The following is some kind of open letter that I wrote on Google+ a while ago. In the light of recent events I decided to repost it here. If you are interested in the 132 comments it got back then, follow this link. Please note that I shared the post with my Gaming circle only and if you’re not in that circle, you can’t view the post. Sorry.
Dear gaming community,
I am sick and tired of the bullshit that is currently going on in our community. Game designers and fans have to defend the games they design and/or play all the time and are accused of being racists, feminazis, misogynists, whatever even though they have done nothing wrong and/or tried not to offend anyone.
If I enjoy Victorian steampunk games I am suddenly an evil imperialist, if a game I play features artwork with a chainmail bikini I am suddenly a woman-hating monster and if I play a game set into a world based on medieval Europe I am obviously an white supremacist who suppresses basically everyone. *Sigh*
When there’s some cause for concern, it’s ok to point it out and talk about it, but obviously people have become quite oversensitive recently. Sometimes I feel like there’s a witch hunt going on and everyone tries to be the better witch hunter.
As you all well know I am usually not someone who starts fights, rants or throws accusations around. And I don’t intend to do that in the future. But I am tired of what’s going on right now.
Back then I was mainly annoyed but at this moment I am actually concerned. I know of several occasions where people try to hurt people from the hobby/industry and even attempt destroy their businesses by using libel. Heck, some people actually started a petition on Change.org in order to basically drive a small-press publisher out of business. This is definitely going to far.
I absolutely agree with the sentiment but could you provide some details, e.g. links to petitions and evidence that people are trying to get games banned. This is an important issue and it needs more facts and less opinion.
Also, would you be willing to host a hangout on the subject for Indie+ [ http://indieplus.org/doku.php ].
I was hinting at this: http://www.change.org/petitions/mongoose-publishing-stop-publishing-james-desborough-rape-supporter
And regarding that Indie+ thing, I doubt I am the right person to do so. And since I am living in Germany scheduling may be an issue.
You have a great blog, and I really enjoy reading it (have been for some years). But if I may, I’ll respectfully disagree on some of your points today.
“Heck, some people actually started a petition on Change.org in order to basically drive a small-press publisher out of business. [http://www.change.org/petitions/mongoose-publishing-stop-publishing-james-desborough-rape-supporter]”
You are pushing a lot. The petition is asking two or three companies (Mongoose Publishing, Steve Jackson Games, probably Wizards of the Coast too; it’s in the letter, but not in the “petitioning” field) to stop publishing stuff written by one man (James Desborough). It is basically sending a letter tell them that : “Until game companies apologize for publishing such hateful material and openly condemn James Desborough, they will not receive our money.” If the petition is successful, the one person that could be driven out of business by this petition is James Desborough himself, not any company.
You say that “[w]hen there’s some cause for concern, it’s ok to point it out and talk about it, but obviously people have become quite oversensitive recently. Sometimes I feel like there’s a witch hunt going on and everyone tries to be the better witch hunter.” This petition is not a witch hunt. If someone is writing stuff condoning rape and sexist behavior (this is a legitimate “cause for concern”), letting the companies publishing his work know you are boycotting them because of it is the sensible thing to do : it is basically pointing it out to talk about it (“we think it is unacceptable. What do you say?”). It is far, far different from calling someone a “woman-hating monster” because he plays (not even produces, plays!) a game that “features artwork with a chainmail bikini”.
A good community should be open to criticism. It should strive to do better. The same goes for artists (why the chainmail bikini?), publishers (why not explicitly ask for “no chainmail bikinis”), and authors (why not some powerful, not-sexualized female characters?). In our gamer’s community (as in a lot of other communities), there is some sexism that needs to be adressed.* Often, of course, no one tried to be sexist, but it is nonetheless.** And telling people and companies “this is unacceptable. I won’t buy it, and you should adjust to make your stuff acceptable” does not amount to censorship.
Let’s not make a strawmen of those criticism by reducing them to some haters rant.
* One example among a lot : I sent a letter to Paizo to let them know that this was ridiculous (http://paizo.com/image/content/Secondary/Dynamite/PathfinderComicsIssue1-AltCover.jpg). An excerpt : “Put aside the huge breasts, put aside the huge cleavage almost showing her nipples that goes down almost to her belly button, put aside the fact that she is showing a lot of skin overall. The problem here is not that she is not wearing pants, shorts, or mini-short; it that on top of that, she is not even wearing any underwear. The only thing that hide her vagina is a thin band of cloth that flaps in the wind. This is not, in any sense, a combat-ready outfit. It is not even a ‘not-pole-dancer’ or “not-ready-to-have-sex-right-now’ outfit.” I got an answer : “It’s a fair criticism. I hope that the depiction of these women in the comic itself is better able to meet your approval.”
** See the story around the last “Hitman” trailer. I’m sure they are honest when they say that they “wanted to make something cool, it wasn’t the intention to stir up anything. It was never the intention to provoke people with it.” This does not mean that it is not sexist (so the assassins-nuns has to wear some S&M lingerie under their robes to make it “cooler”. No problem there, right? If they were friars in S&M outfits, that would be just as cool, right?)
http://www.develop-online.net/news/41039/E3-2012-IO-apologises-for-Hitman-trailer. For a wider discussion, read http://www.themarysue.com/the-all-too-familiar-harassment-against-feminist-frequency-and-what-the-gaming-community-can-do-about-it/
The small-press publisher I mentioned is actually James Desborough himself. Perhaps I should have called him freelancer in the post because that’s what he was/is when he worked for aforementioned companies.
I still see no proof that James is a sexist or condones rape. He is often controversial, yes, and his products are sometimes provocative but he is not the monster some people seem to think he is. He may have bad taste (something which is highly subjective) but he’s no rape supporter.
I also agree with you that any community should be open for discussions. But what I wanted to point out is that I get the impression that there are people out there who are not interested in a discussion but out for a kill. It’s this kind of lynch mob attitude I can’t stand. It’s one thing to criticize his work but it’s another thing to fabricate evidence and call him a rape supporter.
Something similar happened a while ago when some blogger accused Gareth Skarka of being a racist. He took one of Gareth’s interviews, quoted him out of context and illustrated his point with artwork from a totally unrelated game. The game the blogger criticized is FAR WEST which hasn’t even released yet. Even then this blogger could have found out in mere minutes that his accusations were unfounded. But that didn’t stop him and his followers to start badmouthing Mr. Skarka openly.
I would love to see more discussion on these topics in the community but without all the name-calling and accusations. But as it is right now, there are some very vocal people who try to perform character assassinations by accusing people of racism, sexism etc. and often without proof. But this can lead to serious consequences. The professional and personal lives of the accused can be put in peril. Especially in the last case no one who threw mud at Mr. Desborough has probably considered that he is a human being, someone with feelings and no monster some people see in him. I don’t think I need to tell you what such an attack on a person can do to someone who never tried to do any harm.
I like the pic on your link. Yes I like looking at sexy women wearing suggestive clothes. If someone doesn’t – let them not.
Totally agree! I had to drop several ppl from my circles to stop seeing such things in my feeds.
Don’t let it mangle your cool. A petition on holds as much weight as anyone gives it…
I’m not much for censorship. It doesn’t matter how rude, disgusting, violent, or offending (though I’m not necessarily applying those labels to the material under fire) works may me, I’ll always defend their right to exist. I’d like to keep the thought police a fictional element. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Complain all you like, but try forcing your preferences on others. However, I do think there are limits to free speech, but this isn’t one of them.
Also, I don’t think behavior like this is anything new, or there’s more of it, we can just find it easier.
Also, I fail at proofreading.
“A petition only holds as much…”
“…works may be, I’ll always…”
Sometimes we have to learn to be a little less thin-skinned about certain things. Fiction and games much like TV, art and music has the potential to offend, but just because we’re offended doesn’t mean that it has to be censored.
It’s weird to see that we’re approaching a strange age where being offended is enough to shut down a creative endeavor and I’m certainly hoping that it never becomes the case.
You said it. The politically correct are an invading army attacking gaming (ie: play, imagination, creativity) the way Christians were in the 80s and 90s. (But it doesn’t just affect gaming; fiction has essentially been nagged to death!)
I’m glad you were able to articulate this. My instinct is to just be hostile toward the group they’re trying to protect: gamer girls. Every time I read something implying that cleavage is a hate crime I end up thinking something like: “well if chicks can’t play nice then maybe they really don’t belong at the gaming table.”. I need to actively remind myself that the gamer girls I know are sweet and nothing like the uptight people that are trying to speak for them.
Becoming hostile against “gamer girls” is definitely the worst thing one can do. What I try to do is to be supportive towards women interested in our hobby while still standing up against the “concerned trolls” that you called an invading army. And these trolls are usually not only women and they also don’t try to protect “gamer girls”. More often than not I think they just made being offended their hobby.
I’m sorry, you said you did not want to start a “fight”, but I’ll argue back. I just want to be clear from the start : I don’t have anything against you. I’m glad we are having this civilized conversation. I’m surely going to sound a bit pissed in the comment, so I just wanted to apologize in advance. It’s not against you. (Also, it’s going to be lenghty.)
“I still see no proof that James is a sexist or condones rape.”
Well, I’m pretty sure he does not goes around shouting “rape is awesome”. (http://talesofgrim.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/in-defence-of-rape/) Sorry, that one was easy. But rest assured, it is not my rebuttal. I read the post, and I understand what he was saying. Of course, he does not think that real, actual raping is awesome (he repeated it in “I Need You: Anti Censorship” here : http://www.postmort.demon.co.uk/). He meant it as a plot device. He meant that it should not be removed from the writer’s toolbox : “There’s more, but I think that amply shows that [rape as plot device] needn’t be lazy writing and as story material it goes right the way back to Greek myth. It’s a story-making tool that should be available to you as a storyteller, great or small.” A lot of people agrees with him on that, feminists included. But coming from the guy that brought “Nymphology” (and the spell “Summon sex partner” that “summons a creature and binds them into your presence or that of a client long enough for a sexual act to take place. The creature summoned may not be entirely willing (some are) but is bound by the magic of the spell to do what is required and cannot return to their home save by fulfilling the demands of the spell.”), you start to question what he means by “plot-device”. (Look for “Nymphology here : http://tradwiki.foxxtrot.net/index.php/FATAL_%26_Friends:_N-O; the citation comes from http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3421366&pagenumber=28#post393884010).
So, yeah. He is no “real-rape” supporter, and you can know that by reading the article. But the petition is not calling him a “real-rape” supporter, and you can know that by reading the article. I’ll concede that the title should remove this part, though.
As for the “sexist” part, well, I guess it is going to be easier : he definitely is (or is faking it very convincingly). Let’s look at two of his books. Excerpts, actually, since I do not have them and that those excerpts are freely available on the internet. I want to make clear that I’m pretty sure he does not think of himself as sexist, and that he does not intend to be. Still, that does not mean that he is not. So, no, he is not the monster some seems to think he is, but that does not make what he says acceptable.
First, “Slayer’s Guide To female Gamers”(http://watermark.drivethrustuff.com/pdf_previews/2810-sample.pdf). I’ll just put aside the fact that treating “Female Gamers” like a totally alien race, is fundamentally sexist (they are not gamers, they are female gamers! A totally different beast!*). There are sexist jokes. This is a whole book. Moving on.
Page 3, the authors reminds the reader that everything here is meant to be taken with humor. Then, he finishes the very paragraph by saying this : “Please accept that most gamers do not have issues with women, they have a subscription, a complete collection from issue one and fancy binders to keep them in.” Gamers don’t have problems with women : they like porn. Great start.
Page 4 : the author creates a fake history of gaming. Prehistory, before there were only wargames and not rpgs, “female involvement in what was to become ‘the hobby’ was pretty much limited to bringing tea and biscuits to the shed or the attic, where the lightfearing war gamers would congregate to push pieces of tin and lead around a heavily modified coffee table.” Go make me a sammich joke. Still not sexist.
Page 4, first rpg : “While the individual elements to attract the Female
Gamer were now present in the games, literary references, getting into the role of the character and so on, the games were still mathematics and violence heavy. Two things considered to be off-putting to women and not female-friendly in any way.” Yes, women are violence-averse and can’t do math (not stoopid, just math-stoopid). We get a bonus on the very next page : “Others, fearing the involvement of women for various bedwetting and erectile-dysfunction reasons, began working on gaming systems so full of mathematical complexity, and so replete with savage and descriptive violence, that no woman would ever consider playing them.”
Page 5, the witch-hunt : “For every article that appeared denouncing roleplaying as the tool of the devil a rock chick, witchy girl or other woman, attracted by the danger of these alleged satanic rebels would show up at a gaming club, along with some similarly-minded men who could lend the gamers a little spooky credibility.” Yes, women are attracted to bad boys. Sexually attracted, of course : it’s in their nature! But what will happen when those woman see that those gamers are not really bad? “Some managed to stay, some recognised the ‘one true path’ of the hobby and stuck with it, even after splitting up with their gamer geek boyfriends, some even slept their way around the whole gaming group; some just with the Games Master of the week; as good a reason as any to run a game – what did you think Games Master screens were for?” Women getting into gaming and staying into gaming through sex… women making fellatios : the real reasons we have GM screens. Not sexist.
Page 5-6, Female invasion. The subtitle, for one. And the entire section. I’ll stop here for this book.
Let’s go for another one : “The Quintessential Temptress”(http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=2806). Not “Temptor”, because, you know, unlike “Fighter” and “Wizard”, there can be no male equivalent. It is even acknowledged in the introduction, page 4 : “The Quintessential Temptress is the guide for those who want to add an adult dimension to their game or to allow those who choose to use their feminine wiles as a weapon to use it to best effect.” I’m not going to quote this book further. I’m pretty sure I’ve made my point.
Is this “cause for concern”? Let’s imagine for a moment that someone wrote “Slayer’s guide to Black Gamers”, talking humorously about how they brought gangsta attitude, stolen radios and finger-licking good fried chicken to the game (the author would be white, of course). That would be a pretty huge cause for concern. No one would be saying stuff like “it’s bad tase but taste is highly subjective”; the “they’re just jokes guys, get yourself a sense of humor” defense would not cut it either, even by pointing out that “it’s making fun of white dudes, too!”. That would be called straight-out racism, with good reasons. This case about women gamers is no different. Asking companies to stop publishing this kind of stuff (racist or sexist) is not censorship.
So I think I showed that calling James Desborough sexist is far from baseless. In my opinion, what we need to acknowledge now that it is not any better than being racist.
If you want to have some good discussion about sexism in gaming (and in general), there are great places to start. http://www.feministfrequency.com/ (especially her “trope vs women” serie) is good, as is http://gamingaswomen.com/. There is also this pretty good post about “rape culture” : http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/rape-culture-in-gaming/
Thanks again, and sorry to use so much space in your comments.
* I acknowledge that it is possible to make a perfectly interesting analysis to understand a specific social group, for example female gamers. Needless to say, “The Slayer’s Guide To Female Gamers” is not one of them.
Alright, I’m probably going to get parboiled for this:
I think the trolls are going about this very, very wrong. I don’t think James Desborough (@GRIMACHU) is a bad person or that he is 100% wrong. 90% wrong, sure.
I think he has lost site of the fact we want this hobby to be fun and approachable. He (seems to be based on a twitter discussion today) of the mind that RPGs should be able to do anything a book or novel can do. However, he loses site of the fact that you, as a player, can’t choose what you expose yourself to in the game. There is a thread on RPG.NET talking about worst gaming experiences. It is about 300 pages long, and has a lot of the standard ‘My GM was a dick’ type stuff. However, if you read through it, there are stacks, and stacks of ‘I tried to introduce my girlfriend to gaming, the DM had a village raped and she never came back, as she had been raped in the past’ type of thing.
You never know who is sitting at your table. I can see a group very, very into deep plots and such using it as an element, but I don’t think it has any place in mainstream gaming, which seems to be what he writes for. In his conversation he mentions convention play for these, which I consider a terrible idea, at least without disclaimers.
Did I sign the petition asking them not to hire him? No, I didn’t and won’t. Would I sign one asking Pazio and WotC not to use rape in their products? Yes, yes I would. I think rape is a terrible idea to put in an adventure, and that it is an overused plot device anyhow, as shown by http://www.homeonthestrange.com/view.php?ID=4 and a myrid of other commentators. Just look up any discussion of the new Tomb Raider game, for an examples, or most female supervillians or heroes backgrounds.
I agree whole-heatedly with you Michael. Actually, this is the first time I’ve heard anything about James Desborough and like you, I haven’t really seen that much from searches that make me think he’s the monster that petition tries to paint him as. If they had posted some actual proof along with their accusations, I might be more inclined to believe them.
When situations like this come up, I try to remain neutral until I’m presented with enough evidence to make an educated decision. Then, and only then, will I decide which side I agree with more. Doing this lets me look at both sides fairly and give both of them the benefit of the doubt until their “guilt” or “innocence” is proven or made more likely.
Criticism, as long as its constructive, is always a good thing and open discussion is as well. However, making personal attacks and starting a “crusade” tends to only lead to trouble down the road.
@Jordan Raymond – Thank you for posting those links. Since I really only learned who this Desborough guy was until I looked at that petition. I think the people behind that petition would have strengthened their case by posting those links and better examples of his offenses.
While I dislike sexism and not the biggest fan of rape in fiction (I admit it can be used well, but usually is used as a thing that “happens to women” and is handled poorly), I’m not the biggest fan of censorship. I can disagree with what someone’s beliefs, but I’m not going to try and force them not talk about them or censor them (unless their beliefs will cause actual physical or emotional harm to someone).
I see you are as pissed as I am, and (like you?) I still have no idea how to handle it. (and all theyre going to do is get on Twitter and rake me over the coals for this comment, but I don’t care, I guess). It’s been a constant one-by-one attack on artists, creators and just regular gamers since around January.. intent on shaming us and ousting us, and driving political divisions. Also, if you’re in the “in-group” it’s like they don’t see an issue, and they’re offended that you are offended. I’ve already been accused of using a “Rush Limbaugh term”, and I’m not even a republican. What is going on? Why are they so intent on this political purge in what is an otherwise apolitical community? For the record, I’ve never narrated a “rape” scene in 34 years of DMing, and the only Mongoose book I own is something about Demonology that was a giveaway at GenCon several years ago (2002?). I see you’ve already put up your apology letter but I personally don’t see why we are being treated like this, and to the extent that some of these people work for/are associated with WOTC I want WOTC to provide answers. I think I’m just at the end of my tolerance for these people.