Thursday, January 12, 2012
Parenting & Pictures
After the announcement of yet another iteration of the venerable Dungeons & Dragons brand of tabletop games this week the predictable edition waring and identity politics over "which version is best" was somewhat muted by the company assuring gamers that the new product would support all the styles of playing from all the different editions. A lofty goal for certain, but one that could be achieved by making a modular product where you use the mechanics you like and disregard the ones that you don't.
However if there was one thing that 2011 taught me about tabletop games it was that the more contentious issue might have ended up being not about the rules of D&D but rather the artwork that accompanied it. Already we've had open letters about making the artwork very politically correct, and letters from artists encouraging them to try new things and keep it exciting and sexy. And while saying 'use the bits you like and ignore the rest' could be agreeable for rules, if someone is looking for a book to share with their 8 year old they might object to it having ANY artwork they wouldn't want them to see until they were a 16 year old (or older).
When I was younger one of my favourite magazine was Rue Morgue which is about Horror in Culture and Entertainment. Articles about new horror movies, comics, games, books from the past and the present. Coming from a background in film I loved this stuff! It also fit into what I liked about fantasy roleplaying in general: monsters! horror! adventure! weirdness! excitement! And while I still think Rue Morgue is great I don't buy it anymore - not because of anything they've done wrong, but because where I'm at in my life has changed. I'm a dad now and I don't want blood covered snarling naked girl photos part of my kids media environment at their ages, and it's a chore having a magazine that I'd need to only get out late at night and hide away the rest of the time (I'm not 14!).
While Rue Morgue isn't for me at this point in my life that doesn't mean it's not for someone else, or might once again be for me at some point in the future. There are guys a lot older than me, that have had children who are now grown up, that are making crazy monster movies. I don't want Rue Morgue to change for me - I recognize that I can change and like different things and all my favourite things don't need to change with me.
I think this is a point a lot of people, particularly those into 'geek' media, have a hard time with. They liked Batman as a child and then when they got older and angstier they wanted Batman to get older and angstier with them. As a young adult they wanted a Batman who was into all the things they were too -- hot women, bloody action movies, not taking crap for the people who bugged them when they were younger, whatever. And then as parents they remember what they liked about Batman when they were a kid and they want him to go back to being that again. Even though we still have all of those different Batmans some people get upset by the existence of the ones they don't like. This is also particularly true for female superheroes like Wonder Woman, Starfire, and Cat Woman.
When parents take media that's targeted to an adult audience and complain about it not being targeted for their children (or possibly just child like sensibilities or preferences) there starts to become a serious problem. Instead of campaigning for "more media that I enjoy" it turns into seeking "less media that I don't enjoy" which is frankly a bit selfish. It'd be like me asking Rue Morgue to change or go away because it's not what I'm looking for right now instead of finding something else that suits my lifestyle and tastes a bit better.
Watching people on Twitter and blogs pushing hard for the new D&D to have the equivalent of an ESRB rating of E (Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language) rather than any of the higher ratings (which include things like suggestive themes or sexual content) I'm honestly unsure about who the target audience for the product is supposed to be. If it's children under 10 then I agree it probably shouldn't have anything risqué, violent, frightening or use any course language. If however the target audience is teenagers or adults I'd find that a very strange thing to be asking for.
I find it hard to imagine D&D that doesn't include the stuff the ESRB would rate under Teen (violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language) and in a lot of cases the content would certainly be considered Mature (intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language). I recognize that the suggestive themes and sexual content are the worrying point for some gamers - but they should recognize there are other elements in those categories that might be more worrying to others. If you want to excise suggestive themes but include intense violence there's a strange disconnect that perhaps needs to be given more thought.
Perhaps the answer is multiple products, some of which are rated for children, families, and anyone who enjoys that sort of media. At the same time there could be products for teenagers and/or adults who would expect their tabletop games to have similar content to their comics, video games, movies etc. Rather than ask the publishers to change their product into something else to meet my current personal tastes, I'm more interested in hearing who the target audience is going to be and will see if that suits my interests or not.
Hopefully as these conversations about appropriateness of artwork undoubtedly continue people will give some more thought to target audiences, whether that includes them at this point in their lives, and if they are being thoughtful about all the different elements that make media a good choice for people in those different audiences.