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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: Grinning Moon on February 23, 2008, 10:43:43 PM



Title: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Grinning Moon on February 23, 2008, 10:43:43 PM
Okay. So there's a review of a game at RPG.net that just... bugs me (not the review or reviewer - the game being reviewed):

http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/13/13640.phtml

Okay, okay - maybe there's one part of the review that also sours my grapes a bit:

Quote
I don't believe that any particular subject in RPGs should be avoided out of hand...

Man, I just so absolutely disagree. In this case especially.

Erotic fiction, pornographic websites / magazines, hentai; it all serves one sole purpose, and I'm sorry if the frank truth here is offensive, but that purpose it to provoke or otherwise provide a causal outlet for masturbation. Do I have a problem with someone using said materials to masturbate? Nope. But this purpose is utterly defeated when the product is meant to be used in a social setting (...Well, the kind an actual role-playing game is meant to address, anyway. I suppose you could use for bizarre bedroom utility and pretend that it's the same idea).

I don't get why there's this notion among most RPG fans and designers that there is just no such thing as 'inappropriate' within our medium. I mean, I'm not a fan of censorship, but I also think there's a nice, solid line between doing something without censoring yourself and creating something that is just outright disgusting.

I haven't personally read Black Tokyo, so maybe it's more tame and has better merit as a product than the review suggests, but my money would be on that it belongs lumped into the afore-mentioned category.

...What do you guys think? Am I just way out of line to suggest something like this?


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 24, 2008, 12:39:29 AM
You're probably a bit outside the purview of the First Thoughts subforum here, assuming that you're just looking for a vigorous discourse on rpg censorship. It's all good to me, though, as the topic certainly lends itself to game design. I might actually tell a bit about a game I have in my development files that would be rather pertinent for this; do you have some game design thoughts yourself about the topic, or did you just want to vent? I wouldn't want to capture the thread if you have some substance in mind here, but if not, then I wouldn't mind seeing what you'd think about my game Blindfold Tryst, the game of mutual masturbation, in light of your comments on Black Tokyo.

(This is exactly the kind of time when I'd like to have my own subforum here, just so I could invite the discussion there. The Forge is a very purposeful site with little room for random chatting; the generic cultural discourse usually takes place on publisher subforums, with each specializing in their own slice of cultural questions.)

As for the cultural topic you took up, I'd be interested to hear why you interpret the situation in terms of roleplaying culture. I've never noticed that absolute libertinism were a special quality of roleplaying culture apart from the cultural mainstream; if anything, I'd say that roleplayers include a sizable population of folks who censor their play much more stridently than they do with other medias they consume; especially American rpg discourse seems to react to potentially touchy topics with much more moral panic than we see nowadays attached to anything else, except perhaps computer games. And in that case it's not even the practitioners of the form who encourage that panic, so I might well say that roleplaying as a medium is perhaps the most conservative one I know of.

Finally, as a reading recommendation: the Sex & Sorcery supplement for Sorcerer is my go-to manual for how to deal with touchy subjects like violence, sex and politics in roleplaying. The terminology of lines and veils from the book has served me pretty well in understanding and managing "dangerous" content in my gaming during the last couple of years. The core stance of that book, shared my yours truly, is that there are no inappropriate topics per se, there are only inappropriate ways of handling them and inappropriate people to share them with. Roleplaying, like all art, is a form of communication, and we are hardly in position to utter for now and forever a final judgement over what people might wish to discourse upon in their private chambers. This utterly amoral and practical approach to art censorship works for me: worry about what you want and what your co-players want, not what others might be doing with their own friends.

But before we get any deeper into this it's imperative to figure what kind of thread this is and whether it should be on this forum in the first place!


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Velcanthus on February 24, 2008, 01:33:35 AM
Quote from: Grinning Moon link=topic=25819.msg#msg date=

...What do you guys think? Am I just way out of line to suggest something like this?

I simply do not care how other people role play, so long as they don't do it on the street and frighten the horses.

I do not care to speculate whether or not they do it to masturbate. If they did, I can't see why I would care, unless they were doing it in traffic. Or, perhaps, in charge of heavy equipment.

For the life of me, I cannot see what would make anyone want to masturbate over this, but there are 6 billions of us, so I suppose there'll be someone.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: whoknowswhynot on February 24, 2008, 08:19:33 AM
I'm in agreement with Grinning moon...Society needs to draw a line somewhere and that should include sexuality.  I'm not a prude, but as you have seen (I'm sure) some people take sexuality too far and hurt others because of their needs.  We should not encourage this type of behavior but rather heal it.  Censorship sucks, not only because of what it actually is, but also because it only concentrates the object of censorship and strengthens it.  Why do we fight for the freedom to buy pornography and say dirty words, but care nothing about the freedom to go in a public place without being watched or have a cell phone conversation without being listened to...We SHOULD censor ourselves every day.  It's called self control and cool people do it!  It's better than Big Brother doing it for us.

The pdf in reference actually sounds a little odd but interesting to me because of my years playing Call of Cthulhu.  I think i would not want to buy it because of the artwork...I used to draw my own Hentai when I was 12 or so :-)


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: JohnG on February 24, 2008, 10:50:54 AM
As we've already determined this is not a new concept and I think that all aspects of life should be open to inclusion in a roleplaying game.  However in all things we must maintain a certain sense of decorum as far as our actual products go, let us not forget how many young kids pick up Dungeons and Dragons and may just as easily spot something like this online.  It is not our job to be parents but it's also not wise to paint a shirt that says "target me for being a perv and corrupting kids!".  In this regard I think that within a game the idea of having these mechanics may add some depth depending on the kind of game and how relevant certain adult topics may be.  However unless it's important to the game in some way it's really better to let each group determine how much X they want in the RPG, one or all 3. 

A hentai RPG where the entire focus is sexuality, that my friend is a bit much in my opinion and could be quite boring for that matter, but an RPG with mature themes that may involve sexuality, that I can tolerate and welcome.  For example I never once give a method for rolling stamina to make sure you don't finish before your partner but I have a listing of prices for brothel girls and prostitutes as they are relevant to the world and are certainly something that would be encountered.  No one has to use those themes but if we're simulating lives here I doubt everyone's celibate in Generic Fantasy World #3 or Modern Gothic Horror Setting # 5.

I have a friend who was in a game once that had an excellent GM and storyline, (yes this really was a friend so no commentary :-p), the game was going great until the GM had a character raped in the game.  The character consented and this could have been a very dramatic and involving aspect of the story, instead the game exploded and people were outraged about the whole thing because it just went too far for them.  Needless to say game ended, and group actually broke up entirely, from a design standpoint I believe sex is just too touchy a subject to be taken beyond certain levels in gaming and hardly worth the effort in most cases.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on February 24, 2008, 04:21:24 PM
Hey, everyone,

I'm not Ron, and I'm not a content moderator, but I know the Forge, and I'm not sure it's the place to have a discussion about what content should or should not be in a roleplaying game outside of the context of actually playing or designing a game. Inside that context, of course it's the place.

Anyway, I don't want to shut down your conversation: you guys are touching on interesting issues. Could I ask the favor, though, that you guys think about it and ponder, at least until Ron comes around and gives the thread a nod?

Thanks,
Clinton


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Velcanthus on February 24, 2008, 04:38:10 PM
Quote from: Axe4Eye link=topic=25819.msg#msg date=
Censorship sucks, not only because of what it actually is, but also because it only concentrates the object of censorship and strengthens it.  Why do we fight for the freedom to buy pornography and say dirty words, but care nothing about the freedom to go in a public place without being watched or have a cell phone conversation without being listened to...We SHOULD censor ourselves every day.  It's called self control and cool people do it!  It's better than Big Brother doing it for us.

I'm finding it very hard to unravel your meaning, here.

I'm against censorship, at least with something as harmless as this. I'm against eavesdropping or surveillance where it happens without due cause. Is there some connection between these two things?


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 24, 2008, 08:10:00 PM
Hello, I'm moderating now.

1. It's a busy moment and I won't have time to write out everything. So the temporary moderation is to say, no more posting here until I post again. This isn't aimed at any content of the post, it's just a function of me wanting to moderate just right. There's no rush, right?

2. Everyone should consider that the Forge is not an opinions site. This applies both to initial thread topics and to replies. That doesn't mean that the current discussion cannot continue, but I will revise the topic a little when I do the real moderation. I expect that to happen in mid-morning tomorrow (Monday, U.S. CST).

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: whoknowswhynot on February 24, 2008, 08:11:42 PM
Censorship enforced by big brother is the risk we take by not censoring ourselves.  The comment about surveillance was simply to point out our priorities...argument against censorship is used by some only as an excuse to be more disrespectful and nothing more.  It's not about politics and it's not about freedom, it's about not having any concern for other people's feelings.  We worry about our freedom to be disrespectful, all the while other more pressing issues (in my opinion) like surveillance and torture are skimmed over or completely ignored.  A game featuring this subject matter is fine, but if we continually push the envelope, we will eventually have our freedom taken away permanently.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Willow on February 24, 2008, 08:33:15 PM
Hey Grinning Moon-

If a bunch of hentai fans are together watching a hentai movie or playing a hentai game, what's it to you?  (Whether they're masturbating or not.)  They're getting turned on, and having a good time, so good on then.

That said, I probably wouldn't want to play a hentai game or watch a hentai movie, so I don't support them with my time or money.  But I support someone's right to express their ideas, which is a strong value of the independent press movement- make the game about what you want, the way you want to do it.

Everyone has a comfort zone for just about everything.  Some people won't want any romantic attachments at all in their games, and others will gleefully want characters to rape and get raped.  Like Euro suggested, best way to deal with this is to talk about it.  (Sex and Sorcerer is perhaps the definitive text on techniques for supporting this in roleplay.)

Not my thing?  Yes.  Just plain taboo?  No.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 25, 2008, 04:25:57 AM
Hey!

I've posted my initial moderator statement which included "please do not post again until I do." Willow, help us out - please follow the moderation.

Everyone: do not post here again until I do.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 25, 2008, 11:46:08 AM
Hello,

At last, I'm getting to it. My apologies for the wait. This thread has been generally courteous at the personal level and includes a lot of interesting and important applications ... yet also, it presents a variety of details that need to be moderated.

To begin, this is not going to be the kind of moderation you may have seen elsewhere. I am not going to ask that everyone smooth over disagreements by pretending to agree or to refrain from posting. Nor am I going to point the finger and say "don't be inappropriate." All of the moderation is about adapting the topic to the specific and perhaps unique environment of the Forge, and I consider the infractions to be a function of learning toward that end.

At its heart, this moderation should provide a lot of inspiration to others to post about difficult or emotional topics here, because I hope it will show how that should be done.

I'll finish this post with a series of requirements for this thread if it is to continue. Grinning Moon will be the decision-maker.

Part 1: Basic Forge posting

I have learned over the years that one of the least productive, least usable topics possible is to begin by being annoyed with something you observed at another website. If you must be emotionally provoked by something on another site, then deal with it there, in terms of that site, and concerning that thing. Do not come here as if to a safer territory "among friends" in order to complain about being offended, to seek commiseration or support, or anything of the sort. This principle is one of the bases for my often-used phrase that the Forge is not the internet.

Does that mean Forge threads cannot include links from elsewhere, or that topics elsewhere cannot spark discussion here? No, it does not. Both of those are encouraged. The differences are that you are raising an issue that begins here, understandable in terms of the site goals (i.e. the forum parameters), and that some specific social dust-up that exists elsewhere isn't being extended to include this site (the latter might not be the case for this thread, but it happens a lot).

Given all that, choosing forums appropriately is important here. For one thing, it means I don't have to jump around moving things about, which gets confusing for everyone at the very least. More importantly, it means that you have thought - carefully - about posting here. If you can't figure out a way to bring up a certain topic in any of the existing forums, that's often a damn good sign that your topic isn't compatible with the purposes of the site. Since the Forge does not include socializing for its own sake as a goal, unlike Story Games or RPG.net (which is fine), lots of topics simply aren't for here and can easily be addressed there.

When in doubt, or if you think you can't find the right forum, send me a private message. Most often, I can help you place it, perhaps by refining a topic a little, but actually, usually not. People routinely say "this wouldn't be a Forge topic" and are mistaken. But the best way to establish that, one way or the other, is merely to ask. I am friendly.

Regarding content at the Forge, I recently posted a thread to help with that: Game content and Forge policy (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25586.0), which I hope is helpful for this thread too.

Part 2: Community issues

In the past, people have used private messages to clarify their positions to one another and to extend discussions. However, I do not recommend doing so, or rather, the default should be not to do it. The Forge discussions exist in order to enrich the community understanding of something, not to create factions or to help anyone save face. I understand that sometimes such messaging is really constructive, and I've seen that myself. However, most of the time, the net effect more resembles lobbying and influencing, which is to say, a form of controlling the external discussion. That's basically dishonest behavior. If someone messages you to clarify something, why couldn't they have clarified it in the discussion? Often because they seek your approval and alliance, and would prefer that your public posting in doing so appear spontaneous.

The productive version has a horrid tendency to evolve into the dishonest one, even for well-motivated and basically honest individuals. This is why I continually toy with the idea of shutting the damn things off except for purposes of contacting moderators.

Therefore: when using private messages, please reflect very carefully about your content. The day I conclude that there's a shadow community of invisible alliances and PM-negotiated politics underlying the public Forge discussions, that's the day that feature disappears. When receiving a message that's obviously jockeying for such support ("let's us reasonable people talk privately"), I recommend ignoring it or replying with a request for it to be public.

All that said, it's perfectly OK to exchange emails and to conduct conversations entirely off the Forge. The reason I say this is because you are all free people and I am not exerting control over how you want to interact. I'm exerting authority over how you do it here. And for whatever reason, going to private email tends not to shift into that nasty version of the interaction that I described above - why not, I don't know, but it doesn't happen as much that way. So let's work toward that.

Here's another community issue: pay attention to moderation in a given thread - there are no exceptions. When I say do not post, do not post. Your very soul may be exploding with the need to address whatever reaction you've felt, but I do not care. Go scribble it in tiny letters in a notebook, hammer-type it all out on your blog, whatever, but do not post it after I say not to.

As part of that concept, people should understand that posting here is always a reply to the entire thread. Even if you're dealing with one post or point that really motivated you to reply, your post and that bit do not exist in isolation from everything else. That means you need to have read the entire thread before adding to it. Often, re-visiting a longer thread from the beginning is incredibly valuable, and I encourage everyone to do it every time, rather than reading the latest couple of posts and proceeding as if they were all that existed.

Part 3: Discussion standards

Forge topics need to be substantive for purposes of discourse. That means they represent a reasoned position, or in some cases, an actual occurrence, either of which raises interesting questions. That doesn't mean they have to be erudite philosophical mini-essays. We've found that any instance of actual play will do the job, or even a very basic question like "have publishers made any money," or whatever. The point is that experiencing a reaction is not sufficient. The internet is full of places where one can post a reaction and generated 10,000 responses. The Forge isn't part of that.

So if you experience a reaction to something, somewhere, usually felt as "I must say something about this or simply die," then that's a sign right there not to post it, in that form, at the Forge. Another way to put it is that, although emotions are fine things, expressing your emotions cannot be a primary purpose for a thread's existence. In this thread, the entire content of the first post, as well as the choice of thread title, boil down to such a reaction. To which the only rational response can be, regardless of whether one shares or does not share the reaction, "I don't care."

All of this goes double for posting replies. Nothing generates confusion and stupidity from otherwise-excellent thinkers than compounding reactions with counter- and support-reactions. You see, that's why and how I'm moderating this thread - it has nothing to do with "getting along" or with "appropriateness," it has to do with the fact that there are pockets of irrationality and increased confusion already here in the thread, despite a couple of heroic efforts to forestall them.

Let me explain some more about this. Fundamentally, Forge discussions can't be about opinions. A reasoned viewpoint or position is fine, not necessarily posed to convince so much as making a case for others to judge on their own. Also, by definition, such a position is subject to change if better arguments or relevant points are brought up. An opinion, on the other hand, is presented as a fixed position that cannot be dislodged. People post opinions in order to show that they will resist others' input, not to considers such input. (Once, my essay "System Does Matter" was described as an opinion piece. I disagree. It is a position piece, which is why a few of its points have undergone changes since I wrote it nine years ago - people raised better arguments and relevant points.)

This thread is unfortunately riddled with opinions, none of which are worth a fart in hell in Forge terms, however deeply they may be felt, and all of which need to be disregarded as topics of conversation here ... unless they can be retooled into positions, in which case they need backing with coherent justification, and in which case they are subject to critique. Most importantly, if that happens, the people posting them will be admitting the possibility of changing them if presented with powerful argument.

There are two sub-features of opinions which highlight their undesirability, both of which can be found so far.

1. Using weasel phrases along the lines of "I don't support censorship, but this stuff shouldn't be published," and similar.

2. Stating personal impressions as if they were careful observations or widespread views. One example was the statement about how gamers or publishers embraced the principle of full freedom of content.

Folks, when you write a post, read it carefully first. Such phrases are a red flag to the critical thinker; he or she realizes right then that the written material is not being honest, and starts over.

For instance,#1 above might actually reflect a rational position along the lines of "I don't want others to publish that stuff because it hurts my chances of marketing my own game." That's not only honest, but it's subject to discussion and modification based on what others might have to say.

I am willing to bet that each such phrase in the thread so far does have a rational and honest version, in which the writer takes the responsibility for the issue upon himself or herself. I'd like to see them! That'd be a great thing for this thread.

Part 4: The topic

First, several people have tried to give this thread some identity that's suited to the Forge, and I greatly appreciate that. I tried in my own way, in part, by shifting it to Publishing because that seems to me what it's about: choices about publishing. I'll carry on with that by making some points about the assertions so far - which I hope will show how they need to be changed.

There is no "the hobby" as a social phenomenon which can be harmed or helped by offending or not offending people. There is no "we publishers" as a policy-making, policy-following body of participants. There is no "the industry" as the phrase is generally applied. There is no "all RPGs ...", as the term is a legacy at best. Talking about any of these things as if it existed in a defined, functioning, observable phenomenon is empty gas. I know this is a lot of bald assertion I'm throwing out, and it all flies in the face of 90% of gamer-culture rhetoric, but all of these are brutal conclusions derived from years of solid discussion here. I can help with understanding that better later if anyone likes.

Therefore this entire topic must shift away from what any of the above "must" or "ought" to do, or what publishing a game like Black Tokyo "would do" to any of them. All such talk is empty posturing.

Instead, I suggest that the topic can be constructively, and honestly, re-framed as what an individual publisher should consider (a) when publishing such a game, and (b) when someone else publishes one, especially if it's similar to one's own game in some way without the boobies or whatever. I should clarify that (a) does not concern whether to publish it.

Also, many role-playing games and related activity designs are so far over the edge as to make Black Tokyo look boring and trivial. I have published a game for which rules are different for male and female players (the real people). Em has designed a Jeepform which investigates and possibly promotes polyamory. Joe McDonald has designed a means of marketing Hentai role-playing (interestingly, without writing such a game). Ben Lehman has published a game in which naked teenagers live in post-apocalyptic nests, engaging in a variety of petting and sex which affect their effectiveness in their next bout of fighting aliens. I could go on and on - the independent RPG scene has so disintegrated long-held real-world boundaries of RPG design that merely designing rules for semen-spurting tentacles to spurt is ... pretty damn lame.

What I'm saying is that there's a whole lot of new game design available to investigate in order to develop viewpoints about what is and what is not suitable as content for one's game.

Conclusion

Will this thread continue? Grinning Moon, this is up to you. Here's my list of requirements, none of which, I think, is actually hard.

State its topic. It can't simply report your reaction or opinion; it has to be a concrete issue that faces a publisher. You may of course express your viewpoint or position, but doing so means that you yourself will open up to the possibility that your position might change. That means that you do not seek to justify phrase and statements you've made so far, because we're starting with this topic as you define it now.

As the initiator of the thread, you are also sort of a deputy moderator or discussion leader. That means that you will not get any of your buttons pushed, even if someone pushes them.

Find the points made so far that you think are best for all of us to follow up with. Make sure not to include opinion/reaction statements in the points you choose.

As we continue, acknowledge valid points made by others and consider fairly how they relate to your position.

For what it's worth, I hope you say "yes." I applaud your enthusiasm in posting at this site, and I hope all this moderation shows you how powerful and useful your input can become.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Grinning Moon on February 25, 2008, 12:49:01 PM
Quote
Will this thread continue? Grinning Moon, this is up to you.

In that case, damn right it'll continue. This issue has a lot of meaning for me.

The Topic

So, here it is: When I create a game, is it important that said game is more than just pages of smutty artwork and naked girls? On that same train of thought, if my game isn't much more than those two things, does it become something that not only might be 'unimportant' in nature - but should be consciously seen as unimportant? When we're designing something, should we be balancing that something's ethical quality against our own personal rights?

My opinion here is 'yes' on both accounts.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 25, 2008, 01:36:28 PM
Cool. This thread is a "go."

I need a bit more clarification in order to participate, finally. When you say "important," what does that mean - specifically, toward what end, and, for whom?

Can you provide an example of a game, a real one, that illustrates this importance? Especially if it entirely lacks naked chicks and semen spurts and whatnot.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 25, 2008, 01:42:28 PM
Hey, Publishing is actually a pretty logical place for this thread. Good going. Also: I want to know as well what an important game is like. I have my own ideas that are pretty entangled in my own conception of cultural value, but Moon must have an interesting take as well. I'm especially interested in whether the important roleplaying games are some of the ones that are mostly focused on simulated murder and high-way robbery.

Myself, my general take on the topic is that I'm simply not smart enough - I'm not smart enough to declare for all the world how some things have meaning and others don't. Sexuality is a huge driving force of human life and culture, and we're nowadays going through a constant revolution of sexuality in very public places. While I personally wouldn't know what to do with a sexually-colored set of d20 rules, I also wouldn't and couldn't say how those rules might not be a part of some important-in-hindsight cultural current. Saying that erotic literature in general has no meaning or is "just" smutty artwork implies somehow that things are different with other art, which is quite a claim when you consider how we human monkeys actually are. And I really mean this, too - while I personally consider many fetishes of hentai porn psychologically horrible, even then I couldn't begin to say that actually ostracizing and forbidding them would be beneficial to society or individual - I'm just not enough of a psychologist or sociologist to claim such, not to speak of moral leader.

There's also the viewpoint that some games are, actually, not written to be played. They're called "concept games" (like "concept cars", I guess), often with some derision, and their meaning is often enough more in exploring the form and faciliating discussion between roleplayers than actually faciliating play. Some could even say that the late-'90s style of game design encouraged a certain kind of concept games as a major force in the marketplace, with lots of games published primarily for reading pleasure, with rules and application a secondary concern to fantasy fiction. Perhaps something like Black Tokyo could be interpreted more in this light - if it is pornography, perhaps it's porn intended for roleplayers to savour as reading material; perhaps a committed roleplayer would find special pornographic values in rpg rules of that kind even when they would never consider actually playing with those rules. Actually, considering things realistically, I'd imagine that this must be a major factor in the sales of a book like this anyway - I'm not seeing how great masses of roleplayers would have the comfort level for actually playing a d20 game about sexuality.

So yeah, I'm pretty much not seeing a cultural problem. Moon's suggestion about active ostracism of certain kinds of games (certain themes in games?) falls to deaf ears for me simply because I don't see the ethical problem. I would be interested in a clear and robust treatise of what the ethical problem with pornography is, though, if you perceive such! Perhaps, if a pornographic roleplaying product actually were such an ethical problem instead of just an object of moral rhetoric for subcultures I don't understand (American Evangelist right-wing?), something should indeed be done.

(Grinning Moon, do you have a real name you'd like to share with us? I feel a bit stupid corresponding with an astronomical anomaly, even one that's quite verbally competent...)


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Willow on February 25, 2008, 02:10:16 PM
So, here it is: When I create a game, is it important that said game is more than just pages of smutty artwork and naked girls? On that same train of thought, if my game isn't much more than those two things, does it become something that not only might be 'unimportant' in nature - but should be consciously seen as unimportant? When we're designing something, should we be balancing that something's ethical quality against our own personal rights?

I suspect most people will agree with you here- if one is judging a game as a game, if there's really truly no game there and just pages of art, then it isn't much of a game at all, but a book of art (pornographic or otherwise) with some meager game-like trappings.  If I published, say, Turtles: the RPG, and it was just pages and pages of pictures of turtles, I'd look pretty silly, right?  So it seems reasonable to make the same conclusion about other types of art and images.

However, when the content actually contains a game or other creative procedures,  does the artistic content really make things any less game like?  When I'm rolling that d20 (or whatever), does it matter if I'm rolling to see if I hit the kobold, or if I find an awesome turtle, or if I do something naughty with my tentacles?  In both instances there is a game mechanic content, and a narrative story content.

My point then, is that a book that contains smutty artwork and pictures of naked girls (or boys), is not necessarily without game content.  Some books out there might be all smut and no dice, but that doesn't mean all such potential games are.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ben Lehman on February 25, 2008, 02:27:40 PM
Hey, Moon:

So, as Ron mentioned, I publish a game which features sexual acts and sexual content pretty prominently: escalating physical intimacy, including sex, is the core of "levelling up" your character. I'm not sure that that's the sort of thing that you're talking about here: it's hard for me to tell if you're talking about sexual content in terms of game play (that is, people actually sitting around the table and playing a game whose fictional content includes sexual material) or in terms of book presentation (this is a book where there are pictures of naked elves and also game rules.)

These two are very different things, although they can overlap. Could you clarify which one your talking about?

I can talk about my motivating reasons for choosing to produce #1 (the game with sexual content), but I want to make sure I'm on topic here. I can also discuss why I chose not to pursue #2 (the book with sexual illustration.)

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: guildofblades on February 25, 2008, 06:56:17 PM
The Guild of Blades had a working relationship with G-Spot Games. They have been a couple of our long term play testers, plus we do distribution fulfillment for their games.

Some consider their game to be, well, just wrong in, oh so many ways. Back in the day when we announced we would represent them on a distribution level, we got death threats, our server got hacked, people swore they would put us out of business and all sorts of silliness.

I look at it this way. Not my usual flavor, but they make for a good laugh. And while they are not the kinds of games I want to publish myself, if everyone only ever published topics that were totally PC, or only what came before, boy, as an industry the diversity of product available for people to explore would be both limited and likely boring. So I think it is entirely fine for there to be games with subject matter, themes and content that go outside of the box and explores different areas of the human experience. The folks at G-Spot games sell plenty of games to party stores, tattoo joints, goth clubs and a few adult book/video stores. If people didn't make games that targeted to those audiences with things that interested with them, then would those people simply never partake in the gaming hobby? I dunno. But I think there should be games designed to interest everyone. Even those that don't interest me. Even those which might offend me.

And if you are offended by a game....don't buy it. And tell your friends not to buy it either. That is certainly everyone's right. But I personally don't think anyone should have the right to dictate to other what games should and shouldn't be allowed. My god, I mean, who would get to make THAT decision? Lol.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.ms-crm-consulting.com


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: David Artman on February 26, 2008, 01:36:41 PM
...But I personally don't think anyone should have the right to dictate to other what games should and shouldn't be allowed. My god, I mean, who would get to make THAT decision? Lol.
A new division of the ESRB, recruited from the RPG.net Roleplaying Open forum. ;)

Seriously, though, I am going to point out that there's some unmentioned aspects to this issue:

1) Local Laws - Just as porn videos must be controlled, to restrict access to minors, so would porn games. Oddly enough (in my area) one can go into Spenser's (a novelty store chain) and buy stuff like edible undies and sex board games and so forth--with no apparent containment keep the (usually middle-school-aged) customers clear of the T&A. Thus, I am sure local officials would have something to say about presentation on store shelves... but I haven't noticed a coherent guiding principle which would allow me to guess at what laws would adhere to RPG products.

2) Market Acceptance - A potentially offensive (if not VERY offensive) niche specialty (hentai) of a niche product (RPGs as books) of a niche community (gamers) is already at enough of a competitive disadvantage that I would simply pity the poor writer/publisher who was told "no." Why deny them their fifteen sales a year? (sarc)

3) Social Mores - I'd like to echo the person above who indirectly pointed out that a HUGE majority of RPGs, traditional and new, happily encourage admission into the narrative space of murder, theft, "rapine" (neigh-ubiquitous rape of conquered peoples of both sexes, usually WAY behind a veil in purportedly "historical" RPGs set around wartime), and subjugation/slavery... even genocide. A lot of violence, there; and in our (Western, European, mostly-Christian) culture, it's "approved" violence: violent play, so to speak (Cowboys and Injuns, anyone?). But toss in violent rape, unusual genital configurations, and uncommonly extreme fluid emissions... and, well, it's NotGood-BadFun. I mean, consider the "horror and revulsion" of the average Middle American to GTA's rocking cars "sex" scenes with hookers--what I thought was an ingenious, immersive, plausible way to get a Health Buff--heh, pun intended--in the hyper-criminal GTA world. Or maybe it was the fact that you could beat her down afterwards and get your money back--oh, yeah, THAT never happens on the dark streets of the city, no way!

In short, the only "egregious" things about publishing such a product are (a) not protecting casual browsers from being subjected to imagery and concepts beyond their Lines and Veils, or (b) targeting impressionable people who have not reached majority. As a PUBLISHING issue, then, I think it comes down to careful cover design (front and back), possibly including shrinkwrapping, a seal of some kind (paper wrap), or restricted access to the display areas (private room, a la porn at video stores; or modestly covered and behind the counter, a la porn at convenience store). And far from being "censorship"--you don't have the right to shove a picture of your spread-legged wife into my face on the bus, right?--it's just common courtesy to the marketplace, potential customers, potential future customers, and those who'd happily make your life miserable if you so much as slightly shake them up!

In SHORT-short: it's in a publisher's best interests to treat an RPG porn game the same as if it were porn fiction or non-fiction.

David


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: guildofblades on February 26, 2008, 02:12:16 PM
Hi David,

I agree that adult material should be treated as adult material. Meaning, properly labeled thusly, and kept away from easy access to minors. I'm not advocating inappropriate materials be designed and sold to minors. Where the "inappropriate" line is drawn there is a balancing act meant to be between the parents and the law makers. No publisher should dare to try and enter that mix.

But for adults. Adult material design for the consumption of adults...is just fine for those adults who care to do the consuming. Do the consumer of said games run the risk of be associated with said material? Yep. Does the publisher? Yep. That's just the market sorting itself out, which is also fine. No need to legislate it. Family and community values will take care of that, where "they" feel it obviously needs taking care of.

>>Market Acceptance - A potentially offensive (if not VERY offensive) niche specialty (hentai) of a niche product (RPGs as books) of a niche community (gamers) is already at enough of a competitive disadvantage that I would simply pity the poor writer/publisher who was told "no." Why deny them their fifteen sales a year? (sarc)<<

Well, G-spot doesn't do any RPGs presently, but I would assume the same theory might apply to board games and card games also. And you are sort of right, we ship very little of their stuff to the established RPG market. But geesh, it amazes me sometimes how much of it sells outside that market. And just thinking about THAT leads to all sorts of interesting thoughts about our market at present.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: mcdaldno on February 26, 2008, 06:53:13 PM
Grinning Moon,

I'm sort-of working on a game called Angelic Pervert right now, which is a story game about hentai. Mostly explicit sex scenes.

The system focuses on social contract and being very clear about what's okay and what isn't (the most solid part of the system is something called Squicks, which is all about drawing Lines and diverting into safe ground). It's about getting to the goods quick, and reveling in it once you're there.

And it's meant to be played as a tabletop roleplaying game, sessions of about 2-3 hours. No masturbation is intended to go on during gameplay.

Are you saying that a game like Angelic Pervert is just not okay?
I actually see what you're saying as being more "don't dilute your game with something that it isn't (ie, sex)" rather than "don't make your game about something (ie, sex)". Is that the case? Is Angelic Pervert going to get your stamp of approval?


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 27, 2008, 04:43:19 AM
Well, hold on just a second ...

Let's not stake down a person in terms of a demanded opinion. I moderated earlier to get this thread away from opinion and approval.

Furthermore, Grinning Moon, you really haven't complied with my moderator requirement to state a new topic. You stated something which relied on the word "important," and I posted to indicate that you must tell us what you mean by that.

Until we know, then we all have to guess. And that's no good - it means that people will see accusations where there aren't any, or they will have to accept accusations when they didn't expect it, and all that. It also means that the thread becomes a bunch of mental attention directed towards you rather than towards a topic.

Please clarify.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 27, 2008, 05:57:39 AM
Or, in other words - please do participate some more, Grinning Moon; as you can see, we're all a bunch of lecherous perverts just chomping at the reins to get to discuss this topic ;)


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: btrc on February 27, 2008, 07:50:24 AM
I dunno. Morality and taboo are not absolutes, they're cultural, varying with place and time. The very notion of D&D is anethema to some people, but that doesn't stop us from running dungeon crawls. Some folks might think a Mormon gunslinger game is kind of out there, or one where you do despicable things as the minion of an evil master, but the beauty or lack thereof is in the eye of the beholder.

Practically speaking, the only real taboo is wasting time on a subject where the intersection of (people interested in subject matter and gamers) is so small that the general outrage or disapproval far outweighs any benefit or profit from the game treatment of the subject. So, while it is possible I -could- make the Nazi Death Camp Kiddie Porn rpg (and a line of miniatures to go with it), I just don't think it's worth it.

But a game whose sole purpose is tittilation? I've got no problem with that, even if it is only played "solo". Game design purists might frown upon it, but if the buyer is happy with the product, then the designer -has succeeded-. And if you want to see a multiplayer game of this type, do a search for "Hentacle" at RPGnow. Totally tasteless, but people still buy it. By no means award-winning in terms of game mechanics and concept, but you've got to give them credit for cajones the size of coconuts for publishing it.

Greg Porter
BTRC


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: tymotzues on April 11, 2008, 09:12:04 AM
Well even if Grinning Moon doesn't return this is an interesting and pertinent thread for this topic.

As publishers and designers we need to keep in mind our product to audience. And while there are plenty of products out there that we may not agree with, that probably means we arent the projected audience.

While ignoring the broader issue I'd like to focus on what got us on this topic in the first place - hentai.
While not a fan, I'm sure as a teenager it would have floated my boat, even if some of the content is both grotesque and appauling to my morals.
Yet we all have a dark side - that's just human nature - whether we want to admit it too ourselves or not.
But as I was saying.

Unless you are Japanese the actual intent of Hentai may escape you. (I'm not japanese - but have actually written thesis on very similar subject matter relating to japanese culture)
Firstly Japanese culture does not have the sense of guilt associated with sex that the christian west (whether your religious or not) or Judaic/Islamic East possesses. We are bought up in cultures which have been built on religious beliefs that still feed into our social conscience.
The Japanese never had this. Their relationship to sex and sexual relations are very different to the western world. As such these things may be viewed as uncouth but they are not necessarily perverse or uncharacteristic in their culture
Also the stringent nature of Japanese culture, the strict codes that they are pressured to adhere to from birth create a breeding ground for what western civilization would describe as neurosis, mental disorder, and what child psychologists would view as fixation behaviour models (and I'm not talking Fruedian here - although some of his theories in this area do pan out - but most are have now been proven OTT). I'm not suggesting that the Japanese as a people are mentally ill, unstable or sex crazed - merely that psychologically they are prone to dealing with stress, want, lust, attraction, anger, hate, fear, isolation, embarrassment and power in manners that may appear to a western audience as taudry, amoral, crude or even obscene.
Yet to label these things as such is culturally insensitive - pending that the publication is for that audience.
Now I can see that to most westerners such a publication would cause outrage and I can see why because I would have reservations about such a publication as well.
Yet I'd like to put forward a particular view. Assuming such a publication was done in good taste (?) with all possible warnings and protections for ensuring that any questionable material doesn't fall into the hands of young people (<12?). Allowing these issues to be explored within a RPG environment could not only act as a tool for psychological development but also expression and release.
How often through playing do we find ourselves confronted with a moral dilemma that we solve as 'we' would solve it, not as our character might? And this teaches us something about ourselves does it not? Yet it also affords us the chance to explore these issues in a way that doesn't hurt anyone, is not infringing upon anyones liberty or rights.
We accept graphic and excessive violence, horror and brutality and sexism within our RPGs with little comment - at times defending such things as being part and parcel of the genres, story, characterisation, etc.
Sex is one of the most fundamental aspects of humanity - yet centuries of censorship, doghma and persecution - primarily used to limit the physical and social power of women has lead us to shy away from talking about it openly and in a manner of reverence/freedom that it deserves.
The setting of Taboos is what created Hentai in the first place - creating more taboos will only deepen the fissues to the dark places of our psyches - let's not go there.
Sex deserves a place in our games - the emotions and actions surrounding it are no less valid as tools of exploration into our characters than violence, greed, heroism, liberty, revenge or self sacrifice.
I, for myself, can't say a game about hentai interests me - but if it fits the needs of an audience who feel that they can express themselves through it's mechanics and particular style then I'm all for that. And if this means that they are freed of their demons for a time, find community with friends of similar ilk or even determine a firm opinion for or against such issues all for the good.


Title: Re: Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 14, 2008, 06:48:39 AM
That's a thoughtful post, with some points that certainly could be debated constructively. I am halfway convinced to say, "OK, let's keep talking about it."

However, since Grinning Moon seems to have abandoned it, it's could be better to let the thread lapse. New threads which are relevant to specific publishing concerns would be welcome, or perhaps in Actual Play (I've certainly provided my share there regarding similar issues).

H'mm. I'm sort of torn between the two options. Tell you what, let's have it continue here, and I'll decide later whether your new post and the ensuing ones should become their own thread.

My points of minor disagreement with you concern (1) characterizing "the Japanese" as a whole, although perhaps I can accept that as a reasonable shorthand for that point - which, incidentally, I agree with insofar as I have any claim to a view (not having traveled there, et cetera). More importantly, the solution for publishing in the U.S. does not seem to me to lie in warnings or labels, but rather in target marketing in a slightly different but equally clear way. Again, that may be minor, but I'm thinking of how adults-only stuff quickly gets into kids' hands if they are sold in stores with nothing but a warning label to "prevent" it. Other tactics like having them be behind the counter seem to work a bit better.

To clarify, it's not protecting the kids that's my concern here, so much as making it less likely that the publisher (or the store) finds itself the target of outrage. A bit callous, perhaps, but this is the Publishing forum, not the save-the-kids forum, after all.

Again, interesting post; I appreciate that. It'd be cool to see more Actual Play posting about this stuff too, not by me for once.

Best, Ron