Sometimes it’s more complex than a Twitter exchange: Free Speech, Sexism, and “Tournament of Rapists”

TL;DR: Yes, free speech. But it’s not just about free speech, is it?

Yes, I just now heard about this book that got published over the weekend:

Yes, that’s right, it says "Tournament of Rapists".  It got published on DriveThruRPG on Friday.  And when Jessica Price from Paizo called out DriveThru, she had a … less than satisfactory response.  You can read her story (and I encourage you to) at her blog:

Let me just go ahead and note here:  Twitter ain’t the place for a complex discussion of … well, anything.  The medium inherently reduces thoughts to soundbites, and that never helps reach understanding.

Was the response of DriveThru staff helpful?  Um, no. Not at all. Did it make things worse? Yeah, yeah it did. Did they mean to make things worse? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, probably not.

The publisher of the above book has also responded.  Their response is here: .  The key bit I’d like to bring out is this:

What I think most people don’t realize is that the participants in these tournaments are the *BAD GUYS* that the PC’s are supposed to kill!  Most of the “stat blocks” are for monsters/creatures for the PC’s to fight!

If a novel with this title was written and Jim Butcher, Anita Blake or Jack Reacher were going after the bad guys it might be a best seller.  But Chris makes it a game supplement and everyone who just reads a title assumes that it’s about the players to run around sport-raping people for XP?

I’ve not read the book. Apparently since it’s been taken down, I can’t read the book to verify this one way or another.  I do know that the provocative title (and that publisher) got a hell of a lot of free publicity from people complaining about it though.  (Yes, even though you used DoNotLink.)

See, here’s the thing: There isn’t much of a vetting process once you’re an established publisher with them. They presume, once you’ve managed to get a couple of titles up correctly, that you’re not going to be a douchebag and jack things up.

This bit DriveThru in the ass – at the very least, because the book wasn’t appropriately tagged "adult". And maybe there does need to be a mechanism for that – or sufficiently large penalties for any publisher who doesn’t correctly do so.

And while I understand how that Twitter exchange went down – because I’ve said similar things in the past when I was that well-meaning white guy – I hope that future responses from DriveThru folks will be a bit more thought out.

I’m not in favor of making decrees of what others should or should not publish. (Though I’ll gladly do so for what I publish.)

And yet, I’m writing this from a place of privilege. And everything above this sentence reflects that.

One gamer friend of mine (who asked to just be referred to as Julie) commented privately to me:

The point of sourcebooks and expansions are to create a world for the characters to play in, and sometimes the source materials are darker than others.

This book (I say without having actually read the material or played it) strikes me as some weirdo’s rape fantasy written out, but hastily justified with “and these people are all bad bad bad and you need to kill them”.

As another gamer friend, Elizabeth Bauman, put it in a comment thread on Facebook: 

In the end, the entire thing just makes me feel resigned and sad. Like, what’s the point of even TRYING to make gaming more accessible and welcoming for me? Sure, they’ll take it down and make sounds about how they’re going to get a different policy, but it’ll be the same story in a week with some other disgusting product and some gross dude telling me that I’m being an insensitive SJW who wants to censor the world into oblivion.

And it’s the above that makes this more than just a free speech issue.

In case you somehow missed it, gaming (and genre fiction) isn’t just about me – and people like me – any longer. While there have always been women gaming and in genre fiction, it’s only been recently that those of us who create the works for these pursuits have actively been considering other viewpoints…and how the works we create impact the audience that we have.

And when you title a work "Tournament of Rapists", it (and the blurb in the screenshot) sure as hell implies exactly what Jessica Price thought.

I realize that sexist results do not require conscious, sexist intentions to happen. In this case, though, it seems like the publisher rather deliberately, through the title and blurb text, decided to provoke a response to get attention.

And it did get attention.

But it did more than that. It reinforced the message – sometimes subtle, sometimes overt – that women aren’t welcome.

And we – as publishers, authors, gamers, and readers – have to be better than that.

As you may have noticed, Alliteration Ink titles are at DriveThru sites (DriveThruFiction and DriveThruRPG). As a (very) small company as well, I understand that there’s not always someone on staff and standing by to respond. I hope that now that PAX is over, the staff of DriveThru will create a good, comprehensive, and inclusive policy so that all gamers can feel welcome visiting their site.

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