Variant: Bad Taste in Gaming
Each game puts you in the enviable position of being a horrid, tentacle flailing, slime oozing monster from outer space. Cleverly disguised (of course) as an adorable, and newly enrolled student at Takoashi University, an all-girls school nestled in scenic Japan.
Like many other game projects, TB was placed on Kickstarter. There, it received double the requested funding. That was before Kotaku brought attention to the card game based on tentacle anime. Thereafter, Kickstarter canceled the project.
Following the cancellation, the creator sat for a full interview with Insert Credit. There, he defended his product as entertainment, and the subject matter as satire.
Rather than re-hash the particulars of this scenario, I have a larger question. What constitutes bad taste in board gaming? Is it different than video gaming? And should there be a policing system (i.e. a game rating system)?
This is not the first game of questionable taste. Recently, Letters from Whitechapel was criticized because, in that game, one player plays Jack the Ripper. As Jack, that player also selects victims (referred to in the rulebook as “the Wretched”) to be killed. So you are effectively re-living the butchering of defenseless women. Although, to be fair, I don’t share the same criticism. Moving pawns around the board and selecting one to be replaced by a red disc is far less heinous than just about any popular video game. I very much enjoy Letters.
Or, in perhaps the poorest taste of all, there is Pimp: the Backhanding. There, the players are pimps who acquire “hos” and who also send thugs to “beatdown” your opponents’ “hos.” I’ve actually had the misfortune of playing Pimp in the past and the gameplay is as bad as the theme is tasteless.
Poor taste in theme is not something altogether new to the gaming world, either. Angry parents have decried violence and sex in video games, with increased heat over games like Grand Theft Auto or the Hot Coffee mod. So it should be unremarkable when similar issues creep into board games. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that there isn’t more of this in the board and card game world. In the video game and graphic novel worlds, this subject would typically be treated far more graphically. Are we board gamers simply spoiled because most publishers seek a family audience and therefore publish games with family appropriate themes?
So the question becomes: what to do about it? Kickstarter pulled it from their site. They are a private company, so they can do what they want. They aren’t subject to the First Amendment, so there’s no legal censorship issue. But, obviously, that didn’t stop the publisher from crowdsourcing the game on its own and funding the project. And, frankly, all of the press over TB likely pushed more users toward the project and made the publishers more money.
Do we need a mandatory rating system? Do we need an independent review board deciding what themes should or should not be produced? No. Actually, I think the system we have now is, for all its faults, the best there is. Games like Pimp create a lot of controversy, but ultimately fail. TB is likely to be played (more than once) only among aficionados of the “tentacle subculture” of anime and not move too much farther beyond that. And, frankly, I don’t know how many moms and grandmas are going to want to buy it for their children. So it isn’t likely to infect the youth with pernicious ideas.
Creating some kind of rating panel would also be generally unhelpful. Unlike movies or music, the tasteless board games are very much in the minority. If anything, it would call attention to tasteless games rather than allowing them to melt away into obscurity. Plus, it could stifle legitimately fun games like Letters from Whitechapel or Mr. Jack that may have excellent gameplay despite strong or violent themes.
In the end, offensive products won’t be big sellers, they will go out of print, and some future tasteless product will be produced. The cycle will repeat. Perhaps the right thing to do, as gamers with a sense of decency, is to simply ignore titles we find offensive.
What say you?