of the Ancients

edited April 23 in Story Games

So @Eero_Touvinen made a game that’s pretty good (or w/e, quality of the game not really the point) with a pretty fucked up name Miscegenation of the Ancients.

When I first read it I didn’t know it was Eero; I was reading through the entire collection of OPD’s from that year. Ever since I reread it and saw Eero’s name, I’ve been feeling guilty. Is my own online pal someone who puts out games with fucked up names? Should I talk to him about it, should I not? Then on top of that guilt (the guilt of inaction), now I can add the guilt of me bringing it up in a passive-aggressive and snipey way.

Anyway. Cat’s out of the bag now and Eero encouraged me to make this thread.

So what I wanted to say about this game’s name is that words can have fucked up connotations beyond the intended semantics.

I’m skirting close to breaking my life vow (“Don’t argue semantics”) here, but in this case, the connotations’ associative strength are pretty darn unambiguous.

Now I can’t speak for any Americans from the African diaspora. Not a member of either group and, consequently, not the intersection either.

But my best guess, and it’s with all humility that I’m saying I’m just guessing here, is that seeing a name like that could you feel pretty darn unwelcome or voiceless in the D&D community.

Now, I know how some depictions of sexualized, male-gaze’d women make some of us go “Yes, what a role-model, I love the sexy, so good&cool!” and some of us go “I’m so stressed out over the hypersexualization because I want to be looked at, and interacted with, as a person and my hotness (and/or my lack of hotness) gets in the way of that”. And I know that trotting out a specific person who had one reaction isn’t a good counter-argument to a specific person who has the opposite reaction and vice versa.

Not saying whether or not there is objective truth, just saying that my experience with that particular type of media (sexy chix in RPGs) it’s hard to find out what’s the truth is— is it good b/c we love getting to be sexy or is it bad b/c we hate having to always be sexy? Kinda need to step out of both of those perspectives to look at it from all angles and I don’t really know how to do that, being so wrapped up in my own emotional reaction.

Just making the point that a single persons reaction isn’t enough to know if the work is a net good or net bad. Maybe what’s “good” for one group is “bad” for the other or vice versa and you’d have to make some sorta utilitarian calculation of what’s the least harmful or most beneficial or w/e (I’m not really into utilitarian philosophy).

But, that’s scantily clad axe barbarians or w/e.

And that’s not what this is. This isn’t something that has some of the subjects depicted saying “hey cool” and some of the subjects depicted saying “eeew no thx”.

This is a name where using that word, which frankly pretty much never means Simic style animal Wuzzles mashups (hey, I play UG myself, so I get the appeal) and pretty much always means racist shit, seems pretty fucked up.

As far as I can tell.

Now since I’m a basic white priv b____, with pretty much no black friends, maybe that audience is sitting there thinking STFU Sandra stop trying to speak for us" or w/e. I get that. I deserve that.

All I’m saying is that I thought the name was fucked up. As in, a lot.

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Comments

  • If you want to take a look at another data-point, here's Foo Dogs of the Heavenly Jade Temple, another D&D adventure, this time themed around Orientalist attitudes and the Opium War. I seem to remember that it was judged similarly for being a horribly racist thing some years back.
    Me: "The old western spelling 'Foo' rather than Fu/術, huh… a bad omen but heavenly jade OK this could be cool"
    Starts reading…
    Me: "OH MY GOD IS THIS REAL!??!?!?!"

    Eero are you kidding me right now?!?!?! Is this April's Fools!? Chinese character get half XP!??!?!?! We went from "fucked up name" to "fucked up game"!
  • Eero, I am grateful for all your help and advice over the years. Don't get me wrong. Just… um... uh I can't find words. I'm not good at politics folks!

    I'm pretty much only good for one thing and that's having a brain that short-circuits when faced with incoherent game design (such as dice&hp fudging). Which is a hindrance mostly but it is also a good canary-in-the-coalmine for design issues.

    But I'm not good when it comes to helping or alleviating the kinds of situation that this thread is about, or when it comes to doing right with either party, the author or the audience
  • edited April 23
    Yeah, that's how I roll sometimes. Pretty awkward, huh? I myself think that I'm not a moral reprobate but more of an edgy artist shedding light on uncomfortable truths, but you're not the only one to think otherwise.

    Do you have suggestions for other, appropriate words one could use instead of "miscegenation" in the English language? For future reference, I mean, and as an example of how to do things well by your lights. I understand that it's not the actual content of the adventure that you object to, rather than merely its name. We would obviously like the alternate name to be punchy in the best traditions of D&D, so "Adventure in Noah's Ark" is off the table.

    Obviously enough it didn't occur to me while writing it that the word in itself, used as an ironic reference to chimeras, would be more than a gentle suggestion to think about the moral universe underlying the adventure. There is some merit to your scenario that it might encourage someone to jump to conclusions if they saw the name and didn't read the actual adventure. But then, that's not something admirable either, is it, to judge a book by its cover.
  • Do you have suggestions for other, appropriate words one could use instead of "miscegenation" in the English language? For future reference, I mean, and as an example of how to do things well by your lights. I understand that it's not the actual content of the adventure that you object to, rather than merely its name. We would obviously like the alternate name to be punchy in the best traditions of D&D, so "Adventure in Noah's Ark" is off the table.
    - "Animashup Two Thousand"
    - heck even "Adventure in Noah's Ark" would be less bad.
    - "Best-Deck"
    - "Diluvian Zoo"
    - "Snake-Apes Bite You"
    - "Every Creeping Thing of the Earth"
    - "Two Of All Flesh"
    - "The Fruitful Abundance"
    - "Misty Mountain Dead Ocean"


    image
    But then, that's not something admirable either, is it, to judge a book by its cover.
    That idiom refers to jumping to conclusions about the contents of the book after seeing the cover of the book.

    It's not as applicable when it's the cover itself that's the issue.
  • I'm leaving for my game night soon, but it occurred to me that I should try for some clear communication here first instead of leaving this thread lying about. If this seems excessively careful, please chalk it up to the Internet being a crazy place. Plus I realize that my usual habit is relatively taciturn and my humour dry at best, which could easily be interpreted as anger or spite. I blame my Finnish upbringing, we're all humourless puritans here.

    I understand that it can be stressful to call somebody out like that, especially when that somebody is perceived as a popular member of an in-group. I don't like the petty social games humans play myself, but it is undeniable that I have it pretty cozy here at SG nowadays; I originally joined late and not very eagerly, having been a die-hard at the Forge, but I've been here so long that it no doubt seems to more recent arrivals like I'm on home ground here. Takes grit to complain despite that.

    This being the case, I want to specifically assure you, Sandra, that I appreciate your feedback. I appreciate it for the courage it takes to say something negative-and-true about somebody's work, and I also like it when people talk about my stuff, even if it's in such a negative context, so yeah - this works for me as an interaction. Please don't worry about having upset me or anything like that. And I hope you don't take my counter-musings as an attack on the intellectual integrity of your complaint; I may not agree with it, and I'm not entirely certain that I am beholden to the standards of the American culture war as an outsider, but I do understand the gist of why you spoke up.

    TLDR: I'm not upset, and thanks for the feedback. I'll keep it in mind for the future.
  • TTYL Eero, I should also shut down S-G. I am so behind on prep for tonight
  • beholden to the standards of the American culture war as an outsider
    Same here, but… that's kind of what priv loox like :bawling:
  • - "Two Of All Flesh"
    I like that one, it's got the same sort of horror metal twinge that I was shooting for in the first place. In my mind the adventure is about a biblical story going wrong in a bio-horror way, so a cheery title would be out of place.

    It occurs to me that you would probably absolutely hate the campaign setting that has grown over the years around that particular adventure. I've yet to run it as a campaign, but I have excessive notes in my desk drawer for a D&D campaign I call "Gnostidrome": it's set to take span over the 19th century (from the Napoleonic wars until the 1st world war, roughly), and it's all the same sort of cultural horror material that Miscegenation presents. I view it as a harsh critique of the Hegelian narrative of history myself, by the way of showing how sucky the European imagination can be, but I imagine you'd take it as an unplayable morass of things that would be best forgotten. Drapetomania and other similarly nice ideas brought to the forefront of play.
  • I liked Misty Mountain Dead Ocean better :bawling:
  • CW racist af Drapetomania.

    No, of course I wouldn't want to play a game about that.
    That's not to say that I want to whitewash history or sweep all of colonialism's crime under the rug. It's just a tightrope. Revelling in racist shit feels wrong, pretending it never happened also feels wrong.

    We play Tomb of Annihilation rn and it has colonialist themes handled very poorly. After a while we started doing some mods—for example creating a bunch of PCs that were local—because we couldn't stand it.
  • edited April 23
    Eero the whole "the donkey can mind control hamitic humans" is also …

    uh

    the word "hamitic" is also iffy af

    reading you charitably you might have the mindset of "Hey I'm so good & enlightened in my values that I can say or write anything because I know for sure that my intent is good and that I'm not punching down" and when you have that mindset you end up writing some pretty fucked up & privileged things

    it's like a whole "I know I'm not racist so I can enjoy racist things without problem" problem

    Reading you less charitably obv leads down a more gruesome line of thought

    For me, step one was to realize how often I thought, said and did racist things and then work to get better

    Note to everyone reading along and thinking "Gee... Sandra is cutting this guy so much slack. Typical white guys they get forgiven so easily". I mean… it's not settled yet. IDK. I've known him for a long time. But you might be right. It's hard to stay mad at people that you've made a connection to. Also, also, also, why haven't you called him out on this before…?

    Note to everyone reading along and thinking "Gee… Sandra is such a ridiculous SJW, cut this PC crap out"… I'm like what? Do you guys have zero floor if you think Jolly Fun Drapetomania Game™ is a good idea or a game where a guy called "The Mule" can mind control "Hamitic humans and anyone with bestial ancestry"…? Or a game where Chinese characters get half xp? Come on, stop trying to race for the bottom of inhuman behavior you guys.

  • edited April 27
    I was wondering about whether that bit would bother you, too.

    My thinking on the Hamitic mind control is pretty simple, so I'll just lay out what I was thinking then - I'm pretty sure I've remembering this right, it makes as much sense to me now as it did then.

    The artistic intent is to portray a horrifying fantasy world where certain ideas that are bizarre, non-true and harmful to humanity on social, psychological and moral scales are instead true (yet still harmful), or at least competing to become reality. It's horror fantasy, except it's attempting to achieve clarity by reminding us of thoughts and ideas that were, at some point, in some places, accepted as truth. Player characters are free to reject the evidence implied by such occurrences, or they can accept the presented world-view and react to its implications in whatever way.

    The word Hamitic is, of course, in there because that's the magical paradigm under which the effect operates. It's like a wizard spell that says it "counters fire elementals". That only makes sense within the paradigm where such a thing as a fire elemental even exists. The paradigm defines what is a fire elemental - or what is a "Hamitic human" - and that's how the spell works, despite the fact that there are no Hamitic humans in the real world.

    What do you think of horror fiction in general, or horror in roleplaying games in the specific, Sandra? In what circumstances is depicting horrifying things acceptable? Does the injection of fantasy elements change anything for you? I feel like our views on this basic question are pretty far apart, based on your comments, which is why my instinct is to dig down to discover more.
  • This is a complex but fascinating conversation. I'll have to go read those games/documents.

    As I'm glad Eero agrees (as he says above), I think it's pretty much always good to call these things out; however we decide to handle them in the future, being aware of them is the first step.
  • I am also following intently. So far it seems to me like it’s a game about a controversial theme in the same way that Starship Troopers was a movie about a controversial theme.

    Now, I’ve neither read the game nor watched Starship Troopers, but I recently saw a video essay on it. How it’s hard to define the intent of the movie. Wether it’s serious about it’s themes or ironic/sarcastic. On the one hand it’s so over the top that it seems like a social commentary, but on the other hand it never condemns the atrocities depicted in it. Or something like that.

    I wonder if something similar is going on here, that the intent of the game might not be clear?

    But then Sandra also makes the good point of asking why you would play a game about such gruesome behavior, on which Eero seems to have latched on with a counterpoint, of which gruesome behavior is and isn’t allowed, morally. Especially in the horror genre.

    I think it has to do with why and how you play.
    1) If you play to have fun, then it would be a bad gamesetting. Since it would mean you find excitement and fun in (characters) acting out racism.
    2) If you play to explore and learn, even when it becomes uncomfortable, there might be some grounds to defend it. Still, I’d advice caution and reserving time and space to talk about it out of character afterwards or during play, and reflect on it. It’s the only way I’d see it having value, to talk about how you experienced the thought experiment. Also have clear safety mechanics in play, like the X card and stuff.

    Anyway. First reaction on this interesting thread.

    Thank you both for being honest and open to each other, especially in such a public way!

  • Thank you both for being honest and open to each other, especially in such a public way!
    Indeed! We need to have these conversations more often, and find new ways to have them while remaining friends.

  • edited April 23
    I'll just drop links to the adventures in question in this thread as well, as the initial post is a bit missing in context. For clarity: these are D&D adventures I've written, not independent games. They're written with old school D&D in mind. I asked Sandra to tell me what is wrong with them in her view, and she did.

    Miscegenation of the Ancients
    Foo Dogs of the Heavenly Jade Temple

    I don't mind others not enjoying or appreciating this sort of thing, but for me, frankly, this level of politicization (to pick an arbitrary general description for what's going on) is pretty normal in my roleplaying. There are some pretty heavy themes, and often they crop up by the way of player characters or the setting being awful. Roleplaying is very oriented towards first-person experience, and I've found over the years that it is a thought-provoking vehicle for the players to deal with all kinds of issues.

    I will admit that I sometimes grow frustrated with what I view as an infantile perspective on gaming, when people insist on demanding games to be uncontroversial. I do not mean Sandra here - I want to discuss a more general point - but sometimes it feels to me like gamers hypocritically privilege a narrow band of cultural expression as normative, attacking different kinds of self-expression for all kinds of reasons. It would be one thing if the privileged, normative culture was so great, but it's not even that; what gamers consider normal and uncontroversial is a culture ripe for critique.

    Specifically, I will say this: I think that your ordinary mainstream D&D is already a tale from a horrid, dystopian world. Gary Gygax created something that he apparently himself, from his historical and political context, found to be an apolitical exercise in harmless fantasy fun, but what is it that I see? I see a detailed fantasy of a world of race and religious war and oppression, with black and white perspectives. Worst of all, it is all overlaid with the chilling clinical objectiveness of the wargame, leaving players to debate whether orc children are worth any XP living or dead. It is a great window into what humanity is, but it does not paint a story that I can swallow just like that, without any sort of critique, review, recontextualization or reconstruction. It is something that begs to be shaken rather than just taken.

    Confronted with that, I've actually found quite a bit of meaning in delving into it. The wargame factor means that it's actually up to us to game things out, figure out how the oppressive structures of the frontier society work, and whether they are powerful enough to maintain the status quo. Sometimes the Evil is real, sometimes merely relative, making it very credible for the players to actually experience a fundamentalist viewpoint on the world. Player characters are traditionally set in the role of the colonial oppressor, as they're the ones who delve into the unknown and meet the outsider culture or counter-culture ("evil" priests, anyone?) on their home ground. I don't think that this taints the players themselves in D&D; you're playing to learn and figure things out, and it's really not clear-cut at all who's the villain and who's the victim in many of the countless encounters the game runs us through.

    When I see people accept and even celebrate a game of ethnic cleansing (justified as a profitable enterprise, no less) as good clean fun, with no introspection whatsoever, while they condemn somebody for putting e.g. real historical commentary into their adventures, what am I to think except that gamers are actually routinely rather hypocritical about their life values. The problem is not that your gaming is insufficiently sensitive to politics; the problem is that you do not uphold the accepted culture of quiet acceptance. You should just keep the orcs as orcs, because that way it's all nice and family-friendly. I rather doubt that a "Charm Orc" spell would offend anybody, and I don't think that double-standard is right - there's something going on there, and I suspect it might be some sort of intellectual dishonesty.

    Although we're discussing just some D&D adventures here, I feel like this goes for a wide variety of other games as well; there distinctly are people out there who want their roleplaying to be uncontroversial, and then there are those who seek challenging and thought-provoking experiences. I remember how smitten I was with My Life with Master when it came out, for instance: it is a game where the players can pour out their understanding of the darker side of human nature, ask and answer questions about evil, both banal and dramatized. I would find it a great shame if Paul Czege decided to pull the game on the grounds that it presents the players with too controversial questions.

    But yeah, that's just my perspective, and it's the perspective of a person who has the privilege to consider the roleplaying hobby an "art" and a vehicle of self-expression. I can see how there are people in the world for whom it's something else, so they want different kinds of games and cultural activity. For example, I often meet gamers who don't want to "think hard" over games because they already think hard in their day jobs, and they just want their gaming to be easy, predictable and well shy of anything too upsetting. I don't know if it's a futile hope, but I would prefer it if this variety of needs and perspectives could survive to the future, too. There's room for lots of different games out there, after all; we don't all have to fight over the one true way of playing D&D.
  • edited April 24
    I feel like if you're trying to portray a fucked up world without being offensive and making people think you're racist, you'd probably be best off not using words like "hamitic" and "miscegenation" in your authorial perspective stuff. If you want to have characters using it in fiction in the book or something, that's generally fine, but I don't think it should be in mechanics.

    For something like an adventure about that kind of topic too, I think you'd likely benefit from a section addressing the fact that you the author don't support the stances of the characters in your book - explaining your intent for clarifying purposes, etc. The author directly addressing that it's not their stance but instead the stance of their characters and world does a lot I think, but it also imo gets deeply into a territory where you likely shouldn't be writing about that experience of oppression in such depth unless it's something you experience.
    To be completely frank, unless it's oppression you experience (or someone you're really close to experiences and talks to you about on the regular) or you're working with a collaborator who experiences the particular oppression, writing a story about it is exploitative.
  • To be completely frank, unless it's oppression you experience (or someone you're really close to experiences and talks to you about on the regular) or you're working with a collaborator who experiences the particular oppression, writing a story about it is exploitative.
    I think I've fully comprehended the arguments for this position and still disagree with them, but if you have a favorite explanation to link I'll try again.
  • @EmmatheExcrucian was nice about it so I'll be bad cop. (But of course, since I am less privileged, I'll have to use the standard cushion so that I don't get anyone too het up.)

    Using the word miscegenation is using racist language
    Using the world Hamitic is using anti-Semitic language
    Giving Chinese characters half xp...uh, I'm not gonna couch that one; it's straight up racist.

    These words are not dead. They are actively harming people in the real world, right now.

    So, obligatory Jay Smooth "that's racist behavior I'm not saying you're racist in your heart-of-hearts" but also obligatory IDGAF what's in your heart of hearts, this is some racist stuff, with only some minor backpedaling in the text as a way to frame it as "historically informed and edgy" rather than "lazy and racist."

    Christ almighty, I barely have any racial content other than the (mandated) presence of two people of color as characters in my game and I have hired three sensitivity readers to look at my game. Because seriously, howinthehell can I, as a white lady of some means, hope to decolonize my texts?

    One of the regulars in my gaming groups is Chinese-Canadian. If I handed him "Foo Dogs" how do you think he'd react? If you think "wow, this is a wonderful representation of the wickedness of colonialism" then...you need to get out more.

    I think he'd wonder, "WTF kind of racist stuff is Cat doing here?"

    I mean, if you followed the currents of a lot of online discussion about the hobby in general maybe you'd know that a lot of creators from less privileged backgrounds complain frequently that they can't get traction? That their concerns get ignored in the larger hobby? That l'affaire Zak just happened and resulted in a lot of mealy-mouthed, shamefaced backpedalling by people who should have known better and would have known better if they'd just, you know, listened to people other than dudes?

    Are you not familiar with John Scalzi's aphorism? "The failure mode of clever is asshole."

    Seriously, Eero, I beg you to think a little bit about the kind of art you're producing and who you expect to consume it, and how people might react to it. Colonialist perspectives aren't edgy, they're lazy and harmful.
  • As someone who lives in a wildly racist country, I think at least some of the locus for that current problem can be placed on attitudes that consider it impolite to even acknowledge that oppression exists. It's allowed it to perpetuate and has bred a generation of people who think that "colorblindness," that ignoring problems rather than understanding and confronting them, is what makes them go away.

    There seems to be a really common train of thought among the online social justice types that people who create fictional works need to make them essentially utopian, that the only kind of representations allowed are positive ones, that somehow the only way to fix problems is to wish a better future into existence, rather than to actually address the problems themselves.

    I'm a firm believer in the right to depict awful things, and maybe even the necessity of it. The alternative of pretending that they don't exist, that they didn't happen, and that they haven't immeasurably shaped the entire world we live in, is just baffling to me. By telling people they can't talk or think or have opinions about something, but especially entire groups of people who've benefited the most from oppression and arguably also bear much of the onus for actually working to end it, I don't see how you're going to get solutions with much traction.
  • I feel quite confident, based on all my interactions with Eero, that he is not writing with ill intent or preparing racist texts because of some underlying prejudice.

    However, it seems to me that there is a context for what he is doing, which is hinted at here, and it’s missing from the adventures themselves:

    [...] frankly, this level of politicization (to pick an arbitrary general description for what's going on) is pretty normal in my roleplaying. There are some pretty heavy themes, and often they crop up by the way of player characters or the setting being awful. Roleplaying is very oriented towards first-person experience, and I've found over the years that it is a thought-provoking vehicle for the players to deal with all kinds of issues.

    [...]

    Confronted with that, I've actually found quite a bit of meaning in delving into it.
    Eero,

    I think your approach to role playing as art, and given your social environment and education, bringing incisive material into your gaming is likely a fruitful and respectful thing.

    However, taking these texts out of that context... they don’t look good.

    I can definitely imagine, for instance, that a non-native English speaker might learn the word “miscegenation” and find it useful, while being ignorant of its implications. But the people reading this, out “in the wilds of the internet” might have a very different perspective. If you weren’t intentionally trying to “cause trouble”, to put it mildly, it would be a good idea to find a title without those rather horrible connotations.

    These texts do nothing to provide or explain the thoughtful or challenging treatment you might have in mind for playing them. If I came to a table of strangers and they announced they were going to be playing one of these adventures... I would be very, very worried. And if I had reason to be more sensitive about these particular topics, I can only imagine how much worse I would feel.

    In other words, the context for using this material in a culturally sensitive and artistically redeemable sense (which I do think is possible - I’m pretty sure I understand what you’re going for with the XP penalty for local Chinese characters, for example) is utterly lacking from them as texts. That’s a problem.
  • I must say, I’ve read the adventures and don’t find them particularly offensive. I find it obvious that they challenge a racist mindset rather than support it, by highlighting the problematic things about it. I actually really like the half XP for the minority in the party (not specifically the Chinese, mind you, the text specifies that if the majority of the party would be Chinese, then the British would suffer the half XP) in a sense that if you choose to play the minority, you will have a mechanically supported system to experience what it is to not be priviliged (which speaks to me as a priviliged person trying to discover and come to grips with my own privilege).

    It kind of reminds me of that massively shared video that shows what privilege is by showing people lining up for a race and then having people giving more advantaged starting positions depending on how much privilige they have.

    But then again, I realize that this speaks to me because I’m priviliged and aware of it. For people in the disenfranchized position, this game might surely be offensive. Which kind of makes me think that this is a good game (and intelligently written at that, whith nice references/easter eggs, like the tinderbox with the Jade dog :smiley: ) for priviliged people, who want to explore what privilige is.

    If you can choose, will you choose the optimalized privilege, even if it means supporting bad things? Will you choose the harder road of those without as much opportunity, if you have the choice? And why, for your conscience? You will still in the scenario be supporting colonial raiders.

    Will you optimize for the game, playing to the rules of the earthly temple, or will you follow a higher, more enlightened road, playing to the rules of the heavenly temple? (alright, that’s way too corny :smiley: sorry for that.)
  • I actually agree with that. But this sentence, here, is really the problem:

    But then again, I realize that this speaks to me because I’m priviliged and aware of it. For people in the disenfranchized position, this game might surely be offensive.
  • edited April 24
    @The_Bearded_Belgian

    I see what your getting at here and these aren't bad ideas to explore challenge, however they would be best explored in a separate space without so much baggage. These settings are based on real experiences, and continue to be real experiences of pain for many people.

    Sure make a game that challenges privilege, but it doesn't need to be other peoples real history.
  • Thank you for your thoughts, all.

    It's probably not useful for me to slip into the role of defending my writing as an aggrieved author (I never saw that lead anywhere, and it's not like we are under an obligation to prove that my adventures are timeless masterpieces), so I'll just pick on a few interesting details surrounding the issue in hopes of contributing to the discussion. If you specifically want me to defend against any specific claims, please ask me directly; I promise that I'm reading what you're saying, so my not answering line by line doesn't mean that I'm ignoring what you say.
    I actually really like the half XP for the minority in the party (not specifically the Chinese, mind you, the text specifies that if the majority of the party would be Chinese, then the British would suffer the half XP) in a sense that if you choose to play the minority, you will have a mechanically supported system to experience what it is to not be priviliged (which speaks to me as a priviliged person trying to discover and come to grips with my own privilege).
    That was what I was thinking when writing that stuff, yeah. It's not a cosmological rule of the setting that Chinese get less XP, it's a representation of how human psychology and social structures work. It is in-setting corporate culture of the (fictionalized) EIC that "local associates" get half treasure shares. It's supposed to be an absurd call-back to the Basic D&D rule about henchmen, NPC support characters who get a half-share.

    If somebody (a British chauvinist, perhaps) would like to complain that my treatment of the EIC is a grotesque character assassination of the real corporation, I could see why they would think that: I do, after all, represent it as a colonialist organization that favours European employees (absolutely normal for the era) while casually engineering illegal drug trade in a foreign country (and yeah, again apparently no biggie for the people involved). Not much different from a modern drug cartel, in fact. I don't want to say that my treatment doesn't offend Chinese people as well - maybe it does - but on the EIC at least I'm personally entirely clear that I'm not saying nice things about it, nor the British China policy of the period. It was a prime example of the dark side of classical liberalism, and it does not hurt anybody to learn more of how the sausage was made back then. The player characters in the EIC scenario are in no conceivable way on the side of the angels insofar as the big picture goes.

    I would fully expect players in practice to desire a more even-steven treatment of the PC party, as players in D&D tend to play a strong team game and I can't see how this kind of caste distinction would help that. I provided a bit of rules to generate push-back for players who wish to just declare that their party will have equality for all despite their characters coming from backgrounds steeped in prejudice; it's not really difficult to change the treasure share splitting, if you run the math, but it does require the players to explicitly explain why and how their characters have come to befriend each other in a way that enables them to move past their assigned, conventional roles. It's a bit of an ironic Stanford prison experiment in its way: will you cherish the unjust privilege, or will you cooperate in dismantling it, given that the system is already in place when you enter it?

    I was also thinking that a strategically-minded group would enjoy the challenge of choosing between the two main racial groups implied by the scenario: on the one hand you can play an foreign European who has gunpowder weapons, firm ties to the EIC and the general colonial infrastructure that the British Empire has in the area, or you can choose to play a native Chinese character who has the advantages of knowing the local language and culture, but the disadvantage - at least in the EIC context - of being something of a second-class citizen what with the fun with the treasure shares and all. I could see all sorts of interesting complications arising out of the situation depending on what kinds of characters the players bring to the scenario, such as questions about party loyalty: if your character is e.g. a citizen of Amoy hired as a cultural consultant by the EIC, will you go along with a party who wants to do some typical murderhobo stuff to solve the mission? Maybe it's a given that your adventurership is more important than your loyalty to the Chinese empire or the local community, but it could also become a major sticking point.
  • edited April 24
    I...okay, in the belief of good faith:

    I don't think that people should shy away from discussion of difficult things in history. I mean, historical gaming is kind of my thing.

    That does entail a responsibility to consider how you are presenting the material today, to people who are still the victims of these historical atrocities.

    It also means you have an obligation to think about whether or not something is, as the phrase goes "your story to tell": that is, why are you, an outsider to a group, presuming to be able to tell the story in the same way as someone on the inside will feel? Or more to the point: can you, as an outsider, avoid replicating--albeit unintentionally--the actual tropes of oppression? The answer is often, not really, or not without so much effort and collaboration that it is maybe better to simply assist other people get the word out.

    A game about the oppression and awfulness of the (dis)Honourable East India Corporation would be interesting! But you'd need to be very, very careful to not further enshrine the colonialism that it was such an exemplar of into the rules.

    In "Foo Dogs" racist/colonialist tropes are instantiated into the text: Chinese characters are made to be basically henchmen, officially Less Than the white characters. This seems to me to be both suboptimal as a game design and...well, I voiced my opinion up above. There are, I think, better ways to capture this into the design. Maybe not within an OSR/LotFP model...but then maybe we should, here, in a descendent of the Forge discussion, ponder if "system matters"? Like, maybe LotFP is too blunt an instrument for this? IDK man. Not every media is equal depending on context.

    And like, what does making racism concrete in the rules even accomplish? Why is it so necessary to the design to hit that point? A lot of the rest of it is unobjectionable, at least from my, you know, white racist colonialist viewpoint*. If I were writing it, I'd have gone and found some designers with the experience to tell me where else I might have fucked up. Because I would have.

    IDK. You want this to be the hill you die on, go right ahead. I'm just a rando on the internet. But then, to bring this back to the place it branched from, you wanna wonder why SG is an insular community? Why there are so few women here? So few designers of color, near as I can see?

    I'm not sure I'm gonna comment further; I'm not sure it would have any effect. All I'll say is that white folks should not generally be considered authoritative on what's racist. You can include me there too.

    * Yeah, I'm all those things; most people are some combination. Getting past it is the challenge.
  • I see what your getting at here and these aren't bad ideas to explore challenge, however they would be best explored in a separate space without so much baggage. These settings are based on real experiences, and continue to be real experiences of pain for many people.

    Sure make a game that challenges privilege, but it doesn't need to be other peoples real history.
    It is probably not a surprise that I disagree on this as a general cultural strategy. I'm more of the mind that e.g. the history of Christian mythology, or the historical practice of British East Asia politics, are important subject matters that should be considered as part of cultural dialogue. History is important, it's part of a well-rounded education - and education is not something that stops, it's a way of life. I hope that I will still be turning stones and learning things as an old man.

    I will also note that I do not consider either of those specific subject matters "other people's history". I have no special relationship with the colonial era or its institutions myself, but with the scope that this first global economy had, I don't think that it belongs to any specific demography - we should all have an interest and learn from the period, no matter who we are. Academic cultural studies here in Finland have certainly started to emphasize the idea recently that Finland in the 20th century was a sort of a second-hand beneficiary of the very same East Asia trade system that my Chinese adventure portrays; the general view seems to be that studying the nature of Finland's global trade partnerships at the time is a fertile field of historical study.

    I trust I do not need to draw a picture of why Christian mythological ideas are something I feel some ownership towards. Nobody gets to tell me that I lose discussion privileges on that stuff by leaving the Church.

    I don't want to go as far as to say that metaphorical fantasy scenarios are worthless, but I will say that it depends on what you do with them. You can use fantasy to generalize out of the minutiae of the real world and thus examine matters of general human condition, or you can use it to put inconvenient secondary issues aside so you can focus on figuring out one thing at a time. These are pretty good reasons to use fantasy, and I am sure that there are many others as well. Creating a less stress-inducing environment to appeal to a wider audience is another one, certainly.

    But, on the other hand, you can also use fantasy to beg the question, and that is, I would say, rather common in the genre. Disappointingly so. Going back to my Gygaxian example, what kind of challenge does mainstream D&D, with all its fantastic distancing from the real world, present to the conservative cultural complex? Nothing much, I would say! The old school TSR era D&D is an outright old-fashioned fantasy world that teaches absolute god-given morality coupled with absolute evil, and does that precisely by the way of conveniently fantastic distancing: it's OK to wage war for religious reasons in D&D because it's nobody's history, right? To me it mostly looks like D&D wants to be a convenient podium for a grand-scale race war fantasy that - and here's the question it begs - conveniently assumes that the race war is cool because the setting conveniently includes human-like creatures that just so happen to be inherently Evil. Well yeah, sorta obvious that you're going to get your race war in that setting, you're presupposing the conclusion just a little bit.

    (For completion's sake I will say that modern D&D is ideologically a little bit more progressive. I personally would like it to go full-blown postmodern instead of being dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way, of course. With the kind of game it is today, I'd like D&D to drop the race politics and treasure-hunting entirely and go with the idea that "monsters" are parapsychological expressions and symbols of the internal conflict in the human soul and community. Taken to that direction, the game could retain its base structures while discarding the fundamental daylight robbery motif. Much better than the current situation of racially-genderly-and-denominationally-equal-adventurer-party still working the same greenskin-murder rat-race that Gygax instituted.)

    I hope you can see why I don't think that the fantastic distance necessarily makes anything better. It's a legit technique, but there are good reasons for reducing the amount of fantastical distance, too. In the case of D&D I feel that doing so helps us keep it real, keep questioning, and avoid the pat answers that the genre of D&D fantasy gives us regarding how things work. Accepting the fantasy at face value basically means taking Gary Gygax's ideological framework and internalizing it as your own with no reflection whatsoever. Gygax may have been a great man, but a moral compass is one thing he isn't for me - not when he was so obviously a conservative, with black and white morality and little patience for the complexity of the human condition.
  • I'm not sure I'm gonna comment further; I'm not sure it would have any effect. All I'll say is that white folks should not generally be considered authoritative on what's racist. You can include me there too.
    Thank you for your thoughts. I don't know what effect further writing would have, either. It's easy to end up repeating yourself in circles when a topic is interesting, but I'm sure we can all read, so if all the important points have been introduced there's little need to continue just to create a weight of text.

    I heartily agree with the sentiment about racism expertise, but you are probably nevertheless right about "miscegenation" and "Hamitic" being racist language - that's certainly in the ballpark of what I was trying to evoke. The thing about treating Chinese characters differently in reward distribution is so racist that even the adventure text calls it that. So at least this cross-section of variously privileged people seems to be in rough agreement on that.
  • edited April 24
    .
  • I think your approach to role playing as art, and given your social environment and education, bringing incisive material into your gaming is likely a fruitful and respectful thing.

    However, taking these texts out of that context... they don’t look good.
    Yeah, that's evident. It's the nature of cultural contact, and something we've had to get used to in an increasingly global world. You get to meet all sorts of weird people and critique their game texts.

    I'd like it if this wasn't taken as some sort of roundabouts defense for texts that are what they are - you're allowed to think that those adventures are racist garbage - but it might be helpful in interpreting other people's creative stuff to remember how large the world is, and how stealthy cultural preconceptions can be.

    For instance, here I am on a forum predominantly populated by Americans, revolving around a hobby/artform invented in the USA. However, I am not American: I am not "white" (I'm of the dominant ethnicity in my country, yes, but insofar as I get to choose, I dislike that particular label as American cultural colonialism), I don't spend my every waking moment obsessing over your culture politics, and - most significantly for this particular topic - I essentially care fuck-all about the geek culture encapsulation of American roleplaying; it might as well not exist insofar as I'm concerned, that whole edifice is only a thing in Finland in the ironic sense that many watch Big Bang Theory here. We don't even have a word for "geek" in the language.

    The implications of that lone fact are vast for considering what roleplaying even is, by the way. Did you know that roleplaying games depicting real-world issues are rather everyday in the Nordic rpg culture? Because roleplaying is not encapsulated as a "geek thing" that is far removed from the mainstream society, it's also taken as granted that sure, you can make a roleplaying game about the Bosnian War or the refugee crisis or whatever. Historical games are popular, with or without fantasy elements, and the only reason that gamey adventurers-equipped-with-magic-items fantasy has any traction as a subgenre is how exclusively it's the only thing that American gaming industry pushes; the local authors routinely elect for various sorts of historical fantasy or fairy tale fantasy.

    Sandra probably shares much of this cultural background, by the way - I'm no expert on the Swedish rpg scene, but I usually get the sense that it's pretty similar in many ways. She seems to be much more attached to the Internet hate machine, though, if I may say so, in that she seems to have largely internalized the American norms about how apolitical and middle of the road games need to be. I can guarantee that this is in no way an obvious position here in the Finland; it may be obvious to American sensibilities that a historical subject matter is too bold for a harmless geek hobby like roleplaying, but around here you're more likely to be praised for doing something relevant.

    The theme I am pondering here is that the international English-language rpg scene, which is dominated by Americans for demographic reasons, can be pretty mono-cultural, which puts its own stamp on how artistic expression gets judged. Here, for example, we're canvassing these two rpg texts for things that are superficially offensive (I mean, showing explicit offensive signs on the text surface rather than the subtext, not that the offense itself is necessarily somehow trivial) for an American audience. Sure, that is an interesting thing to do, and obviously Americans are a fine audience for D&D adventures. The activity does inspire a question, though: is this the only allowed audience, and the only allowed cultural context in which texts are to be interpreted? Are other audiences and contexts only allowed when the text has first been vetted as inoffensive by these standards?

    I mean, I'll throw out two alternative ideas of how one could conceivably construe of the activity of artistic creation. They're incompatible opposites with each other, yet nevertheless both are something that somebody out there in the wide world might support and consider normative. Only one seems to be the foundation of modern American cultural analysis:

    Idea #1: Art is a social action first, and therefore it must be inoffensive to all demographics. Offense hurts people and puts them down; it is a clear evil in society. Responsible artists are conscientious about not offending. Artistic works are published and distributed ubiquitously, and the creation of an egalitarian society requires art to be universal, so the artist is responsible for caring of every possible person's feelings in their potential audience. The responsibility is expressed by participating in a social system of legitimization where your ideas and expression are vetted by political experts prior to publishing.

    Idea #2: Art is an expressive right, and an integral part of the grand exchange of ideas we use to craft our civilization; in this exchange ideas are examined, combined, discarded and evolved, and in this way human civilization develops. Only honest art can be the incisive instrument of enlightenment, and therefore art may at times be stupid, blunt, distressing and difficult to deal with; this is accepted because it is intrinsic to the authenticity that gives art the potential to be useful. Anybody and everybody does art - and other communication - because that's the human condition, and how we participate in society. Because art is communication, it's not intended to be an universal experience; each bit has its own relevant audience, those for whom it is useful in their personal development and interests.

    You can probably see how trivially either of those maxims applies when thinking about some weird D&D adventure some guy wrote and sort of semi-published by putting it up in the Internet. The situation isn't very interesting if we believe a priori with confidence that only one of those maxims is true. It becomes trickier if you believe in some sort of pluralistic societal vision where both ideas might have some legitimacy. Maybe there are different kinds of art, or different kinds of publishing, or something like that? High art vs. entertainment? Much less black and white, what's acceptable art and what's not.
  • I feel this post gets to the core of the issue :)
  • There is art that the oppressor class should not be making unless they have made themselves into class traitors and work ceaselessly to free us from our metaphorical chains, and art about racism is very much in that category.
  • That is a noble sentiment, Emma, but to me it seems too categorical. The historical process of society is so complex that we are all enmeshed in a complex, contradictory web of hierarchies that are not so simple to linearize into the classes of the rulers and the ruled. In the actual world people play the different roles through their life, shifting contextually between them.

    I'll be the first to encourage keeping the big picture[1] in sight, but if you decide to organize your participation in the world on the basis of such inflexible caste distinctions, you curtail your own ability for positive change. The insistence that the American social media has discovered the global panacea to injustice is a very doctrinal example of just such inflexibility in the face of local conditions. Could it be possible that some other people somewhere else are having dialogues in which something that would be useless for you is, nevertheless, useful to them?

    [1]: The big picture: our animal nature makes us organize in a hierarchical way that over time allows for a class of merciless lizard-people to develop, cooperate and benefit at the expense of the less-fortunate; fundamental ideas like property are predicated on the long-term vital interests of this societal class that naturally self-selects for greed and selfishness. If that's the world, what are you gonna do about it?

  • Idea #1: Art is a social action first, and therefore it must be inoffensive to all demographics. [...]

    Idea #2: Art is an expressive right, and an integral part of the grand exchange of ideas we use to craft our civilization [...]

    You can probably see how trivially either of those maxims applies when thinking about some weird D&D adventure some guy wrote and sort of semi-published by putting it up in the Internet. The situation isn't very interesting if we believe a priori with confidence that only one of those maxims is true. It becomes trickier if you believe in some sort of pluralistic societal vision where both ideas might have some legitimacy. Maybe there are different kinds of art, or different kinds of publishing, or something like that? High art vs. entertainment? Much less black and white, what's acceptable art and what's not.
    No doubt we could debate the nature of art for the rest of humanity's residence here in the Cosmos, and maybe even beyond, into the Great Afterlife, and never reach the end of that conundrum.

    However, that's why I approached this as a presentation issue. I think that, with intelligent framing and discussion, you could have the best of both worlds, instead of being left standing out in the open debating the nature of artistic expression as your only real defense. (Or, from a less optimistic angle, at the very least you could give people who might misuse your work tools to discuss potential problems, instead of feeling mistakenly empowered by what you wrote.)

    There are lots of games that have done this kind of thing well. Dog Eat Dog, for example. It does put what might be considered by some an unrealistic "burden" on the artist to explain themselves, but I think that's a small price to pay for an easier time navigating the modern day's rather fraught political climate and helping us avoid harming others.
  • I find the "two ideas" as presented in the context of this discussion to be strawmanning and a false dilemma.

    Just to be clear, Eero, your position boils down to that no criticism of your work for perceived racial insensitivity will ever be considered valid, right? Because there's always some explanation or reason why you needed to be offensive in that particular case? Because that's where it seems to be you're standing.

    I, personally, Cat/Aviatrix, find it patronizing to not consider that I might also have theories of Art and the responsibility of the artist; that I might not want my art to be tapioca pudding but have given a great deal of thought about ethical ways of approaching difficult and problematic subjects; that I have agonized about reconciling various positions of creators/creations in light of their offensive nature; that I might like Wagner and "Chinatown" but have given a lot of thought about what that says about me, and what those works have said about our society; that perhaps I have a strong concern with modes of expression and assumptions of authority precisely because I am keenly concerned with the kyriarchical trap we all find ourselves caught in; that I might have a real and lived experience with how one's perception of these issues can change when one moves into a subaltern class; that I might, in short, have some idea of what I am talking about and that my objections might stem from something more than a failure to comprehend the majestic sweep of authorial intent.

    But that's just me.
  • CW: gonna bring up some of the racist deets from FDotHJT and MotA.

    I’m onstensibly on a break from S-G…(??) but me and my BFF @Aviatrix talk outside of S-G, pretty much daily, and this thread came up. (Kinda far down on a long list of topics we had on the docket today; mostly talked about game stuff we were working on.) Love you Trix! We need to get back to talk about the BW move in PbtA, that thread didn’t feel resolved to me!

    What do you think of horror fiction in general, or horror in roleplaying games in the specific, Sandra? In what circumstances is depicting horrifying things acceptable? Does the injection of fantasy elements change anything for you? I feel like our views on this basic question are pretty far apart, based on your comments, which is why my instinct is to dig down to discover more.

    Textual works have voices and POVs. To get the Sandra stamp of approval, fwiw, a work can depict things that whitewashing of historical atrocities have tried to sweep under the rug, including in a horrific way, only if it’s clear that the voice and POV of the work is critical rather than perpetuating the underlying values that led to those atrocities. As an example, Han Kang’s amazing novel Human Acts about the aftermath of the Kwangju student demonstrations.

    Games differ from textual works in many ways and thus the appropriate way for them to deal with topics of this nature has, as far as I know, not yet been found.

    As textual works

    I personally see FDotHJT and MotA as not reaching my bar for a textual work in this aspect. They do come across [to me personally, and like others here, I’m no authority on the matter], no matter how charitably I try to read them, no matter how I try to twist and turn the words in them, as sympathetic to the views that I disagree strongly with.

    • that “hamitic” [sic— not my word] people are bestial
    • that their leader, “the mule”[sic] is associated biological “impurity”
    • that the colonial project was a worthwhile and ambitious endeavor
    • that minorities mature / develop their abilities at a slower rate
    • shows disdain for the notion that some words – including in the title of both games – are “charged” or, in their nature as “edgelord shibboleths”, may have an unwelcoming effect on minority groups

    As games

    As someone who [albeit from the comforts of my own privileged easy-chair] has bawled her eeyes out and lost sleep over depictions of the Sand Creek Massacre, it was with some trepidation that I approached Keep on the Borderlands. A classic, sure. Well designed, easy to run, open-ended, sure.

    But. It had that whole gross air of “Manifest Destiny” about it. I’ve seen people on sort of the wrong side of the aisle [from my POV] be like “oh wow what a nice and pleasant trip down memory lane to the original days when the west was won” and I’m like Ewww.

    The room where the kobolds’ kids are, is one area I had particularly in mind.

    And, this module and the idea of “tribe-bashing” was criticized in the community and our local DMs instead specifically sought out adventures where you fight undead and constructs.

    But theeeen… I heard this sorta counter-narrative around KotB that made me think that perhaps it was subversive. “Oh, there is more gold in the keep than in the caves! Oh, when they see the kobold kids the party are going join up with the CoC and march on the KotB instead! Sorta like the Hatred for Home ending in 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars!”

    (This implied, loading of a possible “counter-narrative” ready to emerge organically & magically & not-at-all-ouijaboardingly is even more strongly hinted at in FDotHJT than in KotB. I am capable of seeing that, don’t misunderstand the level I’m critiquing these works at.)

    So I had them rolled up chars and we gave it a try.

    Holy shit no. No no no.
    That’s not what happened.

    Since it is a game, and since games emergent properties are inherently chaotic and entropic, of course a bunch of fucked up things happened! When they found kobold baby room they had lost so many of their own to these kobolds that unfortunately, the kobold tribe was not spared.

    KotB failed on the game level which is inherently different from failing on the textual level, where it’s harder to criticize it. Its talk about kobolds and owlbears is inherently “safer” than anything in MotA or FDotHJT. And by failing on the game level in this context I mean politically—it’s still a coherent and strong design, except for the value mismatch—but the value mismatch is such a fucking big snag and dealbreaker that I never want to touch the game again.

    Again, this isn’t a slag on anyone who’s ever ran or played KotB (one of the most played modules in American history).

    So to summarize re “horror works”.

    Yes, texts have succeeded to discuss these topics well.

    No, games have a long list of failings behind them (speaking strictly for the context of addressing horrific topics). Not saying impossible but I have never seen it done well, being an inherently different media type where this problem has yet not been solved.

    About S-G

    Got to say that I’m disappointed af in a bunch of people coming in here and being like “I don’t find the adventure offensive” or “the right to depict awful things” or…

  • A big part of art though (especially, but not exclusively by far, modern and postmodern art) is letting the viewer/listener/reader interpret without giving an explanation. Without careful presentation. I’m thinking of Magritte’s “Ceci n’ est pas une pipe!” and Nick Cage (or was it Cave?) with his piece of silent music. I’m thinking DaDa, Cobra and Pop-Art. I’m thinking Banksy.

    Some stuff is meant to provoke. Some stuff wants you to reach a conclusion yourself, or even just wants to poke fun at things. Some art respects the intelligence of its audience enough to let them discover and interpret on their own. Sometimes even over time.

    For some reason we all seem to want clear and easy and fast answers, instead of taking the time and effort to interpret and think about stuff.

    Also, I like art. I like controversial art, since it forces us to think, and even get into dialogue. I like that we have a society where we can (relativly) peacefully have differing opinions and viewpoints and even discuss them in a civil, respectful and constructive way. (Like we’ve been doing here.) A lot of good, respectful and founded points have been made, by people with differing opinions. This is exciting to me.

    As a piece of art, I think the adventures are succesful in that regard. As to wether or not they are fit.

    Also, @Aviatrix who posted while I was typing this, I think Eero was deliberately using hyperbole not to defend his own pieces (he kind of seems to play them down as unimportant after the two extreme viewpoints he posted), but rather to challenge our ideas of what art can and can’t do, and in what way art is tied with freedom of expression.

    Also, I think he never demanded anywhere that the views portrayed in his art or these particular pieces, should be accepted at face value or even at all. If he has the freedom to express, we have the freedom to disregard it. Right?

    Anyway. I do not need to defend him or his work. He has shown perfectly capable in doing so himself. So I’m gonna stop typing now. It is bedtime anyway. :smile:
  • While I was writing that, more posts came in. I saved draft so I could read & reply to them before posting.

    Sandra probably shares much of this cultural background, by the way - I’m no expert on the Swedish rpg scene, but I usually get the sense that it’s pretty similar in many ways.

    It’s pretty much the same scene. RPGs being more common in Sweden (per capita) than Finland because of the smash hits Drakar & Mutant were, and the SVEROK organization was and still is (Alexandra you’re the best!). But yeah, Turku School, Pohjola, Ropecon, Knutpunkt, Lamentations of the Flame Princess in bookstores, ginormous artsy Danish-style larp scene, not a big overlap with computer nerdery, lots of women. Strongly patriarchal though.

    She seems to be much more attached to the Internet hate machine, though, if I may say so

    This is incorrrect. I am very out of the loop when it comes to internet stuff. I never go on Tumblr or 4chan or whatever.

    Everything I know about intersectionality, about feminism, etc I learned from going to seminars, reading books etc. I subscribed to a gender studies journal in the 1990s. I dated a lesbian activist for a decade.

    In my twenties (all those writings are gone now, but) I worked as programmer on an anarchist website and we were “SJW” before “SJW” [yes, I get that that word is an undesired exonym but hence scare quotes].

    To Emma: that’s why I sometimes err in the other direction now. I’m twice the age from baby anarchist Sandra and, well, you’ve all seen my temper, right? #emo2097. Imagined that applied to politics. I was all bash the fash. You can imagine me doing all kinds of fucked up & in hindsight not the most costructive things. Which, I’m not saying the opposite (“cuddle with the fash and hope they are able to be reasoned with”) is better, I’m just saying IDK what works. I’m just flailing around over here, I’ve kind of lost my way. When Occupy happened, I was kinda over it [having been part of a similar scene a decade earlier], I thought it was just gonna be embarrassing and lead nowhere, but I was very wrong about that. 99% and 1% entered the parlance and the political landscape is in the process of rapidly shifting. When the first IPCC report came out I kind of lost faith in anarchism. I want goverments and NGOs to lay the hammer down on corporate interests abusing the externalities loophole in capitalism [i.e. pollution, waste & exploitation of the biosphere, litospher & atmosphere]. (Not that I don’t do anything—I mean if you are in STH you might still come across these stickers that I made and gave out and have seen some people put up kinda illegally on the streets. But I get that that’s kind of a toothless & empty gesture from someone who is ultimately in a position of privilege and hasn’t done an honest day’s labor in like seven years or so [mostly because I’ve been in and out of mental care but… uh.. where was I going with this…].)

    So, ok. I’m just saying people should not look to me as some sorta authority on what’s right or wrong. I’m bad at following but that doesn’t make me a great leader either.

    I understand that I’m not that great of a person rn but otoh people giving me flak for being too soft on Eero… I was the one who actually did call him out. It’s great that you and Trix joined in and I think you both are great and I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. (In fact, I’m disappointed that some, but not all, others here come across as so “what me worry there is np with these games”.) But, like, criticizing me for fucking up in my engagement with him is like criticizing the first pancake in the pan for being kinda a fucked up pancake. I’m dancing in the dark, here, stepping in snow not sure where the road is.

    in that she seems to have largely internalized the American norms about how apolitical and middle of the road games need to be

    OK, two points about this.

    1.

    American? Try being in the avant garde when it comes to criticizing political games.

    I have my own personal experience (this isn’t just about KotB) about playing in and running games & scenarios about historical figures or political issues or culture gaming that are written from people very strongly in my own camp (for example, I was part of the crew that worked on the Prosopopeia project; I haven’t talked to those peeps in years but I heard they fucked up pretty bad with some of their latter projects. Not that Prosopopeia was a good idea in hindsight; it was not); scenarios that sometimes work out well but just often end up having the opposite of the intented message. Hence above-mentioned position that games are inherently entropic & chaotic and the emergent narratives (and therefor values) inherently unpredictable.

    That’s why I’ve lost hope in political games. I mean, not completely. [I was playtesting a very political story game, that I had written, last fall, but it hasn’t come together yet and maybe it never will. Trix, I’m talking about B.M.I.A.]

    As another example; we were running al-Qadim, we were fucking up, we noticed we were fucking up, we tried to course correct, second campaign went much better. Still a pretty iffy proposition that a bunch of whatever-we-ares play a game about “fantasy Arabia” written by 1990s white Americans working off a $5 thrift shop English-to-Arabic lexicon.

    2.

    I’m not sure “oh you only want middle-of-the-road apolitical games” is a great a response to a statement that a game is fucked up & racist. Obv if a game that aligned with my partic politics could be executed well, I would be into it (but see above on how games tend to not work for politics ime). Implicit in the response “at least I’m not middle of the road” is “extreme is good, racist is good, bland is bad, art is cool”. Uh… kinda trying to slip one by me there? Not wanting things to be fucked up & racist is kinda a legit desire…?

    it may be obvious to American sensibilities that a historical subject matter is too bold for a harmless geek hobby like roleplaying

    So to be painfully obvious, part of my issue here is that “read about colonialism” is inherently different from “pretend to be colonialists”.

    Speaking of the European scene… There are some highly praised German boardgames (I have in mind particularly Puerto Rico, by Andreas Seyfarth, and Navegador, by Mac Gerdts) that seem completely oblivious to aaany notion that colonialism or slavery is in any way iffy. Collect slaves to get victory points! Number on one BoardGameGeek! Uh… why did only white people show up to the meetup this week?

    So… uh… claiming that you’re a product of a particular scene isn’t a great defense when that scene has done some completely fucked up things.

  • Here, for example, we’re canvassing these two rpg texts for things that are superficially offensive (I mean, showing explicit offensive signs on the text surface rather than the subtext, not that the offense itself is necessarily somehow trivial) for an American audience. Sure, that is an interesting thing to do, and obviously Americans are a fine audience for D&D adventures. The activity does inspire a question, though: is this the only allowed audience, and the only allowed cultural context in which texts are to be interpreted? Are other audiences and contexts only allowed when the text has first been vetted as inoffensive by these standards?

    MotA in particular was presented to the OPD contest. So, uh… yeah…? How much more “vetting for an American audience” can you get than submitting it to an American D&D contest?

    The situation isn’t very interesting if we believe a priori with confidence that only one of those maxims is true. It becomes trickier if you believe in some sort of pluralistic societal vision where both ideas might have some legitimacy. Maybe there are different kinds of art, or different kinds of publishing, or something like that? High art vs. entertainment? Much less black and white, what’s acceptable art and what’s not.

    Tricky but not impossible to resolve. I gave my best attempt at the start of this post, under “As textual works” and “As games”. This latter half is written with, uh, less patience IDK. I’m an emotional creature and/or being :bawling:

  • I sometimes write posts so long I have to divide them in two. This was a rare three parter. TBB posted while I was pasting them in. A rare coincidence.

    TBB, I got to say that do not share your outlook.

    My love for 4′33″ aside (which is a work about the sound of the room rather than about the lack of sound) by John Cage (not Ghost Rider actor Nicholas Cage or "Mercy Seat" song writer Nick Cave)…

    …the fact that a work has the stamp of "this is art" doesn't mean that I have to turn off my brain or turn off my heart when engaging with said work.
  • Yeah, I get what you're saying, Paul, and I agree on the facts. I made note of the wider issue of cultural context because I felt that it hasn't really been acknowledged. Everybody just takes a superficial glance at some list of forbidden words and that's it. This is not the quality of scholarship I like to encourage, and it doesn't seem like anybody likes to acknowledge the idea of cultural context, which is not ideal, but perhaps not unexpected either - American culture is famous for how postmodernism really isn't a thing, so maybe its natural to just set up the edifice of objective standards and judge away. I mean, stuff like One Page Dungeons - pretty bold to make far-reaching conclusions about concept pieces that have intentionally been condensed into a single sheet, every word honed for maximum utility to convey a massive amount of playable procedure in a minimum of space. That's totally something where a surface scan captures the intent of the piece and you can stop looking for what it means.

    Fundamentally: does somebody actually think that they can grasp some random text off the Internet and have it conform to their own idea of political correctness? If so, why? It shouldn't be much of a surprise if there's some guy out there who has written some rpg stuff without having also adopted the most recent American east coast publishing style guides.

    But yes, the case is as you say: this stuff is written in a mode of communication that is, now that we look at it, exactly the sort of thing that gets people nailed alongside the via appias of the culture war. (I'm being funny here, not implying that I'm being harassed - if anything, this is a wonderfully storygameian intervention compared to the frothing you see occasionally.) It's a wonder that it hasn't been brought up more over the last decade, and I don't know if it's because - like Sandra - they've been hesitant to tell me to my face, or if it's simply because I haven't done anything to draw attention to this stuff, so there's no reason for anybody to have ever seen it. I guess being the broken shadow of a publishing game designer has its perks [grin].

    I also do not have any serious challenge for your notion that it's possible to combine art with offense-lessening packaging. There are people who would disagree, but I'm not a controversy artist myself; it's just about the lowest form of attention-seeking. So sure, do more to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention.

    You'll note that one of those pieces we've examined is a OPD, essentially similar to poetry in the rigorousness of the form, so it's not something that can really explain itself (the explanation would need to be a separate page altogether), but the Foo Dogs thing could indeed have an excessive explanation at the start about how and why somebody might want to play it. I think I've mostly left that out from the text here because I found including one both boring and pretentious in the OSR adventure module context, and thought that the intended audience (I wrote that manuscript for Fight On! just before it went down) would grok it without further explanation.
  • Given the way large swaths of the OSR community are, I'm assuming that by that intended audience (when you're talking about the OSR community) is... neo-nazis? Because that's the people who are going to eat this shit up, no offense.
    You basically included a bunch of fascist dogwhistles in a piece that's intended for a community that's filled with neo-nazis, so like, all that I can assume at this point is that you're intentionally selling books to neo-nazis.
  • Just to be clear, Eero, your position boils down to that no criticism of your work for perceived racial insensitivity will ever be considered valid, right? Because there's always some explanation or reason why you needed to be offensive in that particular case? Because that's where it seems to be you're standing.
    Sorry, but I may have explained myself in a confusing way if that's what you've got from this dialogue. I've tried to be very clear about the following points:

    1) I'm interested in hearing what you think of these game texts, and more generally the social rules of publishing. This is an important and interesting topic, is it not?

    2) I haven't tried to counter-argue your observations, and I found what you said earlier about racist language and racist social situations in the texts to be spot on. That's how I would understand them as well.

    Is it possible that you're interpreting my not arguing in defense as some sort of implicit denial? If so, let me reaffirm that I am broadly in agreement with you on what we're looking at here. I'm just not trying to over-turn your arguments because I don't think that it's useful.

    (If you think that a more adversial format would be better for this discussion, please let's talk about that more. I get the feeling that I may be confusing the issue by not trying my damnedest to claim that no, there are no racial themes at all in these adventures.)

    I have provided some insights and explanations in this thread about why I wrote those adventures in the way I did, but surely that's not the same as refusing the legitimacy of your judgement? They're causal reasons, explanations of what I was thinking of and trying to achieve while writing. My thinking that "hey, a subtle reference to the specific racist cosmology this monster presupposes will have a chilling impact here" (thinking of the Mule specifically now) doesn't somehow excuse and overturn your judgement that the word "Hamitic" is inherently racist language.
    I, personally, Cat/Aviatrix, find it patronizing to not consider that I might also have theories of Art and the responsibility of the artist;
    I am sorry about that, it was not my intention. I did not think about your theory of art at all when putting up that dichotomy of artistic perspectives; I was just trying to illustrate to Paul how deep the cultural contextuality of art can go, and how the issue of whether some art might offend some other person may not be nearly as universal a standard as one might presume. I did not intend to presume that you haven't thought a lot about these things.
  • Not to distract people from my three post epic just above, I don't want to pull attention from that.
    like Sandra - they've been hesitant to tell me to my face
    The reason I've hesitated on this for the last year or so, which is when I found out that it was you who made MotA, is actually a pretty racist & selfish reason. "If there is attention brought to the fact that my friend has made a racist game, people are going to think I am a racist, and I can't have that. Better keep my mouth shut and hope the game is forgotten". Yes, I suck… :bawling: #BadAlly2097

    Also, also, "If I criticize a racist game I'm gonna get the fucking gaters after me and that's the last thing I want!"
    Say what you want about the fucking hell show that was and is gamergate but it fucking did scare a lot of us to silence including me! I only made the post in the other thread, and started this thread, because I temporarily forgot that those fuckers existed!

    Wish I could say that I'm gonna be a better & more brave comrade & heval going forward but that's something I've promised myself & the world like five times already and still feels like one step forward two steps back.

    (Again, to any lurker judging me for this, that's awesome, and you and me both baby, but... uh… a li'l help next time…?)
  • My love for 4′33″ aside (which is a work about the sound of the room rather than about the lack of sound) by John Cage (not Ghost Rider actor Nicholas Cage or "Mercy Seat" song writer Nick Cave)…
    Dangit! I always forget his name. And the title itself. But the idea of making it about the sounds of the room/audience is what I was after. It made it controversial.
    …the fact that a work has the stamp of "this is art" doesn't mean that I have to turn off my brain or turn off my heart when engaging with said work.
    Right! But that is exactly my point, right? Art should make you feel! And not only happy feelings, right? If it holds us a mirror to our own failings, it shouldn’t make us feel happy. And opinions might even differ, right?

    You have a context of personal experience that is different than mine! So ofcourse you see this different, and it explains why this topic is so important and painful to you.

    My first reaction would be that the vengeful reaction your group had towards the infamous kobold room was not a failure, but a showcase of human nature. They didn’t do it out of XP greed, but out of blind vengence. And this is uncomfortable. This shows the dark side in humanity.

    The entire colonial/racist nature of DnD, while being portrayed (from the start) as a family friendly game in adds and stuff is a reason why I don’t play it generally, or most of the osr, without trying to change the system to reward other play rather than being an optimal murderhobo.

    But it doesn’t mean that it (the kobold baby room) fails as a statement, right? It kind of achieves it’s goal. And with one group conscience might reign victorious, while with another group it’s vengence, or preventive genocide or PC’s discussing opposing views. It’s a starting point for discussion after the fact.

    Now, this generally is not why we game, right? We want to have fun. It’s like when I want to see a fun movie for an evening of relaxation, I will take something that will not challenge me much or won’t make me uncomfortable. But it does not take away that some films that do make me feel uncomfortable are actual works of art. It’s like how I love “Hotel Rwanda”, especially as a Belgian, but I rarely see it, because I rarely am in the mood for being confronted with the brutal reality of the colonial legacy Belgium left Rwanda (and Congo for that matter). I can both feel severely uncomfortable with it, but still like it very much.

    The comparison doesn’t entirely hold though, because the ironic manner of the adventures Eero has written might make Tropic Thunder a bit more of an apt comparison, and I do regret seeing that movie. But the comparison was actually no longer about those specific games, but of the mindset we have while gaming. We often want a fun evening of gaming, not nessecarily to be confronted with humanity’s darker side in a deep and philosophical way. Let alone be faced with an existential crisis.

    Anyway, it’s late (for me) and I’m losing coherence in my reasoning I feel. I hope I was somewhat clear. Goodnight for real now.

  • Thank you for your insight, Sandra - I thought that your treatise on horror themes in interactive and non-interactive arts is wonderful. I won't pick through it line by line, as the breadth of discussion is so wide it's probably best to stick to relatively general pronouncements. There's a lot in it that makes good sense to me, even if I think of the whole idea of how art transmits wisdom quite differently.

    And again, I know that it probably sounds stupid coming from me, but I think that you're doing social justice warrioring just fine. As you say, it counts for a lot that you were the one to step up. It counts for the most, in fact. Admittedly you're just about the only person at Story Games who had seen Miscegenation of the Ancients before, I think, so as far as the rest of the people here are concerned I'm a crypto-fascist they never knew to denounce. Still, great work, and I don't think that you would've done better by taking a harder line. What would that even look like, a big declaration to the mods that either you go or Eero goes?

    (For the record: if anybody feels like this sort of thing requires an ostracism, I'm not personally opposed, and will leave the forum in good grace if we decide that I'm the one who needs to go. I say this explicitly in case you're thinking about how nice it would be, but don't dare to say it out loud. I've occasionally thought that the "self-ostracism" that people have engaged in through SG history might not be the best way to go about retaining the zen. It's even been suggested that a part of the reason-why-there-are-no-women etc. is that these types of discussions come up and then afterwards the socially aware people just go away when they see that the moderation doesn't ban certain people. It might be better to make the process more explicit. I don't know, just occurs to me as a game designer. And no, I do not know that I would be one of the people who are at fault for SG not reaching its demographic quota. I could see it, but I do not know it to be the case.)

    If it helps with the back-stage strategy sessions, I'll give a bit of personal feedback on your softball approach: I personally appreciate authenticity a lot in human relations. I value the fact that you decided to just explain to me what you think about those adventures instead of I don't know, doxing me somewhere or whatever the proper procedure is.

    Please let me know if somebody gives you a hard time for this. I understand that people apparently can't always control that sort of thing, so I can't promise to be able to stop it, but I'm such a low-stature person by net standards that I could basically just see it being some misguided friend who'd listen to me when I tell them to knock it off and take a good hard look at their priorities. Either way, I'll white knight for you any day, Sandra - I think you're cool, present affairs included.

    And Prosopoeia, huh... there was a time when I despised that specific set for the very specific reason of social irresponsibility. Funny how things work out.

    About S-G

    Got to say that I’m disappointed af in a bunch of people coming in here and being like “I don’t find the adventure offensive” or “the right to depict awful things” or…
    Oh, please don't do that - posit that these are such obvious things that it's a wonder of the world for there to be a corner of the Internet where some people haven't arrived in the self-evident conclusion. I think it's wonderful that we even dare to talk about this instead of automatically assuming a local orthodoxy and lying to keep up harmony.

    I mean, we could just do that, too, if it would make Story Games a better place. I'm not socially wedded to the idea that I must espouse about my social and artistic ideas here at Story Games.
    A big part of art though (especially, but not exclusively by far, modern and postmodern art) is letting the viewer/listener/reader interpret without giving an explanation. Without careful presentation. I’m thinking of Magritte’s “Ceci n’ est pas une pipe!” and Nick Cage (or was it Cave?) with his piece of silent music. I’m thinking DaDa, Cobra and Pop-Art. I’m thinking Banksy.
    Yeah, I feel like we're on the same page here. I was just thinking about Sandra's Keep on the Borderlands example and the single bit that struck me the most about it was her deep expectation and hope that the players would engage the adventure to reach her predetermined conclusion. That's about as far from death of the author as you can get.

    In case there is ambiguity about my beliefs, I will say this: I think that all human beings, including evil fascists of various flavors, benefit from reflection and deep thought. I've written about this before at SG, about how I don't believe that totalitarian ideological control is an effective approach to actually improving things. It doesn't seem to be a very popular position, but to me it seems obvious that you want people to engage an interactive thing like a roleplaying game in an emotionally safe way, yet authentically to themselves. That is the opportunity to grow. You got to let people stare at the abyss if you expect them to overcome it, and you can only hope that they'll do it in a safe environment like a roleplaying game rather than out on the streets. Every 30-something ex-skinhead regretting their extremist past is one too many.

    Against this background I have to say that I am not supremely concerned about the possibility that a person of let's say rightward leaning persuasion might pick up one of these adventures and play it as an unironic power fantasy. That's not a game over condition in my worldview at all, it's just the opening move on a journey of personal realization. Existentialism, you know? It is better to have played and been an evil little git than to not have played at all.

    For the record, my understanding is that the history of roleplaying has seen a myriad groups play something like Greyhawk exactly like that: as a happy wish-fulfillment fantasy of a world where the evil is REAL and you really can HIT things to make problems go away. Killing orcs works in that world, it really does.
  • […] a community that’s filled with neo-nazis […]

    Because I know there’s a lot of members of that community that tends to, uh, read things overly literally and loves to put together statements, separately interpreted overly literally, and put them together into a new statement, and then latch on to that statement as some sorta anger-fuel…

    So just in case my nightmare strawdoll from that community is reading [now at any point in the future] I’d better clarify a few things.

    Dear Nightmare Strawdoll OSR Community Representative:

    1. I wrote “I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying” to Emma before she wrote that.

    2. Words can have different meaning in different context. This is called polysemy. It’s not something I’m making up right now. You can look it up if you wish.

    3. In this case, I have the phrase “filled with” in mind.“Filled with” can idiomatically mean “there are a lot of”. It doesn’t, idiomatically, always mean “100%”. Like, it’s maybe… 15%? You guys sure as heckfire didn’t give a good impression when I searched for “osr logo” earlier this week.

    4. Obviously I have a lot of counter examples and non-nazi or anti-nazi OSR personalities in mind. Including creator of said logo. I feel you♥

    5. It’s just that the particular strawdoll representation of that community, that I’m particularly terrified of, kind of does qualify.

    6. So if you don’t qualify for that epithet (“neo-nazi”) you’re probably not the guy/archetype I have in mind when writing this disclaimer. So put down that torch. You’re one of the other 85% (or whatever, we obv haven’t ran polls).

    7. And if you do qualify for the epithet (“neo-nazi”) then, well, she’s not wrong. There are a lot of you.

    Heck, I get it. I have neuropsychiatric issues too. I can barely leave bed, let alone understand simile and idiomatic nuance. I feel your pain.

    That said, to Emma, I do want to disagree with the characterization of (specifically) “Fight On” as neo-nazi. I don’t think that’s fair. While J-Mal is a conservative, a position that’s becoming untenable in the increasing polarization of society (not that I ever agreed with conservatism… they hate change, so they want to effect change in order to make things the way they think that they used to be…:bawling:), he is neither a nazi as far as I know nor the only or even principal contributor.

    I’m not gonna start replying to you in here and calling you out with anymore nitpicks like that, because the last thing we need is more, uh, infighting or w/e. I only wanted to this one because I previously made an in blanco “agree with everything” statement that I now want to qualify since I do owe a debt of gratitude to the OSR for their design chops and I have sympathy af with them trying to clean up their act and to stop being so fawning over nazis. Which… uh… is kind of a herculean task, the woodwork runs so deep.

    I do agree with MotA and FDotHJT as having what I called “edgelord shibboleths” or I guess “dog whistles” though. It’s hard for me right now to imagine those as unintentional.

    The reason I’ve hesitated on this for the last year or so, which is when I found out that it was you who made MotA

    In my defense, I thought the name was fucked up. I took a glance at it and thought “Oh, it’s just some dr Doolittle animal BS. Still, fucked up name though”. I didn’t read it closely enough to see that the game was fucked up.

  • This thread is immensely interesting and productive.

    I have to agree with most of the criticism of MotA. It has definite racist language. I feel it is unnecessary to use clearly racist language with out providing clear context. With Eero's context and good faith I can see how the text could be used to examine the racism in play, but if you run across the text in the wild it is hard not to disregard immediately for the language. In my opinion a content warning header of "hey this text is intentionally racist, challenge the presented concepts in play or change things" makes things immediately clear and doesn't cost much space. There is no good reason not to do it.

    Regardless of the text the points Eero raises about our cultural background informing how we engage and critic is something I want to examine further.
    I am sadly way to uninformed about colonialism, racism and sexism due to my privilege. I am a little more comfortable speaking on antisemitism, but more historical speaking in context of German history. The years 1933-45, what came before and the fallout, are something that I just expect everyone in my surrounding to be intimately familiar with. Therefore using Nazi language and ideas in our games is something we all feel comfortable because we all know them to be horrible. We have studied the matter not as hard as a historian, but we can't but constantly confront this ugly past just by growing up in Germany post-1945.
    When I am playing in international groups I tread far more carefully and am far more demanding of people when engaging the material because I can't be certain if they have the same context and education as I have.
    I hope I am expressing this the right way.

    What I want to say is that unless you can be absolutely certain that everyone shares the same cultural background, the least you can to is to clearly state the intent of the text for people who lack context.
  • edited April 24
    And Prosopoeia, huh... there was a time when I despised that specific set for the very specific reason of social irresponsibility. Funny how things work out.
    Yeah, I'm in one of their books, Playing Reality. It's why I'm listed as a "game designer" on BGG. :bawling:

    A few of them took me in and let me shack up rent free for a few months when I had no place to live. I, uh, kinda never gonna forget that.

    I'd like to catch up with them actually and get to pick their brains on the, uh… reception of their more recent projects. I mean, I know at least one of them has died, so… :bawling: I miss him
    One of the handful times I haven't been alone on Christmas was with him


    That's not saying that 2019 Sandra agrees with either that set's 2019 politics or that set's 2003 politics. Just… when you love someone very much it's hard to stay mad at them for very long
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