#6 Touch Attack

#6 Touch Attack

Original Text:

Players can roleplay with each other, or they can roleplay against each other. The former lends itself to creating great stories filled with interesting people. The latter is just a good way to amuse yourself if the campaign sucks.

Shamus Says:

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.

Shawn Says:

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:


(click for a larger view.)

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.

Discussion (31)¬

  1. gedece says:

    Here we are then, the most infamous Chainmail Bikini strip ever. Reading through the other options I can see why this “punchline” was elected, but I still think it’s the wrong one. Anyway, I didn’t feel rage back then, I don’t feel it now, It’s only a low point for me, but as I learnt reading webcomics, you can’t really judge one untill you’ve read at least around 30 strips, where you have a general idea where the strip is going and what is it about.
    As this is only the sixth one, I decided this was not a deal breaker, so I stayed.

  2. Robert Grant says:

    Really? There was a controversy over this? Wow. I’ll admit, I was excited yesterday to find out what the controversy was about, but I forgot about it overnight and reading this didn’t remind me that there was supposed to be a controversy until your comments. I can see why it happened, but I’m more saddened by the fact that people took it seriously than I am by the content itself.

  3. chabuhi says:

    Shamus, after that I bet Future Shamus is really glad he never brought up The Path.

  4. krellen says:

    I was surprised by the controversy when it first came up as well. That aside, I think “Hail to the King” would have been the right punchline. Chuck would definitely be a fan of Bruce Campbell, and his lines are always popular with the gaming crowd.

  5. Susie Day says:

    well, it defiantly came across as a sex joke, but that’s not all that out of place in a group of all-guy gamers. I have heard more sex jokes at a game than anywhere else …

    Also, I don’t think any of the other punch lines were as funny, and some of them were even unfunny. But, perhaps being unfunny is better than offending a bunch of people?

  6. Shawn says:

    Robert – imagine our reaction two years ago. Wake up to check the comments, see if anyone has anything to say about the new comic and get hit by massive internet outrage. It was kind of crazy, and I think the first time that either of us had seen it.

    I’ll be honest, once ZOMGRAPEGATE ‘07 died down, it affected my part in making the strip. I was overly cautious about anything that might offend people, especially if it related to Marcus/Sapphire. (One of the allegations, besides the fact we were making light of rape, was that Marcus was clearly meant to be gay (he’s not), and we were endorsing homophobia (we’re not.))

    Oddly, the only real time I remember anyone getting upset about a joke after this was one that was entirely my fault, with how cute and miserable the goblins are later on.

  7. Kdansky says:

    I missed the controversy last time and I stand by my words: If people are offended by a joke, then they can just bugger off, especially if the joke is not about them in the first place. Fear The Boot was pretty infamous for apologizing for everything during the first couple episodes, because someone out there is offended by absolutely everything. If you are that someone, grow up and get over it.

  8. Kage says:

    Personally, I think it’s ridiculous that there ever was a controversy. As for which punchline is the funniest, I’m torn between “Barry White” and “Where’s the clasp?”

  9. Gillsing says:

    Most of the alternative punchlines seemed to lack the punch part. Aside from that, I interpreted the “Improved Stamina” thing as an exaggerated (and therefore humorous) threat rather than Chuck intending for Ramgar to actually rape Sapphire. Because everyone knows that rape just isn’t funny. Unless it happens to a guy. Then it’s hilarious. Because that makes a woman out of a man, and everyone knows that’s surely a step down on the totem pole.

  10. Superkleinpaste says:

    man…compared to my group, this is kind of…tame.

    because it came up so often, we have made a hand motion (saluting) to imply that our character was saying “out of respect for your position, I will not make a sexual innuendo out of that SIR”

    In my game, rape has never been an OK thing, and if someone had a character that might actually do that, always submitted to the ‘controls’ that other characters would impose upon them.

    and this situation seems a lot more like “handful of boob” than it was “ZOMGRAPE”. it happens in real life on accident all the time.

    it seems like not many of your old readers had good friends that were also regular gamers.

  11. Shawn says:

    I think at this point a lot of fans were DMotR fans, many of whom came more from the otR side of the fence than the DM side of things.

  12. Viktor says:

    I think part of the issue is the undefined nature of what’s happening. “Make out”, “grapple”, “improved stamina”. I get that you were trying to stay clean, but people couldn’t tell what was going on and so, assumed the worst because that’s what people do.

  13. Kristin says:

    I was one of the original fans of Chainmail Bikini, and while I did think sex was involved after this strip, and at that point had never actually been in a gaming session… I thought it was not at all out of line with what would happen around a gaming table. Ramgar should not rape Sapphire. Ramgar should not grope Sapphire – the difference between that and rape is a bit fuzzy.

    Chuck griefing Marcus? Hilarious. And “deserved” for being a pretentious snot.

  14. Catbunny says:

    *shrug* Didn’t seem at all ZOMGRAPE to me. More like a guy trying to prove that he’s better than another game in a very low INT way. Figured the “improved stamina” was more about follow-up rolls to escape fondling than… other verbs.

  15. Tesh says:

    Interesting. Actually, it’s not so much the text as the guy’s reaction that makes it troublesome. If he were clearly reacting by stifling a laugh or something, what would that have done? Or maybe an eyeroll to suggest “business as usual around the table”?

    Seriously, though, people came to a comic strip titled “Chainmail Bikini”, found it to be about gamers, and *didn’t* see this sort of thing coming? They should be grateful it wasn’t worse.

  16. Shamus says:

    An eye-roll would indeed have been a good idea for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

  17. Geremy says:

    Quick Shamus! Use your Time Machine to make it just an eye roll. Then Chain Mail Bikini will never sputter out and die, this site will never exist, and I won’t make an inappropriate political joke in this comment.

  18. Bacon says:

    Personally – and I totally understand and respect that people will disagree with me – I thought it was funny, and I still maintain that point of view. Okay, sure, you can INFER that it’s rape, but that doesn’t mean it’s IMPLIED. It’s all about what you take from it, and, if you ask me, a lot of people LIKE to get offended about miniscule things.

    I thought of it less of “Man rapes woman” and more “Player trolls another player,” which is hilarious from my point of view as a long time P&P gamer. I’ve actually played in games where rape was a near thing to occur between players, although it never managed to come through. Hell, I’ve been the victim of it – a female character I played in Masque of the Red Death was coerced by a vampire. She went a bit barmy when she had to watch him die, sadly – but there’s nothing to get worked up about.

    Especially in the context of: comic=>comedy=>joke=>funny=>laugh.

    But, like I say, if you inferred that this strip was more about sexual abuse, then fine. That’s your cup of tea, and I’m sorry you missed out on the rest of Chainmail Bikini, for those that left. If you managed to get upset at THIS joke, I can only imagine what you thought of the actual name of the strip.

  19. Bacon says:

    Also, I’m not sure I ever fully understood Josh’s expression properly, in this strip. I always assumed he was coming to the perfect “I’ve got it!” realization for his character concept.

  20. Craig says:

    This reminds me of when I went on tour with a band over the summer. I was filling in on drums for a friend and our second show out of state in ohio, our bassist made the joke, “what do 9 out of 10 people enjoy? Gang rape!” during our set. Half of the tiny crowd left mid-set, and this woman told us that we weren’t allowed to stay at her friend’s house that night. For the rest of the 2-week tour, we were petrified that we would offend anyone about anything, since we were basically relying on people’s kindness for places to sleep. In hindsight, it was probably the only place we would’ve offended anyone with that joke, but it was a good lesson about how you represent yourself in new places.

  21. AA says:

    I’m reading through this strip for the first time and had never heard of the controversy; but, before I got to the explanatory text below the comic the first thing I thought was “that sounds an awful lot like rape.” So, put me in the category “A” b/c fictional concept or no, this just creeped me out.

    I think it was the “Brace Yourself” as much as the “improved stamina” that put it over the edge. Perhaps it also has to do with how early on in the strip this is .. I don’t feel like I “know” the characters yet so I don’t know if they are harmless idiots making a bad joke or complete #*^% making a bad joke. Oddly enough, it makes a difference.

    Regardless of my interpretation, I never thought the creators condoned the action and read Josh’s expression as shock and disgust, which toned down my gut reaction. I’m not going to stop reading the comic .. now I have to find out what happens in part two of this gratuitous scene. heh. It’s interesting to know how you responded creatively. Understandable that you’d tone things down, but a bit sad as well.

  22. Jimmy says:

    At last, I get to see the source of the controversy.

    I read through Shamus’ blog after Chainmail Bikini had died and there were several posts about the “controversial” strips.

    I don’t find it controversial, but I could see how someone with no role-playing experience might. Or if they’d only ever role-played with mature players who don’t make crude jokes like this (ie people with no role-playing experience).

    I look forward to seeing the rest of CB.

    Also, why does the spellchecker hate chainmail so? It’s one word goddammit.

  23. darkbaron says:

    I’m so surprised… This strip is OK. You know, in France, we have a french comic about bad roleplayers, “les irrécupérables” (“the irrecoverable (ones)”. One reccuring joke is when there are NPC girls, a bad player says “I rape her!”. The comic shows nothing, of course, and this comic criticizes bad roleplayers (munchkin, etc).
    More seriously, I had on a table a player who raped a NPC and made jokes about this. I left this table because of that, but again, this strip is OK because that’s not an apology, but a criticism of this sort of behaviour.
    Sorry for my English.

  24. Acher4 says:

    I read the comic the first time around and never understood there was even a problem with this update. Didn’t see the comments.
    For me, this comic was funny.
    People just look too much into things. Sheesh.

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  26. Tallifer says:

    This is indeed an hilarious episode. Glad to see you stuck with it and republished it even.

  27. Violet Black says:

    The wording does make it sound like sexual assault, but because it seems that it’s just players griefing each other instead of violence between “real people”, I probably would have stuck around a little bit longer to see if it got better. …And I will do so.

  28. Shawn says:

    So I just deleted a comment, from an overly enthusiastic rape joke supporter. Look, if you think the problem with rape jokes is that people need to stop being so prissy about it, and you feel the need to share this thought on a 3 year old reposting of a 5 year old comic, I’d kindly suggest that you go fuck off.

    The problem with this part of the comic wasn’t that people overreacted, the problem was that we fucked up. If you really want to leap to our defense, 5 years later, by talking about how great rape jokes and racist jokes are, don’t. Just go away. I do not want you as a reader or fan. You can kindly go fuck yourself.

    That is all.

  29. Isy says:

    WRT to this being typical grognard behavior: this is absolutely true, but it’s also true that male gaming groups will do this to female players as well – I think most people would agree making a joke of that wouldn’t have been funny. So it seems odd to have so many people taking what seems to be a “but he’s a man, so it’s funny” route, especially when there’s a lot of backlash these days over it being “funny” to pick on men but not on women. I’m getting mixed signals, is all I’m saying.

    I can totally see why people assumed it was rape – I just rolled my eyes at it at the time, because I was completely familiar with this kind of behavior, but since I wasn’t comfortable with it in real life I didn’t find the strip very funny. Calling out the authors as condoning rape is overly harsh, but this incident is certainly fair game to alienate a reader from the characters: and if you’re going to be following these characters for the next 70 strips it helps not to hate them. The fact Chuck “won” in the end didn’t really help.

  30. Irrevenant says:

    I think part of the reason people reacted as they did is that this is only the sixth strip and we don’t really know any of these characters at this point. We can’t tell yet if Chuck is intended to be unlikeable and the authors expect us to find his actions repellent – or if the authors think the joke is on Marcus/Sapphire. Under the circumstances I can understand readers being confused as to whether the authors were actually condoning this sort of behaviour. If this had happened after Chuck had already been established as unlikeable you probably would’ve seen less backlash – or at least less people assuming that you agreed with his actions.

    All that said: personally I find this strip too awkward and uncomfortable to be funny. I know it’s a realistic portrayal of how some gamers behave and think. To me that’s depressing rather than funny.

    As an aside, while it obviously matters whether it was sexual or not, there seems to be a weird idea floating around that if it was ‘just’ forcibly grappling a woman and kissing (and maybe groping) her, then that would be okay. It really, really wouldn’t. :/

  31. CyFyM says:

    More often than not I end up being the only female character in the party, and I have on at least one occasion been on the brunt of this kind of situation. I ended up proclaiming loudly out of character, “SHE’S GAY,” to get everyone else off my back. Surprisingly, it worked, and I’ve played lesbians ever since.