Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Note: Just read through this and it is a bit of a ramble.

Censorship.  A mild topic for an early morning wouldn't you say?  I'm focused on self-censorship, what you think should stay in and what should stay out because of content, not necessarily quality reasons.  Maybe its sexual content, a graphic description or something that maybe just didn't jive with the vibe of the project.  Example, B2 is a straight forward adventure, here are the good guys.  Here are the monsters.  Just a fun romp of hacking and hauling.  If someone would have written in a rape room or explicit sacrificial scene it wouldn't have matched the tone of the adventure.

I have a long background of working with others, especially children.  Because of this work I censored myself a lot during the early years of my game writing.  I kept my writing light, fun with a touch of sarcasm.  Okay, maybe more than a touch.  For the past few years I've been working more with adults and that automatic self-censorship is fading.  If you've downloaded Faces Without Screams you'll find it more graphic and kid unfriendly.  It's not something I choose to do before hand, it's brutality fit the tone of the work I wanted to write. 

I don't like things that are weird just to be weird, or gross to be gross, or sexualized just to add an edge.  When I read these kind of things I get bored.  There is enough room in RPG writing to explore all these subjects without needing to reach for them.  Connected to this thought is people who try to censor others.  More often than not when this happens, those who wish to censor something end up driving more attention towards the product.  I remember back when the 2 Live Crew got all their attention because of the explicitness of their lyrics and cover.  It was a shit CD, but because other censor wishing people wanted to ban it, the CD blew up.

Quality sorts out what should be on the shelves more than the content.  While I can't stomach a lot of mutilation, rape, or any violence against children I would never tell anyone else they couldn't.  If the details fit the context of the adventure and well done its a lot easier to take.  When its written just to be shocking the quality often sucks and uninteresting.  That is, unless someone gets self righteous and thinks it should be banned from the land.

I'm thinking of this because of the writing session Rob and I had yesterday.  We are working on a sandbox setting for LotFP.  It's set in England and I thought of having an incarnation of Jack the Ripper show up centuries before he gets big.  Jack the First, I call him, is a traveler, he targets women, drugs them with a sleeping potion then slips on his cock blade to murder them in the act of sex.  While not the most imaginative or gruesome it was graphic enough to make me hesitate.  That self-censoring kicking in.  Years earlier I wouldn't have written it.  But even today I bounced the idea off of Rob and asked if he thought it was too much.  (I'm also aware of the nature of many LotFP adventures and know that my encounter is well within its bounds.  I wouldn't write the same entry for a product for Goodman Games or Brave Halfling Publishing.)  Rob thought it was an interesting idea so I kept it in.  Whether it is written well enough to stay in when we start editing is another matter. 

I'm not really sure how to end this entry.  It feels like I should have some sort of summation, but I don't.  I guess I'll end it with a question.  Are there boundaries you won't cross in your writing? 


  1. Yeah. The only people that don't have boundaries are sociopaths.

    What I do though depends on my group at the time.
    Part of that whole Social-contract thing.

  2. I agree with other, more eloquent, Tim. And like you there are things I find repugnant (such as cruelty to children, rape etc) that I would have great difficulty including in anything I wrote except for the sole purpose of being there for the characters to prevent (and punish those doing these foul deeds).

  3. This is one of the failings I find in GRRM Game of Thrones. I just read a wonderful post from someone who just couldn't take the level of graphic content (not just in the TV show but also the books).

    Self-censorship is a wonderful quality you do not want to discard lightly. If you can write well without the graphic content you are creating something much more appealing than someone who depends on such things.

  4. I think that it's important to write what you feel comfortable writing, and in a manner that is natural to you and to your personality. Personally, I've never felt comfortable writing graphically violent or sexual scenes. I have no problem with this sort of content, in general, but it just isn't me and any time that I've tried to write this way it has come off as forced and awkward.

    So, I think the key is not to censor yourself, but to write what comes naturally to you. It's great to experiment, but eventually you need to acknowledge that you can't write like someone else, you can only write like you. I could never write the sort of explicit material that Clive Barker does, for example. It works for him, but it wouldn't for me.

  5. "The only people that don't have boundaries are sociopaths."

    This is stated as a universal principle, which subtly shifts the issue from "boundaries in writing" to "having boundaries at all." That makes the above quote a great bumper sticker, but it doesn't speak to what the OP was asking about, which was boundaries in writing.

    I, personally, am leery of terming any act of a person's creative process to be "self-censorship," though I haven't fully made up my mind in that regard. I will say, however, that someone who does not observe any personal moral principles in their writing, or any other instance of artistic expression, is most definitely not a sociopath.

    Morals are there, I believe, to judge our actions, and creating artwork - regardless of the content of the artwork - might be an amoral action, but it is never an immoral one.

  6. Sean makes a good point, which reflects my own position - I don't like to write about the issues I highlighted because I don't believe I'm a talented enough writer to do them justice. That does not mean I won't read about them when they are handled with respect and are not just inserted for "shock value".

    Conversely, outside of those topics of personal distaste, there are plenty of areas where "shock value" - and cheap laughs - are perfectly acceptable reasons for including elements that other might find 'beyond the pale' (ie. crass humour relating to bodily functions, knob gags etc)

  7. I certainly didn't expect to read such a graphic description of sexual violence on a gaming blog. I wish this post had been behind a mature content interstitial, and I would certainly examine my motivations if I felt it necessary to "up the ante" on Jack the Ripper.

  8. I am comfortable experiencing a lot more things in media than I particularly like to produce. For extremely public stuff (like a blog) I take more "PG" approach than I might in other situations.

  9. We spend hours killing various monsters, humans, elves, etc with regularity in our games. Bring up the topic of rape or some other sexual-based act, and suddenly people freak out. Reminds me of that great Onion scene where the group of friends get together to play a game. Instead of a traditional murder mystery, they decide to play a rape mystery which quickly turns everyone's stomachs.

    I certainly tone my content down on my blog. On game night, look out! No topic is safe.