Libel and Obscenity
Last Updated: August 29, 2017
The general philosophy at SJ Games is that if you have to use insults or obscenity to get the reader's attention, you probably can't write your way out of a paper bag and we don't want to know you.
Any publication that damages a person's reputation or ability to earn a living can result in a libel suit. The only safe defense against such a suit is the truth of the published item. In the context of gaming material, there's no reason to defame living individuals, even with the truth. Don't do it at all.
In fact, there's no reason to risk libel by needlessly mentioning living individuals, let alone lampooning them. For example, if you're writing an adventure involving a motion-picture director, do not give the character a name similar to that of an existing director. This holds true even if your fictional character is a wholly admirable person. It isn't enough to change the first name or even to change the spelling of the last name. Don't use names with any similarity to those of living public figures! When you must mention a living individual by name, play it safe and avoid statements (or illustrations) that might be considered libelous.
It's true that in certain circumstances, writers have a degree of leeway. Reviewers may express their opinions in a context that makes it clear that the writer is dealing with opinion and not fact. Thus, a reviewer can describe a game as bad without having to fear a libel suit, no matter how firmly the negative opinion is stated. (Saying the game's designer is a no-talent hack who sleeps with camels is another story entirely . . . unless you can prove the truth of your statements.) However, SJ Games' editors will not permit potentially libelous remarks even if the writer feels they're "opinion."
It's the policy of Steve Jackson Games not to publish anything that might personally insult an individual, let alone lead to a libel suit. It simply isn't necessary. Both writers and editors must make sure every reference in every published work is both necessary and checked for accuracy.
Nothing that might be construed as obscene will appear in any SJ Games product. The fact that a word, phrase, or description is not "legally" obscene – as defined by any particular court at any given time – is not enough to warrant its use. Bear in mind that many of our readers are preteens. Whether or not they are upset by "adult" material, their parents will be! Minimize vulgarity and eliminate items of questionable taste, whether in text or in art.
This doesn't mean we want to be conservative with our language and illustrations. In character dialog, for instance, stronger language is permissible where appropriate (and slang is perfectly all right). And colorful writing and exciting graphics are vital. Just be aware that the line between "colorful" or "exciting" and "tasteless" is a fine one, and tends to move around . . .