DriveThruRPG, one of the largest online distributors of role-playing games, is embroiled in controversy because online social justice activists discovered the site was selling an RPG entitled Tournament of Rapists.
RPGs often describe gory battles in fictional settings, and aren’t known for avoiding violent themes. Rolemaster, for example, describes characters being scraped off the ground with a spatula if they are victims of a particularly powerful magic spell.
Nevertheless, Tournament of Rapists struck a nerve with some online activists, who kicked up a storm on blogs and social media. “Glorifying rape is not OK,” wrote one blogger. In response to the outrage, the site removed the RPG from its store, in co-operation with the author, and has instituted a new “offensive content policy.”
There’s just one problem: the “rapists” in Tournament of Rapists were, in fact, the villains of the story. In a frustrated blog post, the game’s publisher explained:
The participants in these tournaments are the *BAD GUYS* that the [player characters] are supposed to kill! Most of the “stat blocks” are for monsters/creatures for the PC’s to fight. People got up-in-arms about the TITLE of the book. Can you imagine fleshing out the main bad guy who actually puts these things on so your party of good guys can go dismantle the entire organization and kill the Half-daemon Billionaire industrialist who runs it? Now *THAT* is a bad guy worth fighting in my opinion; I’d want to kill him more than I would King Joffrey on Game of Thrones.
I’ve seen comments where people assume Chris [the author] must be a horrible human being that wants to rape people or whatever. (He isn’t. And by the same token, do these same people also think George R.R. Martin wants to have sex with his sister because he wrote about two of his characters engaged in incest?) He’s a guy with a huge imagination who loves RPG’s.
According to the publisher, allegations that Tournament of Rapists intended to glorify rape were akin to allegations that Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia intended to glorify murder.
Of course, the nuance was lost on social justice activists. One particularly aggrieved RPG publisher, Exploding Rogue, even suspended sale of their products on DriveThruRPG. Another RPG author, Adam Koebel, threatened to do the same.
Tabletop gaming should not be confused with board games, like chess and scrabble. Cultural phenomena like Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer are vastly more complex, incorporating elements of role-play and storytelling in addition to enormous rulebooks.
In tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), players create their own characters and build a storyline as they play. With games sometimes taking years to complete, it’s a hobby that demands dedication, an ability to navigate complex systems, and, in some cases, the lack of an outside social life.
Unsurprisingly, its enthusiasts are often stereotyped as shy, retiring nerds. But even the most introverted community cannot escape the endless culture wars of social media. Indeed, nerd culture seems to be one of the primary targets of progressive hand-wringing these days.
Steve Wieck, CEO of DriveThruRPG, issued his final response to the controversy on Tuesday. In a long blog post, they explained that they had come to an agreement with the publishers of Tournament of Rapists, and that the title would be removed from the store.
Wieck also announced a new policy on offensive content, whereby RPGs reported as offensive would be screened on a case-by-case basis. Wieck announced that he would be the “final arbiter” of what was deemed to be too offensive for the store, and informed readers that he would “err toward including content, even when it challenges readers and deals with sensitive issues, so long as it does so maturely and not gratuitously.”
His reassurances were not enough for more culturally libertarian RPG publishers, who voiced their discontent on social media.
James Raggi, an RPG author who described himself as a top 2 per cent publisher on the store, described the online activists as a “brainless, howling mob” and warned that if any of his products were removed under the new offensive content policy, his publisher would remove the rest of their products from the store as well.
RPG distributors have found themselves in an unenviable position, caught between warring factions in the online culture wars. But in this war, one side just can’t seem to get its facts right.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.