Revisiting the Sensitive Censorship Issue in Board Gaming.

Some of you may remember in an earlier blog post how I was outraged at the alteration of card art for a game I backed on kickstarter.

Original Art
Original art on game card.
Revised card art; supposedly chainmail added, but it looks more like silk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outraged because I was under the impression that the art was changed due to Tristan Hall (the creator of Gloom of Kilforth) caving into the demands of a petty few who took issue with the original artwork. Turns out I was too hasty with my opinion. Tristan has given an update (yes, I’m very late with this, but what can I say, I’m a procrastinator):

Hi guys, sorry it’s taken so long to get around to typing this up, I’ve been crazy busy (trying to get my first game finalised amongst other things! ) and realised I’d need a proper sit down to respond effectively. First thing’s first: I will not be changing the art now that we’ve submitted the files to print.

I’d like to thank everyone who has commented on the topic on the forums and privately, whatever your viewpoint happens to be – I read everything I can about my game, and I often try to pay attention to the things people say about me as a person and designer too. With that in mind I commend the passion of those who’ve vociferously championed going back to an earlier iteration of a piece of art in the game which they preferred, hats off also to those who vocalised their preference for the more family friendly version, and well done to everyone for trying to keep the whole discussion as civil as possible. I’ve received a tonne of eloquent and interesting personal emails on the topic too, especially from those who’d rather not engage in this sort of discussion in a public forum.

A lot of points (autocorrect says pints – you know when you sometimes want to keep a typo in??) have been raised and I can’t respond to everything so I’ll just cover a few key elements of my own and that will be the last of it from me on this, simply because getting caught up on topics like this derails the actual total awesomeness of where we are at now, and exactly how game-changing Gloom of Kilforth is going to be when it arrives on your doorstep. So here we go…

There has been enough interest in the original piece of art that we can potentially include it (and other similar images) in the Touch of Death GoK expansion Kickstarter as alternate promo cards next year. My vision for Gloom of Kilforth has always been inspired by classic fantasy, Tolkien, Brooks, Weiss and Hickman, even Shakespeare, and occasionally we’ve had darker elements sneak into the design, flavour and art, but in my head it has always been a PG rating. So we’ve often revisited those elements and brought them more in line with my own ideas of what is right for THIS project. There is a time and place for adult orientated imagery, dark horror and all that other stuff, and I actually have no problem with that at all (just wait for Sublime Darkness) but this project isn’t it.

One of the misunderstandings about my process has been that one or two of you think I have been underhanded or sneaky by not telling you of decisions I’ve made about changing this piece of art for the female warrior until after the fact, or that I’ve not brought enough attention to this change, or that I should consult with all of my backers about this change first… Well if that’s the case, oh my goodness you guys have NO idea how much I’ve held back from you – I’m like a Level 20 Rogue in terms of sneakiness if that’s how we’re measuring it!

The amount of insightful feedback I’ve had from hundreds of players over the years, and the brilliant feedback you all gave me during and often since the campaign has been absolutely incredible.

But, the number of decisions I have had to just blaze ahead with and make about this project without your input is INSANE. Flavour, balancing, world building, art commissioning, new mechanics, rules, layout, design, consistency, typography, music, art manipulation, even choosing which cards to include that you unlocked as stretch goals – some of you may even remember that my immediately previous update was indeed a paean to the freedom that you had granted me to be creative on my own terms, and how grateful I was (and very much still am) for that.

To those who suggest that my decision was only informed by a single tongue in cheek poll I ran on boardgamegeek you need to think much more broadly: I have discussions daily with loads of different people about Gloom of Kilforth: family, friends, gamers, colleagues, backers, fellow geeks… All of whom I have the utmost respect for. And everything I learn informs my decisions. Even if the poll had zero people say they didn’t like the original piece, the countless other conversations I’ve had about the game and its art style would still have informed my decision.

I’m extremely lucky to have an artist who often presents me with 3 or 4 different versions of each image she develops. Sometimes it’s alternate colour hues, shading, saturation, clothing, weapons, hair colour, it can be a huge number of things. Often I’ll make suggestions and tweaks of my own. Can you even begin to imagine how long a project like this would take to bring to fruition if I had to ask you guys for approval for every single card?? It just would not be feasible. When you backed this game, like it or lump it you backed me and the artistic decisions I’ve made and that I’m making.

Guys, Gloom of Kilforth is going to be amazing. The game is great, the art is gorgeous and myriad, the music is beautiful, the value for money you’re getting is bonkers, and the next Kickstarter is going to be epic too. Everyone who’s seen the prototype is looking at it with bug eyes, like ‘are you kidding me? This is awesome!!’

So let’s draw a line under this topic now and look forward to all this goodness arriving finally after such an epic journey. At a time when the world is falling apart politically and economically let’s come together and reunite – like we were united before the last update – over something good and positive in all of this. After all, nobody was harmed in the making of this game, and if you can just relax and allow yourself to enjoy this sumptuous and immersive fantasy universe we are bringing to you you’re going to have an amazing time.

Take care y’all,

Tristan xx

So it’s because this was the vision he had in mind all along, and consulted many individuals on the matter, not just those who are online.  So I was wrong, too hasty, and feel ashamed.

Ashamed that I didn’t think more broadly about it. Ashamed that I assumed wrongly he treated the poll seriously rather than tongue-in cheek, though that’s an honest mistake to make, considering something Tristan said at an earlier time prior to altering the art on the card:

with respect to yourself and others who share your thoughts here’s a quick poll to help canvass opinion

I mean, it’s an easy mistake to make under that context.  Regardless, I was wrong in that assumption, I also feel ashamed to have said this in my earlier blog post (linked above):

I disagree with this entire process, I find it insulting that you would cave into the demands of some prudish few, and I find censorship more offensive than just about anything else in the world. I despise censorship with every fiber of my being, with a passion. And this is censorship what you’re doing. And on top of that, this whole thing just comes off as you going behind our backs. Therefore, I ask that you restore the card art to its former glory. I ask this in haste and urgency, if it’s not too late. If it is too late, if this cannot be rectified, I will still accept the game. I will play it, and rate/review it objectively based primarily on the gameplay. But I will lose respect for you, and be far less willing to back and support any future projects you do.

Foolish of me to say this when I didn’t have a full understanding of the process. So I apologize for any sort of personal attack I had made in that regard.

That being said, I had valid grounds to fear that the situation was worse than it actually is regarding that game, considering that, as unfortunate as it is to say this, the board gaming industry isn’t a stranger to censorship.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.  Let me introduce you to the game that got me riled up on this whole censorship thing, a game released a couple years before Gloom of Kilforth was funded on Kickstarter.  Draco Magi, released in 2014. What’s wrong with it? Well, the front cover of the box art apparently:

It may seem ok, but it’s altered. Here’s a before-and-after image:

Apparently that was considered too risque for some. And before anyone starts accusing me of being too hasty, of misjudging the situation, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that this is an example of censorship of the most idiotic form because the creator caved into the demands of a petty few thin-skinned pansy pricks.  To quote the creator Robert Burke:

The first image is the original, and the second is an update Kerem made.

Why?

Well, a handful of backers were upset with the image. The argument is that images like this “objectify” or “sexualize” women. I thought it was rather tame and showed a woman in a position of immense power, but it seemed many disagree. The woman in the image was not striking a sexual pose in any way, but her physical beauty and clothing caused a negative reaction in some.

Now, here I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I am being asked to censor my artist or be labelled a sexist.

Crap.

Now understand, I worked as an artist for many years, and if there is anything that gets me upset, it’s being asked to censor my work. I actually sued the city of Charleston, SC when I was younger to defend art that was being censored. You can read about that here:
http://www.tjcenter.org/ArtOnTrial/historic.html

So do I ask my artist to change a work he considers his “best to date”?

And if I do, what do I ask for? Do I ask him to change the mage to a man? Is that not the ultimate sexism? Would I be saying a woman could not be a powerful mage?
Do I ask him to make the dress “less tight”? Should she be thicker? Boobs smaller? These are decisions for the artist to make in my mind, not the client. And this work was consistent with why I hired him.

Ultimately, I was very uncomfortable asking him to change anything, but instead decided to just tell him the truth and share some of the comments unhappy backers had left on the Kickstarter page.

I did not ask Kerem to do anything, but he gracefully, and expertly updated the clothing of the mage to not be as revealing.

I still loved the art, and was psyched! Everyone can be happy!

Not a chance.

Some are upset that I changed it. Stick to your guns they said. I was weak against the close-minded, conservative minority.
While others were not satisfied, they still see her as nothing more than a sexual object.

For the record, I do not. I see her as powerful and beautiful.

In the end I have made the decision to keep the art, albeit the more covered version. I feel I should not be in the business of censoring artists or making moral statements. I am in the business of creating immersive, fun and beautiful games. I do not publish board games to be an activist.

I think art has always tried to capture beauty and I believe doing so is fine. Doesn’t sexualizing a work of art have more to do with the viewer than the artist in most cases?

Am I wrong? I would love your thoughts on the subject.

Yes you are fucking wrong you submissive pussy.  Doing shit like this will make the whiners you submitted to want to do this again, because it makes them empowered, knowing that can get their way and have art censored.  I’d make the argument for why this is a bad thing, but I’ve pretty much said my piece on that in the other post (see link at top of this post).  So I’m just going to let others do it for me.  Here’s responses to this quote from this page (note that I’m using the boardgamegeek.com names users go by):

Jakelin: If it were me and I had the spare cash, I would have created a “burlap sack” sticker to be included that would fit nicely on top of the model of the woman so those who are easily offended could completely cover her up on their own version. I am not joking. It would hopefully drive the point home or else make them happy. I made my living for a dozen years as a musician. I do not like seeing art censored. If the vision of the artist is something I can’t support then I don’t. It would never occur to me to complain about it or try to get the artist to edit it.

Day2Dan: I’ve also never seen dragons in real life, nor have I seen half-naked, muscle-bulging barbarian men wielding greataxes, nor dwarves in soot-covered tunics…these are fantasy tropes, for a fantasy game. The beautiful priestess is also a fantasy trope, and it is no less valid than any of the other tropes.

Sensibility is for the real world. Fantasy is literally the opposite of that. Overt sexualization in fantasy certainly can be a problem, but while the woman depicted would be very beautiful in our standards, she is clearly commanding a dragon, not making bedroom eyes. Any sexual inferences you are making are of your own accord.

You are so interested in asking why the woman has to be beautiful and in skin-tight clothing – but why do you think she has to be the opposite?

senorcoo: Is it possible that women and men present themselves differently? Say it ain’t so!

Zaphod: The art looks great.

We need to stop listening to the whiny, uptight minority. They make a big deal out of everything, and go out of their way to become “offended”.

silverbowen: You can never bend over far enough to make the sex-negative PC crowd happy. Your first mistake was engaging.

crackbone: You obviously are a crazed pervert who wants every game to contain buck naked spread eagle women on every piece of art. Or instead of throwing around obnoxious assumptions about people with differing opinions, we could try having a goddamn discussion. But I guess if you don’t have anything constuctive to add, just hand-wave away other peoples concerns. It’s easier than empathy or critical thought for sure.


Zaphod: Nope- he/she nailed it. These people are never happy until they get their way. They try and force publishers and artists to adopt their viewpoint rather than that of the majority (and of the artist).

Arcanumx: As a contributor to this project, I am alarmed and outraged by what has happened. Not only do we have people objecting to art, but we have the creator of the project bowing down to appease those that raise the objection.

For what it’s worth, I personally liked the first picture posted (dark elf). That should have been the artwork on the box. I think less discussion would have taken place, with a pointy-eared masculine warrior. That picture directly engages the observer, as opposed to viewing a scene from afar.

As far as depicting women in fantasy art..why can’t we just accept it as art? To question the art is a personal attack on the artist himself. If you have some objection to the box, you can put the game in a different box. Maybe have some average, overweight business man on the cover would be fantasy art for you…not for me.

To focus on what offends your personal sensibilities and have artwork changed to fit your view of the world harkens to a time when scary and dangerous things have happened. Such actions have been warned of taking us to places we don’t want to go, but it appears we are slowing on that path again. I can only guess these are the actions of the same people that believe the earth is only a few thousand years old, women have no knowledge or right to their own bodily activity, and people are born to be subjugated.

Just last week end I watched a 60 minutes story on the son of a Nazi that had over 1400 works of art in his flat that were confiscated during WWII, because they were deemed offensive to the Nazi government.

Are we really back to censorship of art and revisionist condemnation?

Seems so.

MajaiofDreams: Personally I never saw the issue with women or men projected in fantasy art.
An attractive and “sexy” body does not necessarily mean they are trying to be sexual.

Let’s take this current picture for example. The woman does have above average breasts, a very fit and curvy figure. And yes her garb shows a fair amount of her skin.
But to me, I see no problem with any of those. None of them are extreme and all obtainable by normal human beings.
It is not like her breasts are enormous, and she is wearing nothing more than a thong and pastes.
And it is not like she is straddling the dragon’s horn as if it were suggesting something sexual.

She is standing in a very commanding pose and has a look on her face that shows she means business.
I get absolutely zero sexuality from this picture! Just because the character in the picture has the goods, so to speak, does not mean they are sexual or being sexualized.
If people are finding this picture inappropriate, then that is on them not this artist. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say.

Please do not interpret this as I am using the “It could be a lot worse defense.” I am saying, it is not bad at all.
When I first saw this picture before I heard any of the issues people had I thought, wow, look at how cool that dragon looks, and there is a bad ass dragon magi next to it.
Then my thought went on to how excited I am about the game itself.

Now I know people will say, “Well that is just my opinion. I have every right to look at the picture and see no issues, and they have the right to look at it and find problems.”
But there has to be a certain level of reasonability here. There is a point where you can agree that a drawing is sexualized or not, and there is a point where people are overreacting.

I guess my issue with those that have a problem with this artwork is that I feel people are overreacting for the reasons I mentioned above.
You see some flesh or a curvy figure and suddenly the picture is sexual. I get it that sex appeal is in the eye of the beholder.
Some people just need to see a woman, period, and their eyes bug out and they think sexual thoughts.
So there is no level of compromise you can do with your art to not get that reaction from them without removing the character.
And personally, if a drawing gives you sexual thoughts, more power to you. It is only human to have sexual thoughts.

So my questions are; what is the definition of “sexual” when it comes to art? Is there even a universal definition?
Is it subjective or objective?
Is it the fault of the artist or the viewer when they find sexuality where none was intended?
How small do breasts have to be to be non sexual? C cup? B cup?
How much revealed flesh is too much?

I look at this woman on the box and I am drawn to her dynamic pose, that amazing staff in her hand and that no nonsense look in her eyes.

Anyway, yeah, there was a lot of deja vu from that case to the one regarding Gloom of Kilforth.  But that’s not the only act of censorship that has happened in the board gaming community.  Hell no, it’s not even the worst.  The worst is in regards to a game called Five Tribes (also released in 2014).

What’s wrong with this game?  Oh, it’s not the cover.  This isn’t an argument on sexism and feminism in this case.  It’s an argument on slavery.

That’s right, people were offended by this card.  Nevermind the fact that this is historically accurate and more on the realistic side (those hypocritical motherfuckers, and those same people bitch about how unrealistic it is for women to dress the way they do in medieval fantasy games/films).  Nevermind that this isn’t the only resource card in the game:

Slavery offends those sensitive folks, so those sensitive folks ask the game creator to fix this “problem”.  And they decided to take action and cave into those petty demands, by changing the slaves into fucking faqirs.

Once again, I’ll just let those in the forums on boardgamegeek do the talking:

Thormodr: So, slaves have been swapped with fakirs, eh?

Quote:

A fakir, or faqir (/fəˈkɪər/; Arabic: فقیر‎ (noun of faqr)), derived from faqr (Arabic: فقر‎, “poverty”), is a Muslim Sufi ascetic in the Middle East and South Asia. The Faqirs were wandering Dervishes teaching Islam and living on alms.[1]

The term has become a common Urdu, Bengali, and Hindi byword for beggar. Faqirs were Muslim ascetics and Sufis who have taken vows of poverty and worship, renounce all relations and possessions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fakir

Well, now one can buy fakirs in the marketplace rather than slaves. Still sounds like human trafficking to me. wow

Don’t think there will be much outrage from people for some reason, however.

debiant: Just because people are in the minority doesn’t make their opinion any less valid. White male dominance fantasies don’t make for inclusive gaming.

I will buy the new edition in support of DoW’s decision.


LunarSoundDesign: Egypt had slaves long before, as did other cultures. It’s factually accurate not a fantasy.

Jumpman78: This entire situation is idiotic. There are slaves in the story. Nobody said it is right, it’s just factual. Social justice warriors are so annoying. Really, get over yourselves. Stop being slacktivists and go stand up for, you know, ACTUAL PROBLEMS. This is not a problem, it’s a board game that stayed true to the context of the theme. Nothing more. Call them “servants” if it bothers you that much. Gah!

Really, you can’t teach a board game because it has slaves in it? Unreal.

In Rampage, the monsters eat “blonds”. Is that ok? How about Cards Against Humanity, a game that pretty much violates every law known to mankind? If you enjoy that game and fault Five Tribes for the slave thing, you’re simply a hypocrite.

ilfiniol: The funny thing is that slaves are a problem and could [s]hock people, but the assassins are ok… I really dont understand the logic in that…

marcnelsonjr: Now to replace those ivory cards, which promote the slaughter of a vulnerable species! And overfishing is no joke, either…

I’m looking forward to Five Tribes: Fakirs, iPod Chargers, and Flat-Pack Furniture Edition.

Those 2 games are the worst cases of board game censorship I’ve seen up to now.

Anyway, I also learned that some people bitched about another board game, but in that scenario the creator didn’t cave into any demands.  I hadn’t heard about it until I got caught up in the censorship controversy discussion in Gloom of Kilforth, in which case the name of a game called Lap Dance was brought up.

Oh yeah, you’re seeing that right.  It’s a board game about Showgirls, Magic Mikes, The Full Monty, Striptease, etc.  The complaints were ultimately ignored, but I thought I’d include a few quotes, this time from those who took offense to the game, just to give a little insight into the opposing side:

ds3272: Plainly, the game glorifies the objectification of women. It’s gross and demeaning. I have a wife, I have a daughter, I wouldn’t want this game in my house. Comparing it to a game about horse racing, or about organized crime, is a straw man.

You wanted someone to disagree with you? You got it: This game is vile.

No, I’m not getting it, yes, I’m voting with my wallet by refusing to do so. But someone had to explain it, someone had to say the obvious in response to the straw man OP. Horse racing? Mafia games? shake

In most games with characters, including the mafia games I know, they can be male or female without material difference. In this game, female characters (apparently) engage in erotic behavior for money. That is a subject that makes people – not just women, but many men, too; myself included – uncomfortable. Would you rush to the defense of a game that glorified some ethnic or racial stereotype, and make the argument that prejudice is not going away? Of course you wouldn’t.

If you want to play it, knock yourself out. But don’t kid yourself that it’s sadly misunderstood, and wholesome family entertainment. It deserves to be the punchline of jokes and nothing more, which is what I imagine will happen.

People will play it if they want, but a game in which the characters sell themselves sexually for money is icky.

Even though it’s a real thing, that is legal, which has hit films inspired by that concept.  Back to the side I side with:

ScionMattly: exactly what IS the problem here? We have Letters From Whitechapel, a game about murdering prostitutes. We have innumerable games where one player wages war over another. In Twilight Imperium, I can wipe out entire planets with genocidal bacteria weapons. But suddenly we have women in bikinis and now there’s some moral outcry over this game?

What is it about the world that we allow and even revel in violence, but for some reason sexuality is verboten? A man can kill a woman, rather graphically, and a movie is PG13. A man and a woman have naked, loving sex, and suddenly the movie is R. It’s…amazing, sometimes.

Roden84: Being new to board games I find the outrage over these types of things a bit strange… I’m guessing it stems from the fact that board games have grown from a background of being ‘wholesome family entertainment’.

Compared to other forms of entertainment like movies, video games, music etc. the themes explored are generally very ‘g’ rated (this one being an exception perhaps).

My opinion is if you don’t like the look of it then don’t buy it – just like you might not buy hitman or GTA, or buy gangster rap music or whatever…

DrCrow: Yeah. I don’t understand what Artipia must have been thinking when they decided to publish a game with such an appallingly dull and overused theme. I was kind of hoping they would reach out and go for something fresh and new like trading in the Mediterranean or something that takes place in ancient Rome.

I mean, the erotic entertainment occupation is so well represented in board games at this point that yet another one would be redundant. Couldn’t we get a game about master builders or merchants or something?

I’m disappointed.

Alright, so that’s out of my system.  So now you’re aware of the board game controversy, and that people will bitch about any game that seems insulting to either radical feminists or BLM assholes.

Oh, did you think I was done?  Well, I’m done with the depressing stuff.  Let’s have a little fun and dive into the more adult oriented side of the board gaming spectrum.  If those people thought the above games were bad and demeaning towards women, they’ve seen nothing yet.  First, the one that started it all, in that it became the butt of many jokes on BGG (boardgamegeek), Bosom Memo:

Yep, a memory game where you try to match one boob with another boob from the same pair of breasts.

Brichs: There’s loads of offensive things in the world. I see no need to remove them from the world, though. It’s part of the human experience, to be challenged in in what we deem acceptable – in my opinion.

Let’s turn Japanese for a few moments, Barbarossa:

harro: It’s odd by Australian standards but then the collision between cultural norms is part of the appeal.

Oppai Go:

fox1986: Oppai Go has a great unique game mechanism that me and my gf really enjoyd. I couldn’t stop laughing seeing all those “sexism debate” comments here. Guys, this game is from Europe. We have no problem over here to exaggerate a little bit with sexy humor without associating everything with gender discrimiation, like peole do in the US. So sit back and enjoy this entertaining game!

Schlongo:

ronjeremy: Great pub game for drinks. Shortest schlong buys a round.

jwalsh1: My wife and I played, and she found the game not hard enough and too quick for her liking.

Never the less, I found it satisfying.

ilsilvano: Looks like a nice filler.
You can play this and BANG! in the same night.

faidutti: Waiting for the expansion.

Jonathan Degann: I’d be a little nervous about putting those dice in my hand and shaking them for too long. Something might happen.

Project PornStar:

smithnewz: In case you couldn’t tell from the title, this game is not intended for kids. It is also not aimed at adults who are not comfortable with sexual themes, related humour, and cartoon graphics of people with nipples showing. Consequently, I would have thought, the makers have eliminated as potential customers some substantial parts of some large countries. On the box it says, “Warning! Persons with strong religious beliefs and devoid of a sense of humour should avoid contact with this game!”. I would agree – but would say that “and” should read “or”. So, conservative gamers, advocates of political correctness, and even those who would describe themselves as strongly religious or moral may wish to stop reading now – and certainly should avoid this game like the Plague.

Preacher67: My wife even likes it.

And now for the grand finale, Titty Grab!  A game for sexual assaulters in the making:

epilgrim: It’s a titty…you grab it a lot…often when it’s inappropriate to do so…you get your hand slapped sometimes…the realism is palpable.

Alright, that’s enough.  Fun’s over.

Anyway, the bottom line is that board gaming is more diverse than ever in its genres and art styles, gameplays, and appeal to gamers both casual and competitive.  There are games for women, men, boys, girls, families, groupies, etc.  Board gaming has never been better.  And I hate seeing people intrude upon others when there’s plenty of other options for them to go by.  I want variety, and that includes games aimed at adults, and games aimed at children (though I’ll more likely play the former).  People really need to lighten up and not make a big deal out of this stuff.  It’s just a game.  The game is meant to be fun for its intended audience, not to offend and cause some sort of race/gender war.

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