Naked Went the Gamer is posted

Started by Ron Edwards, March 23, 2010, 06:06:39 PM

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Ron Edwards


Here's my essay published last year in Fight On!: Naked Went the Gamer. It's written as a companion piece to S/Lay w/Me.

All questions and relevant personal information are welcome.

Best, Ron


That's quite intriguing. We never had the full moral majority backlash phenomenon in this country, but of course 99% of our roleplaying texts were from the US, so I imagine there was some trickle-through effect. There's definitely a larger point regarding the change in public discourse in those decades.

Seems to me my drug of choice RuneQuest actually got filthier over the years (and continued to be relatively popular in the Australian scene at large). But that is likely a conscious counter-culturalism on the part of Stafford et al.

AKA Jeff Zahari

Simon C

What I find in interesting is that while nudity in rpg art has, as you described, become less acceptable, the acceptability of pornography in mainstream discourse has grown.  I think the primary force behind the backlash that you describe, Ron, is not prudery so much as its evil step-father, misogyny.

Which is not to say that the older fantasy and sci-fi works were above a level of exploitative tittliation, but that the hysterical virgin/whore dichotomisation, the dehumanisation of women (especially sexual women), hypermasculine posturing, and the way sexual attractiveness is positioned as a feminine trait while sexual desire is positioned as a masculine trait, has reached a fever pitch since the relative liberation of the sixties and seventies.

Not that the sixties and seventies didn't have their own sexism embedded in even the most "liberated" movements, but it seems like the acceptance of radical thought, the willingness to challenge assumptions and norms, and the possibility of a real gender revolution were closer then than they are today.

Maybe this is too spicy for the internet? I'm having a go at GNS in another thread, which by comparison is bland soup indeed.


Been waiting forever to read this! And now I've appeared to write an essay in response. Sorry.

I came into gaming on the edge of the early 80's cleansing of the material. Because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, we were always around a decade behind other areas of the country in terms of what the big things were and what was available to us, so my old school books were old school, with bare-breasted demonesses and funky 70's style illustrations, even though my first introduction to the hobby was the red box D&D Basic set (I graduated backwards to the old printings of what would become 1st Edition AD&D). This is despite living just a few hours north of the D&D belt, which expanded to the south-east.

Because of the local time-warp effect, we were also somewhat protected from the hysteria up there, though not completely. It had penetrated through the culture far enough that my father was convinced D&D led to suicide, and the only reason I ended up in the hobby was because my mom poo-poo'd that notion and let me buy the red box. A couple years later, some lady passed one of the older boys I'd gotten into the hobby a "Dark Dungeons" tract, which provided our gaming groups hours of incredulous amusement ("Blackleaf, NOOOO!" was a running joke for a good while).

But the real hysteria didn't hit until late high school, so around the early 90's, when we were treated to the full gamut of "D&D leads to Satan worship" nonsense in the form of a couple of lectures at our churches by a couple of visiting youth ministers, including one who claimed to have been a "high-level Dragon Master" (yes, "Dragon") on various fliers distributed around our high school, who promised to reveal the "truth" about D&D.

We went to the presentation ready to argue, armed with logic courtesy of Michael Stackpole and Dragon magazine, but all we got out of it was that this guy and his ministry organization were the ones living in a fantasy world (once I was older and looked back on the event, I recognized he had even "seeded" the crowd -- used plants in the audience back up his assertions "independently" -- which is likely why I ended up studying and writing a few papers in college on the various underhanded tactics these sorts of groups regularly employ as part of their "ministry" and "religious outreach" programs, the cult-behaviors and ties to such, and so forth).

There was also a video showed at a confirmation class, that after my father heard about it and went in to complain to the Church leaders -- small town, good, lifelong church member goes in to tell the church leadership they are being hornswaggled and dragged around by the nose -- was never to my knowledge given another showing. (By that time, obviously, he'd turned his head around on the D&D=crazy issue.) So, the hysteria never hit us super-hard nor as early as elsewhere in the country, and we didn't have to deal with a whole lot of persecution based on it (other than the typical persecution of outsider status suffered by the teenage geek in the days of yore).

Unlike a lot of other guys I knew who grew up in that transition era, I dug backwards into the stuff as I got older, though it was based on some early foundations, like a complete reading of the Lord of the Rings when I was five years old, extensive exposure to Norse and Greek myths, odd little sci-fi and fantasy books from the library (inc. some of the greats that I really didn't know were greats until much later), hit Howard pretty early (grade school sometime IIRC), books about monsters (movie and mythological) often with naked women in Classical style, etc.

So I'd already had a good taste of all this when growing up, and lots of outside exposure to the same kind of material elsewhere (Wagner's Nibelungen opera, the funky original LotR movies, the Clash of the Titans, the old Sinbad movies, etc), and I've been digging more deeply into that history, or into the artifacts of that history, as I've gotten older (frex, I just recently started reading the old Heavy Metal mags).

But it is important to realize I was on the cusp of the 70's-80's transition in a small town with conservative bent in the middle of nowhere. So some of the material discussed in Ron's essay was more like a passing shadow than an integral part of the activity: you knew it was there, but it wasn't really at the center, then it went away completely and you kind of wondered where it had gone (and maybe even what it had been about).

Also, keep in mind we didn't have the internet back then, especially not in my tiny corner of the planet (except, eventually, a couple of us set up a local BBS that really saw no more than maybe half-a-dozen users), and so I didn't have nor could I find a group of like-minded peers to talk about any of this with, or be referred to material equivalent with whatever I happened to be reading. There wasn't a selection at the library, or a decent-sized bookstore carrying it. There was no trail of breadcrumbs to follow, just a lot of random stumbling around and finding the occasional thing.

There were no conversations about any of this fantasy/sci-fi stuff until I was much older, though the interested peers I found then were immersed in the fantasy and sci-fi series of the time (Silverberg, Donaldson, and others), thus we didn't have the eldership thing going on that Ron talks about...heck, I was the father of the original game groups that sprouted up in my area, and I was eight at the time.

We were in virgin, unexplored territory given the surrounding culture of our area and we honestly had no clue what we were doing there or TO do there, other than the fact that we were kids and swords, knights, magic, and monsters were cool. Even the older kids who gamed with us first and then split into their own groups were trying to make this thing work by (in hindsight, poorly) imitating the novels we were all reading at the time. We didn't have the guidance of anyone who had been around for the previous era or knew anything more about it than we did.

Instead, we had all this stuff that hinted at this whole different idea of what fantasy was supposed to be like, such as the early AD&D manuals and stuff from authors who were writing and getting into their careers during that whole turning point, that we had no real way to decode.

Despite getting into it, I was never really satisfied with fantasy as it was presented and understood in the late 80's, and especially in the 90's and on through today. Which may be why I drew lots of naked girls in high school (well, that, and I was a teenager), and then years later came to the conclusion that fantasy fetish porn had no "soul". It was sex, with funny ears or swords and kind of boring and heartless all told, and not fantasy-with-sexuality (or perhaps "humanity" would be the better word?).
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Eero Tuovinen

This is an interesting topic. I was inspired to hunt down a bunch of Ralph Bakshi's movies last fall after Gencon due to that essay, in fact. (Cool World sucks ass, in case you didn't know.)

We don't have the sort of Puritan culture that US has around here, so while sexual liberation happened through the 20th century, the process wasn't the sort of human rights epic that it is in the USA. No backpedaling, either - Finland is probably as liberal as it ever was today. Makes observing the drama in the US seem like another world now and then. For instance, the things people are saying about Playing D&D with Porn Stars in the Internet at the moment seem nigh incomprehensible in how nasty and condescending you apparently are allowed to be towards other people just because they work in adult entertainment.

I don't know if it is connected, but roleplaying never was at particular odds with religion here in Finland, either. Some roleplayers around here like to pretend that they were big rebels around the beginning of the '90s, when a few church-associated loons tried to import the D&D scare, but it didn't exactly go anywhere here. When I started the hobby around that time roleplaying was treated generally like amateur theatre or some such cultural hobby. We children got most of our rpg books from the library, among them a couple of biblical history adventure games written by Finnish hobbyists for the Church to use in youth work. (This was in-land in Upper Savo, an area associated with agrariarism; not a particular hotbed of liberalism or globalism.)

The sum total of that experience of course includes the fact that without controversy roleplaying was never very radical in Finland, either - American source texts came to the country long after the '70s, for instance, which might have a part in explaining why nobody ever took roleplaying seriously as counter-culture. Still, at least in my experience, roleplaying has been pretty definitely a liberal cultural current in Finland, just a relatively polite one. Popular games like Paranoia, Cyberpunk 2020, Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu (all translated) were and are read with a clearly liberal interpretation, and my usual experience with roleplayer culture here is that it's mostly a hobby for the social left and liberal right, not for staid church-going folk. Even today anything resembling conservative voice is conspicuously absent from Finnish rpg texts and discussions.

A part of the picture is the fact that pre-Tolkien fantasy literature from the English-speaking world came to the Finnish consciousness at the same time with roleplaying, sometimes driven by the same people. So at the same time that we were playing rebellious punks and gothic dope-fiend Elric-lookalikes we were also reading Howard, Moorcock and Vance. Tolkien was huge in Finland, of course, but the wide-spread distribution of these other fantastists was for a short time even more important in the early '90s. The understanding of fantasy was continuously expanded through the '90s by extensive publication of Francophone fantasy comics (ranging from Valérian to Inspector Canardo) and British AD2000 titles, both of which are well-known among my generation in Finland.

In summation: I like Ron's message in that essay, and while I don't have a personal stake in the direction of American fantasy, I wouldn't mind expanding vistas one bit. Especially the idea that roleplayers should be proud of the form's roots in counter-culture strikes a chord with me.
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Ron Edwards

Hey Jeff,

Maybe too spicy for the internet. Not even close to too spicy for this forum.

I completely agree with you about fantasy fetish porn, and more generally, about porn itself. Since I'm not especially knowledgeable about that industry, I wonder, baffled, when and how did not shaving one's bush become a fetish? I leave all questions about what the act depicts or represents or "means" aside; it's the simple reversal of plain sense in the terminology and implied values-structure that intrigues me.

One of my footnotes in the essay is, as I see it, a whole series of possible Ph.D. dissertations in the making.

QuoteThe de-politicizing of fantasy and science fiction is a larger story out of the scope of this esssay, including issues of Hollywood, the re-framing of acceptable venues for fictional sex, and bookstore economics.

But I can tell you without qualification that it would never be acceptable in today's climate in academic sociology. All of those things above go hand in hand with a gruesome split between science and the rest of the liberal arts, and the fault lies firmly with the latter.

Best, Ron


I'm not entirely convinced that Reagan or Gore or anyone else had a lot to do with this.

It's exactly the progression described in Simulation and Simulacra.

We start with a monster, and we get a picture of a monster.  Then we get a picture of a picture of a monster.  And so on, until there's nothing monstrous left.

It might be a tragic and lamentable progression, but that doesn't make it any less inevitable.

Of course any retro movement that's built on the basis of "let's get back to the original picture" instead of "let's get back to the original monster" is going to be a bit hollow and wan.

Ron Edwards

Whoops, that reply was to part of Simon's post. Also, Simon, although I agree with just about everything else you posted, I don't think I agree with your misogyny suggestion. I think a lot of misogyny discussion actually masks (and over-intellectualizes) prudery at the heart of the issue, and that this deceptive conceptual tactic has been widely successful throughout the culture. I suggest instead that Andrea Dworkin's testimony at the Meese Commission reveals the actual dynamics at work: people who hate sex, or rather the enjoyment of sex, finding common ground in that despite their overt distinctions at the more superficial P.R. level, and using those distinctions as ways to bring multiple groups into support for their oppressive and genuinely evil societal designs, against those groups' interests.

Jeff, I wanted to follow up on your perceptions of Glorantha material over the years. Regarding RuneQuest specifically, I'm thinking of the particularly bland and neutered material in the Avalon Hill version. Are you talking about the material that accumulated before then, during the 1980s? What especially? I don't want to jump ahead, but it seems to me that my essay about Thed and her presentation at various stages of the publishing history is relevant here, in tune with Simon's very clear summary of fetish porn, which I agree with.


Roger, clearly I disagree. Instead of a progression, I see a sharp break which may be traced to specific actions and events. This may be a matter of projecting personal history onto reality (in arty moments, I fancy that I actually heard the death of a whole sector of U.S. culture, with a kind of wet snap, sometime in 1982), but if that's the case, then I can't meaningfully debate the point anyway.

The only really strong argument I can muster outside of highly psychological perceptions is that fantasy as I've construed it has not found, or rather arisen in, a new home in our culture since then.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2010, 08:37:45 PM

Jeff, I wanted to follow up on your perceptions of Glorantha material over the years. Regarding RuneQuest specifically, I'm thinking of the particularly bland and neutered material in the Avalon Hill version. Are you talking about the material that accumulated before then, during the 1980s? What especially? I don't want to jump ahead, but it seems to me that my essay about Thed and her presentation at various stages of the publishing history is relevant here, in tune with Simon's very clear summary of fetish porn, which I agree with.

Yeah, I guess it's the 80s material I'm thinking of mainly. Cults of Prax, with the nudie sword-hilt, first appeared in 1979. But there was stuff like the publication of the cult of Uleria in Different Worlds, with a very frank look at sexuality. Even Gods of Glorantha had an abbreviated version of Thed. Then there were small things like the description of a human who catches nasty fungal diseases from having sex with an elf (Elder Races). I never felt that bowdlerisation was going on. But I'm open to the idea that it's my own history that makes me think that way. To close to the counter-culture to be objective, perhaps.

AKA Jeff Zahari


I still think this is a good essay and I'm still glad we published it in Fight On! Geoffrey and Jim have defended their decisions elsewhere, and whether those two cases are good examples for Ron's points about evolving standards or not, I still think the general point about self-censorship and whose standards one is catering to has merit. (Even Raggi said that it needed to be said, despite disagreeing about his own case.)

Some people got on me about it after the fact because they felt that Ron was not a particularly strong D&D fan, preferring T&T and Runequest as games among the early productions. What Ron does get though is the fantasy culture that the play-cultures of all these early games partly grew out of, and we were glad to get his perspective on it for the magazine.

Again, history will show a variety of gradual changes, but as a kid a little younger than Ron growing up in California in roughly the same period, my experience of a dramatic and very fast cultural shift in my part of the US at least was very similar to his. There was a point in the early eighties when suddenly things Changed, and life and the cultural zeitgeist on either side of that line felt much different.

For whatever reason, I feel compelled to mention as I have before that one of my very best buddies from the old days had a fundie mom who burned all his D&D books because her church told her to. This kind of stuff really happened. Fortunately, she was very literal-minded and in her way loved her son and knew on some level how much RPGs meant to him, so she left his Arduin Grimoires and his Tekumel stuff and AfterMath and a bunch of other games ten times more hardcore than what you'd find in most D&D books intact for him.

Ron Edwards

I'd like to see that Ulleria material, which I've never read and really want to. Secondary references in other Glorantha works gives me the impression that Ullerian priestesses really like their, um, jobs. My supposition - and that's what I mean exactly - is that it might have been written earlier than it was published.

My take on the later material I've seen is that it was kind of naughty, but not frank and open, and definitely not celebratory of the body. Thed in particular was busted back to a gross and ultimately prudish-fear-based Whore of Babylon with a toothed vagina, which I argued in my essay was actually revisionist and trivializing as well as too Shub-Niggurath and not enough Thed. More like the pathetic Black Dog stuff White Wolf was to publish a few years later, soooo edgy and yet not.

Best, Ron

P.S. Added: more on the internet response to the essay later. I'd prefer it if people let me begin discussing that issue, thanks. Please note what I called for in the first post of this thread.

Simon C


I think Dworkin's been pretty badly mischaracterised over the years.  She's a complex writer who is easily taken out of context, plus she's been the victim of outright lies by various pundits over the years.  While I agree the attempt to ban pornography was misguided, I think that Dworkin and others' motivations were not at all as you characterise them.  Dworkin's chief concern was always the exploitation, violence against, and the sexualization of violence against women.  She argued (correctly I think) that the oppression of women in society means that it is impossible for consent to be meaningfully given or recieved, that the system that produces pornography is paticularly oppressive and violent towards women, and the context in which pornography is viewed (our oppressive society) means that it's essentially always a violent act to produce or enjoy pornography.

I think reasonable people can disagree on whether or not it's possible to produce or enjoy pornography in a way that isn't violently exploitative of women, but few would argue that the vast majority of pornography produced today is not.

So I think you're off-base when you call out feminists as part of the establishmentarian force that stole your nudie pictures.  I don't agree with everything that Dworkin wrote, but she was radically anti-establishment in a way that unfortunately found common cause with some establishmentarian forces. 

Ron Edwards

Hi Simon,

This topic clearly isn't possible to debate here in the technical sense of the word. I appreciate your posting your point of view, and I'm presenting mine, or some of it, for purposes of contrast. The reader's individual mind is the only arena for debate. I don't see any point to you and I trying to "beat" the other in a verbal exchange, in either sense of the word I've put between quotes. We will have stated our points and we can be done with that.

We disagree profoundly. For one thing, I dispute that the people I'm talking about have any real claim to the term "feminist." I was forced by brevity to use the term regarding them in my essay, as a contrast to Women's Lib, simply because of the fact that the term has been so thoroughly co-opted. As I see it, Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millett, Bernardine Dohrn, Allison Bechdel, and Cathy Young are or were feminists and rate my highest respect, regardless of where any of our specific politics intersect or conflict on any single point. I think that Dworkin was not a feminist of any kind, but simply and only a hater.

Second, it's a matter of record that she and others like her did indeed collude with the right wing on the basis of profound agreement with some of their ilk. I consider this to be one of the most serious betrayals found in modern cultural history, right up there with the use of the death penalty for ethnic cleansing, the War on Drugs, the exploitation of prison labor (i.e. slavery), and Iran-Contra.

Third, it appears that the crux of our disagreement concerns the issue of personal sexual consent. To repeat, there's not much basis for debate, only for me to say, I think that the very term is misleading. It implies a male extension or offer or demand, to which the woman then says, "Gee, that's an interesting topic you've raised, let's see whether I consent." I think intense sexuality is present in all or nearly-all persons, and that we should start a discussion of sexual politics by acknowledging that as a reality. The question is not who is forced to consent, wants to consent, has been programmed to consent ... but is rather, what do we actually do, and what should we do, given that we all have (a) desires and (b) a set of standards or expectations regarding how they should be met. Questioning those standards and expectations is a good thing. Denying the desires of one-half the participants is a poor start to that dialogue.

My mother described my birth as utterly joyous for her. It was also, as it happens, a deeply political act regarding all sorts of issues concerning medicated pregnancy and birth, as a public statement in particular. And not to get distracted, but also regarding the power struggle regarding both life-style and the Vietnam War between my parents at the time. My point is that I can say with assurance that she, while profoundly non-conforming to any and all chauvinistic and oppressed aspects of pregnancy and childbirth at that time (and they were all the aspects), considers Dworkin's statement that childbirth is the only actual female orgasm to be nonsense.

As a clarifying side point: the discussion I mentioned two paragraphs ago is only a piece of the picture, the intellectualized side of things, or at most the personal side in a relatively functional situation. In the presence of oppression, discrimination, and outright brutality (assault, murder, rape), all of which are depressingly easy to locate, then that discussion takes distinct second place simply to stopping the harm being done.

To those of you reading, let me be clear. This topic will not be decided or a victory won on the basis of me-too posting, which is a debased form of democracy, itself a poor judge of logical or evidential rigor. Please let Simon and me be finished in terms of stating our positions, and you can go home and think it over, or whatever. The thread should continue with material going back to the essay.

Best, Ron

Simon C

Fair enough Ron.  I suspect we broadly agree in large part, and vehemently disagree in small part.  Probably a good point to start for a conversation in person, but certainly not suited to this medium.  I'd probably learn a lot from such a conversation.