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.

Sexual violence as a literary device in A Song of Ice and Fire

As a follow up to my post last week on A Song of Ice and Fire and the issue of rape on television, it turns out that Tumblr user Tafkar did an analysis of all of the rape scenes in the books and the television show. Here’s the quick overview of what they found.

Rape acts in Game of Thrones the TV series (to date): 50
Rape victims in Game of Thrones (to date): 29

Rape acts in ASOIAF the book series (to date): 214
Rape victims in ASOIAF (to date): 117

The books contain over 4 times as much rape as the show (and probably even more; the method of analysis likely underestimates the rape in the books).

You can look in the link above for more detail, but be warned, they included somewhat graphic descriptions of some of the things they were discussing, so maybe cuddle a stuffed animal while you read it or just wait until you are in a strong place before going through the whole thing.

I had two thoughts when I was reading Tafkar’s analysis of the preponderance of rape in the books versus the series.

Thought #1: Wow! It’s not just HBO that has a rape problem, George RR Martin has a rape problem too!
Thought #2: I really didn’t remember half the rapes that happened in the books until this person reminded me…

I still stand by the idea that HBO has a rape problem that needs to be addressed. Titillating viewers with scenes of sexual violence or using said sexual violence to turn women into steel-hearted warriors is problematic in the extreme. But then I’ve said all that before.

My new problem now lies with the fact that I genuinely didn’t remember most of the scenes of rape that were mentioned in the books. I think there are two things happening there. The first thing is that GRRM’s prose is so ponderous and agonizing that I did, at times, skip whole pages of exposition in order to keep from falling asleep. So it is likely that I missed one or two rapes in the process. And the second thing that is happening there is that GRRM uses rape so frequently as a set dressing for other, “more important,” things that I became blind to it as a serious recurring theme.

In a way, this sort of mirrors everyday culture. Rape and the culture surrounding rape are so ubiquitous that most people reacting to it with anything more than a shrug seems a rarity nowadays (see shows like SVU for an example of how little fucks are given about sexual violence on television). Between reading stories of female comics who are regularly sexually harassed and even assaulted by their male colleagues while doing their jobs and hearing horror stories from women who have worked in the sex industry about the exploitation that arises in that kind of work. Shit, even just sitting around and talking with friends so often leads to stories about how regularly they are harassed or groped by men on the street, or how many of them have histories of having endured sexual violence. Being surrounded by it every day is a terrible reality of the lives of so many women that my heart sometimes can’t handle it and I just give up and watch a Disney movie.

With all of that, having rape be included in entertainment as some kind of “fun” or meaningful backdrop for male heroism is just a step too far. Anita Sarkeesian did an excellent analysis of this particular trope in video games (that you should totally watch when you have an hour if you haven’t already), but I think that you can apply what she is talking about in those videos to what we see going on in television and books all the time.

One of the biggest arguments that I get in defense of rape in GRRM’s work (either screen or text) are citing some kind of “historical accuracy.” To that I say this:

First of all, I must have missed the part of history that covered goddamn dragons and white walkers. Which, you know, somebody needs to fill me in on, because I am missing out.

Second of all, if you are defending rape used as a lazy writing trope in order to push men to do stuff or to harden women enough so that they can do stuff, you are barking up the wrong goddamn tree with me. The laziness of your favorite writer is not my problem.

Which brings me to my final point. I know rape has happened throughout history. I have a history degree. I know that rape still happens today. I would have to live in a hole to not know that. But here’s the thing: the writers of any given world get to make the rules for that world. They get to show you the things that are happening within it. They can use any manner of things in order to fan the flames of your loyalty with their characters. In other words, just because rape happened doesn’t mean they have to use it. Using rape is a choice. Using rape frequently and with seeming relish is also a choice. It is a choice writers like GRRM and the writers at HBO continue to make. And it is the wrong choice.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to think really hard about why they are working so intently on propping up and defending the use of sexual violence against the protests of so many.