Admin = Placeholder, Merk = Merk

Hi all.

It’s been a wild weekend, hasn’t it?

You may notice that all the “Merk” posts now say “Admin”. I had hoped to find somebody willing to take over as admin, but it’s not something anybody wants to do. From my long periods of absence in the past, it doesn’t seem that anybody even necessarily needs that role. What needs done, moderators can do. So for now, Admin is kind of a placeholder. I can still log in that way – and may still need to for a time – but this paves the way for my plan to phase myself out. For most purposes, I’ve already exited that role.

Many things have been going through my mind about the events of the past few days. I doubt anything good will come of expressing them now, but with luck, no bad will come of it either. We’ll see.

The forum was started – not by me, actually; I only offered to host it for somebody else, and kind of fell into the admin role as a result – not to replace Usenet, but just as another venue for discussion. One of the early decisions made was that it shouldn’t be heavily moderated. In fact, early visitors expressed concern that they had no desire to be in a community that censored what they said. Some didn’t even want the “edit” option, because it meant people could change history. When moderation was necessary, it usually came with some backlash.

Then, several years later, we’ve collectively agreed not only to step up the moderation, but basically sanitize the forum of dissent, negativity, and posts that make people feel even a little uncomfortable. I’m not necessarily saying that this has happened; only that it will. We’ve agreed that this is what we want. We’ve agreed that it is our responsibility to shield forum members from whatever might offend them.

Through it all, I kept expecting somebody to step up and ask “whoa, isn’t this getting just a little bit out of control?” That happened to a small extent, but opposition was met with explanations that it only needs to be fair for some, not others, because of who those others are.

When I was a kid, I was pretty lonely. I was ridiculed in school for various reasons: my family was dirt poor; my clothes were strange and outdated; I was ugly; I was skinny; I had a habit of using “big words” my classmates found amusing or simply didn’t understand. I was bullied, mentally and sometimes physically. This was in a small Oklahoma town, where there weren’t enough people to even find a group of friends in the same situation. I was raised by my divorced mother, with two brothers: one a little younger and the other much younger. When I say we were poor, I mean it. I grew up in a very small trailer house that was little more than a shack. Poverty would have been a step up, since my mom had a seizure disorder and couldn’t work.

It hasn’t felt easy to get to the point I am now. Being ultra-poor helped, at least a little, because I was able to get college grants and loans. I spent my high school years shy and introverted, writing silly little video games and text adventures, which ultimately was the best thing I ever did. Through some bad times, low-wage and under-appreciating jobs, and a dedication to what I loved so much – programming – I managed to not only come out of my shell (to some extent), but also break the cycle of poverty that can easily be a generational trap.

Then four years ago, a heart attack (at 38) let me know that bad luck’s not quite done with me yet. A triple bypass and daily medicine may give me a few more years. It’s something I constantly worry about though.

Now, I’m told that it’s not my place to be concerned if I’m falsely accused of something. It’s not my place to defend myself. It’s not my place to say that maybe everybody deserves a fair shake. And why is that? Because I’m not gay. Because I’m not female. Because I’m not an ethnic minority. Because I am “privileged” – something I wish had been made a little more clear to me during much of my life when I felt like anything but. I have a gay brother (the youngest one; the younger died a few years ago of heart and lung problems). But he isn’t me, so that’s a moot point.

I’m grateful for and honored by the kind words I’ve received since announcing that I wanted to hand off the forum to somebody else. It’s probably clear by now that I feel like an outsider here, in light of recent events. Times have changed, but I haven’t changed with them. I still cling to old fashioned ideals like “innocent until proven guilty” and “nobody should have to walk on eggshells.”

Despite my best efforts to address the needs of the unprivileged and disenfranchised, it seems it’s either not enough, or it’s too late. People still don’t feel safe, and are leaving. On the flip-side, those who prefer a slightly less sanitized forum may also leave. At the start of this, I anticipated a community split (although realizing that this forum isn’t really even the whole community). I just didn’t think it possible that both sides (and I cringe at even using the term “sides” but I’m at a loss for a better word) would split. Maybe it’ll blow over, as the saying goes. I hope it does. But will too much damage be done before that happens? I really don’t know. Reputation matters not just for people, but for communities and forums. If neither “side” (sigh) is satisfied by what has happened, nobody wins anyway.

Anyway, I really need to get to bed. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow, and I wanted to get this all wrapped up so it’s not weighing on me. I’m sure it still will.

Anyway, the word is out that an admin is needed, and a server/host, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same person. I’m leaving it up to the community and the moderators to figure out the next step. When ready, I can provide a database backup and a domain transfer to get things moved as smoothly as possible. I’ll be around at least for a while, I’m sure, but maybe in lurk-mode. I’ll check Admin PM’s until a new Admin is found, although it might not be daily as time goes by. The best way to reach me is to email or maybe both, just to be safe.

It was a good run. At least, I think it was. I’m just ready to focus on other things; less stressful things. At least for now.

First off, thank you for running the server for years, Merk. You’ve done a great job and I can’t stress it enough.

Ha, so.

I had a chance to keep up with the evolution of the Code of Conduct this weekend. If I happened upon this site for the first time and saw that I needed to hit the Page Down button three times to work through all the rules of posting to this place I would 1) admittedly buy a larger monitor, that’s on me and 2) immediately close the browser and never return.

I think that some of you need to work on your conflict resolution skills. If someone sees something that they aren’t okay with, they should be able to call it out. And along the same lines, if someone is getting dumped on or ganged up on, that person ought to be able to stick up for themselves. I have no idea what planet some of you are coming from where that is abhorrent to you, to where you’re locking threads and drafting rules against it.

And everyone really feels they need some sort of contingency plan and rules in case a minor gets in here? Or warnings or tags in case someone links to a horror game? Really? ooOOoOOO! I think the last thing the scene of interactive fiction needs to worry about is what happens if a kid drops by.

Look, I don’t post much here. I don’t expect the CoC to change. I don’t want it to change if it’s just me and Merk that feel this way and we just need to accept that there’s No Zorkmids For Old Men. Hell, someone can reply to this with an ASCII middle finger and I’ll accept that. But Merk was correct in that this place came to be because people were sick of the trolls on Usenet. It’s evolving and that’s great. I think you can delete two or three paragraphs from the CoC and really have something that even I would agree with, and I hate rules. But there is a “problem” that nobody seems to want to talk about and it’s that there’s one general IF forum in the English world, and some people on it only like parser games. Some people using it only like CYOA games. And some people like me and many, many people that have posted this weekend enjoy both. I don’t know what the answer is, or if there’s an answer. Tensions are going to run hot because it always does in this scene. Trying to control how people communicate to this degree isn’t going to solve anything.

It is more than a little disappointing to see those that have rightly struggled so hard for an equal voice go on and use that power to shout down others. But not, I suppose, entirely surprising.

I am certainly not the first to say this, but the world has polarized. The Internet, for all of the good it has done in connecting us, shoulders much of the blame: I can read the Daily Kos, watch John Oliver or the Daily Show, read liberal blogs and start to see the world through only those filters that reinforce my existing views and make me the most comfortable. My neighbor reads the Wall Street Journal and watches Fox News and soon our maps of reality share so little in common that communication, much less cooperation, becomes impossible. There is little hope of compromise when neither “side” is even capable of understanding the other anymore.

People across the Internet have become entrenched on various topics and a siege mentality reigns. With Gamer Gate, gender equality is the battleground du jour but elsewhere you will find similar “wars” about politics, religion, science, etc. Both sides are absolutely convinced that they are right about every facet of their ideology, and that with just a few more volleys of angry and hateful rhetoric they will eradicate all opposition and restore justice to the world. There is no need whatsoever to entertain what the other side has to say: they are “blinded by privilege” or “SJWs being hypersensitive.” And if your tactics tear apart communities, and discredit others who agree with you but are trying to make progress using less strident education and outreach, well, isn’t that a small price to pay for being Right?

Man, Merk. This is rough. Reading that, I don’t blame you for making up your mind. Also, your writing helped me put a few only semi-related points, both in the present and past, to rest. So thank you for that.

I come from a more privileged background than you, but I remember people better off than me saying, shut up, there’s nothing to complain about. You’ve got it good enough. Then I heard I had low standards for not having more. These contradictions are first world problems–but we live in the first world–and they get in the way of people taking simple steps to do what they want to do, regardless of privilege. I think we want to embrace these contradictions, because it shows we have a conscience. But we shouldn’t have them forced on us, or have them used as pressure tactics to say, see, you don’t know what you’re doing, let someone who makes decisions quickly have a chance.

I’m disappointed, too, but I wish I’d said more. I suppose with the CoC, now, I can’t, or it’s risky. I also disagree with Ice Cream Jonesy that it’s about parser vs twine–but I can’t put my finger on it. Okay, maybe it’s post-decisional regret, but I am already worried I’d cross the CoC by saying it.

I really hope the CoC doesn’t crush idea exchanges like the one in the IF is Dead topic, because even if it was tough reading, it was good reading. I’m probably more optimistic than you guys. I’m even willing to give up some feeling of welcomeness so others can feel a bit more comfortable. But I can’t keep doing so forever. And I’ve been suckered into a bad bargain before. He who gives up a little freedom for security blah blah.

But still, I have a lot of respect for a lot of people on this forum. I want to hear what they have to say, even if I don’t agree with it. I hope enough feel the same way about me.

The road to hell is paved with the best intentions.

We wanted for more people to feel welcome. We failed.
And, in the process, we attracted the interest of one of the most toxic congregations out there.
I’m way against giving culprit to those who have expressed disturb on the first topics. The fault is ours. We acted like the politicians who decided Germany needed a stronger leader, back then. All in good faith.

The road to hell is paved with the best intentions.

I’ve been thinking that since this whole mess started, but when I commented earlier that people were taking things way too seriously I got a load of flak for it.

I’m sorry you’re stepping down, Merk. You were one of the few voices of reason in this place, but after the last week I don’t blame you one little bit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be admin here right now and I pity the poor bastard who takes up the mantle.

As for the CoC? Well, I agree with Ice Cream Jonsey that it’s long. Way too long. Serious question: does anyone think newcomers to the site will read through it all? It strikes me akin to those Terms & Conditions you get before installing a new piece of software. You know the kind. They scroll on for page after page after page, contain lots of legal jargon most people don’t understand, ramble excessively and contain a great deal of vagueness that doesn’t really mean anything. They’re written by intellectuals who don’t realise that not everyone is like them. Most people will take one look at it, think “Sod that!” and just post whatever they want.

Why not a CoC that’s a few short lines? Maybe a few bullet points? That’s the sort of thing people will read and understand and be more likely to abide by.

I am fine with most of the new CoC, simply because for the best part it says “Be a good person”. And I rather thought that’s what we’ve always been. There were hard times, but in the end everyone knew that this wasn’t a place to fling half-baked crap (and if they did, they were usually taken care of in style). So I personally go “Meh. All that discussion to go back to what it’s always been.”

It’s not clear who you’re talking about, and I sure hope it’s not Merk.

That’s a loaded, loaded statement… I don’t even think I need point out all the very many ways why… Any argument that’s at the base of, I’m running away from; it scares me at least as much as some of the heavier things said in this discussion; personally and subjectively speaking, it scares me even more.

I was on the verge of doing so. Then I saw how much flak YOU were getting for doing so, and remembered last time, and went “screw it”.


This is the interwebs. People will insult you. Women will be shown the way to their kitchen. Ethnic minorities will be cleansed. Threats are going to be posted.

Business as usual. What’s the big fuss about? Is is the first time most of you visit the Internet?


I sent you a PM. I’m willing to host the forums for free, indefinitely. My (wholly owned) business has a dedicated server with very low use. I host other communities and larger websites as well.

My role would probably be tech support, reporting to others with more knowledge of the community. I’m an interactive fiction enthusiast, but have very light lurker status :slight_smile:

I can also make CoC reminders as needed. I have no problem being the target of ire, and have a high tolerance in avoiding the need to defend myself.

Put more directly: I won’t piss off the community out of ego, I won’t let it languish because of time constraints, and I’ll do my best to keep things civil, if asked.

So everyone is aware, this thread is also being screencapped and posted to Twitter under the #GamerGate hashtag. I wanted to make sure everyone was aware we are speaking to a wider audience, without necessarily wanting to. See my comment in the locked GamerGate thread for context.

To be clear, one of the people from the IF community took a screenshot of Merk’s original post and tweeted this with the #gamergate tag.

“Admin of IntFiction org talks about censorship & forum’s history in a long, somewhat-parting msg.”

Nothing to fear, IMO.

EDIT: my opinion is regarding this thread. As a community, I’d avoid talk of censorship, social justice, and #gg for at least a little while.

Certainly not. I was responding to his paragraph

but it also applies to gamers with respect to mainstream culture.

Well, we are posting on a public forum. One solution I’ve seen elsewhere for limiting the visibility of some conversations to the general public is a “private subforum” which is only visible to members with a certain number of posts.


Thank you for your open, honest, and courageous post. I don’t have any words to express how sorry I am for your struggles. Nobody deserves to have their struggles minimized. You have done much to overcome them, and for that you should be proud.

I wish we could discuss this further. Perhaps we could come to an understanding. Perhaps you would feel less hurt. But that can’t happen as long as there’s a looming threat of further hurt, whether it’s a passive aggressive comment from within the community or harassment and threats from the outside. On both sides.

I can only wish you the best, and hope you stick around as long as you can.

Here’s a good article that sort of sums up my feelings on all of this. … iters.html

I especially like #8:

The best writing is writing that is truthful – without sanitizing it. Everyone’s idea of “truth” is going to be different, and that’s why the best stories often have multiple characters, each expressing a “truth” as their own. That way, everyone can find someone to identify with in a story. Writing is a great form of communication, in this way, because many ideas can be expressed – through character – without having the need to shout about what is and what isn’t “true”.

Thanks, Merk, for being an awesome admin, and creating a site that has been (and hopefully will continue) to be a great resource for writers and game players. Your story rings true to me. Thanks for sharing it.

Thanks Merk for having the courage to share your thoughts.

“We wanted for more people to feel welcome. We failed.”

My crystal ball isn’t so clear. Sure we lost some people, but we don’t know what the repercussions of these discussions will be. It is possible that newcomers will feel more welcome here because of them. Call me an optimist (go ahead, I won’t flag your post :slight_smile:"

To be honest though, I’m not sure the COC will make much difference. I do think one is necessary because it looks good and sounds right. I see a similarity between it and what happened with the IF Comp prize pool where originally cash prizes were offered to the top three parser games and not the top three web-based games. I agree that looked bad, but parser prejudice wasn’t the problem; the prize donator wanted to encourage parser games. So the solution was to add a similar prize for web-based games. This doesn’t solve the problem, though, which is not that there is such a prize but that some people may complain because they misunderstood the rationale behind it. So the solution prevents what could become a problem. I hope that the COC and these discussions do the same thing for the Forum.


Merk, I am also sorry to see you step down. You have been a steady behind-the-scenes presence, and this has value to the forum. Wrangling the CoC discussion has also had value even though it hasn’t made everybody happy.

You say: “Now, I’m told that it’s not my place to be concerned if I’m falsely accused of something. It’s not my place to defend myself. It’s not my place to say that maybe everybody deserves a fair shake.”

I think you are being unfair to your own contribution and to the discussion here. The past week does not boil down into so simple a condemnation. There are people who will so boil it down, and have, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what the community has decided.

It’s a common paradox: If you listen to the angriest voices, you see the world as irreconcilably broken. But if you ignore the angriest voices, you cannot hear the people who have been hurt the most by the status quo.

I have been in online communities where it is possible to have vocal disagreement without silencing one side or the other. Of these I can say:

(1) They have strong moderation. Not in the sense of “step out of line and the banhammer comes down”, but in the sense of “step out of line and people will tell you so. Openly.” (And then if you continue to offend, you’re doing it with conscious intent and the banhammer comes down.) (I am not so much a fan of the only-discuss-moderation-privately tack.)

(2) They are not forums for disagreement on every topic. Nor are they open to soap-box pronouncements on both sides of a divisive topic. The moderators have political positions, the members have political positions, and these are generally in accord. If someone from a different faction shows up, they are welcome – but the spiral of “I demand that you be tolerant of my intolerance” does not fly.

(3) People do leave in a huff. This is not a recipe for making that not happen. It is a guide for people to interact who are more interested in conversation than in their own huff-ness.

I think this forum can continue in that ideal, and – despite all the angry words of the past week – I think that we have not shifted far from it.

By the way, I have also been copy-pasting some of this discussion and keeping a local copy. This is an obvious precaution in a situation where the future of the server is uncertain.

I just put two and two together. The fact that Merk came from near-poverty (which is an oppressed group, btw) and has been covering the costs on his own is giving me a terrible case of sad face. That says so much more about his generosity and how much we take for granted.

I will happily pay for/contribute to a new server.

I think you could help out more by not creating these divisions in the first place. Everyone is in a minority of one, and no one knows the full extent of another person’s life, or what they’re dealing with. We all have problems, insecurities, and past injuries to deal with. I think that was the point.