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Opinion: Hotel management doesn't care what your fursona is

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In 2002, I wrote an article here about the problematic side of furry fandom, and what we needed to do about it. In 2007 I gave the fandom positive grades for progress made. In 2011 I praised the fandom for it's growth and outreach while also cautioning that growth can also come with its own difficulties. But now I fear that I need to talk to the fandom again.

The fandom has grown. With that comes a growth in the number of idiots and trouble makers, so risk isn't a hypothetical anymore. Damaging chairs, wrecking public areas, inappropriate conduct and a return to the "squick the mundanes" attitude that I'd hoped we'd moved beyond. This has already resulted in the failure of one major convention, Rainfurrest, and we need to all act to prevent it from happening to another.

Rainfurrest's collapse was not due to a sole incident of vandalism. The hotel had already become exasperated with the conduct of attendees when one of them blocked up the public hot tub with towels to cause it to flood. As explained in a letter to attendees, five people had been ejected from the hotel, three people had been taken to hospital and the police were called out twice. After sustaining more damage and mess to their public areas than every other event at the location that year, the hotel's management were on the verge of evicting Rainfurrest's attendees immediately on any further complaints. This is not a case of one bad apple, but a series of failures which stacked up to disaster.

This needs to be taken as a wake-up call for the fandom. We need to take a close look at the standards of conduct expected from fans, and from those who organize big events.

In 2002, I talked about how we needed to stop tolerating those who "squick the mundanes". It's sad that this attitude has raised its head again, with groups intentionally causing trouble and individuals out to see what they can get away with. Furry is a very tolerant fandom, but we need to stop being tolerant of the harmful. If you see someone getting up to this kind of stuff at a convention, it's not okay to shrug your shoulders and turn a blind eye. You must report it to the convention staff.

The convention staff need to have formal policies on handling these reports. They must take serious records of them, and make note when the same names turn up over and over. Conventions also need to talk to each other to identify those who should be declined a membership.

Conventions also need to have professional security. It is no longer acceptable to have amateur attitudes towards this. Security should be handled by trusted people with experience, preferably professional qualifications and appropriate insurance bonding. Conventions need to budget for this, and be aware of the general rule of thumb of needing to have a minimum 1:50 ratio of security staff to attendees. A convention of 2700 people like Rainfurrest should have been covered by at least 54 guards, probably more to ensure 24 hour coverage.

Further to that, these staff need to act professionally. They should certainly not all go to the ending ceremony and leave still public areas unguarded as I have heard reports of. Hotels should be expected to require individual insurance bonds covering all security staff, and this may even be a legal requirement in some jurisdictions.

Conventions can be safe, secure, and fun places. There are many conventions that already accept and operate by these ideals. But they do so through applied effort by the people who put them together, and by attendees accepting codes of conduct.

I would like to appeal to the Rainfurrest board to perform a review and failure analysis, to fully identify particular issues that need to be addressed, and provide this information publicly so other conventions may learn from it.

Comments

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Furry is a very tolerant fandom, but we need to stop being tolerant of the harmful. If you see someone getting up to this kind of stuff at a convention, it's not okay to shrug your shoulders and turn a blind eye. You must report it to the convention staff.

Every time I see "we" I think "speak for yourself" and "who?" Personally I try to avoid addressing people that way. Can you name people who intentionally didn't report vandalism? A tiny handful of people can do hit-and-run without being identified. I don't think many people shrug about it. It seems like gratuitous shaming, even if well intentioned.

Reports to staff have confidentiality and ID security issues and don't get aired in public, and shouldn't be. Not even the ages of who is reported. That's a specific issue that came up when I had an article about Rainfurrest troubles. It sounds like rhetoric, or do you have info that you aren't sharing about how reports are handled?

Conventions also need to have professional security. It is no longer acceptable to have amateur attitudes towards this. Security should be handled by trusted people with experience, preferably professional qualifications and appropriate insurance bonding. Conventions need to budget for this, and be aware of the general rule of thumb of needing to have a minimum 1:50 ratio of security staff to attendees. A convention of 2700 people like Rainfurrest should have been covered by at least 54 guards, probably more to ensure 24 hour coverage.

Cons have had thriving growth on their own terms. This fan subculture isn't shrinking and there's many successes for every problem. Some problems come from success, not lack of it. Let's not turn rock and roll into square dancing. Rainfurrest was pretty large but not half the size of the largest, which is also the most successful at getting support and partnership with hotels and city. But no different security, as far as I know. Seems to disprove the hint that bigger = worse.

54 guards, over 3 days, assume 8 hours/day/guard, at $20 an hour, would be 1296 man-hours and $26,000. Aside from regulation facilities and agency fees or who knows what else. What are they going to do besides munch donuts? I have to question the gulf between the security they have now and the proposed fix.

The movie business has lately been hit with this kind of thing. Movie theaters are some of the major public gathering spaces that still have barely any security. After a couple of random shooting incidents - one guy with a gun means we all have to go through metal detectors and get groped with TSA-like policies, to some people's minds. And no masks of course. No thanks. I prefer the miniscule chance of being randomly shot, because that doesn't take away shooter's motive to harm someone somewhere.

Thankfully there are still a decent amount of theaters willing to host indie events and allow furries to come in costume. There's going to be ones all over the world in a few weeks. That's what I care about.

In my opinion, organize events and then think about putting in just some light security. A high school in the most scary ghetto might have 1,000 kids and just a guard or two - try that.

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I suspect there's a solution between true (and truly expensive) professionals and insufficiently-experienced volunteers.

Semi-professional fan security groups such as the Dorsai Irregulars (WikiFur) and F.L.A.R.E. are often available for not much more than what at-con volunteers get. Because they work fan cons, they tend to have more experience with fandom idiosyncrasies than the typical rent-a-cops a furry con could budget for. In theory this means a better outcome.

They might be able to work something out if organizers decided they wanted a professional security team to work with them, too - though if an incident got that serious, you might want to call the police. As Lamar notes, a professional attitude is what's key.

Sandy Schreiber made a relevant post on Facebook when the RF letter was posted. Several commenters are Dorsai members; one noted that the official presence of the D.I. might not be suitable for a west-coast event due to the travel cost and the number of existing contracts. But perhaps a few of them, or a similar organization, could be drafted in an advisory role.

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I'm going to break this down into a few parts to make my reply.

1) There's scientific literature on the social pressure towards silence that requires people to be reminded and encouraged to speak up and report harassment and incidents. This is why Conventions have to be pro-active about reminding guests to report incidents.
2) Anthrocon hires the services of the professionally organised security service called "The Dorsai Irregulars".
3) The Dorsai's terms are very favourable, amounting to working at cost of travel and accommodation.
4) This is the 'light' level of security. I'm talking in the basic bare minimum terms here.
5) Most Movie Theatres do not serve alcohol or allow it's consumption on the premises, and those that do have bouncers and are usually required to by licence restrictions.
6) Furry convention attendees can not be threatened with a call to their parents.

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There's scientific literature about surveillance culture and the way overprotectionism can split people up and create more vulnerability. There's literature about controlling, shaming, snitching and crying wolf. It's not good to overreact.

I have deep distrust about using rare extreme cases to call for righteous changes, with few practical examples of where the problem comes from or what the shape of it is.

There's a lot of loaded words but few answers. Who did vandalism? How many? Were they connected to the community? Is this conflating expression with property damage? Who failed to report anything? Is there evidence that "attitude" or "silence" played a part? How much happened outside of the con's view? Does Rainfurrest have power to say more than the candid words they already said?

One of the greatest things about this little subculture is the way it keeps growing and thriving with a DIY ethic. I love to organize events and put out media. If someone is critical about how it works, I want to know what they're doing.

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1) There's scientific literature on the social pressure towards silence that requires people to be reminded and encouraged to speak up and report harassment and incidents. This is why Conventions have to be pro-active about reminding guests to report incidents.

As someone who helps run a furry convention, I find this highly intriguing. Could you perhaps provide links to some relevant scientific literature? I'm particularly interested in literature with concrete, scientifically verified advice on how combat under-reporting of incidents.

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This is basically an entire field of active study. However, finding some free-to-read literature is not that easy, due to the rise of pay-to-read scientific paper archives. Basically, the issue at hand is that you're putting together a short-term community, and are going to face the same issues as community policing in combatting under-reporting of incidents. However, the literature on community policing practices (such as https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/What_Works_in_Community_Policing.pdf) doesn't transfer very well to the different situation of community event management.

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Thanks a lot for the link!

I work at a major university, so I should be able to access paywalled articles as well, if you had anything particular in mind.

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As a psychology student, I feel I can weigh in here; this is called the "bystander effect," and "diffusion of responsibility.

Put the two together and basically what you get is: "I don't need to report this, because there are so many people around, surely one of them will report it."

And that's what everyone is thinking.

Look up those terms specifically, and try to read about them from accredited sources, not Wikipedia.

Good luck. :)

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While I don't claim to have anything but rumors to base my opinion on, so far as I can tell neither a pro nor a semi-pro security force would've been much help in dealing with the RF incidents. Why? None of the property-damage-- according to what I've heard-- took place in a public area where such a force would've likely patrolled. (I've never been in a hotel's hot tub area and therefore am doubly ignorant on that score, yet... While it's supposedly a public area, I can't imagine that a guard would be posted there full-time, watching so few participate in what remains essentially so private an activity. How could it be an economical use of manpower?) Similarly, an increased security presence almost certainly would've done nothing to prevent the chlorine incident at MFF. I mean... Even though that _did_ happen in a public-access area, who would've had the foresight (or resources) to patrol the stairwells?

While I don't think increased or more professional security is a _bad_ idea, I don't think we should fall into the trap of seeing it as a cure-all, either. Our problems run deeper.

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Please re-read the article and linked resources. Vandalism and inappropriate behaviour took place in public areas.

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The hot tub is in a pubic area, in the court yard I been to the hotel for Rainfurrest 2012.

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I love this comment.

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I just realized the typo. Since their is no comment editing function you all have to live with my gaff.

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Oh, I can live with it.

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I presume the the link you refer to is the "Letter to Attendees", as the others don't seem relevant.

Let's deal with the specifics mentioned there one by one.

*"This year's incidents include two plumber calls, a flooded bathroom that soaked the offices underneath...

Security does not and never will patrol bathrooms. As I walked around the puddle caused by the "bathroom incident", I was told that the damage had taken place inside an individual stall. As for the other "call", we have no details to work with.

*...towels stuffed into a hot tub pump...

I dealt with that in my original comment.

*...and multiple petty vandalisms and thefts."

Again, we have no idea where-- in a very large venue-- these specific incidents took place. There are certainly more nooks and crannies in the Hilton than can be patrolled, and mischief-makers tend to seek them out.

*"We had to send three people to the hospital...

For all we know, three attendees had heart attacks. I'm sure it was worse than that-- experience and context both suggest that at least one or two of the incidents were probably drug or alcohol related. Yet... How could increased security prevent overdoses of either in a convention environment?

*"...and call the police twice."

Again, we totally lack specifics. Everything is mere speculation. From my personal experience, at an event that large and of such long duration two police-calls isn't totally out of line.

*"By Sunday morning of con this year, the hotel was so exasperated that they were threatening to evict attendees for single noise complaints."

While again this statement is annoyingly nonspecific, the mention of "evictions" suggests that the noise in question was likely coming from individual rooms, where con security has no authority to operate.

There is one statement in the "Letter" that tends to support your case.

*"For the last few years, the Hilton sustained more damage during Rain Furrest than it did from every other event at the Hilton the entire rest of the year..."

"Letter" also specifies that this damage wasn't limited to guest rooms. However... Again, we lack _so_ much data! "Damage" includes things like accidental drink-spill stains on carpets and people innocently-- not deliberately!-- breaking fragile decorations. Nor do we know where in the very large venue these incidents took place. Would more security have helped? While we lack too many details to say for sure, this is the strongest evidence I'm aware of that it might've. Yet I'm still doubtful, because elsewhere in "Letter" it states that no less than five attendee badges were pulled. This does _not_ imply a weak, indecisive security force/con staff. Rather, it's proof that numerous individuals _were_ in fact out and actively doing their best to enforce order.

I stand by my earlier position. While an increased security presence is certainly worth considering, on the evidence we have there's no reason to assume it's a solution to the problem at hand. That's the only part of your posting that I took issue with.

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Having discussed this matter with people who were there, and members of staff there, "innocent accidental damage" is not the cause of Rainfurrest's downfall. A reminder that the Hotel's response is not viewed as being draconian or unexpected.

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I roomed with two others at RF. The guy who reserved the room was leaving Sunday and only had the room reserved through Saturday night. The third guy and I had planned to stay in the room through Sunday night, but neglected to extend the reservation until Sunday morning. When we inquired at the front desk about doing this, we were told there were no rooms available.

At the time we assumed the hotel was booked up, perhaps because of some incoming event starting that Monday. Later when it became more evident how bad things were between the hotel management and the convention, I realized it may have had nothing to do with room availability and instead the hotel management had directed the front desk not to extend any room reservations for RF attendees.

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I've already discussed my opinion about a solution to these issues in the original article of Rainfurrest holding off their convention for a year. And that is communications inter-convention to ban those who are found to be committing acts of vandalism to hotel property from all conventions who choose to. Having it be known to convention participants that their behavior against hotel property in RainFurrest could put their ability to go to Anthrocon, MFF, Megaplex, Furlandia, etc. could have a greater influence on behavior then the presence of more security at one particular convention.

Right now, there are so many conventions I think people are taking them for granted and so their behaviors are along the lines of "well the worst they can do is ban me here, and then I guess I'll just got to the convention one state away instead."

The US faced a similar problem with people committing crimes in one state fleeing to others. The solution to that was a Federal level police force called the FBI which would not be tied to the jurisdictions that state laws were bound to, but still utilizing the local sources to help bring the interstate issue to a close.

Our fandom has grown to the point where such a resource is needed at this point. Where convention staff communicate amongst themselves between conventions to ensure that none of them get left behind.

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You mean the shadowy Furry Convention Leadership Roundtable? They have a website now; Rainfurrest is a member. If you're heading to Fur Squared, you could attend their meet & greet and ask Duncan and Takaza about it.

But be careful what you wish for. Once you've deemed one group of attendees "bad for the fandom", it's all too easy to expand it to 'problematic' dealers, journalists, or panelists. All it takes is a new sheet in the Google doc.

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I understood there'd be some paranoia about inter-convention workings. But what I'm taking about here is not opinion on whom is 'bad for the fandom'. I'm talking about individuals who have maliciously damaged hotels and only those who have damaged hotels.

If conventions start to use it to shape or manipulate fandom in other ways, then they wouldn't have to worry about hotels kicking them out, instead they'd worry about furry fans not going to them anymore as their heavy hand suffocates out their attendees.

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So, what could be done to stop people from using this against people they simply don't like? How are we going to prove who did what? Do we even know who was responsible for the Rainfurrest hotel vandalism? How would people even make this information known? Are we gonna mention Dragoneer in tweets telling him to ban such-and-such from FA:U because they clogged a hot tub?

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No we don't, unfortunately. However this harsh stance would show hotels we are serious about protecting their property and we will gladly work with them to ensure that people are respectful of their property.

This whole paranoia thing about con-chairs being some corrupt body looking to ban people at the slightest reasoning is quite odd to me. If a con-chair is that corrupt would you want to be at their convention anyway? If a con chair "doesn't like you" but you pay for being an attendee and such, they probably aren't going to care if you think they smell as a person. Trust me, con chairs have bigger fish to fry than some way-ward critic. If Kage only allowed the people he liked to attend his convention, it wouldn't even be close to 6,000 people there. It's poor business sense to ban willy-nilly.

And this wouldn't change the fact that, yes, if Kage really wanted to he could ban me from Anthrocon tomorrow. For no reason other than he wanted to. This suggestion of cons working together that if they do find a furry has been damaging hotels, of which they have solid evidence for, that they consider if that person should be allowed back to any convention in a hotel, lest they do the same there. If they wanted to not seem so heavy handed they could make it a two strike rule where the first time is a ban from the particular con, and the second is the overall convention ban.

If there would be any critique of this kind of hard position I think it wouldn't be a con chair, but one individual trying to get another individual banned through sabotage of some sort and set them up to make it look like they were the ones doing the vandalism. Of course doing so would risk they get caught for their scheme as well.

Also what kind of vandalism would be considered large enough for such a stark consideration would need to be made clear. Like ripping a con poster off the wall versus the bathroom flooding kind. Clearly the later should be more harshly dealt with than the former.

And as far as the "Twitter" thing, I'm pretty sure con-chairs talk to each other with less public means. This is not about the attendees flying around accusations. This is about con-chairs communicating with one another, as it seems they always have been anyway. Individuals would merely report issues to the security or hotel staff as needed. They get no say in who is banned where, as they currently don't.

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In the 1980s when s-f and comics conventions often had Furry Party flyers posted around the hotels, I regularly went around stealing one of each for my collection of Furry Party flyers, which the UCRiverside library has today. I did this not to be destructive, but for fannish historical purposes. Since each convention had a half-dozen or more Furry Party posters all around the hotel, I figured that they could afford to lose one before the hotel tore them all down and threw them away on the last day of the con.

Fred Patten

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Such a rebel!

Yeah, banning over that kind of vandalism would be a bit dumb.

If it were maliciously done the person doing it would toss it to the floor as soon as they ripped it from the wall.

These things are all about context, which is why they're best dealt with by those more directly involved to make decisions before it goes up the chain. But going up the chain should be an option if the context is clearly an individual that just wants to cause trouble for conventions then having a good time there.

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I can say with some authority that you are wrong, Kage cannot unilaterally ban anyone from Anthrocon for no good reason. Anthrocon is governed by a Board of Directors which considers each case's merits and votes on it. People are banned for repeated violations of the standards of conduct, or for criminal activity.

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Then I stand corrected on those remarks.

It is harder to piss off an entire board than one person, which is always a good check and balance. And such things are good to have in place. Which is why any kind of inter-convention punishment would need to have similar checks and balances.

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This is generally true, unless the Board are all friends -- then friendship dynamics can come into play.

"He's my friend, and I don't want to be seen to be betraying him... and I think he's probably going to vote to ban this guy... yeah, he hates his guts... I mean, they only need two votes out of three... I don't want to upset my friend... it's a sealed ballot, but I don't think I could keep something like that secret.... Yeah, I'd better vote for a ban... and I'd better vote to share it with other cons too, just so it doesn't sound suspicious..."

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Anyone that immature isn't fit to serve on a convention board.

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Steve Simmons of the Dorsai again -

I hear and understand you Equivamp, but you're focusing on the wrong end. Yes, the concom can't investigate and be judge, jury and executioner on every incident. Cons need to set policy, do what they can do it enforce it, accept responsibility for group behavior (which means the bad individuals within the group, but as I say elsewhere, the facilities don't care - the individuals are the group), and keep pushing back on those who push the limits. The concom sets the tone for attendee behavior. If there are no policies against bad behavior, it's implicitly allowed. If there are policies but no sanctions, it's implicitly allowed. If there are sanctions but they are never enforced, it's implicitly allowed. We've worked conventions where the concom wouldn't sanction anyone for anything and where their staff set the tone by being some of the worst violators. We almost never work such cons a second time. Most of those cons don't last more than a few years. They either implode or suddenly discover that they can't find a place to hold the con.

[[ A bit of an aside: Policy is hard, but if you want a good one, look at the opening statement for Anthrocon's policy:

Any action or behavior that causes significant interference with convention operations, excessive discomfort to other attendees, or adversely affects Anthrocon's relationship with its guests, its venues or the public is strictly forbidden and may result in permanent suspension of membership.

IMHO, that's the core or all good con behavior policies: let folks have as much fun as they can without hurting themselves or the people around them, and don't sh*t where you live. The de-facto policy may actually be kind of loose compared to the de jure, but in general that's a good thing. I tell my new staff a pretty consistent line: I don't care if someone is drunk. I care if they're drunk and disorderly. I don't care if they're stoned. I care if they're getting stoned in the lobby. I don't care is somebody is a horn-dog SOB. I care if he paws or harasses somebody. I don't care if two people have a dispute that's led them to threat of violence or actual violence. I care if it happens at the con. If it causes a problem for the attendees or the facility, I'll come down on it. If it doesn't, let it ride. But once it does cause a problem, I'll be consistent in application. Hotel says "no more drunks in the lobby" - OK, now I care about drunks in the lobby even without the disorderly. Inconsistent? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as tolerance moderated by the actual on-the-ground situation. ]]

I've sat in a number of face-to-face meetings both in-con and post-con with facility management (ah, the joys of being a senior security manager). When the facility discusses an attendee incident and the concom says "that person is banned for a year" and "we'll pay the costs", the facility says "thank you." When there's no person identified as responsible but the concom makes visible reaction to a problem - public announcements, reminders of sanction for violators, and actual enforcement in the cases where a violator gets caught - the facility says "thank you." For obvious reasons I'm not naming names, but yeah, real-world situations, multiple different cons, consistently across the years.

Concoms can't control all attendee behavior. But they can set the tone, they can take responsibility for their group, and they must be willing to sanction bad behavior. They've gotta try, and to try visibly. They've got to show the attendees and the facilities that they're trying.

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Steve Simmons of the Dorsai Irregulars here. I had a much large post written, but let's just cut to the chase:

Hotels and convention centers don't care about damage to public vs. private space. They care about damage. They don't care about why you don't rein in your attendees, they only care that you do or don't. They will tolerate bad behavior and damage only if the convention makes it worth their while - ie, pay very high facility and room rates, or consistently accept responsibility for and pay for damages. They're business. They'll tolerate an amazing amount of stuff only if you make it worth their while. Rainfurrest hasn't accepted responsibility for the attendee behavior, hasn't moderated the attendee behavior, and has consistently left the facilities on the hook for attendee behavior. No-one should be surprised that they are no longer tolerated by the facilities.

A convention can change its culture. I'm typing this note at Magfest 2016, where the 22,000 attendees had fewer arrests and hospital runs than Rainfurrest. Magfest was once had a huge percentage of toxic attendees. They once had 500 attendees and more arrests/hospital runs than Rainfurrest. They dodged a couple of bullets, and accepted their wake-up call. After a couple of years of downright painful adjustment, they successfully changed the limits of what they would tolerate from attendees. Once the new limits were clear, the good attendees moderated their behavior and the bad ones found other venues. They're now doing multiple cons per year, in part because facilities seek them out. Given their continual improvement, no-one should be surprised.

The takeaway: Magfest recognized their problem, and did something about it. Rainfurrest did neither, and it has probably killed them. It shouldn't be a surprise that they've reaped what they've so consistently sowed. It's sad, it's unfortunate - but it's not a surprise.

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Thanks for a good comment Steve.

Here's a little story about some informal events I have run. There was this chronic problem with people not paying their share of restaurant bills. (Kinda like hotel bills right?)

One event went very well, so I led a group to a nice place, a Korean BBQ. I was misled to think it was one of the ones that are one-price for all you can eat, but it wasn't. So the bill inflated on top of the usual prices. My fault for telling everyone to keep ordering. I would pay the extra.

There was one kid across from me with a reputation for mooching rides, so I'd asked if he had the money up front and he said he did. Surprise, his card wouldn't run and there was nothing in the account. OK, so I ate a couple hundred of extra cost AND his bill. That can only happen once so I remembered it.

Next event, same kid - he ignored everyone telling him the last train was coming, got his bill paid by someone else (not me), then tried mooching a ride. Everyone drifted away on purpose. Since I arranged the event I was the last one in the place to ask. He got no ride but 5 minutes of talk about how to be a grown up and how this earns a reputation, and a nudge towards the bus which might get him home overnight after 3 or 4 hours of transfers.

Still didn't learn. He came out with us again, and before anyone ordered, I told the server his bill was separate from everyone. He looked like he would cry and his friend volunteered to take it.

I don't think a lot of this happens because people are intentionally quiet about bad behavior or won't report if they see something actively wrong. They're just nice and not in charge. If you do have to talk about it, don't blame the group for being that way, speak directly to the one.

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I cannot wait until I have a proper job, and enough spare cash to go to a furry con.

And when I come back I could tell you people how much it sucked. Or rocked. Whichever comes first.

Well, I'll be...

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Lamarread storiescontact (login required)

    from Oxfordshire, England