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D&D 5E On Representation and Roleplaying

Bolares

Hero
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.
Again, what we are saying here is not that they are dismissed out of hand as unable to represent the culture. What we are saying is:
  • Historically they've been unable or unwilling to do it without the use of stereotypes and harmfull generalizations;
  • If you are going to do it you should either do the work to know the culture to avoid said stereotypes or pay someone to do that for you (cultural consultants);
 

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BookTenTiger

He / Him
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.

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:
I understand that both of you feel a sense of injustice about this... But I would argue that no one is really being stopped from writing or producing what they want to because they're white. Even if Matt Mercer didn't put in the work to portray his Season 3 setting respectfully... He'd still probably be very successful!

On the other hand, people who don't match the preconceived definition of "white culture" have been, and still are, heavily censored by the majority white fields of media and publishing.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Is there really a team of black writers making a poorly researched, stereotype heavy Africa setting that's not getting scrutiny and thus somehow proving this point, or do people just keep saying this because that's how they think (hope?) it works?
The writers of Into the Motherlands have so far not shown much knowledge about Mali (for example implying slavery only came with the Europeans) and don't really use much of the culture of Mali for their scify/fantasy game except as backstory and (heavyI name dropping without, as far as I can see, actually using anything cultural from Mali.
 
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MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Honestly, I find a lot of the posturing here being fairly hypocritical, self-serving, and needlessly condescending. (Need I remind everybody here how much indifference and how little actual support I found a few years back when I found myself in the position of being culturally hurt? And now everybody magically cares about these issues?) This isn't as complicated as some may want it to be. Representation is needed, and good. Bad representation isn't inherently bad in a vacuum. The problem isn't necessarily that the people creating the content is depicting people and cultures outside their own identity, the problem is who has the resources to create content. No matter how well intentioned the people creating content are and how well researched everything is and how many sensitivity readers get involved, any depiction coming from the outside will always be off at best. But this wouldn't be a problem if more and more people were content creators on equal footing, then it wouldn't matter how wrong depictions get, because under these circumstances, there is still a more authentic depiction out there that counters it. (It wouldn't matter how wrong Coco go it, if everybody who saw it also watched a more authentic film done by a Mexican crew in Mexico.)

What you do in your own home game makes so little harm and so little good as to be negligible. Any attempt to police and self-censor in the context of your own home game -and I would add that it is the same whether you do it in an actual home or in a forum in the dark web, or even in a thread here in Enworld- is a waste of time at best, and unneeded conflict at worst. Regardless, it is energy best spent on doing things that actually change the playing field. Do things to encourage more and diverse creators instead of getting into needless fights with your peers at the table -or worse with the people on other tables other than your own-. It is just not productive and it erodes them as safe spaces that allow people to explore their own identity.

But hey, that is just an opinion. I'm just a third worlder and I know my place. I know from experience here that I'm a tolerated guest on a good day and that what I say won't matter.

Best regards.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Honestly, I find a lot of the posturing here being fairly hypocritical, self-serving, and needlessly condescending. (Need I remind everybody here how much indifference and how little actual support I found a few years back when I found myself in the position of being culturally hurt? And now everybody magically cares about these issues?) This isn't as complicated as some may want it to be. Representation is needed, and good. Bad representation isn't inherently bad in a vacuum. The problem isn't necessarily that the people creating the content is depicting people and cultures outside their own identity, the problem is who has the resources to create content. No matter how well intentioned the people creating content are and how well researched everything is and how many sensitivity readers get involved, any depiction coming from the outside will always be off at best. But this wouldn't be a problem if more and more people were content creators on equal footing, then it wouldn't matter how wrong depictions get, because under these circumstances, there is still a more authentic depiction out there that counters it. (It wouldn't matter how wrong Coco go it, if everybody who saw it also watched a more authentic film done by a Mexican crew in Mexico.)

What you do in your own home game makes so little harm and so little good as to be negligible. Any attempt to police and self-censor in the context of your own home game -and I would add that it is the same whether you do it in an actual home or in a forum in the dark web, or even in a thread here in Enworld- is a waste of time at best, and unneeded conflict at worst. Regardless, it is energy best spent on doing things that actually change the playing field. Do things to encourage more and diverse creators instead of getting into needless fights with your peers at the table -or worse with the people on other tables other than your own-. It is just not productive and it erodes them as safe spaces that allow people to explore their own identity.

But hey, that is just an opinion. I'm just a third worlder and I know my place. I know from experience here that I'm a tolerated guest on a good day and that what I say won't matter.

Best regards.
I think you have a really good point that a lot of this has to do with who does and doesn't have the resources to publish.
 

I don't want to accuse anyone of anything because god knows a lot of people internalize and repeat arguments they've heard on the internet, but it kind of reeks of 'no, you're the racist, actually'.
I think of any actual gatekeeping ("Only black people can write about Africa!") as more of a vocal minority issue than a meaningful part of any conversation, but those extreme voices also get repeated a lot. (Criticizing Rami Malek, an Egyptian, for playing an Egyptian Pharaoh despite not being black comes to mind. It's a viral meme, but it's just one dude/tte saying it in the first place.)

The more realistic general-populace response is: these days, if a white guy writes about Africa, they're going to face more scrutiny than if a black guy does. At the end of the day the work needs to stand on it's own, but the initial impressions will be colored (pun intended) by the background of the author.

Is that fair? I'd say probably not but given the historical context it's a very minor injustice indeed.
 

ReshiIRE

Adventurer
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.
This is a really important point that should be emphasised.

Sometimes people want to be represented by something close to what their lived reality is, and not just magic solutions that in some ways wipes out who they are.
 

ReshiIRE

Adventurer
I want to point out some things as well. In some ways, some cultures from Europe are appropriated*, though to a much less degree and with less harm than cultures not from Europe. For example, I don't think it's unfair to say that in the US, elements of Irish culture have been taken, used and jigged around to form incredibly (and hilariously) inaccurate stereotypes, inaccuracies and weirdness imaginable. Leprecians everywhere... fighting Irish... sometimes boiling down to uh supporting the IRA...

And while honestly, this is pretty much harmless because Irish people aren't oppressed by people in the United States and Ireland is now a rich first world country, and Irish people can easily laugh it off, and obviously there are significantly worse examples of appropriation and misrepresentation out there... it's still akin to it in ways, no? It's still happening, despite the active engagement between Irish people and Americans and Irish Americans.

Hell, we were even talking about Critical Role earlier, and their uh... expresses of Irishness outside of in character attempts at an Irish accent have been... way off the mark to say the least.

So, from that perspective, it's pretty easy to see that as audiences get more diverse and people from around the world actually get a voice and a way to communicate their concerns, that sensitivity, grace and a reminder that cultures are extremely varied, diverse, and complicated to navigate when you're from that culture itself, not to say anything of being outside of that culture, is needed.

Especially when some people have signficiantly more ways and resources to push their voice than others.

* I'm using this in the most neutral way I can, as I explain the paragraph.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
This is a really important point that should be emphasised.

Sometimes people want to be represented by something close to what their lived reality is, and not just magic solutions that in some ways wipes out who they are.
And also, considering what such people are suggesting the belts are representing, the fact that magic is unnecessarily rare and prohibitively expensive even for those that want it is telling an entirely different story that they thought of or intended.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
People are seeing extremes were there are none.

Throughout this thread people have said that the important thing is for people to have good intentions and listen to others for their viewpoints.

And then people come in and respond about how extreme measures aren't helpful.

In the case of Critical Role they can afford to hire some people to consult. It isn't extreme to ask them to do so.
 

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.
Race is one axis of discrimination, global geography is another. Even an independent product made in the US, in English, will be able to take advantage of resources and find an audience/distribution that might not be as possible in other countries. I don't think the fact that representation and identity is layered, intersectional, and complex is a good reason to ignore existing power dynamics or characterize attempts to address them as censorship

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.
*still repressed
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Again, what we are saying here is not that they are dismissed out of hand as unable to represent the culture. What we are saying is:
  • Historically they've been unable or unwilling to do it without the use of stereotypes and harmfull generalizations;
  • If you are going to do it you should either do the work to know the culture to avoid said stereotypes or pay someone to do that for you (cultural consultants);

It feels like 2 things are being conflated here. Are we talking about what I do in my own private home campaign or public media in general? I think there are correlations between the two but they are not the same thing.

Has Hollywood and mass media done a poor job of representing viewpoints and input from non white males? Absolutely. On the other hand, as witnessed by CR criticism even having consultants isn't ever going to be enough for some people. Matt and company can't change their ethnicity, I don't think that it means that they should somehow not be allowed to represent a region that has some resemblance to something other than psuedo-European generic fantasy world.

Then there's advice on handling this stuff in a home campaign. To me that's also an area potentially full of land mines but also worthy of discussion.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
It feels like 2 things are being conflated here. Are we talking about what I do in my own private home campaign or public media in general? I think there are correlations between the two but they are not the same thing.

Has Hollywood and mass media done a poor job of representing viewpoints and input from non white males? Absolutely. On the other hand, as witnessed by CR criticism even having consultants isn't ever going to be enough for some people. Matt and company can't change their ethnicity, I don't think that it means that they should somehow not be allowed to represent a region that has some resemblance to something other than psuedo-European generic fantasy world.

Then there's advice on handling this stuff in a home campaign. To me that's also an area potentially full of land mines but also worthy of discussion.
I think they are two distinct things, and I agree with the OP:

At your home table, roleplaying is a great opportunity to try out different identities, as long as you are doing so respectfully.

For publishing and media aspects of D&D, diversity should be supported through hiring and inclusion of diverse voices and participation.

In other words, Oofta at his table should experiment and play diverse roles. But if Oofta was producing a D&D TV show, then he should collaborate with creators of diverse perspectives and experience. Right?
 

Bolares

Hero
On the other hand, as witnessed by CR criticism even having consultants isn't ever going to be enough for some people.
This is where we have to be careful. "some people" isn't the same as everyone, or even the majority. That article is a bad take, understandable, but still a bad take. But it existing doesn't take away from the fact that if we want to represent another culture in our work we have to do the work to do that culture justice.

Then there's advice on handling this stuff in a home campaign. To me that's also an area potentially full of land mines but also worthy of discussion.
It's all very much worthy of discussion. Only by discussing we can grow. I'm just worried that we might fall on the "slipery slope" argument and never do the tough work because we are afraid of potential risks hidden in overcorrections. Let's focus on this thread, has anyone made a reasonable argument that someone like Matt shouldn't ever try an aproach a culture he does not represent?
 

The writers of Into the Motherlands have so far not shown much knowledge about Mali (for example implying slavery only came with the Europeans) and don't really use much of the culture of Mali for their scify/fantasy game except as backstory and (heavyI name dropping without, as far as I can see, actually using anything cultural from Mali.
The Into the Motherlands book isn't out yet, but afaik the setting is afrofuturist, a well-established subgenre of science fiction. Afrofuturism is very much a diasporic literature and aesthetic, that is, it emerges from Black people in the Americas contending with their shared history of forced diaspora. It's not historical fiction, which is why afrofuturist stories take place in an imagined counterfactual future. So this critique is misplaced given what the authors' goals are (while also making assumptions about the authors' supposed lack of knowledge).

Moreover, it was a fairly successful kickstarter, but still an indie rpg project, and as such has a much much lower profile than a book like Tomb of Annihilation (2017), a "fantasy africa" that was made with no Black authors or consultants and, despite some relatively minor criticism, is still one of the most popular 5e adventures. The existence and success of this book belies any claim that there is censorship going on; meanwhile, it's not surprising that the aforementioned minor criticism will come with a wotc release, given that most rpg media focuses on wotc releases.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think they are two distinct things, and I agree with the OP:

At your home table, roleplaying is a great opportunity to try out different identities, as long as you are doing so respectfully.

For publishing and media aspects of D&D, diversity should be supported through hiring and inclusion of diverse voices and participation.

In other words, Oofta at his table should experiment and play diverse roles. But if Oofta was producing a D&D TV show, then he should collaborate with creators of diverse perspectives and experience. Right?

Yes. If I were publishing a campaign book based on beliefs from ancient Japan that I should make my best effort to get accurate information including hiring a consultant if I have the budget? Of course.

But in at least some cases (I hate pointing back to CR, but it's an easy target) CR has hired consultants and there's still pushback saying that it's not correct because they're "a group of people engaging with cultural touchstones that they aren’t a part of." What would make it acceptable? Fire one of the players and replace them with someone who happens to have a corresponding ethnicity even if, like me, they're several generations separated? Limit themselves to cultures dominated by caucasians?

Having said that, there are experiences that I simply can't fully relate to and I accept that. No matter how many consultants I hire I'm never going to really know what it's like to be hispanic in the US. I don't think there's one answer, it's a complicated topic. I just disagree with some of the gatekeeping based on ethnicity.
 

Bolares

Hero
But in at least some cases (I hate pointing back to CR, but it's an easy target) CR has hired consultants and there's still pushback saying that it's not correct because they're "a group of people engaging with cultural touchstones that they aren’t a part of."
CR got to a point that no matter what they do they will get push back. The important thing is to separate valid criticism from hate and bad takes made only for the sake of views...
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Yes. If I were publishing a campaign book based on beliefs from ancient Japan that I should make my best effort to get accurate information including hiring a consultant if I have the budget? Of course.

But in at least some cases (I hate pointing back to CR, but it's an easy target) CR has hired consultants and there's still pushback saying that it's not correct because they're "a group of people engaging with cultural touchstones that they aren’t a part of." What would make it acceptable? Fire one of the players and replace them with someone who happens to have a corresponding ethnicity even if, like me, they're several generations separated? Limit themselves to cultures dominated by caucasians?

Having said that, there are experiences that I simply can't fully relate to and I accept that. No matter how many consultants I hire I'm never going to really know what it's like to be hispanic in the US. I don't think there's one answer, it's a complicated topic. I just disagree with some of the gatekeeping based on ethnicity.
I would say that the pushback CR is getting is just part of the broader conversation. There's always going to be pushback from someone, and support from others. As a creator, you use both voices to find where you want to be.
 

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