I’ve drafted a dozen versions of this post over the last two years. Fear has stopped me from posting every time, however, Luke Crane does not appear to be learning from his mistakes, so I’m not keeping them to myself anymore.
Luke has repeatedly chosen to disregard women’s safety and security in the games industry through lies, evasive maneuvers, and reckless disregard for the truth. Given the blowback on his latest Kickstarter — both launched and cancelled yesterday — for many folks, this appeared to be news.
I’ve agonized over whether or not to speak up about my experience for all the usual reasons: imbalanced power dynamics, fear of retribution, fear of hurting the friends we have in common or being shunned by them for speaking out, fear of being harassed by strangers, and, not least of which, the knowledge that there is no clear path forward for people who abuse their power and privilege and seek to make amends to individuals and the community. And yet…
Luke Crane hasn’t tried to make amends. The project update from his cancelled Kickstarter asserts that the reason the project was cancelled was that he could no longer deliver the product he had promised — a collection of RPGs from multiple game designers — because too many designers “withdrew or were harassed to withdraw” due to the fact that he had decided to include the work of a designer who is known to have caused harm in the community…. without telling any of the other designers. In both his lack of transparency to the team he assembled and the not so subtle finger pointing at the community that called him out on it, he sidesteps his own culpability as to why designers withdrew from the project. It was not “the internet” but Luke, himself, who stripped the designers of their agency and removed their ability to make a meaningful choice about whether or not to be a part of the project. The cancellation message contains no apology to the designers he withheld this information from, let alone the community who was pained by his actions. Confronted with this critique, he has refused, once again, to listen to those who he has harmed and take responsibility for his actions with true accountability and candor. This has been his privilege. Here’s how I know:
Two years ago I had a scary and deleterious experience with a game designer named Jordan Draper who was verbally abusive to me, passed my work off as his own, and could have gotten both of us killed with his reckless and controlling behavior. I soon learned of another person who had similar experiences with him on the first two counts. I reached out to a few people in the industry who I thought could help. One of them was Luke Crane.
I’d known Luke for about a year at this point. We’d met at a game convention and had been friendly with each other ever since. I also knew that he and Jordan were friends. Jordan stayed in Luke’s apartment for a while when he was living in NYC and Jordan even worked at Kickstarter for a while. If there had been someone else to turn to who I thought could actually get through to Jordan and see that he a) got help, and b) would help to ensure that he wouldn’t be able to harm others, I would have gone to them instead. Even so, it took me the better part of a year to get up the courage to speak to Luke about it.
Though he knew the gist of what we were about to talk about, the first thing Luke said when we sat down was “I’m not sure why we’re having this conversation.” It became clear that he thought this was a personal matter between me and Jordan so I told him that Jordan’s behavior toward me was a community concern — that Jordan, a member of the tabletop games community, was exhibiting abusive behavior toward multiple women, and that made it all of our problem. I referred offhand to Luke’s role as a gatekeeper and he cut me off, saying “I don’t know why everyone keeps saying that about me. I’m not a gatekeeper.” I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe he didn’t acknowledge his role in the industry. Rather than saying “Luke, you run the games division of Kickstarter. You literally choose the games that get featured on the site, thus giving some designers, including Jordan, a larger platform than others,” I apologized. I told him I meant no offense.
I told Luke, first generally, and then with a fair few specifics, what had happened with Jordan. He seemed unsurprised that Jordan had taken full credit for work we had co-designed (work I had conceptualized). Even so, he was more alarmed by this plagiarism than the fact that Jordan’s behavior had put both of our lives in danger for a brief but terrifying moment while Jordan was driving on a winding mountain road at night. He sped up, took his eyes off the road, and looked right at me in the passenger seat as we headed into a turn. He continued staring at me, laughing, refusing to look at the road. My blood ran cold. If a car had been coming in the other direction we would have crashed straight into it or gone off the side of the mountain. “Why would he do that?” Luke asked. “Control,” I said. “He wanted me to know who was in control.”
When I divulged that I wasn’t sure if I was going to say something about my experiences publicly, Luke encouraged me to not. He told me that Jordan, a thirty-year-old man at the time, was “just a boy” and “had a lot of growing up to do.” I asked him, point blank, how many women was too many women to be collateral damage in Jordan growing up. He didn’t have an answer. He didn’t have to have one. That was his privilege.
My composure, which I’d been careful to keep up throughout the conversation, broke as soon as I stepped away. I ran into a friend moments later and burst into tears. “He believes me,” I said. “He knows I’m telling the truth, but he thinks it has nothing to do with him. I don’t think anything is going to change. I don’t know what else to do.”
Over the next few months, I spoke to Luke a handful of times about Jordan’s behavior, among other topics. He encouraged me, again, not to go public. I eventually asked him if he would talk to Jordan about his behavior. I think he may have even offered this himself. I was trying- wow was I trying- to keep from having to write this post. Luke said he would talk to Jordan.
When I asked him about it a few weeks later he said he hadn’t done it yet but he would. Only he said he was going to be subtle about it, as in, Jordan might not even really realize what the conversation was about. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I wanted to trust that Luke was, in fact, being thoughtful about how he would approach a delicate situation in such a way that Jordan, who I have no hesitation whatsoever in describing as a narcissist, would actually hear it. I hoped, rather than believed, that Luke’s equivocation wasn’t a copout. So I waited.
It had been over a year at this point since my visceral realization that Jordan was not a safe person to be around. I worried that Jordan, who had already proven himself an avid and enthusiastic gas-lighter, would tell lies about me to our mutual friends and collaborators. I worried about what would happen to my career if I went against Luke’s stated wishes that I not speak publicly about my experience; that I give Jordan “ time to grow up.” At this point I had talked to a handful of friends and colleagues about what had happened but I was well aware that whisper networks are only helpful to those in the industry already. But what about those who are just starting out in game design? Or folks outside the industry altogether? Those are the populations I worried about the most. Didn’t they have a right to know who to watch their backs around? Even if it meant I’d be looking over my own shoulder, too? Didn’t I wish someone had warned me?
When I followed up with Luke again a few months later, no conversation about misconduct had taken place between him and Jordan. My decision to follow up again at this moment was about more than just whether or not Luke had reached out to Jordan, subtly or not. It was about the fact that we were two months into the pandemic and I was afraid that Jordan might have tried to pull the same textbook abusive behavior on someone else that he had pulled with me, namely getting someone away from their support network, stuck in a remote location in a precarious financial situation where he held the power, risking their physical safety, tapping their mind to his own ego-centric ends, and gaslighting the hell out of them to boot. My own experiences with Jordan had taken place over the course of ten days. I was anxious that someone might be facing a more prolonged confinement, given the current health crisis and global stay at home orders. I reached out to Luke to see if he would check in on Jordan and see if there was cause for concern. When he balked at what he perceived as being asked to spy on his friend, I said he didn’t even have to tell me what he found out, that what mattered was that someone checked in to see that no one was unsafe in his company. I still trusted Luke at the time. I thought he understood the seriousness of the situation.
Luke’s response to my second follow up was to ask me if something “more serious” had happened to me than what I had already told him about. I had been perfectly frank with him in previous conversation and I reiterated that I had shared quite a lot with him in the last few months and then asked him what, for him, would warrant taking action? He responded by dodging the question and saying that he knew this stuff was hard to talk about. I replied that I knew it was hard for him to talk about and reiterated the question. He never responded.
Jordan’s behavior to me, and others, was reprehensible. His behavior is a problem and he is not a safe person to be around. An equally big problem for the industry is the person who excused Jordan’s behavior, invalidated my experiences, lied about taking action to address the problem, engaged in evasive tactics to hold me in limbo and deter me from speaking publicly, and refused to acknowledge his place of privilege and his role in the industry. Luke Crane is not the only one who was complicit in Jordan’s behavior, but others took their cues from him. He is, whether he admits it to himself or not, a gatekeeper.
I’m writing this post today because I see the same patterns at play in Luke’s behavior over the last 24 hours that I’ve seen in the last eighteen months. His lack of transparency toward the designers who he invited to be a part of the now cancelled RPG project, his protection of men who have caused harm to women — at the continued expense of those women, and his inability to take responsibility for his role in causing harm to individuals and the community are not new. Luke has had a year and a half to make good on his assurances to me. He’s had nine months to make amends for his dismissive behavior. He’s chosen not to.
Even now, I don’t want to post this. To be perfectly honest, I’m still scared of all the things I’ve been scared of for the last two years. But what are my options? Stay silent and let the guilt and anger gnaw away at me for another two years while the actions of two men I know for a fact to be problematic go unchecked? Speak out and risk retribution, career blowback, willful misunderstanding of the situation, deafening silence, or all of the above? There is no win here for me.
I’ve sought change it the shadows and whisper networks and now I seek it out loud and in the light. I want there to be a way for both Luke, and Jordan, to make amends not just to me but to the community they’ve eroded. I want a return on the time and energy I’ve spent agonizing about how to keep others, and myself, safe. I want to feel energized and delighted by the games industry, not weary or wary or constantly freaked out by the endless abusive power dynamics and complicity. I want restorative justice for other members of the community who have experienced far worse than I have.
For as sad and frustrated as I am, I don’t hate Luke or Jordan. I don’t wish them ill. They’re deeply flawed humans who are in need of a very serious wakeup call. Their behavior has been awful and it has left a lasting impact on me. I don’t think either one of them should be in a position of authority over anyone, especially women. Not right now, maybe never. But not definitely never. In my opinion, they need to step back, examine the patterns of their behavior with some paid, professional help, and put in the time to do better.
But here’s the thing, they have to want to do better for that plan to work. I’d love nothing more than to forgive them both for their actions but I can’t do that if they don’t recognize the need for forgiveness. Whether they do or not, the time has come for me to publish this post. If those in power won’t recognize this as a community matter, I — hopefully, we — will.
Thank you for reading.
— Jessica Creane
PS — If you want to get a better understanding of how abuses of power snowball, I highly recommend reading this incredibly insightful and nuanced post by Emily Johnson, this post by Anita Sarkeesian, or watching The Morning Show, all of which provide a glimpse into what these systems of power look like across industries and vantage points.