Is The Pathfinder Setting Ethically Problematic?

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  • True, but I definitely wanted to point to her gender for the context of this discussion. Not sure if it's a given that "strong female lead of an org" means "absolutely more consideration to issues of race or gender", there's just not enough data to confirm it. But I can say that she's the leader at Paizo, and Paizo has, more than any other company producing games at that level, 'Done Good' on issues of race, sex, given their base material.

    Not perfect, but not fumbling blindly or ignoring it like others.
  • Not perfect, but not fumbling blindly or ignoring it like others.
    Which makes me pretty sure this wasn't intended racism at all; more of a 'Oh gosh, I didn't see how it could be interpreted like that' kind of thing. I don't want to hold Paizo to the fire over this. They are good people, and should be given the benefit of the doubt. That being said, they should be made away if they present something in a less than flattering light, so they have the power to either adapt or change direction with the product's marketing.

  • edited July 2013
    Nobody's saying it was intended racism, I think. The suggestion is that they're unknowingly drawing on some racist tropes. (And I think it's important not to nuance or understate that.)

    And I hope nobody's holding them to the fire. But we know Paizo respond well to criticism: they take it on board, they adapt, they move forward.
  • @Graham: You are right. No one has taken an anti-Paizo stance here. But people have been pretty critical of the setting material (probably deservedly), and that kind of talk can tarnish a companies reputation. I was reinforcing the idea that I am not holding this against them for what is really a marketing snafu, and maybe a poorly fleshed out corner of a campaign setting (not even the whole setting!).
  • @Graham: You are right. No one has taken an anti-Paizo stance here. But people have been pretty critical of the setting material (probably deservedly), and that kind of talk can tarnish a companies reputation. I was reinforcing the idea that I am not holding this against them for what is really a marketing snafu, and maybe a poorly fleshed out corner of a campaign setting (not even the whole setting!).
    Uh, I'd like to check this.

    Making racist marketing materials (even if unwittingly) tarnishes a company's reputation. Holding people accountable for their actions helps them from failing again in the future.

    Fighting oppression is more important than helping a games-related company stay afloat. Conveniently it's not an either-or situation. Addressing racefail helps a company succeed, moving forward.
  • What bothers me most is that Paizo is a fairly big company and they have many, many people working on their products. I'm not privy to the inner workings of the company but I'm sure there's a lot of "design by committee" - where no single person is responsible for anything. So, many sets of eyes saw this before it went out. And a group of people either 1) never asked the question whether this could be racially insensitive or 2) asked the question and came to the conclusion that it was no big deal.

    I hear the people who say that the poster is a poor representation for the setting, but I'd be surprised if it was just one person in the marketing department who created the poster. And the point of marketing materials is to grab the attention of someone unfamiliar with the product.

    I often have people disagree with me on this point, but I do think that Paizo and Wizards need to be particularly sensitive to these kinds of issues as their games are often the introduction for most people to the RPG hobby. First impressions are important.

    But, as others have said, Paizo has been responsive to criticism in the past and they'll hopefully be more cognizant of these issues in future releases.
  • Problematic != The Devil
    Yes.
  • Problematic != The Devil
    Yes.
    Not sure I understand either of these posts. I don't think anyone is engaging in hyperbolic witch hunts here, so no, not on the level of the Devil.

    On the other hand, we're talking ethically problematic here, not some kind of cool and edgy tackling of difficult issues in a challenging and thought-provoking way. It's not the sort of 'problematic' most companies would want to be associated with.

    And like Rishi, it bothers me that apparently no-one in Paizo noticed this, thought about their audience and said 'hey guys, this could be a dumb idea'.
  • Could we get back to Pathfinder, perhaps?

    The things that Willow identifies - an empire of Talking Apes, for example - are potentially extremely racist. People who know Pathfinder: is it actually as bad as Willow suggests?
    I actually read Heart of the Jungle which is the sourcebook with the apes. It didn't seem racist when I read it. The apes are highly intelligent and some of them are winged, which is an obvious homage to the Conan story Queen of the Black Coast. A giant winged ape empire is a cool idea and I don't know where else they could have put it besides the Africa-analogous country.
  • I actually read Heart of the Jungle which is the sourcebook with the apes. It didn't seem racist when I read it. The apes are highly intelligent and some of them are winged, which is an obvious homage to the Conan story Queen of the Black Coast. A giant winged ape empire is a cool idea and I don't know where else they could have put it besides the Africa-analogous country.
    Eero made a reasonable point about apemen existing alongside humans instead of replacing them - is this the case? Are there peoples in the not-Sub-Saharan Africa apart from pirates, apemen and gnolls?

  • A giant winged ape empire is a cool idea and I don't know where else they could have put it besides the Africa-analogous country.
    Why not? Once you accept intelligent, flying ape empires, is it so much of a stretch to disengage apes from racial stereotypes used to hurt Blacks? I think it's just a weaksauce play.
  • Yeah, and more generally, why not make intelligent animals the dominant race in some Euro-analogue? Why isn't Andoran (Not-France) populated by intelligent frogs or whatever?
  • by intelligent frogs or whatever?
    ಠ_ಠ
  • by intelligent frogs or whatever?
    ಠ_ಠ
    Yeah, I assumed that was a joke on Felan's part, alluding to the derogative way in which French people are sometimes referred to.
  • by intelligent frogs or whatever?
    ಠ_ಠ
    Yeah, I assumed that was a joke on Felan's part, alluding to the derogative way in which French people are sometimes referred to.
    Yes, sorry if that wasn't clear. My point is that people seem okay with using vicious stereotypes about people of colour as a fantasy trope, but we never seem to do the same with white people and cultures. Defending this practice by saying that it wouldn't make sense to put intelligent apes anywhere else but Not-Africa is, as Adam said, weaksauce.

  • A lot of well-meaning folks (predominantly white hetero males) live in the privilege bubble, and simply don't see passive racism in action unless they're mindful of it. It's a blind spot, in other words, one I've certainly demonstrated in my time, and will likely continue to do so from time to time despite my best efforts. Assuming the privileged demographic makes up the majority of Paizo internal stakeholders or creative decision-makers, it seems clear they built a pastiche without the requisite sensitivity in place to alert them of the racist implications. Alongside that lack of awareness, the well-trod pulp trope of an intelligent ape civilization probably seemed to fit pseudo-Africa as a "logical" homeland. I don't find intelligent frogs as dramatically compelling, but why not put intelligent apes elsewhere? If humans can migrate across continents, so can apes. Gorilla Musketeers, anyone?

    I see this thread as a learning opportunity. Given how Paizo has made an effort to be inclusive and render diverse iconic characters outside the usual WASP bubble, I would be inclined to communicate with them about the unsavory implications in their not-Africa and see how they respond.

    For some interesting blogging on issues of race from a fellow geek, check out this site.
  • I see this thread as a learning opportunity. Given how Paizo has made an effort to be inclusive and render diverse iconic characters outside the usual WASP bubble, I would be inclined to communicate with them about the unsavory implications in their not-Africa and see how they respond.
    So, we have connections. If someone drafts that letter, containing a link to this thread, I could try to get it on Lisa's desk. And if that failed, we could post it on the *i*n*t*e*r*n*e*t*
  • Willow posted on the Paizo boards already, where James Jacobs, Sean K Reynolds and Jessica Price all responded. Absolutely Lisa Stevens should be notified and made aware of this thread, if she hasn't already.

    The thread over there is here -
    http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2pyhf?Is-The-Pathfinder-Setting-Ethically-Problematic
  • edited July 2013
    Their responses from Paizo staff (and some others, I see) are fair, thoughtful and awesome.
  • There's also a number of people who are making the category mistake that I decry in the other thread: "Hey, this Pathfinder poster looks racist." "How dare you say I'm racist for playing Pathfinder." But yeah, it's overall good.
  • True, but I definitely wanted to point to her gender for the context of this discussion. Not sure if it's a given that "strong female lead of an org" means "absolutely more consideration to issues of race or gender", there's just not enough data to confirm it. But I can say that she's the leader at Paizo, and Paizo has, more than any other company producing games at that level, 'Done Good' on issues of race, sex, given their base material.
    Heard, nodded, thanks! Whispering to avoid cluttering up the thread but let me know if you want me to nod in public, too.
  • This response alone was enough to reassure me – again, somebody who's not yet played Pathfinder – the problem with this poster is not symptomatic of a problem with their product line (or their company, for that matter). Sadly, the defensive people don't really get that sometimes the best way to demonstrate that you're not "a racist" is to acknowledge that you (or the things you create, or the things you buy) aren't actually immune to inclusion of unwittingly racist elements.
  • That Paizo thread is fucking terrible guys, what the hell.
  • I didn't get very fair, admittedly, but yeah, it's pretty bad.
  • I think a line needs to be drawn between the setting and the particular poster in question.
    Is the poster a little bit icky and potentially racist? Yes. It doesn't show the wealth of human culture and civilisation and cool stuff that Pathfinder's Africa analogue does have, and that is a disservice to fans, creators and potential consumers.
    Is the Pathfinder setting? Honestly I don't think so.

    Depiction of African human culture within Garund (The Not!Africa) analogue runs from nomadic tribes to big cities, and across the spectrum from good to evil. With no correlation between them, in fact nicely and very explicitly avoiding both 'nomads are savages' and 'noble savage' stereotypes quite well. The city-dwelling cultures manage to avoid being 'we replicated a European culture but put black people in it, because black people never had big civilisations' which is another common trope I see, despite being inherently false, instead taking a lot of inspiration from the Sahelian Kingdoms with some fun twists thrown in.
    And they managed to do it all without exoticism too.

    So sometimes, I see a bunch of Hyaena-men and some intelligent apes, and I think that maybe, they are Hyaena-men and intelligent apes rather than racist analogues. It has been brought up quite a bit that 'intelligent apes were previously used as promotion of a racist agenda when regarding this topic', which is true, but I don't think that necessarily makes the inherent presence of apemen in Africa cringeworthy or problematic when they are placed in there alongside all this dazzling array of human culture that clearly no parallels were intended or could indeed even be seen if you hadn't viewed the poster first. (If anything, I might be seen to argue that it is actually a post-racist reclamation of the idea without the icky subtext, because intelligent apes are cool. The society in which they live certainly has no direct analogue)
  • edited July 2013
    Yes, sorry if that wasn't clear. My point is that people seem okay with using vicious stereotypes about people of colour as a fantasy trope, but we never seem to do the same with white people and cultures. Defending this practice by saying that it wouldn't make sense to put intelligent apes anywhere else but Not-Africa is, as Adam said, weaksauce.
    I'm confused. Putting apes in their natural habitat and hyena-men in the same place as hyenas is problematic, but putting devil worshippers in northern Europe is fine? You should read up on protestantism.
    There really isn't that much difference between the way European culture and heritage is treated in game-settings, and the way Africa or Japan is.

  • I'm confused. Putting apes in their natural habitat and hyena-men in the same place as hyenas is problematic, but putting devil worshippers in northern Europe is fine? You should read up on protestantism.
    There really isn't that much difference between the way European culture and heritage is treated in game-settings, and the way Africa or Japan is.
    I think the problem with that comparison, though, is that 'You northern European people are devil worshippers' isn't a racial slur that your average northern European comes across on a daily basis. Monkey-man is.
    Like I mentioned though, I don't think in this instance it is a problem, due to the clear representation of actual African human cultures that are cool and awesome. This makes the 'apes come from Africa, fantasy Ape-men come from Not!Africa' reasoning actually OK in my eyes, because it is clearly not trying to establish a cultural parallel and can be regarded in the same way as an Orcish culture in Europe.

  • There really isn't that much difference between the way European culture and heritage is treated in game-settings, and the way Africa or Japan is.
    Except that the the stereotypes associated with European culture aren't part of a long history of violence and oppression against Europeans? "Northern Europeans are devil-worshippers" isn't a racial slur.
  • Their responses from Paizo staff (and some others, I see) are fair, thoughtful and awesome.
    Agreed.
    That Paizo thread is fucking terrible guys, what the hell.
    I didn't get very fair, admittedly, but yeah, it's pretty bad.
    There is a *lot* of muck to wade through.

    I only skimmed for Paizo responses, noted by the purple golem by certain names. The point being, withregards to the poster, Paizo staff have at least seen and acknowledged the poster, and have crafted various responses. None by Lisa Stevens though, if that matters.
  • Their responses from Paizo staff (and some others, I see) are fair, thoughtful and awesome.
    Agreed.

    ...

    I only skimmed for Paizo responses...
    Are we looking at the same thread? Because I saw Jessica Price being perfectly reasonable and Sean K. Reynolds dropping not-thoughtful, not-awesome Biotruths horseshit. Dudes that did that on the rpg.net thread at least got banned for it. I also saw Sara Marie announce that some responses were removed. Considering what's left, holy shit.

    Speaking of that, guys, I have this awesome idea. When we have threads about racism around here, instead of making the occasional thoughtful post about the situation of First Nations in British Columbia, instead I'm going to... pretend to be a goblin and act like a ridiculous caricature of an oppressed minority! What do you think, Andy? How long before you ban me?

    Well, anyway, one person with a reasonable response is better than none, I guess. I'll give you that one.
  • edited July 2013
    Yeah, I was specifically referring to the staff (Jessica), and by "and some others" I should have called out "thejeff", who is being a voice of reason in an ugly storm at times. That "Goblin racism, you fat hoomans!" (every other post) dude is ANNOYING AS FUCK and needs to step the fuck off; I love humor that diffuses situations, but this is not that at all, it's just annoying spear-jabs of non-sequiters to flood a thread into meaninglessness. No, this is not a whisper, it had to be said out loud.

    How long before I'd ban someone for that here, on a thread like this? First post, warning; second post, ban. Period.

    -Andy
  • edited July 2013
    GOBLIN RACISM!

    (This is, pretty much, the best thing in the world to shout in threads. I like it.)
  • by "and some others" I should have called out "thejeff", who is being a voice of reason in an ugly storm at times.
    Agreed. He acknowledged that the OP had a point, and kept trying, amid a rising tide of hysterical clusterfuckness, to remind people of that and to explain why what she said had merit.
  • GOBLIN RACISM!
    Seriously, man, not helping here. Thanks.

    -Andy
  • Overall, I'd rate it the worst of the three threads, only partly because of goblins dismissing the issue (they need to step the fuck off is right, Andy, I am with you 100%), but it's true there was more than one person with a reasonable response -- I meant I saw only one from the staff, sorry. Also possible I missed something, it was kind of hard to read.

    Here's a thing, though, for serious, no sarcasm this time.

    I don't like Pathfinder, because I don't like 3rd edition D&D. It would be fairer to say I actively dislike it, actually. Sometimes I see Pathfinder stuff that has cool-looking art and I kind of wish I did like it. Even that awkward poster has some cool-looking stuff on it, it just needs a bit more thought put into the arrangement and presentation. But then I see something like that thread and I'm actually glad I don't like the game. Maybe if there were more of thejeff and Jessica Price and less of the other stuff, but there isn't and I'm glad I don't play this game or want to talk about it on the internet.

    And also, I don't really like feeling that way.
  • edited July 2013
    To present a counter-view:

    I liked 3rd edition D&D up to a point (I ran the first game of it in all of Japan! That's when I was living there and all. I made sure to really give the system a workout, what with a Halfling Paladin, a Half-Orc Sorcerer, and so on): Ran or played it for years, including a year-long fantasy India-themed game back in the early 2000s. I got kinda sick of it, partly from overplay, partly for every single reason that @Ry addressed in his "E6" hack: It refreshed the game, made it new and brilliant again for me. Me and others (Mark?) were in a long campaign Clinton ran. Lots of fun (half elven Rogue-Spirit Shaman), though it was mostly shlock western fantasy. Then I kinda just drifted on, but I kept my eye on it since.

    I wasn't super amazed by the settings and presentations of background that 4E did, though I did dig the system at times, loathe it at others.

    But Pathfinder! Man, again, through the lens of that E6 Hack, it was a super solid game. And all the early release material, all the strong PC-analogues like the often cited paladin, cleric, and so on. Great, great stuff. I never like bought a drowning amount of Pathfinder stuff; I just have the core book and two packs of those "Pawns" miniatures ( see: http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/18580/pathfinder-npc-codex-awesome-minis-for-13th-age-other-fantasy-games-with-tactics/p1 ) (and seriously, they did so well with that, though they are mostly quasi-Euro-based characters). But I like what they did, even in the trappings of schlock western fantasy, with good portrayals of race and gender.

    Which is why it was disappointing to see the map (looks like folks in the thread say it's two years old or so, so not likely a fixable thing unless they print more), for particularly the reasons described in that thread: The Mali-analogue is huge, technological, moral, and fantasy-awesome... but on the map, all we see is an Egyptian pharaoh dude (ok, cool; I've always like Egyptian history), a gnoll, an ape, and a white (green? hard to tell) pirate-y chick. Still, given their history with other player-facing stuff, I figure it was an oversight vs some ideology pogrom.

    To that end, if there was some "Garund Box Set" or "Garund Campaign Book", filled with inspirational art and stuff (I'm thinking like the old Dark Sun: Ivory Triangle or Veiled Alliance sourcebooks, which portrayed the city-states as both tied squarely to real, ancient, historical, non-Euro cultures but at the same time giving off this sense of the fantastical and wonder), I would *easily* pick up the DM hat again, buy/read it, and run that for friends.

    ...but yeah, given some of the Other Responses in that thread, I might be a little picky when recruiting players...

    -Andy
  • I'm running Pathfinder currently for my son and nephews by request.

    I think it's important to give Pathfinder credit for including black characters and African-inspired cultures. In my observation, accusations of racism are pointed at people who include blacks, but not at the tons of games that have essentially no blacks. If I were a publisher, my conclusion would be that the way to not appear racist is apparently to not have blacks in my game - which seems rather backwards to me.

    My reading of the Golarion setting guide was that it seemed more inclusive and not particularly problematic. I wasn't able to read the text on the poster from the original post - but the topic is about the setting as a whole. In my brief foray into Pathfinder Society play last fall, I played an Mwangi cleric. There were a few questions about how to pronounce his name (taken from the Mwangi names list), but he fit in fine otherwise. My impression was of a setting was generally favorable that it stretched the standards of fantasy.

    Most of my favorite African-inspired fantasy - like the Imaro stories - include plenty of stereotypes. However, they aren't limited by them.
  • Jasper,
    I am not trying to pick on you, but apes exist in other parts of the world besides Africa.
    Dave M
  • Oz even had flying apes and it didnt seem very African. :)
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