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An Unauthorised History of /r/visualnovels


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As communities age, a mythology tends to build up around their origins, with past eras vaguely alluded to as “golden ages.” I’ve seen this happen with reddit’s /r/visualnovels, a place I moderated during its most transformative stage, so I thought I’d offer my insider’s take on its history: what we’d hoped to achieve as moderators, the unintended side-effects of our policies, and why I think /r/visualnovels is stagnating these days. Fuwanovel isn't /r/visualnovels, but there's a lot of overlap in the fandom and I thought that given Ange's recent "state of the fandom" post, you guys might find it interesting. Given my acrimonious departure from the subreddit, you should take this with a grain of salt, but hopefully you'll get something from it~

The Birth of /r/visualnovels

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The very first posts on /r/visualnovels.

/r/visualnovels was founded in late 2009 by /u/Hpdarkman525 (the former account of /u/gambs), who made one post about the upcoming Umineko ep5 fan translation and then promptly forgot about the sub. At this time, the VN fandom consisted primarily of those who had learned Japanese to read VNs, and those who wished they had. Official localisations were almost non-existent, and the fandom hung off the words of the few fan translators. Knowing about VNs felt like knowing a secret, like a secret handshake to be acknowledged as a fellow western otaku.

This didn’t really change until early 2012 with the release of Katawa Shoujo. We now had a Western VN that was free, easy to install (no fiddling with system locale), pretty well written (no cliche cries of “baka” or “onii-chan”), and handled a delicate subject (disability and self-identity) with a sensitivity that really spoke to a lot of gamers. The optional nature of the adult content helped attract horny teenagers while still retaining an air of respectability. KS managed something no other VN had: attention from the mainstream gaming crowd. It drew a huge wave of new fans to the medium, among which were /u/coldacid and /u/Kuiper who became mods on /r/visualnovels and began to promote it.

While the influx of new members gave birth to the community, with newbies becoming veterans, the continued dominance of KS in the VN scene began to wear thin (it wasn’t until 2016 that the number of /r/visualnovels subscribers outnumbered /r/katawashoujo). Especially grating for veterans was the cry of KS as “the best VN ever written” from those who had only ever read that one VN. The constant stream of “what do I read after KS” and rudimentary technical questions on getting Japanese VNs working drowned out the rare news posts or broader discussion threads. The mod team had a hands-off attitude to it, they’d only remove spam or blatant trolling. This only changed in early 2014 when a relatively unknown user, /u/insanityissexy, requested a mod position...

The Rise of Insanity

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Insanityy was a member of the old-guard, being drawn to the medium for Japanese VNs and caring little for what she saw as a pale-imitation in Western VNs. With no regard for the old mods, she singlehandedly brought order to a community that had been lawless. She began with a ban on posts for technical support questions and VN recommendation requests. Instead, they should be asked in the new weekly questions thread so as to clear up the front page for news posts and more substantial discussion threads.

While this move was broadly welcomed by most of the subreddit regulars, it caused some disruption as activity on the sub plummeted. With the western VN scene so small, news was rare and the number of daily posts dropped from 2-4 to just 1. While some grumbled, others were enthused in having an active moderator who cared about the sub. /u/kowzz started a discussion thread on what we could do to improve activity on the sub, and from that discussion he started the weekly Sunday discussion posts and I started the weekly “what are you reading” posts. Unlike the questions sticky, the intention wasn’t to curtail activity outside of these weekly posts, but to provide a supplement to the usual discussions and encourage users to comment more.

With such regular discussion posts, users started to bump into each other more often and a sense of community began to build. On a personal level, I also grew to know insanityy better as we exchanged dozens of increasingly lengthy PMs (so much so that each reply wouldn’t fit within the 10k character limit, we had to send our replies in 3 parts), with us quickly becoming close friends.

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Later that year, I proposed an overhaul of the user flairs. The subreddit only offered a basic vndb icon. I wanted to expand that to hundreds of options with a larger profile picture offset to the side of a user’s post as a way to personalise each user. With enough options, I hoped it’d be easier to identify users at a glance and it’d add some character to the subreddit. I was admitted to the mod team to oversee the flair changes, but was soon upgraded to full mod status after a few months on insanityy’s urging.

The two of us fed off each other’s passion as we sought to build a more active, mature, and compassionate community. We never paid any heed to the old mods, mod policy was discussed between us on google hangouts and implemented immediately.

  • To foster a sense of community, we aimed to have a community event once a month: best X contests, census surveys, recommendation charts, fanart contests, halloween/april fool themes being among just some of the activities we organised. We even got Mangagamer to sponsor some contests with free VNs.
  • To foster a sense of community, we aimed to have a community event once a month: best X contests, census surveys, recommendation charts, fanart contests, halloween/april fool themes being among just some of the activities we organised. We even got Mangagamer to sponsor some contests with free VNs.

  • We downplayed the seedier parts of the medium, nukige news was banned and discussions on “fapping” were frowned upon. Neither of us were against porn, we’re both fans, but we feared it’d attract a more neckbeard-type audience.

  • We aggressively went after trolls, but not by banning them. We had automod automatically remove comments from users prone to cause drama, then we’d manually approve non-trollish comments. That way everyone was able to participate in our community, but bad behaviour wasn’t rewarded with lots of attention.

In the following year, insanityy asked the inactive older mods to resign. Kuiper recognised that he was no longer needed and respectfully stepped down. Coldacid said his inactivity was only temporary and he’d be back, but later left reddit for voat as part of an anti-censorship protest. Gambs asked us to drop the subject as he didn’t want to step down, so we carried on ignoring him.

We also added new members to the mod team: /u/FunwithGravity for his knowledge of Japanese, /u/Cornetto_Man because he got along with everyone, and /u/Avebone because he was active at times when the rest of us were asleep. They were added primarily to approve posts mistakenly removed by automod when me and insanityy were afk and had little input on mod policy.

Everything seemed to be going great, we had a growing community that we got along with, trolls were few and far between, and our moderation seemed popular. Then we got a modmail suggesting we try out a new chat program called Discord...

Discord on Discord

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When /u/Kowzz and /u/Arcanus44 suggested creating a Discord server, we were initially skeptical. It sounded just like irc, and the /r/visualnovels irc channel had been comatose for years. However Kowz and Arc promised to take care of it for us, Kowz would create the server and Arc would drum up interest. So in Sept 2015, Arc hosted a “meet n’ greet” in voice chat on Discord. While it was by most accounts a success and quite popular, we got some complaints about inappropriate conduct by a couple of users and decided that if this Discord server was going to be linked with /r/visualnovels, we’d need to take an active hand in making sure it maintained our standards.

Kowz was happy to have us onboard, making us admins on Discord. It all seemed smooth, but underneath the surface, the seed of turmoil had been planted in our differing beliefs on who owned the server. Kowz and Arc considered themselves the owners and we were partners, while we considered them to have created the server on our behalf and that it’d run on our principles. Up until then, we’d not had any disagreements on mod policy. Me and insanityy would talk an issue out, if we agreed, we’d propose it to the rest of the mod team and vote on it. We’d picked mods who generally thought the same as us, so votes were normally unanimous. That wasn’t the case with Discord. Kowz and Arc had different ideals on how to run a community, and our usual resolution process of voting felt unfair to them as we outnumbered them 5 to 2.

The problem only got worse with time as insanityy hated arguments so she avoided the staff discussions on Discord and popped in only to vote. Arc and Kowz felt increasingly marginalised by this and that their opinion wasn’t being heard. This led to a standoff where Kowz and Arc demanded their 2 votes should count for as much as the rest of us combined, while we /r/visualnovels mods threatened to create a new server unless we kept one vote each. Discussions got heated until Kowz and Arc eventually backed down. In protest, they chose to stop participating as mods.

While Discord helped bring friends together, it also brought those that disliked each other together. It’s easy to ignore someone on reddit as its tree structure allows for parallel conversations, but the format of Discord makes that harder. This started to become a problem on the server, especially as Discord attracted a different type of user to the subreddit, those who had little patience for the more verbose and patient discussions of the subreddit. We got complaints from the subreddit veterans about some of the newbies but we weren’t sure what to do. Being disliked isn’t a bannable offense, but it was driving away some valued community members.

We didn’t want to create a separate server that split the community, so our misguided solution was the creation of a hidden channel: #sub_regs (a.k.a. the fanclub) that was invite only and accessed via the tableflipper role. The hope was that it’d serve as a backup channel for when #general was annoying and that it’d keep the community veterans on the server. However it ended up encouraging an elitist attitude that divided the community further.

The Fall of /r/visualnovels

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With many of the friendly conversations and community atmosphere moving to Discord, the subreddit began to suffer. Inside jokes that were incomprehensible to those not on Discord were frequent, and the community split between those using Discord and those not.

There was also a degree of burnout among the mods. It’s inevitable for all mods, you spend long enough dealing with the worst of the community, the trolls and the spammers, and you begin to develop an us-vs-them mentality. You retreat from the community and draw closer to your fellow mods, looking down upon the normal users. We mods gradually stopped being members of the community and instead became overseers.

Then there was my messy departure from the sub in April 2016. Due to a range of factors: financial difficulties, gender dysphoria, and some toxic “friends,” I became deeply depressed and tried to commit suicide. My fellow subreddit mods (and best friend insanityy) decided the best response was to out me as transgender, block me on social media, and ban me from the subreddit I’d loved so deeply. Insanityy never spoke to me again.

The rest of this is speculation, I was no longer an insider, but from my perspective it looked like this event accelerated the emotional distance insanityy felt from the subreddit as she stopped caring about the community. She tried to carry on as normal at first, running a few contests, maintaining the animated banners I’d once made, but her heart wasn’t in it. She resigned later that year.

With her went the desire to innovate, to improve the community. The remaining mods were followers, not leaders. They could maintain some cosmetic updates and copy the old contests, but they were unable to do anything new. They enlarged the mod team with an additional four members, but it only increased the sense of inertia and made it even harder to get anything done. The subreddit began to feel stale.

The mod team had also become unbalanced, where once me and insanityy spoke up for minority tastes in EVNs and otomes, now the mod team was dominated by Japanese VN fans just as the VN scene was increasingly embracing EVNs. The subreddit felt more elitist than ever just as the medium had never been more diverse.
Unintended Side Effects

While our policies may have made sense at the time, some of the decisions me and insanityy had made began to have a detrimental impact on the subreddit:

  • We’d brought on Automod to help remove posts when only me and insanityy had to manage everything. We found having a bot leave the removal comment sparked fewer arguments with OP than if one of us did it, and it was more effective at catching spam. But while we strived to reapprove mistakenly removed posts promptly, sometimes OP deleted their post before we could. Psychologically, it also made it dangerously easy to leave some content removed. As we mods burnt out over the years, our standards for what counted as a worthy post kept getting higher with fewer and fewer posts being approved. The end result has been a severe drop in discussion posts on the sub.
  • We’d brought on Automod to help remove posts when only me and insanityy had to manage everything. We found having a bot leave the removal comment sparked fewer arguments with OP than if one of us did it, and it was more effective at catching spam. But while we strived to reapprove mistakenly removed posts promptly, sometimes OP deleted their post before we could. Psychologically, it also made it dangerously easy to leave some content removed. As we mods burnt out over the years, our standards for what counted as a worthy post kept getting higher with fewer and fewer posts being approved. The end result has been a severe drop in discussion posts on the sub.

  • When recruiting new moderators, we sought people who thought as we did so mod decisions would be consistent and there wouldn’t be arguments in the mod chat. Modding is stressful enough without the stress coming from within the mod team. However, as you add more mods who agree with you, you can start to have an inflated view of how widespread your opinion is. A circlejerk mentality builds and outside opinion is increasingly easy to dismiss. This can leave users feeling like their opinions don’t matter to the mods and builds resentment.

  • Insanityy was a kind soul and hated conflict, she avoided disagreements as much as possible. As a friend, this was fine, but as a mod it meant she avoided openly discussing mod policy on the subreddit as inevitably there would be some disagreement. This lack of discussion with the sub made it hard for users to object to the direction the sub took, allowing the mod team to grow out of touch with what the userbase wants.

Hopes for the Future

While I may have been quite critical of the current state of the subreddit, I think the community is a good one and there’s hope for improvement. A smaller, more motivated mod team would help, as well as scaling back some of the restrictions like the question and image-post ban. Let activity on the subreddit explode. Should low-quality content grow to become a problem, perhaps /r/visualnovels should split just as /r/gaming and /r/games have, or perhaps a split between Japanese and English VNs would help?

Not every idea will work out, but what’s important is to be trying new ideas and be responsive to change rather than clinging to an outdated format.

As I said at the start, please remember this isn’t an impartial view on the history of the sub and that this isn’t meant to downplay the hard work of the current mod team. Modding is exhausting, it’s a constant burden with little praise. Even if I consider them poor mods, it doesn’t make them bad people.

I know she won’t ever read this, nor will she care what I think, but I still believe insanityy was an inspirational mod and a wonderful friend. It’s incredibly hard to go it alone like she did when she first took over /r/visualnovels. She stood up for what she thought /r/visualnovels could be and put in so much effort, every day, rain or shine, she never shirked from her responsibilities. I miss her every day.

If anyone wants to know more or say hi, you can contact me here on Fuwanovel, tumblr,, twitter, or Discord (Sunleaf_Willow /(^ n ^=)\#1616)

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We downplayed the seedier parts of the medium, nukige news was banned and discussions on “fapping” were frowned upon. Neither of us were against porn, we’re both fans, but we feared it’d attract a more neckbeard-type audience.

That makes me wonder how my H-Scene Tier List got accepted. That was the epitome of degeneracy for the sub at that time. I guess people may see it as a joke but as people know now I take this shit seriously.

Knowledge of knowing /u/coldacid and /u/Kuiper were once moderators will help me make a fine addition meme I want to make soon..

Kowzz was never a moderator of the subreddit right?

Edited by NowItsAngeTime
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19 minutes ago, BunnyAdvocate said:

Then there was my messy departure from the sub in April 2016. Due to a range of factors: financial difficulties, gender dysphoria, and some toxic “friends,” I became deeply depressed and tried to commit suicide. My fellow subreddit mods (and best friend insanityy) decided the best response was to out me as transgender, block me on social media, and ban me from the subreddit I’d loved so deeply. Insanityy never spoke to me again.

Hope you're doing better and looking after yourself :) 

Caught that bit of drama, and I thought they handled that extremely poorly and with an immature spirit. Not surprising because whenever I went over to the reddit community I honestly felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of kids. I mean, I touched on the visual novel community being young in another topic, but I genuinely felt it even more on Reddit to the point where I felt uncomfortable being there. It's kinda creepy for a grown man to be hanging around people that sound like they're in high school. So the immaturity of their response wasn't surprising. 

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3 minutes ago, Darklord Rooke said:

Hope you're doing better and looking after yourself :) 

Caught that bit of drama, and I thought they handled that extremely poorly and with an immature spirit. Not surprising because whenever I went over to the reddit community I honestly felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of kids. I mean, I touched on the visual novel community being young in another topic, but I genuinely felt it even more on Reddit to the point where I felt uncomfortable being there. It's kinda creepy for a grown man to be hanging around people that sound like they're in high school. So the immaturity of their response wasn't surprising. 

Thanks, and yeah, I'm doing better these days. It's taken a couple of years to try and get over, but I'm getting there. It'd be nice if someday me and insanityy might talk and I could get some closure, but that's up to her. As for ages, I'd love to do a more recent census, but in the last one I did the average was around 21 on /r/visualnovels, and the mod team was a bit above that. I imagine it might have changed quite a bit with Discord however, as that seemed to attract a younger crowd.

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8 minutes ago, NowItsAngeTime said:

What's this Aokana TL incident and what did they do

A lot of them acted like spoiled brats. They kept saying that they "deserved" the translation, even if it was being done for free and as a fan translation. They were extremely entitled and it just turned me off the community entirely.

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6 minutes ago, VirginSmasher said:

A lot of them acted like spoiled brats. They kept saying that they "deserved" the translation, even if it was being done for free and as a fan translation. They were extremely entitled and it just turned me off the community entirely.

 

 

Were you referring to these?

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18 minutes ago, NowItsAngeTime said:

That makes me wonder how my H-Scene Tier List got accepted. That was the epitome of degeneracy for the sub at that time. I guess people may see it as a joke but as people know now I take this shit seriously.

Knowledge of knowing /u/coldacid and /u/Kuiper were once moderators will help me make a fine addition meme I want to make soon..

Kowzz was never a moderator of the subreddit right?

The only reason your h-scene post got past automod is because you were an "approved submitter" on reddit, so automod didn't trigger on any of your posts. By the time we noticed it, it'd already gotten so many upvotes and comments that we decided to leave it up. There were a couple of other people posting follow up tier lists but they never got past automod.

Kowzz was never a mod on the subreddit, although he did create the Discord server and was an admin there for the first few months. He applied for a mod position when we recruited Cornetto_Man and FWG and he was a close to getting it, he had dozens of ideas for the sub like having a prize pool for banner contests, but insanityy felt he was a little too independent to fit in with the mod team.

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Just now, Darklord Rooke said:

Nah, Ren loved doing stuff for the community but I think he just bit off more than he could chew with that project and didn't want to disappoint people. Community response was a bit over the top though, I agree 

I didn't know Ren too well to be fair, but he didn't come across as looking good from this. The community came off looking worse to me than Ren did though.

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Wow... What a sad story. :( I feel sorry that you were kicked for no reason other than personal problems, and the state of the community was depressing. To think that one of the best mods you were friends with just lost it with the community over some discord upheaval. Things look grim as of now, but I hope the community rebuilds itself. I have been to many communities that have suffered similar fates, so I can relate.

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1 minute ago, EastCoastDrifter said:

Wow... What a sad story. :( I feel sorry that you were kicked for no reason other than personal problems, and the state of the community was depressing. To think that one of the best mods you were friends with just lost it with the community over some discord upheaval. Things look grim as of now, but I hope the community rebuilds itself. I have been to many communities that have suffered similar fates, so I can relate.

Thanks Drifter. Yeah it was really hard on me, it led to another couple of suicide attempts in the months that followed as insanityy meant everything to me, she was like a sister. I could accept her not wanting to be friends anymore, but to not ever get any kind of goodbye from her really tore me apart. That community had been my life, I'd put in so many thousands of hours into it, so it made me feel so worthless and alone when I was cut out and forgotten like that. However it's not fair to just focus on my pain, I imagine it must have been hard on her too. I wish we could have talked and maybe helped one another a little with that, but it wasn't to be.

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2 hours ago, BunnyAdvocate said:

The only reason your h-scene post got past automod is because you were an "approved submitter" on reddit, so automod didn't trigger on any of your posts. By the time we noticed it, it'd already gotten so many upvotes and comments that we decided to leave it up. There were a couple of other people posting follow up tier lists but they never got past automod.

This is honestly why I hate Reddit as a whole so much. It's so god damn authoritarian. This doesn't relate to the vn sub-reddit, but once I had a few questions about something really niche. And the only active community I could find to ask these questions was a reddit community. But the mods wouldn't allow me to post my own topic until I had a certain post count and "like" ratio. I mean, wtf!? I just wanted to ask a simple question, get an answer, and leave. That kind of authoritarian structure really bothers me and makes it a pain in the ass for new users. 

The regular forum style like fuwa is way better. Fuwa has good mods that do their job, and they aren't authoritarian. They pretty much never try to control the discourse that happens on the site. Fuwa users are free to talk about what we want with only a few reasonable exceptions. 

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11 minutes ago, Zalor said:

This is honestly why I hate Reddit as a whole so much. It's so god damn authoritarian.

I hate its structure because it's upvote, downvote thing promotes a circle jerk community. When people have the ability to downvote an opinion out of sight I immediately become suspicious xD

EDIT:Well, that and I find its threaded nature difficult to hold a sustained discussion on. Might just be me, though.

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I don't think a split would help. The japanese reading community will never grow to a significant percentage of the readers...
Been frequenting the japanese-only reading scene and it's never risen beyond a handful couple of people who insulate themselves on twitter.
 

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Quite the sad story and interesting for what it is, I'm really sorry you had to go through such awful things. I'm glad you're doing better these days as you've said earlier.

I can't imagine what it must be like to be betrayed by your "best friend" in such a way :amane:

 

I wish you the best in all honesty. :sachi:

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10 hours ago, BunnyAdvocate said:

Thanks Drifter. Yeah it was really hard on me, it led to another couple of suicide attempts in the months that followed as insanityy meant everything to me, she was like a sister. I could accept her not wanting to be friends anymore, but to not ever get any kind of goodbye from her really tore me apart. That community had been my life, I'd put in so many thousands of hours into it, so it made me feel so worthless and alone when I was cut out and forgotten like that. However it's not fair to just focus on my pain, I imagine it must have been hard on her too. I wish we could have talked and maybe helped one another a little with that, but it wasn't to be.

Man, this is so harsh, I don't know how people can do something like that and still be able to look in the mirror. I'm glad you're better though - and that all this didn't drive you away from the VN fandom in general. You're a rare gem among the fan commentators/analysts around here, your posts are priceless especially for someone like me, interested in the trends and history of the fandom. Please keep being awesome for us all :hug:. 

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