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


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Micah Sweet

Legend
Not what he said.

And I don't really understand your position of why every board game depicting that time and place must include harems. What is this fixation on harems?
Personally, I don't think the board game needs harems. But the issue isn't that they're not present and should be. It's that they're not present and reviewers praised them for their absence. If it's not relevant to the game, why comment on their absence at all?
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Personally, I don't think the board game needs harems. But the issue isn't that they're not present and should be. It's that they're not present and reviewers praised them for their absence. If it's not relevant to the game, why comment on their absence at all?
Because it's such a prevailing (and badly done) trope that not having a harem in the game is remarkable.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
Personally, I don't think the board game needs harems. But the issue isn't that they're not present and should be. It's that they're not present and reviewers praised them for their absence. If it's not relevant to the game, why comment on their absence at all?
Because it is a discussion of Orientalism. Orientalism focuses on cultural differences at the expense of similarities. Harems, opium dens and genies are examples of these differences that could have been shoehorned in. The unnecessary inclusion of/ exaggeration of these differences of creates a skewed perspective of the people of that area.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Because it is a discussion of Orientalism. Orientalism focuses on cultural differences at the expense of similarities. Harems, opium dens and genies are examples of these differences that could have been shoehorned in. The unnecessary inclusion of/ exaggeration of these differences of creates a skewed perspective of the people of that area.
Its a game review, not a discussion of Orientalism. At least, it shouldn't be. The absence of harems that mean nothing to the game itself has no place in a review. They could simply say the setting was handled respectfully in their opinion.
 

Its a game review, not a discussion of Orientalism. At least, it shouldn't be. The absence of harems that mean nothing to the game itself has no place in a review. They could simply say the setting was handled respectfully in their opinion.
Who are you to say what they should or should not include in their review? A board game or ttrpg is a cultural product, this one uses particular themes and aesthetics and so they included a discussion of how those themes were handled, which seems not only fair game, but useful to some potential customers.
 



Ondath

Hero
Sometimes, I really, really wish it did. Just focus on the quality of a product in regards to its intended purpose. Not the world we live in, I suppose.
While I understand the sentiment, it's sadly just not how life works. Everything is created and consumed in a specific historic and cultural context, and we can only view things from that lens (we might expand our lens by learning about other cultures, but then the lens gets bigger, you're still looking through a lens at the end of the day). Everything is political, and when some things finally get rid of culturally and politically problematic tropes, I can see how that would be a cause for celebration.
 


Raduin711

Adventurer
Its a game review, not a discussion of Orientalism. At least, it shouldn't be. The absence of harems that mean nothing to the game itself has no place in a review. They could simply say the setting was handled respectfully in their opinion.
I think it's wise to consult experts and people with actual, lived-in experience to help them get a fuller perspective, so they can pass it on to their viewers.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
But... why? It's not like the Faerunian Pantheon in the Sword Coast is representative of how Catholic Clergy worked in the Middle Ages. You can clearly have a setting with European Mediaeval aesthetic trappings without referring to the religion there, so why can't you have that in Al Qadim? It seems to me that you are looking at Middle Eastern cultures through an essentialist eye and arguing that anything that has Middle Eastern aesthetic trappings must involve Islamic religion and ideology at least to a certain extent. I don't see why.
And it’s not like there aren’t historical cultures with similar aesthetics from the same regions that didn’t have any given one or more of those elements.

Like most settings aren’t trying to emulate a specific 100 mile region in a specific decade.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
Sometimes, I really, really wish it did. Just focus on the quality of a product in regards to its intended purpose. Not the world we live in, I suppose.
You don't think concerns like these have anything to do with how well a product performs it's intended purpose? Are you not interested in these things alienating audiences, or how products like these might serve as a vehicle for perpetuating prejudicial attitudes and images?
 

Ixal

Hero
The History may be very complicated some times. In the book "the crusades throught Arabian eyes" by Amin Alouf this told once there was a Christian-Muslim alliance against a second Christian-Muslim alliance. (The fitna or civil war among Muslims weren't rare in those time, and the relation between a first and a second wave of crusaders weren't too good).
When you think the crusades are complicated you should look at the reconquisda.
While the result was that the catholic dominance in Iberia and is today often seen as a religious struggle bezween Christianity and Islam the conflict actually had a ever shifting net of alliances accross religious boundaries with some countries and people switching (religious) sides multiple times like El Cid.

I think it's wise to consult experts and people with actual, lived-in experience to help them get a fuller perspective, so they can pass it on to their viewers.

Hard to find someone with lived-in experience for the 18th century Ottomans, let alobe pre islamic Sassanids.
Which is why I find the use of sensitivity readers for historic cultures highly suspect. Ancestry which is often used as indication which historic culture someone is allowed to speak for gives you exactly 0 insight into a culture. And living in the region this culture once occupied also gives you only a modern view which can deviate heavily from what the culture once was.

Studying history can help, but in the end it only allows you to know facts about what happened which doesn't necessarily allow someone to judge how those people really felt about something.

Also as it was pointed out above migrants are often much more strict about use of a culture than people who live in those countries. And as most RPGs are made in the US very often to save costs sensitivity readers would be African/Asian-Americans from the respective countries and not natives from there. Thus their opinion on whats sensitive can differ widely from what people of that culture think.

Sensitivity readers are imo good to catch little known fact about a culture like with which finger to start counting, ect. But imo are very poor as ultimate authority about who is allowed to say what about a (long gone) culture.
 
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Hard to find someone with lived-in experience for the 18th century Ottomans, let alobe pre islamic Sassanids.
Yes, but a citizen living in the area in question will be more likely to have an understanding of the culture and history of the area than someone from another country, or even another location within the same country in many cases.

And living in the region this culture once occupied also gives you only a modern view which can deviate heavily from what the culture once was.

That is false. While modern citizens will find their views skewing towards how their home is in modern times (after all first hand experiences trump information learned second hand in terms of retention) they will often still know more about the history of the region they live in along with cultural norms.

For example: I currently live in Maine in the US. I have a mediocre understanding of Maine historical facts (I wasn't born here nor did I like to focus on the state's history over world history), but I do have an understanding of a lot of the cultural aspects of the state, such as the prevalent Franco-Canadian heritage in central Maine, the general xenophobia of locals, or the prevalent forced outdoorsman lifestyle that's almost forced.

In addition many modern customs and traditions are hold-overs from earlier times.

To disregard locals as only having a modern view is disingenuous and is one of the reasons why people get upset over cultural appropriation. You're discounting a person with actual experience, even if that experience is through a modern lens, just because they're not immortal and didn't live first hand in that culture.
 

Ixal

Hero
Yes, but a citizen living in the area in question will be more likely to have an understanding of the culture and history of the area than someone from another country, or even another location within the same country in many cases.



That is false. While modern citizens will find their views skewing towards how their home is in modern times (after all first hand experiences trump information learned second hand in terms of retention) they will often still know more about the history of the region they live in along with cultural norms.

For example: I currently live in Maine in the US. I have a mediocre understanding of Maine historical facts (I wasn't born here nor did I like to focus on the state's history over world history), but I do have an understanding of a lot of the cultural aspects of the state, such as the prevalent Franco-Canadian heritage in central Maine, the general xenophobia of locals, or the prevalent forced outdoorsman lifestyle that's almost forced.

In addition many modern customs and traditions are hold-overs from earlier times.

To disregard locals as only having a modern view is disingenuous and is one of the reasons why people get upset over cultural appropriation. You're discounting a person with actual experience, even if that experience is through a modern lens, just because they're not immortal and didn't live first hand in that culture.

So when can give accurate information about the Ottomans and also greenlight the use of cultural aspects?
People from modern day Turkey who thorougly purged Ottoman influence? Syrians? Greek? Albanians? Egyptians? Saudi? Bosnians? Hungarians? Ukrainians from Crimea?
Sure the capital and center of power was in Anatolia. But most of the influential Janissary were "drafted" from Greece and the balkans.

And that is for a nation that existed in the 20th century and has a more or less obvious successor. The further you go back the more confusing it gets with cultures changing over time (just compare east cost american culture from the 1950s and now for example from everything starting at moral values, stance on the government up to things like the morality if smoking habits) and sometimes got completely replaced.


Or to use another example that was brought up. Opium dens. But lets not place them in Istanbul but London where they also existed. After all the British Empire was the largest drug distributor of the 19th century.
Back then they were normal. Today most drug use is looked down at and often a crime.
So should a sensitivity reader have vetoed the Sherlock Holmes stories which start in a opium den or that casual cocaine use was accepted? Does an english citizen really have more authority about drug use and if works based on Britan are allowed to reference it?
 
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I dare to say the "cultural appropiation" some times is a "necessary evil" to fight "islamophobia".

Let's imagine a Muslim D&D player creating a new campaign using as source of inspiration the ridda wars, the fight betwee the first calipha and other self-proclaimed prophets. Then other could complain because this plot about fighintg against false prophets is a subtitely islamophobic (really a simple misunderstanding, but potentially troublemaker). Other could say some antagonist faction is an allegory about Maoist dictatorship what is destroying mosques in China (and even he may totally right because the author don't like Chinese goverment).

Slavery can be possible (in the real life) even where it is forbidden, for example a landowner faking debt bills the workers can't pay for generations. (“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” ― John Adams 1826). In a fantasy world, (llegal) slavery is possible by supernatural monsters, for example vampires kidnapping people for "blood farms".

When I was a little child, there was an episode of Gagney & Lacey (a teleseries from 80's about two police women in New York) where one of them infiltrated in a workshop where illegal immigrants worked as slaves. An episode of the 80's short-live serie "Cover Up" was about traffick of women, I could understand what the bad guys were doing (very, very wrong), and I wasn't psychologically traumatized at all. Fiction can tell about certain crimens, but remembering the respect for the victims from the real life. The risk is those crimes being showed as a "Overton window" to influence us for a growing tolerance, as if we should allow anything we can't eradicate totally.

I am uncle of a 11y niece. I can tolerate a fiction work where the evil guy has got a harem, for example Ming the Merciless in the 80's cartoon of Flash Gordon, but parents may think twice about to allow watching plots where the main male character has got a "harem" (and not only a group of female allies).

images

FlashToon_04.jpg

flash-gordon-16-avi_snapshot_06-56_-2010-07-28_22-34-30-jpg.28314212


 
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The demands to harm others, in the real world, for "historical accuracy" in games that are neither historical nor accurate will always confuse me.

D&D isn't a 400-level course on Mamluk architecture. It's a game with funky dice and hit points rather than wounds.

Why should the game be harmful towards people? What is gained by taking peoples that are currently repressed and surfacing false stereotypes against them? Does their joy matter? Are they welcome at a generic table if official lore mock and minimize a group?
 

Ixal

Hero
I dare to say the "cultural appropiation" some times is a "necessary evil" to fight "islamophobia".

Let's imagine a Muslim D&D player creating a new campaign using as source of inspiration the ridda wars, the fight betwee the first calipha and other self-proclaimed prophets. Then other could complain because this plot about fighintg against false prophets is a subtitely islamophobic (really a simple misunderstanding, but potentially troublemaker). Other could say some antagonist faction is an allegory about Maoist dictatorship what is destroying mosques in China (and even he may totally reason because the author don't like Chinese goverment).

Slavery can be possible even where it is forbidden, for example a landowner faking debt bills the workers can't pay for generations. (“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” ― John Adams 1826). In a fantasy world, (llegal) slavery
is possible by supernatural monsters, for example vampires kidnapping people for "blood farms".

When I was a little child, there was an episode of Gagney & Lacey (a teleseries from 80's about two police women in New York) where one of them infiltrated in a workshop where illegal immigrants worked as slaves. An episode of the 80's short-live serie "Cover Up" was about traffick of women, I could understand what the bad guys were doing (very, very wrong), and I wasn't psychologically traumatized at all. Fiction can certain crimens, but remembering the respect for the victims in the real life. The risk is those crimes being showed as a "Overton window" to influence us for a growing tolarance, as if we should allow anything we can't eradicate totally.

I am uncle of a 11y niece. I can tolerate a fiction work where the evil guy has got a harem, for example Ming the Merciless in the 80's cartoon, but parents would think twice about to allow watching plots where the main male character has got a "harem" (and not only a group of female allies).

images

FlashToon_04.jpg

flash-gordon-16-avi_snapshot_06-56_-2010-07-28_22-34-30-jpg.28314212


Speaking of cartoons, I remember the 80 days around the world animation, a spanish-japanese made children animation about the french novel which, like the original, included the episode where they encounter the practice of Sati (widow burning). (And yes, rescue a princess from it, cliche).
I doubt this animation would be able to be made today. But was it really harmful?
 

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