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.

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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.

Dexcon 2015 Recap Part 2: Shared Vision

Like many of the gamers I know and love, I started playing games with Dungeons & Dragons. My brother and I found an old copy of it in our basement growing up. We pulled out the rules and the dice and decided that we were going to fight a dragon that afternoon.

With our level one characters that we had just created.

We… did not do well.

Years later, in high school, I would become part of the crowd so many gamers know all too well. I was the only girl at the table eating Cheetos and drinking Jolt cola. I played healers and priestesses and rogues. I dungeon dived and fought gods and kings and rolled natural 1s and fell on my goddamn sword with the best of them.

The thing that always bugged me about D&D and the groups that I played with was that we did very little role playing. Mostly we just dungeon dove and rolled to fight things. I had other issues with the system, but wanting more roleplay in my role playing game was chief among my issues.

With my last gaming group, I played D&D for many years. Through college and beyond. And then, one day, I discovered other types of RPGs. I brought home the rules for Dread from a con and tried to run it for them. They never really bought into the mood of the game. They cracked jokes. The weight of what I was trying to do didn’t come through. I was a new GM, so I didn’t really know how to bring that home to them. As I have grown as a GM and a player, I have experienced numerous times the sinking feeling of sitting down at a table with a problem player. In both roles I have dealt with these players. And in both roles I have alternately failed and succeeded based mostly on how experienced I was as either a player or a GM.

So I want to talk about that. What happens at the table when not all of the players follow along with the theme of the game? It happens a lot at cons when you don’t know who will be sitting at your table. And it’s really hard to deal with as a player and a GM. In gaming groups this is a whole other issue, obviously, but at a con the issue is complicated and intensified by the fact that you are trying to get the most out of a four hour slot (and out of your weekend) and having someone at the table who is not on the same page as the other players can be really frustrating and ruin your day.

It should be said that all of this is predicated on you feeling safe and comfortable enough with yourself and the mood at the table to express your feelings to the GM and the other players.

First I’d like to address the players.

  1. The first tip that I would give you is to push your own vision a little harder in contrast to what the player in question is doing. Sometimes that is enough to let the person know that their behavior is not appropriate to the theme or setting that you have sat down together to create.
  2. If that doesn’t work, find a way to take a little break and pull the GM aside and express your concerns. Remember that the GM is there to facilitate the game for everyone so that all of the players have a good time. If you aren’t having fun or feeling safe, then they aren’t doing their job properly. Usually telling a GM is the best way to go and will result in some kind of action on their part.
  3. If, for some reason, the GM does not take any action and things do not improve, you have two options. You can continue to play and try to ignore the problematic player, or you can leave the table if the problems are too overwhelming for you. Remember that it is always within your rights as a player to leave the table. You can even go so far as to report on your experience to the convention staff if you feel like things have been badly mishandled.

Now for my GMs. Because we’ve all had this happen. You can sometimes even see it in a player’s face when someone at the table has gone too far or is making them uncomfortable. Here’s what I’ve found works.

  1. Sometimes all it takes is a word or a gesture indicating that the player should wait their turn to speak. The majority of my conflicts at the table with players have been resolved this way without moving forward at all.
  2. If the first thing doesn’t work, verbally addressing the problem is the next step. It shouldn’t be a big conversation. You don’t want to upset the player who is causing the problem by spotlighting their behavior. An example of what to say is something like “I understand that you want to have input, but it is this player’s turn to speak right now, so let’s give them their time.”
  3. I will usually give the player two strikes with #2 before a bigger conversation is needed. Remember that you don’t want to let crappy behavior drag on too long at the table before addressing it. If strike three happens, I recommend calling a break and quietly speaking with the player in question. Again, the conversation shouldn’t be long and drawn out, but should be firm and to the point. Make it clear that the comfort and fun of the other players is important to you as the GM and get them to promise to behave appropriately for the rest of the session.
  4. If you try all of those things and the player is still a problem, do not be afraid to remove them from the table. I have been GMing at cons for 6 years and have only had to do this once. It’s rare that someone does not get the hint after being talked to directly.

Those are just the tools that I have used that have proved effective. If you have other ideas, let me know about them in the comments!

DexCon 2015 Recap Part 1: Inclusion

I spent my July 4th weekend locked in a hotel with a bunch of nerds. It was glorious.

As per what has become usual, I ran a Dresden Files RPG KristaCon event with three other fabulous GMs, the fabulous Krista White (of KristaCon fame), Brennan Taylor, and Matthew Aaron. We prepped for weeks for that game, taking into account comments that we received during roses and thorns expressed after our last Dresden KristaCon event.

We used the Paranet Papers, which just came out very recently. The nature of the Paranet lent itself really well to the use of the three tables, and we were really excited to see a lot of movement between tables for the first two sessions, not to mention the number of “text messages” that were sent between players to keep each other up on what was happening at each table. The sessions were filled with highlights for me.

But this, by far, was the best one from the entire weekend of Dresden games for me:

This was said to me after the first session of Dresden on Thursday night by a player who I had never met before this weekend. And it meant so much to me. Gaming is a space that is dominated in a lot of ways by a straight white cis male narrative. The landscape can be pretty bleak when you look out at it as a person who isn’t those four things all wrapped up in one. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten bored with a game simply because I was forced to play a male character. I mean, it happened to me just last night with Batman: Arkham Knight!

Inclusion is important. More than that, inclusion isn’t hard. When we worked on the Dresden game last year, we made sure that our characters were representative of more than one narrative (i.e. the overwhelming straight white one). We created characters that covered a wide spectrum of backgrounds. And you know what? It was just as difficult to make those characters as it was to make any other characters that I have created for the Dresdenverse. You use the same stats. The same mechanics for deciding aspects. It’s all, shockingly, the same! The only real, concrete difference is some of the background work. For example, when we decided to make a native American character, we had to look into the groups that lived in a certain area and make sure that the things we created for that character rang true for those groups.

When you are working to make a game inclusive and friendly to people other than your generic EveryWhiteMan, there are some things to consider. And it should be noted that you are going to make mistakes. Here’s a great example. There was a moment during planning this year when we realized that all of our sites for the game were in the United States. We quickly scrambled and decided that South America would be a third site and scrapped Indianapolis as a city. The South American site turned out to work really well in a lot of ways, and we felt pretty good about the decision to not be yet another game that takes place only in the USA.

Here’s some cliff notes on how to work inclusion into your game while still being sensitive to the groups that you are trying to represent. And remember as you are going through this process: these are not obstacles, they are opportunities! So many new avenues appear for you and your players when you open up your game to new ideas.

  1. Setting. Consider setting your game in an area that you are not as familiar with. This might take a little research on your part. But you will find that some games (like DFRPG, for example) have settings fleshed out for you already. Honestly, you can get a pretty good idea of a lot of areas by looking at Wikipedia and then following the reference links for deeper knowledge.
  2. Gender & Sexuality. If you are building characters for your characters to play at a con or writing questionnaires for your gaming group, try defaulting to they/them pronouns. Leave out specifying the gender identity and sex of any romantic entanglements. Let your players build their characters into the sexual identity and gender expression that they are the most comfortable with. Leave out names and let your players create those for themselves.
  3. Racial Identity. I like to include photos with character sheets when I’m doing a con. If this is something you like to do, try to make sure that the characters you are representing are diverse. If you are including characters from a background with which you are not familiar, do a little digging and make sure that the details you include are authentic and do not read as a cartoon parody of the culture that you are referencing. (i.e. do not make Japanese ninjas) This is an important element of creating characters that ring true and that are not going to be insulting to the culture that you are trying to represent.

The most important thing that you can do when you are trying to be inclusive in your games is to listen to your players. If they tell you that something seems off or express discomfort, hear them out. Make changes where appropriate. Be an accessible and fierce ally for the people who are trusting you with authority over them.

Have any other ideas on how to make games more inclusive? Let me know in the comments!