Virtual Realities: Memoirs of an internet spaceship politician
by Sugar Kyle CSM9, CSMX
Let's get the party started
There was no confetti, lights, sound effects, or canned cheering after winning my seat. It was just me, sitting at my desk and wondering what was going to happen. With heaven not opening to me and no new reality unfolding around me, I decided to figure out who else was on the CSM. After all, thirteen other people would be sharing my new access and tasks. I only vaguely knew one of them. In fact, we had taken separate sides over the ethical and technical question of the Bonus Room fiasco during the elections. I had done my best to avoid contact with him after that. I assumed we could and would put the campaign season behind us and become a streamlined team.
The rest were a mystery to me. There were the five incumbents. One of which I knew in a casual second hand way. Everyone else was new and we covered a wide section of play styles and player groups in the end. I was quite pleased with the spread. I might not know any of them but I didn’t need to know them for them to work.
But, it was still Fanfest. A bit over a thousand players had flooded Iceland. They had parties and socializing to do. Ali, one of the incumbents, did log in and throw out invites to a transition chatroom between CSM 8 and CSM 9.
Meeting CSM 8 was interesting. I'd had almost no contact with them. I thought I liked a few of the members. I disliked one member. I held a deep, bitter grudge against one repetitive incumbent that had attempt to politic a candidate into the CSM with deceit and voting suggestions so poor they might as well as have been lines.
I was more curious about my fellow CSM members. I knew of some of them. Others, were a mystery and my sole form of information gathering had been their public presence since the start of the election. I walked in with some preconceived notions and a little bit of hope. I wanted us to get along and function as a practical group using the energy and advantages of our position to improve the game. It was hopefully naive at the best, but there are times that call for hopeful naivety.
There is a regular and constant argument that the CSM is a singular individual once formed. It is an incorrect argument. There are fourteen elected individuals on the council. One reason there are so many is to have different point of views. There are always things that we can agree on as a group. Some things are just interesting. But often, we disagreed. That is a strength because we represent different people who have different views.
That was how it started out.
The early hopes that I had found thirteen people with similar beliefs and passions evaporated by the second day. Between the arrogance of the departing CSM and the awkwardness of the new I found myself on the defensive. We were also invited to an Alumni channel of CSM past. Instead of a friendly sit down the first few days became a constant jockeying of position and dominance. If we had been dogs we’d be biting necks and trying to roll each other onto their backs to make them submit. I think the original idea of the chat room was to provide experience and support. Instead it was a place full of bitterness. Smug comments were made about the cute new members and our innocence. It was like we had joined some fraternity and the older members were calling us from the second floor.
Someone said that the CSM was Eve's endgame. That person was also was disappointed that the candidate he supported had not won a seat. “If he had shut his mouth he’d have made it.” I decided that the Alumni chatroom was not a healthy place for me to hang out. I would open my mouth and object to the ethics on display. And that objection would simply amuse them. Better to learn and fall on my face, I decided. Like the CSM8 to CSM9 transition channel, I put it aside.
Then there was a podcaster channel. This one was somewhat interesting. There was a general invitation to the CSM to join the channel so that we could be accessed easily by the members of the channel when they wanted one of us on their shows. This also made me uncomfortable. There was an element to assumptive demand that tickled my rebellious side. I pushed that down. After all, I was now public property.
Unfortunately, the new CSM found itself topped off by a heavy dose of social awkwardness between old associates and new associates. One person the need to correct every word I misspelled for a week. It was irritating. I’m far from perfect in my spelling and I rely heavily upon word editors to catch my errors. The communication program that we used did not have text editing at that time. It continued until another member told him to lay off me. I did not believe that his action was not intentionally cruel. Oh, he could be cruel when he wanted to. I quickly learned this and avoided conversations with him. Perhaps, for someone without my history it would have been different but that, mixed with his random vicious comments, kept me cautious of him throughout the rest of our interactions.
With all of these new communication channels before me I felt very, very alone. But I didn't stay alone for long. I got the most interesting message.
“He’d like to meet you,” someone that I'd never met said to me.
He was talking about one the the new CSM. “Why can’t he just message me himself?” was my utterly, reasonable response.
It turns out, that when a high ranking member of a well known and powerful in game organization sends a minion to schedule an introduction, you are not supposed to ask them why that person didn’t just come over and say hi. It seems that things like being on the same council isn’t close enough.
My puzzled response to a diplomatic member sent out to introduce me to my new CSM college seemed to confuse everyone. I wasn’t playing the political game properly. In fact, instead of allowing things to wander through several levels of communication I just sent him a message myself.
The first steps of what would become one of my best friendships were a bit rocky. It was only a few days into the term and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself. Everyone else seemed confident. I wondered if there was a manual I was missing.
It was Sion, he of the diplomatic minions, that announced that we should not sit and wait for CCP to start talking to us but pick up our term and start defining it. Having already been puttering about, trying to talk to people and set myself up for the future, I was onboard with this idea.
What Sion first wanted to tackle was who would hold the officer seats. There were four. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary, and Vice-Secretary. After several CSM terms of early election to these seats to players that became absentee members, the previous CSM had voted to not hold the elections until after the first Summit. That would give time for the working ability of the various members to be proven and the right pick selected for each seat.
The problem was that the first Summit was in September, five months after the election and almost halfway through the term. It seemed an awkward and late time to select the seats. It was also a waste of several hours of time in Iceland with CCP.
Sion wanted to not allow the previous CSM to control our position and pick the seats immediately. Who was for and who was against it? he asked. I raised my hand and asked, “Why do we even need to have officers?”
One of my personal pet peeves about the CSM was the officer seats. The previous Chairman had taken to pushing his preferred voting list while making sure to sign his mails with, “Chairman of CSM 8.” The Vice-Chair also made sure to beat people upside the head with his position. It was tacked on like a smug, superior smirk. Sure, all members are elected equally but I have an extra special title.
I hated it. It was everything bad about working in a group. They were not the boss of me. I had been elected to be their equal. When some people got titles and others did not, we were not equal. In the past, when the CSM was a different structure, maybe the various seats made more sense. But, in recent years, it had become about the work of the individual members.
My reasons for running were simple enough. I wanted to have those heard who were overlooked. At no point did I plan to let anyone else on the CSM decide what I could or could not do. It might not be how it was supposed to work but it was how I planned to work. No title was going to stop me nor shut me up.
Sion seized my idea. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he admitted. “I like that more. Who agrees we just get rid of officers?”
The vote went down smoothly with the bulk of the CSM agreeing to it. The general idea was that we were all elected by our constituents. No one was above the other. The officer seats were relics left over from the start of the CSM when the Chair and Vice-Chair spoke to CCP. Back in its early stages the CSM had limited contact with development and they were given a set number of issues they could bring forward. Then, the Chairman was automatically assigned to the CSM member with the most votes. As the position matured the communication increased. Eventually, the positions became status symbols.
I’ve never been fond of status symbols. I rather loathe them.
Ali stepped forward and wrote an announcement. In a day Sion’s wish to tackle the officers had turned into ripping the seats out. She would announce it on one of the media sites that kept up with the games news and current events. But first, we had to slow down and send a message to our representative that we wished to remove officers from the CSM.
There was a chance that CCP would tell us no. Then we could refuse to elect anyone. I wondered if that would happen. If it came down to it would everyone be able to resist the lure of status?
It didn’t come to that. Our representative, new to her position, said if we didn’t want to select officers among ourselves it was fine. She seemed to like our logic that we were all equal and officers created false concepts of status.
With CCP’s blessing the announcement was made simultaneously on media sites and the games forums.
In my unfortunate habit, I had assumed that having no officers made sense to everyone. That left me surprised when the negative responses flooded in. Many of them were from previous CSM members. Some were from CSM watchers.
Who will do the work? Someone asked. Why everyone will do the work. Ins't that what we were elected to do?
Who will be at fault if things are not done? Those who do not do the job that they volunteered to do?
You can’t just change the rules. But, Ali deserves the chair position! The last fascinated me the most. It came from a CSM member from the previous term and it highlighted everything I disliked about the officer positions. The positions were seen as rewards and status symbols if someone deserved them.
What I did not expect was that so many people would miss that it was my idea. That was glossed over. I had one person announce that the idea had been planted by Sion who had used me as a mouthpiece to suggest it. That one got me mad enough to confront Sion about it.
He tried to calm me down and he told me that it was one of his members using propaganda. “That is not acceptable,” I snarled. “It is a lie.”
“Well. The seat was already decided,” he told me. “Mynnna was to get chair. Everyone on our ballot agreed to it.”
What? I was a bit stunned. Somehow, I had started to believe that backroom deals were a fiction of overactive imaginations. Reality was unpleasant. My brush with such politics had been light enough when I had told Ali that I could not support someone I did not personally believe in. I had put my own worth on the line at that time and I know I had lost support I could have gained by making a promise. If someone had come to me and said, “Sugar, we will vote for you if when you win you select this person as chairman,” I would have told them to go shove it in polite terms. I assumed anyone else would have.
Such was my ignorance.
He also pointed out to me that just enough room was left to hang me out to dry if it had gone down poorly. As it was, I was a footnote that no one noticed. Ali got the credit for announcing the change.
It did seem that I was very ignorant. It was not a way that I thought or saw things. Yet, my weird brush with things I could not see both steeled my nerves and made me a bit sad. I was going to have to rely on myself in this new world I had put myself into. I had no deals and no agreements. Just me and my goals.
After that, Sion and I talked a lot. We argued a lot. It was one of our early arguments in that first week, one that lasted for four hours where we stopped and realized we were enjoying ourselves. It was Sion that became my first friend on the CSM. We came from differing parts of the game and different opinions and beliefs. He was used to making decisions and I passionately believed that each individual should be supported and built up to make their own. It was Sion who, in the spirit of internet psychology, diagnosed me with impostor syndrome. It was during an argument. He and I hit it off from the get go and he became one of my favorite people in the game. We accept that we had different reasons for being on the CSM and different goals. We were an impossible pairing and often disagreed but our spirited arguments never got in the way of our developing friendship.
For all the effort, belief, and work that I had put into my campaign, I did not believe that I had won. I knew that I had won my place on the council but I had a hard time accepting it. I still felt like myself after all and that person was not cool enough to have an important and well known position in the game. Not telling people felt like a lie. It was not that I was humble. It was that I felt dishonest. I could not be here. I was not the person that should handle this responsibility.
Reasonable things did not help the feeling. Being told that it was an insult to people to doubt their choice in me did not help. Handling the work did not help. I found myself looking around for some confirmation that I belonged where I was. That I could handle it. I very much wanted a manual to appear in front of me that explained what I needed to do and how I would handle it. I wanted someone to tell me I was doing the right thing. After all, I had rejected most of the resources given to me. I had isolated myself on a high horse of my own opinion and then made friends with someone that had polar opposite views and play styles to my own.