Letter in The Pale- Dec 2019 – Chatelain

Greetings, Midrealmers, both old and new!
To paraphrase a wise man who greatly influenced our Society before he was taken from us far too soon:

“The eSCA. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

If you’re not familiar with the term, the eSCA or “electronic SCA” refers to all the means in which we communicate to other SCA folks outside of real-world interactions. In theory that includes email, message boards, text messages… but in practice, the eSCA predominately lives in the world of social media, specifically Facebook.

It’s been said many times that the eSCA isn’t the real SCA. And I believe that, for good and bad. Let’s start with the good because, believe it or not, there is a lot of good.

The obvious good of the eSCA is how quick and easy it is for us to share information and research. Our cumulative knowledge of our period has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last couple decades and we do a better than average job of sharing that knowledge. Whatever your area of interest, there’s someone out there who is thrilled to share their class notes, research or life’s work with you. And if you’re interested in a popular aspect of the SCA period, let’s say fourteenth-century Europe or Norse culture, you need only raise your hand and you will be instantly inundated with knowledge.

The eSCA network allows you to connect with experts all across the globe, both within the SCA and without. The sharing of personal research has never been more accessible.

Beyond knowledge sharing, the eSCA also allows us to observe events we didn’t attend, see the happy faces of deserving people receiving recognition, watch our monarchs in their splendor even when we couldn’t get off work. We can maintain personal connections with far-flung friends. I regularly see updates from people I’ve met and befriended from all over the world. The eSCA (specifically Facebook) allows me to continue to be part of their lives in a small way.
For our members who are housebound, playing on the fringes or just broke, this may be the only way they get to experience and remain a part of the “mainstream” SCA.
That’s the good. Now the bad.
I hardly feel like I need to enumerate the bad—we’ve all seen it. Someone states a contrary opinion in a discussion thread—perhaps an honest difference of philosophy, perhaps trolling—and the virtual fist fight begins. People pile on, insults are traded, inevitably Nazis are referenced, and the entire thread is reduced to a stinking pile.
Of course, the eSCA isn’t different from the internet in general in this regard. If anything, it’s marginally better in that there’s at least a veneer of courtesy… to start. But that said, I am constantly amazed at what people in the SCA feel comfortable expressing from behind the safety of their keyboard. Things that they’d never say directly to someone’s face. And I’m not just talking about cowards who grow “internet muscles” and start to spew hateful rhetoric. I’m talking about those who seem to forget the basic tenets of courtesy, honor and respect… you know, the foundational principles of our organization.
To understand why things seem to go pear-shaped so often and so quickly in the eSCA you have to understand that social media in general, and Facebook in particular, does two things really well: connect and amplify.
It used to be that to experience the SCA, you had to actually attend a meeting or event. While you were there you’d be exposed to a bunch of different people, each having a different experience. Usually most were having fun, but often there were a few who were not, for whatever reason. Maybe they were burned out, bitter, overwhelmed, sad or just having a bad day. They would cast a bit of a shadow over the event but, by and large, other people would just continue to do the things that they enjoy.
The eSCA enables all those people who aren’t having a good time to connect online and share their (bad) experiences. This creates an echo chamber (again, no different from social media at large) and before you know it, everyone inside that echo chamber is convinced that the SCA as a whole is a horrible place that is quickly sinking into a morass of political correctness and exclusion.
Then, when all those people start singing “the SCA sucks” song in unison, their voices are disproportionally loud. That’s the amplification part.
To use a mundane example, I’ve heard that for every diner who has a bad experience at a restaurant and leaves a scathing review, there are 20 diners who had fine experiences but didn’t bother to leave a comment.
So, it goes with the eSCA. For every person who attends an event and feels ignored, excluded or just doesn’t have a good time, there are dozens who have a great time. But it’s the former who loudly proclaim the imminent downfall of the SCA, and the latter who focus instead on the fun they had and begin planning their next event.
Now, before you start lighting torches and sharpening pitchforks, understand that I am in no way trying to dismiss anyone’s experience or claim that the SCA is all rainbows and unicorns. I have not been shy about talking about the darker parts of our organization. There are problematic people, groups and events for sure. There are people who have legitimate cause to complain about how they are treated. But I’m talking about the aggregate experience in the SCA. I believe that on the whole—at least in this kingdom—there are far, far, FAR more people who work incredibly hard to make sure everyone has fun than who contribute to the opposite.
So, how do we maximize the good side of the eSCA and minimize the bad? I think the most important thing we can do is recognize that the eSCA is not an accurate representation of the SCA in general. It is a dim reflection of what really happens when SCA people get together to fight, teach, talk, laugh, break bread and share stories. It overlooks the inspiring to highlight the annoying.
My advice is that when you encounter a comment that is counter to your opinion and/or experience, ask yourself if you really need to respond. And if you do feel so compelled, can you do so in the spirit of the SCA? And if the original poster is just a troll, maybe step away from the keyboard and first count to 10. Bonus points if you can do so in Latin.
Instead of contributing to the dark echo chamber, share youf positive stories! Tell your tale on #MySCAMonday! Talk about someone else who’s doing great stuff on Wordfame Wednesday! Proclaim it in all caps on SHOUTY THURSDAY!
Social media isn’t going away, so we need to learn how to transform the eSCA so we are always connecting with the positive and amplifying the good. Because, to paraphrase that wise man again, “The eSCA will be with you. Always.”
In service,