Have you ever been "raped" on the internet?
I have. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Whenever I’m asked how I’m going to handle a particular unpleasant and therefore delicate situation, I always answer “badly.” I’m not even trying to be funny. So what do I do when my board game and labor of love ONEUPMANSHIP gets publicly humiliated on YouTube, by Tom Vasel at Dice Tower, to an audience of 100,000+? Not much. Swear. A lot. And spend an inspired amount of time and energy stringing together an impressive array of what my mother would call “Irish” adjectives and curses that were almost Shakespeare-worthy.
I’ll continue thinking up some new ones while you go and have a look at the “review." Back already? Seriously, here's the letter I sent to him, and I quote:
Dear Mr. Vasel,
I would like to say as far as humor and design are concerned, the old adage that there's no accounting for taste is true: tongue-in-cheek to me could come across as puerile to you; what you think are gorgeous graphics might seem derivative or cartoonish to someone else. De gustibus non est disputandum.
Regarding the 'Bitter Pills', I hope the instructions are clear as to their tactical value to the game. A PDF download of the rules is available on the website for anyone interested in how to actually play ONEUPMANSHIP.
The video ignited his fan base and they went on a social-media rampage, writing horrible and obviously completely fictitious things not only about the game (which none of them had ever even seen, never mind played), but about me personally, my wife, and, reprehensibly, my children. They then headed over to Amazon and trashed everything in sight over there, too. Wow, really? Really.
Two thoughts still come to mind, a year and a half later. First, I think there are a lot of people who didn’t get a date to the prom. Just kidding. Second, there are a many, many unhappy, cowardly and banal (read Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem if you want the Psychology 101 of it) people out there who say deplorable things online because it's cheap and easy, and there’s no confrontation or consequences. I remember the classicist J. Rufus Frears opining on how he believed the concept of honor disappeared with dueling. I agree, for the most part. The internet caters to cowards.
Reviews undoubtedly tell more about the reviewer than the reviewee, so I always ask myself several questions, whenever any of my products is praised or panned: Is there any truth to any of the criticism (or compliments), or is it just the reviewer trying to sound like he knows what he’s talking about out of fear, insecurity, envy, unhappiness or simple ignorance? Some people don’t play fair, for whatever personal reasons, and almost everyone is really telling you, in so many words, what sort of axe they have to grind. Take everything with a grain of salt. And no matter what, take the high road, even if you’ve never been on it before.
Regarding the criticism itself, I try to sluice everything through the old brain pan to find the nuggets (if there are any), and then discard only the chaff, to mix metaphors a bit. Yes, that paper is too thin. Why ‘Beryl Clutterbuck’? West with the Night. No, my game may be based on those two other games, but it’s rehash that’s a breathtakingly original and authentic other thing entirely. No, you may like red, but I like blue. Yes, that’s a really good suggestion: a ‘cheat sheet’ that’s got enough of the basics to get people to actually play the game instead of being intimidated by an instruction booklet half the size of War and Peace. No, I’m not a smug, capitalist frat boy douche. Not really. Well, not intentionally anyway.
And the point is? Um, if you put your butt in the ring, it’s going to get kicked. Character is almost everything, as I've said many times before, but a sense of humor'll certainly do the trick in a tight spot. William S. Burroughs, surrounded by worshippers looking for some words of worldly wisdom and comfort from the literary giant standing before them after his latest book got crushed by the critics, looked out the window of his New York City apartment and said, with a smirk:
"There are a lot of assholes out there."
UPDATE: I went to GenCon last summer in Indianapolis – it's the biggest toy/gaming convention in the world, with over 125,000 attendees. I understand the RPG (role-playing gamers) mentality a lot better now. They're mostly aspie neckbeards living in their mother's basement. The one or two beautiful cosplay princesses you see on all the websites and advertisements, are the only beautiful women in the entire convention center.
Dice Tower had a booth there, coincidentally, and I went over to check it out. A very tall man behind the counter was talking to a young couple, and they were thanking him for reviewing their game. Smiles and chuckles all around. After they left, he looked at me and asked if he could help me with something.
I told him he had also reviewed my game. He asked what game was that? I said: ONEUPMANSHIP. He looked at me for a long time. A long time. And finally said "Oh."