Thursday, 3 September 2015

Social Justice Scylla and Rapey Charybdis

Steve Wieck, I kind of feel for you. You are falling into the centre of a storm.

But I feel for myself more.

I'm Patrick Stuart, with Scrap Princess I wrote Deep Carbon Observatory which is currently an Electrum pick on RPG.NOW and recently won Indy Supplement of the Year. I hope to be releasing more stuff on One Book Shelf soon including another book we created called 'Fire on the Velvet Horizon'. I also have stuff coming out at some point from LotFP and other publishers. So the way OBS classifies its products may have a big effect on me. Nothing I am likely to produce is going to be anything like 'Tournament of Rapists', but everything I produce is likely to be very strange, Id-driven, possibly-horrific and often made without a fine-grained appreciation of social justice. I am worried about what might happen.

The Social Justice/Free Speech fight is basically a Rorschach fight in which, when you see it take place, you imagine yourself on either one side or the other and respond accordingly.

I do not see myself being attacked by the Free Speech side of that battle any time in the future. There are some conservative factions of Role Playing that might be pissed of by what I do, but they don't have a big influence over the culture in the same way as the Social Justice people.

I think its much more likely that, as a friend of Zak Smith, freelancer for James Raggi, CIS-male and creator of very-strange-things, the Social Justice crowd might come after me, either directly or as part of a whispering campaign.

The 'slippery slope' in case you were wondering

A game called Tournament of Rapists in which all the rapists are bad and you have to stop them, but which no-one seems to think is any good >


LotFP product where rape is both described in the text as a product of particular agents in the scenario and not explicitly condemned, i.e. you can possibly witness rape, be raped or even commit rape, though there are no rules for it and it is not required it is a reasonable possibility given the nature of the adventure and it is up to you what you make of this >


Patrick/Scrap product in which a solid proportion of the people being asked thought certain monsters had serious overtones of paedophilia and racism i.e. many people who read the Strangel description for Fire on the Velvet Horizon thought that something like rape or paedophilia might be taking place in the inferred background of that monster. And that was people who like us.

Is this likely to happen? No, it probably won't.

Is this possible? I would have to say its very possible. The American culture-war just keeps expanding and intensifying to infest and take down more and more fields and systems. The Hugos pretty much collapsed under the weight of the competing factions and I doubt anyone watching a few years ago could have predicted that would happen.

It’s quite possible that one or more RPG products might attract the attention of one of the culture war sides and if it does, like the US and USSR in the cold war, once one side has been brought into play, the other side will have to summon its forces to oppose them.

The most recent battle wasn't too high intensity as the product in question seemed to have no redeeming value to almost anyone, but the next one might be quite different. If you have a product of legitimate artistic validity and meaningful aesthetic quality, but that also triggers the hell out of the Social Justice crowd, then you could end up at the centre of an intensifying storm with no clear way out.

So I have some questions and though I would not request that you make your policy in public, I would urge you to ultimately answer some or all of them in public when you have some idea of what the answers are.

- Are we allowed to know who voted against us?

- Will the reasoning behind a decision be made public as well as the decision itself?

- Will there be a process of appeals?

- The term 'offensive' must, by necessity involve the consensus of the majority, will there be any element in the process of review whose job it is to offer a dissenting opinion?

- Do you have a plan for if or when Culture War breaks out and everyone votes against everyone else and nukes the site like the Hugo awards?

- As a side note to the above question, one of the major creators and top sellers in the OSR scene is outright loathed by a small but organised and well-motivated group of other creators, how will you deal with it if your site becomes a battleground of that war?

- In marginal or morally complex cases what person or agency has ultimate authority? Is it you and only you? What if you are sick, on holiday, missing, fall down some stairs, a power cut takes down your internet access while a twitter storm rages over the RPG-sphere?

- Its almost impossible to prove that a product encourages rape or other social effects, its also almost impossible to disprove them, without proof of that kind, what will you use to decide whether something is moral or immoral?

- How many votes are required before a review process is triggered?

- Is there a 'statue of limitations' in case political partisans repeatedly tag or vote on the same product even though its passed already?

If there has to be a rule and a process than it should, as much as reasonably possible be an open and specific rule and an open and specific process.

Having an open and specific rule means you lose out because people will use fine legalisms to game the system and produce things that are deliberately offensive and rapey but without being formally offensive and rapey. They will do this specifically to fuck with people whilst claiming to be supporting free speech.

But the alternative is saying to people 'there is a rule', waving your fingers mysteriously and then letting them work out what it is from your behaviour.

That essentially leads people to censor themselves out of fear and that amorphous and vague fear becomes the new rule. And since the rule is both powerful and vague it produces a powerful but invisible pull towards conservatism.

Authority without a rule to govern it is madness.

I really do feel for you because there is no way for you to resolve this sanely without turning yourself into an authority on the nature of good and evil in RPG's and that is an insane role to take on, but if you don't then you are lost in the tides of the raging factions. Whatever you do people are going to be writing wrathful blog posts about how you betrayed them and are destroying the hobby.

And I'm not happy about the inevitable influence of consensus politics on a developing market, I am a strange person and the power of the consensus is rarely good for us.

I do not demand or even request a response to this, it’s not an ultimatum or even a semi-matum, but I urge you to consider the issues raise and, if possible, to make that consideration, not a product of public consensus, but at least open and accessible to the public.


  1. I have an awesome idea for a rule to determine what should or shouldn't be allowed in the marketplace, but it's pretty revolutionary, so just hear me out.

    Okay, first, a thing is offered for sale. Then, people either buy it or not. Then it's over, and everyone goes home.

    What do you think? Pretty radical, huh?

    1. It sounds interesting but One Book Shelf has already decided not to follow that policy.

  2. Patrick, I read the post, but I'm not totally clear what you're asking about: the selection criteria (or maybe meta-criteria) for a particular award?

    I'm not in your shoes, alas, because I've seen some of what you design and I imagine your shoes are, like, suction cups that siphon the "floor-ness" and "wall-ness" of objects permitting great mobility even though you gradually become increasingly wall-like the more you wear them.

    But, from someone with normal shoes, I think all you can do is sharpen your artistic vision to the savage truth, and execute on it to the very best of your ability. Art either moves you or it doesn't, and in any event the creators' (presumed?) politics are a secondary concern. I find Woody Allen disgusting, but he's made some movies that I enjoy in spite of myself; Mel Gibson is a bigot but you'll have to fight me to take away my copy of Road Warrior.

    That said! There's also a commercial or cultural aspect to RPG's as a hobby. I think there's a decent-sized audience that actively wants adventures where women aren't victimized to motivate heroes, and where it's no big thing to have different-colored people all hanging out. And beyond the people who actively want this, there's people who don't consciously want it but would gladly accept it.

    But those are, in the end, commercial considerations, and maybe they enter your creative process, or maybe they don't. But you've got a gift, and that gift involves describing High Strangeness; few others have it, and I'd urge you not to compromise yours based on what "might" happen.

    Sorry if that's not directly on point to solving award criteria; that's a problem I don't know how to solve. But I think good stuff gets rewarded somehow or other in the long run.

  3. Patrick,

    This is well-reasoned and measured, and therefore, I presume, likely to be dismissed out of hand by most of the interested parties. Reason and measure have not been available in abundance recently.

    I would expect some of the din was raised by people who were generally offended – perhaps because rape is a concrete element of their personal experience. The last two or three years have seen an increasingly energetic backlash against casual representations of rape, coupled with and feeding on an burgeoning awareness of rape as a societal problem. Much of the concern has centered on how representations of rape contribute to increasing or maintaining the act's permissibility among some groups or sub-cultures. I do not have to agree with the causal logic of such arguments to have some sympathy for those who present them.

    On the other hand, much of the outrage appears to have been ginned up by people waiting for an opportunity to make their voices heard – without much reference to any specific issue or topic. That bilious assembly will likely feature prominently in any (ab)uses of the take-down system OBS is launching.

    Products will come under attack, one imagines, from groups with both real and imagined grievances, although those constituencies will not always act in concert.

    The measures you outlined are sensible checks against abuse, but any system which features a public-facing mechanism to initiate bans is likely to see a considerable number of spurious incidents. This is still more likely given the nature of the RPG/OSR milieu: a small community of people with some overlapping interests and deep-rooted animosities. I suspect that creators who run afoul of noisy minorities will be drawn into serial defences of their products. Such defences do not need to cost money to be enervating and disruptive for a writer or independent publisher: merely the time and attention lost will be burden enough.

    OBS has inadvertently created a novel channel for harassment and vendetta, and its recent conduct does not suggest the company understands how that channel will likely be used. I am very curious to see what follows for OBS and the community it serves.

    Unfortunately, I do not share Nostack's optimism: good products can be buried in obscurity, and judging from James Raggi's comments this week, even prominent independent publishers are leery of losing the benefits of selling their wares through OBS. The catalyzing product was apparently (I've not read it) poorly constructed: but there are a lot of beautifully-written and -designed books that could easily be deemed objectionable by one group or another. The new policy raises a lot of concerns about the future of such products on OBS, and perhaps, in the industry at all.

  4. In every one of these frenzies of tabletop animus and name calling nothing changes. There's caterwauling, howling and saber rattling - but that, pornography and cute pet pictures are the primary uses of the internet. The only thing I can suggest is to stand far enough so the hate and fear flecked spittle of the ideological gladiators doesn't get on your new shoes, while you work on your own things. After-all this isn't your livelihood, and any kerfuffle will looks as silly as the Palace of the Silver Princess publication hi-jinx with a few months of hindsight.

    1. It is part of my livelihood and when Maze and Veins come out it will be much more hopefully.