Minecraft & subtle bigotry

Community Jan 31, 2021

Image credit: Mojang

//cw: queerphobia, paedophilia, abuse of power

Okay, listen. If you're reading this, you've heard about this problem before - the concept of bigotry as an issue in the world-wide gaming community at large is not a controversial subject. From newsworthy events such as the Smash Brothers sexual misconduct allegations, going all the way back to Gamergate and now-dead causes such as Gamers Against Bigotry, the gaming community at large has been perpetuating - and suffering from - racism, sexism, queerphobia and other forms of bigotry for a very long time.

In some ways, this is expected - the gaming community is absolutely gigantic, with Newzoo predicting sales of nearly $160,000,000,000 (160 billion dollars) in 2020 (across roughly 2.7 billion gamers). With a group that large, some bigotry is expected - but why is it so pervasive? It seems that even the smallest things can be taken and turned into an excuse to engage in racist harassment and threats.

Something needs to change - but first, let's address the elephant in the room.

What does this have to do with Minecraft?

Minecraft is one of the world's most popular games and a huge part of today's Internet culture, played by millions of people and taking in $415 million in revenue in 2020. I've been part of the Minecraft community myself since 2009, a time before you could even play Minecraft with other people. When Minecraft Classic was released and multiplayer support was added, I was one of the first people out there making use of those features - I've been running related communities for a very long time.

The truth is that Minecraft has always had a bigotry problem. In those days, though, it was far more direct - people filling worlds with swastikas, using "gay" as an insult, throwing around racial slurs and racist jokes, and so on. Today, we live in a world that has many excellent movements that try to combat all kinds of bigotry, and this kind of behaviour is more and more likely to be frowned upon in some communities.

This is a good thing, but it makes it harder to spot the problematic people. The concept of the "invisible bigot" is something that was brought to my attention some time ago, while I was a moderator at the official Discord community for the Fabric mod loader project (more about that later) - the idea that today's bigots aren't stupid enough to be explicit about their bigotry means that they will try to avoid being obviously bigoted in spaces that don't tolerate their bigotry. Any large community will have a number of bigots, regardless of how it treats them - but the way they behave will change based on how receptive they feel the community will be to their ideas and speech.

Finding and combating modern bigotry

Please note: Some of this section was inspired by a recent ContraPoints video. If you haven't watched it, and you have 90 minutes to spare on this crucial concept, I would absolutely suggest you do so.

To promote and enforce the idea of psychological safety (what most communities simply refer to as "safety"), community staff members must, among other things, be aware of how problematic people have changed the way they perpetuate their bigotry. Instead of throwing around explicit slurs, many of them are using something that's often called a "dogwhistle". Essentially, dogwhistles are statements which are designed to look innocent to the curious bystander whilst hiding the true intentions of the statement.

Many examples of this can be found within, for example, J.K. Rowling's tweets...

While this tweet may look innocent when taken out of context, digging a little deeper yields a much more concerning sentiment. As Vox reported at the time, this tweet references a UK court case that's rife with transphobic intent - in which Maya Forstater, a "gender critical feminist", was denied a contract renewal over her views that transgender women are male predators, using some of her tweets as examples of this.

In essence, this tweet is a dismissal of transgender identity - the first three lines essentially characterize trans people as LARPers (people dressing up in costumes and calling themselves different names), and fetishize the concept of being trans (which is a very common dogwhistle). It then creates a false association - stating that Maya was a woman "forced out of her job for stating that sex is real". This false association tries to create a link between a cause (in this case, trans people campaigning for safety and acceptance) and an unreasonable viewpoint (that "sex is not real"). This is a very common tactic taken by bigots of all types, and it's a particularly pervasive problem because people that aren't already immersed in the relevant context will not see a problem with the statement.

As Robert Macilraith at The Oxford Student writes:

An acquaintance of mine (a cis gay male) recently contacted me about some of Rowling’s tweets on biological sex, saying that he ‘couldn’t see what was wrong with what she was saying’. This is the danger of the dog whistle. By taking an unreasonable position (the eradication of biological sex) and assigning it to the transgender community en masse, Rowling is attempting to associate ordinary trans people with ‘extremist’ views.

Additionally, as ContraPoints says in her recent video:

The indirect bigot is always defending something [...] I think a lot of people take a borderline heroic view of themselves, and indirect bigotry flatters that self-image.

Bigotry closer to home

Now that we have a better idea of what we're dealing with, let's look at something a lot more specific: The Fabric community, especially as it exists on Discord today.

For those that are unaware, the Fabric mod loader is a project that's been mired in controversy for quite some time - from examples of its users directing toxicity towards the Forge project, to instances of users perpetuating bigoted, hateful viewpoints, both in official spaces and their own, private communities. These issues are something people have been aware of for some time:

This culminated with an event that happened on the 13th of September (2020), in which a member of the community that had previously been banned for their queerphobic rhetoric and dogwhistling quietly had their ban reversed, responding to a short document posted on GitHub. The document was not signed by many of the people who are listed as showing support within it, it was not written by the banned member, and it does not address any of the issue at hand. The following tweet is part of a thread created by a concerned user at the time:

Upon his return to the community, the user decided to send this message:

Unfortunately I couldn't find a higher-resolution screenshot of this one

We can relate this situation back to the earlier section about dogwhistles - Vatuu makes (paraphrased) assertions like the following:

  • Paedophiles are currently using today's diversity acceptance movements to gain traction in society
  • A legitimate sexuality can be equated to raping children
  • Paedophiles exist under the LGBT banner, and are trying to gain acceptance through it

As with our earlier examples, Vatuu is attempting to create a false association between the LGBT community (and particularly trans people) and a dangerous group of people that prey on children. This is a common tactic used by many anti-trans people, who often attempt to mischaracterize trans people as sexual predators, most commonly referring to trans women using women's bathrooms - this is simply not the case, and there has never been any research that suggests that it is.

Some time after I joined the moderation team for the official Fabric Project Discord server (intending to solve this specific issue and putting policies in place to ensure it wouldn't happen again), some users started talking about how uncomfortable they were that Vatuu was still present on the server, a discussion that culminated in the ban being reinstated.

The above situation, however, is not the overall problem - it's nothing but a symptom. As I stated earlier:

Any large community will have a number of bigots, regardless of how it treats them - but the way they behave will change based on how receptive they feel the community will be to their ideas and speech.

Other issues

There are many other examples of similar problems in the Fabric community. Some examples that I've seen myself include:

  • A user deliberately calling a trans woman a man
  • A user stating that trans people need to be "cured"
  • Users defending the use of transphobic slurs
  • Users mocking people's pronouns, both on-server and in satellite communities
  • Users mocking (or refusing to acknowledge) people with pluralities, or refusing to refer to them using the correct terminology
  • Users promoting (and engaging in) paedophilia
  • Users complaining that promoting the safety of minority groups is "an erosion of free speech" and "the erasure of community culture"
  • Users deliberately mischaracterizing LGBT-centric satellite communities as groups of people that exist only to defame staff members and other users they dislike

How did we get here?

The original incident happened in November 2019, and it was not addressed by staff until May 2020 - when the initial ban was issued. That's a gap of about six months in which nothing was done, and this set a precedent for other members of the community to feel comfortable enough to perpetuate their own harmful ideas. The ban was lifted four months later, with no public explanation other than "we feel like the ban was long enough" - indeed, several members of the LGBT community were temporarily banned because they decided to speak out against the staff team taking this action.

Shortly after this, I joined the staff team and attempted to create a safer, more accepting, less bigoted environment. During my time on the staff team, I worked with the rest of the moderators to create a Code of Conduct and a new set of rules, I successfully pushed for a channel (#discord-meta) that users could use to bring suggestions and questions to the staff in public, and I worked to promote accountability within the staff team by creating and deploying real moderation tools that kept track of everything.

Unfortunately, while I found that (most of) the other moderators were willing to cooperate and work towards a better future for the community, the admins were... not so easy to work with. Many ideas and comments were met with scepticism and sometimes hostility, from two people who knew nothing about community management and did not want to be bothered by (or involved with) the community, but that had strong opinions nonetheless.

Each of the two admins can be characterized by their approaches towards community issues.

Ambivalence and avoidance

The lead developer, project owner and owner of the Fabric Discord server is modmuss50. Modmuss is a reserved person who, while he often has good intentions, often ends up causing problems through inaction.

During the fallout caused by the Vatuu situation described above, modmuss decided to delete Discord from his devices. The only way to contact him was to send him a direct message on IRC, and even then it was often quite difficult to extract a response from him. This became somewhat of a theme - something would happen on Discord, and modmuss would delete Discord for a while to avoid having to deal with it or, indeed, think about it.

When he has decided to grace users with his presence and listen to their issues, his responses have been dismissive and emblematic of his unwillingness to get involved with the community that he is ultimately responsible for. Here's one example from the aforementioned #discord-meta channel:

In private and in public, he has often demonstrated that he is not aware of what happens within his community, and that he has no interest in looking after it. He is clearly not queerphobic in general - but his silence and unwillingness to do anything is a political statement supporting the existing state of affairs which, as I've shown above, isn't exactly a great position to be in.

Pride, greed and wrath

The other administrator is an infamous character known only as Player. Player is the developer behind a very popular mod named IndustrialCraft 2, and is generally a very accomplished programmer - but he's not known for his programming prowess in the wider Minecraft modding community. Instead, his legacy is one of controversy - including attempting to force other mod developers to stop working on their mods by allegedly threatening them with legal action. Indeed, Player is infamous enough that he is the primary reason that LexManos - the lead developer over at the Forge project - is refusing to work with the Fabric project at anything other than a surface level.

The LGBT and neurodiversity communities that exist within Fabric's wider community often cite Player as the primary problem when talking about the issues the community has faced, and I don't really think they're wrong about that. Here are some examples of his behaviour that I had to deal with as a moderator:

  • The rejection of the idea of safety in an online community, something which is well-defined by seasoned community managers as psychological safety - a concept which is central to pretty much any modern resource that explains how best to run a project. This rejection became outright hostility when I was working on the new community rules, and I was only allowed to include one mention of safety throughout the rules documents.
  • The constant assertion that the people that were complaining about the issues I detailed above were a loud, tiny minority that existed to make the wider LGBT community look bad - a common dogwhistle.
  • The constant assertion that the people that took issue with the Vatuu situation were deliberately mischaracterising what he said, and that those people held an unreasonably unfavourable view of him.
This is a common dogwhistle - said moments before this post was published.
  • The assertion that the most vocal complainants were simply trying to trick him into saying something incriminating.
  • The assertion that a lot of the more vocal complaints would be illegal under Germany's libel laws, which suggested to me that he may consider litigating if he deemed it worth his time.
  • The assertion that permanent bans are not useful, and that a sliding scale of temporary bans solves the same issues - this is patently false, which is why most communities adopt a policy of issuing permabans with an appeals system instead. Users should not be given more opportunities to hurt people just because you want to spend less time on the issue.

In addition to this, a number of users and staff members have expressed the following concerns:

  • That Player may be volatile in temperament (which lines up with what I saw), and that he would not leave quietly if modmuss decided to remove his staff position.
  • That Player would likely delete the FabricMC GitHub organisation and destroy the data on the Fabric Project's servers if modmuss decided to remove his staff position.

Further thoughts

There is a very strange power dynamic here, and it's definitely not a healthy one. In my own discussions with modmuss, he seemed very willing to do what needed to be done. He was agreeable to the complaints that Player was stifling progress in the community, and that it would be better if both himself and Player shifted from managing a community to focusing only on the project from a development perspective.

And yet, again and again, the people that talked to him about these issues were met with inaction. Modmuss promised that there would be change, even going so far as to sit down in group voice calls and agree on a detailed plan of action - only to bail the next day, promise that there'll be change, and do nothing.

Like many people, I don't believe modmuss is a problematic person - but he's put himself in a position of authority, and he is not being responsible with that position. As much as he may not want to be involved, he ultimately is responsible for every single thing that happens on the Fabric server - and it's his job to ultimately do something about this.

So, where do we go from here?

That's a good question!

Parallel to this post being written, this GitHub gist popped up, written by my partner. It covers many of the issues I've mentioned here, but it also includes full screenshots of her private messages with both Player and modmuss. The gist is a very interesting read, and the screenshots provide a ton of additional context - including Player caling my partner a transphobe for vocally calling out transphobia and the people that perpetuate it.


The only way I see Fabric redeeming itself now is, quite frankly, to remove the root of the problem - Player. I think modmuss can be worked with, but the community cannot heal while these issues continue to be swept under the rug.

I hope that something changes and that Fabric manages to redeem itself somehow, but I guess we'll see.

Hey, I wonder what the Woven people are up to?

I was about to finish this post, but I'll just add this small piece before publishing.

My partner, myself, and a completely unrelated person that we happen to be on good terms with, have been banned from the Fabric Discord server due to the above gist - long before I even finished writing this blog post.

Par for the course, then. What does modmuss have to say in response to people talking about the above?


Update 1

31 Jan 20, 20:20

Player now seems to own the Discord server. An interesting transfer of power that clearly will have no negative consequences at all.


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