Skip to Content

Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

54 replies [Last post]
IngredientX
IngredientX's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/26/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

RookieDesign wrote:
I don't think I will push Satan's evil doing that much, but I think that no matter what, somebody will complain about my theme.

Perhaps, but that theme is very much in vogue right now, what with the Left Behind books and the newest release of Risk (Godstorm). I think most people will see the fantasy element in your theme and be okay with it, regardless of their actual beliefs.

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

sedjtroll wrote:
There was some kind of backlash to Magic: The Gathering, something about it being too satanic at first, so they toned down some of that (removed a pentagram from one card's artwork, stopped calling cards "Demonic ~this", etc) but it still has Demons and pseudo-satanic stuff depicted on the cards.

Remember when D&D was called satanic by some major Christian programs and ministers? My friend vividly remembers a 700 Club program dedicated to the topic. Some people were convinced that Player's Handbook actually taught people how to cast spells.

Zzzzz
Zzzzz's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/20/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Remeber "Wife Swap" on ABC, oh wait it is on now! And for some reason people watch it.

I guess my point is that there is always someone trying to push the envelope and with that comes risk, success and failure. You just never know what the public will want, until they buy it!

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Nazhuret wrote:
they thought of games like:... the underground railroad...

(in the original post)

Amazingly enough I got the inspiration to design this game, this summer while on vacation.
I think Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad makes for a great game theme.

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

In the original post on this topic, Nazhuret discusses conceptualizing a game that deals with Gang Warfare. He was thinking of doing this in a very light way, which I think is less interesting.

There has also been mention of Grand Theft Auto 3 (GTA). Which I have to mention here, was successful more for it's GAMEPLAY, than it's theme. Most people who dismiss the game, and never play it, because of it's theme, will never discover this fact.

Well, if you haven't heard, the new GTA:San Andreas is on it's way in a few weeks and the theme of the game is, you guessed it, building a street gang in a simulated South Central Los Angeles of the 1980's. One of the newest features, is the ability to do a drive by shooting with up to 3 computerized fellow gang members that you control.

Elder

Anonymous
Re: Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Nazhuret wrote (in the very first post on this topic):
but i've got to tell you my designing ear was always listening and i couldn't help but think that a number of them would actually make for some good games with very original mechanics as the themes had never been explored before.

For me, this is one of the most important issues in this discussion. Just because someone creates a piece of media, including a boardgame, doesn't mean they condone the actual subject matter, or that the piece of media should not be created.

I for one, am interested in exploring the boundaries of what a game can be thematically, as well as mechanically and artistically. How many times are we going to see a "new" yet slightly different variation on a battle in the middle ages, that involves dwarves, elves, knights and halflings. Its' tired.
Don't get me wrong, I'll play Lord of the Rings Risk or a similarly themed game, if it's a good game, because I love playing and enjoy that theme.
My point is there is so much more to do.

No one has the right to stop a person from creating a certain type of game or others from playing that game. Would you stop someone from reading a book on a ceratin subject, because you think it's in bad taste?

Elder

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

If you'd like to discuss how to handle potentially controvercial themes in game design, please feel free to continue. Let's not turn this into a morality debate (again). We already know how that turns out- I'm right and everyone else is wrong, yet they still insist on arguing!

Thanks,
Seth

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

As may be evident from some of my earlier posts around the forum my design background is rooted in Role Playing Games. There are a number of RPGs that deal with themes that are questionable (and some that deal with themes that are beyond questionable, see Vincent Baker's kill puppies for satan for an example). The important thing about controversial themes is justification. Why a game about serial rapists?

The thing is that board game design differs significantly from RPG design in that board games tend to be about the game first with the theme being a purely secondary matter. Occasionally you find games that manage to present both with equal importance, but the majority of games (and gamers for that matter) are focused on the gameplay itself.

The result of this secondary role of theme in board games is that a "controversial" theme is chosen more because it is controversial than because you have anything substantial to say about it.

The reason controversial themes work in RPGs is that it is often the case that the entire purpose of play is the theme with the rules simply providing a framework for addressing said theme. In the aforementioned kill puppies for satan the entire point of play is highlighting the pathetic nature of "petty" evil.

So i guess i should quit stumbling around and get to the point. Simply put: Why do you choose a controversial theme? Is the game improved for using controversial material? If so then i feel that not only is it allowable, but desireable to utilize controversial themes. However, at the moment i can not really think of any game that would be better with a controversial theme and a ridiculously large number of games that would clearly be worse (or at best, no better than they are right now) should the be given a controversial theme.

So. Why use controversial themes? Will your game be better if you do? These are the questions you should be asking yourself, and only you can adequately answer them.

Thomas

Johan
Johan's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/05/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Hello

The question should be: How conventional ("moral right") do the game have to be?
With the right balance on the edge, the theme will be interesting (thrilling) part of the game (and maybe you get free publicity). If you cross the line, the game will be offensive, and it doesn't matter if the mechanism is the best ever made.
On the other hand, if you try to be too conventional or "politically correct", the game can be really boring and nobody will remember the game.

Some examples:
When RPG really come to Sweden, the first Swedish variant that hit the market was called "Dragons and Demons". The debate where high and the company sold a lot of game on the debate.
After some years, the same company tried to do the same thing again and launched Cult (The world is just an illusion and it's naturally evil). With this game together with the semi "Live RPG" game Killer, we had a new debate. This time did RPG lose . It has taken over ten years to get back on track.

Can you do a game about hell? Yes: no problem. One way is to remove all the parts where you try to corrupt humans and just deal with the fallen ones. Hellgame is a good example of a game that balance on the edge.

Corruption and disloyalty can also be a theme. Both Kremlin and Junta are examples of game that balancing ion the edge, but there are done with humour and therefore they succeed (also, it is not the corruption in the own country that is on stake).

"Spank the Monkey" is an ordinary party game with no "moral" issues in the game (try to catch the monkey). I believe that the game sells a little better because of the name. Nobody would remember the game if it weren't for the name.

Steve Jackson Game "Chee Geek" (probably the wrong spelling) is balancing on the edge (with drugs, booze, nuke and slack). Personally I think that this game is over the edge and I don't find the game funny. The game sells (with several expansions) so there is a lot of people that think this are a great theme.

Go for any theme you want, but you have to be prepared to defend the game when you talk to "politically correct" peoples or with people that think that they have higher moral that you.
If you are way over the edge, be also prepared that you have to defend the theme yourself (you will be all alone).

// Johan

If children had listen to there parents, we would still living in the stone-age.

Anonymous
two words...

Artistic Expression

Games are a form of artistic expression. A highly evolved, interactive form of expression in which the artist takes images, experiences and emotions and distills them to a create a self-contained world with its own set of rules for people to enter and interact in.

Just remember when you express yourself to weigh how many copies of the game you want to sell against how many people will want to threaten, sue, imprison or even kill you because of it.

Hey, maybe there's a game idea here! Hmmm...

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

LordSmerf wrote:
Why a game about serial rapists?

Where else are we psychos to get our practice?

(Just kidding, Jeff) ;)

Excellent point though, that the justification is what matters. If a controversial theme is justified then by all means, use one. If not, then steer clear.

- Seth

FastLearner
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

I don't think you need to justify your theme, just like I don't think a writer needs to justify the theme of his book.

If you want someone to buy it, then you may find that justification helps, which is what I think everyone is saying. As an artistic expression, though, it's all about free speech, baby.

-- Matthew

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

FastLearner wrote:
I don't think you need to justify your theme, just like I don't think a writer needs to justify the theme of his book.

Right, I looked at it like 'if you can justify the theme then people might be interested instead of turned off'.

- Seth

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

This may get me in trouble, but i believe that even if you are producing something purely for yourself it is important to justify your theme. Sure you can say whatever you want to say, but if you do not identify (at least to yourself) why you are saying it...

So, even if your justification is: "I want to push the envelope and see if i can stir things up." That is completely fine... Just make sure that you identify that that is what you are doing.

EDIT: So, a few minutes after i posted this i started kicking myself. The above post contributes absolutely nothing to the topic at hand, and is an example of pure opinion. I will go ahead and leave it as it stands so you can see exactly why i feel like an idiot. Sorry folks, i will try not to let this happen again.

Thomas

Zzzzz
Zzzzz's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/20/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

First, let me say that I agree with FastLearner that you dont need to justify anything. If you are an artist(or creative) person and want to test the population on a very edgy game topic. Go for it! As with any game some will like it some will hate it.

Also keep in mind the population of the world. I am amazed at how people are intrigued, even drawn, to controversial subjects. You can see it when it comes to so many aspects of life: tv (reality tv these days), art, music, video games (GTA), rpgs (when D&D first came out).... and one reason these controversial subjects succeed, everyone has a different perspective as to what is "over the edge". Or what they are willing to deem "ok".

Now let me also state that I dont know the bounds to which I would personally push the envelope when it came to such "edgy" topics. But again this is up to each person/designer/player to decide for themselves. And once again, if you feel comfortable enough to develop/play a game about rapists or abortion or killing defenseless POWs, go for it. Not sure why, but some people might play these type of games. And think about it, if a game about serial rapists focused on killing these rapist for "doing the immoral act", to me, it would be very different then playing a rapists and commiting these "immoral acts".

Anyways just my two pointless cents....

sedjtroll wrote:
FastLearner wrote:
I don't think you need to justify your theme, just like I don't think a writer needs to justify the theme of his book.

Right, I looked at it like 'if you can justify the theme then people might be interested instead of turned off'.

- Seth

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

This is not precisely on-topic, but i was wondering if you would expand upon what you consider to be controversial about a couple of the examples you provided. D&D really stood out... what do you consider to be controversial about it (in relation to the time period you were mentioning it in relation to which would have been the late 1960's).

Thomas

Zzzzz
Zzzzz's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/20/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

LordSmerf wrote:
This is not precisely on-topic, but i was wondering if you would expand upon what you consider to be controversial about a couple of the examples you provided. D&D really stood out... what do you consider to be controversial about it (in relation to the time period you were mentioning it in relation to which would have been the late 1960's).

Thomas

Yeah I noticed I went off topic a little with that post, but the subject has turned this way and that way. So I figured "what the heck" post the thoughts in my head.

As for D&D, my understanding (from talking with many players of all ages, over many years, and please note this is from hearing people talk, and some various reading about the game "back in the day") was that the game was controversial because of the "demon/cult/spellcraft"" aspect of it. Many parents did not support the idea of their childern playing with these "evil" aspects of the game. So at first the game content was deemed "immoral or bad" by many.

But somehow, and I dont know personally why, this "controversial" matter of demons/cult/spellcraft seem to slowly fade away and the game became acceptable to more of the population. Even today I know parents/people that think that game might promote evil ideals, but D&D by far is very trival "controversial" case these days.

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

I believe that you are operating under a common misconception which, interestingly enough, brings us back to the topic at hand. Upon its initial release D&D was not really controversial at all, it was an outgrowth of the table top Wargaming movement of the late 60's early 70's and no one really commented on it at the time. Now, in the late 70's and early 80's someone decided to point out the occult references within D&D and it became controversial.

So there is this really interesting point regarding controversial themes. It is possible for a game to start of with no controversy, but to become controversial through shifts in cultural mores. Interesting...

Another example of this is Grand Theft Auto. The first two games in the franchise were almost identical in subject matter and theme as GTA3, but no one really picked up on them before. Shifts in cultural focus can generate controversy where none has previously existed...

So, as designers, is there any way that we can examine themes not only for their controversy in the current culture, but in regards to potential controversy?

Thomas

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

I don't believe it is possible to predict future controversy. Especially for longer periods of time. Sure you could talk to futurists and sociologists, but they weill only give vague hints.

However - bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. Many a 'bad media' item have benifited from the added attention.

At the time of the controversy, you just need versatile marketing managers.

The other option, of course, is to design abstract games, rather than topical ones.

FastLearner
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Dungeons and Dragons wasn't visible enough to be controversial until the Basic Set was released in 1977, and even then it was a few years before it had really spread. It was very soon thereafter that the controversy began, and it was only 5 years ago that yet another "D&D killed my son" TV movie was released on the Lifetime network, so even with today's more liberal mindset, there's still controversy.

I would argue that it took the 3D perspective view of Grand Theft Auto 3 before it really "seemed" like you were doing the acts. In the overhead view of the previous versions, the sense of presence just wasn't there, and it was a lot easier to shrug off.

I can't think of any examples of games that were intentionally controversial that became terribly successful. The game Grass, kind of Mille Bournes with a dope dealing theme, saw moderate success in the novelty shop and head shop market, but it was no runaway hit. Johan has a couple of reasonable examples there, but I don't think the themes really sold that much, at least not their controversial nature. I would argue, for example, that Spank The Monkey turned off as many potential buyers as it intrigued.

On the other hand, a game being fun has moved tons of boxes.

-- Matthew

Zzzzz
Zzzzz's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/20/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

FastLearner wrote:
Dungeons and Dragons wasn't visible enough to be controversial until the Basic Set was released in 1977, and even then it was a few years before it had really spread. It was very soon thereafter that the controversy began, and it was only 5 years ago that yet another "D&D killed my son" TV movie was released on the Lifetime network, so even with today's more liberal mindset, there's still controversy.

I would agree that the intent of D&D was not to push a controversial game into the market, but it did contain controversial topics "in it".

I guess that is part of my point.

The reason D&D was controversial, was a result of the audience that deemed the content to be "immoral" or "controversial" from their point of view. Obviously the creators did not view the theme offensive (maybe they did, but I dont no many people that would force themselves to work on a subject that offended them).

So in the effort to make my post focus back on the topic, how much is too much? I guess it all depends on how you feel about the subject YOU are targetting. If you dont mind diving into all the details of a "controversial" topic, my guess would be that the topic is not the controversial for you. As a result you can put pretty much anything you want in the game.

Now the side note, how to figure out, what level of detail on such a "controversial" topics is acceptable by the current "social morals" of your intended audience. But again this is another matter, but does factor into the "how much is too much", since your players are the people that have to accept all the controversial theme contained in the game.

FastLearner wrote:

I can't think of any examples of games that were intentionally controversial that became terribly successful.

I have nothing in this area either, but I am going to go out on the edge here and say that most game companies dont attempt blinding push "controversial" content to hard, to quick. Keep in mind the big boys have money to research theme/content of their games. And they also do this research to get a feel as to what the public wants. Bottom line is a company is a company, and they will target their game in whatever way results in generating money, controversial topic or not.

Johan
Johan's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/05/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Hello

I believe that this is a good block for "Topics of games design". It could have questions like:
- What makes a good theme.
- How important is the theme for the final game.
- Theme vs. mechanism
- Themes on the edge (where is the limits). (This debate but maybe from another angle).

Theme is a vital part of the game design.

// Johan

P.S. We should remove Spank the monkey from this debate, as it is not a theme issue. Spank the monkey is a naming issue.
We can argue about if the game sells more or less because of the name, but the game will not be forgotten (it's like a book that everybody has opinion about but very few have read).

Anonymous
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

Having had some experience with name and theme controversy I must say that I'm amazed at how some game manage to slip by without any debate while others cause a massive stir.

Any WWII game (as mentioned earlier) with loads and loads of bodies piled high seem to be ok. Family game Risk, with whole armies destroed left, right and center, is ok. Kill doctor Lucky (a really good game about MURDER!) is ok.

Ticket to ride with it's yellow cargo cars and Kablamos disillusioned Russian nobles playing Russian roulette on the other hand... that caused some comments.

Janus (Gigantoskop)

Ps. Believe it or not - we never actually sought controversy with the name Spank the Monkey. Call us naive but we just thought it was a funny name in a wink-wink-know-what-I-mean kind of way. Ds

Scurra
Scurra's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/11/2008
Controversial Themes : How much is too much?

And the endless debates about whether Puerto Rico was somehow endorsing slavery (interestingly, this may simply be due to a production decision: it's clear that goods like coffee were only produced on PR long after slavery was effectively discontinued, but the graphic design of the game suggests a much earlier period.)

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut