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Roll20 Founder Nolan T Jones Talks About Online Abuse And #Roll20CON

#Roll20CON runs for 24 hours on June 3rd and will be raising money for Cybersmile throughout the event.

You are one of the founders of Roll20, can you tell us a bit more about the company and what it does?

At our core, Roll20 is an online platform for playing traditional tabletop (often roleplaying) games. We started a little over four years ago out of necessity – myself along with cofounders Riley Dutton and Richard Zayas made Roll20 so we’d be able to play ourselves after we moved across the United States from each other. We wondered if others could use a similar solution and it turned out they could!

So, it’s your first 24 hour online convention next month (#Roll20CON on June 3rd if you’ve been living on the moon!) how will it work? What made you choose Cybersmile as the official charity partner for the event?

We’re hoping a whole lot of people play and watch a whole lot of games! We’re doing as much as possible to encourage people to play on Roll20 – including unlocking Dynamic Lighting (a special way to do encounters simulating darkness) for the day for everyone – as well as making a really fantastic line-up of Twitch streaming content.

As for joining with you all at Cybersmile, internally the Roll20 crew discussed a lot of different charities, and Cybersmile simply kept coming up as a great fit. We at Roll20 know and value the importance of positive communities, and could see that Cybersmile places the same emphasis we do on the issue (we also offer 24 hour trained support for anybody affected by all forms of cyberbullying and digital abuse – visit our online abuse support section for further details).

Have you ever experienced abuse online? If so, how did you deal with it?

Yes, I’ve experienced abuse online. There was also a period where I contributed to online toxicity (to make sure your online behaviour is up to scratch please explore our guide to good netiquette area of the site). The combination of immediacy and distance that the internet provides encourages people to fall into communication that does not respect boundaries. In our in-person interactions it would be shocking to see people act nearly as forceful or insistent as they are online about hosting their opinions and emotions on others.

As both someone who formerly crossed boundaries and has experienced online harassment, I’ve had to change the emphasis I put on social media – stopping myself from reacting to abusers or from imagining that all discussion online revolves around me (for further top tips read our coping strategies for online abuse). In both cases I long ago came to the important realization that if a space is not inviting, I need to walk away from it. Combatting abuse is learning that not everyone loves you and re-emphasizing those that do.

What advice would you give to somebody suffering abuse and harassment online?

Firstly, know that you are not alone and rarely (despite how all-consuming it feels) does the abuse require an immediate reaction. I spent six years in law enforcement call centers, and I’m painfully aware that the help and justice we all want is very difficult to gets fast or efficiently as we want it. But we are fortunate that so many avenues for healing and restoration exist. Utilize available resources in order to protect yourself and reestablish your safety.

Where do you think the line is between healthy competitive gaming and abusive/toxic behaviour?

“Is everyone having fun?” I play a lot of competitive games, both online games like Heroes of the Storm and live sports such as basketball. While losing can be frustrating, it doesn’t eclipse the enjoyment to be found in the individual solid play or the excitement of facing a challenging opponent. When someone goes outside of sportsmanship to insult or threaten others instead of foster better competition, they have crossed the line and should be removed until they understand where the line is.

I think it’s worth mentioning that a majority of the games that people play in Roll20 aren’t games with traditional win conditions; the reason you play is to enjoy crafting a story and facing obstacles as a party. That said, there’s many different ways to approach roleplaying games…some groups focus more on puzzles or tactical battles while others emphasize storytelling and emotional bonding. As a company, we’ve consistently said we don’t believe there’s an overall “right” or “wrong” approach to these games – what’s right is if everyone consents to and enjoys what happens at the (virtual) table.

What do you think can be done to reduce the amount of abusive behaviour on the internet?

I think online communities need to stress the importance of things like a “Code of Conduct” and then work to enforce those guidelines. We need to make it the expected norm to respect each other, even when we may disagree (good netiquette is a great start, check out our good netiquette guide).

What’s your favourite social media platform and why?

Difficult to say… Twitter helped me launch Roll20 as well as become a writer of comic books so it will always be special to me, but it’s also increasingly become a place that lacks a properly enforced community standard. More and more I’m drawn to image-curation services like Tumblr and Instagram where I can give myself something visual to engage in and better adjust my feed to remain positive.

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

It’s just like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker; “With great power comes great responsibility”. Social media has given a louder voice to many who need it and that’s wonderful. It connects us across great distances and that’s comforting. But it also encourages us to chase the most followers, the most likes, and an echo chamber that mocks those with whom we disagree. We have to do better, and we have to remember that we were social long before the internet amplified it.

Back to the event, how can people get involved with the Roll20CON event?

If you want to play in a game at Roll20CON, registration is open! If you’re hoping to watch Twitch streams, feel free to tune in all day June 3rd, or hang on just a little longer for us to announce the full schedule.

Will there be any familiar faces presenting at #Roll20CON?

Many! Adam Koebel (Roll20 Game Master in Residence), Margaret Krohn (online content manager for several video game networks and Rollplay regular), James D’Amato (One Shot Podcast)…we’re also about to announce several roleplaying publishers who will be joining us. Additionally, I’ll be joined in co-hosting the event by Anna Prosser Robinson who in addition to being Programming Manager at Twitch, a frequent host of Blizzard esports events, and cofounder of Misscliks is a big roleplaying enthusiast!

Finish this sentence “You really need to get involved with #Roll20CON on June 3rd because…”

…there are few things in life as enjoyable as rolling dice to determine whether or not a dragon eats you!”

So there you have it – All the motivation you need to tune in at 00:01 on June 3rd (Pacific Time) and stay tuned right through to 23:59 without missing a thing! Don’t forget to donate generously during the event as all money raised is being donated to Cybersmile. If you are affected by any type of cyberbullying or abuse online you can visit our cyberbullying and online abuse help center or alternatively, you can find the various types of support we offer in our total access support section. If you’re need for help is gaming related, we have a comprehensive gaming support center for your convenience. For further information about Cybersmile and the work we do, please explore the following suggestions.

What are your thoughts about our partnership for Roll20CON? Tweet us @CybersmileHQ!