There’s an interesting article on The History of BDSM blog about the Gor RPG. It’s mostly fair and well worth a read, but I want to pick up a few points here and there from it to reply to.
Gor is notorious for its strong emphasis not only on the world’s apparently universal chattel slavery, but the male-dominant/female-submissive philosophy that justifies it, endlessly reiterated in the books. That’s what made me pause when I thought about Manning illustrating the book. Manning’s work, starting with the graphic novel The Spider Garden, has a strong bi/queer flair, running all over the map of sexuality from conventional, heteronormative pinups to “sacred androgynes”, cross-dressed men, and other, stranger types of sexuality. This also comes in a time when video games and related media like tabletop RPGs are under a lot of flak for #GamerGate. The games designer, James Desborough, reportedly has connections to #GamerGate and some other controversies. It got me wondering: how will Gor be adapted into this medium?
Manning is, first and foremost, a top-tier illustrator. I wanted to work with him for a variety of reasons. Firstly that, secondly because of his links with the BDSM/Kink community and – as such – his innate understanding of the project. Thirdly because I was previously involved (though not as project lead) in an attempt to bring his Spider Garden series to the roleplaying world. The final factor that tipped me over was his work in The Nibelungen, which was brilliant. One thing that didn’t enter into any decision-making was the ‘queer’ (it’s unclear what this term even means any more) content of his work – and why would it?
I think there’s a misunderstanding here of what #Gamergate is and in which direction the flak is going and why. Gamergate would be much more accepting of kink etc in games and so forth than their opposition, which is typically sex-negative, ‘Dinesian’ outlook, censorious and authoritarian. Gamergate has certainly been painted as some sort of reactionary, conservative movement but it really isn’t. It’s primarily about the egregious cronyism and corruption in games journalism, along with censorship – issues that everyone should be able to get behind, but the misreporting has, sadly, been effective.
It is unfortunate that the article writer has linked to some horrible slander and wilful disinformation by a biased ‘hater’, but I’ve answered their accusations before.
The image above was posted on the Postmortem blog with the caption, “See? It’s not ALL male-dom.” This does not contradict Gorean canon. There are male slaves and free females who take advantage of them, and I suppose you could squint a bit and envision M/m and F/f encounters just off stage. However, the Gor canon is overwhelmingly about maledom/femsub.
Yes it is and, as the game writer and a curator of sorts of the world – as I put together these books – I have a duty of care to the canon. However that doesn’t mean that such things aren’t hinted at elsewhere. There are certainly homosexual relationships hinted at and explicitly there is talk of male slaves for men. Femdom comes up repeatedly and while Tarl (the protaganist of the books) may cause a comeuppance in many of these instances it’s well established in the world.
I have to present the world in the game as it is presented within the books, and wouldn’t want to do otherwise. At the same time a game is different to a book. In games writing you’re creating a space in which people tell their own stories, so it’s important to give as broad a scope or as many possibilities as you can, within the scope of the themes etc of the established material.
I cannot, and would not, completely change and alter the Gorean world just to appeal to a handful of non-fans who likely wouldn’t buy it anyway.
On the other hand, an excerpt from the world book suggests male pleasure slaves, whether serving women or men, don’t really count for much:
“Male pleasure slaves are relatively rare as submissive men, silk slaves, do not often arouse mistresses and do not often appear on Gor. Nonetheless, some are found and some are even bred for, though even the most submissive male slave may ‘revert’ and turn upon his mistress. Men are also bought by other men and while Gorean society is largely not judgmental on sexuality some of the practices to produce male slaves for other men – especially from boyhood – are regarded with distaste.”
So much for inclusiveness.
I don’t quite see how ‘So much for inclusiveness’ follows from there. Male pleasure slaves are definitely present and these are the attitudes and problems with that described in the source material. While nothing is said about it, I suspect there’d be similar disdain in forcibly training young female slaves to serve gay mistresses too. A big part of what constitutes the Gorean philosophy is an acceptance of ‘nature’ and this seems to be the root of the disdain for forcing people against their innate sexuality. There’s absolutely nothing to stop you playing a gay free person, or a gay slave, or a slave forced into a homosexual relationship, or a gay slave forced into a heterosexual relationship. This just describes the norms of the fictional world.
Desborough gets into an awkward, “it wasn’t rape-rape” rationale for some of the sexuality in the books
Yeah, no, that’s not what I was actually saying at all. You can see that in the quoted passage back at the site. I was talking about the semantic meaning of the word in the context of Gor, which is more akin to a synonym for ‘fuck’ (with added implications of forcefulness, ruthlessness and passion). The Gorean world itself, in terms of sexuality, occupies a similar fantasy-space to Mills & Boon bodice rippers, 50 Shades of Grey, Conan (women seem to be helpless before his raw sexuality) or – to reverse the genders – the way men are helpless before the sexuality of Femme Fatales.
It does remain hard to understand why such a common and popular fantasy, which is after all just a fantasy, causes such a high degree of objection, even within communities that already practice consensual non-consent or even much more marginalised fantasies. Of course, though this shouldn’t need reiterating again… Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real and nobody in their right mind would suggest that indulging in a fantasy would mean you would necessarily want that in real life. Troops of people aren’t raiding old castles in search of monsters either.
One post says you can make the sexual encounters as detailed or as vague as you like, or have female warriors or male slaves. It makes sense from an economic perspective, in that a Gor RPG with the gender politics turned down might appeal to a larger audience.
Any game ultimately belongs to the people that play it. There’s no need for anyone to – necessarily – be restrained by canon (though canon incorporates far more of this kind of content than people give it credit for). It’s important – seemingly – to emphasise that to people while remaining true to canon in presentation.
Tabletop RPGs have an awkward history of gender and sexuality issues (inherited from their pulp adventure literary ancestors), especially as they were primarily marketed to heterosexual male adolescents. There are also some nasty outliers like the obscure FATAL. Now that the RPG culture has matured and diversified, they’re likely to avoid something based on Gor.
In my opinion TTRPGs have, rather, come under attack unfairly on these matters, as videogames are now. Gor, in particular online, has been massively popular with women and has retained popularity despite being forced into relative obscurity through implicit – sometimes explicit – censorship. For its time it was hugely progressive in terms of its exploration of kink in the relative mainstream, as was his book Imaginative Sex.
I don’t believe that this new prudishness and the censorious authoritarianism that comes with it is a sign of maturity or diversification. The ideas underlying that worrying trend are awfully homogeneous, and not at all diverse. Progress, to me, indicates liberalisation and tolerance, a diversity of ideas. Not what appears, from experience, to be a ‘great leap backwards’ into the attacks on RPGs from the religious right in the 1980s – albeit from a different source.
It seems likely that I’ll go to my grave not understanding why people want to police each other’s fantasies, fiction and kinks. Especially when it comes from people claiming to be progressive and open-minded.
The writer of the blog may be right in that many gamers don’t want to explore worlds of radically different ideas, not just Modern Views & Mores in a Tolkienesque Pastiche, but I hope enough do and that there are enough Gor fans out there willing to take a punt on a new experience. All to rarely in games do we see exploration of the full implications of differences in ideas or the social and other impacts of, say, magic. I think Gor is an exception to that and a big part of what makes it a truly different setting.
I still hold out hope.
Art is still trickling in, I hope to have more updates soon. Meanwhile, let’s make this post an AMA about approach, content, anything relating to the game that you’d like to know.