Fortress America: When Gaming and Politics Collide





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  1. #1
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    Fortress America: When Gaming and Politics Collide

    This news item is more related to board games than it is to RPGs, but it raises a general gaming point worth discussing. What happens when gaming and politics collide?

    Fantasy Flight Games is creating a new edition of Fortress America, a game originally published in 1986 which pits America against three other nations. It was originally slated to have the following blurb text:

    "It is the early 21st century. Having suffered a series of devastating terrorist attacks, the U.S. wields a newly developed and horrifyingly destructive weapon technology with desperate fury, lashing out mercilessly at any government suspected of harboring its hidden enemies. Entire nations are erased from the map. The world is stunned by the brutal display. Facing few options, an unlikely coalition of nations joins forces to attempt one final plan: the invasion of America."

    It appears that many of the company's fans found that text to be inflammatory, and FFG apologised:

    Our initial announcement of Fortress America included flavor text that was interpreted by readers (quite justifiably) as politically inflammatory. That text has been since altered to correctly reflect our game's backstory. Our marketing department misread certain key thematic elements of the game, and took unauthorized dramatic liberties with the text. We apologize for any offense this may have caused.

    And the new blurb text was released; it reads as follows:

    In the 21st century, the United States unveiled a military defense system that completely changed global politics. Through a series of satellites and powerful lasers, the U.S. gained a flawless defense against intercontinental missile attacks. The rest of the world feared that this defensive network might be used to launch an attack, and they united to demand that the U.S. dismantle it. A lengthy diplomatic stalemate gripped the globe. With the world at a crossroads, coalitions of nations were formed unlike any that had ever existed before. A plan was devised to destroy this perceived technological threat through military action. It involved attacking from three directions at once, for the nations of the world knew that every army dreads fighting a war on two fronts... and America was about to face three.

    Thanks to Tabloid Believer over at Circvs Maximvs.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: EN World usually has a rule against discussion of religion or politics. We're going to see - in this one thread only - if we can relax the rule a little in specifically indicated news threads. We'll be keeping a close eye on this thread. You may discuss politics politely (still no religion) BUT you MAY NOT insult another member or nation. Be nice, and we might just do something like this again. Try to discuss it in terms of political concepts and how they relate to gaming, NOT what you think of any specific country.

 

  • #2
    I think blaming the marketing department was kind of weak. If a company is going to isse an statement like that it shouldn't feel like they are trying to shift blame to a small part of the organization.

    Any product like this is going to run the risk of a backlash. Nothing wrong with taking a risk on that front. I've been there before. You just have to choose your words carefully and trust that your audience will know where you are coming from.
    http://www.rpgnow.com/product/131611/Sertorius

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    I think it's clear that FFG should use the text that will be more profitable for them. If the latter will result in more sales than the former, then so be it.

    However, I am curious about negative reaction to something that's clearly fiction. Nobody's going to mistake a board game for a historical text book, and plenty of games change history in massive ways. What's wrong with changing the future in massive ways, too?

    I don't see it as commentary on anything - just exciting fluff text for a board game.

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    Like all art forms, games cannot help but comment on the times and context in which they are created. It is usual for this commentary to be both subtle and unintentional -- the game itself is an artifact of its time and , like a novel or film, one can mine it for insight into that context. But like other artforms, cultural commentary can be intentional or even "the point" of the work. Whether this works in any given piece of work or game certainly depends on a lot of factors, but it's the attempt that counts in this context.

    What we are seeing in this particular example is the fairly common "market censorship" at work. No one is trying to intentionally muzzle FFG, but a visceral reaction from the market -- the actual people that might be likely to buy the game -- causes a "course correction" in development. It is like the removal of the Twin towers from the first Spiderman movie posters, and wholly *unlike* the recent Lowes debacle centered around the TV reality show "All American Muslim" in that the latter was the result of intentional efforts of a small but vocal group, while the former was more a broad cultural whince.

  • #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    I think it's clear that FFG should use the text that will be more profitable for them. If the latter will result in more sales than the former, then so be it.

    However, I am curious about negative reaction to something that's clearly fiction. Nobody's going to mistake a board game for a historical text book, and plenty of games change history in massive ways. What's wrong with changing the future in massive ways, too?

    I don't see it as commentary on anything - just exciting fluff text for a board game.
    I think the first text reads like a commentary on recent US foreign policy. That isn't going to bother everyone but it will trouble some customers. My experience with board and wargamers is they are a diverse group politically so it is probably not a wise decision to put something out there that appears to be taking one side of an issue (unless you targeting a specific political demogrsphic).
    http://www.rpgnow.com/product/131611/Sertorius

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    I have not played the original Fortress America game, but it seems like the revised flavor text here matches that description much more closely. HOWEVER, I think the original flavor text they had for this new version, all politics aside, sounds MUCH more interesting.

    It IS possible to play historical games (or alternate history games) and keep the politics there as an integral feature. Heck, there's even a political LARP out there called NSDM that they run at a lot of the major conventions (and military service academies) that's nothing BUT politics, either in the modern world or during the Cold War. I know as a society in general we have this knee-jerk reaction to get upset and argue about politics, but I think gamers should (and usually DO) have the self-restraint to realize it's just a game.

  • #7
    Yeah, this is one of those things like the Red dawn remake. Afraid of angering the Chinese, they change the invaders to... North Korea. Because North Korea could mount an invasion of America. Uh huh. Very believable and exciting!

    Or Persians being angry at 300. one of my best friends is persian, and she loved it. She thought it was great FANTASY.

    Games, movies, etc - these things are fantasy. Pretend.

    And then when creators back pedal it just tends to dilute their product. To me, the first descript sounded more "exciting" than the second to me. The world gangs up on us because we have the perfect defense? Okay... So America becomes a bad guy in a game. Wouldn't be the first time.

    People are going to play a game because it is fun.

    This reminds me of another thread out in the webiverse about a game product that focuses on gypsies, and how someobody who comes from a real world gypsy background was offended that there were any negative stereotypes in the product. It is a game, and these are mythic archetypes put together to create a unique gaming experience. My wife is from a gypsy background, and she loves anything related to it. it would like me being offended at the telling of Irish and their whiskey jokes. I am Irish and the first ot make those jokes!\

    It is just a game folks, relax! Have fun! Otherwsie, vote with your pocketbook!

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    In 1986, that original text was probably just fine. People read it and laughed because it was so farfetched. America overreacting because of terrorism? How CAMP!

    By 2011? Yeah, hits a bit closer to home. Regardless of how you percieve subjects like terrorism and military doctrines and so on, reading something like that threatens to make the game a politically polarizing thing rather than an entertaining past-time. Probably a bad thing. You and your opposite-political-spectrum-friends can argue about who-bombed-who later. Right now you just want to PLAY.

    In that sense, changing the text is wise. It can even be seen as updating it and/or modernizing it, rather than self-censorship.

    The question of why people find a fictional game background offensive though...well, my sense is that people never really believe that fiction is JUST fiction. We always believe that there's a reason something was put into print. Concepts like 'terrorism' and 'America acting horribly' and 'the world uniting against America' weren't chosen at random, after all. They were chosen to create a specific narrative. That narrative can make a good background for a game, but LOTS of narratives can claim that.

    So what makes people mad isn't the fiction itself, exactly. It's the choices that the designer/author made about how to create and present the fiction. They'll ask, "Did America HAVE to be the badguy, or did you just WANT it to be? And if so, why?!" And so on. They protest the extent to which the fiction represents a point of view that is being promoted.

    I guess.

    I mean, speaking as someone who's not offended, but has heard offended people speaking...that's the impression I get.

  • #9
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    So does anyone have any opinion on which version sounds more fun?

    The first text sounds more exciting to me than the second. The second one sounds kinda bland.

  • #10
    You can read the original flavor text, which falls somewhere between the two new ones, at the Hasbro website.

    What amazes me is how topical all of the descriptions seem, including the one that is almost 20 years old.

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