Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Positions & Should've

I am, at present very frustrated with DriveThru RPG. If you don't know why, there are a number of good posts discussing what happened, but the relevant thing right now is this.

Let's play "should've" for a minute. DTRPG should've pulled the product the instant it was brought to someone's attention. I'm not saying that they should do that whenever someone finds something offensive; that's a ridiculous, pearl-clutching oversimplification. I'm saying that when a game comes along that literally has the word "rapists" in the title, that's a pretty damn good indication that it deserves a second look. This is not a school district banning Fahrenheit 451 or a church flipping out because they think Harry Potter will cause Satanism. It certainly isn't comparable to Jim Crow laws or the CCA (both of which are comparisons that folks have made; disappointingly, the latter is one that Steve Wieck of DTRPG makes in that post). This is more like my local Family Video declining to shelve A Serbian Film or Human Centipede II among the "action" movies.

So, DriveThru should have removed the product (note that I'm not even getting into whether the product should have been made to begin with; it shouldn't, but there are always people willing to produce horrible things, regardless of the impact on others. I don't want to focus on them, because fuck 'em. They're not the professional adults, here.

Anyway, continuing the should'ves. Steve should've not (shouldn't have, if you like) engaged in a Twitter discussion about the subject at all. He should have left it well enough alone, or responded with a "thanks for bringing this to our attention, it's a weekend, people are at cons, we'll get on this ASAP" (and, of course, pulled the product, but we covered that). He definitely shouldn't have gotten into weak-ass slippery slope arguments, but at that point I think we're just hyperfocusing; no good comes of arguing on Twitter while tensions are running high.

And then there's the response, which I linked up there. It's missing a clear apology from Steve for being dismissive on Twitter. It's missing an acknowledgement that products like this can cause real harm to trauma survivors, and there are a lot of those. It's missing the understanding that while championing free speech is a very fine thing indeed, that's not - has never been - what is happening here. It's adding, unnecessarily, a large amount of personal justification and (as Charles' little sister might have said, if you're a Tick fan) 'splaining about his position and about how the game isn't actually this or that.

DriveThru also didn't add in a real policy about all this, you'll notice. They just said, "we're going to continue to err on the side of inclusion, and add a report button to let people let us know when they find content offensive." I'm OK with that part; sure, it's not sufficiently strident about the product in question, but I think that ship has sailed anyway - if the author puts it back on the site, it'll be subjected to more scrutiny than most other products get. Following the post, we immediately got a lot of hand-wringing from what some folks call the "freeze peach" crowd (I'm not a fan of dismissive nicknames, regardless of who's using them, but I have to admit that "freeze peach" sounds funny), including a publisher sending out a message to previous customers gravely stating that his products were probably not long for the world and y'all should totally back them up right away (I agree with +David Hill; it sounded a lot like the familiar NRA "better buy your guns quick, the liberals are coming to steal them!" rhetoric). 

So what does all this mean? I've seen people on both "sides" of this debate (to be reductive, the people who are upset that DT is censoring at all in any way, and the people who feel they aren't censoring enough and fast enough) threaten to boycott DriveThru, or actually pull products off. I've also seen more moderate folks be very dismissive of both concerns. Where do I stand, both as a consumer and creator? I don't like to rush to judgment, partially because that's a good way to fall off a cliff and partially because I know I'm a suck for a narrative; I find myself agreeing with whatever I'm reading at the time, so it's doubly important for me to think critically later.

I don't want to see things on DT that are harmful to people. You might think that a book or a game can't be harmful (feel free to insert "it's just a game" or whatever, here, if you like). I don't agree. I do kind of feel that if you're susceptible to certain language or images to the point that you can sink into PTSD upon seeing them, then really you need to be responsible for your own safety...

...but then, it's really damn easy for me to say that, isn't it? I have things that trigger me, but not nearly to that extent, and not generally online. When something is far removed from own experience, I try to be a little more open to understanding it, because I know that human beings are really bad at grokking perspectives not their own. As a white man, especially, empathy is not something that's asked of me, but it's important to me, so I try to cultivate it.

It's important to me that people not be harmed, in general. If the cost of not doing harm is that someone doesn't get to upload a roleplaying game that's explicitly about sexual violence to a given marketplace, I really don't think that's too high a cost. Slippery slope arguments are, I think, specious.

So how should (back to "should") DriveThru proceed? Some folks have suggested that they hire people to read books, or at least blurbs. Some folks have opined that a community-focused approach is better. Some folks, of course, feel that "letting the market decide" is the best course of action; something that is offensive to the community at large just won't sell. This may or may not be true (I lean towards "not"), but it also doesn't address the whole "harm" thing.

What I think is that DriveThru's proposed approach - pay attention to the community, let them report problematic or offensive content, and err on the side of inclusive - is not going to do much to alleviate a situation very much like the one that just happened. I think that we'll get our first real test of that the next time someone tries to make a buck off being a martyr for some ill-conceived notion of "free speech" or "mature content," but until then I don't know the particulars.

I think DriveThru's approach has some holes, but I think it's something, it's (at least incremental) progress, and while I have reservations and I'm disappointed in their handling of all this, neither of those things are intense enough for me to want to stop buying product there, or to remove Growling Door's products from that marketplace.

So for the time being, I will continue to make games that strive to be inclusive, representative, non-exploitative, and non-harmful. I will continue to pay attention to people and consider what they're saying. And I will continue to sell my products on DriveThru.

If something happens to make me change that position, then I'll change it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Night's Black Agents: Monte Carlo, We Hardly Knew Ye

Don't worry, they didn't blow it up or anything.

So, the agents fled to Monte Carlo at the end of the last op. They did some gambling (mostly Fuchs), lounged on the beach (Parker and Benbow), and engaged in a little loan-sharking (Gambone). Hanover did some work as a restoration/art expert, as well. Things were looking up a bit.

And then, a couple of weeks after they go to Monte Carlo, Hanover and Fuchs caught a news report about a man who worked for the German IRS-equivalent, named Jens Kraut, who had been arrested in connection with a human trafficking ring. Jens, of course, is a friend and colleague of Fuchs.

The agents got together and started looking into this. Jens had been arrested by a Berlin anti-terrorism task force. Hanover did some digging and found he'd not been formally processed; he was in a black site somewhere in Berlin. Fuchs talked to the other agents and made it clear that this was a trap; they were trying to set him up. But Parker, in particular, was not OK with the idea of leaving an innocent man in the grasp of the conspiracy. Hanover verified that Jens' record had been doctored to make it look like he had started laundering money for some shady individuals, including a money trail leading back to Hi-Klass Escorts (which the characters had seen before). They decided to head to Berlin and try and rescue him, hopefully without dying.

Research and hacking indicated that they weren't going to find the black site through a computer; they needed to get boots on the ground, as it were. Gambone contacted Ava Kingsilver, his usual arms dealer, and had various instruments of death shipped to Parker's friend Marta in Berlin. They took the train up, collected their stuff, and got to work.

Fuchs contacted a Berlin agent named Kolt Engel, presenting himself as a German intelligence agent with some information about all of this. He arranged a meeting between himself, Engel, and another agent named Klara Schmidt (actually Benbow, using a connected cover). They set the meeting place, and had Parker on the nearby roof with a sniper rifle, Hanover in the van taking pictures, and Gambone in the room hiding.

As Engel arrived, two men in suits came to the roof. Parker rolled and hid in time, and noted that they were setting up a sniper's perch. She considered trying to take them out, but wasn't sure she could do it quietly and didn't want to blow the meeting. She hid instead.

Engel arrived and was quite affable. He talked about Jens and what he knew (which was that Jens would crack eventually). The "German agents" offered their services (and Fuchs used his MOS in Disguise to sell it). Engel agreed, and said he'd drive them.

The other agents followed Benbow and Fuchs (riding in Engel's car) to a nondescript site. The two undercovers took a freight elevator down into a big, dark, open room. Jens was cuffed to a chair, beaten and bloody, and said that he knew nothing about what he was accused of, he just wanted to go home.

Benbow (using her MOS in Preparedness) had a device to jam the surveillance stuff in the room. Fuchs revealed himself to Jens, opened his cuffs, and immobilized Engel with a flashbang. They started up the elevator. Fortunately, the flashbangs were custom made by Gambone and they sent him a text when they went off. Tipped that shit was going down, Parker shot at the guards to distract them, and Gambone snuck in. He saw three dudes with guns trained on the elevator, and tossed in an explosive.

The elevator arrived, and Benbow, Fuchs, and Jens saw three dead people and the aftermath of an explosion. They ran out and got in the van, and Benbow switched seats with Hanover (since she's the better driver). They took off through the streets of Berlin, but managed to lose their pursuers.

They decided to head to Dresden to lay low for a while. This op is most certainly not over.

And while I'm at it...

Beast

We had a quick session last night; I was really tired and having trouble focusing. 

Memorial Day came. Maia went out with Ryan, but failed to convince him to take the next day off work. Miriana worked at the zoo, John hung out with Tyler.

The next day, Miriana went to work and found the police had corralled some of the head honchos about something. She happened to be standing there totally not eavesdropping when they came out, and asked her to fetch Janos, a keeper who worked with reptiles. She followed him into the room and saw pictures of a dead and dismembered body; they wanted Janos to identify the bite marks. 

Looking green, Janos said they weren't reptilian - maybe an eel, but they were too big. The body was found in Edgewater Park, though, and not a lot of marine eels in Lake Erie (or sharks, for that matter). 

Meanwhile, Tyler had put up wanted posters showing Dillon's picture and asking for more information. During that day, Carlos (one of the hunters they'd seen  practicing with bats) along with the female hunter whose name they hadn't caught came into his shop. They talked about Dillon a bit; Tyler said the guy was vandalizing his story, but wasn't sure why. Carlos seemed to buy that, and said he'd keep an eye out. 

The characters got together and Miriana told them about her day. They decided to head to Edgewater Park - perhaps they has something to do with the Chamber Maia found in the sunken boat. We shall find out next time. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

#RPGaDay2015: The Best Non-RPG Thing


Last one. Was it good for you?

Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGs: Hrm. What, like, culturally? I think +Thomas Deeny makes a good point; what we think of as an "RPG" in video game terms probably owes a lot to tabletop RPGs. For my part, though...

I don't know. To wax loquacious for a minute, gamer culture can be really toxic. I'm watching it happen right now with the big clusterfuck over on DriveThru RPG, and what it cooks down to, I think, is: A company that's produced some pretty problematic stuff put up a really problematic game. DT has no approval process in place for products, so it just went up. The outcry was entirely justified (this was a really shitty product, guys), but, as usual, some of the specific responses were abusive and vitriolic. But at the same time, DT's response wasn't ideal. There were reasons for this (it was a weekend, people were away), but not excuses (the owner still shouldn't be engaging in slippery slope fallacies on Twitter).

What does all this mean, and why does it relate to the question? Because gamers are people. I'm around people in a lot of different contexts, and my experience has been that most people need a reason to step outside themselves. We talk a good game about walking a mile in someone else's shoes, but the truth of the matter is that most of us - any political leaning, any race, any gender presentation, any orientation - judge things from our own perspective first, and that doesn't always take the nuances of other people's lives into account.

Does that always matter? Of course not. I'm a privileged white guy, so I can afford to absorb a little more hostility because I don't get hammered with microaggressions on a daily basis. But I only know that because I pay attention. I pay attention, in part, because since I was 11 years old, I've been regularly sitting down at a table with other people and deliberately trying to communicate what's in my head. That means learning how others' biases work. That means playing to their expectations and challenging them. That means trying to know them.

Empathy is a skill, and it's one you can (and should) cultivate. I know socially liberal people who are on the right side of the issues, but are absolutely assholes about it. I know people who say really ignorant, racist/sexist shit, but are willing to listen if they're approached the right way. Yes, it's exhausting to do that, and I'm not saying it's anyone's responsibility to take that on.

What I am saying, and it's something that the games I run often emphasize, is that sometimes a job might not be yours, but it's not anybody's, really, and it still needs to get done, so who's going to stand up?

That is my favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGs.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Game Prep and #RPGaDay2015


First this:

Favorite RPG-Playing Celebrity: I dunno, never played an RPG with a celebrity. I mean, we all know Vin Diesel plays D&D, and that's pretty cool, particularly when you consider that Chronicles of Riddick feels very much like someone's D&D-in-Space game.

OK, now notes on games.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

#RPGaDay2015

We're nearly the end...


Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games Into One: Ooh, I actually had one! I wanted to merge Shattered Dreams and Don't Rest Your Head, probably starting with the former and transitioning into the latter somehow. You could probably fold Exquisite Replicas in there, too, somehow.

Favorite Game You No Longer Play: Another easy one: Classic World of Darkness. I love it, I just don't play it because I work on so much NWoD stuff and the system there is so much better, and I don't want to confuse myself. But I'm gonna have to go back to CWoD when it comes time to playtest Changeling: The Dreaming 20th.

Favorite RPG Website: RPG.Net. Sure, you get people who are bitter about being banned complaining about how the mod staff is a "junta," but seriously, it's a site with a lot of traffic where you can talk about games and not get called any number of homophobic slurs, and it's stable enough that I can put my actual plays there.

Movie #325: A Knight's Tale

A Knight's Tale is a 2001 comedy starring Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, and James Purefoy. Despite the title, it's not really based on Chaucer's work.

A young squire named William (Ledger) impulsively takes the place of his dead liege in a joust, wins, and decides to "change his stars" with the help of his two buddies Wat (Tudyk) and Roland (Addy). They pick up an impoverished and naked poet named Geoffrey Chaucer (Bettany), who forges the proper papers, and a widowed armorer (Laura Fraser), and embark on a whirlwind tour of tourneys across France, crossing lances with the diabolical Count Adamar (Sewell) and making friends with the Prince of England (Purefoy, who looks too much like Sewell in some shots).

And, of course, William falls in love with a noble lady (Sossamon), eventually gets outed as a peasant, gets knighted by Prince Ex Machina, and goes on to win it all. Yay!

The plot is simplistic, sure, but there's more to the movie than that. The chemistry between William and his friends is great, Sewell looks like he's having fun chewing scenery, and, of course, the anachronistic music ("Golden Years" at a dance, "We Will Rock You" at a joust) helps to put these scenes in context in a way that period music would not. The dialog is snappy and fun, and Tudyk and Bettany play nicely off each other.

About my only complaint is Sossamon; she's boring. She's playing Girlfriend, sure, but she doesn't have the same spark onscreen that the other actors do. As a point of interest, her lady-in-waiting is played by Bernice Bejo, who would go on to win an Oscar for The Artist.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: Kung Fu Hustle

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#RPGaDay2015


25th: Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic: "Revolutionary" is relative, of course. I think that, for me, I have to say it's Dread and its Jenga-tower. Yes, there are some issues with accessibility, but I think the idea of having something that the players literally, physically do that heightens the tension of a horror game is awesome.

26th: Favorite Inspiration for Your Game: Song lyrics. I love taking musical inspiration for my own characters (as you may have noticed), and I do it when I run games, too. I don't have much use for purely instrumental songs; I need lyrics to help me appreciate music, and good lyrics can be very inspirational. I could (and would love to) run a whole chronicle based on an album by Hozier, Devil Makes Three, or Old Crow Medicine Show.