I’m a little late to this latest gamer kerfuffle. I thought about not discussing it at all – for a lot of reasons – but it was bothering me too much to just ignore it. One BookShelf is just plain wrong, for a lot of reasons, but, so are all of us.
TL;DR: OBS needs a better up-front plan rather than a reactionary, one man stance and the creator of ToR should probably have considered the impact of his actions a little more thoroughly when deciding what to call his latest work.
First, let’s talk a little about censorship
I work in Higher Education and my primary social interaction is gaming. I hear censorship thrown around all the time these days. I also hear a lot about freedom of speech, academic freedom, and intellectual/creative freedom. Here’s the thing. OBS is a business. It doesn’t need to boil down any deeper than that: OBS is a business. As such, we should have every expectation that they are going to attempt to protect their business and insulate it from negative action which will hurt their business in the long run. If that includes removing a game based on a controversial movement or a game with a title like Tournament of Rapists (ToR), then we shouldn’t really be surprised. And it’s not really censorship. They have no obligation to let you use their business for practices they deem unacceptable.
And Here’s Where They Get It Wrong
A few years ago, I read a wonderful book by Jack Miles. God: A Biography, works its way through the bible examining god in the light of a biographer examining their subject. When Miles discusses the story of the first murder, it seems that god acts in an odd way. God has never said – at this point – anything at all about murder. But when it happens, when Cain kills Abel, god reacts as if Cain broke some sacrosanct rule that had been in place all along. (This is a very simplified version of the point Miles makes – read the book for more depth; it is excellent).
And this is what OBS is doing now. They are reacting. They are reacting to a community that is divided along ideological lines rarely seen before in the gaming community. It used to be “us against them” but we won, being geek is cool now (why did we care?) and so instead we are turning inward and devouring our own.
I’ll say it again, OBS is a business. As such, they can remove products or refuse to publish products, but they should not be doing so in a maelstrom. They should not be doing so in the reactionary manner of Instagram or YouTube where all it takes is a simple reporting to remove someone’s creative efforts. They need to put on their big people pants and establish a stronger policy of terms and conditions on the front end.
Will such a stance limit their business model in some way? Of course it will. That’s what happens when you try to be a one-stop shop that serves everyone. It also prevents them from having a public outcry and a painful, uphill battle every time they have to make a difficult decision on a product that appears in their store. OBS is no small concern just existing to provide games for everyone. It is a big deal. It is almost monolithic in its appeal as the best place to go for digital games. I’d probably weep openly if I considered how much money I’ve spent on OBS sites in the last five years. And I love OBS for it.
All this means that it’s time for them to step up. You want to be the industry leader? Lead. You want to have the ability to monitor your storefront and ensure that it takes care of itself as a respectful community? Then tell the community what your standards are. Yes, such a change would be difficult and lead to a time of transition for the site and its users, but it would also save a lot of grief in the long run. The general terms and conditions could be as broad or as weak as OBS needs them to be but once in place, they must be adhered to in order to prevent the reactionary stance they are taking now.
To be clear, and sum this up, I read the letter from Steve Wieck and I appreciate his insistence that bright line rules are a problem. Well, they are. But hey, I work for the government – I get to see the difficulties that bright line rules create every day. I also get to see how they protect us. They might sometimes be a blunt instrument but that instrument has been shaped by constantly dealing with occurrences which precipitated the need for a rule to be put in place.
If you are going to remain the sole arbiter and final decision-maker [update after an additional OBS post: a small committee will decide] over content after it has been flagged, then you are creating more problems than you solve. While I don’t expect the deluge of flagging that some creators are worried about, I do believe this system will be abused and I do expect that good intentions will not be the reason. Steve Wieck says he’s uncomfortable with OBS making decisions about content up front. But he’s willing to do the same on the back-end only after he’s under public pressure to make one decision or another? This seems like it will cause more problems (especially for him) than it will solve.
Be the leader that you are by default. Define your content terms, stick to them, and be willing to review and edit them based on the outcome of your decisions.
Why We’re All Wrong Too
So, I read the introduction to ToR when it hit shelves. It opens with an introduction which basically discusses a certain subset of a subset of anime/manga. It is also a supplement to a larger game line with pretty decent sales. Good on you. ToR was a very poor decision for a title. Let us all consider for a moment that if ToR had been entitled something like, “Demon Tournament Danger” or “Violation Beyond Space and Time” that we likely wouldn’t even be having this discussion. The title was primed for an outcry in the current environment of our little, fractious culture. Sure, the author/creator can title his book whatever he wants and I applaud that freedom, but just because you can do a thing does not necessarily mean that you should do a thing. The Black Tokyo line that ToR is part of has been selling on OBS for a while and it has not generated this kind of public outcry.
Rape is a difficult topic and one which carries a lot of painful associations. Rape is one of the most horrible crimes which can be inflicted on a person. The author of ToR did not seem to have a real, mature grasp of this crisis and his book would probably have been better served with another title. I don’t think that’s a reason to pull the book from sale and I don’t think that we as a community should have the right to say, “Don’t sell this.” We should vote with our wallets – not by boycotting or attacking OBS – but through our choice not to buy this work. We should write letters – not to OBS – but to the author and explain why this particular title might have been a poor choice for his business.
See there’s that word again. The fault for this product – if there is any – lies not with OBS allowing it a space to be published; but with the designer, the writer, the creator. We, as a community, erred by expecting big brother to solve our problem (if we had one) for us. You want to make products like ToR go away? Focus your efforts on the product.
Another brief aside, then I promise to be done. Sara Douglass is a fantasy author. She wrote Hades’ Daughter: Book One of The Troy Game, and I read about ½ of it before I realized that I would never touch her books again. A warrior-king attacks another country, brutally murders a young girl’s father in front of her and then rapes her until he gets her pregnant, along with kidnapping her and holding her hostage. He brutalizes her in every way he can. It’s violent and awful. She hates him. And then, with no compelling reason whatsoever, she starts to love him… And this is a book by a female author that spawned a trilogy. Douglass speaks about this in an interview I found if you are interested but the larger point here is, I don’t see a huge pushback against this book. I don’t see readers lining up to convince Amazon and Barnes & Noble to pull it from bookshelves. And I originally supported it with my dollars because I bought the book when it came out and it was already too late then… but it convinced me to be done with Sara Douglass as an author. But it had a compelling title and great cover art and a connection to Greek mythology so hey, I was all in.
Deciding for ourselves, as adults, what offends us, what hurts us, what we should work against is a very individual decision. It takes a commitment of time and emotional energy, just like reading a novel takes a commitment of time before we see whether it held value for us or if it sickened us. Sure, ToR was given a very poorly considered title that is almost inevitably going to create controversy. As Steve Wieck points out in his letter, when he took the time to read the book he found it to be 1) different from what he expected; and 2) not a very mature representation of that difference. But he took the time to read it.
For those out there offended by the title enough to leap to everyone’s rescue by insisting it be pulled; I think you all spend a little too much time patting yourself on the back and not enough time considering your actions. Which is the essentially the same offense that the creator of ToR can be accused of in this case (most likely). He didn’t consider the outcome of his decision (or maybe he did and he chose to go this route in order to create controversy). Either way, that seems to be the worst sin he can be accused of in this case.
This is insanely long. Painfully so. My apologies and thanks for reading.