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

Started by Grinning Moon, February 24, 2008, 01:43:43 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


Quote from: Grinning Moon on February 25, 2008, 03:49:01 PM
So, here it is: When I create a game, is it important that said game is more than just pages of smutty artwork and naked girls? On that same train of thought, if my game isn't much more than those two things, does it become something that not only might be 'unimportant' in nature - but should be consciously seen as unimportant? When we're designing something, should we be balancing that something's ethical quality against our own personal rights?

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

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

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

Ben Lehman

Hey, Moon:

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

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

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



The Guild of Blades had a working relationship with G-Spot Games. They have been a couple of our long term play testers, plus we do distribution fulfillment for their games.

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

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

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

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group

David Artman

Quote from: guildofblades on February 25, 2008, 09:56:17 PM...But I personally don't think anyone should have the right to dictate to other what games should and shouldn't be allowed. My god, I mean, who would get to make THAT decision? Lol.
A new division of the ESRB, recruited from the Roleplaying Open forum. ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages


Hi David,

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

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

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

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

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group


Grinning Moon,

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

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

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

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

Buried Without Ceremony

Ron Edwards

Well, hold on just a second ...

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

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

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

Please clarify.

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

Or, in other words - please do participate some more, Grinning Moon; as you can see, we're all a bunch of lecherous perverts just chomping at the reins to get to discuss this topic ;)
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I dunno. Morality and taboo are not absolutes, they're cultural, varying with place and time. The very notion of D&D is anethema to some people, but that doesn't stop us from running dungeon crawls. Some folks might think a Mormon gunslinger game is kind of out there, or one where you do despicable things as the minion of an evil master, but the beauty or lack thereof is in the eye of the beholder.

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

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

Greg Porter


Well even if Grinning Moon doesn't return this is an interesting and pertinent thread for this topic.

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

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

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

Ron Edwards

That's a thoughtful post, with some points that certainly could be debated constructively. I am halfway convinced to say, "OK, let's keep talking about it."

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

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

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

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

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

Best, Ron