Archive for the ‘media criticism’ Category

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And there it is.

August 20, 2018

“When they win it’s a ‘meritocracy’, but when we win, it’s ‘Identity Politics'”

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The Power of Fantasy

May 22, 2014

Fantasy as a valuable headspace

Wish fulfillment.  A space where either there’s no problems, the problems are background elements that never really cause problems, or they’re solvable problems with an ending.  A space where you can be valued as a person, even if it’s in an unrealistic worshipped fashion.

Roleplaying games are a playground of this space.   But it’s always interesting to see what/how these spaces are constructed and for whom.

It’s a very different power fantasy for the person who has none vs. the person who has a lot.

As I always point out, while personal power fantasies can be extremely problematic, they’re ultimately small beans on the plate of “affecting the world”.  What I look at more deeply is media, mass publishers and overall gamer culture – that’s where it becomes a wider issue.

How much does it align with existing power narratives?

When someone makes a fictional world in which the “savage natives” are the big threat, and claim “well, in THIS fantasy world, it’s true!”, the question comes up about why real world genocidal narratives would be a fun thing to imagine as true, and what sort of wish fulfillment you’re getting from it.  Or, just as poorly, if it’s a bizarro world straw-man idea as a reverse persecution complex (RPG relevant example…).

Ultimately we see both of these cases are examples where either someone wants to create a power fantasy of having that power/status and more importantly perceived moral approval to do such things, OR, is projecting an idea of how heroic and righteous they are to hold these beliefs in a world determined to crush them.

Nevermind, you know, the actual real stuff going on in the real world, to the very people they’re often projecting upon is usually worse than anything they’re imagining…

Which is basically why roleplaying is an amazing space for the marginalized to create space where they can be valued and/or have power to address problems on their own terms.  We’ve seen this happen over and over whenever any form of media is opened for people’s use, and just as much, we’ve also seen how this regularly leads to backlash… leading to the next point:

Who do you actively exclude or shut out from participating in having power AS a fantasy?

What’s particularly interesting in this reaction is that it is about as open as it gets to the heart of the problem:

“Hey, can we be awesome heroes too?”

“No! HOW DARE YOU! WE’RE THE ONLY ONES THAT MATTER!  If you get to be human we can’t have fun!”

This ranges from the usual spaces of erasure, like having racist colonial fantasies of an America without the hundreds of indigenous nations, so that one can have a guilt-free colonization (RPG relevant example), to the overt backlash like horrid Dickwolves shirts sold to silence folks, or, thousands of men organizing together to harass a woman for talking about videogames.

What you say tells me what you think

What makes this kind of erasure and reaction more telling is that it is primarily backlash to the idea of (POC, women, LGBT) folks even existing, being shown, or asking to have media that includes them in any way.  In other words – to have anything that ISN’T focused on straight white able bodied, cismen (or, stereotypical characters in roles specifically to serve as supports to highlighting and centering said whitedudebros)…. is an offense.

Of course, the underlying thinking is not new.  It’s the same folks who claim anytime the only reason to have anything OTHER than a whitedudeness is clearly a matter of “political correctness”, “meeting quotas”, etc.   …what they don’t say, but clearly is the only way that makes sense, is if straight white men are naturally superior to everyone else and the only reason to include anyone else is a matter of a pity offering…

And that says so much more, right there about the kind of thinking involved.

Being valued

Ultimately, there’s a massive divide between people whose wish fulfillment is being valued as a human being, vs. people who are unable to even imagine you as such.

The commitment towards stopping people from having that space, of being valued, even in imagination?

Some people are trapped in the reality of forcing their delusions upon everyone else.

It’s no wonder folks look for escapism from that.

ETA: looks like a lot of folks are thinking along similar lines right now-

Erasing your audience isn’t “fun” the false dichotomy between diversity and enjoyment

The Edgy Gamer: “You are the last of your kind: a real gamer in a hobby that has been taken over by socialists, feminists, liberals, ethnic minorities and pearlclutching fishwives.”

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Scarlet Heroes

February 24, 2014

Every time a POC focal rpg comes out… I WANT to like it.  I want it to not be fucked up.  Seriously.

Sadly, Scarlet Heroes takes pretty smart modern game design to “old school gaming” then pours heaps of problematic representation on top of it.

SH aims to be an asian themed pulp sword and sorcery kind of game.  There’s two ways one could go about this – take the many, many asian folklore tales and modern tales and pull from the very close parallels to modern pulp (wuxia, evil decadent governments, magic, secret societies, etc.) or…

…one could take the really problematic projections of “oriental” that came from the western pulp era.

Of the human societies presented:

– The fake Japanese (with a Chinese title) are literal demon worshippers who push their citizens to do evil to commit their souls to demons at death

– The fake Chinese run by a “Mandarinate” (um…an ethnicity might run a government but isn’t a government structure…so…) have an Emperor who is SO HOMOSEXUAL (Super caps to let you know to fear teh gheyz) he refuses to even to try to father an heir, leading to political instability…

– An evil fake Chinese country of evil wizards who engage in every vice and the picture shows the classic Yellow Peril dude sitting on a throne while attended to by many half naked women (many white women) …

– There’s two white societies – the fake Vikings and the fake Germans, because in a game about POC, you gotta have white people

– A group that sounds a goddamn lot like fake Jews

– And the rest of the human lands, we are told, is like South East Asia, but aside from pulling from some of the SEA monsters, nothing else is really explained

Then there’s a bunch of other minor by comparison but still notable red flags – there’s a woman in samurai armor but dressed up courtly hair (aka, “This is all we’ve seen of Japanese women hair” stereotype) which seems really weird.   There’s a Black woman who shows up in a couple of the pictures, but no real mention where she was supposed to come from or if she’s supposed to be one of the missing SEA groups in this setting.  All the spells have really long ornate names which is the key sign something is “oriental”.

This is the thing: when people’s idea of POC as heroes is “Wouldn’t it be awesome to play as the horrific stereotypes we threw on you as part of colonialism and war propaganda?” I’m having a real hard time seeing the fun escapism in this.

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How to make roleplaying culture hostile to people

August 10, 2013

So.  I had a few comments on rpg.net a few days ago, mostly pointing out that people mix up folks saying “Let’s not have this media be offensive and insulting” for meaning you cannot have any content at all – the thing is, you can have media about racism, sexism, anything – and address it critically – whereas you can have media not about those things, yet completely promote those horrible values.  The insulting is not whether the topic is there, the insulting is how you treat it.

Now for an example of how not to do it critically:

The Misery Index: Games about Terrible Realities.

What gives things away?  Well, it’s by “Misery Tourism Games”.  Ha ha, it’s ironic right?  Just like when someone says, “You piece of shit! Hey, I was just joking!” you know they’re really a nice person and not being passive aggressive and abusive at all.

But we can take their own words for it:

We don’t design games to make a moral point or push an agenda. We don’t design games to offend you or your sociology professor or your congressman. We do it because we believe there is fun to be had in exploring tragedy and depravity with your friends in the safety of your kitchen, den or mother’s basement.

Here’s one game they offer:

Welfare Queens is a role-playing game about a not-so-distant future America where white collar professionals spend their nights in back alley arcades, living virtual lives of poverty and desperation. Bored and overwhelmed by their day jobs, the stock brokers, accountants, and mid level executives of the late 21st century find adventure and catharsis through their experiences as hookers, drug pushers, trailer trash, and panhandlers.

Yeah, ok.  So basically a bunch of games that make mainstream commentary “ironically” for profit with shock-value topics… at least the company name, Misery Tourism is honest about what’s going on here.

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I’ll just leave this here

October 10, 2012

Gotta say, there’s something deeply messed up when there is a major chunk of genre dedicated towards escapism fantasy where a white isolationism/white supremacy is a core feature…

The limited and repetitious rationalizations haven’t changed, much, though nor the false bewilderment at the idea that hostile social spaces drive people away while claiming simply that the rest of the population as being incapable of imagination or intelligence to participate.

(Just found source author here)

Fantasy guy meme

Fantasy guy meme

Fantasy guy meme

Fantasy guy meme

Fantasy Guy meme

Fantasy guy meme

Fantasy guy meme

Fantasy guy meme

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Wolsung: How’s that work?

July 30, 2012

More people are less than impressed with the exceedingly racist imagery.

The designer decided to say something:

The period of time the game is set in was chauvinistic and racist. When portraying such a period and letting players play characters grown in such an era we could take two approaches: gloss it all over and pretend racism never happens, or create a setting where racial stereotypes do exist and give the players the opportunity to face them and change them. I decided, that the first approach is not satisfying – pretending a problem do not exist rarely helps, while facing it usually does.

LOOK AT THE ART AGAIN. That’s not the European(“Vanadian”) representation of those people, that’s the actual, in-game, representation of people.

I’m failing to see how that creates a space to confront racism, instead of revel in it.

I understand why you may find the orcs/non-Europeans design choice disturbing, still it was not my intention to portray any of the races as a lesser race.

LOOK AT THE ART AGAIN.

Here, this post, QUOTES THE GAME TEXT:

Orcs represent all that was unknown for the Europeans of our 19th century, dangerous and thus compelling. They are spiritual and impulsive where Vanadians are technological and calculating. Shamans, holy men, warrior monks, samurai, native hunters, desert nomads – orcs are living near to nature and their spirituality, untouched by western civilization.
Some Vanadians, driven by fear of the unknown, treat orcs as the “evil” race (not unlike the sinister Chinese and lecherous Turk clichés from 19th century novels), while others find them fascinating and compelling (not unlike the French artists of the belle époque inspired by the Far East).
For all of them the mystical, exotic, multicultural world of orcs remains a mystery.

Orcs don’t have to be chinese
Most inhabitants of Sunnir (analog to real-world Asia) are orcs. However, not all orcs are Asians and you can easily create characters inspired by other popular variants of a mysterious spiritual foreigner. These are the other archetypes and cultures that may inspire an orcish hero: gypsies, Siberian shamans, Native American hunters, Maori, Inuit.

“it was not my intention to portray any of the races as a lesser race.”

The characters you play in Wolsung are the people who can and should change the world – because they are designed to look at 19th century with your 21st century eyes and react to what they see with your sensibility.

Having said all that I do apologize once more – I really did not see that coming. Every culture has different traumas, different issues and see things in a different way. Before reading this topic I would never thought the game would provoke such a reaction. Lesson learned, I hope.

And here’s where things don’t make any sense at all.

Read the first paragraph I quoted – “create a setting where racial stereotypes do exist and give the players the opportunity to face them and change them. “

Ok, this is a game where we’re knowingly going to deal with, and fight racist stereotypes? But wait, now he NEVER EXPECTED PEOPLE TO TALK ABOUT RACIST IMAGERY and just didn’t think about all they oh-so-many histories of racist imagery.

Strange how people would claim to build a game ABOUT dealing with race issues, use Yellow Peril imagery, use the long standing bone-through-nose witchdoctor bit, that even gets used TODAY, and seem surprised that these reactions would come up.

How is it both a game about knowingly dealing with race issues but the designer couldn’t have expected to deal with race issues?

I think we know the answer.

LOOK AT THE ART AGAIN.

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Steampunk Racism: The RPG Edition

April 30, 2012

Just because there seems to be a roll of these, I guess it’s time to point them out again:

Into the Far West attempts to take the Wild West and add wuxia. But they decided they didn’t want to include any Indians at all, because they were "afraid they couldn’t do them justice". But apparently they can do Chinese folks justice, or something. Oh, and add white people doing kung fu with steampunk stuff.

Um. Ok. It makes me think of the all too repeated argument against showing black folks as thugs, pimps and hookers on tv- "But then we wouldn’t be able to put ANY black folks on tv at all!". Oh, I see.

Steampunk Musha: Victoriental Adventures

Well, if the name wasn’t enough, by the description alone, apparently Japanese and Chinese are interchangable languages and so are the cultures.

I mean, oh god asking Steampunk, where people will research how clothing was dyed and stiches were done by hand, to have to look up the fact that China and Japan are… like… not the same.

And of course, Wolsung‘s art can speak for itself:

So, anyway. It’s one thing to want to have an idealized alternate history of your culture where you’re not, like, a major cause of suffering that lasts centuries and has effects to people to this day. But it IS a whole other thing when your idealized fantasy history also means that POC are non-existent or fulfill the EXACT SAME RACIST STEREOTYPES of the 1800s. See, that’s where you go from escapism fantasy to racism.

But hey, the your imagination is the only limit!

And what does it say about your imagination that it’s stuck in the centuries old tropes?