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Game content and Forge policy

Started by Ron Edwards, January 22, 2008, 01:55:55 AM

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Ron Edwards

I've decided to address some points made in another thread, Satanic Panic! (Power 19 answered). It's better handled here because it touches on my policies and I think will gum up the thread topic if we continue it there.

I'm quoting only my and Michael's (Vulpinoid) last posts, but it is preceded by his post that the game may be offensive to some.

I wrote,

QuoteI think the comment that "It might offend someone" is both obvious and uninteresting. This is a forum for helping people design the games they want to make, not the games that will please and soothe unspecified persons somewhere out there.

Michael wrote,

QuoteDon't get me wrong Ron, but when first reading through the Power 19, I wasn't sure if the game was designed to be a serious take on Satanism or a tongue-in-cheek and fun exploration of the dark side.

While I agree that in most circles the comments are uninteresting and obvious, there are other groups who still flail their arms wildly and start screaming about satanism at the merest mention of roleplaying games. I don't think it's helpful for the community to ignore these fanatics and zealots while be become insulated in our own little world saying "it won't happen to us"....or "people stopped thinking that way long ago."

For all the talk here at the forge about the "new era of roleplaying" and breaking away from the ideas of the past, we don't want to be viewed as extremists who go out of our way to offend folks. That's a sure fire way to bring the whole comics code fiasco into the role-playing industry (sure that was decades ago...but these sorts of things have a nasty tendency to rear their ugly heads time and again once spawned).

Now that I know more about the way the game has been conceived, I have more confidence.

Again...just my opinions...take them or leave them.

Now, I did err in not making it clear that my post was speaking as content moderator for the Forge, not just another guy posting (my usual hat). So Michael, it's not fair to expect you to know that you were actually being moderated, and I'm not saying you bucked my authority. Here, though, I think it's a good idea to lay down just what my policy is, here at the Forge, in terms of content for game designs and how we should approach that, as a community. So this is about moving forward.

The moderator policy is that the Forge is the only community I care about in this hobby, including its diffuse borders which include anyone who wants to publish his or her own game design and/or who likes to think critically about role-playing. I do not care about "the industry." I do not care about "gaming" or "the hobby," nor about how anyone might view it. Again, these are moderator statements, with "caring" being used to describe priorities and policy, not merely feelings and preferences I might have as a person.

So if someone out there, somewhere, hypothetically, hates gaming more because of some thing I did or some thing that some Forge member did, that's no concern of mine. That's my judgment not as mere personal preference, but as moderator for the site. Comments about how that someone might be offended and might do or say something that "hurts" gaming, well, those are off the intellectual radar of what we do here. It's like a painting symposium or commune - how well you paint comes under critical scrutiny, but what you paint does not, except as a subject which is affected well or poorly by those particular techniques.

Yes, we've had satanist games in First Thoughts and Indie Design, by people who take whathisname LaVey seriously. Am I impressed? No. Do we shut them down? No. If the game is interesting as technique to someone, can that someone post accordingly? Sure.

Yes, we've even seen a white supremacist game get posed for discussion, a few years ago. People shit little green apples and urged me to ban him, delete him, send him to the Inactive File, or otherwise sanction him with my cutting verbal skills to make sure that Someone Out There would not be offended and would not associate the Forge with such rot-minded crap. And it was rot-minded crap, make no mistake.

Peace, I said to them. It is rot-minded crap, and it is likely that this person is eagerly awaiting all sorts of hysterical reactions. If you want to point out the problems he has demonstrated in his design, go ahead - in which case, if he is (by chance) actually a thinking person, then he will have to confront the limits of his prejudices in terms of the game. If you want to demonstrate a lack of solidarity with him as a contributor, then the obvious solution is not to reply. As it turned out, some people did the former, and most people did the latter, and no one had a cow. The upshot was the guy wasn't able to reply meaningfully. Clearly he had intended to shock us and satisfy his ego as Mr. Edgy, and we did not play the game, so he stopped posting. Now his thread can serve as institutional archive for how to deal with such people.

To be clear: any comments which rely on what some third party might think, whether they are feared by the nervous poster, or being protected by the sensitive poster, are not useful at the site. What matters is how a game strikes you and whether you want to contribute toward its development, or challenge its assumptions to get the person to look at it more critically.

Michael, again, this isn't about slapping you down. As it happens, you did a great job of letting the thread author know that he needed to clarify whether his game is satirical or not (it is), and that was a valuable contribution. My goal in posting here is to make it clear what the site policies are.

Speaking, then, in that capacity, I do have a suggestion. A question like, "Is the game actually bona fide satanist, or is it a put-on or satire or something like that? I can't tell from what you posted," would have been right on the money. It would leave out any reference to people elsewhere and what their tiny minds might be revving about, and it would express your real question as you stated it to me in the quoted material above.

My final point concerns any hard limits to my laissez-faire notions about this issue. Are there any? Yes. I don't know what the actual boundary is, but I know that if I thought someone were dealing with actual harm or sites/material that harmed people, or if what they were advocating or representing (I mean really, not just for fictional purposes) broke major U.S. laws, then I'd call a halt to it here. I hate to mention something so horrid, but say someone wrote a game about molesting minors, and if in my judgment there were some kind of implied link to sites or imagery about that topic (which in that case would be almost certain in my mind, at the outset). Not only would it hit the Inactive File, I'd probably have Vincent send his ISP to the feds. The white supremacist guy was actually right on that cusp - the fact that he was an attention-seeking agitator ended his story here, and it'd probably end similarly or better if he were just a guy with lame-ass opinions but did want to write a game; but let's say that I instead got the idea that he was really linked up to some kind of organization; that might be different.

Again, though, that hard limit has nothing to do with invoking what "other people" (unspecified, out there in the world or on the net, just existing for the sole purpose of us worrying about them maybe being offended) might think.

Best, Ron

M. J. Young

I want to applaud this policy, and make two comments regarding it.

First, once in a great while we get posts over on Gaming Outpost from people who seem to be attempting to create a game for the purposes of promoting their political or social agendum, and sometimes some of our regulars get a bit annoyed at this.  I've always taken steps to engage the individual on the level of his game, the problems with the design and whether it achieves his objectives, and this has always kept the discussions civil and focused, and usually succeeded in helping the original poster see that games with an agenda usually aren't very good games. (I make the same point as Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild concerning many "Christian" games, that the more they try to push Christianity, the less they succeed as games, in most cases.)  (I have no official position with Gaming Outpost, but do have moderator status there.)  Getting upset about such things never resolves the issue; respecting the poster as if he were serious and talking through his directions usually does.

Second, and speaking as someone who is still very much on the front lines of the defense of role playing games against claims that they are evil or Satanic, saying that the content of a game might be offensive to someone does not quell such attitudes, and in fact sometimes intensifies them--as if in saying this you are admitting that what you are doing is wrong by virtue of being intentionally offensive.  These people will decide that you are offensive without you alerting them to the fact, and your introductory comment to that effect will only enable them to home in on your offensiveness the more quickly.

So apart from the fact that Ron has the right to run this site however he wishes, he's doing it in a way that has the greatest likelihood of producing good games and stifling bad ideas.

Thanks for the site, Ron (and Vincent and Clinton).

--M. J. Young