Recently, there was an update on the Frosthaven Kickstarter where Isaac Childres explained some changes to the narrative designed to make the game more inclusive.
This update contained a few topics:
- The hiring of a specifically named cultural consultant
- A thorough review of the narrative to look for cultural insensitivity problems
- An admission of culturally insensitive content in Gloomhaven
- An accusation that any disagreement with this update is equivalent to believing that black lives do not matter and the person should simply get a refund and leave the community.
The response to this update came in three very distinct flavors:
- This is awesome, I completely support you in this!
- I have some concerns about the narrative changes and the closing tone of calling out disagreement as being racist bothers me.
- The racist tone of your closing argument is bad and the ONLY thing I want to talk about.
I fall in the middle group. I am intrigued by the narrative changes but also bothered by the way he closed the update by attacking all who might dissent as being bad people unworthy of inclusion in the greater Frosthaven community. Isaac Childres has since apologized for the tone via a twitter post. This apology has been received well by those who were in the middle group above and negatively by the supporters in the first group. The first group sees it as a failure of confidence and the second group sees it as a welcome admission of poor word choice. Again, I fall into the second group.
I bring all of this up as well because I recently became aware of a very succinct single sentence that applies not only to social justice circles but to all groups that are faith rather than science based, "Don't confuse social justice spaces for debate spaces."
What I take from that is the people in these spaces are not interested in discussing the merits of their beliefs. They only want to spread their beliefs and talk about the righteousness of their beliefs. I equate this to faith based groups because you can not question the underlying tenents of the system, it is perceived as trying to weaken the system. In a science based group questioning of the underlying structure is encouraged, it is perceived as strengthening the system.
Social justice issues have been moving into all aspects of American life, not just gaming. WOTC recently made some very large changes to the Dungeons and Dragons game based on social justice. The racial system in the current version looks nothing like the original system from the 1970's. Two species, drow and orcs, have recently gone through massive overhauls due to a belief that they are designed to denigrate a specific real world ethnicity.
My first reaction to the choice of consultant was negative. I have read some of their writings and listened to audio of their writings. I was turned off by their words until I discovered that they were using new definitions for words with well known meanings. Once I knew their chosen definitions I was better able to understand their arguments. With this newfound understanding I was able to look at their work differently.
While I can now agree that hiring someone to poke holes in the narrative with a goal of removing stereotypes based on real world groups and otherwise make the game more accessible to a wider and more diverse audience is a good thing I still have reservations about this particular person based upon their beliefs being faith rather than science based. Still, if your goal is to find problems who better than someone who makes it their life's work to find problems?
For now I am content to leave my comments there and wait for some results before passing any further judgement on this choice.
Any fantasy world created in our world is going to have trappings of the life experiences of the creator. There is no way to get around that. In the update Isaac Childres expresses this clearly. He admits that he used his own life experiences and did not seek out the views of others when crafting the narrative. Because of this he ended up attaching real world racial stereotypes to his otherworldly creations. This can be seen as lazy world crafting, because it is. However, it can also be used to allow the audience to quickly form a connection to the world. The downside here is that the world can become a reskinned version of our own with nothing to differentiate it.
Which leads us into the problems with this lazy method of world crafting. By creating alien species that mimic ethnic groups in our own world we run the risk of stereotyping taking over. If I told you the Glyphians were an advanced species that excelled in math and science while also being very xenophobic what would appear in your minds eye? I have not provided any information on their physical appearance. Would your mind tie it to a cultural group present on Earth? Odds are it would. This is due in part to the human proclivity of classifying and grouping things. We like to make order out of chaos, even when no order is possible.
Isaac Childres's admission is a first step towards fixing this lazy worldcraft and making the world of Frosthaven better. Not just more inclusive but better. This realization and commitment to change should be celebrated.
His decision to stop using the word race is also a good thing. Race is a social construct on Earth. it is not based on science. We are all members of the human race or species. When people use the word race to divide people into groups nothing good ever happens as a result. He is correct to retire that word and move onto something more accurate such as species. Inox and Vermling are clearly meant to be different species. Using the term race carries real world associations and baggage. Use of this term in gaming should never have been adopted and it is about time it was retired.
This is where a lot of people in the middle got angry. This is where Isaac Childres tied disagreement with racism. While his apology indicates this was not his intent he does acknowledge that some people read it that way.
I think that if he had left that part off of his update it would have been much better received overall. To post an update with the goal of inclusion calling people racists for disagreeing is about as anti-inclusive as you can get. It also bothers me that many of the supporters of the update chose to dismiss or ignore the feelings of those who were offended by the accusation.
Accusations of Tone Policing
Responses that were critical of the update that included references to the tone of the update were quickly labeled as Tone Policing by supporters of Inclusion and Equity. I find this to be deeply troubling because tone policing is meant only to cover instances where the argument is ignored because of the tone used in relaying it. Some of the arguments were aimed solely at the tone of the update while others addressed the tone and the content of the update, both were being called out as tone policing.
The problem here is that this oversimplification of tone policing was used to shut down legitimate criticism of the update because they also included the tone in their argument. There were other cases where people were shut down when discussing the update because their tone was combative. Yes, there was tone policing happening on both sides!
The problem with the charge of tone policing is that it is often used against people who are knowledgeable in de-escalation techniques.
- "I will ignore everything you say because of your tone" <- tone policing
- "I want to talk about what is bothering you but you need to calm down so we can both speak rationally" <- de-escalation, not tone policing
It is very difficult to have a rational conversation with someone who is acting irrationally. It is not tone policing to ask someone to set their emotions aside so a discussion can take place. I say this because emotions are all about how you feel about something and feelings are never wrong. You can be extremely upset about an event but if the other person is having a different emotional reaction (their own truth) the only way to have a discussion is to remove the emotions and talk about the issue. Having an emotion vs emotion debate will never end well because emotions are always true and right to the person feeling them. Facts and logic are provable, there is no room for interpretation or personal bias. An oak tree is an oak tree no matter how strongly your emotions tell you it is a maple tree.
I also find it deeply troubling that the side that publicly says they are all for inclusion is the quickest to ban people from the discussion when they disagree. It makes me wonder if they are truly interested in inclusion or are simply using it as a shield to defame critics. After all, what sensible person would ever be against inclusion? Guess what, inclusion means including everyone, even the people you disagree with.
My concerns are very simple. I want inclusion. I want everyone to enjoy the board gaming hobby just as much as I do. I don't want anyone to feel excluded from the hobby or the discussion around the hobby. I want everyone to be able to sit down at the table and not be worried that some part of the game is just a reskinned painful stereotype from our world.
I also want equality (not equity). I strongly disagree with the equity movement. I grew up in the 1970's and we were raised to cherish equality under the law. Everyone is equal under the law. All this talk of equity sounds a bit too much like George Orwell's Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others.
I want free speech. I want everyone to be able to talk and express themselves, even people I disagree with. This does not mean I am against consequences. If your speech leads me to believe that you are a racist my interactions with you will change. I will not try to cancel you (I will not try to ruin your life on a global scale because of a stupid thing you did on a local scale) but you will face localized consequences.
My last concern is related to the entirety of the inclusion/equity/critical theory crowd taking Marxism and shoehorning race and gender where Marx used class. This remixed social theory where power structure is taken into account to split everyone into being either an oppressor or the oppressed does not scale well at all. Under this theory the accepted definition of racism is turned on its head by adding power dynamics. In essence, someone can only be racist if they have the power to inflict their racism on others.
What this means is that someone who is an ethnic majority in one country stops being a racist as soon as they cross the border into a country where they are an ethnic minority. Not only that but, in the US critical theory now has the backing of government. According to the definitions created by them advocates of critical theory now wield institutional power, which makes them the oppressor!
The theory also ignores that one can belong to a group that has power at a macro level even though that individual holds no power at the micro level. Even worse, the power dynamic can be reversed at the micro level but, because they hold power as a group on the macro level, the powerless person is still considered an oppressor.
I innately hate (yes, I do mean hate and I do not use the word lightly) any movement that seeks to divide people and use those divisions to sow discontent and strife. I hate the way this movement has allowed people to say some of the most racist and sexist things imaginable under the cover of those people being oppressed and unable to be racist. Any time someone says, "The opinions and views of that person are invalid because they belong to [insert ethnic/gender group name]," the speaker is being racist or sexist. It doesn't matter what race/gender the speaker belongs to, the words are racist.