On the DriveThruRPG Offensive Content Controversy

I don’t think I really have anything to say on the DriveThruRPG “Tournament of Rapists” fiasco that hasn’t been better expressed by other commentators. But for the record, here is my position.

Background reading if you’re not already familiar with the situation:

Jessica Price (first?) points out the sale of offensive material on drivethrurpg.com, and chronicles the company’s initial response.

Fred Hicks provides the perspective of other RPG publishers retailing on the site.

Steve Wieck, the company CEO, responds to the controversy and outlines the site’s new Offensive Content Policy.

Let’s start with the obvious: Tournament of Rapists is a shitty and horrible game. I’ve not read it, obviously, but a number of sources indicate it to be a game in which your PCs work to destroy the titular tournament rather than directly partake in it. That’s much better than the title and blurb suggests (if still not good!), but doesn’t really address why the game is presented as being more offensive than it really is. The kindest possible spin is that this is just incompetent marketing, but I’m not inclined to show this game kindness. More likely the game’s offensive content has been deliberately exaggerated to gain attention from shock value (which is awful), or else the game has been specifically marketed to enhance its commercial appeal to misogynists (which is worse).

DriveThruRPG’s response to the emerging situation sucked. Even ignoring the ethical dimension, it seems pretty apparent that a retailer wouldn’t want their brand associated with that title. It was a mistake not to immediately withdraw it from sale, and Wieck’s Twitter response was juvenile.

The whole subject of “CENSORSHIP!” (ugh) is a complete non-issue. DriveThruRPG can sell whatever they like. If they decide not to sell something – even if it was for a stupid or offensive reason – that product hasn’t been censored. In other extremely obvious news, if I start selling lemonade in my garage, I’m not censoring Disney if I don’t also sell Mickey Mouse comics.

No-one, to my knowledge, wants to make selling Tournament of Rapists illegal. No-one wants to stop the designers selling it on their own website. DriveThruRPG is under no commercial or moral obligation to present a marketplace for ANYONE, let alone producers of offensive content, and I’m suspicious of anyone who wants them to do so. I’m sad that this subject has dominated DriveThru’s response, and I’m sad that it’s been so prevalent in discourse around the situation.

I think it’s great that DriveThruRPG is creating new tools for the reporting of offensive content.

I think the new Offensive Content Policy is terrible. The solution to “any detailed policy would be subjective and open to interpretation” is not “let’s create a policy that’s ENTIRELY subjective and open to interpretation”. Guidelines provide clarity. Vague sentiment provides confusion. It also seems to be curiously opposed to Wieck’s supposed anti-censorship stance, since surely an Offensive Content Policy that relies entirely upon the whims of individuals will be far more open to “corruption and abuse” (UGH) than something which holds producers to a publicly-known ruling.

Personally, I don’t feel the need to boycott DriveThruRPG or anything so drastic. The community has spoken, it’s clear DriveThruRPG have listened, the game is not on sale anymore, and (some, tentative) steps to improve things have been taken.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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