I’ve been seeing some regressive attitudes toward making and selling rpgs recently! “Too many games dilute the industry,” “you shouldn’t sell a game below a certain level of production,” whatever. Butts to that. Pep talk.
You make a game, you get together with your friends, you sell your games to each other, you sell them online, you give them away, you play them, you don’t play them, it’s a fun time. It’s a perfectly good social leisure activity and I’d recommend it to anybody who thinks they might enjoy it.
There’s no boss of it. You don’t need a license, you don’t need to submit an application, you don’t need to join a league. You are the president of the united states of making and selling your games! You ran unopposed and won in a landslide.
You’ll find, though, even so, that sometimes someone will try to tell you what you should and shouldn’t create, and what you should and shouldn’t sell. They’re wrong. They don’t know what you should do! That’s just what they want you to do.
They’re asking you for a favor and they aren’t even gracious or self-aware enough to say please.
Vincent Baker recently posted this on social media. The part I’ve highlighted makes me livid. Not Vincent, to the best of my recollection, but a great many of the people commenting and re-sharing approvingly have been people that have made great effort to censor and remove games and content made by myself and others.
To see those words in their mouths is enraging and I’m going to quote them back at them at every opportunity.
I will create what I want. Get the fuck out of my way and stop being such hypocrites.
As you should already know, Hentacle was taken down from RPGNOW/Drivethrurpg after what I suspect to be a malicious report. As such I am having to make it available free of charge.
This does mean, however, that I cannot adult tag it or place it in safety behind a paywall requiring credit card etc. So by clicking on this link and downloading the attached files you are certifying that you are over 18 and ready and willing to view sexual content. DOWNLOAD. I’m asking for a $10 donation via Paypal (email@example.com) or a small subscription via my Patreon (link on the right) in appreciation of making this content available for free. Half of the funds raised from these donations will go to the Darkzel Scholarship fund (link above).
Given that I suspect further malicious reports in the future, you may want to grab certain games while you can.
Another banned game, the Gamergate card game can be downloaded HERE.
Hardcopies of these and other games (except Hentacle) are available HERE.
We need alternative sales sites dedicated to free expression principles the way Onebookshelf used to be.
TL;DR version – Hentacle has been taken down from OBS sites after what appears to be a malicious report. I plan to give it away, soliciting donations, some of which will go to the Darkzel scholarship fund.
Also, we need a new, alternative sales platform.
I’d promised Venger a review of Alpha Blue but hadn’t gotten around to it [I got a comp copy, full disclosure]. With Alpha Blue being the latest casualty of policy changes at Onebookshelf and a general, puritanical string to genre and pop culture lately I got the motivation to go ahead with the review. I’m hoping to get hold of Venger for a quick interview about the situation and how the policy works in practice in the near future. If I manage to get the scheduling to work I’ll let you know what’s going on, here.
So Alpha Blue then. It’s a bit of a hard product to review. It’s a science fiction setting that grows out of a science fiction location, with a basic RPG system tacked on. Like my own game, Machinations of the Space Princess, it’s inspired by the camp, pulpy, rather naughty science fiction of the 60s, 70s and 80s – in fact it would make a perfect setting and location for use in MotSP.
The system isn’t really that important here, but it’s a simple D6 based dicepool system that’s perfectly adequate to the task if you don’t have another system you’d prefer to use. The meat and bone of the whole thing is very much the setting and the elements that stem from it. The rules cover all the basics you’d expect, combat, social interaction, cybernetics, science fictional and psychic powers and weird alien abilities. Just not in any huge depth. The tables here can be used for inspiration whatever game system you decide to use.
The universe is detailed fairly quickly and draws obvious derivation in many regards from well-loved films and TV series from the time period. There’s a Federation (in which, amusingly, Earth are the paupers and dead last in terms of culture etc), Draconians – recalling Buck Rogers – and a bunch of other ideas familiar and new, as well as a little bit of near-to-the-knuckle satire and fun-poking of politics and of other game settings (the bit on ‘Space Muslims’ being especially biting).
Alpha Blue itself is a space station – of sorts. This place wanders around the universe, albeit not at an especially hurried pace. Alpha Blue itself is a commentary on our collective hang-ups about sex. Following mankind’s inability to handle its own sexuality, Alpha Blue was constructed as a safe outlet of all of mankind’s collective, pent-up, sexual energy. A combination of an asylum for the oversexed and – eventually – a sort of ‘space Vegas’ where anything goes. It’s now another drifting space station, albeit with an interesting past. A haven for deviancy, criminals, gambling and adventurers.
Alpha Blue itself is very well detailed, while remaining open enough for you to add, alter or incorporate your own material. It’s very much more of a ‘toolkit’ book than something to use straight from the pages. It’s a hard book to review since its main use is as inspiration and a review that revealed too many of the easter-eggs and references within it would spoil the experience of reading it.
Alpha Blue goes a bit further than I normally do in some ways, but that’s mostly a result of my own cowardice and self-censorship. That’s probably why it has gotten into the trouble that it has (though speculation is that it’s a reference in a single paragraph in the book to a ‘rape machine‘ used by an evil faction). It also wears its influences on its sleeve a little more directly than I normally would, in the illustrations within it’s easy to recognise figures like Ming, Klytus, Dr Who and Buck Rogers. The whole thing – and much of the terminology – is somewhat taken from The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (a porno film with 70s-tastic soundtrack which, if you’re utterly desperate, you can watch on Xhamster.)
All things considered it’s a campy, openly sexual nostalgia fest, probably best approached as a series of inspirational tables and setting components to kitbash into your own settings.
Presentation wise it could be a little cleaner and the art is of very mixed quality. Some of it is very good, some of it is very bad and some of it just doesn’t seem to fit the science-fantasy theme (being, perhaps, more suited to an occult themed book)
I decided to stop active participation in #Gamergate from midnight on the first of January. It’s customary, when one ‘leaves’ the amorphous hashtag movement, to flounce off with great drama and an enormous speech.
So this would be that.
I’d stress, however, that I still believe very strongly in the original and ongoing issues of Gamergate which are, and you can eyeroll all you like but it won’t make it untrue, more ethical and consumer-serving games media, and an anti-censorship stance.
So why leave and why get into it in the first place?
Why I got Involved
The broader ‘Social Justice’ issues in the creative arts are something I’ve been aware of for longer, and one shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that it dresses itself up in the clothing of laudable ideas such as equality and diversity. The situation we find ourselves in, and which appears to have crested, is a moral panic. As relates to nerd media it’s a replay of the Satanic Panic or Jack Thompson’s crusade against violence in games, just with different actors and set dressing. There’s one important difference this time though, this time there’s ‘treachery’, in that many of the attacks – no less ill-informed and unscientific – are now coming from within the nerd community.
Going back to the 80s and 90s, even in my tweens and teens I was already fighting in the precursor war on D&D and other RPGs. Arguing in presentations at school from religious groups on ‘Doorways to Danger‘, making pamphlets to counter the propaganda that was going around as an English project. Writing letters to help school groups get set up. Running games for the D&D Schools Competition. Reassuring parents and later on arguing with people on the internet or arguing for the educational and other benefits of gaming.
The Jack Thompson affair didn’t require much of your average gamer, since the press was on-side and the claims weren’t taken seriously by most people. They were understood, even by most of those uninvolved in games, to be stupid, censorious and troublesome.
As a metal, goth and alternative fan I also watched the goings on with the PMRC with concern, not to mention the Columbine backlash as it went international.
All of this resonated with the Comics Code issues I’d learned about and the other things which, as an avid reader, I’d learned about growing up. The role of censorship and moral panics against everything from film and TV to comics and fanzines.
Mary Whitehouse was still going when I grew up. Section 28 was governmental policy and even at 13 and not entirely sure what a ‘bender’ was, I knew it was unjust. When I was at college it was the height of the anti-road and hunt saboteur protests, which prompted more attempts by government and tutting citizens who didn’t like ‘crusty jugglers’ to control protests.
In short, I have a long established love of free expression, and have lived through some of the key battles around nerd media and endured several moral panics. There was no way I wasn’t going to get involved in Gamergate when it crossed my path.
Gamergate emerged out of the scandal surrounding Zoe Quinn. I was following Quinn on Twitter at the time and, as a sufferer from depression, had previously passed around links to her game ‘Depression Quest’ as an imperfect but helpful tool to help friends and family better understand the experience of depression – from which I suffer. I had defended her against early trolls, encouraged her and even donated to help her out when she was mugged – which I hope was something that did actually happen.
In short, I was invested.
When the scandal around her emerged I wanted information. Here was someone whose work I had supported and who I had helped out. Someone I had recommended to others. Her sexual peccadilloes and indiscretions are none of my business, though I felt sorry for Gjoni for the abuse and manipulation he’d suffered, but I was concerned – as were many others – by the revelations of undisclosed relationships, favours and corruption.
Trying to get information to confirm whether this was, or was not happening was incredibly difficult as all discussion was being shut down, everywhere, even – eventually – 4chan. A completely unprecedented level of censorship on an issue of genuine concern to consumers. Just how rotten was gaming journalism? We all knew it was bad, but exactly how bad was it? Why couldn’t proven, even admitted, bad actors be called out on it? Why were they being protected?
Then the ‘Gamers are Dead’ articles came out and the GameJournoPros list was exposed. Dozens of articles over a few days, in a coordinated attack on gaming media’s own audience.
Not only had gamers been censored, they were now under attack – by their own. Dismissed as misogynists, racists etc simply for pointing out problems, whether it be corruption or ‘criticism’ coming from the ideological overreach of people like Anita Sarkeesian. The ‘Social Justice’ attacks on gaming combined with the nepotism of the Indie scene and the collusion of a particular wing of activist journalism to create a perfect storm and a surprisingly effective false narrative of harassment which, combined with the censorship lock down, prevented the real issues getting discussed – for a while.
Revelation after revelation followed for those who cared to investigate, and lines were drawn.
Gamergate accomplished a great deal, and not just in its own niche.
Many gaming news outlets, albeit grudgingly, began using proper disclosure and adjusted their ethical policies, which was the first, major, underlining point. Bad criticism and ideological gatekeeping has continued, but it appears to have cost sites traffic and trust, and several people their jobs. New sites have sprung up, the audience has become more aware, there’s less trust and more demand for better reporting and the anti-censorship attitude has manifested in numerous other ways.
Gamergate has also helped inspire pushback in other areas, comics, film, TV, atheism and as university campuses have apparently gone insane, there too. It may be the turning point in a much larger culture war against censorious authoritarianism and moral panic on a broader basis.
Certainly I feel more optimistic about the future, coming out of it than I did going in. Despite lost friendship (and new ones made), the lies, the accusations, the nonsense and the hard lessons about just how bad even the general media has become, especially when reporting on technology and internet culture.
So Why Leave?
Why bring an end to my involvement then?
There’s still tons of good people involved and Gamergate has settled – mostly – into a sort of watchdog and ‘call out the stupidity’ role. It’s still doing good stuff and still has a lot of good people in it, but it’s a case of diminishing returns. The less obvious the need for Gamergate as a specific phenomenon, the less people are associated with it (and, I’m sorry to say, the demonisation and lies about Gamergate have had an effect as well).
The less people are associated with it, the more the hardcore fringe of horrible shits come to dominate the discussion and the less people there are to call them out on it. There are also less people to call out and point out trolls, and that further allows Gamergate to be misrepresented and probably, eventually, co-opted.
Lately the more extreme and paranoid elements, always there but previously marginalised, have been able to increasingly dominate discussions, drive away the more moderate and interesting people involved and to almost turn the ‘movement’ into the caricature it was always misrepresented as.
The fight for me was always more about the censorship issues and artistic freedom. Those battles are being fought elsewhere now and by a much broader coalition of interests, including genuine liberals, who are finally starting to speak up and make a difference to turn the tide.
Those issues are being fought in politics and universities now, in the public square as a whole. Even if the fight isn’t over in gaming and other nerd spaces (#1MillionGamersStrong and others), Gamergate itself is now a place of diminishing returns and more can be done in these other places and spaces and by creating. So that’s what I intend to do.
Doubtless I’ll cross paths with GG people down the line, doubtless issues will come up which I’ll help spread around, doubtless there’ll be battles we’ll share.
Onebookshelf, owners of DrivethruRPG and RPNOW appear to have buckled to the threats and fainting of the usual mob after the recent ‘Tournament of Rapists’ issue.
You can read their blog on the issue HERE and take the following notes.
- The blog makes a somewhat spirited defence of the sanctity of free expression…
- …but then buckles.
- The existence of the adult filter was acknowledged, but why this isn’t/wasn’t enough/sufficient was never really explored.
- They’re making a change – though it’s not justified or understandable in the context of the earlier comments.
- They’re keeping it simple ‘I don’t know what offensive content is, but I’ll know it when I see it’. This is better than hard and fast, gameable rules, but gives a publisher no solid ground to stand on when developing.
- They’re relying on complaints – which is going to encourage brigading and faux outrage.
- They’re not grandfathering old content, which puts any and all existing products under threat.
I’m slightly relieved, but mostly incredibly wary. This is the comment I left on G+
This sounds reasonable, but we’re already seeing the creep. The ‘slippery slope’ seems to have started with the actually inoffensive GG card game and that led on to this.
An open marketplace of ideas is simply too valuable and OBS occupies a position akin to Steam, just for TTRPG material. ‘Lord’ Gaben recently intervened to save the controversial game Hatred from being knocked off that platform.
Obviously I have some skin in this, controversial topics are a flame to my moth. I’ve made games about school shootings, mischaracterised online controversies, tongue-in-cheek tentacle sex and I have a huge, potentially ‘offensive’ project in the form of the Gor RPG imminent any day, which I now have cause to worry about.
People brigade products trying to get them banned or censored all the time. So automating the process could well be a bad thing.
You already have an ‘adult’ ghetto. As I understood it adult products shouldn’t get the full auto-promotion treatment and this product was not initially tagged.
Why isn’t this ‘back-rooming’ enough? How much of this is down to pressure from white-knight companies and why do they feel entitled to interfere in this way and why are they allowed to get away with it?
I’m now in a position where I don’t know if some of my all-time best selling products are going to be attacked, whether new products will be at the mercy of the fake-outrage mob and upon what bases you’ll be making decisions!
Perhaps it might have been better to keep more separation between RPGNOW and DTRPG to allow one to be more corporate and the other more indie and open.
Real talk, there aren’t a lot of other effective sites to sell on. e23 and Paizo sales never remotely match sales on OBS and other options like Gumroad don’t remotely match them. IMO this gives OBS a position of great responsibility to creators and it remains endlessly disappointing to me that so much of this pressure comes from creators – who should know better.
I guess we’ll have to see how things shake down, but this is incredibly worrying for anyone who likes ‘controversial’ (interesting) topics.
This may not sound like much, but it’s a significant defeat for free expression in tabletop gaming and will encourage the kind of censorious prigs what have been causing so much trouble across all manner of media in recent years. It’s not a good day.