Monday, June 23, 2008

Public figures

As if we hadn't discussed that issue enough, some people can't stop trying to tell me what I can write and what I cannot write. In this case I had several readers complaining about my comments about Richard Bartle (although some of those comments might have been Richard himself, disguised as "Anonymous", which would be more understandable). So I re-read what I wrote to check whether I used any inappropriate language. Did I call the man an "asshole" or "idiot"? No, I called him "bitter" and "irrelevant". Actually I'm pretty certain that the language I used could have passed the editor and legal department of most print media without problems.

The law is pretty clear on the matter of writing about people: I'm limited what I can write about lets say you, or my next-door neighbor, due to privacy rights. But those rights for privacy are much more limited in the case of public figures. So if I believe that Bartle doesn't get modern MMORPGs, Tigole turned WoW into a raid game, Raph isn't so innocent of SWG's failure as he claims, and Paul Barnett is a reincarnation of P.T. Barnum, I am legally allowed to write that.

And it isn't just a legal matter. If one of the public figures of the MMORPG scene gives an interview or makes public statements, he is counting on the fact that these statements carry more weight because of who he is, and how his words are going to be reported. One of my readers writing "WAR is just like WoW" in the comments section of this blog doesn't carry the same weight as Richard Bartle saying the same thing in an interview on Massively. His person is part of the argument, so facts about his person are a valid part of the counter-argument. That is why for example I allow comments on this blog calling me a carebear when PvP is discussed: In the context of this blog I'm a public figure, and me not liking hardcore PvP is a well-established fact, so it is a valid counter-argument to me saying that I don't like PvP in game X.

I know it is sometimes difficult to draw the line, to know exactly when one personal remark is justified and when another is not. I can call Bartle "bitter" about his lack of financial success, because I can quote remarks from him that prove that point (just read his comments about Spielberg on Brokentoys). I can't call Bartle an "idiot", because there is nothing to suggest that he isn't a highly intelligent man. And his argument that MMORPGs evolve too slowly from one generation to the next is certainly a good point one can discuss about. But if he condenses that argument into a sweeping generalization that "WAR = WoW", supported only by his own personal gravitas, he is setting himself up for scrutiny of his motives and relevance. Blanket statements like that rarely lead to a refined discussion of the underlying argument, even if that argument is valid.

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