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Race, Culture, and Class issues in the World of Darkness

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  • Race, Culture, and Class issues in the World of Darkness

    I'm starting this thread to hopefully have a respectful conversation. Earlier, on the Covenant Hierarchy thread under Vampire there was some conflict about concepts of race and culture in the WoD (specifically KotE and KotEK in the oWoD).

    I think it's useful to discuss, particularly since issues like the portrayal of racism or misogyny are going to be a part of Horror games set in something like our reality.

    I'm particularly interested in parsing and discussing cultural appropriation and pop culture since I am a freelancer for other games who is interested in non-Western societies and my family is mixed-race.

  • #2
    Umm could you explain a bit more what you expect us to discuss on this thread? Because I didn't keep up with this Covenant Hierarchy Thread.


    It is a time for great deeds!

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    • #3
      Well, the gist of it is that gaming and pop culture in general have issues with portraying people who are different (in the gaming world, non-heterosexual, non-white/European/American, non-male; i.e., cultural marginalised or under-represented groups). This has effects in making the RPG world less than friendly to a lot of people who don't fit gamer culture.

      White Wolf/The Onyx Path has generally been pretty good about this. Some of this is an outgrowth of goth culture, which was/is attracted to the WoD. The old World of Darkness had specific issues with stereotypes, cultural insensitivity, and the representation of non-Western or minority religions in particular; the main flash points (and I am missing some) were the Ravnos and Assamite Clans in Vampire, Kindred of the East, Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom, and some of the Werewolf tribes.

      In general, the nWoD has steered clear of this pitfalls, since WW got a lot better at evaluating their biases over time. In some ways, the emphasis has been a bit too much on Western culture and well-known folklore, since by sticking to what one is familiar with, it's easier to avoid cultural appropriation (borrowing cultural symbols of significance in a context that is disrespectful or un-nuanced). Sticking to the 5 main splats being "class-based" or thematic, for instance, means that some of the baggage of making a group stand in for a whole region or mix of cultures is avoided.

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      • #4
        Now, there was also some talk of race being imaginary. This is true. There are no 'races' in a genetic sense. But as a cultural construct, they carry a lot of symbolic weight in the US in particular, in part because of slavery (and the genocide against the Native Americans).

        One of the consequences of this is a sort of myopia about the history, culture, and sensitivities of non-white people.

        For example, it is unlikely that a game company would in a serious manner depict Jesus as a vampire. However, they might interpret the False Face mythologies of the Haudenosaunee as gaming material, even though appropriation of that tradition is deeply offensive to that group of tribes, out of inadvertent insensitivity.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Jeffjerwin View Post
          I think it's useful to discuss, particularly since issues like the portrayal of racism or misogyny are going to be a part of Horror games set in something like our reality.
          I don't think this thread is going to end well but here it goes. I can think of quite a few examples of racism in different game lines in the world of darkness universe.Now I may very well have missed an example but from what I can see they all use white people. I can think of some examples of out right terrorism that once again are done by white people. The closest example I can think of for another race is a werewolf in shadows of the uk who uses her minority status as a shield. But the sidebar reminds us that racism is bad. This doesn't upset me in the slightest but I do wonder what shit storm would have followed if any of it was attributed to a non white person.


          Originally posted by Jeffjerwin View Post
          the main flash points (and I am missing some) were the Ravnos and Assamite Clans in Vampire, Kindred of the East, Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom, and some of the Werewolf tribes
          All werewolf tribes were stereotypes or at least equally strange. For example he inbred slavic tribe and the drunken irish tribe were on par with the native american tribe to me. But the only real problem people seemed to have was with the native american one.

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          • #6
            I think the thread will go OK if we keep it civil. And take a deep breath before posting. This ain't reddit.

            I didn't like the Fianna at all. But I'm 1/2 Irish/Welsh. The trouble with the Native American tribe is that there's a whole lot of negative or mistaken ideas about Native Americans, much like the Irish used to suffer - in the 16th century, several English writers compared the Irish to the "Savages" in America - but the negative ideas about Native Americans are pretty much current, and no one posts "NO IRISH" signs these days. Plus, in terms of the US, the Native Americans have probably suffered the most from the imposition of majority culture and power, more so than anyone else; the African American population pretty much is the only group that comes close. So using their spiritual traditions in a game can be offensive, because, well, it's a "game." It's inherently not fully serious.

            Ultimately we're going to end up discussing "white privilege" at some point. Which is a primarily US issue, though its also apparent in other Western cultures. Essentially, white people of any (apparent) ethnicity don't get the same short stick as non-white people (or brown people, in general), regardless of whether they're Irish or Polish or whatever. My impression is this gets subsumed a bit more into class dynamics in Europe. Part of this is the visual aspect of race in America. My daughter can pass as white, so she only has to deal with racism from people who think she's Hispanic/Latino.

            Tabletop gaming is generally a white, male, cost-intensive (and hence middle class+) phenomenon. How much each of these tendencies affects a given game or environment varies by place and milieu.

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            • #7
              From a within-the-game perspective, I'm setting up a game in 1890s-1930s Paris. Anti-semitism of the time, which was very prevalent in France then, directly compared vampires to Jews. Hence any characters who are Jewish vampires have to be carefully thought out. But what it comes down to is the notion of "blood purity" and so forth. The legend can't be totally disentangled from the fact that Dracula himself was described as a "racial type," a sort of anti-Anglo-Saxon. Kim Newman plays a little with this issue in his Anno Dracula.

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              • #8
                Something I'm really hoping to see happen with Hunter: the Vigil is a "Vigil Across the World" type deal, similar to W:tA's "Rage Across the World". I would love to see a book on Hunters outside of America, as the idea/trope of hunting down monstrous beasts is a universal among human cultures. It's a great way to explore folklore and show off tidbits of mythology some might not know about.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jeffjerwin View Post
                  So using their spiritual traditions in a game can be offensive, because, well, it's a "game." It's inherently not fully serious.
                  But then the question is, is ignoring and marginalising other cultures and traditions a better alternative? If done tastefully in a game, which is a hard line to walk, obviously, it at least allows their stories (both as a people and their people's culture) to reach a wider audience.

                  Also, this would raise questions of why "traditionally white" (that sounds really odd) religions and myths do not deserve the same treatment. If we can have Catholicism and Norse religions in our games, for example, why can't we have Native American spiritualism as well, as long as it is done relatively tastefully and as accurate as the setting allows?


                  Politeness is the lubricant of social intercourse.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by saibot View Post

                    But then the question is, is ignoring and marginalising other cultures and traditions a better alternative? If done tastefully in a game, which is a hard line to walk, obviously, it at least allows their stories (both as a people and their people's culture) to reach a wider audience.

                    Also, this would raise questions of why "traditionally white" (that sounds really odd) religions and myths do not deserve the same treatment. If we can have Catholicism and Norse religions in our games, for example, why can't we have Native American spiritualism as well, as long as it is done relatively tastefully and as accurate as the setting allows?
                    ‚ÄčI think we can approach these topics, but need to do so in a thoughtful manner. The main reason that Catholicism and Asartu could be represented in a game is that their message or philosophy are accessible outside of games, and their presentation in Western culture isn't dominated by how a single game line or (for example), a movie or comic book presents it. From a writer's perspective, I am inherently privileged by my voice being more heard than a person from a culture that lacks such access. I'm seldom if ever going to understand any culture better than someone who lives within the culture, but many of these groups do not have the resources to shape pop culture. There are plenty of Catholics and lapsed Catholics who have a reasonably strong understanding of that faith and can describe it both in seriousness, parody, or even vilify it, but they won't individually monopolise the idea of Catholicism. It's quite possible if one is describing a small indigenous tribe in a game to end up being the primary expression of that tribe's identity in the gaming niche and hence in wider pop culture (if your story/game is successful). It was a lot easier in the 90s to get WoD Gypsies than to find a good, sensitive description of Roma (say, an anthropological or Roma-produced text) they'd use in a campaign to characterise the culture, for the average gamer.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Sikla Alkis View Post
                      Something I'm really hoping to see happen with Hunter: the Vigil is a "Vigil Across the World" type deal, similar to W:tA's "Rage Across the World". I would love to see a book on Hunters outside of America, as the idea/trope of hunting down monstrous beasts is a universal among human cultures. It's a great way to explore folklore and show off tidbits of mythology some might not know about.
                      This is exactly where specialist knowledge and sensitivity is most crucial and could be very rewarding, but would be hard to pin down among freelancers. How many of us are non-Western gamers and are also skilled writers?

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                      • #12
                        Well, that is what I mean, among other things, when I say "tastefully". Checking your sources and references should be a natural thing for a writer.

                        Incidentally, I remember Rose mentioning that they only did city write-ups for B&S when they had locals or people well-versed in that particular city to write it or at least check it, which seems very reasonable and respectful.


                        Politeness is the lubricant of social intercourse.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by saibot View Post
                          Well, that is what I mean, among other things, when I say "tastefully". Checking your sources and references should be a natural thing for a writer.

                          Incidentally, I remember Rose mentioning that they only did city write-ups for B&S when they had locals or people well-versed in that particular city to write it or at least check it, which seems very reasonable and respectful.
                          I recall that as well. It was a good editorial decision.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jeffjerwin View Post

                            I recall that as well. It was a good editorial decision.
                            I felt it was a good choice.

                            Then again, that's an easy trap to fall into, too. It can be an excuse for immensely western, euro-centric work. "We don't know anything outside our experiences! We'll do it wrong!" That leads to erasure.

                            However, I think we did pretty good with B&S, because we had a team with tons of varied experiences.


                            David A Hill Jr
                            Freelance Writer
                            Independent Game Designer

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by MachineIV View Post

                              I felt it was a good choice.

                              Then again, that's an easy trap to fall into, too. It can be an excuse for immensely western, euro-centric work. "We don't know anything outside our experiences! We'll do it wrong!" That leads to erasure.

                              However, I think we did pretty good with B&S, because we had a team with tons of varied experiences.
                              You seem to have found people with experience of Tokyo and Beijing. I imagine Lagos would have been a lot harder. I guess the trick is finding the right people; those cities were great.

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