Warning. This post is quote long. If you’re curious about the current state of things, skip down to the “Last Straw” section below.
Background and Introduction
This is a post that’s taken me a long time to write. Mainly because in spite of the facts and reality which I’ve experienced, its truth is hard to convey without sounding like a paranoid or delusional lunatic. I am not a supporter of “victim” mentality by any stretch of the imagination. But there is a clear difference between being… playing a “victim” and being an actual victim (sans quotes) of unwarranted aggression by an oppressive person or persons. Some of you will read this and still cling to imagination over facts (and I’ve seen wild and inaccurate speculation on a few BGG posts already) and that’s fine. Wrong. But fine.
It’s also taken time because this last phase began at the same time I started showing symptoms of what would be diagnosed as COVID-19. It’s taken about three weeks to finally run its course (mostly), but today can say I’m probably at about 90-95% of my previous strength and energy. Some days just felt miserable. Thank the Lord there was no hospitalization required and my breathing never suffered. More on that later.
BGG has had a long history of unfairly and over moderating their forums. I’m the first one however to recognize that, in general, any privately owned site has the complete right to police their site’s content in any way they see fit. Private is private and we, well you, pay no fees to use BGG apart from advertising (or donations to block ads). I even initially supported Facebook and Twitter’s right to biasly censor free speech until it was clear that they do receive some government protections for their platforms as which point common sense says they cannot overreach. The problem with public created monopolies (i.e. the defacto “standard” for a market space) like Facebook, Twitter, and even BGG is that we’ve given them their power as private entities to function as pretty much a public utility. The first place you go for movie info would be IMDB. The first place (most) go for game information is BGG. Publishers know this and support the site with content, updates, etc… It’s a “public” service to their customers.
Anyway, rabbit trail followed there.
Matthew Monin (aka “Octavian”) has been the primary community moderator for BGG for many years. He operates, presumably, with the full authority and approval of the don of the site Scott Alden (aka “Aldie”). Matthew’s heavy handed moderation, especially against folks on the political “right” is well known and well documented. Likewise, his excellent community involvement skills with regards to gift exchanges, charities, and trade/sale remediation are also well done. He does a lot of good. But he does a lot of bad. Very bad. Too.
Originally BGG has a moderation policy of initial warning, then timeouts (suspensions) of increasing length to try to remedy “bad” behavior. So it didn’t matter what the “next” offense might be, you just got the next tick on the scale. Admittedly, early on in my BGG days (I signed up in 2000 or so, but got “active” in 2011 or 2012 — username: HawkeyeLonewolf), I could be confrontational. Not just having different opinions, which of course we all do, but a little more aggressive in presentation of them. I assumed we were all adults and that BGG followed normal internet rules at the time. I’d dabbled on political discussion sites where everyone understood the rules of the game, moderation was reserved for egregious threats and insults. So most of my moderation dealt to me was deserved for not so much WHAT was said, but HOW I said it. I learned.
Due to a flaw in the BGG design, you could not request a username change. I had used HawkeyeLonewolf online all over for many many years, but grew tired of using a “handle” as they were called and wanted to use a more accurate “klkitchens” login on BGG. So I had that account removed completely and in October 2014 created a new account under that name (to the full understanding and discussion with Matthew). I then started a blog there “ones upon a game” that migrated to WordPress later on.
So moving ahead, eventually the rules of moderation on BGG changed and for the most part for the better. Instead of mandatory timeouts, offensive content was simply removed from the site. You’ve all seen posts replaced with moderator comments. This, I felt, was a much better solution. They could keep the site groomed to their liking while not punishing folks who accidentally stepped across their lines.
But while the moderation rules seemed to change, the rules of “behavior” and allowed content were not only constantly changing, they were kept secret from the general public. Things that were “ok” before were suddenly taboo. Enforcement likewise because unstable, unpredictable, and heavily biased.
For example, blogs had always been considered (by Matthew), personal opinion. You could express yourself (again within reason) courteously, but take a contrary position. When GENCON was threatening to leave the state a few years ago for a decision by Indiana’s government, I wrote an opinion piece supporting the government and encouraging GENCON to remain. Not wanting to run afoul, I sent it to Matthew in advance and he clearly expressed the blogs were given a little leeway and there would be no problem.
Even when someone crossed the line in a blog, the normal policy was to notify the poster and let them amend their post. A few years ago, Tony Boydell (of “Snowdonia” fame) used the “C” word (and I don’t mean cancer) in the TITLE of his post. So it was there on a front page for all to see. I reported it, he was contacted and given the OPTION of correcting it, not even a demand. Fortunately he did the right thing.
Flash forward to Spring 2020 when COVID was starting to spread, I shared an encouraging post with FACTS (and screenshots to support them) from CDC and other official sources. This was not fringe theories by any stretch just a hopeful, optimistic, we can do this, kind of post. Not only were my posts summarily removed without warning — no chance to correct what they felt was wrong — I was likewise suspended for two weeks for “spreading disinformation”. So the rules changed. Not only did the moderators remove the posts (on a blog which was supposed to be a little more protected) but also suspended my posting privileges. The rules changed, the violations changed, and then the punishment changed.
It was consistently inconsistent.
Seeing then that my blog was no longer safe on BGG, I decided to start moving some of the content from there to here. Somewhere safe from knee jerk reactions. Here’s the interesting part. I asked Matthew if he would reenable my posting privileges on the condition that I promised I would NOT post anything anywhere on the site during the two weeks. Here one might say “Scout’s Honor”, but since I was never a scout, I’ll refrain. But the gist is still the same. I agreed that should I slip up and and post, I would do so at the removal of my account from the site. I proposed this and gave my word and… he accepted. Because then, he knew that I am honest and honorable. No matter what those who disagree with me might say, they cannot and do not say that I’m a liar. Not tooting my horn here, I just try to keep my word.
So I learned on BGG to stay away from hot button areas. When the BLM-mania was going around last year, there was no way I was joining in the conversation. Not because I have any racist bone in my body, but because the conversation on BGG was not allowed to have the nuance required for serious discussion. The intolerant bullies were going to make sure you stayed on their track and not let logic or reason get in the way.
So since my early days of overstepping politeness, in the last two or more years, 95% of my troubles with BGG (and the malignant moderator Matthew Monin) have been from accidentally and unknowingly crossing an ever moving, imaginary line of what one side feels is “correct” and any objections or conversation to the contrary is automatically assumed to be aggressive, no matter how sincere or politely expressed. Matthew got it into his imagination that I was deliberately setting off his fine-hair triggers. He never once considered the reality that I was just simply a part of “normal” people, who live and let live, are actually tolerant of different views, but likewise hold dear the American right to hold my own views and express them politely.
Through this time I was mislabeled and punished for being…
Sexist – For questioning how a game that made all characters male was sexist, but a game making all characters female was not likewise sexist.
White Supremacist – For bringing up the fact (in valid context on a Wargames Civil War discussion) that slavery was not the ONLY reason for the Civil War. Sadly one leading wargame designer proved he was no historian in this thread and turned me off to his designs forever.
Racist – Again. For commenting on a discussion about Spirit Island that I hoped it’d be rethemed because you had to play the “bad guys”. Meaning you play evil spirits killing human beings. I had no idea the evil spirits were killing “colonials”. But as a Christian the idea of playing evil spirits period was a turn off. But nope, I was (to Matthew) stating the colonists were the good guys for oppressing the native population. Nothing approaching those words ever came out of my mouth/fingers.
Troll – For seriously asking if the game CO2 was steeped in global warming or if it just dealt specifically with controlling CO2 levels. Global Warming is proven science to Matthew (and others) so to them there is no reason anyone should apparently object to it. I’d just heard it was a good game, but before buying it wanted more information to see if I personally could play it in good conscience.
The Last Straw?
If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you’ve scrolled this far, thank you as well.
Around January 5, I developed a small dry cough. Felt to me like post-nasal drip and nothing to worry about. But it continued on to January 6 and beyond on on the 8th my wife and I went to get a COVID test. Our son’s co-worker had it and a few others there, including our son, tested positive. So either we’d have natural immunity or we were in for a ride. We took the ride. Though my wife’s test came back negative (she probably tested one day too early as she did end up with it), mine came back positive the next week.
During this same time, Awaken Realms had decided a thank you to the community would be the addition of an Elon Musk character card for their game ISS Vanguard. Being a backer, I saw this update and thought it was cool idea, but no biggie. I didn’t give it much thought. Awaken Realms however later was lambasted by a noisy minority who made some claims about Elon Musk (which to this day I’m still not aware of) and how their woke little minds could not possibly allow this pioneer of space travel to be honored in a board game. The company folded and removed the card from consideration.
OK, so for this next part we need to consider something. If someone posts a thread asking about the benefits of eating red apples, then that is the topic of the post. There seems to be nothing wrong with red apples, the discussion is about red apples. Now if another person joins the discussion, but all they want to do is discuss how much better green apples are than red apples and red apples are for losers, etc… then suffice it to say the person who comes into a thread and starts posting contrary to the topic at hand would be the one “trolling”. Anyone discussing red apples would just be on topic. Logic and reason apply here… or at least should. If for some reason red apples are a taboo subject (as many subject these days have become taboo unaware to the normal, general public), that’s a different matter. So bear that in mind as I continue.
Someone posted on BGG in the ISS Vanguard forum asking if anyone had saved the Elon Musk card image before it was removed from the crowdfunding campaign. This was the first that I’d heard it was removed and could not for the life of me understand why. All AR had posted was that they apologized and didn’t want to create any bad feelings (they created more by removing it, but that’s another matter). On BGG, someone had saved the image and shared it. I’d stated I didn’t know why it was removed and someone offered speculation on it. The whole conversation was quite civil. I’d stayed pretty much on the periphery of anything that could be remotely considered controversial and even cautioned that the thread probably would not be around very long (as the anti-Elon forces — in this case: the Trolls were starting to show up. Someone commented that Elon was a positive role model for the African-American community, and I, knowing little about him besides 1. Space-X, 2. Tesla, 3. Moved his company from CA to TX, thought “Wow, didn’t know he was African-American. Cool!”. Some “troll” decided to post questioning how Elon could be considered “African-American”, so I looked it up and found out that he’s from Africa (South Africa) and was now an American. So yes, truly a first generation African-American.
I asked the person, in all sincerity, how he would NOT be considered to be African-American given the facts above. Any American of Asian heritage is Asian-American. Any American of Mexican heritage is Mexican-American. So logic says any American of African heritage is African-American. Common sense. He questioned if I could possibly serious or if I was just (get this) “trolling”. I assured him I was completely serious and sincere and he replied with a link to some word-twisting leftist think tank article justifying the claim. An opinion sure. But not valid policy and certainly not something that us normal people are going to be aware of. Regardless, and good for me, I let it drop there. I didn’t argue the point with the actual “troll” at all. I just let it go. In fact, at the point, as it was clear the “other side” was going to start invading the so–far civil thread, I immediately took preventative action and removed all my posts from the thread. I cannot delete replies others have made quoting me, but in the past, getting out of a thread has prevented any potential backlash from the malignant moderators. And again, since the thread (from the point of my exit) was pretty much mature people discussing an issue — that apparently was a hidden minefield — there was really no harm. The worst that would happen is the thread get locked, perhaps some posts removed. The new “norm” for BGG moderation. No worries. I was out of there.
Later that night I got a surprise message from Matthew inquiring about the meaning of my current avatar.
I explained it was nothing political, but just that I’d felt America as we knew it had died in 2020. Nothing related to the election or anything else. No matter what answer I gave him (and since when have avatars been questioned?) he kept probing with “How so” and “why”, etc… I guess just waiting for me to say something he didn’t like. After 3-4 rounds of this lunacy, I changed out my avatar and moved the above image to my bio page. I pointed him to another user who had blatant political commentary on his bio page that had stood for nearly a year and that any concerns about my avatar should not be objectionable anymore.
“And then it all went horribly wrong”Hank Hill
The next morning I had a notification for a private message. The ominous “User Moderation” was the subject. That’s never good. But as I’d received my unwarranted and unfair share of them, I figured he’d removed my photo. Imagine my surprise when I clicked it to find out that my account posting privileges had been permanently suspended from the site for my long-deleted posts in the Elon Musk thread. It was claimed that I was “trolling” in that thread. Now in no way was I trolling based on the initial topic. Likewise there was nothing in any of my posts that was offensive — except for asking about the imaginary claim about African-Americans not being African-Americans. But regardless I had removed my posts. I forwarded this obvious error to Matthew, but he dug his heels in. Claimed removing posts beforehand doesn’t (now) exempt you from punishment. Basically he was “la-la-la-la-la” with his fingers plugging his ears, “the ruling stands”.
Of course this was the day my coughing was getting worse, we were going to get tested, and my brain function was starting to diminish. I didn’t feel much like arguing about it. I was sick. So whatever.
The thought of gaming was more than just a bit tainted by this wrongness. The COVID was playing a part sure, but coming into my office to try and work (where my game area is as well), was annoying me. The thought of gaming was no longer any fun. Not being able to share with others about playing, customizing, etc… It was, as they used to say, quite the bummer.
Slowly though, I began to accept this as my new status. At least I can still like, subscribe, tip, send private messages, etc. I can still respond (privately) to people commenting on my many site contributions. I can still maintain my collection information, post plays with the BGStats app, etc. I can still get updates from publishers and download files as necessary, etc. I just could not post on the site. And maybe, someday, Matthew would mature and undo the damage he’s done. So I could live with it.
I had no other choice.
So the next week was a roller coaster of COVID fun. Mostly the first week to ten days being like a bad cold. Then you either get better or it drops down into your chest potentially causing more issues. Did a phone visit with my doctor, got the standard regimen of drugs and began the next phase. Each day was different. I’d feel better in the evening, then wake up all night long in a fitful sleep. Or feel tired and zombie-like all day and then rest all night. It’s been very bizarre to say the least.
Saturday the 16th I was actually feeling pretty good. I’d started to be interested in at least playing some games soon. Perhaps paring down my collection (through BGG marketplace no less) and only concentrate on the games I really, really enjoyed.
I had subscribed to one auction item for a copy of BattleTech Starter Set. Looked to be in a reasonable range, the minimum reserve had not yet been met. So I decided to bid. Of course I could not post on the actual item, but I could “phone in” a bid to the seller and see if he would accept it. After explaining that I was not allowed to post and why, I offered him my bid of $20 and he accepted it. I told him that IF he were to post the “phone-in” bid on the auction item, I’d thumb it so that anyone looking would know it was legit.
So he did.
The auction ended later that night.
I won the item. Yay!
Banned on the Run
Visiting the site on Sunday morning however, it seemed the site was having trouble. I couldn’t get in. I asked on a MeWe.com boardgaming group if anyone else was having issues, but they were not. Odd. So I used the “contact us” page to ask if there was a site down issue…
@!%!**#~@#!!Sarge, “Beetle Bailey”
Matthew was really grasping a straws here. I can understand if I contacted another user to post a reply to a general thread on my behalf. But here all I did was ask the seller if he’d take a bid via GeekMail. He did and chose to post the private bid on his own to the auction item. I explained this to Matthew, but his logic circuits have been seared completely.
My history of boundary pushing? When during a two-week suspension, he trusted my integrity enough to make the suspension “in name only”, so I could edit blog posts (to move them here). I worked WITHIN the boundaries of my suspension. I did nothing to circumvent the rules and restrictions. He could have seen the post was made by the seller. He could have reached out to the seller to confirm my story. But he didn’t want the facts, he wanted his feels.
You are a sad strange little man and you have my pity.Buzz Lightyear
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. He’s got issues. No idea what they are or why he remains with the unchecked power that he has. Unless Aldie and the rest are either just as bad. Or because of the good things he admittedly does, they turn a blind eye to his tyranny. Who knows?
Anyway… after the shock of this last completely unbelievable action of Matthew and the COVID haze began to clear, I realized that there was no longer a reason to keep my account on BGG. All the game modifications, videos, posts, etc… people could respond to me, but I’d never see them. People could private message me and I’d never see or respond to them. A ban is just that… you cannot log in for any reason. No longer could I sell on the marketplace, trade, private message, let people know what happened to me, etc., post plays of games (and I had planned to do a 25×4 challenge in 2021). But to the world my account would be there, just not logged on. My content I created for the community would reap BGG page views and add value, but would basically be stolen from me.
So a few days later, after I’d calmed down and thought it over. I requested my account be permanently deleted from the site with all my content.
Crazy boy was all too happy to comply. Good for him. Perhaps they’ll sharpen all his crayons for him as a reward for responding in only 22 minutes.
So endeth my era on boardgamegeek. I’m not the only one who has been driven off due to the insane moderation policies of the site. And I’m sure I won’t be the last. Seems that in the last year and even more so the last few months, the desire to “purge” and “cancel” has become the first reaction of a certain type of people. Rather than get along and be tolerant, they must eliminate thought they disagree with. BGG was doing it long before Facebook ever thought about it. But just because their brand of evil has become commonplace doesn’t make it right.
I hope that you’ve read this with an open mind. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible — sans a few last second digs at whatshisface.
I’m not sure what this means for me as far as blogging and content creation going forward. When the biggest boardgame community (the majority of its users being very solid and respectful people of all faiths, politics, and lifestyles) ignorantly cuts you off from participation, it makes it much harder to reach and build an audience. No hard and fast decisions now. Need to let things play out. But apart from missing the solo gaming community on BGG, there is a sense of freedom knowing that Matthew’s Mystery Minefield can no longer explode in my face for innocently making a wrong step.