Dark Themes, Controversy and Why Meaning Matters

Fair enough, but if HG still deems that a game is suitable for publication, then apparently they’re prepared to take that risk aswell.

I have to disagree with you here. Having a villain be discriminatory just to show “how evil they are” is lazy writing.

People aren’t evil for the sake of being evil. People’s actions are evil because their objectives and values are different from yours. Other than a few notable exceptions (eg Roger Stone), people don’t see themselves as evil or the villain. They’re either narcissistic, psychopathic, or tribalist.

If they’re narcissistic, they may be discriminatory, but their discrimination isn’t core to who they are. Who they are is a narcissist (eg Trump). The discrimination may be a tool, but it’s a tool like any other tool. In this instance, do you as an author need to use this tool to achieve the effect of demonstrating the character’s narcissism? Does the discrimination serve a purpose that can’t be fulfilled by another tool? Does the use of discrimination outweigh the potential psychic damage that could be caused to a reader who suffers from that sort of discrimination in real life? Dollars-to-donuts, you could find another tool to demonstrate the narcissist’s narcissism. (If anything, discrimination by a narcissist should be used to show how hollow and value-less the narcissist is, because he believes in nothing. Not to show that he is evil.)

As for psychopaths, psychopaths aren’t discriminatory. They would have to value their own tribe enough to devalue another tribe. Psychopaths being discriminatory is simply bad characterization.

Tribalists can be actively discriminatory—believing that their tribe is better than others—but they don’t see themselves as evil. If anything, they see themselves as good and/or righteous. Such an individual may be discriminatory towards another tribe, but that discrimination happens within a tribalist worldview that should be explored. If not, then that’s not a character, but a caricature.

More importantly, though, what purpose does the discrimination serve in the context of the story? I return to the claim that using discrimination to demonstrate that a character is evil is lazy writing. If you want a character to be compelling, then you need to understand what their motivation is and then explore that motivation. Gesturing towards the nebulous concept of “evil” by using discrimination doesn’t explore that motivation, it just makes the author look amateurish. And, to be frank, I prefer for the games that we publish to be more sophisticated than that.


IIRC neither the CoG staff, nor any of the staffs at the publishing platforms goes through the entire game to see if it is suitable.
That task is up to testers.

You have several games up yourself. You know that ‘all’ you do is mark how much violence/swearing etc is in a game.
That’s what IIRC CoG and the platforms go by. (unless you have a game about the russian revolution, then google russia will check it and mark it as nc-17)


This is incorrect. After a game is submitted, we (@RETowers ) or someone outside the company reviews the game to make sure that it doesn’t violate our standards.

However, we do not have time to play games (such as MMM) that are in development. We only review them AFTER they are submitted. This does mean that things get linked to from the forums that are inappropriate, but c’est la vie.


Ah, thanks for the clarification. Wasn’t aware as such, might have mixed things up


14 posts were split to a new topic: Being Better Internet Citizens

I’ve read the HG publishing information, but it didn’t list specific information about market projections, so feel free to ignore this if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that it COG reviews a submitted HG game and determine that controversial themes (which do not violate the guidelines) negatively affect market projections to such an extent that releasing the game would be a monetary drain, then it would make sense to reject the game without updating guidelines.

I also think it’s worth pointing out that we’ve already been having a discussion on what exactly the guidelines means (what is glorification?), and COG’s interpretation of their own guidelines might differ from mine or yours, and ultimately we have to accept their interpretation since they are the ones publishing the game.


Just to be clear - my position is that guidelines are non-specific rules or principles that provides direction to get published under the HG brand.

These are rules of thumb, rather than strict rules because the actual publishing of a game depends on the review and approval of HG staff As @RETowers indicates in post 8 a specific purpose is necessary when including material in a game such as rape and discrimination, even when they do fall within guidelines.

Or as Jason indicates, the following question should be answered in a satisfactory manner before a game is accepted for publication:

Exactly my thoughts.

Edit - Because this is becoming a circular argument, I am taking a break from this discussion and I think that this topic has run its course for now. Unless there is anything new, I’ll be declining further comment.


These are both extremely good points and I do agree with them both, but the point that I keep making is that, if there are controversial themes that HG don’t want to publish because it might negatively affect market projections (or for any other reason) then it is their responsibility to let the authors know what content is acceptable and what isn’t, so that that the author doesn’t waste several months (or years) of their life on a project that the company has no intention of publishing.

Again, just to make it extremely clear, I’m not saying that either CoG or HG fails to do this. In fact, I think they both do a very good job of letting the authors know what content they find acceptable and unacceptable.

Well, that’s true, I guess. Any publishing company has the right to refuse publication to any book/game for any reason and they have absolutely no obligation to even explain to the author why they were refused publication. I guess “professional” wasn’t really the right word to use in this instance… Not quite sure what the right word is, but I do not think that CoG/HG would deny publication to games containing a certain kind of content, without at least editting the guidelines to specify what sort of content they don’t want to see.


I think this is a little unfair to your authors. Writing is a form of art, and like all art should be allowed to be offensive and make you uncomfortable. Some of the books that have affected me deeply and changed my thinking are books I have found very offensive.

This I am commenting on simply because I found it unfair. He didn’t pull out a hypothetical or even put forth the possibility. Another commenter was saying that is what your company should do. He used a paragraph to illustrate what the reality of doing this would look like and why he felt you would not do this.

I found nothing to suggest his argument was dishonest or malicious.


She… But otherwise thank you, I really appreciate that. :grin:


In the theme of discrimination, i would say Vampire House did a good job in portraying how discrimination is unjust and harmful to a certain community…
MC start as someone who hated super natural beings and even join a mob in stoning a Vampire Noble’s house, but later found that he and mother need to live in their mansion after their family unfortunate event, and thus had an opportunity to know a vampire girl and other super natural beings along the way… plus further understand how super natural beings had been wrongfully discriminated … and there are question such as " do you think stoning someone into cuncussion had an excuse" ? Which serve as enlightment

It was a great process of learning action of hatred and discrimination was wrong, the species we thought we hate might actually be someone we love and care…

I would think even with a discrimination theme, Vampire House did it marvelously …


It interesting to note that this penchant for ‘dark and gritty themes’ is the ‘new thing’ nowadays in the other forms of media i.e. movies, comic books, tv shows (the newest iteration of Titans comes to mind).

Personally, I’m not opposed to having dark themes in media, but I prefer if there’s some sort of reasoning - either via story setting, or word of god, etc. - behind why something has taken this dark tone, no matter how succinct or elaborate the explanation may be. To be ‘needlessly’ dark renders the ‘darkness’ obsolete IMO because the readers/audience is so immersed into that environment that we become used to it.


Well, I don’t think Slammed! would be Slammed! without its villain: the very archetype of the narcissistic, sexist, entitled asshole. Paul Prototype works because he’s a caricature, and his discriminatory traits are part of what make us love to hate him. So I’d say that there’s a place for villains who do nasty stuff like discrimination without much deeper meaning behind it. It’s ice cream conflict; not something that really sends a deeper message, but is still a lot of fun. Of course, ideally a story would have more to it than just that kind of villain. (Which Slammed! did.)


I have to admit I am wondering a bit where all the paranoia is coming from, there are plenty of games with dark bits/dark paths in them published already, and I never heard anything bad about them.

EDIT: I know about mmm, so no need to tell me about that, I meant the rest of the discussion in general.


Well… the WiPs/HGs/CoGs that come to my mind as ‘dark’ include:

Blood Hunter by InterestedParty (violence and gore)
Through Broken Lenses by InterestedParty (recovering child solider)
Good Intentions by Joshua_Kocha (ex-solider, violence, gore)
Highlands Deep Waters (violence, gore, evil cults, and a sexual predator IIRC)

I think the difference between MMM and what’s been published/what’s currently circulating could be that in all the above examples I listed… the MC isn’t the slotted into the role of the perpetrator who’s performing those nitty gritty acts and we, the audience, by extension are also performing said actions (albeit in a fictional setting) (kinda reminds me of GTA5’s torture scene tbh).

TBL gives the MC the option to keep those habits from their time in the army. Good Intentions’s storyline is set after the MC has done all the wet work for that fictional military. BH is where your main job is killing monsters and you’re given the option to kill certain NPCs at certain points in the game, but you can’t go on an NPC killing spree. Albeit, I will admit that Highlands does give you the option to be join the cult at the very end if you pick a specific option that implies that the MC did kill people.

In a nutshell, maybe the concern is coming from the fact that if the MC, and by extension the reader, is the driving force behind these acts, then that could be seen as glorification or acceptance on the part of the company/publisher.


I would think Haze under Windbroke by @OdicHastings did an honourable attempt to perceive how a divided society (discrimination towards super natural races ) may bring more harm to the future of human society …

while many had overlook such attempt to depict how a divided society will bring misery to all of us , by concentrating on its linear story telling … which is a shame , If Haze would be as popular as Vampire House , we will gain much enlightenment from this “Dark Theme” interactive fiction…


I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask this, and if it might be a case by case situation, but I was wondering if there’s anything else specific content wise that would prevent a HG from being accepted for publication. (Apart from glorifying racism, sexism, rape, pedophilia, hate speech- and that line of thought that is already on the main site as exclusions.)

Although it makes perfect sense that the cog staff don’t track WIPs due to how many there are, and how many never get finished, I must admit for some reason prior to this, I thought they were probably glanced over if the premise seemed possibly not ok. (I don’t really know why I assumed that.) Anyway just thought I’d find it sad if something I’d spent at year or more writing were to get rejected because I had included something that shouldn’t be there, so this is coming from just wanting to make sure that dosen’t happen. Thanks.


IIRC, HL,DW gives you the following opportunities to do obviously bad stuff:

1- As a possible consequence of your first character surviving the Prologue, you play him/her again during a short interlude between chapters, 10 years later.

It is heavily implied that you have suffered some sort of brainwash and have been acting under the influence of the Cult/the entities they worship for a while. Then you are given the choice to try to resist it or to give in.

If you give in, you murder a couple near the lake. Later on, you are probably killed by the new(and current) MC during the final confrontation, on a “good” ending.

2- The new MC can also(willingly) join the Cult, and they demand that you kill your initial contractor so as to prove your allegiance. This scene also implies some sort of brainwash/influence, but the choices are all yours.

We also had two sexual predators NPCs who are, quite obviously, villains. One is a child molester(we never depict it directly, but there are hints through the game and he can confess it during dialogue), the other is a rapist and murderer. There is video evidence of what the second one did, but we did not give details of the contents in the text.

We wanted to explore dark themes, but we tried not to glorify them or just use them for shock value. I don’t know to what degree we succeeded in doing it, but it was something that was always on our minds when making the game.

I do think, based on feedback, that we managed to make a “dark themed” game that scared/surprised people without offending or disrespecting them.


I think this touches on why simply relying on the guidelines as the only hard and fast metric for whether a game is “acceptable for publication” or not doesn’t work.

Ultimately, any curation system based entirely on the assumption that the guidelines in question can be objectively understood and adhered to is going to fail, especially when it comes to something like diverse and multifaceted as interactive fiction. Sure, you can create concrete rules over what qualifies as “glorifying racism”, for example, but any concrete rule can be intentionally or unintentionally circumvented. Likewise, works might just as easily violate the letter of the guideline without violating its spirit. It’d be trivially easy to use racist dogwhistles and innuendo to write around any strictly prescriptive “you can’t say this or that” rule, just as it’d be trivially easy to violate the letter of it.

I’ve written a lot of very ugly scenes, which comes with writing in a setting which is casually racist and sexist and a genre in which it’s all-too easy to revel in acts of murder, but I’d like to think that I’ve succeeded in placing those actions and attitudes in a context where it is made clear how and why those things are antithetical to any kind of society that most human beings would want to live in.

But a concrete set of “don’t say these words, don’t use these phrases” rules won’t be able to pick up on that context. If those were the only rules by which CoG and HG judged the suitability of content for publication, I would certainly not be doing this as my day job.

What I’m saying is that it takes human curation to judge the merit of a work as complex as a CoG or an HG, and while those curators (be they beta readers or CoG staff) are certainly subjective in their view of your work’s merit, so are you. Your authorial vision is not perfect. Your potential fans have the right to critique it, and take actions reflecting their opinion of it. CoG likewise has the right to choose not to publish your work for any reason they want before you sign your contract.

If you take issue with the decisions of your curators, that’s fine, you have that right too. You can take your ball and go home. But if you want CoG to expend the time and effort and resources to publish your work, and if you want people to expend their time and effort and resources to buy your work, then you have to find some way to compromise that authorial vision to make it fit - and in my experience, the CoG team have never been anything less than considerate and conscientious in making sure the resulting compromise is the best one that could be made given the circumstances.