This is Audio EXP for the 29th of May 2021, and the title of this episode is “Can games cause harm?”
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #98]
Let’s start gently and with a Geek Native quirky stat. I asked people taking part in a competition to win a card game about trains which vehicles they thought should appear more often in games.
I’ll reveal the top five, in reverse order, here on the podcast, but you can full list of 12 on the blog.
- 5th equal are Submarines and bicycles
- 3rd Cable Cars
- 2nd Airships
- 1st Trains
To be honest, I’m a bit surprised trains won. I thought airships would sail to victory.
I’ve reopened the poll without the prize, and you can find a link to that in the show notes. It means you can vote for what you think in the restarted analysis. Currently, Submarines and Trains are tied in first place.
Let’s stick with stats but slide into the title of this show; can games cause harm?
A tech magazine WePC shared some stats with Geek Native this week to show that most gamers in the UK thought loot boxes essentially exposed kids to gambling. I believe they are right.
However, no one was very sure what to do about it. Age limits and spending caps were suggested, but there was no clear winner. No trains.
Not surprisingly, Call of Duty came out top as the game people played, which they thought was bad for microtransactions. Fifa was second. As one gamer in the survey pointed out, Fifa is even more frustrating as it was a pay to win approach through buying a better team.
Surprisingly, Leeds came out top as the city where gamers were most likely to have spend money on a game in a microtransaction.
Okay, forgive me. My instinct is to protect games. I want to take this chance to say that other things, other sources of entertainment, cause harm. Almost always; it’s not on purpose.
I’ve a great example. This week Prime Video released a trailer for Chris Pratt’s The Tomorrow War.
I noticed it has been hacked. At the time of recording the security risk is still there. So, let me walk you through what I think is happening.
On the YouTube page that hosts the trailer, you can expand the text description to see some content about Amazon’s video service. In that, there are some Bitly links to not-YouTube sites.
Depending on your browser and platform, when you click on those Bitly links you may end up at a dodgy site that makes money by you being there.
I think whoever put together that content, the text and the Bitly shortened links, did so in a program like MS Word. Bitly is a URL shortener service, so you put in a long URL and get a more attractive one out.
Microsoft Word has added some invisible characters to the end of the Amazon pretty links. They’ve not noticed and pasted those corrupted links in.
Someone else has noticed and created Bitly short links that match, taking control of them and are now benefiting from those clicks.
I believe someone at Prime Video has been made aware of the situation.
But, it’s a good example of potential accidental harm. I think it’s also a clear cut one.
I hope it’s less clear cut in my next example, and that’s Coiledspring Games’ competition with Mumsnet.
Coiledspring Games is a UK-based games distributor with some pretty cool clients. This week they started a competition with Mumsnet in which you can win some board games. No doubt they paid Mumsnet to help with the promotion and thought it was a good match, a good way to get games into homes and boost brand awareness.
So, what’s the problem? Mumsnet is a forum where, yeah, mums can chat. In recent years it’s become a central point for transphobic discussion. In particular, the rejection of transwomen as women. Actually, no, that undersells it. The Mumsnet community was the place that coordinated harmful actions such as attempts to get charities defuded. It’s not a free speech issue.
It’s possible that Coiledspring Games knew none of this. But, as they announced the competition, the gaming community told them.
Did they stop the promotion? No. A few days later, they posted to say they didn’t want to discriminate against anyone but also posted a response from Mumsnet.
Mumsnet took the chance to link domestic violence and the erosion of women’s rights with their position on trans-women. What a mean thing to do. It’s a commonly used trick.
I hope Coiledspring still mean no harm. I fear they find themselves in a situation they don’t know how to get out of. However, game stores up and down the UK are now cutting ties with them in protest. One Canadian games developer found out about it, and that one of their games was included in the competition and has insisted that Coiledspring removes it.
You know, sometimes trying to protect your company from harm also gets you into hot water.
I saw a heated Facebook debate about whether or not you could Instagram your Hero Forge models. In the debate, people swore they would never use Hero Forge again because it looked like that the 3d-printed model designers had sneaky T&Cs which meant they kept control of the models you bought.
So, I reached out to Hero Forge and asked them about it. Once again, you can find the full Q&A on the site. Here’s the summary.
Firstly, don’t confuse digital models with physical models.
Secondly, you can paint your Hero Forge models on a stream.
Thirdly, when in doubt you can always ask the company. What you can’t do is make a calendar composed of artfully staged Hero Forge models and sell that.
Hero Forge has these rules to protect their business, not just in terms of money but also to make sure no one other company appears to be working with them, or for them, without their knowledge.
All this, of course, puts me in mind of the original games that cause harm scandal – the Satanic Panic that swept through America when D&D was young.
As it happens, Oldhammer has been remastering old TV footage and have dug up the old 60 Minutes documentary on it. Well, it’s more an attack piece than a documentary, and it’s clear they’re trying to frame D&D for a string of deaths.
Sorry to say that there’s a suicide trigger on the footage, which, once again, you can find linked in the show notes.
Do you what would make a great new RPG release to bridge the harm section of the podcast with the things to know about? Vampire. Or weird cult vampires.
Good news, Renegade Game Studio this week announced Sabbat: The Black Hand and a tool kit for Vampire: The Masquerade.
The Sabbat is the cult that opposes the sly vampire elders, although it has plenty of undesirable traits of its own.
Vampire, I think, also shows why the debates we’re having around RPGs now aren’t like the Satanic Panic. For the Satanic Panic, religious conservatives wanted to make D&D go away.
Vampire 5e got into trouble because some people worried it included nods to far-right groups and made money off real-life harm. Rather than say, “we’re going to take the game away,” those who shared that alarm said, “you don’t have to do it that way”.
As it happens, White Wolf did then take those potential references to far-right groups out.
The idea of making games to appeal to more people is entirely different from not making games at all. As we talked about last week, it’s not the gamer apocalypse.
A game that appealed to me this week is Black Armada’s Last Fleet. I backed it on Kickstarter.
Based on Powered by the Apocalypse, the game is all about turning up the pressure on people as they try and escape in the Last Fleet from a terrible foe that chases humanity’s survivors through space.
That foe can look like us. Yes, think Battlestar Galactica.
Not only is Last Fleet a tremendous little sci-fi, I think it’s a game that does incredibly well at helping GMs be better GMs. It’s a very solid recommendation from me. Check it out if you can.
I also have some free to download recommendations for you.
First up is the 5e adventure Realm of the Goblin: Beware the Dark Sisterhood.
It’s rare to get a 30+ page adventure as a freebie, especially one with so much quality illustration. The reason for this one is that the adventure helps promote a forthcoming Dark Horse comic book called Goblin. It’s set in the same world.
If you’re looking for a non-D&D game, then I blogged quite a few this week, but why not start at Wormsign. That’s also more than 30-pages and is the quick start for Modiphius’ Dune: Adventures in the Imperium RPG.
Geek Native tends to spend a lot of time talking about RPGs and RPG news. However, gamers are interested in more than their level 15 paladin, so the blog covers other topics. I want to make sure Audio EXP reflects that, so let me call out the mini-swarm of dinosaur shoes stamping around.
By mini-swarm, I mean – two.
First up, there’s the Reebok Jurassic World Instapumps. Need green and yellow shoes that look like dinosaur skin, and you can run in? These are your puppies.
The other are Jurassic Park high-tops from Akedo, which you can get in the Zavvi dinosaur kit, along with t-shirts, caps, and even…. and get this… Jurassic Park deckchairs.
Zavvi does a great job in keeping Geek Native in the loop. Reebok does not, and I had no idea you could get geeky Reeboks. I’ll keep an eye out for more!
Let’s finish up with some bundle deals. There are three different considerations for you this week.
First up, there’s one from Fandom’s new purchase; Fanatical. Bundlefest is on with games like Planescape Torment and Black Sad going for a song. There’s also a no-purchase-necessary competition.
At the Bundle of Holding, there’s a Mythras Setting deal which, yes, has Mythras in it – a game spawned from RuneQuest – but also Monster Island, Jack Vance’s Lyonesse and Luther Arkwright.
Lastly, but not least, Free League have a great introduction to both Tales from the Loop and Symbaroum on Humble Bundle.
Since the podcast began with a mention of a competition on Geek Native, let’s finish with one. Open to listeners in the UK, on the site, you have a chance to win an official pack of Uncharted Top Trumps and one based on horror movies.
On that note, let’s wrap there, so please keep safe, keep away from dinosaurs, and we’ll see you next week.
Thank you to Geek Native's Patreon supporters who made this article possible.