Friday, July 19, 2013
Race, Racism and Gaming Content - The Big Picture
There has been a debate raging on G+ and some gaming sites about racism in gaming. The debate was provoked by the observation that Pathfinder's world setting substitutes humanoid monsters of various kinds (gorillas, gnolls, etc.) for at least some of the humans in its faux African continent. The discussion also pointed out that the faux Africa in the Pathfinder setting is not based very much at all on real cultures of medieval Africa.
Unlike, let's say, the Spears of the Dawn RPG, in which the cultures developed for the game can be said to be based on and traceable to real world historical groups in Africa. Needless to say - but I will - the cultures in SOTD are not evil groups. Like real cultures, they contain a mix of the good and the bad.
So why can't we see more of that?
We have a hobby full of racist cliches, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when that erupts - as I have seen happen many times at conventions and in public game spaces - into out-of-character, racist speech. So why can't we talk about the products that contain, support, and sustain those cliches?
One poster described Pathfinder's approach as "ethically problematic." Kind of clunky language. Others have taken the position that criticism of such cliched and racist content is in fact censorship, or worse still "intolerance", both of which should be opposed.
It's interesting that both sides of this debate are using the language of ethics.
The term has undergone something of a renaissance in contemporary philosophy, particularly since the end of the Soviet Union. Ethics as it is used today is an ideology of the liberal democratic state. It is concerned with matters of law and aesthetics. It is not really concerned with constructing alternative social arrangements. It is about containing grievances and debate about what is actually possible to a very narrow space and a very narrow range of options.
When we are talking about racism, we are really talking about a lot more than shitty art. Racism has been one of the foundations ensuring the stability of the capitalist world economy for more than 500 years. While abstract economic theories have argued for a couple centuries that "pure capitalism" (whatever that might mean) doesn't entail racism, every place on earth where capitalism has taken root (which is pretty much the entire planet) has produced racist social structures, ideologies, representations (including art), and political practices - all resulting in negative outcomes for people not of European descent.
Just ask the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. Or, a bit closer to home for me, the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples.
The only times these racist practices and representations have been rolled back is when there have been vigorous, broad social movements demanding that these practices change. Sorry if not everyone is ready for that kind of free speech. But you'd better get ready for more of it. The old world is dying and the new world is struggling to be born.