I’m trying to decide whether to include profanity in my WIP. My preference is to use the Big Curse Words two or three times in the whole game, warning the player at the beginning, but not providing any PG-rated mode. My rationale is that the game contains enough violence and gore that curse words alone aren’t going to turn anyone away. Am I wrong?
I had second thoughts when I read this, but it also inspired some third thoughts:
I don’t know. I do know people who are extremely bothered by bad language, and they are people who are not particularly unusual in their other beliefs - they’re not religious fundamentalists, they don’t pretend to be coyly innocent. I think that’s reason enough to include a warning, but not necessarily exclude the words themselves.
You’re technically wrong, but this may not really matter; there will be a handful of people who will strongly object, but it’s impossible to please everybody. Most IF players will accept that a game written for adults is likely to include some adult language.
I think they fit the voices of the characters. They’re all in dialogue. The characters are all deeply damaged (this is the zombie apocalypse!) and I think cursing is a natural, maybe even necessary, expression of that. There was one point where I wanted the narrative to express the PC’s thoughts with “mother___er,” but I replaced it with “sonofabitch” because I didn’t feel like I could get away with it.
The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an R-rated curse word in an IF. As a writer, it seems reasonable to use them in certain cases, and yet there seems to be something stopping IF writers from doing it. I want to make sure I understand what that is.
Come to think of it, though, I have seen some curse words - in Gigantomania, which I worked on but didn’t write!
You may just have played the wrong games. Play some Robb Sherwin, Adam Thornton, Stephen Bond…
The assumption in IF is that you’re writing as an adult rather than an adolescent, and that it’s not a good idea to throw around swearwords for no particular reason. A lot of games don’t involve swearing just because it’s not appropriate to setting, character or narrative voice. (Swearing’s less likely to show up in SF/F, for instance, because vernacular speech is strongly tied to specific times and cultures.) And there are a substantial number of games that are intended to be appropriate for all ages.
I am currently working on a piece where part of the humor lies in the fact that it is loaded with slightly off-color acronyms. (There is otherwise nothing the slightest bit “adult” about the piece.) I take it as a given that there are probably some people out there who would not appreciate this. That’s fine; anybody who would be offended by that probably would not enjoy my humor very much anyway, and like anything else, people have different tastes. I have no problem if somebody doesn’t like my work (whether its because they are offended by a particular word or for any other reason). I don’t think its possible to write something that everybody would like; probably the only way to do that would be to produce something totally devoid of meaningful content.
There are, unfortunately, some people out there who go beyond not liking something, to the point where they would censor other people’s work because they find some of the words offensive. Often, such people would also censor anything which they believe to be inconsistent with their religious or political views. While I’m fine with some people not liking what I write, I have a serious problem with censorship.
As for warnings, if I’m in a bookstore (and I’m not talking about the children’s section), I don’t expect every book which includes a word of four letters to carry a big red warning sticker. The only respect in which arguably IF might be different is that there is (I believe) no designated “children’s section.” If I ultimately decide to make my piece public, I’m not sure whether I would add some kind of warning, but I certainly wouldn’t blow it out of proportion. My gut reaction is that, unless a piece is billed, or somehow gives the impression, that it is intended for seven year-olds, an author should not feel a compulsion either to make it suitable for seven year-olds or to warn people that it isn’t.
My game RANS has a “Strong Profanity” tag on IFDB. It’s deserved, but I don’t think there’s any necessary reason for it, other than that this is how the player-character thinks. When I chose that character (an adult but a rather immature one) to write about, I also chose his likeliest vocabulary.
Seems like the situation calls more for a [rant]“fuck”[/rant] than a “bother”. I don’t think I would have even considered the necessity of warning players that some of the characters in the game use words that may be taboo to them – it just seems such a non-issue … Perhaps I’m just being insensitive; perhaps it’s generally much less of an issue in Sweden than in the US.
When I wrote So Far, I put a “Damn” in the second paragraph. I wanted to convey that this was a serious adult work, and that I would not be pulling punches, linguistically or emotionally. I also wanted anybody who was upset by foul language to quit right away.
In my current work in progress, the first four-letter acronym appears before the banner. Being neither young nor innocent, I guess it probably conveys that this is a puerile piece of low comedy which will have you laughing in the aisles, unless you’re a tight-ass with no sense of humor, in which case you probably won’t like it and should quit before you involuntarily find yourself laughing anyway.
I would just act like a ratings system. The goal of film and game certificates is to briefly and dispassionately describe the nature of content in a thing that may offend some people, or may not be suitable for people of certain ages. Without going crazy with it, I think just acting like a certification and saying in one sentence ‘This game contains strong language’ or whatever when you boot the game is a helpful and genuine act, without being overkill or alarmist. Psychologically I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s an act that can even get people onside. They see it and can say ‘Oh, the author has been considerate enough to think about this issue.’
When I published The Baron, I put just such a notice in the readme file:
I now believe that people don’t generally read readme files, so you might want to put such a notice at the beginning of the game instead. Or you can just make it quite clear what kind of game people are dealing with in the first few sentences.
The problem I have with a ratings system is that it is very easy for it to become, in practical terms, a censorship system. The rating system used for motion pictures (at least in the US – I’m not sure whether other countries use the same system) is a perfect example. The original “X” rating was ultimately dropped, because it implied that a film was pornographic and effectively resulted in the film being eschewed (in practice, banned) by mainstream theaters. Before it was dropped, a number of legitimate films (the most notable being the Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy) were re-edited for the sole purpose of avoiding the kiss of death rating. When X was changed to NC-17, the theory was that it would avoid the implication that a film is pornographic; what it has not avoided is that the rating still effectively bans a film from many legitimate movie houses, which means that filmmakers are often forced to tailor their work to avoid the rating. Even the threat of an R rating is enough to get many filmmakers to change a film from what they would prefer to produce. When the ratings drive the content of the work, instead of the other way around, the system has effectively turned into censorship.
We don’t have (at least so far) any kind of ratings system for books, beyond the fact that books which are intended solely for children (and whose emotional and intellectual content is that of a seven year-old) are marketed as such. If you buy a mainstream book, you might find a four-letter word or two in it; if that offends, you, you are free to stop reading it. Although there are book-burners out there who have tried to rewrite everything, from Shakespeare to the Bible, to conform to their own moral code, they haven’t (fortunately) been successful in requiring all books to be rated with something akin to the motion picture system. Why should IF be different?
I agree with this completely. I don’t know how books have managed to avoid the sad fate of a rating system, but thank goodness for that. IF is currently not in danger of any government censorship as far as I know, so I don’t believe there’s any need to impose voluntary censorship on it.
Besides, I think it’s important to risk being offended now and then; otherwise you will never learn anything.
Yeah, I don’t really see the need in warning myself unless perhaps it could easily be viewed by many others as extremely filthy or too non-PC. Profanity can be a mixed bag I think. On one hand, it certainly can add “realism” in an “Oh $#!&” situation such as your “Zombie Apocalypse”. On the other hand, some players will find that profanity adds a layer of crudeness while removing a layer of classiness or sophistication.
In my own first horror IF, my characters were “typical dumb young people” you may find in a Friday the 13th movie. They all used a fair amount of profanity and none of them talked as if they were English majors. If was fun to do at the time, but now I’m a bit relieved that I have no need to force a theme of general stupidity and crudeness via my NPC dialogue in my new WIP.
I really enjoy Robb Sherwin’s games, but I’ve seen people call them basically “horrible” because of the strong language and “bad jokes”. Everyone’s sense of humor is different. While I enjoy Sherwin’s stuff and the Spellcasting series by Steve Meretzky… I tried playing that Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis game and found it “horrible”. Like others have said, you can’t win everyone over.