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Saturday, September 24, 2016

OBS' Offensive Content Policy - 1 Year Later (Third in a Series)

In the first and second parts of our series dealing with the OBS offensive content policy, we have examined the OBS-side results of the policy and we have heard from the publisher of the product that launched the policy into being. We continue our series here, discussing the policy with the author whose creation was ground zero.

It was the release and subsequent outrage over the now famous/infamous Tournament of Rapists that sparked a controversy that was near inescapable in the RPG community. While it was released via Skortched Urf’ Studios, it was written by Chris Field of Otherverse Games. When released it was announced as a “new monster sourcebook for Black Tokyo Unlimited. This adults only sourcebook is actually really grim- a bunch of new sexual predators for the BTU campaign world.”

So, despite how it may have been described when it went up for sale, this product is not stated to be about the glorification of rape, it was meant to reflect horror at an adult level. Whether such a thing is distasteful or not is in the eye of the individual consumer but American entertainment is filled with pretty horrific things done in the name of fantasy escapism (for example Saw, Hostel, and other so-called “torture porn” films). Among the things that the product did not do was to cast the players in the role of rapists, or to encourage actual acts of violence.

Tournament of Rapists was voluntarily withdrawn however Chris Fields did mention that the materials within would be included in an upcoming publication Black Bestiary II (now on sale at OBS). Chris Fields work with the Black Tokyo Unlimited line certainly push the lines of accepted “good taste” and it should come as no surprise that there are those who will be offended by it. That said, Mr. Fields continues to produce products for the line and releases them via OBS.

We at The Tavern caught up with Mr. Fields to see what his thoughts were on the OBS policy that his work had inspired.

TT: Since that controversy exploded on the internet, are you aware of any other of your products having been flagged for review at OBS?

CF: I’m not aware of any of my other products being flagged, which is somewhat odd. The Rape Pure Tournament, the rapist martial artist bad guys who are the rapists in the book’s title has existed in some form or another for several years, since they were first mentioned in Black Tokyo Unlimited.  All but one of the monster stat-blocks from ToR were imported with no major changes into Black Bestiary II, the second major bestiary for the campaign setting.  I think the fact the title had the word Rapists in it offended people more than having sourcebook full of superpowered rapists for use as adversaries. The internet exploded over the title of the book, without feeling the need to read the actual content.

TT: How do you feel about the current review process?

CF:  I really think the review process is too open to abuse, and it feels like the onus is on the publisher to prove that a specific product isn’t obscene and has some kind of cultural and literary merit. The onus isn’t on whatever thin-skinned dipshit pushed the report button to prove a specific work IS offensive. Personally, I don’t see the necessity of a reporting function at all. Books will sell on their own merits, or not, and public opinion has a role to play in deciding what sells. Especially since I and other artists who publish mature readers content have an “adults only” flag we can easily slap on any product not for younger readers.

TT: Do you feel that "Tournament of Rapists" has made your products a target for abuse of the content review policy?

CF: I feel my products have been a target for offense, controversy and abuse since I began publishing. My first major RPG release, Choice & Blood, published by LPJ Designs back in 2007 or 2008 attracted enormous hate-threads because it portrayed abortion providers in a heroic light. I saved 90+ page threads on my hard drive criticizing the book, my intentions in writing it, and (most hilariously) the fact I used the D20 OGL to write the book rather than making it an indy game or using a WOD-like system. The sourcebook itself, if I remember correctly, was something like 25 pages, BTW.

Then I published Otherverse America, which was more of the same with a military sci-fi spin, and Black Tokyo and some other books and everything about them was criticized. Some of the criticism was legit- I’m no longer doing my own art for my books because I’m not all that great an artist, and I made several rookie game designer mistakes. Most of it however, was the same kind of internet nerd-rage and gamer conservatism: how dare I publish a book with pro-choice themes? How dare I make Christians the bad guys in my writing? How dare I publish something sexually oriented? How dare I come up with perverted and squicky spells and monsters for a setting that’s explicitly about perversity and sexual violence?

The dog-pile after ToR was not exactly unexpected, given that there’s a good portion of the gaming internet where I’m the most hated man in the industry. (I’m speaking of RPG.net and the Something Awful gaming forums most of all, though I caught criticism from all quarters.) The same people who have hated me since 2008, and have been trying to drive me out of the industry have the reporting tool as a new weapon in their arsenal. However, I’m not going anywhere, and I’m still, circa 2016 working on plenty of Black Tokyo and Otherverse America content. Let them whine, let ‘em bitch, I’m still here and I’m coming up on ten years of small press publication!

TT: Has the implementation of the content review system led to changes in which products you make available via OBS, or to the content contained therein?

CF: I’ve not made one change to the way I write since the controversy. I’m still writing the games I want to. I have published a fewer works this year than 2015 but that’s more a combination of a new job occupying more of my time, and my desire to produce bigger, prettier and better illustrated full-length sourcebook in the 200+ page range, rather than shorter 5-10 page splatbooks. I actually feel that the raised profile that the ToR controversy got me has helped me rise a few notches in whatever intangible hierarchy exists for indy RPG publishers.

TT: Looking back on the controversy and the conversations that it led to about censorship, freedom of expression, and the rights of a business to carry which products it chooses, do you feel that the overall outcome for the industry has been a positive or negative one?

CF: That’s a hard one to answer. A lot of publishers, including RPGPundit have been very vocal about the ‘irreparable harm’ the ToR controversy have done to the industry and game publishing in general. Most of the arguments that are Pro-Chris A. Field and Pro-ToR are also anti-SJW, which is an odd place for me to be in. I’m a fucking pro-choice liberal pagan, and being used as some kind of spearhead against left-leaning SJWs is an odd and somewhat unpleasant place for me to be in. A lot of the arguments make me out to be some kind of victim of misguided radical feminism or something.

I wish the arguments weren’t all phrased in such bombastic terms. It’s not Chris A. Field vs the liberal left and it never was. Instead, it’s Chris A. Field versus a bunch of sexless, reactively conservative voices mostly clustered on two gaming sites. The entire ToR controversy was very much the definition of tempest in a teapot.

However, I think the desktop publishing industry will survive. I do think RPGnow hurt itself a little by imposing the reporting function, and sooner or later some new storefront will show up to challenge its dominance, but nobody’s there yet. I’ve seen a few storefronts pop up after the debacle, but none of them are widely trafficked, and compared to RPGnow’s interface, they’re primitive and more than a bit glitchy.

I’m hopeful that some of the voices raised in support of me start publishing themselves. I initially started Black Tokyo on a whim. I was re-watching Wicked City one weekend, and realized it would make a kickass RPG setting, and under the D20 OGL I could publish it myself and make a little profit. I’d never seen a hentai campaign setting before and I wanted to see what one would look like- so I started writing, and a few months later, Black Tokyo was published. I want to see more adult-oriented settings, I want to see more unique visions, I want to see campaigns that incorporate sexuality or real-world politics, and frankly non-Christian theology & philosophy. I want all those things, and I think a lot of the people who wrote in support of ToR want them too. Hopefully, some of my supporters follow my example and start marketing their visions.

TT: Thanks for speaking with us.

CF: Thanks for the chance to talk to you and your readers, Mr. Brinkman

Chris Fields offers no pretense that his materials are for everyone or that some might find them offensive. Mr. Fields products tackle a number of issues that some may find abhorrent to their personal tastes or values. It is important to note that the majority of his products are behind the adult filter, meaning to even see them an OBS user must be logged in and have their account set to be able to view adult content. OBS defaults to adult content being hidden.

We have seen two very different viewpoints from the two men at the heart of the controversy. In our next installment we will discuss this matter with RPG author Venger Satanis, to get his feelings on the policy after one of his products became one of the first RPGs ever pulled for review under the new policy.

Bob Brinkman has been playing RPGs since the days of OD&D. Recently he has written for both the Goodman Games Fifth Edition Fantasy and DCC RPG lines and has completed a project for the Crossroads to Adventure books for GP Adventures. He co-hosts the monthly Sanctum Secorum podcast focusing on Appendix N in relation to DCC RPG.

6 comments:

  1. While I have my opinions on what is or is not offensive and how it should probably be sold (example: past free rpg day, there were products on the free material shelf at my local game store with no shrink wrap or adult warning on the cover that featured "all the way through" porn inside. Probably not a wise choice for the store owner, but I suspect he wasn't actually aware.)
    I do have to agree that any policy which allows a complainant to simply push a button and remove a product from sale (even temporarily) is a bad one. I could get behind a policy that allows a complainant to fill out a detailed form and as a result an "under review" flag is applied to a product so that when a viewer selects the product they get a message saying "etc... Etc... Under review... Do you want to continue?" depending on how it worked, but allowing someone with an axe to grind or other non legitimate complaint to shut down a product with no human review, even just for a few days isn't right. While I hope the 30% abuse statistic you cite in a prior article is a fluke due to small sample size, looking at the volume and specifics of the complaints from a similar policy on YouTube makes that seem unlikely. I hope they reconsider the policy if it proves to be abuse a significant portion of the time as it continues being used.

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    1. Actually, it doesn't work that way. When a product is reported, OBS staff quickly give it a once over. If possible offensive or obscene is found, the product gets removed temporarily while OBS staff has a chance to thoroughly review it. That's what happened to Alpha Blue.

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    2. Offensive or obscene material, I meant.

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    3. Oh good. That's better then. I read the policy before I commented so I wouldn't look like an idiot but I must have misunderstood or misread or read an old version or whatever.

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  2. I think it is important to keep in mind that I merely point out ways that the results can be viewed. Yes, technically 30% of RPG reports that aren't IP complaints, are abusive. However the numbers are so small as to be insignificant when viewed in the context of the number of products. The number of people who have filed abusive notices is one. That is pretty impressive and leads me to believe that abuse isn't really as big a concern as many had put forth.

    That isn't to say that there aren't other issues but systemic abuse isn't one of them. Heck, with the number of new products added each month I don't know as the number of products even reaches the level of the margin of error.

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    1. I agree that it's way too early to call it. I'm cautiously optimistic but otoh: people.

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