Archive for the ‘media criticism’ Category


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.


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.



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?


Race in your Roleplaying

November 5, 2011

So, right now on several sites, there’s a few discussions which, sadly, boil down to, “Tell me it’s ok for the racist stuff I want to put in my game!”.

You can easily figure out this is the real motivation in these threads because a) none of these people have considered other media which have used racial issues to compare against, and b) they get defensive when people point out reasons you might not want that in your game.

So what considerations would you ACTUALLY have to go through if you wanted to meaningfully engage the subject?

Let’s start with an excellent point about context, in this case, talking about sexism in Batman:

There is a 60-year tradition of Batman happening in a PG context, and one where maybe there are mass murderers, but people are often less generally shitty in terms of casual racism and sexism than the world we live in.

Suddenly, we’ve got all that shitty casual sexism, but without any rationale for why this should be. We’re outside the bracket, which makes anybody who is in any way comfortable with the usual Batman context uncomfortable. And there’s no good reason for it, which makes most people who care at all about either the integrity of this world, or about, well, women, angry.

Angry because the writers of this game have a perfectly plausible reason to indulge in being not shitty. And they chose, instead, to turn the Shitty Dial up to 11 in a way that violates the whole context of the thing they’re working on.

Context #1: Expectations

One of the points the Batman quote has is that different media produces different expectations. You expect different things from watching a Disney cartoon vs. an Aronofsky film.

Most roleplayers are in it for escapism- usually light hearted adventure, where you don’t have to deal with heavy social issues. (Cluebat for the whitefolks: Only people who don’t ever really have to be on the receiving end of racism consider it a non-issue.)

So, question #1 is whether this is something your group WANTS in the first place and wants to engage with?

Context #2 How does this serve your game?

Also, does racial issues serve the game you’re playing?

This is actually more complicated. Because there’s really only two ways you can deal with racism in your game- critically, or non-critically. (ETA: A great post on the value and harm of how art works or fails to work, critically and uncritically about problematic issues.)

Non-critically means the racism is there, and… it’s just there, there’s no real engaging it. It also means you’ve just said, “Wow, my gaming is made more fun by including racism!”

I’ll leave it to the brighter amongst you to think about what that says.

Critically means there actually needs to be a way to engage and deal with the issue of racism. And this also means saying MORE than simply, “Racism is bad”. That much is obvious, the questions start becoming, “How does it work? What does it do to people? How do you survive in it?”

This is the point when it makes sense to really consider other media dealing with race issues and where it works well, or fails.

For example, the usual cop-outs white media does with racism that makes it into a non-critical treatment:

1) Kumbayah! Racism erased overnight!
2) But everyone’s equally messed up and nice! (Crash)
3) Magical Transformations (District 9, Avatar)
4) Actually, POC are the racists! (Last Samurai, Lakeview Terrace)

Compare all of this to say, The Color Purple or Serafina.

(Cluebat for white people #2: If all this sounds really fucking hard and probably-not-fun, guess what? This is why a lot of people, don’t include it in their games. Especially for a lot of us who deal with enough aggravating shit in life, regularly.)

Context #3 No Cookies for Racists

So I mean, think about all this. If you’re playing your game with your friends, it’s not like the Game Police will show up to check you on your racially sketchy, or straight up racist gaming.

No one need ever know what your game is about.

But these recurring online conversations keep coming up because what’s really going on is that people are looking for reassurances and rationalizations for things they already know, in the back of their head, is messed up.

And in doing so, it really reveals their true intent- it’s not EVEN about pointing out the problems of racism as much as undercover reveling in it- like how a lot of media with rape glorifies the rape scenes while theoretically going, “How terrible, how terrible”

The questions are never in good faith, because they’re extremely defensive to anything except the one answer they want to hear, which is, “Yeah, awesome, doesn’t bug me!”

So yes, racism, like any other heavy real-world topic that cannot be solved with a fireball or giant robot, like child abuse, rape, drug addiction, spousal violence, etc.:

Gaming will not teach you about what you don’t know. – you and your group CREATE the content in your games, if you don’t know about something, you’re not going to magically manifest it to learn it back in play. (Otherwise, you know, we could roleplay “How to create world peace” or “Cure for AIDS” and fix the world).

Gaming MIGHT give you new perspectives or insights on what you know, but if your base assumption place is either, “Racism isn’t a problem”/”Racism is over”, you’re only going to continue from a place of ignorance.

Do whatever you’re going to do with your gaming. But every time one of those conversations pops up? Just remember, it’s yet another example of White Supremacy Evangelism at work…


Wolsung steampunk RPG preview

October 21, 2011

Apparently a Polish steampunk-fantasy rpg – Wolsung is being translated into English.

The preview rules seem neat enough, there’s some indie rpg influence as well with stakes setting, and the special powers/abilities seeming a bit like Keys/Secrets from the Shadow of Yesterday.

It also seems like a lighter version of the neat stuff from Deadlands – mixing cards, dice, and tokens to run things.

But of course, Steampunk is the past if it were AWESOME, the way you’d want to imagine it

A horrifying faux-aboriginal person image, exemplifying the worst of stereotypes

A ridiculous Fu-Manchu character, also horribly stereotyped

If you believed non-white people were the stereotypes of white media in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, when people tried to measure intelligence by judging the shape of their heads.

I guess I’ll have to toss this in the same category of games as Into the Far West – another game which looked neat but I will have to warn folks away from on general principle.

ETA – so it looks like they decided to pull those two images off of their website gallery. (Mind you, those images are still in the book…) Funny given the sheer amount of defensive bluster about how those images aren’t racist or problematic at all, that they’re now suddenly not available at their site anymore… I mean, clearly people thought this artwork wasn’t just OK, but as GOOD, which is why it got showcased in their gallery to begin with right? Way to stand by your words, there.



September 26, 2011

“Serving the market”:

Comic about DC comics failure to serve women