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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on March 23, 2010, 10:06:39 AM

Title: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 23, 2010, 10:06:39 AM

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

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: droog on March 23, 2010, 03:02:47 PM
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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Simon C on March 23, 2010, 05:40:51 PM
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.

Title: This Is a Rambling Stream-of-Consciousness
Post by: greyorm on March 23, 2010, 07:28:20 PM
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?).

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on March 23, 2010, 09:30:53 PM
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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 24, 2010, 03:31:55 AM
It got worse in Hollywood movies post 9-11, too. Take a look at the movies Basic Instinct or Devil’s Advocate or FFC’s Dracula, from the mid-90s. They don’t make them like that any more.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2010, 05:00:54 AM
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.

The 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

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Roger on March 24, 2010, 12:28:34 PM
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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2010, 12:37:45 PM
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

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: droog on March 24, 2010, 02:55:36 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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Calithena on March 24, 2010, 04:49:20 PM
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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2010, 04:55:54 PM
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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Simon C on March 24, 2010, 05:09:38 PM

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. 

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 24, 2010, 07:40:46 PM
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

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Simon C on March 24, 2010, 11:06:02 PM
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.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Finarvyn on March 27, 2010, 11:19:45 AM
I still think this is a good essay and I'm still glad we published it in Fight On!
I think so, too, and I'm glad it was published as well. It is a fine essay and I think it has historical value as well as some valuable thoughts to make one ponder. I'd suggest that folks buy a copy of Fight On! as a show of their support. :-)

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.
I think that it's interesting to look at the evolution of the role-playing genre. From its basic roots, miniatures gaming (which evolved into role playing) started off as a hobby for middle-aged men. Sure, some of us got into it while in our early teens, but most of the gamers I knew were a lot older than me and when I see photographs of other gaming groups from the era they all seem to be aged college or later. No one at the time seemed particularly distraught by the mostly-nekked woman being sacrificed on an alter on the color cover of Eldrich Wizardry back in 1975, and I suspect it was because of the age of the participants. Lots of folks had read the old Conan pulp stories and other "non PC" fiction, and it really didn't bother anyone to have this stuff out there.

So then, as the hobby evolved, gamers grew younger and younger. Suddenly there was this outcry against "Satanist" D&D players and other rubbish. I suppose that if gaming is an adult's game you have certain parameters but I suppose these change when kids become interested, in the same way that movies have ratings for viewers to use as a guideline. Gaming never had that, and maybe that makes people nervous, but I've met a lot of strange people through gaming (and some normal ones, too) and no one that I've encountered actually thought that magic was real, that they could summon Satan using their game books, or decided to join a cult so they could kill orcs. Not one.

So anyway, Ron's article was probably ill-recieved because many of the old-school gamers remember bad vibes from those outside the D&D clique and Ron's style of play is certainly outside of the usual D&D style. Although I won't claim to have really mastered Sorcerer or other games of Ron's creation, I certainly value his contributions to the field of gaming and his thoughts and insights. If I didn't, I wouldn't hang out here as much as I do. Someday I hope to really "figure out" Sorcerer because it does go against many of the axioms burned into my brain through D&D, and when I finally get it figured out I expect to see Ron nodding and saying "told you so".

It was a nice article and I'm glad that Fight On! took the risk and printed it.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: greyorm on March 27, 2010, 04:04:19 PM
Marv, I think you may have something there with the gradual age-range change in D&D from the college-set grognards to the flood of younger kids who came in during, I think?, the late 70's/early 80's. I don't think that's all of it, but I think that may be a factor, especially combined with the scare-mongering, and "Won't somebody think of the children!?" political posturing-and-arm-twisting of the same period.

Quote one that I've encountered actually thought that magic was real...

You've never met a pagan or occultist gamer?

There's a very high population of such in our hobby (though, obviously, they don't think pretend game magic is real).

Actually, I only point that bit out because the "I've never met any" and following bit sounds like "I have to defend the hobby to the mainstream as completely safe and unremarkable and not crazy at all!" But we do have lots of "weird" (ie: counterculture) people in our hobby. In fact, our hobby, and its history, is rooted in weird counterculture. And it seems like we often try to un-embrace that important aspect of the hobby for the sake of looking "normal" (whatever that is) for an ill-defined "normal" "Them".**

That is, yeah, there aren't crazy people running around in our hobby, but why is it THAT is the idea we fixate on when talking about our hobby? There aren't crazy people here. So? We're defining our hobby by what we're not and by how really normal we are? Instead of defining it by what makes our hobby interesting and unique and fun? We're still defending it instead of promoting it, and kind of confused about those two things as being the same.

That's damage we picked up from the 80's/90's scare to our subculture, and I think many of us are still carrying that around in our pocket without really taking it out and examining it.

Which, I think, leads to precisely the same sort of censorship, self-and-otherwise, that Ron's essay mentions. And doesn't just apply to the retro-revolution, but modern developments, too -- like the Wizards ban on association with products that mention drug-use, or sex, or anti-establishment or anti-authority views (ie: you can never portray the police or whatever as corrupt, bad, or evil), or whatever, in any context.

** (Tangential: I think this is also one of those things that helped White Wolf garner such a large audience: they took the "we're counter-culture, we're NOT normal, just like you, and proud of it" stance in terms of the whole goth-craze of the 90's. They sold a "we're not 'normal' and we're just fine with it, go suck eggs" attitude to a group of people for whom that was already a rallying cry.)

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: ejh on March 29, 2010, 12:50:49 PM
Great to see the article's out in the wide world now!

I don't have any commentary on the Andrea Dworkin subject, but I was amazed to see that when you look for information on her views, one of the things Google quickly throws at you is her being interviewed by, of all people, Michael Moorcock.

I provide the link not to contribute to any argument, but so that the mystical ouroboros of 1970s fantasy/scifi culture may close in upon itself, and the circle may be complete. :-)

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: contracycle on April 27, 2010, 06:34:17 PM
I liked the article, very interesting; only just came across it.

Quite a lot of it jibes with my own experience, albeit I came to it slightly later (1982-ish) and my local context, there was no prior period of liberal thought against which there was a backlash.  Instead, things just got more intensely moralistic and repressive.  This also means that my exposure to the prior fantasy genre was random and spotty; I knew the Fafhrd/Mouser books existed, but they were not to be had for love nor money.  My influences were thus the Clarke/Asimov stuff leavened with a dose of Burroughs.  Therefore D&D certainly did act as something of a gateway to fantasy for me, and even more so for the people with whom I played.  On the other hand, in the same way Raven describes his locality being behind the curve, this still meant that you could, as Ron describes, strike up a friendship with individuals of all kinds through this shared interest, outside of a recognised subculture.  At any rate, this also meant that the sex element never featured strongly in the criticms, perhaps surprisingly - maybe a lot of it was gone already, but while I had to have a few chats with Earnest Parents (tm) to convince them I wasn't inducting their children into a cult, none of these people, good citizens that they were, would ever have looked at the actual contents of the books to see any of that stuff; everything they "knew" was second hand anyway.

I don't have much of an awareness of or interest in the OSR movement as such, but it does seem to me that the backlash as such isn't over yet.  "Family values" is still a political buzzword, and although my experience is purely anecdotal and based on encounters on the internet, I'm not sure the hobby has been much of a counter-cultural refuge.  Perhaps some of the OSR people are not so much capitulating to the backlash, as voluntarily working within its terms of reference.

Secondly, I just wanted to throw out a though on something else, namely the import of Japanese manga and anime.  Quite a lot of this stuff features sexual explicitness pretty much unthinkable in the West for the audience its often aimed at, plus monsters a nd magic etc., and it comes in for some of the same sorts of criticism.  But, it seems to me that it has much the same sort of element Ron describes in early fantasy, the monster and the naked both being strong presences, without being organised or standardised.  Although not perhaps directly related to RPG topics, I wonder if this form is in some way stepping into the gap created by the sanitisation of fantasy, and appealing to the same sort of audience.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Hans Chung-Otterson on April 28, 2010, 11:56:28 PM
The article (and ensuing discussion) has gone a long way towards helping me understand the roleplaying subculture as it stands today.

I only entered this subculture a scant few years ago*, but I immediately noticed something that confused me and that I couldn't articulate about the role-player demographic, something that couldn't be explained away as mere geekiness. It was that this roleplaying subculture seemed to have intersections with all kinds of other, way-out-of-the-mainstream subcultures, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. Now I understand, and I like our subculture all the more for it. It did seem to contain some sort of counter-culture-ness, but again, I couldn't place it until now.

*I was way interested in D&D as a youth, but I wasn't even allowed to watch the Smurfs or read the Goosebumps books. D&D was totally evil (and is still suspect) in the eyes of my mom. I remember reading the Chick tract in a family friend's house. They had a whole box of 'em, and I read them because I loved comics (Calvin n' Hobbes, not Comics comics, b/c those weren't allowed either). I remember, impressionable child that I was, believing every lesson those tracts taught me, and being scared shitless by them.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 29, 2010, 12:45:28 PM
Hans, I'm glad the essay touched base with your experience of the hobby. I'm interested in learning more about how your early experiences with D&D and gaming intersected with your experiences from reading all that Jack Chick.

Gareth, all of that is intensely thought-provoking for me. To begin with the last part, I think you are quite right in terms of content, and it adds an interesting twist. As I see it, anime is marked to some extent by an effect I can only call hyper-Victorian: if it feels good, it must be transgressive; to feel good, you must be transgressive because everything "normal" has been rendered meaningless.* I see a weird dance, in anime and manga, between genuinely countercultural (what I praise in my essay) and effectively a politically-empty vehicle for fetish-based tension-release (one of the things I criticize in my essay). I'm not saying the former is absent, though.

How that worked out and continues to work out when the medium is transferred to Europe, I don't know. But I think that political context would be my starting point for trying to dope it out.

If you don't mind, refresh my memory about where you live and grew up: I think I recall it's Wales, is that right?

Best, Ron

* All of this led to a big rant about U.S. client states, militarism, dubious democracy with unwavering center-to-hard right outcomes, and more.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: contracycle on April 29, 2010, 05:13:18 PM
No I grew up in South Africa.  In practical terms the social context was probably not that much different from what you know as the US Bible Belt, but it was also a bit more complicated than that.  South Africa is a society comprised of micro-groups to a much greater extent I think, because even in the essential unity of the white National Party state there were divisions between English Anglicans and Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Church.  The overall morality was very strict however; the nearest thing SA had to a pornographic publication had no actual nudity - breasts were displayed but nipples were covered by stars - and gambling was banned (except for horse-racing, because in true hypocritical style, an early president had argued that "every man has the right to exercise himself and his horse.")  So while it's not quite true to say that the 60's counter-culture passed South Africa by, it was firstly only present among tiny, tiny groups of South African whites, and secondly all of its political significance was immediately and totally subsumed into the struggle against Apartheid.  On the other hand, the anti-D&D movement was imported wholesale because there are strong links between South African protestant churches and American Evangelical movements, and the whole "Satanic abduction" scare in the 80's was huge.  The little RPG society I had set up in my highschool was thus soon banned under parental pressure.

Anyway, thats probably more than was needed, but I think you can see why a "backlash" was something of a moot point, and why the public libraries, or even bookstores, weren't exactly stuffed with fantasy.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Hans Chung-Otterson on April 29, 2010, 07:22:20 PM

Primarily it made me incredibly nervous as I started to buy, and later play, roleplaying games. Once I was in college and away from home I wanted these games so bad I could taste 'em; subsequently I bought the D&D 3.5 core books. It was a war in my own mind--I knew there was nothing wrong with this game, but It'd been beaten into my brain again and again that they were eeeevil, and so I had all these pangs of conscience while reading the D&D books.

I went to my first convention in 2008, and there were moments--only moments, but they were solid and real--walking around the convention floor when I said to myself, "Am I doing something wrong here? Is this hurting me spiritually somehow?" Ridiculous, I know, but it happened.

Mind, I may not have had these struggles had I thrown out the Christianity that made my mother so Bothered about Dungeons & Dragons, but as I've grown up and become a roleplayer I've kept my faith. I suppose my initial struggles with the hobby were less about reconciling my beliefs with my gaming than extricating the pack of bullshit fear-mongering lies that Jack Chick and his ilk sold to my over-protective mother from my faith.

Interestingly enough, before that 2008 convention experience, I ran a series of 3.5 sessions for a bunch of high schoolers I was working with in a Christian youth group. This left me with no pangs of self-conscience or worry that I was doing something wrong. My struggles came in two waves: with my initial purchase of the D&D books, which was my first contact with the hobby, and with my first convention experience, which was my first contact with the subculture.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on May 04, 2010, 06:47:00 PM
Ron, I really enjoyed the essay. I've been curious about it for some time. I find that yours mine and and Hans' experience dovetail in interesting ways.

I believe I'm right around 10 years younger than you, which means I came into the hobby right smack in the middle of the "dark time" you describe--soft-focus, toothless artwork, reactionary Baptist furor over Satanism and gratuitous violence, and yet, behind all that forbidden mystique, a rather mundane, vanilla reality.

When I was little (circa 1980) we moved to the Dalles, Oregon, a sleepy, dusty little town on the Columbia River. My dad had taken a job as assistant pastor at a baptist church there. There our family had our first contact with D&D.

There was this cool, funny guy who worked in the children's program and youth group, in his 30s, I think. The church caught wind that he was running D&D for the youth, and a delegation went down to game night to confront him. My dad had never heard of the game, but the senior pastor had, and "knew" it was Satanic. They observed the game, and whatever my dad saw there that night convinced him 'till his dying day that it was evil. "Straight out of the pit of hell" was the phrase he used, over and over, for decades. The two elements that dominated his perception were that first, someone was drawing intricate and gory pictures of events in the game, and second, when given the choice between giving up the game and giving up working in the church, the guy chose to quit the church. The former was proof that the game was steeped in violence and wickedness, and the latter that, of course, it was an unhealthy obsession that consumes its players' lives, to the point where they'll EVEN choose it over Sunday School.

Later I came to realize how warped these perceptions were, but at the time I lapped it up. When I was a few years older I read books and pamphlets on the "Satanism" in the game (including of course the Chick tract), and believed every word. Still, though, I had an instinctive sense that even if the Devil had infiltrated this particular game, the IDEA of roleplaying still had merit, and I was drawn to it. So I ended up playing everything BUT D&D--Marvel Super Heroes, MERP, Palladium--which was somehow OK with my folks because it didn't have the name "Dungeons & Dragons" attached to it. My brothers and I were worried we'd get nailed for MSH because it was made by TSR, but the parents never made the connection. And so progressed my adolescent roleplaying career, fun and all, but very sanitized with nary a whiff of the forbidden or dangerous.

To back up a bit: my introduction to the hobby came from a pair of cool older boys in my Christian homeschool co-op, themselves Pastor's kids, funnily enough. Just hearing about the game through the lens of their offhand remarks gave the game a tantalizing allure even though I knew it was Wrong and Evil. I remember being over at their house and seeing the Fiend Folio lying around, and the name and artwork confirmed for me BOTH how Cool AND how Evil D&D was (I also remember being confused, and thinking it was about a Fiend named Folio!). The boys were very aware and respectful of (or fearful of) my parents' boundaries. When the older one took me over after school to play a game, he made it a nice tame Marvel Super Heroes adventure. In retrospect I wish he hadn't been so respectful; I could have dearly used a taste of sweet artistic rebellion!

In college I hooked up with a group of folks who DID play D&D, and there turned out to be nothing much forbidden or dangerous there. By then I was already convinced that the charges of Devil Worship and being initiated into "the real power" were so much nonsense, but I think there was still a vague notion in the back of my head that if not blasphemous, there was still something naughty about the game. But really, not so much. Even so I can identify with Hans' "war in my mind" feeling, of knowing rationally that there was nothing damning about the activity or the product, yet being secretly terrified for my soul anyway. Consciously, I was only aware that I needed to keep  it hidden from my parents.

So with regard to the essay, I feel my experience backs up your picture of the hobby's history in that I grew up with a D&D that was both neutered in terms of truly daring content (we had plenty of "edgy" evil alignment play and the ensuing "good roleplaying" debates) and shrouded in a veil of danger and fear. I can see now that the fear worked both ways--both ignorant yahoos afraid of D&D and a roleplaying culture afraid of the yahoos. When I encountered the Dead Alewives' D&D skit ( I loved it for its attack on the claim that the game was "eeeevill," but didn't catch that it was also attacking the game's culture in its timid squandering of the potential for underground art.


Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: KevinH on June 30, 2010, 05:52:48 AM
Hello all,

the Glorantha-phile in me wants to argue against Ron's article, especially as Uleria was mentioned.

Uleria, for those who don't know, is the Gloranthan goddess of love in all it's forms; physical as well as emotional. I wanted to argue that her large presence in an RPG world disproved your thesis.

However, I have to admit that even Glorantha has become de-sexualised (for want of a better word).

No, it's not about sex in RPGs. It's about consensual, pleasurable, enjoyable, fucking-for-fucking's-sake, hot and sweaty, afternoon delight, love making being removed from RPGs.

Uleria has somewhat faded in Gloranthan writings, whereas Thed (goddess of rape) and Gorgorma have become more noticable. Even Babeester Gor, who used to be the fight-all-day-party-all-night good time girl has become dark.

My point is that representation of sexuality as pleasurable has become lost. Or rather, we allowed it to be taken out of our games. Sex is acceptable if it's used to sell (ie book covers), or violent (the erotic elements of Vampire, frex), or degrading, or in some way bad.

Bad sex is good, good sex is bad. WTF? How on earth did this become the norm?


p.s. I'd like to mention the hypocrisy in Blockbuster's policy of not stocking porn, despite having shed-loads of true-life rape dramas. Heck, I even saw a movie in a Blockbuster portraying Mike Tyson as the victim in that whole he fucking RAPED someone misunderstanding. It's not something that affects only RPGs, to be honest.

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 30, 2010, 06:17:13 AM
Hi Kevin, and welcome.

My take on Glorantha, including Uleria, is that it represents a high-end expression of exactly the underground, funky, fun, and dissident fantasy that I celebrated in my article. I also wrote that Gloranthan content was generally watered down as the 80s progressed. It seems to me that my article agrees with everything in your post.

Therefore I don't see why you opened with wanting to disagree. "I disagree with Ron. Ron says X. I say X." This confuses me. Part of it is that you say at one point, you want to disagree, and then at another, you wanted to (past tense). Are you saying that you initially or reflexivley disagreed with me, but upon thinking about how Glorantha become watered down (in text presentations anyway), you came to agree with me after all?

I'm not being snarky or pushy. I'm trying to understand what you're saying.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Naked Went the Gamer is posted
Post by: KevinH on June 30, 2010, 07:05:45 AM
Heavily précised version:

  • I want to disagree with Ron, because I feel a priori that Glorantha is cool (because of all the goofy, counter-culture stuff).
  • After re-examining the current state of the Gloranthan art, I conclude that RQ/HW/HQ are not exceptions to Ron's thesis.
  • Therefore, I agree with Ron (but posit a wider applicability, beyond RPGs).

Apologies if I was unclear, but my focus was more on presenting the thought that sex isn't really taboo in RPGs, just the wrong sort of sex.

OTOH, notice how gratuitous violence is still prefectly acceptable for children, as long as noone shows boobies.