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D&D 5E On Representation and Roleplaying

cowpie

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.
Before the concepts Representation and/or Cultural Appropriation were talked about, Hollywood would just hire a Native American scholar or cultural consultant, who would work with the writer (whatever their ethnicity) to make sure the depiction was authentic. I guess this is similar to a sensitivity reader, but the consultant would only be an adviser--they would not have veto or censorship power over the script. This is because writing is a talent that only a small number of people can do really well. While the consultant knew about their ethnic background, they did not necessarily know about writing or the movie business. That's a whole different skill set. It's important to get someone who can write, and do it on time, since movies cost millions of dollars to make. If the writing is bad, the movie can end up bad, and it won't make it's money back (ie: the price of failure is very high).

Some movie-specific problems to consider:
1) Finding a good Native American writer who is free to work on your project. Hard since, there aren't very many, and they might all be working on other projects.
2) Find a writer who wants to do the job. Even if you find a writer, maybe they just want to write a book, or aren't interested in telling the story you want them to write about, so they turn the job offer down.
3) Find a writer who is the right fit. Sometimes people don't get along or argue, or are unreliable--if the writer can't get the job done on time, or constantly fights with the producers, then don't hire them. Let's face it, some writers are just bad, and having the right ethnicity is no guarantee of quality (much less, a finished screenplay).
4) Even if you find a writer with the right general ethnicity, they aren't necessarily an expert. For example, you are producing a movie about the Iroquois in 1705, and the writer is Sioux with no history training, the writer isn't going to be an expert on the right tribe, or know their history--being Native American is not a guarantee of expertise. Worse, some Iroquois could see the film, and be mad that the Sioux writer got it wrong.
 

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Ixal

Adventurer
They usually would not.

That's how we got Johnny Depp with a dead raven on his head.
Just because they hired them, doesn't mean the movie team listened.
They also had a consultant on medieval history on the team when they made the movie where knights had to be hoisted on their horses by cranes....
 




cowpie

Adventurer
Just because they hired them, doesn't mean the movie team listened.
They also had a consultant on medieval history on the team when they made the movie where knights had to be hoisted on their horses by cranes....
I guess my point, is that hiring a sensitivity reader is still no guarantee of authenticity, and it carries with it (since the reader is sometimes given powers of censorship) the risk that you'll interfere with the project so much that it ends up being a failure.
 

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.

That was kind of my point about my Briton campaign. It was set in a fantasy version of a place and time of considerable difference; I don't see that I have a special understanding of that place and time just because I'm part Scots.

I think it gets a little more complicated when you have more modern settings where there are still living people who experienced the time (20's Harlem for example) and can at least have talked about it to family members and the like, so there's some immediacy.

But if you're using locations and events from more than about a century ago, you've either done your research or not, and your ethnicity and national origin doesn't seem to do more than put a thumb on the scale there that I can see (it does the latter because maybe you'd have been more inclined to absorb information about it when you were young--but there's no assurance that information would have been any more correct than anyone else's.)
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I guess my point, is that hiring a sensitivity reader is still no guarantee of authenticity, and it carries with it (since the reader is sometimes given powers of censorship) the risk that you'll interfere with the project so much that it ends up being a failure.
I doubt the kind of works that would fail for not being insensitive or thoughtless enough would hire a sensitivity reader in the first place.
 

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.

I'll note it doesn't end there, though. There are absolutely people who will take issue with anyone outside their group utilizing their culture, and this goes up to 11 the moment they think there's liberties (as inevitably there will be with fantasy of any stripe). Take a look at the pushback Rebecca Roanhorse got for her work.
 

Well this is a complicated topic! A couple things
- on appropriation: I am of south Asian descent, grew up in the US. When I was growing up, representations of India in American popular culture were things like Temple of Doom, Apu, and Ben Kingsley playing (and winning an academy award for playing) Gandhi. It was a set of highly successful caricatures and stereotypes, and otherwise there was not much at all. Point is, not only can white people in hollywood write and produce films and tv about non-western cultures, they have predominantly been the ones doing so and profiting off of it. This is still the case today (witness Disney, which exists mostly to turn the world's cultures into profit machines for itself (and to ruin star wars)). The concerns about appropriation, while long standing, have only reached a critical mass in the past decade or so, and only because an increasingly diverse audience wants some say as to how they are represented.

- exoticization and derogation are two sides of the same coin (or token). For example, the "East" being depicted of a land of Spirituality and Mystery is still marginalizing even if the intended connotations are positive. Historically, this kind of romantic view of the "orient" has been the result of people in the west being tired of their "same old" culture and wanting to inject something new and exciting into their life. It's true that often the choice, at best, has been between that kind of orientalist representation or not being represented at all, but that doesn't mean we have to be satisfied with that.

But the above has to do with media production, and less with playing characters in an rpg. I don't have a problem with anyone playing characters that are coded as non-western in an rpg, as long as, obviously, their character is not a stereotype. But this is often hard in fantasy, which is a genre that relies so much on tropes.

Related: here are some kickstarters from rpg creators from the global south. Please support if you are interested!


 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
That was kind of my point about my Briton campaign. It was set in a fantasy version of a place and time of considerable difference; I don't see that I have a special understanding of that place and time just because I'm part Scots.

I think it gets a little more complicated when you have more modern settings where there are still living people who experienced the time (20's Harlem for example) and can at least have talked about it to family members and the like, so there's some immediacy.

But if you're using locations and events from more than about a century ago, you've either done your research or not, and your ethnicity and national origin doesn't seem to do more than put a thumb on the scale there that I can see (it does the latter because maybe you'd have been more inclined to absorb information about it when you were young--but there's no assurance that information would have been any more correct than anyone else's.)

There are absolutely experiences I would not attempt to portray because of my understanding. It's more that saying that because I'm caucasian it would be okay for me to be inspired by The Witcher and include a lot of Slovakian lore because Slovenians are now considered caucasian. It's problematic to me if only a person of African American descent can author a book about not-Africa because that's lumping together many, many different cultures based solely on physical appearance.

But I think this whole topic is full of landmines. For example in my first 3.x campaign I had an NPC "Big Mamma"*. A transvestite half-orc with a Cajun accent her biggest wish was to get a belt that changed her gender physically (which the PCs eventually acquired). I never made fun of the PC, I played her completely straight. But if streaming games live had been a thing back then and I had that NPC? No matter how I portrayed her I think I would have been buried in hate mail.

I don't think that it's a good thing that I would hesitate having that NPC now no matter how I presented them. I'm so afraid to step on toes that it limits what I can present. Do I need to be careful to not make fun of people? Sure. But there are only so many tropes, ideas and accents that I can mine for inspiration.

*The name came from the fact that she ran a restaurant and helped a lot of people, especially poor people and orphans while also being well over 6 feet tall.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I think one important thing to remember is that all of this is in context. In the history of publishing (especially in the US), not only was cultural appropriation the norm, it was basically rewarded. There was also heavy censorship of non-white voices. In film and television, white actors would be hired to play non-white roles.

So when you read a critique of, say, Critical Role Season 3, it's happening within this context. Matthew Mercer is doing his due diligence, but his use of other cultures is going to draw critiques because for so long it wouldn't have! And the all Caucasian cast is going to draw critiques because for so long it wouldn't have!

But you know what? Matt Mercer and Critical Role are doing fine! It's not like that one article critiquing Season 3 is going to tank the show, or critiques of an all Caucasian cast are threatening their lives.

So I think it's useful when looking at critiques of D&D and RPG media to remember to not ignore the history and context.
 

Irlo

Explorer
The title of the article is "As Critical Role has grown, my love for the show has died". Since they haven't watched a single episode I don't see how much more judgmental they could get.
They’ve watched two seasons of episodes. I read the concluding paragraph and don’t see the judgement that you do.

“I don’t know whether I’m going to watch Campaign 3 of Critical Role. It feels like I’m no longer the target audience of the show. It’s great that Critical Role is hopefully getting more people than ever into tabletop roleplaying games and I’m excited for those people discovering this world through the show. But I feel like Critical Role has finally passed me by.”
 

Bolares

Hero
They’ve watched two seasons of episodes. I read the concluding paragraph and don’t see the judgement that you do.

“I don’t know whether I’m going to watch Campaign 3 of Critical Role. It feels like I’m no longer the target audience of the show. It’s great that Critical Role is hopefully getting more people than ever into tabletop roleplaying games and I’m excited for those people discovering this world through the show. But I feel like Critical Role has finally passed me by.”
Yeah, I've read the article when it came out. It is clickbaity, the author seems to be a little whiny and treats some possibilities as certain, but from that to say it's stating that Mercer isn't allowed to write Marquet is a reach.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
There are absolutely experiences I would not attempt to portray because of my understanding. It's more that saying that because I'm caucasian it would be okay for me to be inspired by The Witcher and include a lot of Slovakian lore because Slovenians are now considered caucasian. It's problematic to me if only a person of African American descent can author a book about not-Africa because that's lumping together many, many different cultures based solely on physical appearance.
But remember that historically this hasn't been true at all. In fact, people of African American descent were basically barred from authoring anything! So when someone is writing or producing something about a culture they don't identify with, I think it's okay to take a critical look because of the history.

But I think this whole topic is full of landmines. For example in my first 3.x campaign I had an NPC "Big Mamma"*. A transvestite half-orc with a Cajun accent her biggest wish was to get a belt that changed her gender physically (which the PCs eventually acquired). I never made fun of the PC, I played her completely straight. But if streaming games live had been a thing back then and I had that NPC? No matter how I portrayed her I think I would have been buried in hate mail.

I don't think that it's a good thing that I would hesitate having that NPC now no matter how I presented them. I'm so afraid to step on toes that it limits what I can present. Do I need to be careful to not make fun of people? Sure. But there are only so many tropes, ideas and accents that I can mine for inspiration.

*The name came from the fact that she ran a restaurant and helped a lot of people, especially poor people and orphans while also being well over 6 feet tall.
Again, remember that historically the opposite is true. Mickey Rooney played a terrible Asian stereotype in Breakfast at Tiffany's and that movie won multiple rewards and accolades.

So again, when someone in media is portraying someone of a different cultural identity, it's worth taking a critical look because of the history.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
I think one important thing to remember is that all of this is in context. In the history of publishing (especially in the US), not only was cultural appropriation the norm, it was basically rewarded. There was also heavy censorship of non-white voices. In film and television, white actors would be hired to play non-white roles.

So when you read a critique of, say, Critical Role Season 3, it's happening within this context. Matthew Mercer is doing his due diligence, but his use of other cultures is going to draw critiques because for so long it wouldn't have! And the all Caucasian cast is going to draw critiques because for so long it wouldn't have!

But you know what? Matt Mercer and Critical Role are doing fine! It's not like that one article critiquing Season 3 is going to tank the show, or critiques of an all Caucasian cast are threatening their lives.

So I think it's useful when looking at critiques of D&D and RPG media to remember to not ignore the history and context.
A lot of those representation issues are, sadly, about appearances.

No one would ever question a team of black writer creating an Africa inspired setting, even when the writers and their parents were all born in the USA and have not even visited Africa apart from maybe a small tourist visit.
Yet a white team of writers with the same background would be questioned and criticized for appropriating.

The "but in some points in the past they were repressed" is imo not a good explanation or excuse for why person A today gets criticized while person B gets a free pass.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But remember that historically this hasn't been true at all. In fact, people of African American descent were basically barred from authoring anything! So when someone is writing or producing something about a culture they don't identify with, I think it's okay to take a critical look because of the history.

Again, remember that historically the opposite is true. Mickey Rooney played a terrible Asian stereotype in Breakfast at Tiffany's and that movie won multiple rewards and accolades.

So again, when someone in media is portraying someone of a different cultural identity, it's worth taking a critical look because of the history.
Well, first, I agree that there has been many issues particularly with Hollywood on representation. Why did it take so long to have a Marvel movie with a martial arts expert portrayed by someone of Chinese descent?

I recognize and acknowledge that there are very real issues here. I think it goes too far when people that do not have the "correct" ancestry, ethnicity or skin color are dismissed out of hand as unable to represent a fantasy culture that represents some culture other than the one people identify them with.

There is a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma here, but killing all the chickens so they can't lay the wrong type of egg doesn't seem like a solution either. Or something. There's an analogy that works in there somewhere. :unsure:
 


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