Wednesday, January 31, 2024

An Update on Jaquaysing

Since I wrote my previous post, my friend Ava Islam reached out to Justin Alexander and engaged him in a productive conversation. Once the two of them arrived at a place of understanding, Ava also reached out to me to mediate a conversation between me and Justin. The purpose of this conversation was for each of us to understand where the other was coming from, to see if we could find any common ground, and to reach a willingness to agree to disagree on the rest. I'm grateful to Ava for helping to facilitate this conversation.

You can read Justin's post that came out of this conversation here: A Second Note on Xandering. I encourage you to read it first, then come back here.

In brief, here's how we arrived at this point. In 1979, Jennell Jaquays wrote an early dungeon called Caverns of Thracia that people admired for its interesting nonlinear maps. In 2010, Justin Alexander wrote a series of essays praising Jennell's designs and describing the techniques others could use to draw similar ones. In those essays, Justin named the nonlinearity in those maps after Jennell. Last year, for a variety of reasons, including wanting to draw attention to his authorship of those essays, Justin announced that he'd like the process of drawing nonlinear dungeon maps to be named for himself rather than for Jennell, and he published a book collecting his writing where he used that new name. Earlier this year, Jennell died. And last week, I wrote the post below this note, condemning him for the renaming.

I think it's fair to say that Justin's announcement was broadly understood to mean that Jennell didn't want her name used to describe nonlinear dungeon mapping anymore, and that she either suggested Justin name it after himself, or endorsed his plan to do so. What Justin has said to Ava, and through her to me, is that this is a misunderstanding, and it wasn't his intention that people would take that meaning from what he wrote. His new post offers a much clearer recounting of events.

Jennell was okay with people using her name to describe nonlinear dungeons, as long as the process of drawing these maps was spelled correctly, as Jaquaysing, with an S. She did not want the term to be used with her name spelled incorrectly, without one.

Each person writing about these nonlinear dungeons can decide for themselves whether they want to call the process of drawing them Jaquaysing or Xandering. Justin will not be changing what he calls them, in his book, on his blog, or I guess whenever he talks about them. But if you want to call this process Jaquaysing, as I still do, you can use that term knowing that Jennell Jaquays was okay with you doing that. Whichever term you choose, I encourage you to make your case by setting a good example and being the sort of person others want to emulate, and not by picking fights with people who've made the other choice.

I appreciate that Justin has acknowledged that his initial announcement was misunderstood by many readers, and that he was willing to offer a clarification. It was misleading because people were misled; that does not mean it was intentionally misleading, or that he was trying to deceive.

My post was written in anger and came from a place of pain. After Jennell died, I had conversations with younger trans women in the scene who said they wanted to still use Jennell's name when talking about nonlinear dungeons. But they thought, based on reading Justin's announcement, that they couldn't, because they'd be disrespecting Jennell's wishes, some of her last wishes before she died, by doing so. These conversations were why I chose to write the post. I was afraid that Jennell might be forgotten, because the people who wanted to honor her mistakenly thought that meant they shouldn't talk about her. I didn't want that to happen. I was afraid, and angry, and I lashed out. I wanted to help protect Jennell's memory and legacy, because that's the only part of her that we in the roleplaying scene have left.

I phrased my arguments in my post very harshly. I thought that I was dealing with someone unreasonable, someone who would never listen to me or update what he'd written. I thought the only way people would continue using Jennell's name to describe drawing dungeons would be if I convinced them to. Because of Justin's willingness to engage in a dialogue with Ava, and through her to reach an understanding with me, because of his willingness to clarify what Jennell said, I now think that I misjudged him, and that some of what I said was unfair to him.

Justin has been in the online roleplaying scene for a long time. For years before I had a blog of my own, I followed other old-school bloggers, including him. The first time I ran a game that wasn't Hero Quest, I used Justin's one-page MC Escher dungeon as the adventure site. The first place I learned about Jennell Jaquays was reading about Caverns of Thracia's maps on Justin's blog, either just because I was reading it regularly, or because I saw a reference and a link somewhere else, and followed it back to Justin's essays.

Justin has not plagiarized Jennell. He has not stolen from her. He does not deserve to lose his job or have his book withdrawn from publication. Someone who sees the word Xandering somewhere online and wonders what it means will likely end up at Justin's blog, and at his essays where he holds up Jennell's nonlinear dungeon maps as exemplars. Although he edited those posts to change the name of the term to Xandering, all other references to Jennell remain intact. In these essays, he credits her as the originator of the style he's describing. And since he is the author of the essays, I agree that he deserves to be acknowledged for his analysis. Readers of Justin’s book will also see Jennell mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Justin also, obviously, finished writing his book before Jennell got sick. The timing of her illness meant that she wasn't able to comment on Justin's announcement or to clarify her position herself. That means that the responsibility to clarify falls on Justin, and in his most recent post, he has fulfilled that responsibility. The timing reflects an unfortunate coincidence, but he picked the date of the announcement based on the publication schedule, not with the intention of taking advantage of her.

In my post, I also described Jennell's illness inaccurately. She was not in a coma at the time of Justin's announcement, as I said. She was very ill then, and my understanding of what it means that she was previously on a ventilator is that she was in a medically-induced coma while she was on it. She was not able to keep up with or comment on anyone's D&D blog at that time. But at the time of Justin's announcement, Jennell was healthier than I said, and I want to correct that now.

Again, I appreciate that Justin has written a clearer account of events, and has helped to ensure that people know that she continued to be alright with people using her name, and calling drawing nonlinear dungeon maps Jaquaysing. That account, that assurance, is what I wanted most, and I thank Justin for providing it. I know this past week has been difficult for him. I also thank Ava for reaching out to me, and helping to at least partially resolve the conflict.