not mean that we are banning and suspending people left and right, it means that we are calling you out on your behavior in real time, on the spot or as close to it as humanly possible. We are not going to wait and bring your behavior up in a meeting and then decide whether to address it, we are just going to stop whatever we are doing, and pull you aside the second we witness it or hear about it and tell you to stop being shitty.
Does this sound uncomfortable? It should. You should not feel comfortable acting like an asshole. You should be able to realize what you are doing, show remorse for your behavior, apologize and say that you will do better and then get back to the game. No one is going to begrudge you for the mistakes you will most likely make. What is needed is acknowledgement, an apology and a desire to do better. Most players can and will slip up, but as long as the player is showing awareness and improvement then we will be good. The issue will only likely dwell into the realm of suspensions if the behavior continuously persists with no reasonable show of improvement.
Who will be doing this?
It will be me alone who will be calling people out on the spot for their bad behavior. I’m not sure that it will work well at all if I allow others to do this for me. This means I may not witness every situation, but as soon as someone tells me about something that happened, I will find the people involved. You can attempt to calmly explain why you think you are being misunderstood in the situation. I will try to be calm with you as I explain why you need to do better, but keep in mind that my time is now being wasted because of your behavior and that irritation might come through. I warn you now, If I point out your behavior to you and your reaction is to fight me hard on it, I will not take that behavior from anyone. You will be benched on the spot and suspended from play until you can act like a reasonable person.
The great news is that if you are a reasonable person who doesn’t get visibly mad and upset at other players and lose your cool, most of this probability will not apply to you at all! If you are the kind of player prone to outbursts, trash talking, bullying behavior, bad sportsmanship, or being mean to your fellow players then get prepared to have me talk to you several times an event and then suspend you if the frequency of this behavior doesn’t noticeably reduce. If I must, I will spend my entire weekend telling people they are dicks, and then in an effort to free up my precious time that is being monopolized by BS, I will start telling the worst offenders not to return to the game.
I know this sounds intense… but it’s actually a VERY good thing. The people who are afraid after reading this and rethinking their attendance probably should be. The people who are cheering in their seats reading this can look forward to a healthier and more fun gaming environment.
OK, but what will James actually be doing?
Do I plan on screaming at you and bullying you? No. With most of you I have built up long-lasting personal relationships and I also have no desire to scream at people I don't know either. Whether I point out your behavior in public or in private is going to depend on some factors, but understand that my primary goal is not to shame you, I am trying to get us all used to adjusting our culture down a more positive path. If I speak to you in public my words might be tempered and if I speak to you in private they might be sharper, but that won't always be the case as the details surrounding each situation can be different.
If I speak to you about your poor behavior, it is not a sign that I dislike you or that we are no longer friends. If I point out your poor behavior it's because it's my job to do so and also because it's far kinder to you to point out your shortcomings so you can improve, rather than allow you to think that it's acceptable to double down on them. The very second after I have pointed out your poor behavior and you have acknowledged it, I am ready to get back into the role of being your friend.
Some of you may not react well to having your shortcomings pointed out to you either because of your ego, feeling defensive, or something else. This next sentence might sound hard, but it is true. While I may care about you a great deal, your feelings and your ego are not my problem at that moment, they are yours and you need to manage that problem with grace and wisdom or end up in an even worse situation.
What we need to do is get used to a few new things. We need to get used to understanding that we have to be kinder to one another. We have to get used to the fact that some of us will slip up periodically and get called out for it. We need to be able to understand that even after those situations we are still friends who just want the culture to change for the better. I can tell you that you acted poorly and need to do better; and right after we can fist bump and fall right back into being friends. That’s where we need to be at, to make this work.
For the last 25 years, almost like clockwork every six to eight years there has been an exodus of players. Sometimes they felt like all bad people who needed to go anyway and sometimes it felt like I was losing my best friends. I have learned that it is what it is and life goes on. When a large group of players talk about leaving the game, it is not my first rodeo, it’s like my sixth and I’ve gotten really good at staying on the bull and at this point I feel like a fucking rodeo master. I say this not to sound like I’m happy to lose people I consider my friends, but to emphasize that it has happened before, and it may very well happen again, but I am steeled against the disappointment that comes with it when it does.
I really do love everyone and wish we could all play together, but it just isn’t always in the cards. With any social organization the larger it gets the more personalities get involved. The larger personalities will clash with other larger personalities and create waves in the lake and those waves will turn into a churning storm until enough water splashes out that the lake is calm again. It happens and it will always happen. I think what might be different from this point forward is I do not intend to let people get away with being shitty towards one another anymore. The purge will still likely happen like clockwork anyway but at least I will have the peace of mind to know that assholes are being told when they are being assholes. (plot twist – Assholes rarely realize that they are the assholes.)
Personal Footnote: Something people may or may not know about my personal life is that my best friend committed suicide when presented with an ultimatum and a petition. I am not aware of very many trigger points for me personally, but this is one of them. I understand that sometimes people put together these ultimatum lists with what feels like good intentions to them at the time, but these lists do not work on me and have a very opposite effect. When I read a quit list, instead it becomes a fire these people list in my head. I will fire anyone in a position of authority in my organization that puts their name on a threatening to quit list. If you have a problem or dislike a policy you can bring it to my attention, just not in the form of an ultimatum petition. Whether one person has an issue or twenty people have an issue, the importance of that issue is all the same to me. You don't need to gather numbers for dramatic effect.
Thank you for taking this journey with me and reading this entirely too lengthy post. Some of you may totally get it and think that everything I said makes sense and some of you may perceive this as a crazy and unhinged rant. Some of you may have some in between thoughts as well. Whatever you think after reading this I am at peace and feel so much better after having said it and I am excited for the future no matter what it looks like.
The practical takeaway from this should be:
In order to create a healthier community for everyone, I am no longer putting up with poor behavior and bad attitudes. Zero tolerance. You will be spoken to every single time you do it and will be suspended or banned if you do not show improvement over time.
We all need to act according to a higher standard, especially those in positions of authority. The most important part of this is being nicer to one another but it also includes not pressuring your fellow players into having to follow your personal standard of beliefs.
The community will be a much safer place for everyone and a friendlier one and I look forward to enjoying it with you.