Dark Themes, Controversy and Why Meaning Matters

#1

Tada! Let’s make this a rule of thumb, when Godwin’s Law gets invoked, topics should be moved here.

I totally agree. I enjoy exploring dark and horrific worlds, but I’d day the majority of people that end up writing these kinds of worlds end up writing things that don’t actually explore them, but instead just brush the surface for the sake of “controversy” and fail to fully realize the meaning behind things. Without a grounding in the real world, “edgy” and “dark” just falls flat. (The most recent good, dark, world I’ve seen is Get Out.)

I mean, I feel like that’s the point for anyone really making art. If you’re not questioning it, what is it’s purpose?

So let me guess, you’re European? (Now peeking, and yup, British.) So, the thing here is we’re a primarily American company making games for a primarily American audience. That means our sensibilities on violence and sex are basically flipped. I mean, that’s not a hard truth, but as a rule of thumb: Violence is good in America, and bad in Europe, while sex is good in Europe and bad in America.

So, all that said, we’re…no, perhaps here I should change to I am not against controversial topics, Ijust don’t put any stock in shock value for shock value’s sake. If someone was to write a story involving rape that 1) didn’t glorify it and make the player empathize with the rapist, and 2) actually went in and explored what that meant, and had a meaning and purpose, then that would be, well actually something I could get behind, (for example, I don’t know, having a woman rape a man and exploring how disorienting it is to live with that in a world that doesn’t even necessarily consider you to have been raped, and may even mock you if you do come forward) but just having it there as controversy without further justification?

For MMM specifically, I’ve never seen it. I’d still have to review it before I gave any opinion. That said, I don’t care about the controversy either way. Controversy doesn’t mean good, nor does it mean bad. It’s neutral. Hell, I’d call it valueless. And, well, to be honest, a good story with rape is hard to stomach—it’s supposed to be hard to stomach at the very least (if it’s not then, once again, you’re not making art, you’re just making porn)—so I’d give it a negative value. What does that mean? A story with rape, which I think should automatically be controversial, actually has to be good for me to give it consideration. There has to be some artistic meaning behind everything, otherwise the work is a net negative.

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Mass Mother Murderer [3/14 Chapters, 35k words]
#2

Last thread was closed, but I did want to respond to @Eiwynn’s remark of: " I wish authors/developers like @Avery_Moore would respect and acknowledge CoG’s right to publish what they deem is best for their company instead of insisting that they carry some sort of societal burden to publish whatever am author/developer deems they wish to write."

Just to be clear, my post wasn’t about Mass Mother Murderer, but more controversial/distressing subjects in general, and ones that are well within the Hosted Games guidelines.

The guidelines state that, “Games must not contain deeply offensive material, such as scenes that glorify sexual violence or racist attitudes.” So a game in which a character that is obviously a villain discriminated against another character because of their race is unlikely to be considered “glorifying racist attitudes” since the context it’s shown in clearly implies that racism is wrong, and portrays the racist character in question as a villain.

My issue is that authors are encouraged to avoid topics such as rape/discrimination, even when they do fall within the guidelines. (Again, not talking about MMM. I’ve never read the game so I don’t know whether that game fell within the guidelines or not.)

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#3

I’d say the line is when, no matter how many NPCs you have in the end saying that the MCs/another NPCs acts are wrong and evil, the MC/NPC not only gets away with their misdeeds, but there is also the undertone of ‘they aren’t wrong after all’.

You have this in a lot of SFF books, where the ‘good guys’ can murder, r*pe etc as they like, and the story will say it is wrong to tick of that point on the checklist, yet still go and say ‘but oh look the good things that came of it’.

(worst example I’ve seen was a character (TW rape) getting raped and getting pregnant, but the book went on to say that that’s okay because now the MC found his caring and protective side and will care for her.

whut?!

But back to a more general thing:

Where do stories stand that rather unwittingly have a really dark theme/implications that are never explored? (to the point that the reader might wonder if the author is even fully aware of what they created)

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#4

Yep, I’d say violence is certainly much more disturbing and triggering for me then any kind of consensual sex, no matter how “kinky” or non-vanilla.
"Muricans, as a rule of thumb, are weird with their flipped values. Though I also don’t appreciate the censorship our German neighbours sometimes practice of turning video game blood to green goo.

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#5

As was the portion of my post referencing the quoted material of yours.

You think that authors should be immune from feedback critiquing their decisions regarding such topics as rape and discrimination as long as their game falls within guidelines.

I feel testers have a responsibility to offer feedback - including feedback that discourages topics such as rape and discrimination, just as the testers have a responsibility to accept the author’s decision on the actionability of that feedback.

Offering feedback that discourages topics like rape and discrimination, even if they fall within guidelines, is the only way that testers can encourage authors/developers to write and develop games that meet their needs and desires and it is the only way to influence the development of a game before it hits the marketplace.

If enough feedback is given regarding these topics telling the authors/developers and CoG that the guidelines are not up to the proper standards, then perhaps these guidelines can be changed.

The author doesn’t have to take action on the feedback received

As long as testers respect the decision of the author, there should be nothing more to talk about.

It is when the testers fail to respect the author’s decision that they over-step their role in the process and I will be among those defending the author’s ability to accept or reject that feedback.

The take away from this post is that testers play a role in game development, even when the feedback concerns topics such as rape and discrimination that fall within guidelines.

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#6

Same as author you have right to write whatever inside the law I have as reader exactly same right to opinate and say my opinion of the game you have just made public whatever it is positive or not.

I have found in general not talking about this forum Authors believe free of opinion is for them only to point when I was doing practices in a law firm in my last year I have seen authors trying to sue fan forums because a bad criticism of one chapter.

Also there are those that want sue publishers for not consider their work with merit to be published.

Free of creation doesn’t mean that everyone has to publish your world magically because freedom. Means that if you respect laws you could present YOURSELF your own work in the public scene. Not that everyone have to publish you whatever be your content.

If you want a private company publish your game or make the design of your car you have to company standards. Same I cant go to Audi to make them mass produce a pony car with wings. Any author cant force a publisher to publish in base your standards. For that you can publish your own work in a free state

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#7

Thank you for answering my comment! You really did bring up a good about it being questioned. Art should definitely be questioned. But what separates something truly artful and something done for fun. Is a child’s drawing considered art? Because I see CoG/HGs more of a fun past time, so perhaps that’s why my views are ignorant.

Looking back at my initial comment I think a lot of people thought I was justifying MMM. To be clear, I never got past the second chapter as it was too edgy and shallow for me. The thing about dark themes for me is to question the morality of everyone in the story and to understand the situation they are in. To make me think what would I do in this circumstance. I find some “dark” stories are very indulgent and only considered dark because of controversial topics. If these were taken away, the story seems to become light to me.

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#8

Here’s a question that comes up in that scenario: To what degree does a player making decisions as a character inherently normalize those actions? There’s a certain degree of insolubility of intent when someone actually engage in the choices and actions of a character, versus when they are a passive observer of that characters story, I’d say even regardless of whether they control the character minute actions.

Here’s why I waver on this: how many authors on the forum do you think really have the chops necessary to address such topics, without being offensive, and while having an actual artistic purpose behind the inclusion? I’d say a majority probably could do the former by slapping in an obvious villain that does something bigoted. (And a large chunk would then fail because they’d immediately turn around and try and make the villain sympathetic or something).

But what has that accomplished? You’ve made your game somewhat more uncomfortable or painful for whoever is the target but for what? So, I argue, that a purpose behind any included bigotry is necessary. And that’s where we hit the real problem, because crafting a good plot is one thing, but crafting a good plot with meaning and grounding without going of the rails is entirely another, and I don’t think there are many authors at all that can do that very well. (Hell, I’d argue we have a disproportionately high number because it’s the group we cultivate and I’d still guess it a relatively small minority.)

I mean, it really depends. I think logical conclusions are fun, and I think more creators should put more effort into thinking about their works, particularly when these situations crop up, but I’m not sure what you mean beyond that?

I mean, there *is* a reason I'm living with all the old hippies up in Oregon now.

Well, “art” is a vague term, generally described as two things: beautiful, or emotional. Now, not to say there aren’t some but generally a kid’s not going to make something deeply beautiful, but emotional? That is certainly possible.

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#9

Take as example Heroes Rise:
Reading between the lines there, one can get the idea of a future in which free will is non- or nearly non-existent anymore, in the games pure personality stats decide over whether people live or die, and can be altered by complete strangers with the push of a button.
Someone’s entire memory, history and personality is digital, and gets continuously checked against that of people one interacts with.
but it’s ideas never explored, debunked or anything throughout the pentalogy, unfortunately.

But they are there in the subtext, which is quite unsettling.

So question is where do stories stands that by the ‘word of god’ aren’t dark, but can easily be read as such once the reader starts thinking about the implications? Whether or not this was the (hidden actual) intend of the author or not.

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#10

Well, then I’m not sure what you mean. We both agree that CoG/HG has the right to determine their own guidelines, and that authors should respect and follow those guidelines.

Not at all. Feedback and critique are extremely important, but there’s a difference between saying “I don’t like it when games contain X,Y and Z,” or “I refuse to play games that contain X,Y and Z,” and saying, “Author’s shouldn’t write about X,Y and Z in their games, and if they’re going to write about stuff like that they should do it somewhere else.”

When somebody says that certain content is unsuitable for Hosted Games, even when the guidelines specifically state that the content is suitable, then they’re not respecting CoG’s right to publish what they deem is best for the company… Which is exactly what you said people shouldn’t do.

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#11

This is where we disagree. It is their responsibility to say exactly this. CoG/HG and the author can accept or reject that feedback, but without such feedback, there is a danger that both the author and the publisher are out-of-step with what their consumers want and/or need.

The Me Too Movement did not affect change by staying quiet and accepting the status quo. If CoG/HG receives enough feedback regarding a standard that no longer makes sense or is just plain wrong, then those guidelines might be changed or clarified.

On the contrary, I said they should, multiple times. What I said is:

The difference between what I want and what you want is granting the author the ability to circumvent the feedback process if the content in question meets the guidelines.

It is very important that:

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#12

You’re more than entitled to that opinion, and I’ve seen plenty of comments from other people who share that opinion, but I personally don’t agree. I feel that pretty much anything an author writes is acceptable, so long as it falls within the guidelines and has the appropriate trigger warnings. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a villain discriminate against another character purely for the sake of demonstrating how evil the villain is. In fact, I think that this can often improve a story since, when you think about it, the vast majority of the evil in the world stems from discrimination. When you have a villain that doesn’t discriminate against anybody in any way, shape or form, how evil can they really be? (Unless they’re purely greed driven, but it’s pretty restricting to expect an author to have every villain in everyone of their stories be driven only by greed.)

Granted, this might put some people off reading a game. Players have absolutely every right to boycott a game if they find any of the subject matter disturbing or distasteful. Still, ultimately, the author has the right to decide whether or not they want to take that risk. (At the end of the day, the only person who might end up losing out is the author, since they could potentially drive off a large chunk of their potential audience, and as a result, lose sales and get lower ratings on their games.)

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#13

Well, that kind of contradicts what you said earlier.

“I wish authors/developers like @Avery_Moore would respect and acknowledge CoG’s right to publish what they deem is best for their company instead of insisting that they carry some sort of societal burden to publish whatever am author/developer deems they wish to write.”

Can very easily be flipped to:

“I wish users like @Eiwynn would respect and acknowledge CoG’s right to publish what they deem is best for their company instead of insisting that they carry some sort of societal burden to censor whatever a user deems they don’t wish to read.”

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#14

Well, CoG/HG also lose out in that scenario. Lowered sales on a title impact them just like they do the author, after all.

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#15

It does not -

is in direct reference to your belief that:

It is my belief that at times, even if a game meets guidelines and has trigger warnings that it may not be acceptable and at those times CoG should have the ability to decline publication.

You believe the ultimate decision should lay with the author - at least that is what I take from various statements like:

While I believe the ultimate decision lays with the publisher.

It can’t be flipped because I do wish that testers should respect and acknowledge CoG’s right to publish what they deem is best…

After listening to the feedback provided, if they chose to publish something disagreeable to the tester, then the tester has the responsibility to accept that decision or to move on. I’ve said this before…

Indeed, I reinforce this all the time in WiP threads where feedback at times is in danger of being circular in nature. Here is what I always say:

So in summary - the tester has the responsibility to leave feedback, even if that feedback critiques acceptable standards or guidelines set. Once the feedback has been given, the author can accept it or reject it. At that point, the tester has the responsibility of accepting the author’s decision or moving on.

During submition, an author has the responsibility to adhere to guidelines set by the publisher but if there are additional factors the publisher uses to deny publication, outside of those guidelines, the author has the responsibility of accepting those additional factors or moving on.

Until a contract is signed. Then each party has rights and responsibilities as laid out in that document.

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Being Better Internet/Forum Citizens
#16

And, if published for some reason, to attract a crowd that we do not want to be here. lbh.

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#17

That doesn’t sound very good. A “we don’t serve their kind here” mentality seems somewhat counter to the open nature of this place, and more like the sorts of backwards reasoning one would have found prevalent fifty years ago. But a somewhat similar point might be that a super controversial title could offend or even chase away some of the hardcore buyers who normally snap up just about everything the company puts out; folks like that are worth a lot more than someone that will just buy the controversial title and nothing else. Or even several such someones. Controversy can be profitable (though by no means is it assured), but it could also lead to a short-term gain, long-term loss scenario if it alienates the regulars.

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#18

Well, you know what kind of crowd I’m talking about. And lbr: we DO NOT want them here.

#19

I don’t, honestly. I didn’t play MMM. I loved that Sam took chances and wrote about eclectic things, but this one felt like a hard pass to me from the word go.

#20

have you heard of… gmr-gat* (i’m not writing this out lest they find us)

It’s bad enough to have those d*ckwads whine about evul sjws ruining gaming in so many CoG reviews on steam. we don’t need to attract them by having games containing stuff they consider marks of ‘real games’

but back on topic now

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