Here is the most unpopular strip I’ve ever written. Some people became very, very incensed at what happened to Marcus’ character. Enraged. I wrote a strip about one comic character’s character groping another character’s character during an out-of-context aside that didn’t even involve the GM, and I was accused of making “rape jokes”. I actually thought what I wrote was pretty tame compared to some of the crazy griefing stories people have told me.
But the difference between what I was trying to say and what people were hearing was so big there was just no reconciling the two sides. I never stopped to figure out how many people quit reading, but some did leave and never came back. This was probably the low point of my webcomic adventures.
Internally, Shawn and I called this event “OMG RAPEGATE”.
But just to be clear: Rape is bad and you shouldn’t do it.
Here we go, ZOMGRAPEGATE ‘07. (Shamus left out the “Z”.)
In any collaborative endeavor, you’re going to have the occasional bump or misfire, where things don’t turn out as planned – especially early on, when you’re still finding your legs. This was ours, with the added bonus that thanks to the popularity of DM of the Rings, we had several thousand people around to see it.
I think part of it was hit on the head pretty solidly by one of the commenters on Twenty Sided back in ‘07. The real punch line of this strip isn’t here, it’s in strip #7, with Chuck’s line about “exploring gender roles.” So part of the problem was that instead of one day of a joke that could be taken in a way we didn’t intend, people had like a week+ of that joke.
We actually spent quite a bit of time writing and rewriting this strip before it went live. I thought the basic premise was funny (“New guy makes a ridiculously sexed up female character, old player is annoyed, has his character make out with her”) but that we needed to handle things carefully so that it didn’t come across wrong.
And then it came across much wronger than either of us had anticipated.
This might get us in more trouble, but here’s a peak behind the scenes. I don’t remember what Shamus’s original punchline was, but it wasn’t “Improved Stamina.” I came up with a number of alternate suggestions, and Shamus made a few more, and in the end he settled on Improved Stamina, which was I think a mistake. As one of the commenters back in ‘07 pointed out, you don’t need Improved Stamina to make out, but you would want it for sex. Anyway, here are some ways this strip almost ended.
Some of these are every bit as “sex, not makeouts” as the final punchline, but I think a few them would really have lessened the negative reaction back when this originally ran. (In particular, “Where is the Clasp on this thing?” works very well, but I’m a huge fan of “Lend me some suger, I am your neighbor”, even if Chuck would probably never make an Outkast joke.)
Ah well, hindsight, 20/20, all that.
A few more thoughts:
A: I find it fascinating that even this early on people were willing to read the reality of the Player Characters as being every bit as valid as the reality of the Players. We’d barely shown the PCs, but most of the people who were offended weren’t upset at what Chuck did to Marcus, they were upset at what Ramgar did to Sapphire. This was a reaction I don’t think either of us had expected.
B: This was the first time I’d really come across the idea that if someone creates a piece of media depicting an act or opinion, that it must mean the creator is endorsing or supporting that act or opinion. We had a lot of people who thought Shamus and I were saying rape is ok, or that playing female characters is a terrible thing to do, or that we were homophobic, or all kinds of things. This was very strange to me, as my previous comic featured chain smoking, graphic murder, sex, torture, and much more. I don’t think anyone ever thought I was endorsing any of those things. (Except sex.)
For the record – I generally find the characters in CB somewhat repulsive pretty much all of the time. That’s kind of the point. These are horrible players who are also generally self absorbed, rude, obnoxious, hypocritical, and slightly insane.
C: I think it was a matter of expectations among the audience as well. People reading Doors and Windows knew it was a film noir/horror story, so sex and violence were to be expected. Coming from DMotR, people expected the occasional Legolass style joke, but not Gimli molesting the new guy.
Anyway, see you on Friday when the saga continues. If we can have a thoughtful discussion of 2007’s dramasplosion and what went wrong here, that would be awesome.
If I’d gone with one of the other punchlines, I think this could have gone a lot better.
Not sure why I went with that line and not the others. I think I liked that it referenced a misapplication of the rules. I’ve always loved making that particular style of joke. I love situations where players use the rules in ways that are technically legal but obviously ridiculous. If you can create an absurd situation by obeying the letter of the law while flagrantly violating the spirit of the law, then that’s a huge win in my book.
For example: Your party finds themselves in a fantasy-world town where everyone believes the world is flat. It’s actually round in this setting, and you need to somehow convince the townies of this before they’ll agree to fund your voyage. So the bard uses his “deception” skill to convince them that the world is round. The DM will argue that this isn’t deception because you’re trying to convince someone of something that’s already true. So the player argues that actually, their bard ALSO thinks the world is flat, thus making this count as a deception. Silly meta-gaming stuff like that really tickles me.
Looking back 10 years later, I’m thinking a better version of the “improved stamina” line would be, “If I try to undo this clasp, would that be a grapple roll, or lockpicking?” That’s a little wordy, but it sort of works as a dual joke. You’ve got the misapplication of rules, and you’ve got the old joke about how guys find bras hard to take off.
Even if you object to the joke – or even if you object to people objecting to the joke – please try to keep it civil in the comments. Thanks!
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.
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