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Al-Qadim, Oriental Adventures and problems

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  • Al-Qadim, Oriental Adventures and problems

    There are ongoing podcasts where self-identified Asians and Muslim's are performing set-by-step rereads of Oriental Adventures and Al Qadim. Both Al-Qadim (a fantasy Arabian Tales setting), and Oriental Adventures (exactly what it says on the label) were products by TSR in the early 1990s. Both rereads are available through Asians Represent.

    Neither of the settings/publications have aged well.

    In both cases, the rereads involve a lot of painful cringing, pointed criticisms, and the producers being called out for their racism and cultural appropriation.

    As I get older I find myself less forgiving of the “problematic.” As I get older I find myself increasingly unable to enjoy material from bad actors (for lack of a better term) such as Bill Cosby, Woody Allan, Zack Sabbath, and so on.

    In terms of games and settings, an argument can be made that if Western Europe gets “represented” with mishmashes of France, Spain, England, and so forth, why not give other regions the same treatment?

    The simple answer is such as an act is nothing less than racism, cultural appropriation, for the sake of amusement at the expensive of persecuted and exploited people. Intent is not nearly as important as results. And TSR / WotC are not the only company to have made this mistake over and over.

    But this leaves us, gamers, with a following question about how may we produce any such settings? And how could any such setting be used?


    I do not have an answer for that question.


    Last edited by Grumpy RPG Reviews; 07-23-2020, 11:38 PM. Reason: Edited for grammar.

  • #2
    They’re maybe doing Kindred of the East next.


    Remi. she/her. game designer.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
      But this leaves us, gamers, with a following question about how may we produce any such settings? And how could any such setting be used?
      In a word, respectfully.


      Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
      I do not have an answer for that question.
      It's the difference between cultural appropriation, and cultural exchange. The difference between caricature and representation.

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      • #4
        The main difference between the typical European mish-mash and various unfortunate "Asian" or "Middle-Eastern" settings is that the former is the "default" and "normal" among people who create them. The latter is "exotic" and "strange". This difference in intent counts for a lot.

        As far as how to avoid it, it's simple. Do your research, question your assumptions, consult with people from the actual cultures involved. Recognize that you don't need to be actively malicious to create something offensive. This is why diversity among creators is important. Many blunders wouldn't happen if the writing room involved more/any people who aren't stereotypical white, male straight geeks.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by TheCountAlucard View Post
          In a word, respectfully.
          That'd be it.

          And as a consumer and reviewer you can do what you do. Offer commentary on why you don't like things, mention it in your reviews, support products that you do like that do write books respectfully.

          As much as I dislike these games I don't believe they were made with the intent to mock. They wanted to make money, to get a book out and cover other parts of the world. The research done seemed to be minimal, and based purely off of exploitative fiction, but it was also done ~30 years ago when that was, effectively, how things were done. Now that the internet has brought together voices from people across the world the opportunities for that kind of research to be done are abundant, even if some countries are no longer able to travel. So enjoy those who make the effort.

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          • #6
            Praying forever for hiring sensitivity and cultural consultants to be hired. The distinction between an actual play podcast I listen to hiring multiple people as sensitivity consultants for disability and The World's Greatest Roleplaying Game having 0 black people involved in their big pulpy "African jungle" adventure is painful.


            Remi. she/her. game designer.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by TheCountAlucard View Post
              In a word, respectfully.
              The minority should be the one to decide if something is respectful. Not a bunch of comfortable white people.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
                The minority should be the one to decide if something is respectful. Not a bunch of comfortable white people.
                Did I say otherwise?

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by atamajakki View Post
                  The World's Greatest Roleplaying Game having 0 black people involved in their big pulpy "African jungle" adventure is painful.
                  Why would black Americans be any more of an authority on Africa than white Americans? At this point you should be hiring African immigrants from whatever region you are trying to represent.

                  Overall, "sensitivity reader" solution doesn't sit quite right with me. I understand the intent, but...
                  1. You are appointing a single person or a group of people as the gatekeepers of a culture, dispensing wisdom on what is right and what is wrong. Cultures and the self-perception of members of a culture, tend to be really, really diverse. And often-times contradictory.
                  2. It limits creativity, plain and simple. Often based on assumptions of the "right" and "respectful" way to treat something like folk stories or classic works of literature. Romance of Three Kingdoms may be a Chinese classic, but that doesn't stop Chinese and Japanese authors from making a bajillion of wildly different takes on it. Xianxia genre plays very fast and loose with Chinese mythology and Buddhist and Taoist ideas, but I've seen Star Wars be called bad cultural appropriation because the Force is vaguely inspired by these religions.

                  Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
                  The minority should be the one to decide if something is respectful. Not a bunch of comfortable white people.
                  A point I see repeatedly being talked around is that the intended subject of respect are usually not native members of the culture, but expats in the US. The "minority" you talk about. An example of this is a recent shitstorm on twitter about Kotaku saying Japanese critics really liked Ghost of Tsushima, and some people saying it's the opinion of Asian-Americans that should count on the matter. I even saw one person say that second generation Japanese in the US is more Japanese than the Japanese in Japan because they actively research and perform their culture. That was weird.
                  And I get that people in the US are the ones who'll be most affected by racism in the US. Russian stereotypes from Red Heat won't affect me in Russia in the way that Chechen stereotypes from Russian TV will affect me in Russia. But we enter a really strange algebra of whose opinion on culture matters more - a subset of Americans, or people currently living said culture, and deciding that it's Americans because they are more affected by "bad" representation.

                  Ultimately my personal answer is that it all boils down to intent. A work made to mock, or uncaringly, will be offensive no matter how well or poorly researched it is, and a work made with interest in the culture may be clumsy and age poorly, but it'll be infinitely better.
                  Last edited by Kammerer; 07-27-2020, 09:21 AM.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Kammerer View Post
                    Why would black Americans be any more of an authority on Africa than white Americans?
                    She didn't say black Americans.

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                    • #11
                      Like, those books are very, very old, and in those days we didn't had the same resources for research that we have nowadays. Do they age well? No, but my opinion is that we can't judge the people of the past by the standards of the present. I mean, yeah Oriental Adventures was riddled with stereotypes, but time the old concepts get repuiblished and reworked, they become better and more accurate. You can't have cultural exchange without making some mistakes on the way, and my opinion is that erasing those mistakes is not the best solution. I personally am not sure about the whole sensitivity readers kind of thing, because just hiring someone of a certain culture would not necesserly say if something is or is not offensive, as people have opinions of their own. Some members of a certain culture may find something as offending, while others will be ok with it. I mean, there are some people who see any sort of cultural exchange as appropriation, and believe that only people of the said culture can write things on that culture, which I do not agree with.

                      So yeah, falling to stereotypes is bad, and the solution is of course more research, but we shouldn't burn books because they offend you- after all, they could be, at least, be used as a tool to learn what not to do, and help us recognize our own biases. Sensitivity readers may help, but I think there are not obligatory, as the only solution is making sure you are doing your research correctly.


                      My Homebrew Signature

                      "And all our knowledge is, Ourselves to know"- An Essay on Man

                      I now blog in here

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by LostLight View Post
                        we shouldn't burn books because they offend you
                        Who's advocating book-burning?

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TheCountAlucard View Post
                          Who's advocating book-burning?
                          The way I see it, trying to erase those books from the web is the virtual equivilent of "book burning", and I have seen enough people who actively support that idea (not necessrly anyone in this thread)


                          My Homebrew Signature

                          "And all our knowledge is, Ourselves to know"- An Essay on Man

                          I now blog in here

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by LostLight View Post
                            The way I see it, trying to erase those books from the web is the virtual equivilent of "book burning", and I have seen enough people who actively support that idea (not necessrly anyone in this thread)
                            There's a lot of fringe trash opinions from random places across the Internet. Rather than drag them into this thread, can we continue talking about solutions?
                            Last edited by TheCountAlucard; 07-27-2020, 02:13 PM.

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                            • #15
                              *shruggs* I have not talked about those opinions as much as aboutb the solutions- which, again, IMO, it is to learn from those books, and do better research. but to judge that material by the standards of that time while understanding how those standard have evolved. I have no intention of starting a flame war in here.


                              My Homebrew Signature

                              "And all our knowledge is, Ourselves to know"- An Essay on Man

                              I now blog in here

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