“Adult” Content in Gaming and Fiction

I promised myself when I started seriously pursuing a writing career that this blog would not turn into me ranting about games and gamer culture, again. But I suppose you can take the woman away from the gaming table, but you can’t… blah blah blah.

A bit of background: the last few days a controversy has been boiling over Drive ThruRPG featuring a game titled “A Tournament of Rapists.” You can pretty much guess what it’s about, but in case you want more information, bloggers Miss Phina and Sarah Darkmagic do a good job of summing up the mechanics and backstory. They also offer reactions to CEO Steve Wieck’s lame non apology on the subject.

This controversy is clearly being covered by people much more equipped to talk about the full scope within the gaming sphere than I, and so I’m going to focus on something different. I’m going to talk about adult content.

Thus far, literature employing rape have commonly become classified as adult. This would be less of a problem if adult had a generalized and accepted meaning, but in literature (and movies, as covered by the film This Film is Not Yet Rated), adult too often excludes violence, and when it does include violent acts, it becomes confusing to people who consider adult content to solely mean sexy times.

According to many people recently, the only violence covered by adult seems to be rape. This appears to me to be tied up in connecting rape to sex and sexuality. Let’s be clear: rape is not sex. It is a violent, torturous act. Its portrayal should fall under the same category as pulling someone’s finger nails out, not a poorly blocked sex scene where it looks like they’re getting it in the thigh or stomach.

Is rape sometimes tied up in sexuality? Yes. Obviously. So is blunt force, depictions of little girls (yes, I’m talking about the obsession with dressing women as school girls and cheerleaders, which is pedophilic and infantilizing), and sometimes carrots. People are able to sexualize anything, but many of these things are not innately sexual. Rape is not innately sexual.

Neil Gaiman recently released a set of short stories under the title Trigger Warning. Within the introduction, he expressed fear about the absolute tyranny of the trigger warning when dealing with art in a manner that the New York Times described as “puckish.” He talked about producing the comic book series Sandman (which employs rape in many different ways, often for boring shock value where the victims exist solely as foils for the rapists), and feeling that a notification that the content was for Mature Readers covered all of that.

For many writers, adult and mature apparently turns into a fictionalized Wild West where rape, extreme violence, poor representations of dark sexuality are equally insured against criticism alongside vanilla sexuality, safe depictions of kink, low level violent acts, and swearing. Violent acts need trigger warnings, and if you want adult content warnings to act in place of a trigger warning, you need to classify bloody, gory, tortuous violence in adult content. Firmly. Across the board. Until this is the case, adult doesn’t cover it, and that needs to be acknowledged.

I began talking about what an adult label on media means to me, and is supposed to mean, and how it actually plays out on Twitter, and got some good reminders of what is considered adult content. For instance, swearing is considered adult. I had totally forgotten about swearing!

To me, there’s a big difference between the Goonies saying “shit” and every guy in the film Pixels referring to women as bitches and talking about ‘slut-seeking missiles’. Yet Pixels is only rated PG-13.

Writer Cora Buhlert popped into my mentions to share how some of her stories ended up in the erotica section after she tried to responsibly portray the extreme violence she employed as adult. She suggests a more detailed system for rating literature. I’m inclined to agree. It seems to me that the options right now are adult (orgiastic free-for-all) and what I would classify as an ‘E for Everybody’ rating, or more specifically, not adult. We need a little more classification if groups of people are going to jump up and cry censorship every time another group is righteously upset. If you can’t handle your classifications being criticized, and offensive works removed, sounds like you need a new system.

Now, just to hit everything on the head: criticism is not censorship. The CEO of Drive Thru also makes the claim that since their “marketplaces are a key distribution channel… the de facto result is very much like censorship” were they to deny independent publishers access due to content. Wieck then goes on to compare taking down content to book burning. Interesting claim for a lot of reasons, but I’ll pick one.

Yes, their company is a major mode of distribution, and a very important one to indie gaming. I’m not denying that, and I’m also not denying that making the decision to remove a module would negatively impact that company’s sales, perhaps majorly.

One of the major claims when something like this happens is that SJWs are using their powers of political correctness gone mad to kill freedom of speech. But here’s how freedom of speech works, and also how it pertains to what we’re going to call “art” in this case: you can say whatever crazy stuff you want, but you are not protected from people taking offense, being hurt, or just generally thinking you’re a crazy idiot and not selling your stuff or buying things from you.

Also, there are lots of other modes of selling and distributing Indie games. If a major distributor like Drive Thru has lots of its customers telling them they will not purchase through them, and will publicly decry them for protecting the rights of a work like “A Tournament of Rapists” to exist by continuing to sell it, then it’s probably a good business move to remove it from your store. But it’s hardly censorship.

I have no pull in the gaming world, but I also won’t be buying from or using Drive Thru‘s services, anymore. Enjoy the freedom of speaking!

-J.M.

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3 thoughts on ““Adult” Content in Gaming and Fiction

  1. The problem with people demanding that content be removed is that somebody is always offended by something. I personally looked at “tournament of rapists” after the controversy started. I found it juvenile and ill-concieved but I am more horrified at those who managed to get it removed. I don’t agree with the content, but find myself in the position of fighting for its right to exist and be sold. That is the country that I want to live in, where I can strongly disagree with neo Nazis marching down the street, yet defend their right to heard, and not silenced. The author is being silenced and one book shelf being vilified. And those doing it don’t even have the guts to admit that it is in fact censorship.

    PS. I am very horrified by rape. Men do get raped as well. Don’t go to jail, awful places.

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    1. Dear Ethan:

      The first part of your comment makes me think you either did not read the entirety of my post, or you did and you didn’t care enough to think about it and decided to just say the same canned thing everyone threatened by offensive content affecting their business says. The author is not being silenced. One piece of their work had been removed from a publisher because its customers said they would stop shopping their. That’s business. I’m still not shopping at Drive Thru, whatever.

      On your post script: I assume everyone is horrified by rape, but you have pointed out a major problem I had with ToR that I didn’t get into in this post: Rape in ToR appears to be inherently gendered. Women can be raped to death, but men can’t. What is that? If you’re going to make a campaign setting all about raping, don’t strip the agency of half (more or less) of your NPCs/PCs. That’s just bad design.

      I don’t understand what jail has to do with any of this?

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  2. Do you refuse to shop at Amazon until they remove all dinosaur rape fiction? If not, how is that any different than boycotting a company for one product. Before the controversy, I would not have looked twice at tournament of rapists. It’s not for me, but it is for somebody. And that is the point, by removing a a major distribution channel we are saying that your fictional representation is less deserving to be heard. I couldn’t say that. I come from a people who are still mostly silenced. Did you know that Native Americans are more likely to be shot by police that any other people? Yet there is no “red lives matter”. But make a RPG about rape and the internet goes nuts.I will defend Chris Field and Steve Wieck’s right to make a distribute a rape RPG, and I don’t have to agree with the content. And I don’t. I will not be playing a Tournament of Rapists anytime soon. As long as they keep it on the virtual plane, people can play rape themed games, by themselves, not with me.

    PS watch Oz, and you will know jail has to do with this. I bet some jail has a rape tournament. And it is disgusting.

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