Figments of the imagination

November 22, 2009

This is everything wrong right here:

Ways to Punish a Slave

When I ran Steal Away Jordan, I found myself wanting more ways to punish slaves. After the third time of describing a horse-whipping, it loses its impact.

Can you think of some good ones? Not too weird, please: I want things I can use in a game.

First, context: Steal Away Jordon is the roleplaying game based on folk tales and history of American slavery – it’s explicitly about trying to live under the genocidal institution of slavery – and the characters are to be played as people- 3 dimensional characters in this situation.

Unpacking above: First, why would you ask this question on a gaming forum, instead of using Mr. Google? Reading a book? Anything? There’s more than enough historical records of the atrocities people have visited upon each other.

But see, that’s actually the first problem in that whole thing- it’s about making it a hypothetical, like, “How do I feed a dragon?”. The point of asking it there is because it’s not actually having to engage the history, the reality of it. I’ve mentioned before both Glockgal & Willow’s observations on our fictionality in the white worldview, and here’s a perfect example of the blinders of their own history!

Second: the reason to do so is for gamer impact!!! Basically, the same kind of logic that goes into stuff like Slumdog Millionaire- where the suffering is pain porn for a white audience. Whippings? Ho-hum! Bo-rrring! We need more cruelty!

Then there’s the responses…. Again, written from the standpoint of practicality while completely normalizing it! “Well, see” I mean, UGHGHGHGHGHG. It’d be like if someone wrote, “How should I narrate child rape in my game? How should I describe the penetration?” “Oh, well, you want to make sure to…”


You know, it’s not that people put this in their games, it’s the way in which it’s so casually identified and the way in which they go about talking about it. I think back to the logic of The 13th Child where the questions of disappearing Indians are all asked in the hypothetical, all fictionalized to avoid dealing with ugly histories, for the sake of white squees.

ETA: It’s come to my attention that people are linking this post as if it were an argument against Steal Away Jordon instead of an argument against white privilege. The game isn’t the problem, anymore than the logic should be “We should silence ourselves because racist white people will say stupid shit” – rest assured, racist assholes will say stupid shit, they don’t need an rpg to do that, they’ve got that skill on lock already.


  1. I should not have looked at that thread. It’s both disgusting and not disgusting enough. They mock-gloat about personal sadism and don’t come CLOSE to some of what was ACTUALLY DONE.

    • I… yeah. I was halfway tempted to talk about some of the shit on the islands, but… it’s clear that the horror of it all just isn’t being comprehended at all- telling more fucked up shit would just be responded to with “COOL!”

      That’s why it’s everything wrong with the whole fucking gaming culture, right there.

  2. I think there’s a sense, too, that if you turn it up to 11 it makes everything surreal, so you don’t really have to engage with it as an earnest, hard human thing. It becomes shock value, a special effect. You stop exploring the terrible things that regular people did to regular people, and you start reenacting one of the SAW movies.

    • Yeah, I think of that, and I think of the scene in Clockwork Orange where dude is fantasizing about being one of the roman soldiers torturing Jesus. As Willow mentioned, there’s a glee in coming up with some of that, that is really, really not ok.

  3. Ugh! When I read the words “Ways to punish a slave” and “Steal Away Jordan” I knew I should’ve attached a trigger warning in my mind. More so after having learned, read & researched about that sort of stuff.

    Just one of those HUGE irks for me when it comes to historical gaming or gaming that touches the historical–the horror becomes ‘awsum sauce’. x_X

    • I figured “This is everything wrong right here” was a trigger warning… sorry man!

      • ‘s alright man. Sometimes I just have the curiosity of a mad scientist. Can’t help but do it sometimes. =/

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