As some of you may be aware, I had a rather unpleasant experience at one of my local game stores this weekend. I shall not name the store in question – I have already done so elsewhere, and the point of this piece is not to make life hard for a game store owner (who undoubtedly has hardships of his own) but rather to call attention to what I see as a baseless, craven attempt to placate the forces of mediocrity which unceasingly seek to meddle with Art and Creativity.
The focus of this incident was, unsurprisingly, Better Than Any Man – an adventure offering from Lamentations of the Flame Princess by James Raggi which was offered as part of the 2013 Free RPG Day kit. James has spoken himself on the matter here (and added a positive coda here). I’m not in this to defend Poor Old James – dude’s capable of doing that himself, and frankly I think gleefully raising the ire of small-minded fools is part of his modus operandi.
In short: when I showed up to support James, the store, and Free RPG Day in particular, I was told by the store owner that he was boycotting James and his products -and, by extension, Free RPG Day. The reasons given were twofold: a fear that LOTFP’s product would re-ignite the ‘Satanic Panic’ witch-hunts of the 1980’s and a fear that some underage patron would get their hands on BTAM, sparking a phone call from an angry parent…or worse.
Both of these claims are easily dismissed with a modicum of forethought.
In the case of potential ‘witch-hunts’ – let’s be real. Nobody in mainstream society cares enough about RPG’s these days to meaningfully affect the hobby in any way, shape, or form. As William S. Burroughs once said (with my emphasis):
“I am not one of those weak-spirited, sappy Americans who want to be liked by all the people around them. I don’t care if people hate my guts; I assume most of them do. The important question is whether they are in a position to do anything about it. My affections, being concentrated over a few people, are not spread all over Hell in a vile attempt to placate sulky, worthless shits.”
Satanic Panic was largely driven by a bunch of religious bigots who lost their minds over the supposed potential for Satan Worship caused by tabletop gaming. Perhaps the most notable and memorable example of this hysteria is Jack Chick’s hilarious tract Dark Dungeons.
Nobody – and I mean nobody – outside of cloistered group of nitwits actually believes this, or cares about it, any longer. It’s a joke. Even at the height of this hysteria, the only serious challenge to the hobby was raised by a single individual – Patricia Pulling – whose BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) managed two legal filings…both of which were deemed without merit. BADD ended with Pulling’s death in 1997. TSR briefly responded to these accusations, but by 3rd Edition was publishing stuff like the Book of Vile Darkness (2002), which was marketed toward an adult audience.
If you want to understand the current state of such beliefs, consider this: a recent Kickstarter to adapt Dark Dungeons as a parody film (with Chick’s blessing!) recently raked in $26k. No one under the age of 80 still considers roleplaying to be a problem – indeed, to most of society the whole thing is utterly and completely insane, and a thing to be ridiculed.
For a retailer to be bend to the will of the fringe who still believe this stuff is silly and cowardly. It is the mindset of an individual whose ideation of the hobby is rooted in backward and outmoded notions, unworthy of the kind of person who should be defending the industry as something more than a children’s distraction.
If one were to play Devil’s Advocate here – to assume the position of a guy who doesn’t want his business harmed by this kind of rhetoric, one still must ponder the question of backbone. Why side with these dopes? The book burners? The flagellant morons who want to take the hobby away?
Why do their work for them?
I think the truth is: this is a guy who made a choice based on his own personal beliefs. He finds BTAM offensive. Fine. Why the rhetoric? If you want to tell me you don’t want to stock it because you find it objectionable, I have no argument with that. I can’t tell you what to carry in your store, or indeed to dictate morality to you. But laying at the feet of small minded idiots who raised a stink 30 years ago (to little effect, I might add) is silly and weak, an excuse to lend objective credence to your own personal convictions.
The second of these claims, that a minor might get their hands on the material, is even easier to dismiss. Keep the books at the sales counter, and request that anyone wanting a copy ask for it from a sales associate.
Any further discussion about this turns back toward the backbone question above.
So, with those two points dismissed, let’s turn toward the larger issue. As I see it, what’s being questioned here is the position of the game retailer as a face for the hobby. The incident I outlined above has been characterized by the store owner as a brave stand against the forces of corruption which threaten to drag the RPG industry back to some mythical bad place – which, ironically, turns out to be the high water mark of said industry. Let’s face it – the Satanic hysteria was a side-effect of the game industry’s popularity, not an anchor weighing it down. If anything, it raised the profile of tabetop RPG’s. In the end TSR wasn’t felled by a torch wielding mob of moral crusaders, it was brought down by poor business acumen.
It seems to me the best face one could put on the hobby is that of an industry capable of producing a wide array of products for a diverse and enthusiastic customer base. If that’s really what you’re in this for, show people that the hobby has something for everyone – minors and adults alike. Believe it or not, people continue to game long after they’re old enough to vote.
What I want is for game retailers to comport themselves in much the same way as bookstores. How do booksellers reply to demands that Catcher in the Rye or 120 Days of Sodom be removed from bookshelves? They tell the complainers to go fuck themselves, then they have a big Banned Books Sale to promote literature which pushes people’s buttons.
I realize the intersection of Art and Commerce is a tricky situation from the retail end. But if we want people to take games seriously, we have to take them seriously. If you want respect, you have to earn it. Kowtowing to the forces of mediocrity is not the path to respect.
It is the path to irrelevance.
- DAYS OF HIGH ADVENTURE: Satanic Panic
- 60 Minutes – “Dungeons & Dragons” causes kids to commit suicide & murder (1985)
- Comics Code History: The Seal of Approval