What We Lose When We Eliminate Controversial Content

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Reynard

Legend
I was listening to Sebastian Major's great podcast "Our Fake History" today, specifically the recent series on Yasuke, the African Samurai, and a thought came to me:

That story is really cool and makes for a great PC backstory, but it absolutely depends on the ecistence of such controversial topics as slavery and colonialism in order to exist. Without acknowledging and accepting those aspects of history and humanity, there is no Yasuke. In the context of RPGs, worlds that are scrubbed of those things can't have an "African Samurai" character.

Yasuke is hardly the only example. There's some rough stuff needed for Boudica to exist as a compelling PC, for example, or Nanisca from The Woman King. Adversity and harrowing trials make for great drama and interesting characters, and often times that adversity comes from the injustices that one people inflict upon another.

I am not saying we need to wallow in the horrors of slavery, colonialism, terrorism, fascism, etc... But I do think that we do not want to erase those things from our game worlds, because they give us the opportunity to create heroes that feel more real -- because in the popular imagination at least, it is rising above injustice (in all its forms) that makes heroes.

Do you scrub your world of slavery and other historical crimes? If so, how do you encourage heroism? If not, what do you do to mitigate the real potential discomfort such subjects can cause? Do you make different decisions based on the specific game or setting? Do you run historical games, and if so do you "soften" history to make it palatable?

Note that this thread isn't a place to talk about racial essentialism or inherent evil or any of that? If it helps you get in the right frame, assume we are talking about historical RPGing only. That said, nor is it a place to talk about modern real world politics. Thank you in advance for being kind and respectful to your fellow posters.
 

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MGibster

Legend
I am very much a "context is important" kind of a guy. A problematic element I might include in a horror game like Delta Green might be something I steer entirely clear of in a high fantasty game like Star Wars. So while I'm fine with the inclusion of problematic elements in a general sense, it won't follow that I think every use of a problematic element is appropriate.

I am not saying we need to wallow in the horrors of slavery, colonialism, terrorism, fascism, etc... But I do think that we do not want to erase those things from our game worlds, because they give us the opportunity to create heroes that feel more real -- because in the popular imagination at least, it is rising above injustice (in all its forms) that makes heroes.
I often run games set in the "real" world or an alternative history setting. I'm talking about games like Delta Green, Call of Cthulhu, Nights Black Agents, Vampire, etc. etc. Wow, all of those are horror games. Well, you probably can't have a horror game without the problematic elements, but for games set in the "real" world of the past, I tend to tone down some of the problematic elements. There's certain language I don't use even if it would be authentic to the time period, and I don't let prevailing prejudices prevent player characters from being able to participate or make it unfun for the players.
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I am not saying we need to wallow in the horrors of slavery, colonialism, terrorism, fascism, etc... But I do think that we do not want to erase those things from our game worlds,
Well, in our game worlds, we don’t have to have a history of colonialism and slavery to have a Black samurai. We can pick and choose the vices we want to include without erasing anything.
 

Imaro

Legend
Well, in our game worlds, we don’t have to have a history of colonialism and slavery to have a Black samurai. We can pick and choose the vices we want to include without erasing anything.

Its fantasy... we could just create a culture based on a mix of the cultures of an ancient African people ( because even though its hardly brought up... Africa is a continent with numerous countries and cultures) and ancient/medieval Japanese culture... why do we need colonialism, slavery or anything else like that to enable this??
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
It's also the case that dealing with current cultures, especially ones struggling with a crap colonial history, needs to handled with some intelligence and sensitivity. That's not to say you shouldn't write what you want of course, I'm more talking about writing for more public consumption here. I mostly tend to say that if you're coming from a place of respect you'll be fine.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
It’s fine to have some of that stuff in various games, I think it’s just that people want D&D specifically to be safe for everyone.

And of course none of this means there aren’t villains and bad things happening.
I think there's a really interesting conversation to be had about what 'safe' means in this context.
 

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