Censorship by Any Other Name

Everybody knows about some famous book or other that was censored.  Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  Or an instance where cuss words were bleeped out on screen.  Or even the political correctness movement (which has now morphed into “thou shalt not speak poorly of all things Christian, redneck, patriotic, etc., and don’t you dare say it’s the same thing as political correctness”).

Don’t say it.

It’s illegal.  It’s unwise.  It’s socially unacceptable.

Don’t say it.

Don’t even try.

Not in front of the kids.

Not in front of me.

Why?

The urge to suppress certain topics of conversation or viewpoints is a very common, human urge.  I run into it in myself:  if you speak of it, people will look down on you as a bad _____. As a mother, there are certain things that I’m supposed to disallow my daughter from saying.  As a wife, there are things I’m not supposed to say (not as Lee’s wife, most of the time–but there are a lot of things that he’s had to learn how to hear, too).  The workplace is full of forbidden topics.  Just try to go to church and say what’s on your mind, on pretty much any point where you disagree with the received teaching.

And the Internet.

Why are trolls so nasty?  Is it because you’re saying something that they feel shouldn’t be allowed?

Yesterday I ran into it in the gaming community.  Here’s me not naming names:  not saying, because bad things may happen to me if I do.  Calling people out by name is a big no-no, where I’m from.  Gossip is okay, though.

Designer X is building a high-fantasy RPG where women are the dominant sex.  He made the argument that it would help get more women to game and would make them feel included.  Now, pfft.  What would get more women to game is more invitations to game and more support from the other players:  I understand that true troglodytes are few and far between in the gaming community, but like an egg infected with salmonella, they tend to affect far more than their fair share of cookie dough.

The interesting point, as far as I’m concerned, was that multiple, apparently-male commenters did not think such a game should exist as such; they felt the society should be redesigned so that male PCs could play any type of character (they can’t play magic-users, as it stands).  It was sexist and nobody would want to play it.

The designer made the point that multiple women had expressed interest.

The commenters restated their position.  Correction:  no men would want to play the game.

Personally, I take the position that, as in any hierarchical game, what makes it fun to play is when the downtrodden characters are just as fun, playable, and effective as the supposedly-powerful characters.  It’s all about the ads and disads, eh?  Not everybody wants to be a Jedi.  I thought the sexism inherent in the game shouldn’t be buried or hidden; it should be brought out for people to see, discuss, and consider.

Are there other RPGs where women are defined as inferior by the rules themselves?  I don’t know.  But I have seen discussions where the players argue that female PCs shouldn’t be able to do this or that, because it wasn’t realistic to the setting, and I have seen a ton of game materials where the female NPCs are relegated to one of three roles:  bimbo, barmaid, succubus.  Sometimes all three.  And they’re usually too stupid to live.  But that’s okay–that kind of sexism can be taken for granted, even justified.

But the kind where the sexism is overt, reversed, and built into the game mechanics themselves–not cool.

Now, I fear that some women will go nuts over the setting, wooo I get my own back, because women are just as stupid about sexism as men are.  Because they’re human, and not NPCs, and therefore have various reactions to a situation, many of them stupid enough to make the big GM in the sky say, “Are you suuure?” before they get to roll the dice.  So yes, there will be situations in which male players are treated the way female players can get treated:  having members of their sex laughed at, treated like dirt, and even lacking a presence in the game.  They may even get patted on the shoulder and have to hear, “But you’re not like most men.  You’re okay.”

Does that mean the designer should censor himself in order to publish the game?

Some commenters argued that yes, he should.  We shouldn’t encourage people to think like that; it’s equivalent to encouraging people to beat their spouses.

I say that no, he shouldn’t.  He should make sure that all the character classes are fun to play, no matter their gender, and that the ads and disads are balanced.  It’s not a good thing to treat men the way women have been treated.  But it’s not a bad thing to allow both sexes to experience each others’ positions in a safe environment.

But overall?  Telling someone not to write something…that’s bullshit and brainwashing.

Don’t say it.

Because I don’t want you to even think it.

Update:

Ron points out that non-gamers might be reading this post.  The mind boggles.  How many people do I freakin’ know?!?

Gaming terms for non-gamers:

RPG – role playing game (MMORPG = Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, like World of Warcraft; here, I’m talking about tabletop gaming with dice or other chance-determiners)

High-fantasy – Fantasy set in another world, often medieval in nature, like Tolkein.

PC – player character.

NPC – non-player character (ones run by the GM)

GM – game master, the storyteller/boss.  AKA DM (Dungeon Master) in Dungeons and Dragons.

Character class – type of character, like “warrior” or “rogue.”

Ads/Disads – advantages/disadvantages.  An advantage is a trait the player can use to get an extra boost to relevant dice rolls, like “superspeed.”  A disadvantage costs the player on certain dice rolls and is often used to offset an advantage:  for example, your character is blind, which means you get a -6 on the total of all dice rolls where sight is needed (like navigating a busy street), but the disad gives you 6 points to spend on advantages like superhearing, which gives you a +6 to all rolls in which hearing might be useful (like the comic book character Daredevil).

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2 Comments

  1. Solid post DK. There are no positive qualities to censorship in any arena. But a quick glossary for gaming newbies might be handy since this is really a topic that goes way beyond game design. I’m going to just guess at a couple. PC – participating character? NPC – nonparticipating character e.g. Can’t score points? Ads/disads – advantages and disadvantages?

    Does that mean I can take the role of the girl with the big…

    Sword… And still score points?

    But, then again, you told me not to even think it, let alone say it.

  2. De

    Ron, good comment. I hope I caught everything.

    I highly recommend making sure your large-breasted warrior character has good support, rather than chain-mail bikinis. Those things couldn’t stop a dinner knife, and we ladies need support in that area if we’re going to do a lot of running.

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