Letter to Travis Worthington — The non-consensual model

Editor’s note: This editorial is intended to be a satirical response to recent comments made by Travis Worthington in an interview with Polygon’s Charlie Hall about the use of AI generated art as disclosed in the new Terraforming Mars crowdfunding campaign. GamingTrend recently announced that it will not cover games or publishers who use unethically sourced means of generative AI art in tabletop games.

I always knew tech was coming for me.

I got the heads-up from Milton Bradley decades ago. Back in the aughts, the Computer Repair Specialist career in THE GAME OF LIFE got $50,000 every time the white spinner came off its track. Since I was the kid whose chemistry teacher formally assigned him How to Juggle E-Z because he kept breaking Erlenmeyer flasks (yes, I did it; no, it didn’t work), I’d send it flying across the table like a rogue dreidel. Up to six players would get the privilege of discovering how much paper money came in the box. The answer, by the way, is a little north of three million dollars.

Picture of me debating ChatGPT on Reddit

Travis Worthington, Indie Games Studios CEO and luxury watch enthusiast, apparently uncovered a new card we’ve all missed: consensual or non-consensual? From his Polygon interview with Charlie Hall about sourcing AI art for Terraforming Mars’ newest kickstarter:

TRAVIS: So there’s a number of different AI models that you can use out there, some of which you can directly input images to use. So if you look at like a Stable Diffusion, the way their model is you can train it on specific images. So we have not done that. We’ve not trained it on specific images. Now, that being said, the AI tools that we have used are trained on large databases, right? I think that’s kind of general knowledge about AI. I’m not aware of any generative AI model that is 100% consent-based at this time.

CHARLIE: And so what Kickstarter is asking is, “Do you have consent?” And what your company is saying is? “No.”

TRAVIS: What I’m saying is the tools we use are not based on a consent model, nor is there, to my knowledge, any AI tools that are based 100% on a consent model.

CHARLIE: And Kickstarter, having received that “No,” allowed the campaign to proceed.


It’s like the scales have fallen from my eyes. I get a choice? F*ck me sideways! Literally, go ahead and do it. You don’t even have to ask anymore.

Okay, Travis, I’m funneling my liquid cash into “non-consensual investments.” As we speak, it’s en route from the Ivory Coast, traveling on the backs of tenscore camels. Did you know that African warlords have even lower shipping rates than Amazon? I’m sure you’ll take advantage of those savings once they solve the staining issue—blood’s much harder on cardboard than diamonds, after all.

Once you sort that out, let me know because today marks the announcement of my new crowdfunding project, which will use all the art FryxGames and Terraforming Mars have so generously provided. I’m sure all of you, as fellow purveyors of “the non-consensual model,” will understand.

Furthermore, its title is in Linear A and looks exactly like the English words “Terraforming Mars.” Don’t bother trying to verify it. It’s an extinct language and I’m the only one who’s ever seen its Rosetta stones, which I’ve ingested with the aid of a powder machine and a gallon of magnesium citrate. Am I telling the truth, you may ask? Maybe, but you can’t be 100% sure, so you should go ahead and accept it anyway. As far as I know, there’s no 100% truth-based model and, as every rotary club president knows, if you can’t score 100% then it might as well be 0%.

TRAVIS: I’d love to see a model that is based on consent. I’d love to see a model that makes some compensation available. I think that that’s where this could go, and I’d be 100% supportive of that approach.

Ever the gentleman, Travis! I forget myself. You’d prefer to have consent. Fair enough. Have your lawyers call me first. But I’m often playing Baldur’s Gate III, and that tech is too good to go back in the bag to answer you. Also, I always set my Steam status to “Invisible.” You’ll never be 100% sure that I’m not playing Baldur’s Gate which, Q.E.D., means you’re 0% sure.

Out of respect, I’ve used ChatGPT to revise all the card text (“flora” instead of plants, etc.) and increased every card’s cost by one. I’ve swapped the positions of all the tracks and I even made a new one for generations. I call it “lifetimes.” See, I added value! The savings from my one-man team will go toward mounted player boards and maybe even some miniatures. By the way, if the MSRP is always $10 less than whatever you charge, I swear it’s a coincidence, and you’ll never be 100% sure it’s not.

We now need only spread this gospel together, Travis.

True, as you noted, it will be hard for the illustrators who want to enter this industry.

CHARLIE: What would you say to illustrators out there in the world hoping to get work making art for board games right now?

TRAVIS: I’d say board games are going through a tough time right now. The market is down significantly over the last couple of years. So I would say right now as an illustrator, designer or publisher the market is very challenging.

I’m not deaf to their plight. I’m a long-time admirer and patron of drawslaves—er, drawmen. In fact, I’ll access their gallery data even more now that I no longer need their consent to enter, though I’ll follow your genteel example and only break in when it’s absolutely necessary to do so (e.g. national holidays). Like any art student, I’ve roamed galleries with a compass, ruler, and a human-sized roll of graph paper, mapping out every portrait by the inch, assigning statistical weights, and feeding it to my data cloud. As you do.

But they might as well be fighting gravity, and I mean that literally. Their bleating, like that of the Luddites before them, will crumble under the inexorable forces of progress. By “the inexorable forces of progress,” I mean 14,000 troops, a law to permit hanging them, and a gibbet to hang them under.

One last detail to clear up, though: you need compliance. Sure, you have disclosure of your non-consensual model on Kickstarter, but what about the physical box? Unfortunately, there will be a transitionary period before everyone stops using the consent model, and we’ll need to abide by some of their silly little rules.

A big, silver “NC” sticker will fit nicely alongside the Stronghold logo. Maybe you can take a leaf from the book of the American Humane Association? “Artists were harmed in the making of this game”?

We’ll workshop it.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

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Sean Weeks fell in love with the modern tabletop scene in 2004 with Tom Lehmann's Race for the Galaxy,but his chief passions are writing, antiquity, and anthropology. You can read his work in Paste Magazine or (formerly) Dicebreaker.

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