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D&D 5E On Representation and Roleplaying

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Mercer has said some words about that in the critrole site:

"Marquet is a fantasy continent, and one that (like other places in Exandria) occasionally holds nuggets of inspiration from Earth cultures and locations that I have a deep appreciation for. It is a unique place with unique people and civilizations occasionally woven with touchstones that call to our real world experiences in some ways, lending a familiarity and celebrating aspects of those same languages and cultures without appropriating them. I have been and will continue to be working with professional cultural & sensitivity consultants throughout the worldbuilding and presentation of Marquet to ensure I do my best to do just that."

If you read the article I linked to, the acknowledgment is there. Yet the author's main contention is "As a cast made up entirely of Caucasian people, many were worried that Critical Role would attempt to wade into cultures that they had no personal connections to or representatives of."

So because the previous settings were dominated by caucasians, it was okay. But because the new setting is not it's a problem even though the author had not watched a single episode. It's that kind of judgement, that only people with a certain ancestry are allowed to represent people from a part of the world inspired by real world culture that I find problematic. It's one thing to be concerned about culturally sensitivity, it's another to require cultural connections to me.

I'm 3-4 generations separated from my northern European ancestors. All I know about their cultures is what I've read in books or seen on screen. That's going to be true for most people after a few generations. I may have had more interest in those cultures growing up, I just don't think it gives me any special privilege or connection.
 

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There has been criticism recently about the new episodes of Critical Role being set in Marquet which is not based on pseudo-European medieval society, but is instead loosely based on SWANA [SouthWest Asian/North African] culture[article]. The problem? The entire cast is Caucasian and somehow that means cultural appropriation.

Because somehow having a region and culture that steps outside of the "safe zone" of fantasy culture is wrong, no matter how many professional consultants they employ. I mean, I get it. There have been many truly bad depictions of non-western cultures. I've made a hash of my own "eastern" civilization in my home campaign which is why I don't use it very often. Then again, my primary mythology is only loosely based Norse mythology with a smattering of Celtic but since it's the mythology of my ancestors?

The problem is that as authors of fictional worlds we have to draw inspiration from somewhere. Just about any type of culture we create will bear a passing resemblance to some real world culture. I think we need to be sensitive to that, but there's a difference between having a culture and region loosely based on a real world culture and the equivalent of campaign world blackface. We can draw inspiration from and ideas from the real world without falling into caricature. I don't think my ancestry matters.

In other words, my dwarves don't have a Scottish accent. People that portray a Scottish accent on TV and movies just happen to sound a lot like dwarves. :)
Yeah. Complaining about a creator making their fantasy world actually culturally diverse instead of yet another fantasy Europe is exactly the sort of unhelpful attitude I alluded to earlier.

Also, as using European influences never elicits such complaints regardless of the creator’s ethnic background, it just strengthens that culture’s position as the dominant default.
 

Bolares

Hero
I hope that's enough for everyone. For someone as high-profile and as respected as Mercer, it probably will be. For a lot of other current and would-be designers, maybe not.
I personally haven't seen backlash against someone for using a culture they do not represent if they've hired cultural and sensitivity consultants, no matter their "size". Not that it didn't happen, I just haven't seen it.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
I understand this mindset as "If we can't include them with perfect accuracy in the experience or from personal experience, then including them will be too flawed or offensive, so we shouldn't try to include them."

I have seen this play out in the broader American culture with "These representations are stereotypes, so we should cut them entirely to be safe, even if most people don't object." As a specific example, many common/prominent representations of Native Americans have been cancelled or removed, and so Native Americans are now less included, less represented, and less visible in popular culture as a result. They're basically the forgotten minority and it's incredibly sad.

My question here, is who is sad? Who is objecting?

If Native Americans are frustrated with their portrayal in westerns, it's probably better that writers find something else to write their westerns about if they can't seem to nail the Native American perspective. Yeah, that means they don't get the representation they used to, but no representation is better than bad representation.

That representation might even be well-intentioned, but if you get it wrong, you've still got a bunch of cringing, ticked off Native American viewers going "where does this guy get off pretending like he understands us?"

This is why we do our research and use sensitivity readers and not assume our good intentions will protect us. Imagine being the only Native American watching a western movie and seeing how absolutely wrong the writers got the details of your culture, that they could have found out if they had only deigned to ask... and meanwhile the rest of the (white) audience is just sitting there watching the movie going "Yes, yes, this is fine. Aren't we so enlightened with our sympathetic depiction of Native Americans?" I would want to claw my eyes out.
 

Bolares

Hero
If you read the article I linked to, the acknowledgment is there. Yet the author's main contention is "As a cast made up entirely of Caucasian people, many were worried that Critical Role would attempt to wade into cultures that they had no personal connections to or representatives of."
But that worry is valid, and is an okay take to have, even more so in the beggining of campaign 3, where we haven't seen how Mercer made Marquet.

It's that kind of judgement, that only people with a certain ancestry are allowed to represent people from a part of the world inspired by real world culture that I find problematic.

Raising questions and saying you are worried is not the same as passing judgement, or saying someone is not allowed to write about a topic. This feels like a strawman to me. Sure, straight up saying "white people aren't allowed to write about other cultures" is wrong, but who's saying that?
 

My question here, is who is sad? Who is objecting?

If Native Americans are frustrated with their portrayal in westerns, it's probably better that writers find something else to write their westerns about if they can't seem to nail the Native American perspective. Yeah, that means they don't get the representation they used to, but no representation is better than bad representation.

That representation might even be well-intentioned, but if you get it wrong, you've still got a bunch of cringing, ticked off Native American viewers going "where does this guy get off pretending like he understands us?"

This is why we do our research and use sensitivity readers and not assume our good intentions will protect us. Imagine being the only Native American watching a western movie and seeing how absolutely wrong the writers got the details of your culture, that they could have found out if they had only deigned to ask... and meanwhile the rest of the (white) audience is just sitting there watching the movie going "Yes, yes, this is fine. Aren't we so enlightened with our sympathetic depiction of Native Americans?" I would want to claw my eyes out.
You know, its interesting. I've heard from more than one person that, "all representation is good representation ". Just being there is a positive, even if the details are wrong. Seems there are differing opinions on that, even within BIPOC communities. No group is a monolith.
 

But that worry is valid, and is an okay take to have, even more so in the beggining of campaign 3, where we haven't seen how Mercer made Marquet.
So it's ok to assume that a non-member of culture X can't tell a story about culture X without being problematic until proven otherwise?
 


Bolares

Hero
So it's ok to assume that a non-member of culture X can't tell a story about culture X without being problematic until proven otherwise?
Again, that's not what's being said. is not that you can't tell the story... but being worried about it? yes I can understand. For most of my life Brazil has been depicted in media as a savage land full of jungles, monkeys and naked people dancing. So, when a movie depicts my country I get worried that the steriotype will be made again. I'm not saying that americans (as an example) can't tell stories in or about Brazil, but history has shown me that most of the time they do it in a bad way.
 

J-H

Adventurer
My question here, is who is sad? Who is objecting?

If Native Americans are frustrated with their portrayal in westerns, it's probably better that writers find something else to write their westerns about if they can't seem to nail the Native American perspective. Yeah, that means they don't get the representation they used to, but no representation is better than bad representation.

That representation might even be well-intentioned, but if you get it wrong, you've still got a bunch of cringing, ticked off Native American viewers going "where does this guy get off pretending like he understands us?"

This is why we do our research and use sensitivity readers and not assume our good intentions will protect us. Imagine being the only Native American watching a western movie and seeing how absolutely wrong the writers got the details of your culture, that they could have found out if they had only deigned to ask... and meanwhile the rest of the (white) audience is just sitting there watching the movie going "Yes, yes, this is fine. Aren't we so enlightened with our sympathetic depiction of Native Americans?" I would want to claw my eyes out.
I think it's sad, because Native Americans are basically ignored in popular culture now. Land O Lakes decided to delete the Native American but keep the land.
Some depictions are good, some depictions are bad, but being ignored and erased is worse.

When books are not written, products are not made, and representations are stripped out to avoid the risk of being offensive or the expense of hiring consultants, you end up with less diversity and less exposure (of whatever quality) of anything that doesn't line up with the mainstream culture and view.

This dimunition of speech lessens everyone. I think I've adequately presented my point about the losses to free expression, communication, and diversity that are being brought about.

I've checked out a bunch of 8+ page threads in the past, and they are usually a big mess of spaghetti posting and arguing semantics without much listening. This thread is reaching the length where I'm going to disengage.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yeah. Complaining about a creator making their fantasy world actually culturally diverse instead of yet another fantasy Europe is exactly the sort of unhelpful attitude I alluded to earlier.

Also, as using European influences never elicits such complaints regardless of the creator’s ethnic background, it just strengthens that culture’s position as the dominant default.

I think this attitude holds back the game. I would love new setting material that was inspired by different cultures that I could mine for ideas. But we're stuck with the same-old-same-old because the moment you have a book who's lead author is caucasian that is not based on the same old psuedo-fantasy Europe tropes the controversy storm immediately erupts.

It's not like the "acceptable fantasy setting" bears much resemblance to real world mythology or history, but it's been done to death so it's somehow okay. I think we should be sensitive, I also don't think there should be an author ancestry filter to determine who can create specific works, especially when it's okay if that ancestry goes back generations.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But that worry is valid, and is an okay take to have, even more so in the beggining of campaign 3, where we haven't seen how Mercer made Marquet.



Raising questions and saying you are worried is not the same as passing judgement, or saying someone is not allowed to write about a topic. This feels like a strawman to me. Sure, straight up saying "white people aren't allowed to write about other cultures" is wrong, but who's saying that?

I would just refer you back to the article again. The author passed judgement without watching a single episode. 🤷‍♂️
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I think it's sad, because Native Americans are basically ignored in popular culture now.
Isn't the real sad thing that once all the disparaging and insulting mentions in pop culture about the First Nations is removed, there's basically none left?

Like lazy creators think they're all headresses, magic nature men, eye candy, werewolves and literally nothing else? Maybe that's the problem and not telling creators to put in even the slightest effort to do better?

At this point, I believe that the issue in pop culture isn't overt racism but the fundamental laziness of writers who are very willing to take the shortcuts and then argue and justify putting in bad faith work. "Well if you don't want to be portrayed as a werewolf sex princess, I don't know what to tell you. Stop being so sensitive and appreciate that is even gave you the basic attention to show you in buckskins and feather headdresses that your ancestors never actually wore."
 

Companies are usually very risk-averse. If they're not sure they won't offend people with a depiction, the safer course is not to do it at all. You'd see a lot more effort and creativity if there wasn't a worry about losing money.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Companies are usually very risk-averse. If they're not sure they won't offend people with a depiction, the safer course is not to do it at all. You'd see a lot more effort and creativity if there wasn't a worry about losing money.
We accept this awful excuse from companies because we expect and tacitly allow them to be terrible for a dollar.

That doesn't excuse independent creators.
 

But it should be possible for J. Random Anycolor to write a setting with any set of cultures, without having to hire cultural sensitivity readers and whatnot.
It's possible, much like Mr. Anycolor can edit his own work and learn to draw in order to do his own illustrations. But getting others to help is often the better route.
Otherwise you're adding a burden of time, cost, and a political filter onto everything that gets published, and ultimately selecting out all the people who don't want to deal with the new and changing requirements.
Well, yes, good writing takes time and researching to get the setting right takes research. Editing was already a burden, and we've effectively removed the upfront costs of printing books, which means more people can get started on the cheap. The political filters are different, because modern audiences have different expectations because they're more likely to be aware of issues coming form racism. It's not like writing offensive content (and the reasons to do so or not) is a new thing.
(who goes after "cultural sensitivity" careers?)
It's a good side-gig for anthropologists and sociologists and so on.
 

I personally haven't seen backlash against someone for using a culture they do not represent if they've hired cultural and sensitivity consultants, no matter their "size". Not that it didn't happen, I just haven't seen it.
If you wanted to, you could find someone who was offended... but that's always the case. "Did this offend anyone?" isn't a useful standard for any purpose.

I don't watch CR myself, but I'm willing to bet their version is about as good as anyone can realistically do, because it's pretty clear they're trying and have the resources to do it right. Until I see significant evidence otherwise, I'll assume good intent.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
One problem I have with the "respectful representation" is that whenever you want to use something from a non-European culture you have to go all-in as otherwise it is not respectful.
You can't steal just some minor thing to use, no you have to invent a full "not" country with all its customs, populated by culture appropriate monsters and the people there having the correct ethnicity.
That means that no matter how fantastical you want to make a world, you will always end up with the same kind of "not-China", "not-Japan" and "not-Africa" etc. which imo has become a stereotype of its own.
There is no such problem when using European culture. No one cares when you "disrespect" them, or no one takes the ones who complain about it seriously.

Another form of representation in RPGs I encountered is disability, although so far only in Paizo products. And to be honest it is imo rather bad because it is obvious that it was an afterthought which was only added in later and does not make sense in a setting where you can easily regenerate body parts.

Its especially glaring in Starfinder when a wheelchair costs multiple times as much as a cybernetic limp or spine and is just slightly cheaper than a complete body regeneration. And thats just for the base version of the wheelchair, not the upgraded ones.
 

payn

Legend
Another form of representation in RPGs I encountered is disability, although so far only in Paizo products. And to be honest it is imo rather bad because it is obvious that it was an afterthought which was only added in later and does not make sense in a setting where you can easily regenerate body parts.

Its especially glaring in Starfinder when a wheelchair costs multiple times as much as a cybernetic limp or spine and is just slightly cheaper than a complete body regeneration. And thats just for the base version of the wheelchair, not the upgraded ones.
This falls into that same line of thinking that gender swapping belts in D&D ought to explain away any transgender rep in a fantasy world with magic. I know it wasn't intentional, but its basically trying to wipe out a persons identity like its a problem they can just fix in the game. So, having wheelchairs in a sci-fi setting allows folks who need them to represent themselves in such games even though there are ways of removing the need entirely.
 


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