Friday, January 11, 2013

Kickstarter And Social Responsibility

What are the implications of Kickstarter doing nothing about this?

Kickstarter is being criticized for marketing and distributing a project that is extremely sexist. Right now the debate has been restricted to social media. It is probably only a matter of time before the project and the debate around it reach broader audiences.

People haven't yet asked about the implications of major companies like Amazon and Kickstarter fundraising, marketing, and distributing gaming projects that could be deemed obscene in local communities.

This may all blow over, but it seems to me an opportunity for a couple of things to happen:
  • Kickstarter might want to take a closer look at its vetting process for project proposals
  • Gaming professionals might want to propose some standards for Kickstarter to follow when considering gaming-related project proposals
  • As with socially responsible investing, there are probably some good opportunities here for new enterprises that want to set clearer boundaries around what kinds of projects they will and will not market
Finally, I do wonder how we will break through the current impasse in the debate about this kind of content in tabletop RPG gaming?

The gap between the OSR and other gamers is widening. The debate tends to get framed between defenders of free speech on one side, and proponents of social justice in representation of women, LGBT people, and people of color on the other.

In a liberal democracy like the United States, nobody should really be whining about free speech in art; there is plenty of it. If advocates of free speech really want to defend someone who has exercised his free speech with the utmost social responsibility and at a great personal cost, they should put their money where their mouth is, and do something to support Bradley Manning

Sticking to the idea that any criticism of sexist game art is unfair, undemocratic, somehow intolerant or even censorship is something that will further isolate the OSR from the mainstream in the gaming hobby.

"The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." -- Antonio Gramsci


  1. You hit the argument right on the head. I'm so sick of the arguments that the pro-objectification side come up with: that titillation is somehow a natural part of gaming, that I shouldn't care if I'm portrayed as an object, that because there aren't any women in gaming it's okay to be completely sexist, that my perception of sexism doesn't even matter. Yuck.

  2. I'm sorry to be coming to this post so late; I don't get out much, these days.

    I'd like to say, up front, that I agree with both the post and the comment that Rachel made. I've been looking at the KD figures as they've been announced on a miniatures forum that I frequent, and I don't like them. There's a couple of reasons; first, most of the figures strike this ancient miniatures and RPG gamer as 'marketing- driven', rather then 'game-driven'. I was surprised to see how many of the figures were, to my old eyes, aimed squarely at the anime / hentai market (the otaku, for lack of a better word). Second, I don't like figures that appeal to a segment of gaming and gamers that I would have to describe as 'less then mature'. I don't feel the need to buy figures like that; I am the first to admit that I'm no prude, but I do feel that quite a few figures these days seem to court 'bad taste'.

    (One historical footnote, if I may; back in Ye Olden Days, several companies produced what I'd describe as 'nekkid women in bondage' items. I do have a few of these, bought back in the day as part of larger bulk purchases, but I'm not particularly fond of them. What does one use them for in games, aside from scenarios like "save the captives from sacrifice"?)

    I'd like to discuss this further, too; now, I will freely admit that my gaming has been - for more then three decades - in Tekumel, which has a reputation (I'm told) for being 'the naughty game setting'. Well, yes; read "A Princess of Mars", lately? Tropes; we got your tropes right here.

    We are also, on Tekumel, all people of color; there are no white folks on the planet, which I have seen gamers go stark raving bonkers over. (They literally can't handle the notion.) We also got women (who are pretty damn powerful, in my experience) and lots of LGBT people as well (who are also pretty damn powerful, and some of them are among Chirine's closest friends and allies.

    Having said that, I agree with Rachel about objectification. I try very hard not to do it in my game sessions, and I try to steer players away from it in and out of games. I have been watching the various Internet debates go past on all of this, and I find that Rachel's post is one of the most reasonable (and reasoned!) that I've seen.

    Speaking as I do from the ancient days of pulps and sword-and-planet fiction, what can I do to assist in this? Comments? Thoughts?

    yours, Chirine

  3. Hi Chirine:

    Thank you for your very thoughtful and temperate post. "More light, less heat" is helpful in this discussion, and given the level of disdain which criticism of this Kickstarter has engendered among some in the OSR community, I think more nuanced voices like yours bring a positive tone and a needed historical perspective to the debate.

    Your insights as a miniatures gamer really matter.

    I agree that Tekumel and pulp-influenced gaming indeed have "racy" and sometimes ribald elements, and I don't really see too much wrong with that, as long as the table agrees. I worry when our hobby elevates such a huge financial investment in figures like these, when projects that are more authentically aligned with the OSR, such as the production of new lines of Tekumel miniatures, have to struggle by on much, much less. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in on all this.

  4. Thank you for the chance to say something; I hope we hear from Rachel, when she has a chance. I think this is an important issue, and I'd like to develop a conversation about it; I'm sorry that it takes so long for me to type anything...

    yours, Chirine