November 7th is a significant anniversary here at SimHQ. Know what anniversary it is and why it’s important? Some of you members may remember that period of site history, which we call “The Season of Discontent”…among other, less printable things.
In retrospect, it was a recipe for long term success and short term fireworks.
November 7, 2004, is the day we announced the biggest set of site and forum rule changes I can ever recall. All at once, in what some would later liken to a low-level bombing run with low drag bombs resulting in widespread collateral damage. We made some difficult — but necessary — decisions and lost some members as a result. Some by their own volition, some by being escorted out.
There was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, plus some flat out anger at what we were doing. In fairness, there were also many people who were very understanding and supportive with the announced changes. I certainly don’t want to diminish those contributions and have always been appreciative of their support. But it’s the forum conflict that I remember most, probably because it had to be dealt with and it wasn’t very pleasant.
For you who weren’t around back then, SimHQ was a different place in many respects. We had gone through a cycle of allowing limited discussion of what we called “WCE”, or World and Current Events. This included world and domestic politics, religion, the war on terror, all manner of nation-bashing, leader-bashing, real world events that had a definite value-based root and had the potential to turn ugly.
Although quite a few people were interested in participating in these discussions and they generated a certain amount of heat, as the threads increased in length over time, the outcome almost always turned out poorly. Members who were otherwise friends when talking sims became enemies. Beliefs and affiliations that would otherwise never be known became heated topics of focused discussion. It was difficult for people to separate the post from the poster. Ouch!
I would come in at night and find several locked threads in the Community Hall alone and a bunch of follow-up threads and hot tempers all around. The Moderators were getting worn out and fed up. Members were sending them nasty PM’s, openly contemptuous posts in the forums. You name it. It wasn’t all due to WCE, as you will see in a moment, but WCE played it’s part.
You also have to remember that the American Presidential elections had just occurred, and given the mood of the country, we didn’t want twenty threads a day about that topic. WCE didn’t fit our mission, our raison d’etre. We’re a simulation site and we began to see we needed to focus on that. Things that distracted from that purpose had to go.
On November 7, 2004, I made an announcement to the membership, about the changes we were going to make on site. Here is what I had to say then about WCE:
In keeping with our forum goals, we are announcing some significant changes in the way we moderate our forums. For many understandable reasons, we have seen a growing trend towards behavior which is not respectful of other members, and of the Moderators who work so hard to keep balance, order, and a sense of community.
We believe this behavior derives from many areas. Some of it is related to the discussion of what we call “WCE”, or World and Current Events type subjects, which include politics, religion, the current war on terror, and related matters. The discussion of these subjects often brings emotions to the boiling point, and it has a negative effect on the atmosphere we are trying to maintain. There are certainly a large number of Internet sites devoted to these types of discussions, and if WCE is one of your interests, we suggest you participate in them. But they are not for us as a simulation site.
We have decided to institute the following procedures in our forums, effective immediately:
First, no “WCE” topics or discussions will be allowed. Please note, this pertains to current real-world events. We recognize that a large part of our community enjoys military-based simulations. Many of them have a historical perspective. World War II, for example. Some are more recent, such as Lock on: Modern Air Combat. As a result, we may have discussions about fictional engagements within the simulation-world setting, or discussions about the performance of various military aircraft in use in different parts of the world right now, their weapons and defensive systems. What we will not allow, however, is political or value-based real-world discussion, such as whether a certain country is right in threatening it’s neighbor. We recognize that there may be some gray areas, but in those cases we will make the decision based on a particular situation and go forward.
A change to be sure and although some members didn’t appreciate it, many more were in favor. On balance, I would say it was fairly well received, especially since it was a change and change is typically viewed as a bad thing.