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Author Topic: Gender/Racial/Other Bias in RPG Texts  (Read 6524 times)
John Kim
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« on: February 13, 2004, 03:44:49 PM »

Quote from: Librisia
I'll be posting revised statements regarding my hypothesis about the male dominance in rpgs tomorrow or the day after.  

As veterans of the Forge's culture, can you please advise whether I should post here or the other thread?

The answer is that you should start on a new thread, like the one I am starting here.  The other thread is very broad and the subject doesn't have anything to do with male dominance per se.  By the way, Ron Edwards is a moderator.  He doesn't block posting to any threads but instead posts saying that it should be closed and moved to other threads.  Actually, he already did so in the "http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=102050&highlight=#102050">Yes, MORE on Religion and role playing" thread.  

So let's talk about gender/racial bias in RPG texts and game design here.  And just as a reminder, let's try to be relevant to RPGs.  i.e. Not about gender/racial bias in various societies in general.  

Quote from: Valamir
  Of course, most behavior is taught.  But the message of tolerance and acceptance is already being widely disseminated, its not like the civil rights movement is still struggling to be heard.  I disagree with your conclusion about propating such material. I fully believe that its perfectly fine (in fact, I'm tempted to say its a good idea) to allow the "material that currently teaches it" to propagate, for three reasons.

1) Because while such material is dangerous when viewed in a vacuum as the only source people are exposed to, when forced to stand up side by side with more rational material it is more easily seen for ridiculous nonsense that it is.  Racist propaganda shouldn't be rooted out and burned.  It should be set side by side with everything else so people can see first hand how stupid it is.

2) Because censureship is probably the most insidious evil a government can allow to be committed on its people.  And institutionalized peer pressure to cease and desist certain behavior is just another form of censureship.  In fact, in some ways its a worse form of censureship because its really easy to think you're doing the right thing while doing it.

3) Because there is a point where raising public awareness about problems and issues stops being informative and eye opening and starts being irritating;like waving a red flag in front of a bull.  All social interaction is an ongoing tacit negotiation between parties.  Pissing the other guy off when you're trying to get them to see things your way is just counterproductive.  I don't think you and I really disagree on this, rather I think we probably have different ideas of where that line is and how frequently issues of embedded bigotry need to be raised and addressed and how frequently they should be allowed to slide so as to give people time to figure out the answer on their own without pissing them off and building resistance to the cause you're trying to promote.

To bring this back to the point where I started voiceing my frustration on this thread, the idea of going back to point fingers (damning fingers or not) at elements found in roleplaying games (especially when most of those elements are a reach to begin with) is for me well on the "unnecessary" side of that line.

Well, but this is mostly irrelevant to RPGs.  No one here is talking about burning RPG books (as suggested in #1) or government legislation against them (as suggested by #2).  As a card-carrying ACLU member, I completely agree that book-burning, political correctness, and government censorship are all bad.  However, I do think that it is good to make people aware of the bias.  

I guess my difference with your #3 is that I feel most current gamers are not very aware of the bias within RPGs.  I have seen this in many discussions.  For example, I think that most gamers read the "Star Trek" RPG book and don't notice at all the portrayal of women in it.
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- John
Doctor Xero
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« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2004, 04:27:59 PM »

Are you focusing on specific RPGs or on RPGs in general?

There is a wide variety of RPGs out there now, especially if we consider freeware.

Doctor Xero
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"The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth....virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.  We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind..." --Lewis Thomas
Bankuei
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« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2004, 07:34:00 PM »

Hi John,

Quote
I guess my difference with your #3 is that I feel most current gamers are not very aware of the bias within RPGs. I have seen this in many discussions. For example, I think that most gamers read the "Star Trek" RPG book and don't notice at all the portrayal of women in it.


I have had the fortune of playing with primarily roleplayers of color, and the racial bias is definitely noted.  Mostly it comes in two forms, either a complete absence of race(or culture that usually goes with it), or else a complete 2-dimensionality of a culture associated with particular groups of people.

Some glaring examples:
-African Gods become demons(Rifts, some D20 products, Vampire)
-Hispanics apparently do not exist in most games, except as street thugs
-Asians apparently use the words "Crimson", "Resplendant" and "Dragon" to describe everything from martial arts to tying their shoelaces.

While this may be a slight exaggeration, its not by much.  And this is all stuff that is dealing solely with actual gamebooks, things perfectly within the control of the authors, not even the actual play itself.

I was rather irritated to read this quote from Greg Stafford regarding a group in HeroQuest:

Quote
Just for information sake, I've generally held that the Heortlings are brown skinned, not white, or pink, as it were. Artists, most European, have tended to draw everyone as pretty much white, though.


(http://glorantha.temppeli.org/digest/gd9/2003.08/2529.html)

Consider how differently a lot of people would view their game if they realized that their heros that they've been envisioning all along didn't look like them.  Not to go overboard, but there is a certain level of wish-fulfillment that goes with envisioning yourself as a hero.  Of course, if you can't envision your ideal self looking like you...well...

I highly suspect women encounter similar issues regarding gender on this point.

Chris
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clehrich
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« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2004, 09:18:56 AM »

Quote from: Bankuei
Some glaring examples:
-African Gods become demons(Rifts, some D20 products, Vampire)
-Hispanics apparently do not exist in most games, except as street thugs
-Asians apparently use the words "Crimson", "Resplendant" and "Dragon" to describe everything from martial arts to tying their shoelaces.
Why do I find this so funny, when really it's so sad?  Thanks, Chris!

A couple others to add, for purposes of breadth:
    [*]All "foreign" cultures are homogeneous (e.g. Klingons in NextGen)
    [*]Christianity is a plot against women and people with folklore (e.g. late Ars Magica)[/list:u]
    Quote
    While this may be a slight exaggeration, its not by much.
    I doubt it's even exaggeration, really.
    Quote
    Quote
    Just for information sake, I've generally held that the Heortlings are brown skinned, not white, or pink, as it were. Artists, most European, have tended to draw everyone as pretty much white, though.
    Consider how differently a lot of people would view their game if they realized that their heros that they've been envisioning all along didn't look like them.
    Personally, I doubt that the game would have caught on so broadly if everyone knew the heroes were black, but that's because I'm a cynic.

    As to broader considerations, like the argument between Ralph and contracycle {sorry, I don't know your first name}, I should note that I'm 100% with contracycle.

    Here in Massachusetts, as you probably know, we're dealing with the whole gay marriage thing in a big way.  If you look at the arguments against it, at some point everyone seems to slide into something along the lines of "marriage has been heterosexual for millennia" or "marriage was meant to be heterosexual" or "marriage is about procreation."  Some of the Christian Right are at least honest: they say that homosexuality itself is wrong, and figure that legalizing homosexual marriage says that it isn't wrong, which is at least logically consistent (although I disagree with the initial premise).  None of these arguments, apart from the Christian Right's argument, makes real logical sense: black people were slaves for a long time in the US -- does that make it right? again, who meant for marriage to be something in particular, and if it's God, isn't that a religious claim? again, if marriage is about procreation, then shouldn't you test for fertility before allowing a marriage, and furthermore punish those who get married and don't have kids?

    Okay, so here we have an instance in which discrimination is being debated within the courts and the legislature (as well as by our criminal Governor), and the argument seems to be "the majority doesn't like homosexual marriage so it should be illegal" vs. "this is discrimination against homosexuality."  Now let's suppose that what shouldn't happen (IMO, i.e. they succeed in getting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage) happens: you now have this particular distinction at an institutional level.

    How will people just living and playing next to homosexual people be affected by this?  It's much harder to root out discrimination when it's built into law than when it's just your annoying neighbors.  So at this level, argument about -- even proselytizing about -- discrimination is necessary to change how people think.  Argument about the underlying problems in formulating such a constitutional amendment need to be made before amendment happens.  Otherwise, you're assuming that given a long enough period, things always get better.  Really?  Enslavement of African people was a relatively late development, and happened well after things like the (rather milder) Greek slavery system had long since disappeared.  People don't get nicer all by themselves; it does take work.  I mean, to reveal my politics, if everybody just got nicer over time would we have a racist psychopath for a President?

    This is where I think RPG's have some power (at a small scale, admittedly).  If everyone has to confront these things head-on in their games, they have to actually think about it.  And I think a lot of discrimination comes from not really thinking about it, because people don't stand in others' shoes and consider what discrimination would mean if they were on the receiving end.  Is it a coincidence that, in the Massachusetts Legislature, an overwhelming percentage of women and Jews are in favor of gay marriage?  I suspect that they have experienced discrimination personally, and this has made them very leery of supporting such discrimination.  Meanwhile those in a dominant position -- white men with lots of money, like Finneran and Romney -- seem not to care.  Why?  Because this change threatens the status quo, and they are invested in the status quo remaining.  If everyone has to stand in others' shoes, it won't eliminate maniacs like G.W. Bush -- but it might stop perfectly nice but unreflective people from voting for him.

    Enough rambling.  But the point is that recognizing racism, sexism, etc. in games and elsewhere is not simply a matter of horribleness: lots of people believe they are being moral on such counts, significantly because they haven't seen the other side.  RPG's can help them see this.

    Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #4 on: February 14, 2004, 11:08:46 AM »

    Hi Chris,

    One thing we might want to do in order to keep this thread from devolving into "my view, your view, his view" which tends to happen easily dealing with the topic of social justice, is to to keep it specifically focused on:

    -roleplaying games and social justice within it

    -what can be done with specific actions(as opposed to what should be done, with no actual steps)

    In regards to that, something that I have and will continue to push is for more rounded treatment for folks in general, regarding both artwork and presentation of culture.  Another, issue that is also worthy if having more diversity of people involved in the hobby of defining their heroes and their fantasy. If you notice, this is no different than the issues faced by other media.

    Chris
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    greyorm
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    My name is Raven.


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    « Reply #5 on: February 14, 2004, 11:11:16 AM »

    One of the initial questions that bothers me regarding the initial conversation is whether a printed item is or isn't it a cigar. This is vitally important, in my opinion, because it leads to the question of "what is acceptable to publish and what is not?"

    I know the response is, "Anything that discriminates or promotes a bias against a group." But honestly, the question isn't so easily answered as all that.

    Let me segue for a moment and then come back to the above: in the movie "The Animal" there is an African-american character who complains constantly that everything that is happening to him is because he is black...it's all racist. The amusing part is that everything he is complaining about is *good* -- he gets his food first at a restaurant, people apologize to him, he gets a promotion, etc. In other words, despite other possibilities, he chooses to blame the color of his skin for the events.

    Here's a much less funny example to highlight my case: an African-American family moved in down the street this past winter. We didn't get along with the family at all nearly all summer. No, it wasn't the fact they were black, it was the fact they were selling drugs and letting their kids run wild (swearing at adults, wrecking property, beating up other kids (including ours), etc).

    Towards the end of the summer, the police raided their house, and they were convinced it was our doing. Soon thereafter, they were evicted and they blamed us for that as well because we were "nigger-haters" and "racists."

    We had nothing to do with the police raid that resulted in their eviction. In truth, I learned from a number of sources that the police had been watching that house all summer, collecting evidence...but this family chose to blame us and called us racist.

    Let me clarify that: we're "racist" because because they're black, we're white, and we didn't get along. Because we wanted them out of the neighborhood. It's as simple as that -- to them. Nevermind the drug dealing. Nevermind their violent, disrespectful kids. They decided it was racist because they're black.

    So, what am I saying and what does this have to do with RPGs and game texts in general? Simply this: you can see whatever you want wherever you want, even if it isn't there, if that's your view of the world. If you decide to be sensitive to it. Some folks want to call this "blaming the victim," I don't think it's that easy.

    More personally, I have extensive experience with discrimination on the basis of religion, but I don't go looking for such where it isn't, which is precisely what I see a lot of people doing.

    Consider all the flap over the Nemoidians in Phantom Menace -- the accusations they were caricatures of Catholic priests and asians, and thus painting both as "evil" through this symbolic language. Too much time spent by people looking for hate crimes where there weren't.

    Now, compare this to our hobby and the specific example of dark-skinned, matriarchal elves being racist and misoginistic.

    Oh, hell, let's drag the religion issue into it, too: they're goddess worshippers. Blatant goddess worshippers...the whole Lloth thing is a big deal with depictions of the drow. That's making out witches and feminine religious mysteries to be evil! The drow practices are saying "The supreme God cannot be a woman because women are vicious and cruel!"

    But what is the solution being requested when these sorts of complaints arise?

    Is it that we can never portray a black-skinned person as bad? (and Gods forbid a group of black-skinned people?) That women cannot be portrayed as evil or weak or slutty? That a matriarchy cannot be presented as utterly corrupt and evil? That a group of evil, very-humanoid beings can never have dark skin?

    At times, it feels like there is an unspoken request that blue-skinned, sexless agnostics or white males be the only possible villians or negatively portrayed individuals in a game.

    But there's not much room for interest if the only villians you can ever portray have no resemblances to any group in the world, or can only be white males, just because someone will take the similarity personally and claim it is just discrimination in action.

    That is why I ask for the solution to the situation, because the implied solution is unsatisfactory and irrational.

    Here is the problem as I see it: some forms of pain are self-inflicted, by being oversensitized to an issue, to the point where everything looks like the problem. You get shot once, and you get gun-shy; every loud noise is someone shooting. Trying to force everyone to stop making loud noises because they bother you is not a (good) solution, however.

    Now, is the person experiencing real emotional pain because of the noise? Yes. This isn't to say they aren't. But is the actual problem the noise?

    Compare that to racism, sexism, or other types of discrimination, and the attack upon apparently discriminatory material that often occurs.

    Real racism, that is negative behavior towards individuals based on a person's ethnic/racial background, needs to be dealt with, //no doubt//, but diluting the issue by regularly attacking things which "look like" or "might be" racism, because they supposedly contribute to or reinforce negative stereotypes, is doing no one any favors, for such ultimately puts the whole issue off of most people's radar screens.

    We all quickly lose sympathy for the plight of the loud, barking dog, and eventually eventually ignore him altogether, with a lingering and critical annoyance...and that does no good for the dog or us. Precisely as Krista points out.

    Real racism is a real crime or hatred perpetrated against actual, living people intentionally for purposes of injury, debasement, or inequality, and which can be construed in no other way -- not references that look like/can be interpreted as racism. Further, they are situations which can be dealt with via a reasonable and positive (additive rather than subtractive) solution.

    I have experience with real racism, I've had to deal with it on the job, and it utterly sickens me -- but we're talking situations which are a blatant case of a person specifically cursing and cussing about "niggers" et al. That's something I can do something about. I can complain, because it is an unfair stereotype based on inaccurate facts, with the conscious intention debase the target (as a group), and there is a rational solution to the problem.

    In the end, what it comes down to is this: you can choose to be offended by something that may or may not be offensive. But does it actually address a real problem, or does it just confuse the issue with nuances and semantics...in this case, the real problem isn't that drow are evil AND black-skinned OR a matriarchy.

    Obviously, there are people who need to work on what is and isn't discriminatory; sometimes, it's more a matter of too much homegenity: All X are X being false and thus portraying a false stereotype or reinforcing such. However, in some cases, all X really are X (or at least are for a fictional world). Ultimately, it is figuring out the difference between an element created for a good story and a symbol created for purposes of commentary.

    It is much easier to find the divide when personal reactions to such are stripped from the equasion, though doing so is more difficult than just doing so.
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    Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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    « Reply #6 on: February 14, 2004, 12:07:50 PM »

    Hi Raven,

    I think that there's a lot more to this than simply "offensive".  A non-offensive 2 dimensional character, is still 2 dimensional.  And no, that's not saying that there isn't a place for 2 dimensional characters, but rather that there is an imbalance when that is all you see of a given people.  Like Ralph, I'm not for "banning" anything, but I am for promoting more diverse representations of people to balance the one-sidedness of how folks are represented.  

    There are also a lot of levels to racism.  What does it say when a woman clutches her purse and crosses the street, regardless of whether you are in casual or business attire?  What does it say when it happens repeatedly in different locations, with different people?  They're not harming you, at least physically, but its definitely not cool.  And why are they doing it?  I doubt every one of them has been mugged by a person that looks like you...

    Consider what any piece of media, but particularly games, is saying to a person of color when:

    -a group of people and their culture is completely absent("Sci-fi epic! 20,000 races!  500 cultures! No black people!")
    -you have a token representation, clearly included as a token acknowledgement("Look, we're NOT racist!")
    -you have a group represented by stereotype, someone else's simplifcation of that group("See, chinese people are like this..."

    Now consider again what the the above is saying to a white person, or, if as John says, if they even recognized it or bothered to give it thought.  Consider an rpg set in a modern city, with nothing but Hispanics.  It would clearly be considered a political statement.  The same rpg could be filled with white folks, and wouldn't be considered a political statement.

    Again, the issue here isn't "this is offensive", but rather, overall, this is unbalanced.

    And again, my take on this is that we shouldn't waste time trying to analyze if X is offensive or racist or what, but simply take the usual Forge policy:  Promote good games.

    Chris
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #7 on: February 14, 2004, 12:42:21 PM »

    As Chris {bankuei} proposes, let's stick to RPG's in particular.

    Now I have only one real problem with greyorm's post:
    Quote
    Real racism is a real crime or hatred perpetrated against actual, living people intentionally for purposes of injury, debasement, or inequality, and which can be construed in no other way -- not references that look like/can be interpreted as racism. Further, they are situations which can be dealt with via a reasonable and positive (additive rather than subtractive) solution.[emphasis mine
    I just don't believe that all racism or other hate crimes are perpetrated intentionally.  People who deliberately perpetrate hate crimes, i.e. who get up in the morning and say, "You know what?  I hate those guys, on principle, and I think I'll go make trouble for them," are certainly beneath contempt.  They're also rare.  The problem isn't them: it's the people who say, "I have no problem with those people, they're fine with me, in fact they make such nice music (because those people have a good sense of rhythm, the same way they're all good at basketball), but I sure wouldn't want one dating my sister."  They do not intentionally perpetrate racism/sexism/etc., but it's discrimination nonethless.

    OK, so back to RPG's.  You bring up an interesting point with the Drow who worship Lolth, the Spider-Goddess.  Here we've got black women, dominant in their culture, who worship a goddess, and they're clearly branded as evil.  Is this bad?  Yes, but not for this reason.

    In essence, I'd argue that this structure is a natural outgrowth of the fundamental racism, sexism, and other hate-ism {if I may coin the term} in classic AD&D {I haven't read it since 1st ed.}.  Basically the world was divided into those who were good and those who were evil, and all this was intentional: if you were evil, you chose a worldview that was explicitly so.  So when these Drow women acted in evil ways, they knew they were being evil.  Orcs were evil by their very nature.  You're an orc?  You're evil, ipso facto.

    This is a racist conception, at base.  So long as an RPG is playing the High Fantasy model, in which black and white (note unfortunate terms) are necessarily radically divorced, I can see that this sort of thing can be valid.  You say, "All Drow are evil.  Incidentally, they're also black, matriarchal, and worship a goddess."  Without any context, I don't have to like it but I can't say it's racist or anything like it.  But now let's get context.

    Who are the PC's?  Well, let's suppose that usually they're white and male.  Let's suppose that they usually worship male gods.  Now let's pit them against Drow women.  Now is this racist?  Probably.

    Look at AD&D, though.  Is this all usually true?  Good question, and I think it would take a lot of data to establish.  Which is why, at base, I don't think the Drow thing really demonstrates racism or sexism in gaming.  On the other hand, I never played AD&D all that much, in the end, so I'd be interested to hear what others say.  In other words, while I think that AD&D had an inherently bigoted structure, I can see that no single instance in the game can be isolated as bigotry.  Largely this is because I think they were going for High Fantasy, in which (as I've said) the various sides are radically divorced.  In addition, I don't think they were terribly concerned with things like motivation, so they did some dumb things without thinking about them much.  

    Bad?  Yes.  Unthinking, but bad.  I somehow have this sense that if you were to walk through every single example with the original designers of the game, they'd be horrified and want to change things.  This is actually how I read Greg Stafford's response about "I think of them as black, though!"

    Okay, so let's shift over to another game, like Ars Magica, late editions.

    The main PC's are generally Magi, which is to say they use magic.  There are also hedge-wizards of various sorts around, who use special kinds of magic that are described as more or less parallel to folkloric ideas from various parts of Europe: shamanism, animal-transformation, non-sabbath witchcraft, etc.

    The Church is a special institution that opposes all forms of magic.  The Church is explicitly based on the medieval Catholic church.  The Church, we are told, hounds hedge-wizards constantly because the latter do not follow exactly what the Church says they should.  When the Church catches them, they burn them.

    The Church, as it turns out, is actually run by wealthy men who talk to demons from Hell.  They persecute hedge-wizards because the latter are (1) available as targets, (2) threatening, because ordinary people like them, (3) usually women, and (4) not worshipers of the apparently demonic God who stands behind the Church.

    In other words, Church persecution of witches amounted to a conscious plot to eliminate the healthy, vibrant, and positive influence of non-Christian women who practiced ancient folkloric methods of healing.

    Now if I point out that there are few if any examples of this actually occurring at any point in European history, and in fact that the vast majority of Inquisitors involved in witch trials seem to have been seriously attempting to defend the faith against what they understood to be Satan incarnate forming an army, and that the vast majority of trials were actually presided over by lay courts without Church sanction, and that the majority seem to have been held in Protestant courts which most certainly had no Catholic church sanction nor Inquisitors, and that most executions occurred in fact precisely because there were no Inquisitors present, I present you with a phenomenally complex picture of really unpleasant events which occurred for no single reason.

    This also suggests that the Ars Magica (late editions) view of (1) the Church, and (2) the witches, is wildly distorted.  If I also tell you that the picture I've just drawn is in fact the now-standard picture presented in every modern history textbook I know of, you have to ask why the Ars Magica editors decided to frame witchcraft and so forth in this way.

    "To tell a good story."

    Sure, but why this one?  Why tell a story, explicitly based on historical events and people, that blames an entire institution for something they were not primarily responsible for?  Why claim that witchcraft was a good pagan practice, persecuted along the lines of a hate crime by demon-worshipping priests?  What are you trying to say?

    This is the problem I have with the whole World of Darkness thing, actually, and you note that Ars Magica started telling this story as soon as White Wolf bought it.  Basically it constructs a good-vs.-evil story out of historical people and events, brands one group as Bad People (tm), then in effect claims that it's all in aid of telling a good story.  

    Is this hate-speech or whatever an intentional thing?  I think it's very unlikely that the authors intended to promote anti-Christian feeling, or prompt people to become pagans, or anything of the sort.  Is it supportive of a particular brand of Wicca which just so happens to tell the same story as historical truth, as a story of how everyone used to persecute them, as a story of how Christianity is inherently patriarchal and evil and out to get decent, helpful women?  Yes, of course it is.

    Isn't it legitimate to denounce such a thing?  I mean, they didn't mean to claim that all Catholicism is inherently evil, demon-worshipping, misogynistic, and racist.  But they did.  Isn't that a bad thing?  Am I just looking for discrimination and constructing it out of "a good story"?

    Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #8 on: February 14, 2004, 01:40:00 PM »

    I think you can make separate goals out of:
    (1) remove bias from RPGs (e.g. exclusion)
    (2) remove exploitation from RPGs (e.g. tokenization)
    (3) addressing racial/gender issues through game play (as has been talked about the Feminism threads)

    And it's in fact really, really damn hard to handle all 3 at once, well. Poor execution of (1) can result in violation of (2), and implementing (3) without good (1) or (2) cheapens the subject matter itself. Therefore there's the inclination on my part to use theoretical/speculative settings (as opposed to theoretical ones) to facilitate a focus on (1) and (2) while consciously letting (3) aside.

    Actually, there are multiple dimensions of issues which contain bias - gender, race, politics, economics, class. Myself, I'm going for a lack of bias/exploitation on gender and race issues, in part because my crowd of friends is largely on the same page as me, and so exploration in that area may just go into crowd-preachiness. However, I therefore make politics/class the central issue, as that's one win which there's more tenuous agreemtn, if any.

    So when my thing comes to be a finished project, how can I establish a lack of bias or exploitation? Although I don't have mechanics, I would simply have a page devoted to sexism and racism, and explain how they fit into society; beyond that, I'd simply not make those a factor of gameplay. More specifically, if I don't want to tokenize asians, then I shouldn't create an Asian League or a Space Yakuza. (Similarly, I'm not going to create CyberHindus or MechaCatholics, because I want players to pay attention to the NeoMarxists and NeoNeoMarixsts and the TransMarketeers and so on.)

    Any suggestions on how to go about (3) design while adhereing to (1) and (2)?
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #9 on: February 14, 2004, 02:49:56 PM »

    Hello,

    I'm confused. I'm going to need input from John Kim, Librisia, and Ralph (Valamir) to help me out.

    Are we discussing designing role-playing settings and other content which are less racist/bigoted/etc than, for sake of comparison, other entertainment media like movies?

    Or are we discussing literally reducing racism/bigotry/etc in actual other people because of our games' impact and "message" to them?

    And to whom is the conclusion (whichever it's for, and whatever it might be) addressed? Existing game designers and publishers? Role-players at large? The Forge community in a focused "let's do this, people!" sense?

    Since all of the above is opaque to me, pending your help, I'm having an awful time following the points that are being made.

    Best,
    Ron
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    Jason Lee
    Member

    Posts: 729


    « Reply #10 on: February 14, 2004, 03:14:24 PM »

    One thing with RPGs that you're going to have to fight against is the use of cliché, and by extension stereotypes.  I believe this relates to what Chris L. would call Baseline.  In creating a story you'll play on people's assumptions to fill in details not pertinent to the theme.  The elements you bring to light (I think this relates to Chris L.'s Vision) are part of the story's focus.

    You might ignore race entirely; everybody will probably assume characters are white (HeroQuest?); but race isn't relevant to the theme.

    A personal anecdote:
    I'd left one of my character's skin color unspecified, then one day I decided upon a nice shade of brown.  Among the group this was initially met with resistance, because it wasn't what they had "pictured".  Pearly white was Baseline, because the players were white and the medieval feel of the character conjured up images of the english.  Well, after I specified her skin color, then it became part of the Vision, and opened the door to addressing racism issues like when the group went to a futuristic 1980's South Africa.

    So Chris L.,

    I think you are seeing discrimination where there is just an attempt at good story.  A moral or ethical statement is going to be biased against somebody - that's sorta the point in saying it.
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    - Cruciel
    clehrich
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    « Reply #11 on: February 14, 2004, 05:47:59 PM »

    Jason,

    I don't quite follow.  What does the distinction between Baseline and Vision have to do with seeing discrimination where there's only an attempt to make a story?  Of course one has to push against and within a kind of accepted frame of reference, but why does that entail that racism doesn't matter, or doesn't exist if we're just trying to tell a good story?

    I do grant that any ethical or moral statement, since it must be based upon a metaphysical and thus non-demonstrable support, must necessarily impose bias somwhere along the line.  But I don't get the relevance here.

    I'm sorry; I just don't follow your point.  Can you clarify?

    Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
    clehrich
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    « Reply #12 on: February 15, 2004, 12:24:43 AM »

    Jason,

    Continuing to think through the Baseline/Vision question at stake here, let me go back to Ars Magica, one of my favorite games:

    Baseline was supposed to be medieval Europe, with certain important changes, notably (1) the existence of real, functioning magic; (2) the presence of active faeries of various sorts, along with critters and beasties of all descriptions (arising from folklore); (3) the demonstrable presence of God and Satanic evil, shown by the Dominion Aura and the Infernal Aura.  Apart from this, and the alternate history that more or less came with the territory, it was supposed to be medieval Europe.

    Vision, I think, originally depended on the particular gaming group.  You set out to explore or develop some kind of story within this universe, and in the process discover things about it and about yourselves and your characters.  Something like that.  Anyway, you made it up for your group, and did what you wanted with it.  Not a lot of guidance there.  With a lot of tinkering, you could still transform AM2 into a Narrativist game.

    Now between 2d ed. and 3d ed., when they shifted to White Wolf, the latter company started adding strong Vision elements, presumably to focus the point of the game.  What they did was to construct the Church as a thoroughly nasty institution, out to get women, pagans, magic, faeries, and anything else perceived as "peculiar" or otherwise out of their ken.  Meanwhile, they pushed for all such peculiar persons and beings to be more or less on the same side, beneath it all.  Thus they constructed a war between the Church and the Weirdies, with the PC's representing the latter.  I seem to recall references to witch-burning, which essentially didn't happen in that period at all.  That was rather later, and probably most were burned by Protestant lay courts in any case, which obviously didn't exist in the medieval period, pre-Reformation.

    I suppose you could say that they injected a Premise to the game, but by my read of Narrativism they weren't Narrativist: the Premise was predetermined in its conclusion.  That is, the Church was wrong, and the Weird were right.  You just fought the good fight, or missed the boat.  That's a form of Force, if I get the terms right here.

    Now I'm exaggerating somewhat, but not a lot.  Read some of the supplements on the Church, for example, or Shamans.  It's hard to miss.

    Okay, so what I'm saying is that this development of Ars Magica attempted to "tell a good story" through Force.  That's bad design, IMO.  But furthermore, the Forced story amounted to a claim that Christianity is fundamentally evil, or at least that organized Christianity is so.  (It's worth noting here that the Kabbalah supplement, which I read once quickly, seemed quite sincere about trying to be fair and balanced; this suggests that the game designers weren't hostile to religion, only to dominant religion, and organized religion at that -- since they didn't seem to perceive Jewish communities as having a strongly organized religious structure.)

    I guess the point here is that if you Force a story, and the story is one in which you stereotype very broadly and negatively, and the people in question are supposed to be anything like real people, then what you have is Forced discrimination.

    I had a fascinating experience playing Ars Magica 2d ed., in fact, because I played a priest who was also a magus; he was a member of a special order that was about dealing with the Hermetic Orders.  The point being that a lot of Hermetic types were seemingly drifting a long way from the Church, and the Church thought this wasn't very good for their souls.  So along comes me to help them see the light and come back to Mother Church, in order to save their souls.

    Now what was interesting was that this character never actually proselytized at all; it just didn't come up much, and besides he was pretty conflicted about a lot of things anyway.  But some players -- and I do mean players -- had this HUGE problem with a priest anyway.  So their characters would do things like forbidding me to get within X distance of them or their friends, and so forth.  Why?  Because I was a priest, of course, and obviously out to get them.

    Note that as this was 2d ed., this wasn't in the rules or in the books anywhere; it did arise implicitly, in that Magi are basically rather uncomfortable in churches because their spells don't work well, but this is a pretty minor effect.  I mean, who needs to cast spells in church?

    What arose in that game, then, was a moral conflict about whether Christianity was automatically "out to get" the Magi.  Lots of folks had these assumptions about the Inquisition yaddy yah, and would trot them out regularly.  Of course, the GM was a medieval history crazy, and kept pointing out that the Inquisition hadn't actually been invented yet, and besides was really about a change of the legal system that never came into England anyway, but it didn't matter.  Everyone "knew" that Christianity must be a Bad Thing Out To Get Us.

    So what's my point, after all this?  I think that this game provided a fabulous opportunity -- not entirely taken, mind you -- for all of us to explore these assumptions and the reasons for them.  I spent a lot of time thinking hard about what it meant to be a priest in that world, surrounded by hostility, and how I ought to respond.  Others got to think about why they felt so hostile, and some of them at least came to the realization that they were making huge assumptions, not in any way justified either by in-game history or by my character's actions.

    Practically speaking, then, I think gaming offers opportunities for this sort of reflection, and can actually change the ways people think.  I know it did for me, and for some of the other players there.  Not that anyone went out and converted or anything, but I think some ideas got revised.

    BUT... this couldn't have happened in ArsMagica3, because you'd have had to rewrite significantly to make it possible that my character wasn't out to get them.

    Well, I'm rambling again.  Hope this in some way clarifies something for somebody.

    Chris Lehrich
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    Chris Lehrich
    John Kim
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    « Reply #13 on: February 15, 2004, 01:38:52 AM »

    Quote from: Ron Edwards
      Are we discussing designing role-playing settings and other content which are less racist/bigoted/etc than, for sake of comparison, other entertainment media like movies?

    Or are we discussing literally reducing racism/bigotry/etc in actual other people because of our games' impact and "message" to them?

    And to whom is the conclusion (whichever it's for, and whatever it might be) addressed? Existing game designers and publishers? Role-players at large? The Forge community in a focused "let's do this, people!" sense?  

    OK, as I originally conceived it, the http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=9738">Feminist Game Design thread was about designing games which communicate with and educate the players on social issues.  This thread was about how different genders and races are portrayed in RPG texts -- and how that portrayal affects the game.  So the other thread is about an effect we (for some set of "we") are trying for, and discussing how to achieve it.  This thread is talking about causes (i.e. portrayals like what I showed from Star Trek), and extrapolating what effects it has.  

    To my mind, the text sets a pattern which influences play.  The examples are not just mechanics, but they are part of the over pattern of tone for the game.  I don't think that, say, the example text is important in itself -- but the general pattern is.  For example, if you design your game thinking about gender issues and have a 50/50 gender split among playtesters, then I believe it will come out differently than if you design it with a group of men and don't pay attention to it.  

    The fact that it is patterns is important.  A cigar is never just a cigar, and it is never just a phallic symbol.  What matters is the context and the overall picture.  To take Chris' Ars Magica example, if one churchman is corrupted and diabolic, we can't say if it is just a cigar or not.  But suppose that 90% of the churchmen portrayed are that way.  It makes no sense to analyze these individually and see which ones are "just cigars" and which ones are "biased".  The point is that the general pattern has meaning.
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    - John
    greyorm
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    « Reply #14 on: February 15, 2004, 08:38:16 AM »

    Ok, John, before I post any reply to Chris, I want to make sure I'm in the right place. Now, it seems like I'm not, since this is about the effects of design, rather than the process of design.

    Honestly, I avoided the other thread due to the "Feminism" title, for reasons I won't go into here, but it sounds like I should have been over there. However, I'm not sure my line of thought/questioning fits over there, either.

    Here's what I'm on about: given certain controversial issues the designers are asked to avoid due reactions to such, why is it he has to avoid them? What is the use of the restrictions against ficitional elements like "evil Churches pretending to be good" and "evil black, female, goddess-worshippers"? Are these restrictions or avoidances in any way a healthy reaction or viewpoint?

    So, does that fit here with what you're trying to accomplish with this thread? (If not, I'll just start a new thread for the discussion of that idea.)
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    Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
    Wild Hunt Studio
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