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.