I still have no word on exactly what is going on with the withdrawal of the game from sale at DriveThruRPG. They’re not strangers to controversial products (one of them a personal attack on me) and hosting, or selling, them and the parent company ‘OneBookShelf’ was founded by former White Wolf people who had plenty of encounters with censors and the ‘moral majority’ in their time. It seems, then, to be an odd position for them to be in.
Complaints about various products have been made before, not just mine, but it has been left to the market and the review system to deal with it. The question must then be asked ‘what’s different this time?’
There’s a few of answers to that, some of which I have alluded to in previous commentary.
Firstly there’s the fact that the whole debate has become much more heated. Not taking a side is now taken as being in opposition to whatever the righteous cause of the moment is and that carries more cost than it used to.
Secondly the lunatics are now running the asylum, much more so in tabletop gaming than in even computer gaming. For all the complaining done about humour that ‘punches down’, the supposedly dis-empowered are now very much the ones wielding power.
Lastly, this time we have a company abusing their position and market share to bully and prosecute their agenda.
Both these gentlemen work for Evil Hat and the obvious implicit threat is that they would remove their products, impacting the reputation and profitability of OneBookShelf far more than I could. This is not only unethical, but possibly illegal under competition/antitrust law. Fred Hicks, also of the company, has issued a rather mealy mouthed retraction, misusing (ironically) many words but let’s take him at his word. If Evil Hat is not threatening such action then there is now no justification for removing the product and hopefully we’ll see it back up soon (early next week). I call this a retraction because I do not think it is a remotely unjustifiable deduction from those tweets and other information to see that this was strongarming, even if Hicks himself was not involved.
The game has been submitted to other sites but because its the weekend I am unlikely to hear anything any time soon about those either, as both sites have product review processes before they approve something for sale. We’ll see what happens there.
I am, admittedly, a free-speech radical. I think even things deemed ‘hate speech’ should be allowed as, in my opinion, this merely exposes bad ideas to scrutiny and ridicule. To me at least, silencing is never a good idea no matter what we’re talking about. Pragmatically though I meet people half way and am willing to understand when we’re talking about genuine hate speech, exhortations to violence and so on.
It remains hard, however, to see what any possible objection to the Gamergate card game could be. It’s a – somewhat vicious – satire on the whole situation but it is not in any way illegal, obscene or otherwise something that should trigger anyone’s ire. The sole reason for anyone’s objection seems to be that it is connected to Gamergate and that because people have misconceptions about that movement.
Some have, apparently, decided to characterise it as a hate group and have – on that basis – decided to believe their own press and to act as though it is the KKK or something (a comparison that has been made with all earnestness). This is ridiculous, it’s genuinely a consumer revolt against corruption in games media, censorship and politicisation.
The irony of company strongarming to censor a product relating to a consumer revolt on these issues is obvious.
The implications for any small or micro-publisher of these events are worrying too. Why should anyone else, let alone another company that is your rival, get to decide what is and is not acceptable? If this card game now, how can we be secure that other ‘controversial’ material will not suffer the same fate in the future?
Support and purchase links at the bottom of this post.
Like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war. The hard won liberalisation of media and personal action and accountability won over the last sixty odd years – at great cost – are under severe attack. What’s bewildering is that these freedoms are under attack from people who consider themselves to be liberal and progressive.
There is nothing progressive about censorship.
There is nothing progressive about interfering in people’s consensual sexual freedom.
There is nothing progressive about inciting and sustaining moral panic and emotional thinking over reason to prosecute personal agendas.
America is – somewhat – insulated from governmental censorship by its first amendment, but other countries are not so lucky and American activists find other ways to silence things they don’t like.
In the UK for example we have rarely seen such a huge roll-back of sexual and personal liberty. The most recent ban on the production of certain pornography, for example, is just part of a much more general thrust of censorious culture. For all that these bans have been decried as anti-woman (they include a ban on depicting a squirting female orgasm for example) much of the new attitude stems from modern feminism, in particular anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines and groups like No More Page 3 or Bin the Lad’s Mags.
That these groups’ efforts are in perfect alignment with the moralising conservatism of the ruling Tory party seems to give them little or no pause, as does the thought that they are now working side-by-side with people they used to fight, people who wanted to ban ‘homosexual propaganda’.
This is why I have regarded these conflicts as so important, why I have involved myself so deeply. Liberty and freedom are important to me, especially freedom of expression. The ability to make art, to present ideas, is a fundamental human right as enshrined in places as wide and varied as the US constitution and the UN and EU charters.
Strangely, standing up for free expression, rationalism, skepticism and other values very dear to me I have been repeatedly accused of being conservative, reactionary, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic and heaven knows what else, all of which couldn’t be further from the truth.
This is, perhaps, what makes this… neo-puritanical movement so dangerous. They are willing to betray their own – claimed – left and liberal values, on little to no basis, to silence not only their genuine opposition but also those who disagree with HOW they go about their goals rather than what those goals actually are.
This isn’t a left/right cultural or political conflict, it’s an authoritarian versus libertarian one and one where liberal – in its other meaning – redefinition of terms is used to justify the most terrible actions and to cover up their hypocrisy. ‘It’s OK when we do it’.
My ideals give us a world in which all people are free to express their ideas, whether I agree with them or not. Their ideals give us a grey world of homogeneous, ‘safe’ ideas that exclude a diversity of thought, ideals and even fiction. I still think a stand needs to be taken against this, long enough and articulate enough that the baseless accusations of misogyny, racism etc – so long used as gags to silence opposition on other bases – lose their sting.
One of the biggest problems that I think we have now is private censorship. A topic I’ve talked about a great deal and one which the kinds of people mentioned above seem to excuse – so long as it aligns with their view.
Censorship is not limited to governmental action and free expression is an ideal and a principle, not just a matter of the law.
We live in an era now in which a very few companies have a de facto monopoly over aspects of our lives. If you’re an author and Amazon won’t carry you, you’re in serious trouble. If you need to take online payments and Paypal won’t do it, again, you’re in serious trouble.
These things can and do happen. Amazon will hide erotica and self-published material or make it so you have to be very specific in your searches to find something. Credit card companies will gouge anyone selling adult products or materials under the pretence of risk. Paypal has tried to do similar in the past, refusing services.
When a company is in such a position – and in the tiny niche of gaming OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG and RPGNOW) holds the same place – they have a degree of responsibility to safeguard the rights of creators and consumers.
Is that far fetched?
I don’t know that it is. The state already intervenes to defend the rights of minorities. A company cannot refuse service to someone because of their sexuality for example, or their race – and quite right too. Given that precedent is it not reasonable to ask that companies in such a dominant position are required to safeguard basic and fundamental human rights, within reason and so long as it does not create undue problems for them to do so?
Why should Paypal, for example, be able to refuse financial services to legal businesses performing legal work? Why should Amazon be free to censor and delist ebooks, whose cost is negligable to them to host?
Why should Youtube not allow the sharing of consensual, legal adult material? Provided it exist behind suitable filtering and protection.
Good questions to ask in my opinion and ones that will be more and more important in the future.
Despite still believing very much in the Gamergate battle and the longer culture war that I’ve been a part of for about four years, the sheer cost (personal, professional and in terms of health) is just getting to be too much.
I am heartily sick of being accused of every horrible thing under the sun, especially when they go against my core beliefs and my sense of self. I fight so hard because it is hard for me to leave something unjust unchallenged. If I do something I suffer at the hands of bastards and the inevitable flak fighting draws, if I don’t fight I am betraying my core nature and allowing something horrible to go unchallenged.
If it’s a choice between doing something good and feeling horrible and not doing anything and feeling horrible, the grim calculus (pun intended) should seem obvious.
However, that calculus is changing in part for health reasons, in part because of rather unfair pressure from some dear friends, in part for financial and other reasons. This still pains my idealistic heart and seems like poor reasons not to continue making sacrifices and doing the right thing but I’m fairly backed into a corner right now, and I’m not Captain America.
How would you feel if you were passionate about freedom, for everyone? If you believed strongly in progressive and inclusive ideas – but also artistic freedom? If day after day you saw other creative people seeming to buy into a censorious and controlling agenda because it was easier for them than to rock the boat?
How would you feel if people were determined to trash your reputation by calling you homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, conservative, things the complete opposite of what you are? How would you feel if people began to believe those lies about you? How would you feel if you were constantly questioning yourself already?
The answer is, not good, and after a while it doesn’t matter that you’re right or that these people are wrong, it’s what people believe – and that so rarely marries up to what’s true, which is frustrating as hell for a rationalist and skeptic, believe me.
So, against my will, I’m going to have to withdraw from the fight, not that I want to and not that it will be at all easy. I’m well aware that’s admitting defeat and that’s like swallowing a shot glass of broken glass shards to me. I’ve been let down a great deal in life by many people I have taken as moral exemplars and to fall short in a similar fashion is devastating. I was always determined not to make the same mistakes – an impossible standard for any human being.
Growing up nerdy, geeky, cerebral, introspective is tough. There are few male-identity tags available to anyone in my generation and its worse for the generations following. Some of the few male-identity aspects available to us are duty, honour, sacrifice and endurance and these aren’t always the best paths to what’s good for you as an individual. They open you up to exploitation, attack and self neglect.
Aid & Comfort
If you want to support me there’s a variety of ways you can do so.
In regard to this issue you can email OneBookShelf and express your concerns (do so politely).
As is now traditional, as a victim of harassment and hatred I am obligated to mention my Patreon.
If you want the PDF copy of the Gamergate Card Game, you can still, for now, get it here.
If you want to know what I actually think about anything, rather than relying on what people tell you I think, you’re welcome to ASK and you’ll get an honest answer.
The big thing I really want people to support at the moment is my memorial art scholarship for fantasy and SF art students. If you can donate art to be sold to support the scholarship or can give money, please do!