Sunday, April 25, 2010

Well This Isn't Good... (concerning the game)

So I'm getting things done on this Referee book draft at a spiffy pace now. I'm at the point talking about campaigns. "Although the default assumed setting is Northern/Western European, there is no reason a Referee couldn't decide to make a campaign based on ancient Egypt, or mythic India, the Aztecs, Asian territories," blah blah with notes that you don't have to allow everything on the equipment list if your campaign background has a different technological assumption.

Then I realized, "Yeah, no shit the assumption is Northern/Western European..." I looked over all the art I had done for the game, dozens of pieces. Guess what? Everyone's white! (well, one of the models for the cover comes from Bolivia but she's being transformed into an inhuman beast so maybe that's not the best example...)

I'm thinking, "Well, this isn't good." And it probably isn't.

But what the hell am I supposed to do? Tell the artist to go back and blacken up some of the figures? Go and commission another piece of art for the purpose of highlighting ethnic diversity? Isn't that completely patronizing?

Basically, my vision of fantasy is very Merry Olde England and Vikings and Shakespeare (60s Romeo and Juliet is where I get my visuals for that) and such things, with monsters being more Cthulhoid and undead than your standard humanoid spread (and I defy anyone to map the goblins from the upcoming Insect Shrine to any real-life ethnic group).

In my real-life interactions, barring online, possibly (I have no idea what many of you look like, after all), the biggest "diversity" in my social circle right now is the fact that one of my players is Belgian. I haven't had real-life contact, beyond telling that one Iranian comedian that I liked his act, with a non-Northern European since moving away from Vaasa two years ago (which is very bizarre to think about... I used to live in downtown Atlanta; this really is an entirely different world). Nobody else answers my flyers, you know, and I have put them up in foreigner cultural offices and I'm not exactly turning anybody away.

I feel like I'm doing something wrong now, but the things that I can think to do that would fix that just seems condescending and reeking of tokenism.



  1. If all the humanoids in the art are white, that's not a problem. If all the humanoids in the art are white, and they're doing bad stuff to non-white humanoids, that's a problem.

    If your default setting is north-west European, then you shouldn't apologise for or worry about all the white faces.

    but if you do want to "fix" it, how about a small image somewhere of what a fighter might look like in an Aztec setting, or from a world inspired by Hindu myth, and so on? That way, you can show diversity while staying true to the default setting.

  2. I think if you just explicitly state that you're imagining the gaming being run in a "Merry Olde England and Vikings and Shakespeare" realm, then it's not going to be a problem. Make it look like you're trying to stick with real life setting material rather than political correctness.

  3. I think you chock it up as a learning experience. If you're worried about it, include some clearly not-Western or Northern Europeans in your examples, and bite the bullet on the art, since it seems there's nothing else to do.

  4. Coloured skins make sense if the setting is Aztlan or Nyambe or Tekumel, or whatever. If there's an assumed pseudo-European setting (as " vision of fantasy is very Merry Olde England and Vikings and Shakespeare..." indicates) then white skins are just an expected/assumed default.

    Stick with what you know, and play it straight. It's more honest than tokenism. And I doubt the kind of dentity politics-crazed loon who's going to piss and bitch about your "hideously white" art is the kind of person you want to attract in the first place.

  5. Once I made a website of what I considered the best poetry translated into English from all over the world. My girlfriend pointed out there were no poems by women. I was really embarrassed but went on to search out women poets from all those countries. And discovered awesome new poets in the process.

    So maybe this can be a creative opportunity where you think of ways that, say ambassadors from Cathay or mercenaries from the Benin Empire show up in Northern Europe in future products.

    Not because they did. Not because they should. But because it would be cool.

  6. A great opportunity to sell some supplements.

  7. It sounds like the project is well on the way to being finished. There isn't much that can be done, barring redoing a bunch of art (which is going to cost in both time and money).

    Once everything is finished you can always put out supplements with rules mods and gear for cultures other than northern European. That might be an interesting expansion for your game and a way to add a little diversity to the project.

  8. I think it's a non-issue, so I wouldn't worry about it.

  9. this sort of thing is something that would never even occur to me. I wouldn't worry about it.

  10. I also think it is a non-issue. Concentrate on it in future module releases if you think it is a problem.

  11. I also think it's a non-issue.

  12. I wouldnt stress it much. Expand the settings later. It's a business model WotC uses to this day ;)

  13. I wouldn't worry about it. Having "quotas" of non-white characters in art is the kind of political correctness one could do without. Besides, you've pretty much covered the non-male quota with your "main character" (the Flame Princess).

    One of the things that always bothered me with, say, WoTC and Paizo art and backstory is trying to shoehorn non-caucasian people into obviously Northern European climates. Stay away from it and stick to what you do best, I say.

  14. You're right on all counts, I think. You know what I'd do? I'd take this blog post, maybe a bit edited, and stick it in a sidebar or afterword or something. Acknowledge it, use it as a learning moment, don't dwell on it.

  15. Shakespeare's London wasn't lily-white caucasoid, so would it be such a weird fantasy world to see a black man or woman in elizabethan-style garb? Because that tells a tale all it's own, and opens the game-world up rather than simply reaffirming that this is another familiar "Northern/Western European" game.

    It doesn't matter whether it's PC or un-PC. What matters is how much does it bother you? Because that's the compass I'd follow.

  16. >>What matters is how much does it bother you?

    Well I don't think it's racist or anything for people to put out creative works that reflect themselves and their surroundings.

    But the message isn't supposed to be "Whites Only, Others Need Not Apply."

    Basically, I don't feel that inclusion is my responsibility, but at the same time being exclusionary means being an asshole.

    Where the line between the two lies, that's my dilemma.

    As far as the "release a supplement" comments... doing so as a response to this issue would be LAME. And something I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Shit, I've had ideas of doing a Kalevala-related adventure, but I've held off because it's really not a cultural touchstone for me and I'm afraid I'd fuck it up. I'm certainly not going to be able to do a real-world cultural equivalent supplement.

    ... and I don't plan on doing any real setting material, outside of what's necessary inside adventure modules, anyway.

  17. As far as the "release a supplement" comments... doing so as a response to this issue would be LAME.

    As one of the ones who suggested dealing with the issue later if it's eating you up so much, maybe I should clarify since my comment may have appeared to be flippant.

    You're writing a game at the moment, not a campaign setting. In my mind unless your game is strongly tied to a campaign setting so that the two are interwoven, the latter is the more appropriate place to deal with issues such as race.

    And to be practically realistic, given that the vast majority of gamers are white, will you customer base give a stuff about the race of the people in the illustrations? Do you think your product will have a big enough impact to challenge the imbalance? I think these things are a matter for your own conscience.

    On the subject, an interesting example is the World of Greyhawk box set in which all the races but one were brown-skinned. And the only white race (Suel) were a bunch of evil bastards. Most whites (read: most gamers) could have been put off by this stereotyping, but instead the product was hugely popular. I suspect gamers themselves don't give a stuff about such things, despite their actual race, as much as game designers do with all their concerns about political correctness and inclusiveness.

  18. I'd still stick with a little note in the bottom of the last page: "Black people are our friends."

    It should be enough to put you on the safe side :op

  19. When planning for the token brown person, don't leave the out left-handed gay asians, either, you insensitive bastard.

  20. Go and commission another piece of art for the purpose of highlighting ethnic diversity? Isn't that completely patronizing?

    Not if the art is awesome.

    I think you do have a responsibility to bring people into the game when putting out a product intended to bring people into the game. That doesn't mean covering every colour of the rainbow in the goddamn illos, it just means providing lots of different kinds of awesome.

    Think 'Pickett leads a damaged corps of Zulu-dragonborn infantry against a line of Drow archers at Gettysberranzan.'

    Think 'Seven Samurai bearing wooden swords, accompanied by their pet rust monster Tenchiro, shipwreck on the Isle of Dread.'

    Racial inclusiveness is a little awesome. Strang interesting people in strange interesting situations are a whole metric kilofuck of awesome.

    Opening demographic arms is not a task for your politics, it's a task for your imagination.

  21. I think it's a non-issue, so I wouldn't worry about it.

    As a sidebar - if it's too late to worry about the art, don't worry about the art. If it's too much of a bother, don't bother. BUT! The above-quoted statement, and the half-dozen identical 'me too's that followed, are the very definition of myopia and naivete. This isn't a matter of picking a colour scheme for an engineer's toolkit, it's the key question of 'How do I bring people into a maximally awesome imagined world?'

  22. The above-quoted statement, and the half-dozen identical 'me too's that followed, are the very definition of myopia and naivete.

    What a load of politically correct bullshit! Do you think there are great queues of non-Caucasians waiting in anticipation for the day someone will finally release a RPG with mulit-ethnic art? Do you truly think art alone will stop non-white races and nationalities from wanting to play the game?

    Brasil has a thriving rpg scene that has presumably grown out the only Portugese D&D products released (Red Box and the module B5). It appears they weren't put off by the artwork in those products. Perhaps Wally you should give people credit for not being as intolerant as you infer we are. The Brasilians obviously weren't so short-sighted that they couldn't see the fun and opportunities in RPGs, despite the nature of the artwork.

    The image most will see of James' game will be the cover, which is the image most reviewers and vendors will use. That would be the place to have a multi-ethnic piece of art, but do you honestly think its lack will prevent those wanting to game from gaming? I think a better strategy would be when writing modules to NOT use racial stereotypes, such as painting all brown-skinned people as Zulu warriors or Pacific island natives - now that to me smacks of naive and myopic stereotyping.

  23. painting all brown-skinned people as Zulu warriors or Pacific island natives - now that to me smacks of naive and myopic stereotyping.

    Oh, don't be silly.

    What a load of politically correct bullshit!

    Out of curiosity, do you know where the phrase 'politically correct' comes from - and who uses it 99% of the time?

    Reiterating my earlier point: if it's not too much trouble at this stage in the art-commissioning process, it's a good idea for James to find ways to expand his imaginative reach and deepen his storyworld by increasing the variety of characters (and implicitly players) in the art. Then again, in an industry and hobby where 'sexual' is blandly equated with 'mature' and the most popular RPG's racial dynamics are ploddingly essentialist gobbledygook, maybe this is all moot, and one should simply cede the ground to whoever wants it.

  24. I'm inclined to say that some innocently color-blind art direction is better than tokenism. Now that you've noticed the trend, you might make a point in future endeavor to indicate to your artists that you'd like to see a mixture of ethnicities in the crowd scenes or whatever.

    But the fact that you're explicitly pointing to a certain cultural assumption for the game's implied setting seems like fairplay. I do like the idea of popping in one or two nifty cross-cultural illos in that section, though. Just 'cuz it could be neat.

    Admittedly, I'm a little disappointed that your weird fantasy setting is so north-by-northwest, though. I'd kind of hoped for more Burroughsian weirdness, Frazetta by way of Barry Windsor Smith. But hey, who can argue with Conan, right? Anyway, I have no doubt that I'll be happy with the results.

  25. One thing I point out in the Referee book is the importance of a mundane base setting. "Because if everything in the setting is strange, then nothing is," kind of thinking.