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. #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.
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    The premise seems silly. Having thousands of nukes and by far the biggest military on Earth already makes you immune to invasion. Having an effective SDI just makes you even more immune to invasion.

    For an 'invade America' scenario to work, you first need to (1) negate everybody's nukes through widely available, flawless SDI. Then you need to (2) degrade the US military and build up the aggressor nations' militaries so that the US is conventionally weaker than its enemies.

    I can imagine (2) fairly easy; the USSR went from having the most powerful land forces on Earth ca 1975 (although the US had superior air & sea forces), to being a basket case ca 1995. (1) really requires magitech, though.

    If I was going to do a fortress America game, I'd probably set it before the development of nuclear weapons. Eg in the early 1940s Nazi Germany defeats France and Britain, remains allied with the USSR, and joins with Imperial Japan to invade the USA. That's really the last time I can see an invade-America scenario being remotely plausible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bedrockgames View Post
    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.
    Being an American, I actually don't find the initial wording that inflammatory. FFG is based in the US, so freedom of speech, idea, etc. is all well and good. It is just a game. And frankly there is a lot of sci-fi, especially military stuff, that has been far worse.

    However, I do agree pointing your finger at your "marketing department", unless you've tossed them all out the door, is rather lame. But then again, whats the rule in advertising, there ain't no such thing as bad press? Whether this was intended, it may stir up additional "publicity" without FFG needing to do much.

    As to the Iraq War and whether such a scenario could lead to what happens in the game. Well we can see it hasn't. However, whether you liked, hated or whatever the war (and while obviously hindsight is 20/20 and there were lots of mistakes made to some degree there has, hopefully, if the Iraqi's don't blow it considering the recent news, been some good to come out of it; and I'm not sure anyone can say it was a bad thing that Hussein was tried in a court of his own people) I think it shows that it probably won't happen. Now I supposed someone could have unleashed Armageddon with nukes on the offending parties in retaliation (US, Russia, etc. does have bigger bombs) which could have led to such a scenario, but I still think the "Cold War" is still in effect some degree with no one wanting to unleash the beast, so to speak. That and obviously it would have been overkill which should in turn provoke a response from American allies, and others in high world regard, over the abuse of power so to speak.

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    Quote Originally Posted by prosfilaes
    I have a hard time making sense of that in a commercial environment. If you're a professor happy with your salary, go ahead and make your art however you want. But these are people making a full-time living off their games.

    Are you saying that theme doesn't matter? If you find some themes are so distasteful or uninteresting that you won't buy games using them--a game where you race to fuel the ovens with bodies at your concentration camp, or a game where your pony-unicorns race to deliver the fairy ice cream with sparkles to the children--then game companies who use them will lose out on sales to you. That's the censorship of the dollar. If you have a theme that a lot of people in your target audience don't like, and you want to make money, you should change it.

    I have little sympathy for FFG here. What you decry, I suspect FFG hoped for. They sent out a blurb testing the waters; when they got back too much negative response, they toned it down. They tested the theme as wise companies did and got some publicity for their upcoming game in the bargain.
    I'm not complaining about FFG having changed the product statement; I'm complaining about the complainers who apparently raised enough of a stink that they convinced FFG to change the statement - those people are the problem.

    It's fine for people to have their own opinion, but I can't stand the idea of people wanting something to be changed for no other reason than it offends them; I find that to be unforgivably arrogant, to say nothing of borderline fascistic. Just because you don't care for something is no reason to say that it can't exist - my problem with that attitude has nothing to do with whether the person they're complaining to capitulates or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by 1Mac
    Well yes, and my point was that what you think the facts are are "rooted in personal politics," as I put it. I thought the point of subjectivity was covered in that statement.
    I was underlining your point.

    It's what lots of other posters were discussing.
    Yeah, but as I said, it's not what I'm discussing. I'm discussing the idea of intolerance towards that which someone doesn't like.

    That's about the only reason to advocate that something be changed!
    I disagree. A discussion is good; healthy debate is good. Simply saying that something is bad just because you don't like it is not good - it's closed-minded. You don't have to look at something or participate in something you don't care for, but it still deserves to exist.

    This wasn't censorship. No one forced FF to retract and reprint a marketing blurb for their game. If a good chunk of FF's fanbase complained about the blurb, they weren't violating FF's right to free speech; they were exercising their own right to free speech. FF could have chose to either heed or ignore these complaints, and they apparently decided they were worth addressing.
    That's not the point I was making, though.

    The issue for me wasn't FFG's reaction to the people who were apparently outraged; it was those "outragers" themselves.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alzrius View Post
    I'm not complaining about FFG having changed the product statement; I'm complaining about the complainers who apparently raised enough of a stink that they convinced FFG to change the statement - those people are the problem.

    It's fine for people to have their own opinion, but I can't stand the idea of people wanting something to be changed for no other reason than it offends them; I find that to be unforgivably arrogant, to say nothing of borderline fascistic. Just because you don't care for something is no reason to say that it can't exist - my problem with that attitude has nothing to do with whether the person they're complaining to capitulates or not.
    Just because you don't care for our complaints, is no reason to say they can't exist.

    As I said in the message you respond to, in a commercial environment, the fact that enough of us don't care for something is reason to say it can't exist; FFG doesn't want to print up 5,000 copies and then junk them a few years down the road. It can't do that many times and continue existing. They want to hear about it now.

    You don't have to look at something or participate in something you don't care for, but it still deserves to exist.
    In an idealistic sense, there's a case to be made for that. In the real world, there's going to be one Fortress America published. Saying that FFG's first version deserves to exist is saying that the second version, and any other conceivable new version of Fortress America, doesn't deserve to exist. I don't accept that we shouldn't advocate for the one version of Fortress America that will get published to be the best it can be, with the parameters for best being an individual choice.

    If this were an instance where a bunch of non-gamers were getting noisy, I might argue their opinions are irrelevant. But a substantial core are people who are going to look at the Amazon page or hold the box in their hands at the game store and consider whether they can justify putting the money down. Those are the people FFG wants to hear from, the people that matter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by prosfilaes View Post
    Just because you don't care for our complaints, is no reason to say they can't exist.
    Your complaints can exist, you should just keep them to yourself.

    As I said in the message you respond to, in a commercial environment, the fact that enough of us don't care for something is reason to say it can't exist; FFG doesn't want to print up 5,000 copies and then junk them a few years down the road. It can't do that many times and continue existing. They want to hear about it now.
    And as I said in response to that, this isn't about FFG's response to the complainers; it's about the complainers themselves.

    No one has the right to say how something else should or should not be. You have the right not to buy something; you do not have the right to say how it should or shouldn't be. You can say what you'd prefer, but expecting someone else to change something for you is unforgivably narcissistic.

    In an idealistic sense, there's a case to be made for that. In the real world, there's going to be one Fortress America published. Saying that FFG's first version deserves to exist is saying that the second version, and any other conceivable new version of Fortress America, doesn't deserve to exist.
    You keep conflating the issue between what FFG releases and how people react to that. I'm talking about the latter, you're discussing the former.

    I don't accept that we shouldn't advocate for the one version of Fortress America that will get published to be the best it can be, with the parameters for best being an individual choice.
    The people who are complaining aren't making a statement of marketability - they're saying that because something is offensive to their personal beliefs, it needs to be changed. It's not a question of how well something will be received by the market at large.

    If this were an instance where a bunch of non-gamers were getting noisy, I might argue their opinions are irrelevant.
    It's not a question of games or non-gamers. Nobody has the right to expect that that which they don't like should be changed. Your outrage is not a compelling reason to expect others to conform to your beliefs.

    But a substantial core are people who are going to look at the Amazon page or hold the box in their hands at the game store and consider whether they can justify putting the money down. Those are the people FFG wants to hear from, the people that matter.
    And the fact that they don't like something isn't a question of whether or not they can justify putting the money down. "Putting the money down" is a question of if it can be afforded, but that's not what they're judging. They're not even judging if they like it or not - they're going one step further by saying that not only do they not like it, but that it needs to be altered so that they will. That's a step too far.
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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.

  9. #9
    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).
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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.

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