On the topic of mature topics/ Setting design decisions.
I read an article recently about sexism as it exists in the steam punk genre, Written by Eric Simon and found here http://steamscapes.com/node/62 (It's a set of two excellent articles that I think any fan of the steam punk genre should take the time to read.) and another quick post wherein someone wanted address people who were complaining about the artwork in his game, which was apparently kind of racy (I never saw any of it). Far be it for me to judge, I don’t know from corsets. But they are thought provoking reads, and definitely inspire some discussion.
So this brings me to the topic at hand, the treatment of social issues in role playing games whether in a real world sense (for example treatment of alternative lifestyles or modern economic issues in the game text) or as genre specific. (For example the over objectification of women in parts of the steam punk genre, or the chainmail bikini syndrome that has been around for about 30 years now.*) By treatment I mean the treatment of these kinds of topics in a mature way.
As I write Shards of Thimbral, I don’t plan on dodging any social issues. If I feel like adding something that might not sit well with some readers, I will. We are mostly adults here, and while I don’t want to set out to offend people, I am not one to avoid it either. In fantasy fiction the bad guys are generally pretty bad. This makes it difficult to avoid some subject matter concerning violence, exploitation, oppression, and any of a host of unpleasant subjects or images. I feel that as long as an author takes care not to turn depiction into exhibition that most things are ok when viewed in context.
With that said, I also don’t feel any strong need to use my game as a soap box for any particular social issue. If I wanted to do that I would write a game specifically and pointedly about an issue. (I bet my next effort “Why am I starving in the richest country in the world, the R.P.G.” is going to sell like hot bat-turd sandwichs.) I personally don’t play RPG’s to delve deeper into the social issues of the day, or into my own psyche. At the risk of sounding shallow, I play RPG’s to gather my friends around the table, and makes some kick ass stories, and hopefully have a few laughs. (Trust me my humor is as dark and bawdy as it comes, but that’s at my table with my friends, not as part of a product I want to present to the public.)
So where does that leave me as a fledgling game / setting author?
When writing anything, especially an RPG game wherein people are supposed to play as a character inhabiting a setting it is important to take care with how we are depicting women, men, or anyone for that matter. In the end of the day these are the people that are buying the game. An author does not want a woman looking at the cover of his or her R.P.G. on drive-through and seeing some maiden chained to the leg of a warrior in a fur bikini, it just does into fly in 2014, the industry and the audience has changed. By the same measure, it is unwise to denigrate any real world social group as part of a game text. Let me put it this way, if you are proof reading your game right now and a homosexual character is the target of some kind of disparagement, get a damn eraser right now, grow up, and get rid of the offending references. Again it’s not 1978 anymore; the acceptance level for that kind of crap is a lot lower. (Rightfully so)
I will finish this by saying, play how or whatever you like. It’s your game, your hobby. As creators of the content however, we have to hold ourselves to a high standard as far as how we present people in our games. What we write is really how our hobby presents it’s self and how hobby presents its self are will go a long way toward either expanding or diminishing the RPG audience as the hobby evolves.
*Some external links:
Women in reasonable armor:http://womenfighters.tumblr.com/