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D&D General Al-Qadim, Campaign Guide: Zakhara, and Cultural Sensitivity

Ixal

Hero
So, I keep thinking back to a board game review I watched from a channel called Shut Up and Sit Down on a game called Istanbul. During the review he takes a break to talk to his friend at university with a PHD in Sociology about Orientalism that I think might be useful here.


(At the 11 minute mark... it should start at the section in question.)

He goes on to talk about his thoughts about the Istanbul board game, and finds it largely unproblematic, save the Kebab Shop card, which depicts a Kebab Shop that would have been out of place in Istanbul, but resembled modern kebab shops that a westerner might frequent early in the morning after a night at the pub.

He also praised the game for having no harems, opium dens, or jinns in sight, but he doesn't elaborate further on those specific items.

--

So with that in mind...

The differences are a big reason why we might choose a setting like Al-Qadim for our games. We want to explore middle-eastern myths, folklore, history, culture, etc. And I think it's natural to be drawn to what's new and different. But I think when we over-emphasize those aspects we lose sight of similarities and create stereotypes. Whether those things we over-emphasized were positive or negative doesn't matter- the end result flattens and dehumanizes the people depicted.
And yet harems existed among the upper class and in the Topkapi palace itself.
How can you make a respectful depiction of a culture by randomly leaving things out based on your personal/cultural preference? You are basically just exchange one lense for another.
 

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Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
The point? The point was that it's okay to have a part of the world hinge on humans acting stupidly. Humans as a species are stupid and in history have done similar nonsensical things. That was the point.

I don't think anyone was saying that scenario would be inevitable. Just that it could happen given humanity's history for being greedy, territorial, and often inclined to do stupid things like this.

Slavery isn't stupid, it's quite rational in many cases. (As I think it was David Drake said, it was an alternative to massacring your defeated enemies.) Free labor! (Of course you have to feed them and keep them from revolting...) That's exactly the problem. It's only in the past few hundred years everyone agreed it was a bad thing, and we still find it in lots of places.

It's not even a human problem. Nonhuman animals pretend to be each other to eat each other, insects often lay eggs in other animals' bodies, fungi take control of ants' bodies and get them to kill themselves to pass on the fungus (hi Cordyceps!), viruses change animal behavior to get them to spread with lethal consequences (look at rabies and salivation). Basically any animal or fungus has to kill something to eat, even if it's just a plant.

History (and nature) are bloody and cruel. How much of that you want to put in an entertainment for your friends is another question.
 

We aren't psychopaths monster PCs from "World of Darkness RPG", but people from real life who should worry about the respect for the human dignity. Have you watched "Game of Thrones"? Daenerys Targaryen was a perfect example of "Übermensch" according Nietzsche's point of view, and when in the last episode John Snow and Daenerys Targaryen talked about the mercy being necessary for the rulers... you can remember the end of the story.

And the goal for D&D is to be a family-friendly brand, even Ravenloft and Dark Sun can't be too grimm, at least not the oficially published version.

Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the super-famous Spanish classic of the literature "Don Quixote", was prison of war, and he suffered years in an Algerian prison without freedom. I am Caucasian, "pale face", but my ancestors may have suffered the slavery. Slavery is real in some zones from the world. We aren't talking about anything happened centuries ago. It may happen even ir our cities by criminal gangs, for example in illegal secret factories.

Other point is the native people with (positive) prejudices about themself, and they can't realise but a foreign living in their land can do. And even people from the same country can be radically different if they live in the big city or in a rural zone. Some times there are prejudices against compatriots from a different region.
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
History (and nature) are bloody and cruel. How much of that you want to put in an entertainment for your friends is another question.
And this is the important thing, and the thing I think some people are missing.

You (generic you) want to stick things that are both (1) bloody and cruel and (2) a real problem in the real world that has had a lasting impact on many people, in your game, that's absolutely fine. Hopefully, you know your players well enough to know that this would be an acceptable topic for them, and I would hope that if you know your players don't want a certain thing, then you don't include that thing anyway.

But for a company to mass-market things that fulfill both 1 and 2 above... that's a bigger problem. They can't talk to each player to find out if this is OK for them. All they can do is create a space for everyone to play in, and leave it up to individual tables to add the cruel and bloody things in as they want.
 

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
But for a company to mass-market things that fulfill both 1 and 2 above... that's a bigger problem. They can't talk to each player to find out if this is OK for them. All they can do is create a space for everyone to play in, and leave it up to individual tables to add the cruel and bloody things in as they want.

Right. Or market an 'edgy' game with a smaller target market (not practical for Hasbro).
 

And this is the important thing, and the thing I think some people are missing.

You (generic you) want to stick things that are both (1) bloody and cruel and (2) a real problem in the real world that has had a lasting impact on many people, in your game, that's absolutely fine. Hopefully, you know your players well enough to know that this would be an acceptable topic for them, and I would hope that if you know your players don't want a certain thing, then you don't include that thing anyway.

But for a company to mass-market things that fulfill both 1 and 2 above... that's a bigger problem. They can't talk to each player to find out if this is OK for them. All they can do is create a space for everyone to play in, and leave it up to individual tables to add the cruel and bloody things in as they want.

I'm jumping back into this thread after missing out on a few pages. Without context, this statement could apply to so many things that are currently accepted as industry standards for RPGs. Gun violence, animal abuse, parental death, etc.

I think I would much rather rely on a trigger warning system (with Session 0, etc) than expect companies that mass market games to create a universally safe space. I'm all for anti-slavery, pro-feminist versions of settings where that's historically inaccurate. But I also feel like it's important to recognize how fast our cultural definitions of what is acceptable (in games, in media, etc) can change. Attempting to report what content is in a game and letting players decide what they're comfortable with is, IMNSHO, the best way to deal with that rapid evolution. Anything else is just trying to hit a moving target.
 



Voadam

Legend
I have literally never seen anyone do that. I've seen people justify not including them, but never seen anyone "praise" them not being included.
Go back one page for an example.
So, I keep thinking back to a board game review I watched from a channel called Shut Up and Sit Down on a game called Istanbul. During the review he takes a break to talk to his friend at university with a PHD in Sociology about Orientalism that I think might be useful here.


(At the 11 minute mark... it should start at the section in question.)

He goes on to talk about his thoughts about the Istanbul board game, and finds it largely unproblematic, save the Kebab Shop card, which depicts a Kebab Shop that would have been out of place in Istanbul, but resembled modern kebab shops that a westerner might frequent early in the morning after a night at the pub.

He also praised the game for having no harems, opium dens, or jinns in sight, but he doesn't elaborate further on those specific items.

--

So with that in mind...

The differences are a big reason why we might choose a setting like Al-Qadim for our games. We want to explore middle-eastern myths, folklore, history, culture, etc. And I think it's natural to be drawn to what's new and different. But I think when we over-emphasize those aspects we lose sight of similarities and create stereotypes. Whether those things we over-emphasized were positive or negative doesn't matter- the end result flattens and dehumanizes the people depicted.
 

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