#RPG – Interview with Kevin Rolfe, UK Games Expo’s Infamous ‘Gang Rape’ Games Master

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH SIGN-IN SHEETS, INFORMATION ABOUT THE RECORDING OF THE SESSION AND SHOULD HOPEFULLY HAVE A COPY OF THE FORMAL STATEMENT SOON.

Editor’s Note: There is a rumour going around that Mr Rolfe has been barred from other conventions in Europe before now. This does not appear to be true. According to Mr Rolfe he has mainly attended Dragonmeet and UKGE, running two sessions at Dragonmeet and 8 at UKGE for the best part of a decade without problems. They attended Wyntercon once, but didn’t care for it (light on the RPG element). They have not been banned from any conventions previously.

Could you summarise, in your own words, exactly what happened?

When I came up with the adventure I had two scenes in mind.

One, the lads, drunk or high outside a kebab shop at 1 am trying to get enough money together to buy a kebab and two, the lads naked, handcuffed, covered in poo being chased by men with guns, which seemed funny.

I was thinking gross out humour, Porkys, American Pie and Inbetweeners – with a bit of Trainspotting and a dash of the Carry On films, but ending with a light touch of Hostel.

To get from the kebab shop to covered in poo, I came up with the lads on tour, Club 18-30 idea.

But as with all plans, not all of it survived first contact with the players. I forgot bits, the covered in poo part for one, and missed some of the comedic beats.

The second gross out teenage comedy/horror I ran later for the UKExpo’s team leaders hit all its comedy beats and was very funny. The game was halted at 11:30 so the giant robots attacking the rave scene fell flat.

This was a mash-up of the Inbetweeners Movie and Hostel. Not the greatest scenario.

A bunch of rich guys wanted to hunt some Englishmen for sport.

  • Act 1 was the PCs trying to get the money for a Club 18/30 holiday
  • Act 2 was the arrival in Ibiza.
  • Act 3 I removed the player agency for 2 mins for a narrative segment, then continued.

The Narration:

“The tour rep gives you some shots, everything goes fuzzy.”

In my notes it states, the drug used not only knocks them out, it gives them terrible diarrhoea. Hence no clothes and sore bums.

“You wake up naked, handcuffed to each other, with sore bums, in the back of a van. Guys with guns make you get out and say run.”

The image of the Inbetweeners lads running naked over wasteland handcuffed together seemed a funny image, which is why I constructed the narrative just to get that scene. However in the post-game chat with all the players I completely forgot to talk through the bits they missed as we were all talking about the structure of shock in horror games.

I believe this omission on my part has caused the problem. The players saw something that wasn’t there and I failed to rectify this as we started discussing something else. Had one of the players raised the issue I would have remembered.

However I accept that it was my fault that I forgot.

After they ran. they had the option of a farm or the woods. They went with the farm. Had they gone with the woods they would have met the robots hiding there.

I bumped into one of the players from the group of 4 friends who played, he said he was annoyed that there were no robots, had they gone into the woods…

[Edit – Late addition/Correction]
I had no complaints from the players during the game however, I bumped into one of the group of 4 on the Sunday, who complained on Twitter.

He said, “there were no robots we were expecting robots, that’s what you did wrong.”

He did not mention anything else, just that the lack of robots annoyed the group. Now if they would have gone into the woods, they would have found robots…
[End Edit]

Did you advertise the game as a horror scenario or with an age restriction?

It was advertised as an 18+ scenario, using a darkly mature game, but the burb clearly showed it to be a gross-out teenage scenario. Something like grubby teenage lads doing grubby teenage lad things.

Did the players remain for the entire session?

Yes, we began with a chat about the systems and the dark themes within them.

When were you aware that there was a problem?

Nothing till 11ish, when I got a call about something on Twitter. In fact one of the group of four said he was looking forward to the game of Kult the following day.

Did the convention staff listen to your side of things at all?

I’d been up since 4 and had just run 12 hours of games. I was in a bit of shock so not 100% as to what was going on, only that there had been no complaint and that they were going off something that was on Twitter. I think I tried to roughly explain the scenario, but I’m not really sure what I said.

Do you intend to appeal the convention’s decision?

Yes. I’m sending them a statement with a request to remove the inaccurate press statement they put out, due to the defamatory nature of their statement.

Were any of the players under age? What about the characters?

The age rating was 18+. The players were 18+, as were the PCs.

Did the ‘gang rape of minors’ actually take place in the game and was it described as such or in lurid detail?

Not at all, both my GM notes and the recording I made of the game clearly show that nothing of the sort happened.

[NB: Said recording appears to have corrupted or failed. Which doesn’t look good admittedly, but on the other hand the sign up sheets and adventure descriptions have been retrieved, see below. A recording does exist of one of the other sessions].

It’s my understanding that while Tales from the Loop is a more ‘kids on bikes’ game, Things from the Flood is more of a horror game with more adult content. Is that right?

No, both are darkly mature games. Anyone who has read the books, knows this. Just a read through of the scenarios in Tales from the Loop shows it’s an 18+ game.

Were you aware of any convention rules prohibiting the kind of content in your game before this blew up?

I have been running roughly 8 games a year for UKexpo for nearly a decade, minus the year I had Open Heart Surgery, so had an understanding of the rules but given there was no ‘gang rape of minors’ it was not an issue.

You don’t seem quite as social-media connected as a lot of people, what has it been like for you being ‘cancelled’ in this way?

I only have a locked down Facebook that I use to keep in contact with family.

Its quite mad to think that the game of internet whispers is revolving around you. I’m reading bits thinking, ‘that never happened’. Makes you think about the fake/real news in the age of misinformation we have woken up to. Bloody insane. The pseudo death threats, and threats of violence, from clicking keys in somebody’s mum’s basement would be funny – if it wasn’t happening to you.

Some people talk as though you have a reputation for pushing boundaries and being ‘edgy’, is that fair to you?

No, I run games that have twists, or that turn genres on their heads. I’ve run every genre from Dad’s Army vs the Deep Ones to Delta Green, to Musketeers in the Hollow Earth.

Have you been able to counter these accusations anywhere or have you been prevented from doing so?

I have not really spoken to anyone. I’ve not begun to online, just yet.

Your delayed Kickstarter has been brought up and used to attack you, but I saw an update from May 15th. Do you still intend to deliver and do you have a revised timetable?

This is really a conversation between me and the backers, but my Open Heart Surgery delayed things. A full draft was dropped a while ago.

This opens up the debate, what is or is not acceptable? MYFAROG? Let’s Kill the Ice Cream Man? Lover in the Ice and any of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures? Even the Alien RPG, a game based on a film where a monster puts its genitalia down your throat to empty its seed inside you… I guess gross out teenage comedy needs to be added to that list.

#AprilTTRPGmaker Favourite interview?

Probably this one. Years back, but it’s showing what I’ve consistently tried to do ever since. To reach across this ‘SJW’ divide and create understanding. No progress has, however, been made. The divisions remain, there’s nobody on the other side really willing to listen – whether it’s in tabletop, video games, fiction writing or anything else.

#RPG – Interviewed at Supernerdland

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You can read my interview at Supernerdland HERE.

If you want me for a podcast, stream, guest blog/vlog or written interview just let me know.

#Gamergate – Escapist/Desborough Interview Disclosure

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TL;DR – Yes Alex backed my project. No it doesn’t breach their ethical policy. No it doesn’t compare to Gamergate’s complaints. Yes I think they should have disclosed. I asked them to but I defer to their decision.

So Alexander Macris is getting some flak from people who are anti-gamergate because they think he has violated the same ethics issues Gamergate has been about by me being interviewed for The Escapist.

Let me say from the first that I agree there should be a disclosure in the item. Not because anything that happened was wrong, unlike in the cases Gamergate is upset about, but simply because in the current atmosphere things need to be whiter than white.

Full disclosure, I know Alex – at least online – and we have ‘shot the shit’ some of these issues for a while. I think The Escapist is one of the few sites that has treated Gamergate remotely fairly in allowing discussion and in showing all sides of the argument. They also revised their ethics policy and fully disclosed it and have otherwise done a lot of things worthy of praise and support.

Here’s the relevant part of The Escapist Ethical Policy:

Site staff are permitted to contribute to crowdfunding campaigns and subscription services like Patreon. If editorial content is derived from these contributions, disclose the contribution. However, staff may not create content surrounding a crowdfunding effort if they are a contributor to the effort, and the effort will not be funded if it fails to reach its goals.

The crux of the matter is ‘editorial content’.

The interview was not about the project, Alex had no byline in the interview – I think it’s Greg who has been managing the interviews on the site. The interview does not support or promote the project – which has closed in any case.

The things that Gamergate has been concerned by are explicated in the ethics policy quote above. Specifically:

  • Editorial content derived from contributions.
  • Creating content surrounding a crowdfunding effort (if they contribute).

The instances Gamergate were pissed off about were cases where people in positions of power were promoting individuals that they patreoned or projects that were underway. Places were the conflicts of interest were obvious and massive, once you understood the relationships involved.

My interview is one of many, providing a variety of views and does not promote my project – which closed out successfully by the time this came out anyway.

Still, I felt it should be disclosed because of the kind of attention everything is getting.

TL;DR – Yes Alex backed my project. No it doesn’t breach their ethical policy. No it doesn’t compare to Gamergate’s complaints. Yes I think they should have disclosed. I asked them to but I defer to their decision.

There’s another couple of side issues here.

1. They misrepresent Gor and what they say amounts to failing to understand the difference between reality and fantasy and kink-shaming. In a world where 50 Shades of Grey is a bestseller (despite being awful) I don’t think it’s safe ground to point and laugh at people’s BDSM fantasies.

2. The following is the extent of my involvement in the ‘Burgers and Fries’ IRC channel, an open channel that I clicked on to try and find out more about what was going on:

Sep 04 14.47.48 *	grimachu (cgiirc@Rizon-4B2EF135.demon.co.uk) has joined #burgersandfries
Sep 04 14.49.00 <grimachu>	Yeah, that's been problematic for me as a far left lib, but these people aren't any sort of left/lib I'd recognise.
Sep 04 14.49.27 <grimachu>	Is that streaming anywhere Noire?
Sep 04 14.50.01 <grimachu>	Ta.
Sep 04 14.59.23 *	grimachu has quit (Quit: http://www.mibbit.com ajax IRC Client)

3. Also, for the record. I said good things about Depression Quest, used to follow Zoe Quinn, I donated money when she was mugged. I regret this now, due to her actions. Not the configuration of her chromosomes. As a sufferer from depression myself I thought it was a good thing, sadly, made by a person who it turns out is not good.

If you want any more clarification, detail or explanation, please leave a comment.

***

UPDATE

The interview has since been removed, apparently for ‘harassment towards Escapist contributors’. I have no idea why, and have no idea who I might have ‘harassed’ (though the bar these days is set so low it could be anything).

James Desborough GamerGate Interview
THE ESCAPIST STAFF | 10 OCTOBER 2014 5:30 PM

James “Grim” Desborough is a game designer, author and blogger who has worked primarily on role-playing games, as well as card games, board games and social computer games. He won an Origins Award in 2001 and has been a pundit on men’s issues. Follow him on twitter @Grimachu. We interviewed Mr. Desborough over email.

Have any public comments by you about GamerGate triggered or abuse or harassment from games or game journalists? If so, please share what you deem appropriate.

I’ve been shocked by the contempt many games journalists seem to hold for their audience and my comments have met with some hostility. I haven’t paid that much attention to the “who” and the “where” and have tried to follow my own best advice and ignore it. A lot of it comes from people who aren’t anonymous trolls or new accounts though and that-to me-is the striking difference between the #GamerGate side and whatever you might call the opposition. There are trolls on all sides, but the ones that are public about the abuse, name calling etc., certainly seem to be more on the anti-GamerGate side.

Gamer Gate Harrassment has been doing a good job of logging a tiny a portion of the abuse.

Some developers have reported to me that they are being blacklisted or stonewalled by journalists over comments they’ve made relating to #GamerGate or similar issues. Have you experienced anything similar?

Tabletop gaming has been undergoing similar upheavals, but without anything like as much opposition. These kinds of arguments can be two-edged in that notoriety can bring money and attention to your projects in the short term but can make people unwilling to work with you in the longer term.

I have had to operate under a pen name on occasion because of the faux controversy and hatred directed towards me, other creators have not wanted to work with me not because they disagree with me necessarily or don’t want to work with me, but because they’re afraid of – and I quote – “The crazies.” From my point of view the harassment issue – as is reported in the media – is 180 degrees from what really goes on, but then the media is often in on the harassment.

I’ve also had interviews evaporate or it has taken weeks longer than necessary to talk to the right people. That’s either disorganization or, well, something else.

What does being blacklisted or stonewalled mean?

It makes it harder to get work, harder to get exposure. If you’re not part of a larger company that makes promotion of your material more difficult and it makes it hard to be part of the conversation. A very one-sided and caricatured ‘debate’ tends to appear in the press so the other side of these arguments doesn’t get as much airing.

How was the blacklisting or stonewalling communicated to you? How did you find out?

It wasn’t. I found out via friends or doing a little digging and prodding.

Did they give a reason for your blacklisting/stonewalling?

The aforementioned issue of ‘The crazies’ – or similar – has been brought up several times. The article I wrote defending the use of unpleasant tropes in stories (rape in particular) has been cited a few times. Rather absurd to be living in a world where fictional bad things happening to fictional people has such an impact in life.

What do you expect the consequences of this to be?

It just makes everything that little bit harder, but it also makes the fight more important. On a broader scale I think the right to free expression is being severely curtailed both by this atmosphere of slacktivist orthodoxy and by issues around private ownership of communications media.

Do you know of any developers who have been silenced or self-silenced by concerns of how gamers or journalists will react to their opinion of GamerGate?

There are plenty who hold their tongues over issues like this, and this in particular, out of a sense of self-preservation. I think they really should stand up for their consumers and community though. It just goes to show how bad things have gotten if they don’t feel they can actually side with their fans.

Have you ever been subjected to criticism of misogyny, racism, or similar because of your actual game development or other work in the industry?

Yes, though it doesn’t take much to be accused of misogyny these days. Merely disagreeing with someone who happens to be a woman seems to be enough. It’s a form of apophenia [editor: the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data] in my opinion. You go looking for something to be offended by and you’ll find it.

Are there particular articles, journalists, sites, or communities that are considered particularly egregious in their criticism by developers?

RPGnet, Yourdungeonissuck, http://wouldyouagreethat.tumblr.com/. In the tabletop RPG community much of the ‘social justice’ criticism comes from the developers and writers themselves, such Tablehop (a known troll and abuser) with a definite split which, again, is related to certain indies. Evil Hat are quite ‘SJW’ish, the Eclipse Phase people famously banned ‘MRAs’ from their site, without really defining what one was exactly. Machine Age Productions actually do a good thing in that they make their own games, but they spoil it by slagging off and hating anyone and everyone that doesn’t share their views.

Some developers have reported that #GamerGate is a situation that has been brewing for years. Do you agree?

Absolutely. There’s a conflux of issues here coming together. The Indie scene was vulnerable to a particular kind of ‘social justice’ infiltration because it was smaller and dealing with the right kinds of subjects. Corruption in gaming journalism goes back almost as long as computer gaming, but the death of the magazines and the rise of the sites was supposed to make that better. Now it’s the turn of the YouTubers it seems, and sooner or later they’re going to have their scandals. The abuse and criticism directed towards ‘mainstream’ gaming (consoles, PC) has been building for years and many gamers have become heartily sick of everything they love being torn apart on dubious ideological bases. I think this was just the last straw that took them past questioning themselves.

When did the distrust begin?

Things have been going wrong since the 80s I reckon, but the ‘social justice warrior’ issue seems to have kicked into high gear around 2010.

What are the primary concerns that developers have, vis a vis the game press? Vis a vis gamers?

I want people to be able to make anything and for consumers to be able to buy anything. Whether that’s Gone Home or Battle Raper, I don’t care. When I read a game review I want to know about the graphics, the specs, the sound, the options, the game details. Not whether it ‘objectifies’ women (I can judge that for myself, thanks) or what Bell Hooks or Simone de Beauvoir might have had to say about the strip club level. As a writer and developer I want what I work on to be judged on its artistic (or fun) merits, not whether it conforms to a particular political orthodoxy. The game is what matters and it’s the game being reviewed. Not speculation about my private life or beliefs.

Are developers changing their interactions with the game press or gamers as a result of GamerGate?

I used to try and interact as much as possible, even with the haters, to try and understand where they were coming from. Not any more.

What could the press do to restore developers’ confidence that they will treat them fairly? What could gamers do to restore relations with developers?

The Escapist seems to have made the biggest step in adopting some professional guidelines. I’d like to see other sites doing that and I’d like to see opinion clearly marked as such and, perhaps, separated out from the ‘meat’ of a review so that those who are interested can read that and those who aren’t can skip it.

Gamers need to be conscious that any creative act is putting a part of yourself out on show and that they need to be twice as positive about the good things as they are negative about the bad things. Tell people what you like about their games, not just what you hate. #GamerGate has been heartening to me as a game maker, even in another field, because it shows that developers and writers aren’t alone in their frustrations.

Is there a perception of corruption among the game press? If so, is it primarily perceived as mercenary (pay to get a good review) or primarily ideological (toe the party line to get a good review) or something else?

There’s not that much money in game press, so I think it’s more ideological and unprofessional favors. That doesn’t make it any less worrying though.

Any other comments?

This whole thing is a tangled mess of issues and they, perhaps, need to be untangled. The Zoe Quinn issue was merely the spark, though recent questions have brought her – and Sarkeesian – back into focus. There were clear conflicts of interest there, even if nothing actually wrong was done. It’s not sufficient to be innocent when it comes to public opinion, you must also appear to be innocent.

From there concerns about DiGRA, IGF, Silverstring and a whole host of other issues with clear conflicts of interest have been found out. Both of these concerns tie in to existing worry about issues such as Colonial Marines and a dev at Gearbox essentially admitted biased coverage.

The SJW issue is one that impacts creativity as a whole and ties in via the indie games scene and a biased games media that has been pushing these particular agendas hard for years, not waiting for things to change organically – which they have been doing – and even heavily criticizing games that advance the form. I think, really, gamers’ patience has just run out.

UPDATE

The takedown message has been updated, and reveals that the interview was taken down merely on the basis of accusations. As a fan of logic and due process I find this unacceptable.

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#Gamergate: Escapist, Interviews, Paranoia

1095f029d8ac-xlThe Escapist has interviewed a bunch of developers about #Gamergate, me amongst them – giving a slightly different perspective as a veteran of the troubles around erotica, fiction and tabletop games.

I was pleased, and relieved, to discover I wasn’t alone in seeing the kinds of things that have been going on as dangerous and unethical or, more broadly, the cultural censorship (culture war) that we seem to be in.

Greg Costikyan’s stance, however, is particularly disappointing. You would think that someone who wrote the Paranoia RPG would be more tuned in to the threats of McCarthy style witch hunts, part of what he was satirising in Paranoia. That he should succumb to this kind of paranoid, censorious groupthink is shocking.

It’s hard to see how someone who is supposedly an egalitarian feminist would hold such scorn for men’s rights as well, though sadly it’s not unusual. His characterisation of Gamergate is essentially one gigantic strawman, but sadly it’s a strawman that seems to have a lot of traction with people, even those that should know better.

As an RPG veteran Greg should know the dangers of these moral panics as (and I know I belabour this point) someone who lived through The Satanic Panic and Pat Pulling. As a veteran computer game developer the echoes of Jack Thompson in the ‘rape culture’ and ‘misogyny’ arguments should be setting alarm bells ringing but again, something weirdly seems to stop people seeing that this is the same old cycle.

SoggykneesHe conveniently ignore the doxxing, threats and other issues that Gamergate supporters have suffered, especially professionally. He thinks Anita Sarkeesian is a gamer, which is inexcusable ignorance at this point. He also fails to understand that many of these people are not building their alternative game culture on the back of FOAMYOS, but on attacking and denigrating the work of others, claiming it’s ‘problematic’ and organising, even duplicitously to distort presentations.

Then there’s the hopeless argument that ‘yes, there’s corruption’ and that ‘it’s worse elsewhere’, which doesn’t excuse anyone else’s corruption, especially amongst those claiming the moral high ground.

Sorry to pick on Greg, but of the people featured he feels most like a peer and he is the one I feel the deepest disappointment in for utterly failing to follow events – not to mention that ludicrous – and literal – white knighting he engaged in.

‘Misogyny’. Right Greg, couldn’t be anything to do with people being cunts, rather than having them.

Hangout Interview: Crossing the Line

I’ll be doing an interview about various controversial issues in gaming – and more general geek society – this coming Saturday from 3pm EST.

It’ll be recorded but since it’s a hangout it’ll also be live.

Hopefully we can have a respectful discussion without the witch-hunting that normally goes on in these discussions.

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+Mark Diaz Truman will interview  +James Desborough  , controversial veteran of RPG publishing, about taboos and difficult subjects in gaming. The conversation will focus on the role of free speech and community standards in publishing, specifically how sensitive material should or should not be handled differently from ordinary material.

James ‘Grim’ Desborough has over a hundred writing credits to his name including Hentacle [ http://www.rpgnow.com/product/15750/Hentacle ], Agents of Swing [http://www.rpgnow.com/product/91482/Agents-of-SWING ], Blood [http://www.rpgnow.com/product/23173/Blood ]  and The Munchkin’s Guide to Power Gaming [ http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=SJG30-3003 ]. An Origin Award winner, his work has been praised for its creativity and humour as well as being condemned for its sexual content and depiction of women.  A fierce advocate for free speech, Desborough has been banned for life from RPG.Net.  

In June 2012, Desborough published a blog post called In Defence of Rape [http://talesofgrim.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/in-defence-of-rape/ ], a response to the debate [ http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/06/15/should-rape-have-a-place-in-videogames/ ] over reports about a rape scene in the new Lara Croft Tomb Raider [ Tomb Raider: Lara Croft’s First Kill! ( Rape Scene) ] game, part of a larger debate about sexism in games and the gaming industry. The inflammatory title, which Desborough himself describes as “link bait”, drew negative attention across communities. His active participation in the resulting discussion helped fuel arguments on forums, social media, and blogs, as well as online protests. This instance in the larger discussion on sexism in modern storytelling gained particular notoriety due to the questionable actions of some of those involved; Desborough was found to be dismissive, offensive, or even threatening by some readers. In turn, some commentators accused Desborough of harboring desires to see women raped, and some activists called for publishers and stores to drop his work.

A year on from these events, Indie+ has invited James Desborough to part take in an interview on handling difficult subjects. As someone who has been accused of stepping over the line of acceptable behaviour and experienced first hand the social ramifications of controversy, he has a unique perspective on the subject. At the same time Indie+ recognises the need for care when discussing issues that may be disturbing to some people; the interview will be conducted by Mark Diaz Truman, a writer, game publisher and a supporter of inclusive gaming. The aim of the interview is for a thoughtful and balanced discussion about sensitive subjects and their role in games.   

Over the last 15 months, Indie+ has run a series of events, many of which have touched on subjects of race and gender. We are proud of our commitment to supporting diversity in gaming. We recognise our responsibilities and will make time available during future events for any persons wishing to respond to the subjects raised in the interview. 

Interview at Roleplayer’s Chronicle

Me and Daniel (Camelot Cosmos) had a chat with Roleplayer’s Chronicle and you can read it HERE