On A Roll

The Podcast to help you Level Up Your RPG!

The Broken Brilliance of "Get Woke, Go Broke"

This week, our podcast, On A Roll, did an episode discussing the comments left on a post I saw in a Facebook group dedicated to game designers. In this group, a designer was asking for advice on how to find a sensitivity editor for his game. Instead of receiving advice, he was lectured by countless people telling him it was a waste of money and that designers shouldn’t allow special snowflake social justice warriors (SJW) to censor his creative endeavors (nevermind that choosing to edit your own work is not censorship).

READ: A game designer wanted to make sure his game didn’t offend or hurt people, and his peers told him not to worry about others’ feelings.

This designer was told that SJWs were ruining their favorite games. He was told that people who are offended should get over it and spend their money elsewhere. He was told that gaming companies should be allowed to be as offensive as they want and let game runners sort it out at their local tables. He was told that game companies that “Get Woke, Go Broke.”

When we shared our podcast advertisement linking to this episode in other Facebook groups, another interesting thing occurred. One group I shared it in refused to approve the post. The reasoning was that any posts dealing with social justice issues always devolve into shit shows in which people with axes to grind on both sides attack one another, and the admin team just didn’t have the time to properly moderate that sort of thing (The admin was incredibly kind and genial – I have only good things to say about him and how he handled it).

We did share the link to the episode in another Facebook group, and I watched as a shit show played out in the comments on the thread. It quickly degraded into yelling and personal attacks. I actually watched a white person tell a black woman that she was wrong about her experience concerning the lack of representation of people of color in the gaming industry during the 1990s.

The post played out exactly like the episode-inspiring post from the game designers’ group had played out, and it played out exactly as the other Facebook group’s admin feared it would: “Get Woke, Go Broke.”

My day job is in marketing and communications, so I am fascinated by how that phrase is such an incredible piece of communications. Get Woke, Go Broke is perfect and brilliant because:

  • It clearly conveys the argument succinctly: If you are catering to individuals who support social justice issues such as diversity, inclusivity and equality, you will find yourself unsuccessful and out of business.
  • It is short. Four words is all that message takes.
  • It’s impossible to argue against it in similar succinctness. A racist can say those four words, but to rebut it requires three- or four-hundred. People check out.
  • It rhymes. Those “-oke”s make it catchy, damnit.
  • It’s confident and conclusive. The phrase isn’t, “If you get woke, you may go broke.” The verbiage is assertive in its prognosis as if coming from a place of expertise.

That brilliance is also what makes it so dangerous and allows it to dominate without facts. The truth of the matter is that the data actually demonstrates that if you DON’T get woke, you might go broke. Here are a few thoughts from within the gaming industry and outside of it:

  • White Wolf Publishing was recently closed and Vampire 5th Edition was licensed to other developers precisely because of backlash to offensive content.
  • Harlem Unbound tackled racism and diversity in life and gaming head-on last year. It funded on Kickstarter to nearly $40,000. It’s now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution Anacostia Community Museum and the Newark Museum’s collections. It won three Gold Ennies and has been picked up by Chaosium for a 2nd Edition.
  • Gillette’s recent “The Best a Man Can Be” ad did not affect sales positively or negatively – being woke did not help nor harm them). Sales remained the same, but their overall media saturation numbers and sentiment measurements were so high that the marketing campaign is still considered successful.
  • Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign raised 2nd quarter sales by 9%, and their stocks were up 6%. After the initial drop of the ad, online sales were up 14% year over year.
  • The entertainment industry is currently experiencing unprecedented success in socially progressive productions such as Stephen Universe, Black Panther, Get Out, Wonder Woman, Rogue One, Crazy Rich Asians and Frozen.
  • Solo didn’t fail because Star Wars: The Last Jedi was too woke. It failed because director issues caused its budget to double, making it nearly impossible to make a profit. It still earned $400 million dollars, which isn’t a small amount.
  • Ghostbusters (2016) didn’t fail because they replaced an all male cast with an all female cast. The film’s failure to recoup has more to do with its inability to secure theatrical release in China (China’s box office is larger than the US and Canada’s combined). Some would also argue it just wasn’t a great film, as well.
  • Studies are showing that young people (re: not middle aged white men) are increasingly wanting to spend their money on products and companies that are socially responsible. The Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report indicated that 81% of millennials expect their favorite brands to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship, expecting companies to make their charities and values part of their corporate identity.
  • The marketing industry has begun recognizing these trends and created a new measurement that is done along with ROI (return on investment) called ROR – Return on Relationship.
  • Editing for sensitivity isn’t actually a new thing. It’s been done in marketing for decades under the name of “marketing assessment.”

So what’s going on? Why is it that the two most extreme sides of the argument are screaming at one another in an endless, pointless shit show? Why is it that we only hear from two voices in these conversations?

We hear from Edgy Gamer Guy (EGG), who says: “Stop letting your special snowflake overly sensitive social agenda ruin my game! My game should be as adult as I want it to be! It’s an adult game with adult themes, it’s supposed to be offensive sometimes! It’s your job to police your sensitivity, not mine and not the gaming company’s! If you don’t want to play a game you find offensive, don’t! Get Woke, Go Broke!”

What many take this to mean is: “I want all games to include offensive things that hurt people.”

We also hear from the most extreme Social Justice Warriors: “Every book should be filled with diversity and inclusive themes! All content should be sensitive to everyone’s triggers! No compromise will be accepted! Make everything perfect or we boycott!”

What many take this to mean is: “I’m offended, and nothing anyone does will ever be enough to satisfy my personal agenda!”

I don’t believe either of these groups are, for the most part, made up of actual bad people with bad intentions who want to hurt others, even if they sometimes definitely sound like it. I don’t believe the EGGs are actually saying they want to run rape plots every week at their table any more than I believe the most draconian SJWs want to remove every single piece of dramatic conflict from every single game.

These two extremes are the most vocal, but they are not the majority. I believe that most of us are rational, sane individuals who live closer to the center of this debate. We want to choose kindness over hate. We don't want to intentionally hurt people.

But, we are silent out of fear of being attacked by these two extremes. We need to speak up and be heard, and stop being afraid of these conversations currently being dominated by toxic gamers at both extremes.

I actually believe that, when you boil it all away to it’s most simplistic, this is a battle between tradition (fearing change) and posturing (demanding change). Perhaps ironically, it is two groups of people each trying to force others to allow them to feel comfortable.

The good news is, that’s actually common ground. Maybe we can build on that?

We should agree as consumers that game companies should feel comfortable creating the game they envision without being told what topics they can and cannot broach, but in return, those companies should also have the social responsibility to broach mature topics in respectful, sensitive and representational ways. We can and should demand both in synergy.

We should also agree as gamers that if you are comfortable running an “edgy” or offensive game at your table you can, and that if you are comfortable exploring social justice issues at your table you can, and that if you are comfortable leaving both of these out of your game and want to run something else entirely at your table, you can do that, too.

The best part is, no one has to get woke OR go broke.