Editor’s note: We have not played the card game yet in person, but we watched the demo video and going on the publisher’s statement that ” It contains no violence, no sex, while it alludes to people nobody is mentioned directly. It is not graphic. It does not encourage hate speech, discrimination or anything else of that ilk.”, and that its purpose is “taking the piss out of all sides.”
Recent moves to pull games like GTAV from store shelves in Australia and New Zealand, and Hatred from Steam’s Greenlight are sparking discussion about what is and isn’t art, and how questionable is censorship on the marketplace. Of course retailers have every right to decide what to sell and what not to. Questions begin to be raised when other, similar material is left on a similar marketplace and the banning begins to look like targeted censorship. When Target pulls GTA V for mature content and treatment of women, but still sells mature movies and books, some of which deal with controversial topics like BDSM, and games of a similarly violent nature, people are justifiably concerned. When that move extends to banning in New Zealand and petitions in Europe and Canada gamers become enraged, and rightly so.
Hatred was pulled from Steam’s Greenlight for its over-the-top violent content but you can still purchase similarly violent and graphic games on Steam, and worse yet, games that are still incomplete and unplayable. Compare the difference with a provider that suppresses content across the board like Netflix. The online streaming and DVD giant does not carry pornography in the traditional sense, though they do hover close to the line with some explicit movies. In this case few will lay the charge of censorship on them because they choose not to carry any at all, and that’s where most people draw the line, when a merchant carries a line of product and bans one of them while keep the others. It begs the question, why?
Consumers are asking that very question is being asked of One Book Shelf when the company removed a card game titled GamerGate from their online marketplace. When the news first started circulating, the publisher, Postmortem Studios, indicated that OBS was being hit with a number of complaints by customers and fellow publishers that took offense to the game’s link to the online consumer revolt using the hashtag of the same name to communicate with each other on social media. It was speculated that OBS was capitulating to complaints of people who could just as easily not buy the game they were offended by, and whether that accusation had any merit or not, the game was pulled from the DriveThru RPG marketplace. This further led consumers, in support of the card game, to ask why this one when other games like Crack Whore, Pimp: The Backhanding, and Prison Bitch are sold on the same site. While we don’t believe these titles should be pulled to coddle the sensibilities of people who can just not buy them, it begs the question, why are these games acceptable with their violent, controversial, and subjectively offensive themes, but GamerGate isn’t?
Postmortem Studios posted their response, and the statement from OBS CEO Steve Wieck on their site so you can read both in their entirety. We reached out to the Postmortem, and Mr. Wieck to answer some questions we had. We spoke with ‘Grim’ first to ask a few questions:
FnB: What are your thoughts on OBS’s statement, specifically about GamerGate being too topical, and violent, and that being the reason it was pulled?
Grim: There have been products dealing with wars that were still topical in the past, my own RPG game @ctiv8 is supposed to draw inspiration from current events for adventures and that’s up. No, this doesn’t seem to be the reason in and of itself. As to violent, there’s no violence in the game and, come to that, no violence involved in the subject that it’s based upon. Just a lot of internet bluster and trolls enjoying the chaos.
FnB: What are your thoughts on other, far more questionable games carried by OBS like Pimp: The Backhanding, Crack Whore, and Prison Bitch? Obviously these games shouldn’t be censored either but does it seem like a double standard from your point of view?
Grim: I don’t think any of these should be censored. Is there a double standard? Sure. However my concern would be that dragging out these examples of hypocrisy will only encourage more censorship. Gamergate the Card Game was pulled because it mentions Gamergate, anything else is fluff.
FnB: Was there a review process to get listed on the DriveThruRPG? As in did the game go through some sort of approval/application process to get initially accepted?
Grim: No. When you first start-up as a new company your first few products are vetted but after that they’re not. At least not normally. I appear to have been placed on some sort of probation though where my products are being vetted, so we won’t be seeing A Very Sealion Christmas being posted.
FnB: Did OBS make any specific statement to you in regards to a violation of ToS for being listed, or anything definitive about the decision that wasn’t covered in the CEO’s statement you posted?
Grim: No, nothing additional. What it seems to be is simply that Gamergate is a hot potato, more so than tentacle porn or games that are direct personal attacks on people. A lot of people have invested a lot of time smearing that consumer revolt and are now believing their own press that it’s a hate group, that it’s misogynistic, that it’s about harassment, doxxing and threats. All nonsense but it helps create this… fervid atmosphere in which things like censorship and doing many of these same things the other side is alleged to have done are OK. The card game might have done a little good – via humour – to dissipate that and to deflate some of the seriousness, but with restricted outlets we’ll never know now.
FnB: How long was GamerGate listed for sale on OBS, and did you have any sales while it was listed?
Grim: I’m afraid I have no idea, not long, there were only a handful of sales.
When we emailed Mr. Wieck we wanted to ask about a couple of points in his statement. Specifically where he states the reason for the ban as “it is likewise too current, too emotionally frought, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire.” and his mention that the customer complaints were not a major factor, also that the other publisher’s reaction had no bearing at all. We applaud the following from Mr. Wieck’s statement, and it should be a major consideration when looking at this issue: “We will not allow any publisher to dictate content policy onto any other publisher, explicitly or implicitly. If any publisher ever decides to discontinue business with us because our content policy errs to the side of being too open, rather than restrictive, then we will respect their decision to leave our marketplaces and wish them well. To be clear, no publishers’ comments had any bearing on our decision to discontinue selling this title.” The comment about being tied to violence struck us because violence has a very specific meaning connected to real physical harm done by one person to another, and there have not yet been any acts of physical violence from either side of the debate.
FnB: On GamerGate the Cardgame being ‘too related to violence’ what brings you to use that phrase specifically?
SW: Perhaps I should have chosen my words more carefully. I meant violence in more of generalized force way like the violence of a storm as well as alluding to the threats of physically violent action.
FnB: Do you feel that these themes (Pimp, Prison Bitch, and Crack Whore) are far more disturbing, violent, and harmful that what is essentially an argument over games and ethics happening on social media?
SW: Works of art can deal with objectionable material but the work of art is not necessarily objectionable itself. We can and should have works of art, including games, that deal with sensitive topics. The issue is how the individual work deals with that topic, not the sensitivity of the topic itself.
FnB: Do you think that OBS has opened Pandora’s Box so to speak? Specifically do you worry that by pulling one game from your marketplace OBS has opened itself up to petitions and email campaigns from groups who might find the three games mentioned, or any game, to be immoral?
SW: No. I understand the concern that suddenly we’ve now put ourselves on a slippery slope of what some describe as pandering to overly-sensitive constituents, but we sell many other titles, including many by this same publisher, which have received numerous complaints but are still for sale.
FnB: Can you clarify if the game was being considered for removal before, or after customers and publishers began to send in complaints.
SW: As happens on our marketplace and on our automated, new release Twitter feed, the Gamergate card game went live to the public without any review from us. We immediately began to receive complaints via our customer service channels and social media channels. I then reviewed the title, and we decided to pull the title for further internal review. We then took over a week to fully review the title before deciding not to sell it.
There’s certainly a huge market for topical and uncouth entertainment, with the success of shows like Southpark, that hit current issues and have no reservations about picking on all parties involved, and the wildly popular Cards Against Humanity which touches on current issue as well as being unapologetic about making sure they have something to offend everyone. Both of these are popular satire of topics that are current, sometimes violent, and often offensive to many. The demo video is up on Postmortem’s site so we’ll leave it up to the viewer to determine if pulling the game due to links to misogyny, or its questionable nature is justified. We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and certainly not anything worse than what one would find in a game of Cards Against Humanity, which OBS sells an unofficial expansion pack for. This is clearly a complicated issue, but thankfully Postmortem has found another home for GamerGate the Card Game. We hope that in the future, dealings between Postmortem and OBS can focus on games, and creating fun, entertaining art for people to enjoy.