Dragon #300 was noteworthy not only for the milestone issue number, but also because new Dragon publisher Paizo Publishing (which recently acquired the rights to publish Dragon and Dungeon from Wizards of the Coast along with other licenses, see 'Wizards of the Coast Spins off Magazines') included sealed sections of 'mature' content in the most recent issues of Dungeon and Dragon (see 'Sealed 'Mature' Section in Dragon and Dungeon Adventure Magazines'). Lots of reaction ensued from all tiers of the industry (see 'Controversy Erupts Over Mature D&D Content'). Here Paizo president Johnny Wilson talks about the decision:
What Were We Thinking? Or Were We?
Thoughts on the Sealed Sections of Dragon #300 and Dungeon #95.
Less than 14% of Dragon's readership is under 18 years old. An even smaller percentage of Dungeon's readership is under 18. The average age of Dragon is 28. The average age of Dungeon is higher. When we create content and determine the readership level for issues of Dragon and Dungeon, we focus on our target audience. The Catch-22 is that we don't want to lose our small percentage of precocious teenagers. So, in Dragon #300 and Dungeon #95, we attempted the impossible. We attempted to target our older readers while protecting our younger readers.
We did this in a manner that is consistent with my position on game ratings since the days when Acclaim's Mortal Kombat was the big media issue and I appeared on ABC-TV's 'Good Morning, America.' We did it in a manner that is consistent with the position I took in a debate on CNN with the lawyer for the parents of a child killed in a school shooting. We did it in a manner that is consistent with the position I took in a segment of 'Hard Copy' and in interviews with Public Radio International following the Columbine shooting as well as in an interview with Canal+ during the Mortal Kombat controversy.
I said then and I say now that the market must decide. It is the responsibility of a publisher to let consumers (or in our case, readers) know what is in an issue so that parents have enough information to determine what is acceptable or not for their children and so that mature consumers can determine whether something appeals to their taste or not. It was our intent to place a warning on the sealed section so that those who didn't want to have the vile content thrown in their faces didn't have to open it. The sealed section would also help parents know whether their kids were reading that section behind their backs or not.
Even back in the days of Mortal Kombat, I argued that being upfront with consumers was the best way. Software publishers argued back that retailers would reject their products with knee-jerk reactions based on their perceptions. I contended that it was better to let everyone know about potential controversy in advance than to be surprised at what they had in the store.
At Paizo Publishing, LLC, we've put our money where my mouth was. Both Dragon #300 and Dungeon #95 are labeled as having mature content. Both the Dungeon adventure (which is truly vile) and the Dragon material are contained in sealed sections. That much was consistent with earlier positions. Unfortunately, in trying to DEFINE what is VILE before anyone opened the sealed section, we allowed our author to be so graphic that the INTRODUCTION that preceded the section was as offensive (or more so) as anything within the sealed section. IF an individual read the entire article that preceded the sealed section, they received what was, in many cases, an unwelcome whiff of the malodorous atrocities within the sealed section. For that, we apologize.
However, we do not apologize for publishing the sealed sections. Many retailers have far worse products on their shelves with no warning labels, no attempt to let the consumer make a decision. Further, we knew when we sealed the sections that some would complain about how 'tame' the sections were compared to other published content in the genre. They may be right, but we determined to err on the side of caution rather than to rub everyone's noses in a type of game that is NOT for everyone.
Even a well-known former writer for Dragon and Dungeon has lamented the inclusion of such horrific and disgusting elements within our pages, crying out with crocodile tears for an era of innocence that became so mundane, so unchallenging that the publisher of the world's greatest role-playing game had to be sold to a competitor. Indeed, that era was so banal that other role-playing systems stole gamers away from Dungeons & Dragons with systems and backgrounds that were significantly grittier than the self-censored D&D world.
My own friends have asked me the age-old question, 'Was this coverage really necessary?' with the same rhetorical implication that they used to ask me about violence in video games. They believe the coverage wasn't necessary and that violence in video games (and movies, television, comic books and books) isn't necessary. Yet, the truth is that in order to be truly heroic, one has to triumph over that which is truly evil. Can we, or even SHOULD we, self-censor the world of role-playing so that the evil creatures and villains that parties encounter seem less horrific than the monstrous winged minions of an Osama bin Laden in real life? Part of the ageless appeal of The Lord of the Rings trilogy is that the evil is so palpable that the overall triumph offers hope-whether against the backdrops of the rise of Nazi Germany when a lot of the books were presumably written (they wer first publsihed in the early 50s), the televised horrors of the Vietnam Conflict when I encountered them, or the slaughter of innocents we remember from 9/11/01. Even in the midst of horrific evil, it is the HOPE that counts.
If there is a value to publishing a guide to the atrocities and perversions that put the VILE in EVIL, this is it: Evil CAN be defeated! A corollary to that which is played out many times in D&D campaigns and fantasy literature is that Evil is never really as strong as it looks.
That said, do we intend to make 'sealed sections' a regular part of our editorial content. 'No!' In the same sense that R-rated movies don't usually make as much money as PG-13 movies, we don't believe it would benefit our sales or the hobby to focus on VILE subject matter all of the time. We will only publish more of this material if it is in demand from the readers. Yet, we insist that the ability to go out on a limb in subject matter keeps the hobby fresh and alive. If nothing else, it gets us talking about values, belief systems and shared social context. Such a dialogue cannot answer all the questions, but it keeps us thinking and growing. I, for one, do not long to return to the days of the comics code. I'm glad we can get a wider variety of styles and subject matter than in the days when publishers were afraid to go outside the lines, even for an issue or two.