Orcs/dwarves/elves; can they be used?

edited October 2011 in Story Games
In another thread I'm talking about my current campaigns (4 of them), were the characters are settlers of a new land. The land is inhabited by orcs, and I seek inspiration in historical settling/colonization to make them interesting. I'm using orcs as indigenous people, and get my inspiration from indians of North America, and the ways they were treated by whites.

When I said that this was done with orcs, I apparently "lost" some of the readers. Judd took out the big hammer and stated:
Posted By: JuddThat is a toxic, ugly fantasy you are creating.
Jason Morningstar chipped in too, to say that I lost him. I really don't know why Jason and Judd should react that way, so I'm hoping they will use this thread to debate it.
Posted By: StornOrcs are analogy. He hasn't lost me. I've done the same thing in a Forgotten Realms game. It allowed me to burst the players preconceptions of what Orcs are/were... by grounding them in some real world trappings. I used a patchwork of Mongol and eastern n. american native peoples (The orcs had two cultures themselves, based on their environment).

I wasn't trying to belittle any culture by stealing identities for my orcs... I was trying to say something about predjudice and race... ACTUAL race (as in Orcs are a different race) and its -ism. While having fun fantasy entertaining adventures.

It worked too. Eventually had a player playing an Orc.
As you say; it's an analogy. Or something by itself, partly inspired by real events.

Seeking inspiration in real life is not belittling anyone, in my view. It is using what we know about how things are connected, how they develop, while creating what we know as our history. By using historical references we may hold it up; See what happened in our world! And when playing with these references baked in, we may say; See how you (the players) stood your ground when faced with similar challenges!

I find this kind of game-play both challenging and full of possible insights. It is highly interesting, and not at all harmful.
Posted By: JuddStorn, its a shitty metaphor.
Well ... it's rather a fantasy-metaphor for some really shitty historical events; the oppression and mistreatment of american indians.

Wether it is "shitty" or not, depends on how you treat the theme in play. I would think folks on this forum had sense enough to see that.

But anyway; this thread is for discussing it. Chip in, folks, but don't start yelling at once. Try supporting your point of view with arguments. That always leaves us with the best debates.
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Comments

  • On a parallel track, Terry Pratchett's latest novel, Snuff, treads the same metaphorical ground, dealing with the African Slave Trade of the 19th century in a fantasy setting, with goblins taking the place of Africans. Cunningly, the novel does it in a way that doesn't shove it down your throat, but has some subtle parallels, e.g. the crops the goblins are being used to harvest and the way their suffering is expressed in music.
  • I don't see why it needs to be debated. Some people don't like the idea, think it's a bad/damaging one. Okay? Some people think roleplaying is a bad/damaging activity. All righty? Matter of taste, nothing more.

    In other words, someone can think my game is juvenile shit, and that doesn't impoverish me or reduce my enjoyment. Same for you and your goal with this game. I mean, you weren't asking those two dudes to be in your game, right?

    I'll put it another way. Probably there have been racist ideas in my games at times over the years, because I contain racist ideas. I don't necessarily "mean to" have them, but that's life. If someone says "I perceive this racist idea in your game", I've got to be able to accept/absorb that critique, not work at justifying what I was doing or (worse) explaining how the perception is wrong. It doesn't mean that I necessarily change what I do, I can certainly decide that they're wrong or that it doesn't matter, but it's still my decision based on my tastes and goals, not based on some objective, fruitfully-debatable set of criteria.

    So no need for a thread, seems like what they said made sense to me (and you?) Say "thanks" to them and go on to the next thing.
  • So, we're going to take a culture that has been treated to a genocidal dose of imperialism, wash it down with being ignored and/or marginalized in any kind of fiction or history and in order to explore their issues we are going to turn them into something other than human? In particular, the symbol/mask we are going to stick them behind is one that was made to display all that was wrong with humanity?

    I've done it. I was playing D&D and didn't feel right about dragons of a certain color being evil or something having an alignment just because the Monster Manual told me so and the world got into gray moral areas fast. My orcs lived in ghettos in the cities and looking back, I cringe. I was trying to deal with parts of D&D that bugged me and it came out shitty, even if the games were fun, even if one of the players was a person of color and seemed to like it.

    So, yeah, we live in a society where the media's all a mess about race and when we get together with our friends the fantasies we create are all a mess about race. I get that. What I don't get is saying that its okay and not worth thinking about, talking about and correcting.
  • I think that I expressed this to some degree in the other thread, but here it is again.

    By explicitly stating that you are drawing inspiration from real history, then creating "facts" in your fantasy that reflect the twisted historical fantasy of the perpetrators of the genocide of my ancestors, it comes across as an implicit endorsement of the false "history" that has furthered the extermination of my people's culture. You have subtly said to me that my great grandmother was an Orc, with all the implications that go with it. You have given justification in your world for the racial misconceptions about my people, and these misconceptions still haunt me and my family. You have no idea how often I have to hear "It is just so unfortunate that Native people have a genetic predisposition to drug abuse and alcoholism that results in their current state of poverty." Fantasies that frame native people as monsters do not help this.

    My question would be, why did the tribes have to be the Orcs and the settlers have to be the humans? An answer like "Because that is the way it should be!" would reveal overt racism, but I would also say that an answer of "Because it just seemed OK, and I never really thought about it." would reveal at best some insensitivity, and possibly some unrecognized insidious racism.
  • Oh, I agree it's worth thinking about (I think he did, and is), and talking about (you did), and correcting if necessary. But not really debating. Like, what could he possibly say to you, Judd, to make you change your mind? Nothing. You perceived something objectionable, you objected. Cool. Similarly, what could you say to him to make him change his mind? Nothing. Either he sees it as problematic or he doesn't, or the problematic elements are worth it to him for some other reason. Cool.

    I could say why I think Punisher: War Zone is one of the most despicable, inhuman movies ever made, but I assume the director Lexi Alexander would have her own view of it. A good director would take the critique and thank me for the effort for thinking about their movie so much, and consider the critique in future work. A bad one would try to debate me out of my view and justify their work to me. Lexi Alexander doesn't work for me! She doesn't have to care what I think of her work.

    You didn't like how you handled orcs-as-minority-analogue in one of your earlier games. Cool, I assume you work hard to approach things differently, in a way you would consider better. I try to do this with every element of every game!

    But it sounds like the other players were okay with it. That's interesting to know too. Does it mean what you did wasn't objectionable? Of course not. But it also doesn't mean the other players missed something or were wrong when they didn't find it objectionable.
  • I'm not talking about the other players at my table missing something.

    I'm also not going to engage in a conversation with you about poisonous metaphors when you compare this discussion to your opinion of an effing Punisher movie.

    Please.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: TomasHVMWell ... it's rather a fantasy-metaphor for somereally shitty historical events; the oppression and mistreatment of american indians.
    It's a shitty metaphor because you are baking evil into the indigenous people of your fantasy land, which you've described as an analogy for North America. It's no longer about the mistreatment of native American people; it's about the filthy orcs squatting on bountiful lands that your peaceful settlers feel they have a right to. By making the indigenous people orcs, you're legitimizing that view. Even if that's not your intent!
  • Posted By: JuddI'm not talking about the other players at my table missing something.
    So you agree with me that they didn't necessarily miss anything?
    Posted By: JuddI'm also not going to engage in a conversation with you about poisonous metaphors when you compare this discussion to your opinion of an effing Punisher movie.
    Naturally, elves and orcs are far more serious fantasies.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: NamelessMy question would be, why did the tribes have to be the Orcs and the settlers have to be the humans?
    This is a great question to ask.

    "Because that's the way it should be!" could even be a valid answer, depending on what is meant by "because".

    Orcs as stand-ins for humans to make it easier to dehumanize them? That's pretty terrible. I can't see how that doesn't lead into "politically safe" racist power play. It's the type of thing that Tolkien and a lot of fantasy gets heat for (and sometimes very appropriately).

    Orcs as stand-ins to make it harder to identify with them, to help the players identify with the oppressors to illustrate how fucking hard it can be to treat "others" as equal and with compassion when your culture selects some group of humans and dehumanizes them and labels them as "other"? I can see some merit and mileage there. I can't speak for ThomasHVM at all (who I believe lives in Europe, or was at least enculturated there), but I've gotten a pretty throughough liberal education. When I play in 19th century period games, the issue of race is generally avoided. We all KNOW that blacks, indigenous Americans, Chinese, and so forth are equal and full humans. Playing a racist is tricky, but when it happens it's usually nothing more than being rude in-character. What happens much more often, especially with Native Americans (aside from treating them all as a mono-culture loosely based on the Lakota nations and/or Navajo) is noble savage racism. They're more spiritual, more peaceful, more environmental, etc, etc. In fact, I'd wager that it would be easier and more compelling for someone like me to paint the European invaders as orcs and play the analogous First Nations as human. I'm completely ready to vilify and dehumanize the historical actions of my culture (perhaps in spite of, or because of, the fact my particular ancestors were still in Europe when most of the worst of it was happening).*

    So, I think there's a lot of potential merit in treating a human culture as inhuman to capture the labels of "inhuman" given by another culture. It's not an easy subject. It treads dangerously close to become power fantasies matching the sentiment of a lot of (generally) conservative whites in America who are starting to see their privilege ebb before they even realized they had it. But I would argue that trying it in good faith, even if it's a disaster, is better than ignoring it entirely.

    It's also not an easy subject because there's still so much dehumanization going on. Why try to sympathize with the oppressor when they are still oppressing? Why look into those wounds when there are still wounds to heal for those who've had their ancestors murdered and enslaved? To that I answer: I'm not sure. But that work will have to be done eventually. And if we ignore it, we could be ignoring some fantastic solutions and ideas. And we're talking about playing games, not changes to public policy (where white men don't need any help). Playing games is how we learn. Maybe this is the wrong sort of play because it reinforces racism. But maybe it's not. In the hands of people who are trying hard to uplift us all, I'll place my bets on not.

    (I also think this can be done without putting Orcs in the trappings of a real culture. I certainly understand why Nameless and others would take offense to that. Edit: In fact, I'll make this stronger. To be most effective I think you MUST change their culture into something fictional, to be something the players would find alien and potentially distasteful without being unforgivable. If I see Orcs modeled after a First Nation, then I'll just think "Oh, these are Native American analogies, so therefore they are human just like us and should be understood, not treated like lesser beings just because they look and act different.")

    *Which is why I'm fascinated with the idea. This is a challenging idea. But in that I see the chance for a lot of growth.
  • edited October 2011
    I wonder how I would react if I had to play in a setup inspired from early english-french canadian conflicts where we all play heroic characters playing the part of englishmen VS french canadians framed as repugnant lazy monsters. I think I would really not be comfortable.

    On a other part, I wonder if players can really ignore such big metaphor while playing their character. It add a strong meta level layer that it hard to ignore. If I was playing in a campaign where orcs play the role of native americans, I don't know how I could ignore the metaphor or not let it affect my gameplay. I think the metaphor is so strong/obvious that it go again the misdirection the GM try to create. Like even if the orcs are repulsive, I think as a player I will want to see past their monstruosity since I know they are a metaphor for native americans. The meta stuff it create is just too strong/obvious.
  • edited October 2011
    In 2009, there was a massive debate in online Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom, deemed "Racefail '09".

    It concerned the representation of fantasy races as cultural Others.

    Months into it, a black woman noted that it had degenerated into white people on one side vs. white people on the other side, trading righteous indignation (and they had taken the discourse into a tangent about online privacy, not race).


    There were many bad moves made on ALL sides, and I hope the same mistakes are not repeated here; because it would be bad for this community. Whatever our good intentions, and whatever Good may come of it, the net result may nonetheless be negative.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: JDCorleyI don't see why it needs to be debated. Some people don't like the idea, think it's a bad/damaging one. Okay? Some people think roleplaying is a bad/damaging activity. All righty? Matter of taste, nothing more.
    Saying that others do damage, is not "a matter of taste". It is a moral judgement.

    It should be made with some argument, so we may know why we are so damaging.
  • I can totally see how there would be differing opinions on this. The difference lies in the degree of commitment an individual has to the genre of fantasy; for many roleplayers, Tomas included, fantasy tropes are so well-trod that they're little more than skin-deep visual imagery at this point. Most specifically, when you go deep enough into the well, the orc is no longer an ugly thing by default; your orc has its starting point in the early literature of pillage and barbarism, yes, but you've gone through all that Shadowrun stuff and other such treatments that deconstruct the symbol itself. After that sort of life experience I can totally see how one wouldn't blink an eye at opting to depict orcs as something akin to aboroginals. Heck, I don't blink an eye there - the orc is such an used symbol that it can mean anything at all. If you say that your orcs are not of the seed of evil, but are rather merely relatively primitive, then you're talking about different orcs than the ones one might take offense being compared to.

    I do admit that out of all the various buggy-wugs in roleplaying mythology, the orc tends to be one of the most evil. This is probably because D&D contrasts it with various other similar creatures, and orc often gets to be the most evil one. Get away from D&D and roleplaying into the wider context of fantasy literature, and orc is often the "default" outsider - in that situation there's no telling whether a given author will treat orcs as evil by nature, as noble savages or what. I have a gut feeling that this is particularly true in Europe, and perhaps northern Europe in general, or at least here in Finland. I can at least say that nobody I know here would blink an eye at the idea of doing a game where orcs are not inherently evil. For many Finnish roleplayers the orc is the archetypal savage humanoid due to its prominence in Tolkien (and Warhammer), so the creature obviously ends up carrying so much symbolic weight from case to case that you can do almost anything with it.

    It occurs to me that I do this too in my D&D game, where "goblin" is explicitly a term the dominant population uses for a certain ethnicity of hillmen. As I explain it to players new to the campaign: "Goblins are people; they're basically like picts or laps or indians, differentiated from the dominant population by their means of living, language and other culture. We the players know this, but your character will most likely have some heavy racist eye-glasses on, so he exaggerates the signs of primitive bestiality to himself: he ignores it when the goblins are handsome and noble and wise, and only remembers it when they're indescribably dirty, savage and stunted in growth. Many are, for theirs is a poor and desperate world unimaginable to the privileged adventurer. It's a rare adventurer who decides to consider goblins as people, and one willing to consider them human is all but unheard of."

    I don't find my treatment of goblins as real humans to be particularly insensitive or offensive towards various aboriginal peoples; even if the term "goblin" has in some other work been used to indicate cruel fantasy monsters, here the word refers to some primitive tribes the player characters encounter now and then. The player characters are often pretty awful people by modern standards, but we run a pretty historical game, so it's sort of justified: we the players know that the most celebrated hero of the campaign is basically Hernán Cortés, which gives the entire game an ironic tone when we appreciate the fact that you can be rather evil by modern standards and still be a "hero" as long as you only do bad things to other people. I don't know if the notion of doing a true-to-life Age of Exploration adventure game is inherently offensive; perhaps it is something that should never be done, but then I find no justification for doing anything in the adventure genre - our adventure story heritage is, for better or worse, all about how white men go and put things right for other white men despite the difficulties caused by nature and various outsider peoples.

    Reading Tomas's original post, it seems we're doing basically the same exact thing with our fantasy symbols. As he says, it's not the metaphor that's twisted, but the history it's based on. We the players know that, and appreciate the grounding it provides for D&D; I would personally find it much more problematic to play the sort of D&D where orcs are there to be killed and the game is played for wish-fulfillment where the wish to be fulfilled involves morally absolute wholesale slaughter with no consequences. Our player characters still fight with goblins and exploit them in trade and otherwise, but we realize that they do these things because of their own background and world-view, not because goblins are cosmologically intended as sacrificial victims to the gods of the white men. The PCs are usually poor, desperate, born to consider goblins little more than animals, too cynical to care about other people, and so on and so forth; the characters who don't have these sorts of foundation for their colonialistic exploits don't do adventures where the gist is to go into a rich goblin settlement and rob it bare. Just like real history, it takes all sorts.

    In a nutshell, I think that it's wrong to claim that Tomas is making Indians evil if you don't in fact know that orcs in his campaign are evil. I might just as well claim that nobody should put a big lion in his story as a metaphor for Christ, because to me lions are cruel and savage beasts and this is therefore a noxious metaphor. It simply doesn't make any sense to ascribe objective and universal meaning to literary symbols. I can understand how this could be misunderstood if you've never encountered any stuff where orcs and such are treated as something other than meat to be wasted.
  • Euro, I've played a long campaign where orcs were the main characters trying to overcome what the world thought of them and the violence and hatred embedded in their culture and their very blood.

    I think that when one person says that another's use of their culture is problematic and the reply is, "Oh well," the issue at hand has very little to do with orcs.

    Reading some posts post above, I'm tapping out of this thread. Be well, folks.
  • edited October 2011
    Your post is very good, Eero. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us!
    Posted By: JuddSo, we're going to take a culture that has been treated to a genocidal dose of imperialism, wash it down with being ignored and/or marginalized in any kind of fiction or history and in order to explore their issues we are going to turn them into something other than human?
    No. I do not see why you heat up like this. No one is playing indians here, or proposing to play indians.

    I'm seeking inspiration in the history of North America, not to portray indians, but to get insight into a conflict that has its shadows in nearly all cultural conflicts on earth. I want to use that insight to play serious with this kind of conflict. What's your problem with that, Judd?

    I do understand that these issues are touchy. I know them from my home country, where sami people still, today, refuse to talk about their discrimination, mistreatment and shame. Young sami people though, have begun fighting back against the shame; they refuse to carry the deep-rooted shame of their parents further. They have realized that the shame is something their parents were taught in school, as children, by their arrogant and shameless oppressors. It is the shame of the victim. So young sami people, and some old, stand up now and say they are sami! They stand up and sing, and talk their language, and demand rights that has been stolen from them. They demand the right to develop their culture too, into a new idea of what a sami is, an idea for this century. It is a process of liberation from darkness! It's true progress! I am proud to see them do it!

    I know some indians do this too. I've talked with some of them, and it made me happy to hear that they had a culture they cared about, an indian identity they were proud of. I hope most indians do it, and that it will help American society grow. There is wisdom and love to be found in healing.
  • Posted By: Cedric PI wonder how I would react if I had to play in a setup inspired from early english-french canadian conflicts where we all play heroic characters playing the part of englishmen VS french canadians framed as repugnant lazy monsters. I think I would really not be comfortable.
    Of course not.

    I have the feeling you and Judd, and Jason, are misreading this whole thing. I am not trying to portray indians. If I'm portraying anyone from our world, it would be the whites and their (self-inflicted) prejudices. My players will play humans, and they will possibly perpetrate the same acts of violence as whites did in Africa, India, Sapmi, South America, etc-etc.

    The orcs of my game will be peaceful folks, with a rich culture. But them being peaceful, with little weapons and understanding of war, makes it easier for the characters to get the upper hand, and to "win" this conflict by the wrong means. Having the power to destroy any opposition, has certain lures to it. It is all too easy to become an oppressor. And the orc being peaceful and cultural advanced, will make it possible for me to highlight how bad the characters are acting (if the players choose to go down that route). That is an interesting disposition, in my view.
  • Eero, why'd you decide on the term "goblin"? It sounds like you don't want to evoke what it means in other works, so why not use a non-loaded (e.g. made-up) label?
  • Oh, hey, I just realized that I'm missing half the conversation. No wonder some responses were confusing me. For anyone else who's missed it, the conversation starts here and the contentious stuff starts here.
  • Tomas, are you familiar with the term "subject position"?

    When you write about these topics, you cannot do it neutrally. You take up a position when you do it.

    Think what you are saying when you take a conflict, from another country, and convert it to a fantasy analogue.
  • ...this whole conversation just made me think of a quote from Stephen Fry that I recently saw...

    image

    Don't tell us you're offended, give us reasons why.

    Racism may be the friction when two cultures impact on one another.

    Political correctness is the amorphous gelatinous mass that smothers all cultures, slowly strangling, killing the eroding any presence of their existence.

    I've seen a great game run in reverse,where the "natives" were human and the invaders were the orcs...and I've seen plenty of games use analogies of European countries as fantasy races. This game concept carries on that fine tradition, and to nay-say it is to deny a chunk of gaming heritage.

    Think about it.
  • Seems pretty clear why folks are offended. If you don't want to hear it, that is actually your problem.

    But here's one more go: if you want to explore the issues of marginalized people in your fiction, using you fiction to furter marginalize them by literally dehumanizing them is doing it wrong.

    And if you want to think about something, think about why you feel it's more important to preserve thirty years of gaming "heritage" than it is figure out how to fix the way gamers interact with several centuries worth of actual history.
  • edited October 2011
    Here's a thought. There may be a perceptual gap here about what's going to happen when Tomas runs the game. My guess would be that this won't be a "play to find out" story game where maybe the players wind up in positions to question imperialist attitudes. Instead, it'll be a somewhat scripted game, where the players are definitely managed and forced into positions to question imperialist attitudes.

    Does that make a difference? Is "you must dehumanize them and I will show you why that's wrong" better than "you could dehumanize them and I'll try to show you why that's wrong"?

    Tomas, you might do well to reiterate the point that you do intend to show why the dehumanization is wrong. I wasn't clear on that until I read this. "I want any violent actions to come back and haunt them" isn't a hope, it's a plan, right?
  • I'm just going to leave this here:
    As designed objects, computer games create practices that could be considered unethical. Yet these practices are voluntarily undertaken by a moral agent who not only has the capacity, but also the duty to develop herself as an ethical being by means of practicing her own player-centric ethical thinking while preserving the pleasures and balances of the game experience. The player is a moral user capable of reflecting ethically about her presence in the game, and aware of how that experience configures her values both inside the game world and in relation to the world outside the game.
    Miguel Sicart, The Ethics of Computer Games (MIT Press: 2009), 17. My emphasis.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: GrahamTomas, are you familiar with the term "subject position"?
    Yes.
    Posted By: GrahamWhen you write about these topics, you cannot do it neutrally. You take up a position when you do it.
    Yes, I do. And I have given you the basis for my position; the arguments on my side of the debate. I believe that entitles me to ask the same of others.
    Posted By: GrahamThink what you are saying when you take a conflict, from another country, and convert it to a fantasy analogue.
    The conflict is the same in a lot of countries. I do not convert it; I am letting my fantasy-conflict be inspired by reality, and have asked for advice that could inform our inter-play around the table.
    Posted By: Jim DelRossoSeems pretty clear why folks are offended. If you don't want to hear it, that is actually your problem.

    But here's one more go: if you want to explore the issues of marginalized people in your fiction, using you fiction to furter marginalize them byliterally dehumanizing themis doing itwrong.
    It's not at all clear! I have already said that this is a faulty understanding of what I write, and what I intend to do around the table. This is emotional shadow-boxing, with no real reason to it.

    The issue is touchy, as said, so I understand that we have to tread carefully. But that is US having to tread carefully. You too. Yelling "toxic" and "damaging" and "wrong" is not going to resolve anything.

    I've explained my own position pretty extensively, being candid with my professional AND personal background for introducing this kind of conflict in my game. But I have had no answer from those claiming that my position is "toxic" and "damaging". To put such laden allegations out there, and not being willing to clarify why this is so, is not something I would dream of doing. It makes it hard to have a constructive discussion.

    I said in the first post here, that I would like people to start by not yelling, but explaining their point of view. Please do! And if you want ot berate me for something I have said, please quote me actually saying it. It should be easy enough.
  • Posted By: David BergMy guess would be that this won't be a "play to find out" story game wheremaybethe playerswind upin positions to question imperialist attitudes. Instead, it'll be a somewhatscriptedgame, where the players aredefinitely managed and forcedinto positions to question imperialist attitudes.
    No. This is indeed meant to be a game where the players will have ample opportunity to explore the world, and the conflict, and to take action as they deem wise.

    That is actually why I have asked for advice now; my players have decided to enter into negotiations with an orc tribe. Next thursday one of my groups will travel to the orc-camp nearest them, and try to talk with them. They took the initiative, and I have to follow up.

    And I need to be prepared. What will the orcs say and do? What is a reasonable response from a tribe that has no "ownership" to the land, when these humans come ask for permission to use it, or to buy it (I don't know what the players will end up saying, so I must prepare for different eventualities)? The theme is too serious to me, that I can enter into this situation with no knowledge of historical precedence (or with the little knowledge I have; I need more to be comfortable leading the game-play).
  • Tomas, please slow down and listen.
  • Posted By: TomasHVMNo. This is indeed meant to be a game where the players will have ample opportunity to explore the world, and the conflict, and to take action as they deem wise.
    Oops! My mistake. Everyone, ignore me on the pre-planned thing.
  • Posted By: David BergEero, why'd you decide on the term "goblin"? It sounds like you don't want to evoke what it means in other works, so why not use a non-loaded (e.g. made-up) label?
    There are three things here, all pretty trivial. The first is that "goblin" is a made-up label in itself, used in a multitude of ways in different works of art. It's a strongly biased reading to pretend that "monster of the night" is any more essential to its nature than "strange and persecuted people who live in the wilderness". The very last goblin-related literary work I remember seeing treated them as people, and that was a webcomic that was actually about D&D, but still persisted in problematizing the idea of using goblins as nameless sword-fodder. In this regard the choice was natural, there was no difficulty of the sort you suggest. The second trivial thing is that my campaign is fed by multitudinous OSR D&D adventure modules, which have a plenty of goblins, so I needed a consistent and interesting depiction for them that'd work with both the adventure material and the overall setting we were developing in play; an extremely commonplace humanoid tool-user who weren't acknowledged as human would not have been true to life in the way I wanted, that sort of thing would change the way people in the game world think of themselves and others. (The setting doesn't have commonplace demihumans either, of course - all D&D races are either human ethnicities or creatures of myth.) The third trivial thing is that we play in Finnish, so the actual term we're using is "hiisi", which I think maps very closely to "goblin" as it's understood in English literature, but I can imagine somebody disagreeing on that, too. We could have just called these folks "picts", I guess, but then we'd lose the D&D connection, and I'd have to constantly remember to use the replacement term when bringing new material to the table.

    But anyway, I agree with Tomas here - I don't know why, but any topic veering close to an ill-defined nimbus of human rights issues is like a red flag on this forum, causing people to suddenly act like reason and civility don't need to count, and the only way to reach concord is by showing throat to whoever decided to get offended first. Where I come from, saying nasty things to others causes social obligation to settle with them, but apparently this is one topic where it's OK to do some drive-by bitching and then refuse to acknowledge that your standards are not everybody's, and that you can offend just as much by pushing them on others. I could understand this attitude if Tomas was doing something aberrant, but his game-plan seems entirely ordinary to me - I can't believe in such a wide culture gap, however touchy Anglos are about race issues; this has to be a case of overreaction and some sort of weird groupthink.

    To put this in perspective, what we seem to be saying here is that doing a game that explores the attitudes and worldview of colonial era Europeans is much more notable and offensive than the common sort of thematic roleplaying game. I find this pretty surprising with the sort of gaming culture we have nowadays - and I mean this positively, we have a culture where it is all right to play a game about exploring femininity, or one that tries to understand the socio-psychological conditions that make piracy possible. I would have thought that it's a given at this point that we can play games about topics that matter, enriching our own understanding and vicariously experiencing all kinds of things.
  • edited October 2011
    Eero, I can't speak for any of the participants in this thread, but in general, I've been told that Europeans are more likely to confront difficult issues in social interactions, while Americans are more likely to drop the subject.

    Differing expectations might apply to both content and tone here.

    Judd saw Tomas as being dismissive of Lee's points, but Tomas didn't see it that way, and ever since then (as far as I can tell) the whole issue of who owes whom how much explanation has been in a state of disagreement.

    As for "goblin"/"hiisi", your 2nd and 3rd reasons make sense to me. The 1st seems most relevant to the topic, though, and I'm not sure if I understand you. Are you saying that your players would bring in a nuanced response to the term, or is that just you? What you described as "strongly biased" is 100% how you should expect Americans to respond. Blame Spider-Man.

    I'm trying to think of a word that equally means "scary critter" and "persecuted person" to your average American gamer... nothing so far...
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: TomasHVMThe orcs of my game will be peaceful folks, with a rich culture. But them being peaceful, with little weapons and understanding of war, makes it easier for the characters to get the upper hand, and to "win" this conflict by the wrong means.
    That seems like a problematic basis for conversation. Possibly that's only obvious in retrospect. I suspect that if you had called them 'fnords', say, instead of 'orcs', it may have been easier all around.


    Cheers,
    Roger
  • Posted By: Jim DelRosso if you want to explore the issues of marginalized people in your fiction, using you fiction to furter marginalize them byliterally dehumanizing themis doing itwrong.
    Like portraying Jews as mice? Or the proletariat as farm animals? Or migrants as hideous crustaceans? Or indigenous forest dwellers as teddy bears (no, that's not Star Wars, it's Little Fuzzy.)

    Or portraying a land where the gentle, civilized race are horses, and the brutish ones are humans, as Swift did in Gulliver's Travels?

    I'm kind of amazed by this thread, that people would have so little understanding of satire that they would take a symbolic transformation so literally.
  • Yes, obviously we have some communication issues here - I'm not trying to accuse anybody of anything above, I'm just confronting the fact that I don't understand what several people are upset about. I don't even mind if people are bothered by such an innocuous game topic, I'd just wish that the dissatisfaction were communicated in a less arrogant manner. This is not the first time a person here gets told that if they don't get why they're offensive, the problem is with them. The way it seems to me from the sidelines, there's no reason whatsoever to assume that your own life experience, social mores and taboos are universal in the Internet.
    Posted By: David BergAs for "goblin"/"hiisi", your 2nd and 3rd reasons make sense to me. The 1st seems most relevant to the topic, though, and I'm not sure if I understand you. Are you saying that yourplayerswould bring in a nuanced response to the term, or is that justyou? What you described as "strongly biased" is 100% how you should expect Americans to respond. Blame Spider-Man.
    Oh, I would frankly expect anybody not up to their ears in D&D to at least stop and ask what you mean by "goblin" or other such common-place mythological critters in an arbitrary context. I mean, these are imaginary creatures we're talking about, you can't go to Wikipedia and check out the real true story of what goblins eat for breakfast. There is a certain tendency in D&D culture (and by extension rpg culture in general, although less so here than in the USA) to treat the monster manual as somehow normative not only of the game, but the world beyond - as if these things didn't have an independent existence in culture.

    I mean, I would think that this is obvious. Were we playing Pendragon, you'd expect creatures by the name of "goblin" to be folklore-like faerie creatures, mischievous and cunning, wielding magics potentially formidable. This creature has nothing to do with the D&D goblin, which is a fully natural monster culturally and biologically inclined to evil. Reaching further, in modern urban fantasy goblins are often people, allies or foils to various human protagonists. Sometimes they're degenerate humans living in sewers, sometimes they're harmless little people who just want to have fun. Heck, in folklore studies terms like "goblin" or "boggan" or "gnome" don't mean anything much at all, they're just different names for the unknown, mysterious creatures of the night. It'd be the height of folly to assume that you know what is meant when an ambiguous, flexible and poetic term like "goblin" is used. It's certainly no reach for me to me decide that in my setting we're treating the D&D goblins as a human ethnicity. Being that it's ultimately a fantasy game, I can even decide that the "goblins" still get better eyesight in the dark than baseline humans due to their adaptations to cave living.

    The above goes for "orc", too, which is why I don't quite grasp where the assumption that Tomas's orcs are horrendous monsters is coming from. I might have missed some place where he said it, or alternatively people are just outright assuming things here. I'm reminded of the "orc" in Earthdawn as a pretty high-profile roleplaying game example of how you can easily use that name and habitus for a pretty admirable being, brave and compassionate. Undermining the usual D&D genocide by showing the various monstrous creatures in sympathetic light is not exactly a new idea, yet here I am explaining it like Tomas was inventing fire for the first time.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenOh, I would frankly expect anybody not up to their ears in D&D to at least stop and ask what you mean by "goblin" or other such common-place mythological critters in an arbitrary context.
    Well, of course, any initial associations can be countered or refined to some extent by subsequent discussion. But that's no response to "why that term?" In this case, I'd say you should use the term if you want its associations.

    If you say that your players hear "hiisi" and have initial associations that are appropriate for your game, great. I was just asking if that was in fact the case.

    If I ran a game, and said "goblin", and wanted my players to think (at any point) "persecuted people", I'd be fighting their initial associations. Making up a new term would seem the superior solution.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: snejPosted By: Jim DelRossoif you want to explore the issues of marginalized people in your fiction, using you fiction to furter marginalize them byliterally dehumanizing themis doing itwrong.
    Like portraying Jews as mice? Or the proletariat as farm animals? Or migrants as hideous crustaceans? Or indigenous forest dwellers as teddy bears (no, that's not Star Wars, it's Little Fuzzy.)

    Or portraying a land where the gentle, civilized race are horses, and the brutish ones are humans, as Swift did in Gulliver's Travels?

    I'm kind of amazed by this thread, that people would have so little understanding of satire that they would take a symbolic transformation so literally.

    Well put. I would first of all like to associate myself with both these remarks and those of Eero.

    The only further thing I'd like to add is that the orc/first peoples analogue is valid imo, based on the perception of whites at the time. The orcs would look at a female orc and perhaps think she was beautiful, or sexually arousing, where as the humans might see her as savage and beneath such admiration. Similar could be said about whites' contempt of the first peoples.

    HOWEVER, the onus is then on the players to realize that orcs are people, just like humans. They can explore the issues of racism and how to OVERCOME the racism of their social betters and to save the orcs from the human settlers' genocide attempts, to figure out how to negotiate peace between their civilizations. This to me is the whole point of heroic fantasy, where it doesn't involve standard tropes such as slaying dragons, blah blah blah. The whole point of alternate/fantastical history fantasy is that as heroes, the player characters can right the wrongs of the past, fight for what they know is right, and remake history in their own image. Is this whole playstyle somehow invalidated because someone on the internet got all butthurt about your using genuinely genocidal, historical source material? I don't see how. I think it's at least as cool a way of saving the world as any.
  • Just chiming in. Isn't the whole point of fantasy to water down reality so that we can stand to drink it. I don't think many people would allow themselves to experience, to try and embody, what it would mean to be a racist colonial helping to commit genocide. But a lot of people could play a D&D game where they killed some orcs, and if those orcs were subtly and persistently really HUMAN under their alien appearance and culture, the people playing might just feel a little different, in real life, about making assumptions... Thomas' game could be a little piece of magic in a way a purely historical game (I think) would be unlikely to be.
  • Here's another attempt to convey my impression of this:

    If you want to have game about colonization and colonialism, it's not going to be very effective if you make the indigenous people be, well, people. Because we have all, fortunately, learned about what happened to the native Americans, Africans, Aborignes, etc. So when encountering them in a game, people are going to recognize (at some level) the situation and apply their Enlightened Progressive Modern sensibilities (or maybe _deliberately_ not, but that would be deliberate.)

    Whereas if you tweak the situation enough to make the encountered people seem as alien and horrifying as non-European non-Christian hunter-gatherers did to 16th-century Europeans, _then_ you might dig down to the kind of xenophobia and tribalism that will inevitably always lurk within most people. And a situation where you get to discover and recognize that in yourself, and then deal with it, is much more interesting than one where you only get to consciously apply your progressive modern book learning.

    And that's one of the purposes of satire: to use substitutions and exaggeration in ways that seem offensive but actually slip past people's defenses long enough to let them see things about themselves that they would ordinarily be able to whitewash away.

    Just to make it really really obvious to people who skipped the stuff above: the purpose (as I see it) of using orcs is absolutely not to equate native Americans (or Africans etc.) to bloodthirsty monsters; it's to reflect and simulate the attitudes that the European colonists had to the natives. You cannot put a picture of an Algonquin warrior in front of a modern person and get the same kind of reaction that a 16th-century Englishman would have instinctively have had. But use a picture of an orc, to any gamer or fantasy fan, and you're getting close.
  • Posted By: snejYou cannot put a picture of an Algonquin warrior in front of a modern person and get the same kind of reaction that a 16th-century Englishman would have instinctively have had. But use a picture of an orc, to any gamer or fantasy fan, and you're getting close.
    You might be right, but I wonder. Which came first, the dehumanization or the urge to exploit?

    Native Americans may have first seemed like people to the Europeans, and only started seeming like monsters later, after the Europeans fucked with them and they objected.

    Or not. Maybe as the Native Americans were showing them how to grow corn, the Europeans were thinking, "Wow, I can't believe these Orcs are helping us! This is great, now we're in better position to slaughter them all, which we obviously must do."

    The former strikes me as more likely, but I can't claim to be particularly in touch with 16th-century Englishmen.
  • On Orcs specifically:

    In the real world, foreign peoples were often deemed morally inferior by their oppressors, and the oppressors didn't understand them or evaluate them fairly. Thus the oppressors seem both ignorant and biased to us.

    In the Tolkein movies, we deem Orcs morally inferior because we do understand them and we do evaluate them fairly, and they do, in fact, suck. Our opinion of them seems informed and unbiased to us.

    This discrepancy could be problematic. It opens the door for the players to tell the GM, "Wait, now that we've killed these Tolkein Orcs, you're turning them into something else that's sympathetic? Well, I wouldn't have genocided these Orcs, so I have nothing to regret." I'd think the players would be better off leaving their out-of-game associations at the door, and developing their character attitudes strictly from in-game content. Which would suggest, "Use a new race name."

    (That's kinda what I was thinking with goblins, though maybe it doesn't apply to hiisi in Finland.)
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: David BergThis discrepancy could be problematic. It opens the door for the players to tell the GM, "Wait, now that we've killed these Tolkein Orcs, you're turning them into something else that's sympathetic? Well, I wouldn't have genocidedtheseOrcs, so I have nothing to regret."
    So, to be on guard against this discrepancy, you should be careful to send mixed signals all the way; portraying orcs as very strange indeed, but with certain features that should alert the players to something more ...
    - if they choose to oversee such features, and go with the prejudice, then so be it. You should not cast yourself in the role of moral judge whatever happens. Just ride with it, and keep on exploring. If they regret something, that is fine. If they don't regret a thing, that is fine. Let's be "Riders of the storm"!
    Posted By: David Berg"Use a new race name."
    And make a new race, from scratch, forcing myself and the players to make it come alive with strange descriptions, again and again, before it sticks? Nooo!
  • edited October 2011
    Ehn, if your plan is to send mixed signals all the way, then you'll be making it come alive with strange descriptions anyway.

    In Delve, there are things that I could have easily called Orcs, but I wanted them to be scary and mysterious even to D&D veterans, so I called them something else, and it worked. I still describe them like Orcs... physically, they look like Tolkein Uruk-hai... it's just that now those descriptions are filling a curiosity gap rather than bouncing off a shell of assumption. The players are already on edge even before I break out the land-polluting magic rituals.
  • edited October 2011
    That's one way to go about using the tropes of traditional monster-races, and renewing them, creating mystery and curiosity. Good going!
  • Tomas' position makes perfect sense to me, and I don't understand why people appear to be wilfully misreading him.

    Tomas is running a fantasy game in which colonising PCs interact with an indigenous people they don't understand. He has chosen to make this indigenous people non-human, in order to sharpen the issues and sidestep modern sensibilities. He has called them "orcs" to parallel the way that colonisers have generally thought about the peoples that they encountered (less human than themselves). (I agree with Dave Berg that this has the potential for misleading your players in a way they might complain about later, but that's another matter).

    The PCs will explore these issues from the point of view of the colonisers. Probably they will at first do terrible things feeling fully justified in their actions, and later (hopefully) come to realise that their ignorance has led them into terrible evil. I think this is an extremely worthwhile idea.

    Rather than just make stuff up, Tomas wants to inform his fantasy by researching historical experiences of this type, including *but not limited to*, the "colonisation" (or to put it less euphemistically, invasion) of the New World by Europeans, and various displacements of ethnic peoples within Europe. If you happen to know about the colonisation of Australia or the displacement of nomadic peoples within Mongolia (I'm making that one up but I bet it's happened) I'm sure he'd be interested to hear about that too. I can't see anything controversial about that. All fantasy is informed by history to some extent, and usually quite a large extent, but if Tomas set his game in an actual place and time, with historical peoples and places, he would almost certainly be accused (probably rightly) of appropriating other people's culture and history and caricaturing them for entertainment and his own agenda. I have no doubt that a fantasy setting is the better way to go.

    How can any reasonable person look at this sensitive, intelligent approach and conclude that the overall message is that "American Indians were smelly evil subhumans"? You might as reasonably object to Dogs in the Vineyard on the grounds that it glorifies Mormonism and sets it up as the One True Faith whose followers can do no wrong. That's the depth of the misreading here.

    Are American posters on this thread assuming that this game is "about" their history because it looms so large in their consciousness that they don't see how the story has played out many times in many places? I can't find any other way to make sense of what I'm reading.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: snejHere's another attempt to convey my impression of this:

    If you want to have game about colonization and colonialism, it's not going to be very effective if you make the indigenous people be, well, people. Because we have all, fortunately, learned about what happened to the native Americans, Africans, Aborignes, etc. So when encountering them in a game, people are going to recognize (at some level) the situation and apply their Enlightened Progressive Modern sensibilities (or maybe _deliberately_ not, but that would be deliberate.)

    Whereas if you tweak the situation enough to make the encountered people seem as alien and horrifying as non-European non-Christian hunter-gatherers did to 16th-century Europeans, _then_ you might dig down to the kind of xenophobia and tribalism that will inevitably always lurk within most people. And a situation where you get to discover and recognize that in yourself, and then deal with it, is much more interesting than one where you only get to consciously apply your progressive modern book learning.

    And that's one of the purposes of satire: to use substitutions and exaggeration in ways that seem offensive but actually slip past people's defenses long enough to let them see things about themselves that they would ordinarily be able to whitewash away.

    Just to make it really really obvious to people who skipped the stuff above: the purpose (as I see it) of using orcs is absolutely not to equate native Americans (or Africans etc.) to bloodthirsty monsters; it's to reflect and simulate the attitudes that the European colonists had to the natives. You cannot put a picture of an Algonquin warrior in front of a modern person and get the same kind of reaction that a 16th-century Englishman would have instinctively have had. But use a picture of an orc, to any gamer or fantasy fan, and you're getting close.
    Thats really interesting. My first reaction was, if you are going to do this, why not make the Elves the indigenous population?

    But yeah, Orcs is way more effective. Just dont make it about any particular time in history -- the same scenario has played out a zillion times anyway.
  • If he uses elves, he could paint htem as being more noble in their closeness to nature and true in their primitiveness, a sort of savage creature, yet noble for it.
  • edited October 2011
    EDIT: Fuck it. I don't need to entangle myself in this mess.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: stefoidBut yeah, Orcs is way more effective. Just dont make it about any particular time in history -- the same scenario has played out a zillion times anyway.
    I think this is an important distinction. You can learn from particular times in history for ideas, themes, cause and effect, etc, to apply to a game, but the game should be about its own events and cultures.
  • And, as has been made explicit, it is.
  • Posted By: Todd LNameless [Lee] made the case clearly: he is already inundated with garbled interpretations of his kin,
    so he does not especially welcome Tomas adding to the problem, even with a veneer of fantasy-- or with good intentions.
    But that is clearly *not* what Tomas is proposing.

    He is not creating any sort of interpretation of Lee's people, with or without a veneer of fantasy. Not at all.

    He is creating a fantasy game on the theme of colonisation and asking whether people know about actual historical events that illustrate the kinds of things that might happen.

    If someone's ancestors suffered badly from this process a few hundred years ago, I can understand that they might prefer not to offer examples. It might be too painful to talk about. Then again, others might be pleased to see the subject explored rather than simply forgotten about.

    But if someone thinks Tomas' game is actually *about* their ancestors, they are mistaken. It's about the general phenomenon, not the specific examples that they know.
  • Posted By: Todd LThat's the risk here: that Judd or Graham or Tomas might think they actually have the authority to say What's Offensive and What's Not
    I have not said anything of the sort.
  • It's almost as if this conversation happened before the movie Avatar came out. Those natives were giant blue monsters with sharp teeth AND tails.
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