I’m sure those who cared enough to follow the whole issue with DriveThru RPG and some publishers coming together to get rid of a publication they declared offensive. You can read about it at any number of sources such as here and here as well as here and here and here and here and here and here and finally here where the author even comments about the product. There is also a press release from the company themselves that is worth a read here. I tried to get a variety of opinions and viewpoints on the whole situation so people can form their own opinions on the whole situation.
Now, the title of the game being challenged was ‘Tournament of Rapists’ a ‘fan-made’ expansion to the Black Tokyo RPG series, the description of the product was considered to be lacking by people as to what its purpose was, being only:
The Tournament of Rapists details the sadistic Rape Pure Fight circuit, expanding on what you’ve seen already and introducing dangerous new sexual predators. This sadistic bloodsport takes place in abandoned office buildings and atop Tokyo rooftops. An assortment of superhumanly powerful and inhumanly misogynistic men, and even worse women, step into impromptu fighting arenas, killing and raping the weaker in search of a multi-billion yen fight purse provided by a half-oni billionaire in thrall to dark impulses.
Now, I have not read the product so I cannot say if it as well done as say, Charnel Houses of Europe – The Shoah, as described in Extra Credits. That book uses the Wraith universe to talk about the holocaust, which it fits when the idea of Wraith is that they rely on people remembering them and keeping them tied to this world. The forward of Charnel Houses by an author who has written holocaust novel series, even talks about ‘We must teach them through the tools with which they are comfortable’, stating elsewhere in the forward that her biggest fear is that when her generation is gone there will be no one left to tell [the children] the true history of mankind’s darkest moment.
For a better description of the product, this comes from Onebookshelf’s Blog (the company that owns Drivethu) about their new policy:
When we were first alerted to the offensive nature of the book, I used administrator privileges to download and skim through a copy of the book. At its core, the book was an adventure supplement where the goal of characters was to stop demonic entities who were perpetrating sexual violence and murder. The rapists were clearly the villains to be stopped, something that I believe many critics of the book could not have known from the book’s title and vague description.
Still, other aspects of the book, such as its title and description and some of its content, were written in a way that were not well-considered treatments of the subject of sexual violence. I personally found the book offensive, but as I’ve noted, I am not comfortable letting my viewpoint serve as the gate-keeping standard.
A few key things about this whole thing, for those who don’t know. The product was flagged as adult, so people had to choose to go into their settings and turn on the content restriction filter to even find this game in more than just a ‘Hey, this content was blocked due to your settings’ message. There are all sorts of stuff that can be set as adult, ranging from various RPG materials of content as well as calendars of 3D images of women in various states of dress (don’t forget, Playboy has had sections in their magazine about video games as well). So, it was not visible to most people unless they wanted to see it appearing on their lists of chosen materials. Secondly, to sell something, you need to attract people’s attention. Have you seen some of the ads in magazines and on TV? Hell, look at those ‘banned from TV’ commercials on YouTube. Sex sells, controversy sells, even fear sells.So, it had to be eye catching, it had to be something that made you pause and chose to review it. So, maybe the title could have been something else and people would have glazed over it and we would have gone on with our days in peace.
I am not here to defend the product as I have no experience with it, and I understand rape is a sensitive subject, as is violence in games, as is drug use, as is sex in general. I remember when Hot Coffee was brought to news, where hackers modified a video game to enable content that was not accessible normally on a game that was already rated Mature and video games were being attacked like someone had released ‘Mario Teaches Masturbation’ under the Nintendo Seal of Approval licensing. It was people who didn’t understand a situation wanting to champion their case, wanting to get their way and using it as a stepping stone to do it.
I am glad that OneBookshelf is having a policy to resolve offensive/controversial material, I just think that there needs to be more to it. This all started with companies complaining about how this horrible product was sold alongside their product and if it wasn’t removed they would leave. That tactic is against the idea of an open market, instead it is pushing your clout around. It can easily be used to remove competition, especially given indie publishers normally do not have the sort of resources larger groups have to market their products or contend legal issues if any arose. Based on OneBookShelf’s blog, their offensive content rule is: “We’ll know it when we see it”. Vague enough to defend a stance either way on a product and they don’t have people looking for loopholes. I just hope this doesn’t become a situation where people will get up in arms about anything that they don’t immediately agree with the idea of content on or the treatment of that content, without reviewing the product.
Let me use an example. Modern/Cyberpunk/Dystopian RPGs have existed for a while. CP2020, Shadowrun, D20 Modern, Ex Machina, Judge Dredd. These are worlds where drugs are used commonly as a form of escaping reality or gaining control in combat and the like, where sex sells and people make livings catering to various fetishes, where guns and explosives and other sorts of weapons are used to deal immense harm to people, and the list goes on about the cruel and vile things that can happen in these games. CP2020 had biomods in their Chromebook expansion books including penis and vagina implants to boost sexual performance, not to mention Shadowrun having the spell orgasm and an area version called orgy which cause targets affected to suffer pleasure up to the point of climax and are unable to take other actions. Then we’ve got Bunraku, an idea used in William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer where a woman was implanted with a personality and turned into a sex slave without any control, a similar sort of thing seen in various other media like Pris from Blade Runner or more recently the British TV series Humans where one synth who is fully conscious works as a prostitute. Hell, isn’t this basically the whole concept of the Dollhouse in the TV show Dollhouse? People giving their lives away for X number of years, to be prostituted out in one persona or another, including as prostitutes.
What if someone tries to publish a fan made adventure where you are to go into this sex trade and get these people out? Or maybe, you’re playing Shadowrun where you are criminals for hire, maybe you’re abducting girls to be taken to one of these places. How many action TV shows have plots with girls being taken to sex clubs and the like, usually in foreign countries. CSI, Daredevil, Graceland, a large number of action movies have the premise but the hero comes to save them. Maybe your group likes it darker? Or, to be fair, the author decides to give you rules on how to play both sides, the kidnappers and the rescuers. What if this offends some people? Do I need to worry about my product being pulled if someone deems it being too offensive? Will they tell me how it was too offensive and if I change those parts, can I have it being re-reviewed for its content? Sure, I could sell it on my own website, but I am not as well known as Drivethru, so I want their visibility. However, I don’t want to risk my product being pulled because some omni-conglomerate of various RPG clout decides they don’t want this indie person in their market and will balk and pick up their toys and go home. Oppressive corporate beings are something that should exist only in Cyberpunk, not in real life.
For some examples of discussions about sex in Shadowrun, there’s a forum discussion here discussing how relevant it was in people’s games and another is part of the Twilightrun campaign page from years ago when someone posted house rules and home theme stuff for the world to see and one entry was The Joy of Awakened Sex talking about the Internet, Cyber/bio enhancements and even magic as it related to sex. There was another page I found years ago, talking about the codes for prostitution, various implants people could get like the vaginal dentata from Snow Crash and it even had a chart about how to calculate breast size of a female character from their attributes, with Charisma being a huge plus per level and strength would reduce it as less fat and so forth.
So, I will wait and see what happens in this area, I just think we shouldn’t need retailers to pull products from shelves if we find them offensive. We should instead vote with our wallets about what we choose to buy and not let these people get the attention in the media for products we may find distasteful. No offense meant to anyone who has lived a rape experience, but some people do like the fantasy of it. There is an online adult text-based roleplaying MUX called Shangrila where people can experience any sexual fantasy they so choose. If you don’t like it, you don’t need to take part in it, but I don’t think we need to protest the work either. I think instead, ‘We must teach them through the tools with which they are comfortable’ and to me, one of those tools is the Internet where we should be able to have a frank and honest discussion about a topic and have everyone be educated on it.
I’ve never been through a rape or a mugging or any sort of criminal encounter, so I can’t say how I would feel or what I would do, but we glorify shooting and killing in roleplaying games, video games and tv and movies and even in some examples we have it teach lessons like the episode Deadly Force in the cartoon Gargoyles where Eliza gets shot by her own gun when one of the Gargoyles is playing with it. Why can we not have open and frank and honest discussions about other things? Why is sexuality, nudity, rape and such reserved for back room discussion, if at all? I still remember when I first heard Eminem’s song Real Slim Shady, there’s a bit that goes:
I’m like a head trip to listen to, cause I’m only giving you
Things you joke about with your friends inside your living room
The only difference is I got the balls to say it
In front of y’all and I don’t gotta be false or sugarcoated at all
I just get on the mic and spit it
That was literally what he was doing when he was singing things about how in a world with Discovery channel that we’re expecting children not to know what intercourse is. What about nowadays with the internet? Youtube can give you violence and sexiness, and one wrong click on any search engine can take an innocent search to an adult website. So, maybe instead of hiding behind closed doors, we should be willing to talk about things and maybe they will become less of a fantasy people long to experience on unsuspecting victims.