Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Thunder Plains (Monte Cook Games)

So, when we got back from our great weekend of whalewatching, during which time I was mostly offline, I learned about a nasty little flamewar that'd hit while I was away, and was sorry to see some friends be the direct recipients of the worst the web has to offer.

The immediate flashpoint was the posting online of a petition against Monte Cook Games over accusations of insensitivity in their depiction of native american culture in their new game THE STRANGE. I haven't played THE STRANGE -- what gaming time I have these days gets devoted to CALL OF CTHULHU and the new D&D, plus some boardgames -- but as I understand it, the adventuring worlds in THE STRANGE, called 'recursions', resemble various cultural archetypes and stereotypes from our world -- similar to the domains in RAVENLOFT (which echoed various horror tropes) or the realms in TORG or, for that matter, the nations in the D&D KNOWN WORLD (esp. the ATRUAGHIN CLANS, Gaz.14). I gather that these recursions are supposed to be generated by the collective unconsciousness, and there's no denying that the myth of 'cowboys and indians' looms large in our collective imagination.

But what's shared culture to some is appropriation to others; hence the petition:

Having read this, I find I'd have more sympathy for the petitioner's  position if
(a) it didn't use the word 'DEMAND', which always puts me off, and
(b) didn't call for an APOLOGY, as if the petitioner's feelings were more important than the issue at hand, and
(c) if its depiction of Monte and Bruce's actions bore any resemblance to behavior I've seen from them in the twenty-odd years that I've known both. It simply fails to do so, and so loses credibility with me on that account.

The thing that strikes me as most ironic about the petition is this: a key idea that seems to underlie the petitioner's position is that The Thunder Plains offends by offering up a cultural icon based on only one single native culture, which fails to represent the vast variety of native cultures that existed in preColumbian America. And yet the petitioner seems to feel that she has the self-appointed right to speak for all those hundreds of tribes, past and present, surviving and extinct. That seems to me  to claim a wholly unwarranted authority; I simply can't see why this person's opinion shd carry any more weight than anyone else with a website. The First Nations never had a unified voice, or any single speaker to represent them, and to claim that role for yourself smacks of hubris.

For their part, Monte and Bruce have replied with a measured response explaining what's been going on from their point of view:

This was followed by voluminous commentary, some of it thoughtful but a good deal of it sheer vitriol.*  I have to say that Bruce and Monte's reaction is much more engaged and interactive than mine would have been: I'd have either ignored the nay-sayers or, if I thought they had a point no matter how misguided their methods, deleted the material in question. That Monte and Bruce are going to go back and replace this material with new material that they hope will fill the role they'd originally planned for the Thunder Plains shows a willingness to meet people more than halfway. It seems unlikely that the nay-sayers will be swayed by this (given their own emphatic statements to that effect in the string of online comments), but it speaks well of Monte Cook Games that they wanted to be thoughtful in their usage.

--John R.
current reading: WOULD I FIGHT (just resumed) 

*Reading through it, I did learn a new term: SJW, which turns out to have nothing to do with SJG (Steve Jackson Games) but instead is an acronym for 'social justice warrior' -- someone who talks up a position with great fervor but, as the saying goes, is 'all hat, no cattle'.

No comments: