The FGC Needs a Code of Conduct
The FGC suffered some terrible news in 2020, and now it's time to put something in place to prevent it from happening again.
Last summer, the fighting game community suffered a spate of terrible news: report after report of serious sexual abuse, physical misconduct, racism, and more on the part of dozens of members of our communities, including top level tournament organizers, players, commentators, and more.
Last month, a group of FGC members unveiled their project to try to do something about this: the Fighting Game Community Code of Conduct, an attempt to create a standardized set of rules for tournaments, chat servers, and other spaces in the FGC.
Let's talk about why the FGC needs a project like this.
The Old Days
The FGC has never been unified. Each tournament is run by separate tournament organizers, each web forum is owned by separate owners, each chat server is controlled by separate mods. This diversity has led to a great variety of tournament experiences and community sub-cultures with their own fun takes on what it means to be part of the larger scene.
I've been on the record for years that I don't want a governing body in the FGC, in part for fear that it would make our unique, grassroots scene as top-down and homogenous as League of Legends, and in part because I didn't want a strong central authority that could wantonly blow up our personal fun or businesses.
But this system has its faults. When an attendee steps too far out of line, any enforcement decisions are the sole responsibility of the TO. But TOs get into organizing because they want to make good events for the community, not because they want to enforce rules. Many of them have griped to me in private over the years that this responsibility frustrates them and, although they understand that it's a big part of their job, it's not something they look forward to. Their work is difficult enough without it.
Our decentralization also causes inconsistent enforcement decisions. Each event, website, and server has its own code of conduct, whether written down or unspoken. Even where the rules are similar, each community leader has different sensibilities for deciding where the line might be, different ways of making decisions, different ways of announcing decisions, different constituencies with different expectations, and so on. As a result, a common complaint about bans in the FGC is that they've felt inconsistently applied.
This system often leads to dogpiling as well. When a TO bans a player from their event, they're often followed by other TOs announcing bans for that player as well. TOs don't have an infrastructure to act simultaneously, so that almost never happens. And while secondary TOs don't want to come across as insensitive to any victims by not also banning the offender, they don't want to preempt the first TO over issues that happened at the first TO's event either, so they're almost always stuck playing catchup.
Shaken and stirred to action
So our existing system isn't perfect. And frankly, we knew it was bad for at least some other people as well, since reports of harassment and bigotry in the scene are hardly new. But I don't think many of us understood the extent until last summer.
There were awful actions reported in every region and in every game sub-community. Every side of the FGC, from players to spectators, commentators to photographers, and tournament organizers to merchandisers, had abusers in their midst. In some cases, the reports went back decades. People who I had long considered friends turned out to have done things I never would have imagined.
When something you care about fails, you must be honest about why. Small failures may be based in bad luck or little errors. Catastrophic failures, by contrast, should be met with serious efforts to change. And we must be honest: our system of enforcement failed catastrophically.
We love the FGC, we love its decentralization. But if we honestly want a better community, we need to work towards it more straightforwardly than we ever have before.
Soon after these revelations came out, several groups in the FGC began independent efforts to create more effective enforcement mechanisms. I was aware of three of them, but for all I know, there may have been more. A couple were private groups; one was open, was joined by over 600 people, and had members from all over North America as well as Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Oceania, and more.
That last one is the only one that's still going, and it was the genesis of the recently released Fighting Game Code of Conduct, or FGCoC.
The FGCoC was made by community members who were inspired by that terrible news to seek better possibilities for the community they love. Longtime FGC folks will probably know at least some of the people on its list of signatories, but they've been behind the scenes on everything from local weeklies to the biggest majors in the world.
My name is one of those on that list. As an attorney, I've written many codes of conduct for FGC events, teams, and websites, so I provided the initial draft. But since then, the FGCoC has received so much feedback from so many organizers, broadcasters, players, and more that it's changed substantially, and very much for the better. But that was easy compared to the work of creating a process for taking in reports, maintaining anonymity and privacy, and adjudicating and communicating decisions. And none of that was me. Hats off to everyone who spent so many hours putting this together!
As codes of conduct go, it's very moderate. It's not a governing body. Its enforcement decisions aren't legally binding. It's made by and for our diverse, decentralized community. It's merely intended to provide a set of uniform rules that can be easily adopted by events and chat groups, to take some of the weight off event organizers and chat server owners if they so desire, and to help produce more consistency in disciplinary action. No one who helps with investigations will also be involved in recommending enforcement decisions. And if a decision maker is too close with an accuser or an accused, they'll be required to withdraw to avoid bias.
Everyone who worked on the FGCoC is a member of the FGC first. Nobody involved wants to ban trash talk or make every event feel the same. No one wants to mount some weird power grab. We just want what I hope most of us want: to make our community safer, more inclusive, and more fun for more of us.
Let's make a better FGC
It's going to be difficult. Nobody involved had any illusions that it would be well received by everyone, and predictably, many of us were attacked for it. But many others are on board with it, or at least with the idea of it, and that's very encouraging too.
If you'd like to learn more about the FGCoC, including by reviewing its text, providing feedback, getting involved, and more, I encourage you to do so here.
I don't know how impactful the FGCoC will be in particular. I don't want to blow up the scene that's been such a big part of my life for nearly 20 years. But to make sure we never have another summer like the last one, to maintain and to grow our amazing, unique, energetic, diverse FGC, we have to be open to change.