Content warnings on IFDB

I recall that there has been some recent discussion about the future development and management of IFDB. I’d like to suggest that some consideration is given to content warning for some of the material to be found on there.

I’ve raised this before, via the email address provided on the IFDB site, but received no reply (maybe it got missed) so I’m raising it again here. My issue originally was with this entry which popped up as a new listing on the homepage, where it was visible to all comers. Now, to be clear, I’m no prude and I’m not at all against pornography (go ahead and play it, if that’s your thing - you’ll have a whale of a time) but I’m also the father of an 8-year-old child who has (a probably transient) interest in text games and may find his way to IFDB. Do you really want minors to be exposed to that without any kind of warning or verification step? I realise that there is a ‘pornographic’ tag on the entry, but that’s all there is and anyone can read the (pretty explicit and, to some, offensive) synopsis. Perhaps an ‘explicit content – confirm that you are over 18 [or whatever it is in your region]’ obscuring tick box could be added to an entry like this, to at least warn off minors (notwithstanding that, human psychology being what it is, such a warning will probably make them more likely to view it – but at least the effort will have been made).

I’d be interested to hear others’ view on this. Perhaps this kind of censorship is frowned upon and it is accepted that the IF scene is an adult-only space (I’m sure that 99.99% of players are indeed adults, probably falling within a predictable age bracket) but if that is the case then that needs to be made explicit at the front of this most-used of resources.

I’d also point out that the current IFDB Terms of Service says the following:

You will not upload anything that infringes any copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights, anything that’s defamatory or libelous, anything that harasses anyone, anything pornographic, obscene, or indecent, or anything illegal.

(Personally, I think that those terms need to be reviewed as they are probably too wide-ranging and general to enforce rigorously in any case, but that’s by the by – if those are the published terms then some sort of show of enforcing them needs to be made, otherwise they are meaningless)

And finally, there is currently, as far as I’m aware, no dedicated way of reporting inappropriate content on IFDB (on this page you can report errors in game listings, broken download links and technical problems, but not inappropriate content).

What do people think?

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I support some kind of content warning, especially a restriction of explicit games to people who are logged in and opt-in (or don’t opt out). It would help people in your situation and for people who are interested it would gather everything into one place to make it easier to find (through whichever tagging system puts the restrictions in place), so I don’t think there’d be any drawbacks.

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This might be one of those cases where the parent should step in and talk to their kids rather than bowdlerize a website they are concerned about.

Wikipedia has tons of content you wouldn’t want your child reading. Does that mean Wiki must be tagged and censored? (Just as another example.)

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No, not at all. But the context of Wikipedia is quite different: I might expect content like that to be included in an academic and/or educational context on Wikipedia. I wouldn’t expect it, without any sort of warning, on a site like ifdb that one might expect to be relatively youth friendly. I’m not suggesting that the site is bowdlerized, I’m suggesting a. that a reasonable content warning in used where necessary, b. that stated T&Cs are adhered to or changed (otherwise there is no point in having them, they are meaningless) and c. if it is accepted that ifdb is an adult space where explicit content may be openly viewed then some attempt is made to state that on the front page. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

PS - I could also mention that if you Google for child-friendly IF then you are likely to be led to IFBD one way or another, for example this poll. It would be pretty awkward to then click to the home page and find some porn game listed there. I really do think that this is something that the powers that be who oversee IFDB should at least be taking into consideration.

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Wikipedia is not censored, but it also doesn’t have pornography on the front page. Overly graphic/explicit images are avoided for the “Picture of the Day” selections, for example.

ETA: I don’t know that I agree with restricting any material to logged-in users, since I don’t think an account should be required for read-only browsing. But explicit material should certainly be tagged appropriately and I think it’s reasonable to not want it on the front page.

As for the terms and conditions, a description of porn is not porn itself. Do the rules as written forbid creating an entry for a pornographic game if the game itself is not uploaded to the site?

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I’m with you, but I thought the discussion was about text games. I mentioned Wiki because of text content you wouldn’t want your kid to read. True, there’s no p0rn but there are tons of gruesome, explicit, real-life crime cases (for example) that would give anyone nightmares. I wasn’t thinking of pictures, which I would agree need to be separated from the everyday to the NSFW.

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For me, personally, it seems more important that IFDB index all IF, or at least as much as people are able to find and willing to input data for. That’s the point of the site in the first place. It should have listings for obscure and badly executed and offensive works, provided those works have actually been released, because it’s also an archive of obscure and offensive and badly executed things, in addition to Infocom and Level 9 games and IFComp winners. It’s a less useful tool on a lot of levels if a work has to meet content standards to be included. At that point, it stops being the IF database and becomes merely a list of works that some committee approves of.

It’s a database containing data about a genre of fiction, and I tend to think that fiction potentially addresses more or less all aspects of human life and would not expect that it should exclude fiction covering aspects of human life that I’m squeamish about, either on my own account or on behalf of children. When you go to the library, you should be able to get what you want, not have it withheld on the basis of the fact that the librarians think it might be harmful to other people. I tend to think that this is true of the web as a whole, not just of IFDB, and that if parents want to restrict what their children can see on the web, that’s commendable; but it’s up to the parents to use blocking and filtering technology, not up to sites to meet everyone’s content standards.

If Google sends people to IFDB for a search for child-friendly IF, that means that, yes, there is information on IFDB about IF that is child-friendly: it’s not a certification that the entire site meets content standards. Google tries hard to give you as many results as possible, and if the results aren’t exactly what you want, well, that’s how search engines are: imperfect. But it’s a problem with the search engine and/or the way that the user is interpreting its results; it’s not a fact that imposes an obligation on the sites that Google indexes.

There’s also the issue that someone has to do the actual work of policing these boundaries, and IFDB is a volunteer-run site where no one is getting paid to do that kind of work. Having to validate everything that comes in would be a massive job; it’s already a huge job, I imagine, just to respond to reports. Asking for content filtering is also, practically speaking, asking for a volunteer to do this additional work.

All that being said, though, if the material’s in the library, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be in the prominent “New Arrivals” shelf right as you walk in, and I wouldn’t mind if there were some more automated filters in the “New on IFDB” section on the front page. (I also do remember noticing when Sexual Service Act was mentioned in that section a few months ago.) Which is to say that it doesn’t seem to me to be harmful to exclude, say, text that includes the FCC’s seven dirty words from appearing there, plus any games tagged “AIF” or “adult.” This would probably be easy to do automatically, wouldn’t require much human labor once it’s implemented, and is a feature that could be turned off for logged-in users if they wanted to see it. (And if anyone’s reading this and thinking about implementing it, can logged-in users also have the option to turn off seeing listings in languages they don’t read?)

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Just to agree with most of what Patrick says here and to reiterate that I’m not interested in censoring, removing, or banning any content in the great library of life (sex and all). But expectations need to be managed for people who might view IF as a safe-ish space that they’d be happy for their kids to poke around in. Honestly, just an eye on the front page, some reliable way of reporting worries and a visible statement such as ‘this site contains user submitted content which may include adult content that may not be suitable for minors’ should be sufficient to discharge our responsibilities in that regard.

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I think this wouldn’t be a bad idea, but is it even possible?

My understanding is that the IFTTT is in the process of trying to migrate the data to a new server specifically because the maintainer of IFDB is impossible to reach, and the mods active in the community can’t even delete games from the server, let alone alter the server code to give warnings for adult content.

Am I wrong?

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At the moment, we don’t expect the current maintainer to make any changes to IFDB, but this is a good discussion in preparation for later.

One thing that could be implemented is the option to exclude adult content from your own browsing when you are logged in.

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If we’re just spitballing ideas, then I would like to propose one.

I suggest instead of a confirmation prompt for every adult game, we just asks once per session. This is how YouTube and Steam do it. They have one prompt (Steam asks for your age and YouTube just asks if you’re over 18). Once you answer in the affirmative, you have access to all adult content without nagging until (I’m assuming) the cookie expires. If you answer negative, you’re blocked from adult content until the cookie expires (or you clear your cache), after which you’re prompted again.

I find that to be far less annoying than being prompted every time, especially if we start putting horror games in the “18 and above” category, which I tend to browse multiple in a row as a genre instead of one offs.

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Horror, and that catch-all, “ideologically sensitive.”

This is a tough subject. In general, I am against censorship. Porn should not include the underage. As a parent of five, I can add that “parental talks” often encourage rather than discourage particular activities, forbidden fruit and all.

If parents are concerned about content, maybe they should take pro-active measures such as content blocking, as do most public schools. That can also be problematic since content blockers typically block web sites as a whole and aren’t very good at.

Maybe nothing graphic (even text) on the landing page. ?

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Yes, content blocking is a solution where it is obvious that a site includes, or is dedicated to adult content - but it wouldn’t ordinarily be on my radar to block a site like IFDB.

Looking back at these responses to my original post (thanks everyone, for the constructive discussion) has helped me to clarify for myself that my main concern is that this particular entry was on the landing page and that it was there for several days, even after I reported it. There is a broader issue here, beyond mere parental anxiety, that is worth considering - namely, what signal are we happy to send about this community to someone from outside it who happens to chance upon this main repository? I know that it’s only one entry that we are talking about and for all I know, this has never happened before, so I don’t want to blow it out of proportion. But consider for a moment that this particular entry might be offensive to certain other users, not just concerned parents. For example, I might expect many women to be quite offended by the published synopsis of that game. What might a woman think if she came across that on the front page of the site, was offended and then came back several days later to find it was still there? She might conclude that there are no moderators on the site to police offensive content on the landing page, or that there is a no-censorship policy with the maintainer of the site declaring no responsibility for whatever is posted there (which seems to be more or less the actual case) or, worst of all, that there is a tacit agreement with whatever it is that the content is saying. I’m pretty sure that’s not a signal that we’d want to send, but how is anyone to know for sure? Consider further (with apologies and a content warning here, as I am stating the extreme case to make the point) if something really awful was posted to the site, such as a game praising the Holocaust, or advocating child pornography. Would that be allowed to sit on the front page of IFDB until it was shuffled off by later entries? Would anyone remove it from immediate view if a request was sent to the email address?

Reading between the lines, I can see that there is a current lack of active stewardship over IFDB and that is why there are plans to reallocate ownership, so I’m not surprised that this particular listing and my concern slipped through a gap - but it’s worth exploring these issues in any case and considering what, if any, editorial oversight and adjustment (I hesitate to call it censorship) is appropriate in the light of how we would desire this community to be perceived.

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On itch.io, users opt-in to being shown games that are tagged by authors as “adult content”. This requires the author to proactively click a box in the game settings. Users not opted-in can directly link to those games but are shown an “are you sure you wish to view this potentially mature content” gate before it shows the game, but tagged games won’t generally show up immediately in a common search.

This isn’t such a problem when games are all text, although a lot more IF now does include multimedia. In my experience on IFDB, it actually takes some effort and work to actually search for the kind of “filth” that people might generally experience by surprise and find objectionable.

I personally am all for opt-in and sensible tagging so people don’t come across content they don’t want inadvertently. Perhaps if there are a set of standard tags, people could customize in their profile things like “don’t show items with tags: [sex] [language] [Western]” - which would be useful for more than just filtering mature content.

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You have a good point that people may want to filter out different tags. For instance, I’ve written a short series of Twine games that promote and evangelize a certain religion, and I might add them to IFDB one day. One reason I haven’t is because I assumed many people would find them annoying. But with a filter system, people could just ignore them.

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Opt-in for certain tags sounds good. Not much hassle for those who want to see the stuff, but a simple barrier for those too lazy to fiddle with the settings. The ten year old who spends an entire day on finding p0rn on the net will find it anyway, and he’ll not end up on IFDB. We should just make sure it takes some effort to find the smut.

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It is an example of pornography, and of a type that is very typical.

Taming what is on the front page of IFDB overlaps with the issue of censorship, but not in a very difficult-to-deal-with way at all, as demonstrated by the numerous good ideas suggested in this topic. I like the opt-in and tagging ideas people have suggested.

Censoring the database itself is a much worse idea. As has been pointed out, this is a dispassionate database of interactive fiction, the premier one for now along with ifwiki. It’s invaluable for future researchers, historians and gamers at large that they can see all that came and when it came, whatever its nature. How important, good, bad or objectionable each entry is is irrelevant. Or important. Sex Service Act is pretty unimportant, ditto House of Ill Repute, a 1980s porn game that produced a similar reaction in its time of people questioning whether they should even catalogue it. If we hadn’t catalogued House of Ill Repute, where it now sits benignly as an entry in IFDB almost nobody looks at, we would not know that the exact same sort of thing as Sex Service Act, and the same human reactions to it, happened about 40 years ago.

-Wade

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My feeling is that tag-filtering should apply to game pages, not search results. That is, if you do a search, it should tell you about the existence of all results. When you click on a link, it might show a Steam-style “you must opt into viewing this game because [content warning].”

People do research on IFDB. I wouldn’t want the search to appear to give a false result just because you’re not logged in.

(If a game’s title needs a warning, that’s a more serious problem. But I don’t think any examples of this have arisen.)

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I just want to point out that even Playboy and Penthouse magazine knew that putting nudity on the front cover would prevent them from getting sold in stores. Sometimes not letting your shocking content float to the top is not so much censoring as it is just good PR.

However, I’m opposed to removing the offending games altogether since that’d be true censorship, and it’d start the debate of which content is considered valuable or not and who gets to decide that.

Maybe something similar to Google search results where it shows all related results first, followed by the prompt “Some results were hidden due to your flag settings. Click here to see hidden results.” or something to that effect.

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