Friday, September 16, 2022

Are many (most) RPG content creators struggling with mental illness?


Since I sort of abandoned older edition D&D in order to actually find players with ease, I don't spend much time looking at forums or old school blogs. The last few months I have invested most of my game related time trying to improve my knowledge and skill with Roll20. And since most of my online group are Roll20 and 5th ed experts who have had patience with my shortcomings, I've probably improved about 3% or so each session. 

But I do look around what still passes for OSR. Sometimes at things that are informative, and sometimes things that are dumpster fires. So I learn little bits of info on some of the OSR's more, um, unique individuals. But a blog I have looked at here and there the last few months is Tenkar's Tavern, run by former New York policeman Erik Tenkar. Unlike a lot of OSR stuff I peek at, Tenkar doesn't interest me in a "here's an oddball to have a larf at" way. He seems to be more about news. And to a large degree, showcasing bad behavior among the ranks of bad actors who are trying to get paydays from the gaming scene. 

My interest in the old school has for sure waned, but I still have some. So, this seems a place where you can get info on that, and maybe even look at videos here and there on the subject. For instance, I think it was the first place I heard about the whole Satine Phoenix/Jamison Stone fiasco. 

I'm on the Discord for the blog, and it's a rare case where I interact with gamers who are not my players from time to time. I do my best to not "get into it" with anybody. I'm not doing the act in the OSR I was doing over 10 years ago where I was taking a "Howard Stern" approach to things. But something I wrote that I thought was fairly mild got me into it a bit with a regular there who apparently a content creator and is schizophrenic, in their own words. 

Some time ago I saw a bit somewhere that included a blurb by James Raggi, on his Facebook if I recall, where the Lamentations of the Flame Princess creator wondered why anybody would clean their toilet. Sort of "I mean, you shit into it right? Why have it clean?" So I brought it up in the Discord in relation to an upcoming interview with JR, and said he should be questioned about it. 

I have a couple of friends in Berkley who are roommates, and once when I was staying over one weekend, I went to put some leftover Chinese in the microwave, and it was a sight to behold. Gross is the best word. The debris of a couple dozen exploded bowls of soup and marinara was caked and baked into it. Hanging from the ceiling like stalactites.  Long story short, I ate cold Chinese. 

Did I say anything about it? You bet. To this day. "You guys have much younger, cute girlfriends. For that alone would you not clean it from time to time?" It's mostly a joke, but also a WTF? And certainly, they could have cleaned the toidy a bit as well. I don't know that any of it is out of mental illness, but they are folk musicians, so..

I have to admit I have let the john go for a couple weeks, mostly when I knew nobody would be visiting (I don't tolerate drop-bys). I'm not a clean freak by any means, though a little germophobic. So keeping it, or the kitchen sink, or whatevers clean is half my own notion of how I want to live, and half me not wanting anybody to think I'm a fucking slob. On the weekend if I am in town I work the bathroom, the kitchen, and other spots that go to hell very fast. It's just how I want to live. And there weren't always little birdies floating around me like Snow White. I've done it at times I was unhappy as hell. But at some point you just bite the bullet and get off your ass. But in my case, sure, I am probably a little OCD.

And that is where my comment came from. I don't just assume everybody has mental illness. Unless being kind of a slob is automatically a form of mental problem. We want to tag things nowadays, and sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it does not. But clearly here, though mocking for sure, I wasn't thinking I was making fun of somebody who had mental illness and had lost all touch with humanity and could not take 3 minutes to avoid having a cesspool in their home. No more than me giving pals shit for their lack of microwave cleanliness. 

But then, suddenly, anger in a comment thread:

Regular: You're not punching down on the mentally Ill, are you? I turns out people who create imaginary worlds that few people play are likely to have some degree of mental difference.

So here for the first time I heard somebody say the person I was goofing on a bit was mentally ill. I for sure never thought of it that way. Unless just somebody seeming a bit of a slob and an oddball is to be taken as mental illness. But now I'm not so sure. And even more importantly, most DM's create imaginary worlds that few people play. So, am I mentally ill?

Regular: Ho"How many books have you published? How many hours to you spend working in isolation?"

OK, he went on to say that he was schizophrenic, and he was clearly upset. In my defense I never heard about situations that were mentioned, such as Raggi laying naked in the snow lamenting his life. But long and short I apologized if I triggered anything (and Tenkar came in to defuse things a bit) and the conversation moved on to Critical Role or some such. 

Am I lacking empathy as one comment from the guy had claimed? I don't think so, again mental illness was not on my mind when I joked about the toilet. I for sure have empathy in lots of situations where folk are disabled. Mostly physically so. I have an older brother in a wheelchair over a decade. So for sure I relate to things with empathy. I almost got in fights with pricks who I saw parking in handicap spaces. I run to help open doors or get things off the shelf at the supermarket. When my parents got very old, I suddenly was very sympathetic to the elderly. But these are things I can relate to as it affected my family. Hell, my oldest brother was a raging alcoholic at 13 years old. I spent decades watching him struggle with booze and pills. For me personally there were times in my life I maybe should have had some help. As a teen my breakup with my first sweetheart was devastating. It probably affected my relationships the rest of my life in at least some small ways (I avoided marriage like the plague). And in my life my weight has gone up and down. I've always been very active, and when I have an accident or an injury that keep me immobile and out of the gym and off the mountain bike for a time, I start to pork up. But is that a mental or a physical thing? I guess it's all complicated.

One of my favorite sayings is "there but for the grace of god go I." But an even greater quote is by, I think, Abe Lincoln "many times in life I have been driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction I had nowhere else to go. 

One of my best local friends was in Afghanistan. I knew that a few months ago when he and my other bestie, his wife, came over for boardgame night and I had Squid Games on. The "Red light Green light" segment, where a big crowd of innocent people are helpless shot at when they move and dozens of heads are shown with bullets blasting through them. He muttered "wow, pretty violent." I asked him if it was bothering him. "Yeah." I shut it right off. I still feel bad about it. I remember the year before going to their place one night and making them watch Kickass, one of my favorite movies. It had dozens of heads and faces being blasted to bits (mostly by a little girl). I never noticed it bothered him then. But now I know. He's not a wimp by any means. But he saw action in a fucked-up place. Saw friends gunned down or blown up. It doesn't matter that he goes hunting every year and blows the shit out of deer and whatnot. It bothers him to see people blown to bits. Now I know. Understanding. 

I have empathy. I guess just like me not assuming Raggi's toilet ponderings were just the thoughts of a "weird" dude and not a sign of true trouble, the upset guy with schizophrenia on the Discord just assumed I ran around "punching down" on folk with mental problems. I wasn't, at least not intentionally. Long ago I stopped being in road rage situations. I realized that you never know what somebody is going through. That they might be acting out from a place of desperation. They say depression is anger turned inward. That rings true. That was a long time ago, but it was a great decision. Don't assume. No more fistfights on the roadways. 

I still think joking about somebody not wanting to clean the toilet is fairly mild as far as insults go. A little mockery can be inspirational. Get called fat a lot and you might try to lose weight. I dunno. I can learn new tricks. I was fairly jokey about transgender people most of my life. As a teen I was a Culture Club fan, but then still called Boy George "Thing George." Some years later I saw footage of him publicly fucked up on heroine, and at that point just saw a person in trouble. Perhaps still slightly homophobic (I never wanted anybody to come to harm despite my mild discrimination) later in life, in the couple of years before I left Southern California, I became friends with a transgender neighbor. She was the first person to call me when I moved to a new state to see how I was. It all birthed new perspectives. 

Anyway, the cherry on top is that within an hour or two of the postings, Tenkar went on camera and spoke out on it. 

Mental Health and the OSR - Just How Prevalent Are Mental Challenges in Our Community? - YouTube

Now, you can't attack the message. He's a sincere guy, and it all has merit. Again, I just thought I was joking about a slobby metal head. I've known a few of them. And punk rock was my teens. I've seen lots of horrible toilets in some domiciles, and I never went to depression or mental illness as the cause. 

But as far as so many RPG creators having real mental issues, I don't have to think too deeply for it to start making sense. I think this hobby, especially the older school inhabitants of it, do tend towards things that I thought of as just "weirdo" and it maybe was much further than that. As Tenkar alludes to at one point, there can be degrees of it. And like most thinking people I have had my bad moments. And months. Maybe even years. Like a lot of people. Most people. 

So maybe I can be less "jokey." At least among strangers. There are a lot of oddballs in the OSR, but there often may be more to it. Hell, maybe I'm one of them. 


  1. It's an interesting question. I personally don't struggle with mental illness. That's not to say I'm neurotypical. I've got my imposter syndrome, extreme procrastination, and a few other quirks that may put me on the autistic spectrum (never had that analyzed). But it really doesn't impede my game design. If anything, I spend more time on game design stuff when I should be working on academics. Game design, at least, is not a struggle for me.

    As for the joke about the toilet, it seems fairly harmless to me. But you made it from a position of ignorance about any mental illnesses suffered by the butt of the joke. Knowing that, would you make the same joke again? I think that's the important question. Not berating you for making the joke in the first place. My 2 cents anyway.

  2. It seems to me that for whatever reason Tenkar's Discord attracts the more sensitive folk in the hobby? Mentally ill or otherwise? It does have the feel of a "safe space." I could say the same about a forum such as Dragonsfoot, a heavily moderated place with regular posters who have been there for decades and who often seem to post more about asking advice on how to find lawnmower parts at a hardware store than the same old 1st edition things that have been warmed over in a thousand similar posts on the same shit. Going into a familiar D&D forum to ask basic life or household advice rather than mores specific places to me might signify a mental issue. Loneliness? Or just retired guys who no longer have a workplace but need to feel like they are part of something? And D&D is all they know?

    With a lot of newer players being more into it as the "in thing to do" perhaps being mentally ill is more a thing in the old school community? The players in my weekly Roll20 5th ed thing are all mostly in their early 30's, and they seem to have their shit together. I imagine their eyes would roll out of their heads if they read old school forum posts.

  3. Knowing that, would you make the same joke again?"

    Probably not so for Raggi's sake, but maybe for the fact that it somehow triggered somebody who is a self-described schizophrenic who seemed to be extremely triggered by it. But the fact that Raggi did not say anything like "I'm so disempowered that I cannot get off my carpet to go spend a couple minutes cleaning the bathroom" but was more like asking "why would anybody bother cleaning their toilet? I mean you shit in it, right?" To me that is just slobbery.

    I am no mental health professional, but I would hazard the notion that a therapist might say "try cleaning it - it might make you feel better?" I mean, when I spend a little time making my home a little cleaner and more ordered it makes me feel a lot better, especially if I'm down on myself for something. And part of it is also having respect for other human being who enter my home (usually people I love).