Drive Thru RPG: Tone Policing the Critics

You know when you meet those people who just can’t help but double down on their mistakes? Drive Thru RPG has become one of those people for me.

After the Tournament of Rapists fiasco and subsequent fallout, I really hoped that they would pull it together. I didn’t know what form that would take, but I hoped that maybe Steve Wieck would assign someone else the task of managing offensive content per their policy, for example. Or that maybe someone would apologize for the way that he treated people on Twitter for complaining about the presence of A Tournament of Rapists on their site. I really wanted to hear from a PR person for Drive Thru on this issue, because that at least would net we the consumers of their goods an apology on this issue.

Of course, as always, I am disappointed with the reality of how adults seem to behave when they are caught acting like assholes.

Meredith Gerber, the public relations representative for Drive Thru, published a blog yesterday that made me hopeful when I saw her title, but then made me cringe when I read the paragraphs that followed her introduction, which basically amounted to her tone policing the critics.

In the most condescending language, she explains that:

When having discussions about these types of situations, it’s always important to remember that being professional and kind in feedback will create better dialogue. It’s very difficult to continue a conversation and figure out the message when hateful words are said out of anger and spite. If you do not agree with someone, take a moment to step back and breathe before stating your opinion. There is also nothing wrong with walking away from a conversation if it’s going around in circles with no conclusion in sight.

To which I respond: Fuck that.

Did Steve Wieck do that when he talked down to customers on Twitter? No. Maybe person up and apologize for the fact that your CEO has acted from the jump like he does not give the first fuck about the feelings of the people coming to him about this issue. (If you are reading this and need assistance in how to apologize, you can find a handy tutorial here.) And even if you do not want to do that, at least have the grace to not criticize your customers for coming back to you with the same bile that he displayed.

It is also worth noting that it is not always possible for people to be utterly calm and collected when it comes to certain material. Especially when that material deals with things like sexual assault. This material is triggering and upsetting and damaging to sexual assault survivors and asking them to please tone it down so that you don’t have to hear their rage is completely inappropriate.

Even beyond all of that, the fact of the matter is that we, as your customers, are the wounded parties here. We are hurt by your actions and your approach to this situation. As such, we are not obligated to tone down our outrage.

Over and over again this material has been referred to as “offensive,” and I think that has allowed Drive Thru to have a certain amount of distance from the material they are talking about. I don’t think that Drive Thru and it’s staff are really looking at this from the perspective of sexual assault survivors stumbling through their web site. Just imagine for a moment how upsetting it must be to find that title in among the games that you are perusing for personal use. Imagine the gut punch of the name, and the dawning realization that someone would take something deeply traumatic from your life and decide to play with it like it was a form of entertainment. The layered horror of the fact that people are titillated by your suffering. The moment when your assault comes to your mind, unbidden. Imagine how that must feel. The damage that must do. And then tell me about how this content is just “offensive” and not, in fact, a completely unacceptable publication that should have been apologized for immediately and unreservedly.

The fact that Gerber ends her blog entry by assuring us that Steve Wieck will have final say over what is marked as “offensive” is not even a little bit comforting when you consider the fact that he has already defended this content in his original blog and his original responses to the issue which paint banning this content as a slippery slope. Regardless of what he may say now, the fact is that, based on his history with this content, I and many others do not trust him to be the final arbiter of what is considered terrible enough to ban from Drive Thru’s web site.

Needless to say, the boycott continues. And at this point I doubt it will ever abate.

Advertisements

A Tournament of Non-Apologies

Drive Thru RPG responded to what has been going on over the Tournament of Rapists issue. I just read Steve Wieck’s response on his blog and I have a few things to say in response.

First of all, the fact that he is the person who wrote the response seemed like a bad move to me. Considering that, in the entire 1,937 words of his post, he never once apologizes for minimizing the concerns of people who brought them up to him on Twitter. He was the wrong person to write this blog. Mostly because no one gives a fuck about the opinions of a person who looks at people concerned about rape-glorifying content and then proceeds to make a slippery slope argument. Shit is a logical fallacy. It’s dismissive and ugly and sounds like a rape apologist trumpet whenever it is used in conversations about sexual assault.

Regarding the blog entry itself, he spends the beginning of it talking about trust and how the creators of the content on his web site have been trusted for fourteen years to create good content that is not offensive.

Right off the bat, I have a problem with the word “offensive.” I would not call A Tournament of Rapists “offensive.” I would call it “completely unacceptable.” Calling something offensive makes it seem as though it might offend some but wouldn’t offend others. It makes it seem as if the content in question is somehow subjective.

It isn’t.

In the reactions to my blog yesterday, more than a few people expressed to me that they thought my title was somehow being facetious. It took them reading the entry to realize that the title of the game was not some sort of exaggeration on my part.

So let’s be clear: There is nothing “offensive” about A Tournament of Rapists. The content in and of itself is simply unacceptable for publication. Period.

He goes on to explain that:

If we were to ban a RPG product, the de facto result is very much like censorship. That fact causes me grave concern, for if we were to create a content guideline that all publishers on our store must follow, and then ban titles that do not meet those guidelines, then we would be playing dictator with the RPG art form, and that is a role I am acutely uncomfortable playing.

I get that you don’t want to censor people. I do. But my only reaction to this is that he needs to get comfortable with playing that role. When you are a gatekeeper like he is, there are going to be things that come across your desk that are inappropriate for publication. And honestly, it’s not like we live in the dark ages. People can self-publish. People can Kickstart projects. There are other options out there for people who have an idea than going through his portal for distribution. He’s A gatekeeper, but he’s not THE gatekeeper.

Then he moves on to justifying the fact that the title “Tournament of Rapists” even got published.

As I expected, no one pre-screened the book before it was available for purchase. That in and of itself is an issue for me. I have been assured by people who work with internet software and coding that it wouldn’t be difficult to code a filter that auto-filtered things like “rape” from titles or descriptions. If an author wanted to have something published with that kind of content and was rejected, there could easily be an appeals process put into place for them to bring their work to the attention of Drive Thru who could look over their work and make a final decision.

Then he goes on to say that the rapists are the villians of the piece and that the work should be dismissed on those grounds.

In a word, no.

From what I have been given to understand, first of all, players can elect to take on the role of the rapists within the game, so that statement is not entirely true.

And secondly, who gives a shit if the rapists are the bad guys? Why does rape have to be part of the content at all? The answer is because people find rape salaciously interesting and they think it’s fun to play with. It’s not. And this type of rape culture attitude in gaming narrows the hobby to include only people who don’t think things like this are totally inappropriate content in games. For more information on this, I refer you to the work of Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, who addresses the issue of rape and violence against women as background decoration in games quite thoroughly.

Wieck then goes on to say that it was flagged as adult content by way of an excuse, which it isn’t, given the things which I have just outlined and will go on to point out. So we’ll just go ahead and ignore that comment out of hand, shall we?

Wieck’s next excuse is that he wasn’t able to immediately get in contact with the publisher so he let the title stand while he did that. Mistake. If he wasn’t sure the title was appropriate, he should have just pulled it and waited to check with the publisher afterward.

In this particular part of the nonpology, Wieck points out that he thinks that “dialogue” is better than just condemning people out of hand. Which I can’t help but see as a dig at those who expressed their anger to him on Twitter over the weekend and who he dismissed out of hand with slippery slope arguments that read like flat-out rape apologism.

To that I say this: Steve Wieck needs to hire a social media person. Because he is terrible at it. And taking pot shots at people who are calling you out for doing a shitty thing is no way to try to get people on your side. Just for the record.

And now we get to the meat of the thing. First of all, he finally apologizes, and it’s as disappointing an apology as you would expect:

It’s time for us to have a policy on rejecting offensive content. I understand that many feel this is too long in coming, that our prior non-policy of “censorship is unacceptable” was tantamount to shirking our responsibility to help keep the RPG hobby inclusive. I am solely responsible for the prior policy, not the other staff at OneBookShelf. I accept that criticism and apologize for not being a better steward.

  1. Again, this content is not “offensive” it is “unacceptable.”
  2. You have to get over your censorship heebie jeebies. You are a gateway and you have to take responsibility for the things that come through you into the world.
  3. Your apology left out the part where you basically told concerned customers that their concerns were invalid while you waited on the publisher to give you some insight on whether “Tournament of Rapists” was an acceptable title for publication.

All that said, Wieck decides that he should model his “offensive content” policy on what Amazon uses. An… interesting choice, considering their weird decisions on banning books and such.

So, without further ado, the Drive Thru RPG offensive content policy is:

Offensive Content: We’ll know it when we see it.

He goes on to say that they will be including a reporting feature and that we should be patient with it, et cetera. Which I have no problem with. But he clarifies the content policy by saying that he will be the final author of what is deemed offensive. Which I have a problem with. Because, as you can remember from yesterday’s blog, his final word on the Tournament of Rapists issue was the following:

So, as the “final arbiter,” Wieck would have neither moved to remove the work or change the title. What about that is supposed to make us as consumers feel better? Because nothing about this is making me feel better.

With all that said, I will continue to boycott Drive Thru RPG. This non-apology was about as unsatisfying as I assumed it would be before it was even written. I am so disappointed in Drive Thru as an entity and in Steve Wieck as a person who does so much for the gaming industry.

But then, as a queer female gamer, I should probably be used to this type of disappointment.

The Perils of Gaming: A Tournament of Rapists.

In case you didn’t know this, I’m a woman. I game. I also GM. I consider the safety and emotional well-being of the people who sit at my tables to be of paramount importance.

I also believe in the value of artistic integrity and consider censorship to be a serious issue in the world in which we live.

tumblr_inline_ntqzy6okt81sqxec5_500That said I recently found out that, last week Drive Thru RPG, one of the places where I tend to buy games when I am not at a convention, put the game “Tournament of Rapists” up for sale. The description of the game is as follows:

The Tournament of Rapists details the sadistic Rape Pure Fight circuit, expanding on what you’ve seen already and introducing dangerous new sexual predators. The 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.

The fact that this exists at all is fucking repugnant to me. The fact that Drive Thru RPG somehow thought it was appropriate to put this game into it’s inventory is completely unacceptable.

And if you think it’s “not that bad” or that this game could possibly be less terrible than it seems, I present you with the Phallic Swarm.

swarm

It’s worth noting that this horrible device is described as “rape incarnated” and is specifically designed to combat people who have already been sexually abused, paralyzing them if they fall victim to it. It also does 1d8 “pleasure” damage… This thing is 100% unacceptable in more ways than I can properly articulate.

The fact that Drive Thru RPG carried “Tournament of Rapists” alone would not be enough to force me to make the decision to boycott them. Mistakes happen. I’m not sure what system they use to determine what games make it to their site, but some failsafe somewhere clearly did not function correctly. Or someone who did not deserve to be in charge of filtering these things put through a game that shouldn’t have been put through. I get that people and companies can fuck up. That’s not the problem. If they had simply pulled the title, apologized, and assured us that this would never happen again, there would be no issue.

The problem here is how Drive Tru RPG responded when they fucked up.

On the 28th, when asked by game producer Jessica Price what they would be doing about game, they were told that they would be removing the pathfinder tag and restricting it to the adult section. Which doesn’t really even begin to solve the problem.

Their latest response (outside of the rest of the mess which you can read here) is the following:

The fact of the matter is that the title is a problem, but it is not the heart of the issue. This is a game that glorifies rape to a degree that I didn’t think possible until I saw it for myself. And glorifying rape – I can’t believe I actually have to say this – IS NOT OK. In good news, game publisher Exploding Rogue are pulling their work from Drive Thru RPG over the production of this title, citing the poor response of Drive Thru to the entire situation as a motivating factor. I can only hope that the outrage over this builds to a point where Drive Thru RPG will be forced to take a serious look at themselves and their behaviors and come out with more than just a half-assed nonpology for how unacceptable this entire situation has been.

Honestly, though, this shit is exhausting. Being a human being in the world is hard enough. Having asshats throw something so over-the-top wrong out there and watching a company that you liked and utilized basically defend them and waffle around about how it’s some kind of ethical decisions slippery slope nonsense makes me just want to crawl into a hole and pull the earth in on top of me.