jhkimrpg (jhkimrpg) wrote,

RPGs and a Rape Culture Controversy

I've recently been discussing recent controversy over rape and rape culture in games. I wasn't involved in most of the prior discussion, and when I asked about it, there was a lot of misinformation or confusion over issues. Thus, I am creating a collection of links and information regarding the events in question.

This post is just about clarifying the events and issues. (Revised Mar 1, 2013 to include responses and requests.) I'll post my opinions on them later.


May 8, 2012: Soda Pop launches a Kickstarter project for a card game called "Tentacle Bento" by Chris Birkenhagen, John Cadice, and Deke Stella. In it, players play tentacled monsters and compete to collect cards representing Japanese schoolgirls.

May 10, 2012: Desborough posts "The Advent of Private Censorship" on his blog, complaining about the flak Tentacle Bento was getting as an example of increased limit of free expression.

May 15, 2012: According to Eric Martin, the Kickstarter collected more the $30k during its first week, but then the project was canceled by Kickstarter based on complaints from writers Brandon Sheffield on Insert Credit and Luke Plunkett on Kotaku.

May 17, 2012: In video game news, Anita Sarkeesian begins her Kickstarter project "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games". She subsequently receives extreme harassment over the project, cf. Wikipedia for article references.

May 18, 2012: Eric Martin posts a news report on BoardGame Geek, "Links: Tentacle Bento Boxed by Kickstarter, Guess the 2012 Spiel des Jahres Nominees & More on The Wheaton Effect".

June 12, 2012: Writer James Desborough writes on his blog a post entitled "In Defence of Rape". Desborough had previously published the card games "Hentacle" (2004) and "Call of Cthentacle" (2009) that have a similar "tentacle rape" theme. (These two also have various supplements including "Sloppy Seconds", "Three's an Orgy", "At the Mountings of Madness" and "The Dunbitch Horror".)

June 13, 2012: Writer Christopher Bird posts on his RPG blog MightyGodKing a rebuttal to Desborough entitled "In offence re: rape". Amanda Marcotte reports on online misogyny on Slate, regarding the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian.

June 14, 2012: User "Ettin" starts a thread on the RPGnet tangency boards entitled "[Trigger/BBR] Desborough vs "Censorship"". Desborough releases a short YouTube video, "RE: In Defence of Rape" (5:08).

June 15, 2012: Desborough releases a short YouTube video, "Mailbag Catharsis" (7:31).

June 18, 2012: According to Maladicta, Mongoose contacts her for an update for their Mongoose Infantry program, of which she used to be a member. Offended by Desborough's post, she creates a petition on change.org entitled "Steve Jackson Games: Stop publishing James Desborough, rape supporter". (The petition was cancelled, but an archived view is available on archive.org. The text of the letter can be found by viewing page source.) She also begins a private email chain with Matthew Sprange of Mongoose Publishing that was later posted online. Desborough releases YouTube video, "Reply to Banshee" (15:08).

June 19, 2012: In response to the petition, Matthew Sprange posts a poll to the Mongoose General Discussion board entitled "Is Mongoose a Bad, Bad Company - You Decide". The poll links to Maladicta's petition and asks users the question "Should Mongoose Destroy all Copies of Sex, Dice and Gamer Chicks?" (The poll was deleted, but an archived copy is available on dropbox.com.)

June 20, 2012: According to Maladicta, she begins to receive complaints from Mongoose fans, including rape threats. James Desborough tweets a response: "Apparently the person who started the petition is getting surprise sex threats. Not on. However I'm sure she knows they're not genuine threats." Matthew Sprange begins to respond on the RPGnet thread to Maladicta's claim that Sprange was "hostile, rude, and accused me of dishonesty". The poll thread on the Mongoose boards is deleted around this time. Also, conversation is going on in Google+ including a post by Frederick Hurley that Gareth Skarka cites as threatening.

June 21, 2012: User "Ettin" starts a thread on RPGnet regarding the petition and Mongoose, entitled "Mongoose, and reactions". Discussion on Google+ covers this, involving writer Gareth Skarka and Tracy Hurley among others. Skarka post on the situation, which lead to a conversation with Tracy Hurley where Skarka ends with "Now fuck off. For good. And you and hubby better start hoping that I'm not the vindictive prick you portray me as."

June 22, 2012: Maladicta posts a summary of events on her blog entitled "How Not to Handle a PR Crisis: Mongoose Edition", including the contents of her email discussion with Matthew Sprange. According to her summary, her main complaint is Desborough's book, Sex, Dice & Gamer Chicks - though she also mentions Desborough's blog post and the working title of "Project Love You Long Time" for a Mongoose Vietnam miniatures game under development. Around this time, Matthew Sprange announces that Mongoose will lapse Desborough's book out of print and not hire him again as a freelancer in a statement posted to their forums and RPGnet.

June 23, 2012: A more general thread starts on RPGnet, entitled "James Desborough and rape culture". Also, a thread starts on theRPGsite entitled "The War Against Desborough and Mongoose Publishing" regarding "a small group of people terrorizing a game publisher and an author". Desborough posts on his blog, "It’s Not All One Way".

June 24, 2012: Andrew Girdwood of GeekNative posts an interview with Desborough. LiveJournal user "Erratica" posts her summary, "James Desborough, Gamers, and Rape".


Feb 13, 2013: Chronicle City is a board, card and roleplaying games company founded by Angus Abranson (previously of Cubicle 7, Dragonmeet, and Leisure Games) in late 2012. Desborough posts on his blog of his imprint press an announcement, "Joining Chronicle City Full Time". Soon after, user "Cargo Culture" starts a thread on RPGnet entitled "James Desborough hired as Creative Director at Chronicle City". The third post, by user "Numanoid", has a picture of Desborough with the caption "Good day, ma'am! My name is James, I'm your new neighbor... and I'm required by law to let you know that I'm a repeat sex offender."

Feb 14, 2013: User "Sacrificial Lamb" starts a thread on theRPGsite entitled "The War Against Desborough and Chronicle City".

Feb 18, 2013: James Desborough includes a description of his own sexually-themed publications on theRPGsite thread.

Feb 20, 2013: James Desborough posts a summary of the events from his point of view on theRPGsite thread.

Products and Petition in Question

I've looked at most of the articles linked above, but certainly haven't read all in detail (especially the ultra-long RPGnet threads). I have pirated copies of The Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers, Macho Women With Guns d20, and Hentacle. I browsed a copy of Sex, Dice & Gamer Chicks in a game story, but did not read it in detail. I followed a review of Tentacle Bento and asked questions about it that were answered, but have not seen the game itself. I haven't seen Desborough's Call of Cthentacle at all, or its supplements At the Mountings of Madness and The Dunbitch Horror. Based on this, a few clarifications:

  • Tentacle Bento has no nudity, and does not specify what happens to the captured school girls - but there is a lot of sexual innuendo about them.
  • Hentacle is graphic and specific that the women "victims" are bound and penetrated by penis-tipped tentacles, though it does not use the term "rape".

My quick reading of Sex, Dice, & Gamer Chicks and longer reading of The Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers is that they are indeed full of crap that pictures females as alien outsiders to normal gamers. It is intended to be humorous, but it is not in my opinion satirical any more than Benny Hill or Amos & Andy. It engages in a lot of bad stereotypes of both male and female gamers, such as saying that if a female doesn't run away screaming from the regular gamers, then they have an apparent affection for one of them. I first opened up to a "Poon-tang" table. Shortly after that is the female gamer section - where "female" is a type of gamer, like "rules lawyer" or "munchkin" or "thespian".

The text of the letter for Maladicta's petition is as follows:

For years, the hateful and violent ideas of James Desborough have been receiving vindication in the form of publication via several companies. Ideas such as the notion that female gamers prostate themselves for in-game benefits, which makes it okay to treat all female gamers as prostitutes (Sex, Dice & Gamer Chicks, Mongoose Publishing); that women are mysterious, unknowable creatures instead of people (Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming, Steve Jackson Games); or that "[r]ape is fucking awesome" ("In Defence of Rape," Grim's Tales (12/06/12)) have received wide distribution in their inclusion in his gaming work.

That companies continue to publish James Desborough's work is nothing short of abhorrent. Female, gender-nonconformist, and equalist male gamers make up a much larger demographic than the misogynistic rape fetishists who find his work enjoyable. That his work is still in publication is a stain on the hobby and vocal condemnation should be the only response.

Until game companies apologize for publishing such hateful material and openly condemn James Desborough, they will not receive our money. With the multitude of tabletop RPG companies, there is no need to support the ones who promote hatred towards large segments of their demographic.

While her comments on his writing are arguable, the letter completely misquotes Desborough's blog post in a misleading and slanderous fashion.


I'll be posting my more general opinions in a later post.

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