What have we learned?

If you are reading this, I’m sure you know that there seems to have been yet another big brouhahhah afflicting the ‘osr‘ community, and, well, let’s not be proud, all of us have taken part. You know who you are.

History of the brouhahhah in a nutshell: Some people published new games with content that included less than savory elements. Other people said, “Those elements are less than savory!” Various levels of rhetoric were invoked by both sides (‘Grandpa fought Hitler to allow me to look at pictures of harpy boobs’ and ‘I don’t want your negativity flowing back on my positivity — it’s as bad as furry sex!’ being two of my personal favorites). For a recap and a nice dose of Schadenfreude, visit here and here (and be sure to read the comments— that’s where all the best stuff is).

My own feeling is that most pornography laws are stupid because they seek to define some material as ‘offensive’ and other material as ‘inoffensive‘ based entirely on context. Go to Italy and look at Michelangelo’s David and you see full on frontal male nudity and it’s art. Take a picture of yourself not wearing any pants and it probably isn’t. The difficulty that I have with this is that the promoters of ‘decency’ often rely on, “It’s indecent because I say it is,” to divide ‘porn’ from ‘art.’ Here in the US, most of our current obscenity laws date back to 1964 when, in defining obscenity, the best a Supreme Court Justice could say was, “…I know it when I see it…” That flimsy little bit of verbiage has been used to fine people, jail people and prevent books/films/stage plays/etc., from being seen or read by the audience. Just ask Jello Biafra about Penis Landscape.

Perhaps if Michelangelo had sculpted David with a hard-on we would feel differently about placing that statue in ‘art’ rather than porn;’ I don’t know. But I somehow suspect that because the statue of David is ‘old’ and ‘Italian’ and made of marble, the people who don’t like seeing penises in art can overlook it. But you can’t deny that David is sexy (although his package is too small for porn work… but, hey, I hear they make pills for that). If I had a bod that good, I’d quit this sad little life of mine and go off and do Axe commercials and schtup models and you would be reading about me on TMZ.

I think that people who want to prevent other people from possessing/looking at/buying bad, ugly, obscene or nasty work are wrong. But I don’t think it’s automatically wrong not to like something or find it distasteful. As I think I should be free to look at what I want, I think you should be free to not look. Throwing around accusations of ‘prude’ or ‘pervert’ are probably not going to help matters.

One of the arguments raised by the people who think some OSR projects have ‘gone too far’ in terms of depicting violence or sex or sexy violence is that the general public will think that this small number of niche products will represent RPGs and the people who enjoy them as a whole. I don’t think worrying about “what the rest of the public thinks” is at all helpful. In the 1980s, Pat Pulling and B.A.D.D. made the accusation that playing D&D would cause children to lose touch with reality, worship Satan, commit crimes, grow suicidal, etc. These accusations were not based on fact. They were just based on rhetoric. TSR caved to the demands from their largely Christian Conservative Evangelical critics by replacing words like ‘devil’ and ‘demons’ with “Tannarri” (sp?) and similar made up words. I think this was a mistake since by doing this, TSR helped make it appear as if the claims by Pulling and her friends had some merit. Even if pleading ‘guilty’ to spurious charges is the path of least resistance, there may be some bigger issues at stake. Of course, Pulling and her friends were on a witch hunt, so there was no talking sense to them. But still.

After the most recent argument reached an unsustainable peak, many began to conclude that “We are just a tiny number of people in an inbred community who even care about these things.” I think that’s right, but it is no reason not to think or talk about the hobby or publishing or whatever. I’m going to get pretty bored pretty quickly if all we talk about is our nifty new house rules for figuring out encumbrance. And, honestly, I’d rather have passionate arguments about obscenity or what should or should not be published than arguments about whether or not Paladins can kill baby kobolds.

My own feeling is that this hobby has always been about giving players a creative focus. Everyone I know who has ‘gotten into it’ has enjoyed making their own characters, making their own maps and adventures, inventing rules and scenarios, etc. I’ve been interested in the story of crazy creatives like Henry Darger (a hermit who created his own fictional world complete with transsexual little girls, murder, war, paintings and a hand written 15 thousand + page novel) and see making up D&D stuff as a just slightly more acceptable form of that kind of manic creativity. I see the OSR as an extension of a creative urge that many people share and a few of us have been lucky enough to find a creative focus for. Although I’m sure all of us would love to get rich at our OSR publishing projects, realistically we would be probably lucky to break even. We do it out of love of the doing. So what the ‘community’ may need or not need is of less interest to me than what the individuals creating stuff may find inspiring or motivating. And when critics of some of the ‘new wave’ of OSR products say, “But what will the rest of the public think of us?” I want to reply that I don’t care — since I sincerely hope I am not doing it for the ‘rest of the public.’ I hope I am doing it for me.

Edit: Spawn of Endra wrote the below in response to one of the posts in the center of the maelstrom. It is one of the best descriptions of my flawed psychological profile that I could hope for (no, I am not a furry, but I’ve given up on the idea of ever being an ‘average joe‘).
Quote follows:

I’m new to the idea that furries spoil the image of those involved with “legitimate cosplay“; don’t know much about either subculture. But this is the same argument that drag queens ruin the image of “legitimate” transsexuals that don’t want to be flamboyant, campy, and trashy, etc., they just want to be accepted as females. And that leather men in the gay pride parade ruin the image of all the conservative businessmen gays that don’t act out and vote Republican, or just want to get married like “normal” people do.
I am not normal. I don’t want to be. I think that in general most people think that RPG players are ‘queer’. In the broadest sense of that term I suspect this may be right (i.e., strange or odd) but also in the specific sense there are a lot of gamers that conceive of gender, sexuality, and worldview in non-normative terms in real life. Imagining yourself as someone else in front of a bunch of other people is, well, perverse. Pile on the baggage wherever one likes, but my feeling is that drawing certain lines to retain a modicum of respectability in front of an audience of “normal” people that already believes they are watching a freak show doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
And @Stuart: Thanks for that! Righteous.

16 Comments on “What have we learned?”

  1. Carter Soles says:

    Brilliantly summed up! Thanks.

  2. Zanazaz says:

    You make some good points, and you didn't have to use offensive language, or insult anyone. SO many of the OSR bloggers are so full of hypocrisy it's kind of funny. They get upset when someone gives their opinion about something, and most, although they will deny it, don't thik it should be said. HYPOCRISY. Free speech works both ways. If you don't like someone's opinion don't read their blog. Nice post. I've stopped following so many blogs today I've lsot track.

  3. Zanazaz says:

    Oh and nice analogy on the graphic. Once you shoot yourself in the foot, the damage is done. There's no taking it back.

  4. yet another big brou-hah-hah afflicting the 'osr' community, and, well, let's not be proud, all of us have taken part

    I didn't. šŸ™‚

  5. ADD Grognard says:

    See, I'm afraid that the core problem is being buried under a typical 'line drawing in the sand' about content. That is not what it was about.

    It was about a single person not only saying that certain things shouldn't be published but that he spoke for us, the entire gaming community, in that we believe the same thing.

    No one person in the rpg community speaks for everyone. That was the issue, not that the person objected to the work.

    I could care less what other people decide not to look at. It's not my business. But don't say you are speaking for me when you voice your opinion.

    That's what it was about.

  6. BlUsKrEEm says:

    Wait didn't we already cover this when Carcosa was first released?

  7. Wait didn't we already cover this when Carcosa was first released?

    And no doubt we shall again once the new edition of it is released in a few months …

  8. James says:

    I take issue with your picture. I said exactly what I wanted to and if that loses me some friends and followers, then it does. It's better we know where each other stands and make and informed decision.

    The day I feel I shouldn't say something on my blog, that I feel needs to be said, is the day I nuke it.

  9. ADD Grognard says:

    Was the Carcosa incident about content or a self-appointed voice of the community who claimed to speak on behalf of all rpg gamers?

    I'm used to to people who find things objectionable but this seemed pretty unique. And that most recent post on Greg's blog is scary. One minute we are a threat to all of gaming because of what Raggi published and the next minute we are a less than 1% insignificant speck of dust in a box. Which is it? Anyone who wonders what I'm talking about should read that post.

  10. James, I don't think the sentiment is aimed at you.

    Sadly, I don't think anything has been learned, because Chevski is correct, we are likely in for another round of breast-beating when the next version of Carcosa is published.

  11. JimLotFP says:

    Being optimistic here, but I don't think we'll have a Carcosa repeat.

    The material that caused the ruckus is going to be in the book, but none of the added material has anything to do with that. The artwork is going to be no worse that the sample I've already posted.

    In fact, one thing I'm doing with the art is emphasizing a lot of the things that seemed to never be noticed as part of Carcosa. A lot of robots and ray guns and aliens, concentrating on the adventure instead of the adventurers. Crowd out the issue with a ton of gonzo, if you will.

    It'll have a content warning but I won't be hyping the EEEVVIIILLL.

    We'll see if that makes any difference.

  12. Spawn of Endra's post touched on the argument that really irks me: one game's over-the-top art will make all gamers look bad in the eyes of people who think we're all freaks anyway. To quote today's youth, haters gonna hate. Trying to ingratiate yourselves with your implacable enemies by pretending you're really just like them is at best folly, at worst Stockholm Syndrome.

  13. Malcadon says:

    This is a great article. It echos much of what I'm thinking.

    Ever since folks started to make make these OSRs, there have been some vary interesting personal heartbreakers – a term I use for fan-made games, with a lot of personal preference in both the rules and the artwork. I like them because they express an individual's creativity, and for it, I see it as an art into itself. Even though it was a controversial move to add all that heavy-handed sex and violence into that game, it took a lot of balls to do so, and I respect that.

  14. limpey says:

    James: I wasn't thinking of you (or even, more generally, your position) when I posted the picture. It was an image I found a while back and found amusing — and it made me think of someone sticking to a line of argument long after that argument has ceased to be effective. If the shoe fits, then don't shoot yourself in it… no, sorry, bad joke.

    ADD Grognard: I'd rather try to talk about the ideas than the personalities simply because the ideas are more interesting to me. I confess that I haven't kept track of who said what and all of the recent event blurs into the blowup on Dragonsfoot about Carcosa a few years ago where the same arguments were made with much the same levels of rhetoric, but in that argument, if I remember right, Carcosa's defenders were vastly outnumbered.

  15. We'll see if that makes any difference.

    I'll be very curious to see this myself. Perhaps I'm terribly cynical but I think Carcosa is too convenient a bludgeon for many to pass up.

  16. James says:

    @limpey – As I recently remarked, I have a sense of humor deficiency, this weekend. Please don't think I was offended, or anything. I would have said so. šŸ˜‰

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