CW: Rape and sexual assault.
I honestly am disappointed to be writing this post and that it is even something I should be writing about a major RPG website like DriveThruRPG. As it is one of the biggest and best sites for getting PDFs of books and other products, I have used it several times to get PDF only books or copies of hard to acquire physical products. Unfortunately they recently decided to host and actively sell a supplement directly about, themed around and focused entirely on rape. This is my open response to them.
UPDATE 2 (2/9/2015): There has been the promised response from DriveThruRPG on the blog of OneBlogShelf. After reading this response, which is long, nuanced and considered I am extremely happy with their overall position and decision. I agree with him that there aren’t hard lines you can draw in the sand on these issues, but there also isn’t room for a blanket “Absolutely nothing won’t be permitted on our store” stance either.
UPDATE: After an initial tentative response from DriveThruRPG, I got a further note just now with the following information:
We are very sorry for the repeated contact, but we are passing along an update on the title.
We spoke to the publisher and author of this title. They decided to withdraw the title from sale. It is no longer listed on our marketplace. The publisher may choose to republish the title later. If they decide to republish it, we have asked but not demanded that they consider some changes to the title.
A more detailed blog post from our CEO is forthcoming after the weekend and staff being out of office.
We appreciate your feedback and your business. Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.
There are some interesting facets to this response, including the fact that they have “Asked but not demanded” they consider some changes. What exactly that means to me is that they’ll possibly wait for a while, change the title and description and pop it back up. This isn’t really the result I was hoping for and I’m not sure how to react quite yet, until I see how the situation fully plays out. In particular, I’m not going to make any judgments on if I return my business to them until after I see the response from the companies CEO. Mostly this is because I feel the social media response has been pretty dismissive of the concerns brought forward so far.
Either way, I think this will be a very interesting test of how DriveThruRPG wants to present itself in future.
Original Post Below
I noticed today from the Bedside Notepad that DriveThruRPG has decided to host a supplement, ostensibly for Pathfinder/3.5 DnD, called “The Tournament of Rapists”. If the name of the book is bad enough, it’s description is a magnitude of orders even worse:
The Tournament of Rapists details the sadistic Rape Pure Fight circuit, expanding on what you’ve seen already and introducing dangerous new sexual predators. This sadistic bloodsport takes place in abandoned office buildings and atop Tokyo rooftops. An assortment of superhumanly powerful and inhumanly misogynistic men, and even worse women, step into impromptu fighting arenas, killing and raping the weaker in search of a multi-billion yen fight purse provided by a half-oni billionaire in thrall to dark impulses.
This is a thing that someone actually wrote. How anyone thought that this was a good idea is rather beyond me and it has created an entirely predictable shit storm. Generally speaking, tabletop gaming and RPGs have worked hard to become more “inclusive” hobbies, welcoming to everyone. Unfortunately, some reminders as to the past of unfunny “supplements” such as books focused on raping horses to produce centaurs still bubble up from under the surface. To give something like this exposure on a major platform – possibly one of the biggest – for purchasing digital books is incredibly disappointing. I am not surprised that some publishers have looked at this with some horror and a couple have even pulled their products from the store (a commendable move, given how prominent DriveThruRPG is for digital books).
After considering the book, the overall context of how women (and other minorities) are often treated in gaming spaces (frequently poorly) and if I should continue to purchase products from DriveThruRPG I eventually sent this letter to them:
I will start off by saying that I have often enjoyed Drive Thru RPG and recently have been starting to increasingly value PDFs. While I don’t always want PDFs over physical books, I’ve often been getting them recently due to difficult international shipping conditions or because they are a great companion to a physical book. Most recently, I bought the Apocalypse Machine from your site and was contemplating picking up some other one shot adventures and similar. Unfortunately, I can no longer in good conscience support your website after discovering that you’ve decided that hosting this is acceptable: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/155549/Tournament-of-Rapists?term=Tournament+of+Rap
I’m not going to go into a large spiel about the issues surrounding rape culture in gaming spaces and life in general in fact. All I am going to do is express my complete and utter disappointment at you deciding to give space to this on your website. Of course, this is perfectly acceptable of you to do so and indeed, it’s your business so flushing your own reputation down the toilet is entirely your prerogative. It’s a special slap in the face to people who have fought hard to change the perception gaming (especially roleplaying) are inclusive environments, welcoming to groups who were minorities in the hobby like women.
If you wanted to lose the business of customers like me, who won’t support this kind of thing being promoted on one of the major accessible PDF sites, that is your choice. If you want to send a message that RPGs have not grown up beyond their “teenage prepubescent boy” years, then deciding to host something this crass and ridiculous is definitely the best way to do that. Once again, what you can and should host on your website are entirely not up to me as a customer. What I do with my money and what businesses I choose to recommend and support however, is entirely in my hands.
So while you have decided to host products like this on your website, I have decided to neither patronize it further or recommend it to anyone.
I am severely disappointed in you
This is the way that I have decided to respond and while I acknowledge they have an absolute right to host whatever they want on their site, I will say I don’t have to support what they choose to do on it at all. While this is up on there I will no longer support or buy anything from their website, which is entirely my absolute right. Especially bearing in mind that DriveThruRPG does curate content and has numerous times in the past. They have been known for the quality of their products and not throwing up any old thing entirely willy nilly at that. It seems they forgot that when they put this up, with the description alone – however inaccurate it is according to several protestations in the defense of the product put forth – should have been a major red flag to not do this.
But before I leave, I just want to point out how impressed I have been with Paizo’s response (as they were originally tagged in the products description). Bedside Notepad is actually the blog/tumblr of one of the project managers at Paizo and Erik Mona is the publisher of Paizo (who is quoted tweeting in disgust about the issue). Both of them have come out very strongly against this product, pointing out the problems it creates with the progress RPGs have as a progressive space. It’s especially galling for them because Paizo in particular have done a tremendous amount of work encouraging new players into RPGs, making their cast of iconic characters diverse and generally being friendly to women/minorities/PoC. Seeing them publicly stand up for these beliefs, especially because Paizo heavily relies on digital publishing (and was at the forefront of it in some was), is refreshing and highly encouraging to see.