Things that just ARE plain taboo, as far as RPGs are concerned

Started by Grinning Moon, February 24, 2008, 06:43:43 AM

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Grinning Moon

Okay. So there's a review of a game at that just... bugs me (not the review or reviewer - the game being reviewed):

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

QuoteI 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?
"This game is a real SHIT>.<"

- What amounts to intelligent discourse on the internet these days.

Eero Tuovinen

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!
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


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.


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 :-)
We are equal beings and the universe is our relations with each other. The universe is made of one kind of entity: each one is alive, each determines the course of his own existence.


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.
John Grigas
Full Steam Ahead Games

Current Projects: Ember, Chronicles of the Enferi Wars, Silhouette

Clinton R. Nixon

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?

Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games


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?

Ron Edwards

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


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.
We are equal beings and the universe is our relations with each other. The universe is made of one kind of entity: each one is alive, each determines the course of his own existence.


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.

Ron Edwards


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

Ron Edwards


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 (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, 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.


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

Grinning Moon

QuoteWill 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.
"This game is a real SHIT>.<"

- What amounts to intelligent discourse on the internet these days.

Ron Edwards

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

Eero Tuovinen

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...)
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.