Inappropriate Choices

I have started probably thirty different games so far and I’ve recently obtained time to focus on and finish them. I had my wife preview some of the story I’ve been working on and she had a concern that it might be a bit too morally unsound to be published.

In the story, you play a sorcerer with the bloodline of a dragon who struggles to learn how to control his power while allowing it to properly manifest, all without a proper teacher.

Early on in the first book a street urchin steals money from you. And I had an option that basically allowed you to roast the child alive with your magic.

Now, I didn’t go into detail like I often do for a lot of deaths, but the thought of killing a child is probably a bad idea.

Your character will actually die if he kills too much and does too many abhorrent things, letting the draconic blood take him over… but I’m wondering if this content will make my story non-publishable. There are many other places that the character can commit atrocities that can push him over the edge and lead him to die. I prefer to keep the story intact as it is, though, if possible.

I don’t often think as a typical person when writing a story, I just see reality as messy as it really is. And in a harsh medieval fantasy realm, there are lots of dark possibilities.

I read a few other threads with similar topics, but it was hard to relate this specifically. I write a lot of stories with many different scopes and I’m hoping for publishing them for adult audiences who aren’t likely to be warped by reality any more than if they watched this as a Hollywood film. Of course the games are immersive, as they should be, but it really is the imagination that drives these types of games.

In the threads, I read a lot of murder: yes; rape: no. But of course the fact that it’s a child makes me considerably wary. Especially since you’re burning the child alive.

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If you are uneasy yourself, I guarantee a percentage of your potential readers will not like this. Is there a compelling reason why a) it needs to be a child who is burned to death and b) why the miscreant, adult or child, needs to be killed?

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I honestly wasn’t uneasy. My wife pointed out the potential red flag. And it isn’t a necessity, it’s one of a few choices. So anyone who is unsure about it can ignore the scene altogether. There is an opportunity at each step to NOT kill the children.

I just wouldn’t want to put any story out there that won’t be accepted or published.

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I suspect that the publishers would be much less happy if the dragon raped the child than burned the kid to a crisp. Popular media is just delighted with death-dealing, even when the victims are children. However, I imagine someone at CoG headquarters will weigh in.

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Unless there’s a very compelling reason for the child to be killed, it comes off to me gratuitous violence, as being used for shock value rather than an interesting moral choice or a choice that can add anything to the story narratively. Perhaps a lesser punishment is in order, like a verbal lambasting instead of outright murder?

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Is it something the protagonist does on purpose? If so, then yes, it’s giving the opportunity for a very extreme, hard-to-empathise-with level of violence at a very early stage which is likely to be a turn off.

For me personally, the choice (especially so early in the game) would be a signal that it’s likely I wouldn’t get on with the rest of the game due to the child harm. Depending on the writing quality and how much I was enjoying it, I might not stop playing, but it would raise my eyebrows.

The ways it could potentially work better for me is if a) it was accidental, and it was possible for the protagonist to feel a great deal of remorse over it (making it clear that it will be extremely important for the character and narrative), or b) be purposeful, but later in the game as the culmination of a path of becoming inhuman and the draconic blood overcoming a human conscience.

Even then, though, it would have to be handled very skilfully. It would need to be made clear in some way that the branch has narrative weight and importance. And ultimately, a child murderer with no conscience isn’t going to appeal to a wide audience.

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To be honest, I very much doubt that anyone here’s in the business of censoring games for moral unsoundness.

For one thing, there are already plenty of published ChoiceScript games that allow the player to commit murder. And it would seem a bit weird for the line in the sand to be, “we’re okay with murder, but only as long as the victim’s over 18.”

Playing a murderer might well be unappealing for some readers, but that’s a separate question. And there’d presumably be nothing forcing them to make that choice if they didn’t want to?

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There are two different standards which you will need to adhere to to get published as a CoG/HG title - the details of each should be in the submission sections of the brand name you are trying to get published under.

Rape is one of things that is not welcomed by this publisher under these standards.

There will be a new label dealing with more graphic “adult” themes introduced soon. (The name of the label escapes me for the moment)

Murder and mayhem for the most part are allowed - the areas this publisher starts to get uneasy about are if they are race-based or gender based or orientation based actions.

Once you succeed meeting the House qualifications, and go through the submission-acceptance process, you’ll next be audited by the platforms that sell CS games: Apple, Steam, and Amazon. As you might or might not be aware, their standards are a bit nebulous … in this case, I’d be most wary of Apple’s reviewers.

Depending on a multitude of things Apple may ask CoG (and you through CoG) to rewrite material in order to be able to sell your game in their App store.

I think one of our latest authors here, @Havenstone had his material changed this way. His work, Choice of Rebels (XoR) has children being murdered and starved to death in it by the way, just so you know… so I’ll let him comment on his experience further if he desires.

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The idea of fighting against your inner demons, or dragon blood in this case, is a commercially viable concept (see Illidan, from the Warcraft series).

The Conan (the barbarian) universe is a savage place. Lots of morally reprehensible things go in there. That intellectual property still continues to make money. Why? One reason may be because it’s clearly marketed as fantasy, and not as a metaphor for real life. It is also not, as far as I’m aware, explicitly marketed to children, so there’s a great deal of leeway as far as adult content (not necessarily sexual, just mature content).

As @Eiwynn just pointed out, all you have to worry about is meeting house standards.

However, as far as design, the sky is the limit.
Let’s say your MC roasts a kid alive only to find out later that it was an illusion brought on by a dragon deity to try and turn you to embrace your blood (basically a magical trap, and not a real person).

In that sort of scenario, you get away with the “oh my gosh he burned a kid alive, how savage!” reaction only to morph into a “oh wait, I was being played this whole time! rage!” kind of reaction. And of course the rage is probably not good for controlling dragon blood, so you slip towards the draconic even more…

Basically, my advice is to worry about editing after the story is done, and not before. But keep up the good work, I like where this is going.

You forget something important, though. Be it Conan or, after all, GRR Martin… the keyword is shock-value.
Atrocity gets people talking, but it doesn’t mean that because something does contain it the thing is good.
Also… Conan is a power fantasy. Decide for yourself if the success of something with such contents really should be taken as a sight that doing something is A-OK in fiction.

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I would agree.

Just because Mary Sue jumps out of an airplane without a parachute just to prove she’s stronger than Chuck Norris doesn’t mean the rest of us should do the same.

I believe that the use of “good” (as quoted above) represents a value judgement (which is inherently subjective).

I am talking about effectiveness.
Specifically, I am suggesting that a savage exposition will help to create the boundaries of a savage world.

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Something to bear in mind is how an issue is brought in/introduced. In @Cataphrak’s second Infinity game, your soldiers are involved in the taking of a city. If you are in command at the time, you could try to rein them in, or let them run amok.

Some rather nasty things happens in the flavor text if the soldiers go wild, but in that instance it isn’t your character participating other than letting it happen (or unable to stop his troops).

So if you make a passage where an MC could directly kill a child (to borrow a previous example) that might get censored, but if it is something that happens as a casualty of war (and you don’t dwell to long on it) will probably pass.

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You could also do some nasty things in that chapter too, and the one following.

I think this goes back to the power fantasy issue. When you’re playing through a story which is supposed to let you do what you want, having the choice to commit an unambiguously violent or cruel act is allowing the player to do so because they want to. It’s an expression of the player’s choice and their skill in getting the game to do what they want. Outside of power fantasy, when a character is trapped by their society or by circumstance, or by their simple inability due to forces outside their control, it isn’t so much the world permitting the player to commit an act, but the world forcing the player to commit an act: a representation not of ability, but failure, whether that be an individual character’s moral failure, a society’s flaws, or injustice on a cosmological scale.

This is an interesting thought, because I think the idea of what qualifies as a “savage” world is distorted within the context of games and fantasy narratives.

The term has become intertwined with meaning that there are no societal shackles on a player character, that this lack of restriction is, in fact, power fantasy. What this often ignores is that a truly “savage” setting is in fact, the antithesis of power fantasy. If no power has the authority to impose sovereignty and order, then every single possible power must have a reasonable chance of being destroyed. The lack of restriction serves to allow a player character to do as they please, but it doesn’t empower them, since it allows everyone else to do as they please unto the player character.

In short, a “savage world” is going to be a utterly unfair one, where there is no sense of security and no amount of achievement or accomplishment is going to protect you from being destroyed.

I don’t think most people would find playing in a Hobbesian state of nature much fun.

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Oh definitely. However, the main thing I was hoping to get across is how something is structured and what CoG may allow (obviously I am not speaking for CoG itself). I mean, I don’t think CoG would have allowed “Gut a child with prejudice” as an option choice, but “Torch the city” would be fine (and of course, the implication there is a lot of other people get hurt/killed).

To me it is the same way with @Havenstone’s Choice of Rebels. Your actions/choices may lead to children being killed, but you aren’t the one to wield the knife directly.

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Personally, I’m very okay with that. The vast majority of the harm done in our world is institutional, and it’s often not the people wielding the knife who are ultimately responsible, but the ones who teach them, raise them, and order them to put that knife into someone else’s gut.

That being said, getting that across requires a deft hand (and I’m not sure mine is deft enough to manage),

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Hail, Mighty Cataphrak!

This is a great point. It’s like the kids screaming “anarchy!” don’t really want anarchy in the purest form. Are they really OK with no power? No water? No system of money to buy groceries? Not being able to flush the toilet? Not being able to call the police when your neighbor breaks in to loot your house for supplies? No, they just want to express their discontent at whatever they’re mad at this time around.

That said, I don’t mean “savage” in the sense of an antithesis of a power fantasy.
My take on a power fantasy is being able to do what you want.
My take on a savage world is a world where many bad things can happen, and we may not be able to do anything about them.

Getting back on topic… so one of the options is that the child in the story is “not able to” do anything about getting roasted alive. That’s savage. Here, this kind of savagery helps to illuminate an imbalanced power structure. The concept of savagery, if we run with the idea of power struggles, can be used to subtly discuss issues of patriarchy, lack of equality, discrimination, and may other things which our world finds to be unacceptable.

The art is in teaching the lesson without the reader knowing they are being taught.

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But why would you WANT to play a game in which you can brutally murder a child for sh*ts and giggles?

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Presence of edgy choices doesn’t make a game bad yknow.

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If I can run over innocent pedestrians in GTA, rob every person and every house in Skyrim, murder indiscrimantely in FPSs and commit equally attrocious acts in RPGs, why would child homicide (in a fictional world) bother me? If people are going to be moral knights about this sort of thing then they better condemn a wide spectrum of morally questionable deeds and not just a few, otherwise they’re just hypocrits.

At the end of the day we’re talking about a bunch of pixels, a fictional character, we’re not condoning these sort of acts in real life. If people go around real life doing bad stuff just because they can do it in videogames then, to me, that eithers spells a mentally deranged person (the bad and dangerous kind) or someone who is very young/sheltered and never had proper lessons on how to distiguish fantasy from reality.

Playing a evil character in a videogame doesn’t mean you’re a bad person in real life. It shouldn’t be shunned just because some peoples’ sensitivies flare at the mere mention of it. If you can’t handle it then just don’t play it or avoid that choice, simple.

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It is not necessarily about being ‘moral knights’. Various stores, hell even countries, can have very specific rules which very well could be hypocritical, but companies must obey.

shrugs I mean, way back when, Fallout 2 had to be altered to be sold in Germany because they wouldn’t allow a child to be harmed.

And if one is talking about stores…well, the Apple store (as just one example) can get very picky/finicky. And in that situation, if you want to sell on that store, then you have to play by their rules.

Also, on a more pragmatic note, there will be groups and people who have their own agendas as well, and I can guarantee that if on a major game like Grand Theft Auto, if they did allow certain things, then that would give those groups all the fuel to push in restrictions/bans. I’m old enough to have seen…well, let’s just say I was there when some Christian groups tried to get Dungeons and Dragons banned for being Satanic; those same sort of groups were natural allies for Jack Thompson back in the late 90’s/early 00’s.

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