As I am writing this, the United States has entered its 7th day of mass protesting in response to the killing of George Floyd by police. It is the first day of pride month, and we are roughly six months into a global pandemic. Things are not okay. At times like these we are forced to reevaluate our priorities, beliefs, and contributions to our community. As a content creator, I can attest to the struggle with determining how best to contribute to the world at large as an individual with a platform, though it may be small. I also imagine that if that platform were larger, and depending on how I positioned myself, it would be even more difficult to navigate the murky waters of social media during troubling times.
To be clear, I'm not talking about minor inconveniences or petty issues like whether or not Starbucks should be saying 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays.' I'm talking about serious geopolitical issues, racial issues, addressing things like fascism and government abuse. How should those socioeconomic and political issues affect our words, our content, and our actions? Why do some content creators speak and others remain silent? These are all questions I have been asking myself these past few days, and I will attempt to address the factors that have created this division, and suggest constructive roles that creators can take.
Branding and The Benefit of Being Non-Controversial
First, I would like to briefly explain what I mean when I say "content creator." To me, a content creator is any person who has dedicated to producing content, whether that be streaming, writing, music, acting, video, mixed media, or even tweets, with the intent to build a following.
When a person decides to become a "content creator," they are essentially going into business for themselves. Like any other business, this means they have to spend a considerable amount of time and energy developing a product. For a content creator, they are the product. The brand that they develop is what attracts their audience to them, allowing them to build a following that they can then leverage for monetary opportunities. This allows and encourages them to continue to make said content.
The strategies to do this are numerous but well known. To name a few, you want to produce steady content, constantly engage with your audience, and attract as many people to you as possible. The last part is crucial to understanding the silence or delayed advocacy of content creators.
We want to attract followers and people who will like our content. Often, that means casting a wide net and trying to captivate as many people as possible. It helps to not think too hard about the views and politics of everyone you're attracting. Is someone really a white supremacist if you don't ask? The point is, by remaining non-controversial, you avoid the risk of alienating any person from consuming your content.
As content creators and community voices, we need to seriously reevaluate our priorities, and ask ourselves if our continued silence is worth it? Are we not alienating members of the community already, by communicating (intentionally or not) a complicity towards events that are hurting them?
For Magic creators in particular, we can just glance at people's Twitter feeds to get a better understanding of this strategy of avoiding controversy. Even now, there are creators who are still posting about going live on Twitch and what deck they're currently playing as if nothing new is happening. And there is a clear reason for this. By focusing only on the content, you eliminate the possibility of alienating anyone from your audience and avoid getting swept up in potential social media arguments. Sure, the silent content creator may get a brief side-eye for not speaking up, but the memory of their impartiality will fade to those who are bothered by it and bolster those who would've been offended by them taking any particular stance.
There is also this interesting idea about being a positive community leader, or at the very least, a person who focuses solely on positive things within the world or their particular content sphere. Many people use entertainment as a means to escape from their problems in the real world, and Magic players are no different. Many content creators have positioned themselves to be a source of feel good for the community. Some are truly in it to make people happy, and often ban political or controversial topics from their chats and Discords in order to keep the peace and keep people focused on the positive.
The reality is that once a creator decides to talk about the problems of the real world, the veil is pierced. I have seen several content creators post screenshots of people messaging them in order to inform them they will no longer be following or consuming their content because they chose to speak out.
Personally speaking, I have always been outspoken, and my mentions can serve as a great example as to why some creators choose to say nothing. The moment you stray away from your content world into the real world, you open the door for trolls, vitriol, and negativity to be thrown your way. That then leads to the fear that if you are content creator constantly mired in social media arguments, will people want to continue to follow you? Will people still want to engage with your brand once they realize it's not the escape from reality they had hoped for. In this way, the very brand a content creator has chosen to build shackles them from being able to discuss things they care about.
It is a given that a person is likely to advocate about the issues closest to them. The "further away" an issue is, geographically, racially or otherwise, the less likely a particular content creator is going to be informed about it or discuss it. We can see that from how and the way that content creators from marginalized groups speak about certain issues versus those who are not. This speaks to a difference in privilege amongst content creators that must be acknowledged if we are to move forward as a community.
I have often seen creators and prominent Magic players say they don't want to mix politics and social issues with their content. They prefer to keep those separate. I often wonder if these members understand that they are privileged to be able to separate the two. It is a privilege to be able to turn away from what can only be described as carnage. As a community, we must acknowledge that there are members amongst us who cannot.
I'll admit to feeling a non-zero amount of resentment as I've noticed fellow content creators say absolutely nothing at all about George Floyd, not to mention the countless others, being murdered by police. I am grateful that some have finally broken their longstanding commitment to being non-controversial. However, it’s been hard for me to squash those feelings of resentment because I can't help but think it shouldn't have taken this long.
There are members of both the content creation community, and Magic community at large, who cannot afford to stay silent about racial issues. Black people play Magic the Gathering, whether people want to consciously acknowledge that fact or not. One prominent content creator is not enough to make up for the constant marginalization and dismissal this community has been a complicit part of. It shouldn't take cities burning down for Wizards of the Coast or us content creators to actively recognize that.
What Does it Really Mean to Be a Positive Force?
I believe that content creators need to seriously reconsider their role in the community and what it truly means to be a positive force. Being positive is not just about being optimistic, affirmative, and nice. It is also about being constructive. Performative actions only go so far, and there are absolutely constructive things that content creators can do besides just speaking up.
Lift up marginalized voices.
This is such a powerful tool, especially if you as the content creator are not a member of the marginalized community. Too often, I hear other content creators say they are not sure what to say or how to address an issue. Amplify the affected voices and educate your community on what is going on. This allows for you to listen and learn about the issues this community is being affected by and how you can best serve as an ally.
In times like these, content creators can act as a bridge for their community and Black creators and voices who need support. However, let me be clear, content creators and major companies, including Wizards of the Coast, should always be looking to amplify Black voices, not just because we are strong armed by real world events into doing so. Here is a short list of Black MTG players and content creators who deserve your amplification and support:
Noah Walker: https://twitter.com/_NoWa_MTG
Greg Orange: https://twitter.com/orange_greg
DeQuan Watson: https://twitter.com/powrdragn
This list can and should be added to. As content creators, we should be connecting our community with voices and players like these. We also are in the unique position of advocating to our bosses, if you work for content generating website like TCG, or sponsors to connect with those members of the community.
If you're response to my statement is 'well there just isn't a pool of Black voices/players to choose from/amplify', we need to seriously examine why that is. That is a solvable problem. Content creation sites and Wizards can develop mentorship programs to help develop that talent. If black people are hired and encouraged to tap into their network, we can pull more even more great people into this game. We just need to decide to do it.
Do NOT tone police those who are marginalized.
I cannot put into words how frustrating it is to see creators criticize black people and other marginalized groups for how they choose to go about advocating for their rights. Watch out for people saying things like "violence is never the answer," "there are better ways to protest," and who use a white-washed version of MLK in order to criticize protesters. These things may sound perfectly reasonable in the abstract, where no context exists, but the reality is that language of positivity and peace has been an active tool of oppression. Not to mention the fact that those sentiments pretend the founding and and development of the United States was a tea party. Black people are literally damned no matter HOW they've protested over the years. If you're a content creator and these are some things you want to say, don't, ESPECIALLY if you don't haven't said a peep about police brutality.
Mobilize your community.
You have spent a considerable amount of time and energy developing your community. Do something with that besides giving them a performative tweet. I understand that there is a huge health risk to going out to a physical protest or asking other people to do so. Physically mobilizing at a protest could risk contracting or spreading COVID-19, as well incurring harm should the event become violent. However, there is more than just one way to mobilize. I have a huge respect for how some streamers and community members that have mobilized members to donate towards bail funds and other constructive organizations via charity streams. Coordinated efforts where people come together are powerful.
Stop being afraid of losing followers just for advocating human rights. That's it. That's the tweet.
Donate. Donate. Donate.
In order to affect positive change, we have to be willing to not just donate our time but our money. If we cannot provide our physical bodies, we can support those who are. The cash bail system in the US is one of the most abusive parts of our "justice" system. Donating your money doesn't have to be a public act, and I'm certain there are creators who have been making quiet contributions. If you are certain where, here are some helpful links that can get you pointed in the right direction.
To be perfectly clear, we should not just be donating in times of intense violence. We should also be doing everything we can to give opportunities and financial support to Black creators, players, and voices in 'peaceful' times as well.
We Can Do Both
As creators focused on gaming and entertainment, we didn't necessarily get into this thinking about ways we can affect social change. We are here because we love this game and we love to talk about it and engage with the community. Oftentimes, we are providing a much needed break from real world issues, and I do believe that is important. However, I refuse to believe that we need to maintain a code of silence and impartiality. We can create fun and engaging content about the things we love AND advocate for what we know is right.