Code of Conduct

Here is the Code of Conduct for Improbable Island. There are four rules - be kind to others, be kind to yourself, be kind to the game, and be kind to the staff. Each rule has explanations and detail added, but these are only for clarity - whether specifics are spelled out or not, we make our decisions based on the spirit of the rules rather than the letter. The following enormous wall of text describes the Island's culture as it stands in November 2020, and represents our attempt to preserve its current healthy state.

Get a cup of tea and make sure you're well hydrated, because this is a long read.


2020-11-23: Initial version upload
2020-11-27: Official upload, added Meet The Mods appendix
2021-03-19: Further clarification and guidance in 2b ("Improbable Island is not a support group"), pointer in section 1b as this topic kinda straddles being kind to others and being kind to yourself. 4a addition ("Don't act like a mod if you're not a mod"), 4b clarification ("Don't be weird about CMJ" - took out the "unless it's obvious you're joking" bit because it's never obvious y'all are joking), 1a elaboration on game canon (it's not canon until it's in the code), 3g addendum (don't post link shorteners).

Rule 1: Be kind to others.

In everything you do as an Improbable Island player, make a conscious effort to create a fun, inclusive and respectful atmosphere for as broad a range of players as possible.

Rule 2: Be kind to yourself.

This section contains guidelines to help you make the most of your time here, and avoid common pitfalls that can affect your enjoyment of the game.

Rule 3: Be kind to the game.

This section talks about technical stuff, and the intersections of technical stuff and social stuff. This game is shared between thousands of people. That's great because it means there's more eyeballs to spot problems - but it also means that careless actions can have enormous effects.

Rule 4: Be kind to the staff.

Improbable Island staff and admin are people just like you, and we appreciate your kindness, understanding and patience just as much as you appreciate ours.

Congratulations on making it this far.
Here are some appendices which help illustrate how we got this way.

Appendix A: Creep Sweep / Stair Repair / Manipulation Inoculation

Wherever people gather online, creeps and abusers will sneak in to exploit them, and online games are ripe for abuse. Improbable Island is a safer place than most, but that's largely because we've had our own problems and taken steps to resolve them.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we banned several high-profile players. These players were well-respected and generally liked in the community, which allowed them to secretly engage in patterns of manipulative and abusive behaviour that their victims were hesitant to report. Following their bans we received many messages from other players who were also being abused, thanking us for taking action.

Similar dynamics have played out in other bans - one report leads to an investigation which uncovers half a dozen other victims who feel empowered to come forward once they know an investigation is underway, and then when the ban happens a dozen other players return to the game who'd been put off by the low-key creep. The same dynamic can be seen in real-world criminal investigations, incidents of workplace harassment, and that one guy who finally got banned from the D&D group.

The way these stories always play out is a fairly predictable mechanism, and we can watch it work around us, over and over again like malicious clockwork. The lesson we learn from watching how this mechanism works is that shortening the time before the first report comes in is crucial. Creeps almost never creep on just one person, and the longer the abuse goes on without being reported, the more people are abused. Unfortunately, by the time someone realises that they're dealing with an abuser and starts to think about reporting them, there are often barriers to reporting - this MotD from early in the May 2020 investigation illustrates and deconstructs some of these barriers, and how we're helping players to overcome them. Following that MotD we received reports on several other abusers, and this MotD from later in May 2020 illustrates how naming the barriers to reporting, and talking about how they work, can help to dismantle them. Those MotDs are the most important that have ever been posted on the Island, and we'd really appreciate if you read them now, before we get to the next bit.

At time of writing - November 2020 - we now have a playerbase much more willing to report instances of emotional manipulation or abuse, but the work is not yet done. Before anyone even begins to think about reporting abuse, someone has to witness it or be affected by it. We want to create an environment in which abusers feel less empowered to abuse in the first place. Part of this involves revealing and dissecting some common methods by which abusers manipulate their victims, so that you can recognize when someone's trying to do the same to you.

When an abusive player is confronted about wrongdoing, they show a pattern that can be abbreviated as DARVO. This stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.
Example: Player V sets boundaries in their relationship with Player A. This could be in the context of roleplaying, everyday chat, clan organization or ERP - for our example, let's say Player V is fond of Player A but not romantically interested, and has asked Player A not to try to flirt with them. Player A, testing those boundaries, tries to flirt with V. Player V reminds A of the request to tone down the innuendo. A will then deny sniffing around V's boundaries, attack V for not being specific enough about what is and is not allowed, and express shock and offense that V would consider A the sort of person who would ever dream of doing such a thing, perhaps even demanding an apology of V. Alternatively, A will insist they were only joking, and suggest that V is the one at fault for having no sense of humour. In this example, A is trying to establish themselves as a victim of V, when A was really the one at fault. If A suspects that they've pissed V off enough to seek help from other players or from the staff, A may pre-emptively try to taint V's reputation by gossiping about how V is oversensitive and not to be trusted.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where an abuser sows doubt in the victim's memory, perception or judgement - it's a broad term for wearing a person down over time until they're dependent on their abuser. Gaslighting refers not to single shitty incidents but to a longer, coordinated campaign that makes the target feel as though they can't trust themselves.
Example: Let's return to our previous scenario, with A pushing V's established boundaries, and look a little further into a future where A and V are still talking and A is still pushing V's boundaries. When A asks for further specificity in the boundaries that V tries to erect, what A is really doing is looking for loopholes and further opportunities to pull another DARVO on V. V will never be specific enough for A, because A is not interested in respecting boundaries, but in grinding them down or finding ways around them. This could make V question whether they were clear enough, or whether they typed up a Distraction and didn't send it, or in some other way cause V to blame themselves for what's happening. The focus then becomes shifted away from A's wankery and towards V, and whether or not V is the clear and effective communicator they thought they were. This is a crude example - gaslighting works best when the abuser keeps up a slow trickle of small lies, lies about things so petty that it's not worth the victim double-checking. Eventually V finds themselves doing a lot of second-guessing, and A is always there to help shape their reality. V's view of the world and of themselves is now controlled by A.

A common way abusers gain control of their victims is by removing their ability to talk to others and recalibrate their sense of normality. Without a reference established by talking to people in healthy relationships, the victim is less likely to realise that they're in an abusive situation.
Example: V and R, who are solid, healthy friends, have a minor disagreement that causes a little temporary friction. V grumbles about it to A. A tells V that not only is R definitely in the wrong, but that it's really weird and unreasonable of R to go there, and is V really sure that R has V's best interests in mind? A exaggerates a minor grumble into a wedge issue, with the goal of getting V to spend less time with R and more time with A. A simultaneously criticizes V's other friends (maybe suggesting that they're all supporting R over V). Later, after V and A cool down from a screaming argument, A tells V it's natural for such a passionate relationship to have the occasional shouting match - and V, having withdrawn from their friends, has nobody they can ask "Is this normal?"

The above examples are simplified for brevity and ease of understanding - in reality, A won't just be pulling this shit on V, but identically on half a dozen other players, while building up their reputation so that if C, S, T, X, N and Q ever start to suspect that they're being controlled, they'll feel like they won't be believed if they come forward.

This is a non-exhaustive list and there are many other ways that abusers can seek to manipulate and control other players. Some people think that abusers target the most vulnerable people they can find - this is a common misconception, and not true at all. Everyone is susceptible to manipulation techniques like the ones we've described above. Abusers don't have to choose their targets - they simply latch on to whoever catches their eye, and trust that their techniques will work.

Some other behaviours that should raise a red flag: The moment you suspect you may be dealing with a creep or abuser, contact a moderator or the admin immediately.

Appendix B: Politics

We used to have a rule of "No politics," which in 2020 we've pretty much abandoned because the scope of what is and is not "political" has broadened beyond anything that could be considered reasonable. For just one example out of many we could choose, in 2008 when we made the rule, "politics" around climate change meant arguing about how best to address it while preserving our current standard of living - not denying the existence of climate change in the face of overwhelming proof. Ideologically-motivated disagreement over proven fact is now commonplace, and political neutrality is impossible in such an environment.

More relevant to our audience and our industry, in 2008 gamergate hadn't happened yet. During gamergate, what is and is not "political" in computer and video games (and geek culture in general) was the subject of heated debate (as well as stalking, harrassment and death threats), with a vocal minority attempting to claim that video games featuring angry brown-haired white dudes were "apolitical" and video games featuring LGTBQ characters were "political," while simultaneously demanding that video games be "apolitical."

It is now no longer possible to be politically neutral and to still be welcoming towards a wide range of players, because the rights of those players to live their lives and to see characters like them represented in games is now "political." We are now at a stage where inclusiveness is deemed "political" by an increasingly radicalized right wing, and we can no longer in good conscience claim to be "neutral" or "apolitical" given the modern implications of the terms.

This does not mean "turn Banter into /r/politics" or "constantly post memes about how much conservatives suck." We will continue to treat people with kindness, understanding and empathy, as specified in Rule 1 - but we will no longer claim to be neutral or apolitical, because what neutrality boils down to these days is support for a status quo that is increasingly unfit for purpose.

Appendix C: A Brief History of Kittania Banter

Back in the day, every Outpost used to have a seperate chat and story channel, rather than having out-of-character chat common to the whole site. Kittania's chat channel was a 24-hour PG-rated orgy. You couldn't move for piles of purring Kittymorphs nuzzling/massaging/skritching/making out with each other. It started off with a couple of people giving friendly hugs, headpats, that kinda thing, interspersed with mundane everyday chat - but as more people joined in, the non-huggy chat became less visible, scrolling off the page faster, until the people who weren't around for nuzzling (which was, remember, most people) started feeling creeped-out and left.

When we merged all the chat into global Banter, the same thing threatened to happen again, but the broader community smacked it down hard because they knew what Kittania Banter was like. This led to a culture war with, on one side, players for whom public displays of affection were the main focus of the game and a prelude to furry ERP, and on the other side, everybody else.

Over time, as the cuddlepile lost ground and saw defeat looming, this culture war morphed into the "No Touching" phase, which can be summed up pretty succinctly with "Hi, I'd offer you a handshake, but SOMEONE would go CRYING TO THE MODS."

The mods were, it is important to note, enforcing only the "If someone's uncomfortable enough to ask you to stop doing a thing, stop doing the thing or take it somewhere else" rule, and had not made any blanket statements about PDA specifically at this point. There was a lot of speculation and argument about moderator intervention, and the discussion on how much touching was "allowed" was lengthy, tedious, irresolvable and exhausting for all involved.

Eventually the spectre of Kittania Banter receded into dusty memory, and the community settled into an equilibrium where people felt okay with occasionally hugging their friends without triggering either a hundred-page cuddlepile or a two-hundred-page discussion on whether The Line Should Be Drawn at a 3-second hug with 2.5 backpats depending on the weather.

But that memory is still there, and those who were around for the Cuddlepile Culturewar still break out in a cold sweat when the hugs and handholdings go on for more than a few lines of chat, so please, remember that there are thousands of chatrooms on Improbable Island, and if someone yells "GET A ROOM!" then... well, there are rooms to be had.

Appendix D: Meet the Mods

The Island's moderators are experienced players who volunteer their time to keep the Island fun for everyone. If you're having a problem (socially in the game, or with a game bug, or most anything really), they can help. Using the Tell Us About a Problem link or the Call A Mod link is the best and fastest way to get your problem sorted out, and we prefer that you use that link. If your problem isn't urgent, or if you want to speak to a particular mod, then you can Distract that mod - but it might be a little while before you get a response.

These are the currently active moderators:

Major Badass Alexander Quandle
When CMJ was looking for another mod, he knew that he wanted somebody who would be a calming influence, a peacemaker who could be relied upon to quietly dispense words of gentle reason. So he picked a man best known for playing Squats. Hairy Mary's "mod character" is not a Squat however, but a slightly confused mathematician called Alexander Quandle. Hairy himself loves tea, mathematics and people. Not necessarily in that order.

Forgetting to think, Omega
Born in 1412 and voted least likely to be mod over six hundred times in a row, Omega is a mod.

Omega's habits include miscommunicating ideas, surfing the Internet, being a know-it-all, biting nails, playing videogames, and reading. Omega likes cats, food, and people.

Existentially Quinn
Quinn arrived upon the Island Community in a storm of splendor and sparkle early in 2011. Since then, she has founded a cadre of Islanders with a taste for pastries. As a person, she's a bubbly persona working in IT and hailing from the most horridly hellish place on the face of the planet (Phoenix, AZ) who doesn't hesitate to help new players with their issues, and then collect their sweet, sugary souls later for her collection. These are also known as "Mementos" and she's had to borrow everyone else's shoeboxes to keep them all in.

There's a lot of fun to be had here and this moderator intends to explore it, doing her best to keep the community an inviting atmosphere for shy role players. Do not be afraid to say hello or send distractions full of questions. She lives in the Seattle area and likes reading, cosplay, tea, inane repetitive gaming (see 'Harvest Moon'), and talking up a storm.

Zui Meng Qian Chen Tinkerbinker
Tinkerbinker is, out of character, a twenty-something college student that drinks far too much tea for his own good. He has an adoration of writing with anyone he can, mucking about with II colours and doing freelance things. In-character, he writes a variety of characters. Mostly, he writes very silly things about a bird-not-bird of an Buddhist ex-monk turned pirate.

Part of the Island since 2010, Darling delights in silly scenes, shenanigans, and shoes. Out of character, she spends her time designing, writing, brewing mead and excitedly shouting at her friends via G-Talk. Feel free to message her for anything, especially if you have adorable gifs to share.

Ghostface Koalah
Concert pianist, renowned swordsman, rugged traveler and all-round Great Guy, GK’s hobbies include working too much and lying about his personal qualities & achievements. He started around here back in 2008, left in 2011 for five years, and then came back like a dog with his tail between his legs. Off-Island, he’s a trained and registered Counsellor. If things are tough, his distracts are always open...

Coffee Grindr Csodas
Csodas arrived upon the Island in late 2014 with a splendid hat. He enjoys writing slow-burning relationships and giving new players advice to orient themselves in Player Chat. Off the Island, he is a historian-in-training who used to fancy himself a Hellenist and linguist, with a guilty fondness for Eurovision numbers. Introductory textbooks for languages with fewer than fifteen million speakers are his Kryptonite. Questions about these subjects are asked at your own peril and answered with glee in Player Chat or Distracts.

Appendix E: Why we have a Code of Conduct

When we started this game in 2008, our code of conduct was simply "Don't be a dick." This actually worked pretty well for a long time. 2008 was a time of forums and LiveJournal groups and blogs, where small sites and communities had their own rules and moderation styles. The average new player's expectations coming into a new space were to read the room, figure out what's gonna go down well, and try to fit in. In 2008, people were used to the internet.

In 2020, people don't really go on the internet very much anymore, they hang out on a handful of enormous apps like Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, corporations that either don't hire moderators at all or who have maybe one mod for every million users, because not letting your website fill up with arseholes is constant work that can get expensive. A new player's expectation of the Island is that it's going to be another completely unmoderated space, probably with some Russian trolls banging on about microchips in vaccinations, and they won't necessarily know which cultural side of "Don't be a dick" we fall on.

In the mid 2010's the messages we received from new players were increasingly surprised, shocked even, that people were friendly and easygoing here, and that it felt safe for people. Simultaneously, the community had developed some minor frictions along reasonable edge cases that weren't codified in the rules, and players increasingly were asking for more guidance - while outside, gamergate exposed ugly fissures and missing stairs in nerd and gaming culture.

To a non-trivial number of people, "Don't be a dick" now means "Don't fucking tell me who I can and can't attack."

This can make people nervous. This can make people think "Does the site owner think admitting that I'm trans is being a dick?" or "If I, as a person of colour, play as a character of colour, is that being political here? Does that make me a dick, in their eyes?"

"Don't be a dick" isn't enough, anymore, to make people feel like they can relax and be themselves. Fortunately we've spent over a decade cultivating, in our own community, our own idea of what "Don't be a dick" means, so rather than making up a whole bunch of new rules, we can simply write down the current community norms and expectations for preservation in a massive text file. You've just finished reading it.