Monday, July 24, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Politically Correct Gaming?

Current events can be such a pain in the ass.

The last couple of gaming sessions I have enjoyed were blissfully free of any discussions of the world around us. A fellow gamer from SLC (that's Salt-Lake-City for you Yankees) was in the area on business and we managed to squeeze in some Command & Colors: Ancients and a couple of Memoir '44 sessions. Thanks Steve, for treating me like a dog in my own home... usually I let the host win a few.

With the temperatures exceeding even the expectations of Al Gore - OH MY GOD!!!! WE"RE ALL GOING TO MELT!!! SEE MY MOVIE TO SAVE THE PLANET NOW!!! - it was pleasant to take a break from watering my lawn, my sparse collection of flowers (still in pots) and watching the truck melt in the driveway. Shaun and I decided that Memoir '44 was in order when we played Saturday night. And not one mention of current events was made. Trying to figure out how to beat Rommel in Libya was a lot less stressful. For us. It was certainly not stress free for the Allied tankers in 1942 though. They were hopelessly outmatched.

In fact, I even allowed my dog to lounge around under the table while playing... just in case Al Gore had someone checking to see if pets in Idaho were being properly protected from the impending destruction of the planet and the rising CO2 emissions from his private jet. You know, the one he always seemed to be sitting in during his movie. Here's my proof that the dog is being well cared for -





This is "Shy". Which is exactly what she is, shy. I offer this photo evidence as proof that even though I may be a Conservative Hate Monger, I do love dogs. So I can't be all bad. Besides which, Shy doesn't have doggy gas problems and she's never pooped in the house. Amazing what a few beatings will do, eh?











If you're like me then you probably don't discuss politics, religion, criminal records or anything that's potentially, uh, exciting while you're gaming. It's not that I consider it bad form, I usually don't. But to be fair, you and I probably don't agree on many things. In my view why should we bring those things to a game table? Since I live in a red state there's a high probability that most of the people I game with will agree with the following:

* Low taxes generate a better economy

* The proper response to someone attacking you is to attack them back. Times two.

* The UN is a viper pit of corruption and that small piece of real estate should be razed, it's occupants sent packing back to live under the yoke of their despots, tyrants, dictators and mass murderers... or back to France, whichever is worse.

* We should start drilling for oil off the coast of Florida right now. The Chinese are.

* Communism has failed.

* The economy will not collapse if illegal aliens are stopped at the border and made to actually follow the laws we have.

* There really is difference between unintended (collateral) loss of life in a war and the intentional massacre of innocent men, women and children by terrorist groups... who operate behind the human shield of their own women and children.

* Some people are so evil that they really do need to be killed. Now.

* Children become better people when allowed to compete and succeed or fail on their own merits.

I could go on and add at least another twenty or thirty "current event" or hot topics that most of my game crowd would agree with. And my local gamers aren't all cut from the same bolt of cloth, they are diverse. Yes, there are solid blue-collar types, high tech executives, a programmer or two, a systems analyst here a college student there, a teenager in school, one is a geologist, another an former military officer, a guy who owns a small trucking company... you know. The normal group of people. A cross-section.

So anyway, I visit BGG at least 5 times a week. Like you, I go to the gaming database, check out the reviews and commentary on games I like and also on games I'm considering and, of course, I read some of the Geek Lists and some of the forum threads. The forum is always a potentially dicey place and the discussions can become heated. The same holds true for many of the Geek Lists as well. So, to continue... apparently there is a group of guys over in the UK who have designed a game called The War On Terror. They decided to go to BGG and announce an October release date. They have nice website and have posted art, rules and other goodies.




The boardgame does have what we might call "curb appeal". It's a brightly-colored and humorous look at people who get paid between $20,000-100,00 to blow up small children and their mothers.










Even if you haven't read the two threads they started in the forum I'd bet you can imagine the controversy there was about the subject matter of the game. Both threads are an interesting read and a great example of why I never go out of my way to bring current events up at a gaming table. A fair amount of the people who posted on the thread were upset that the game is being made. Outrage even, from one or two. Others staunchly defended the game while agreeing that the subject was a tad distasteful and a large group felt the topical subject was fair game and then fell into two camps: The I'm ordering it camp, and the looks okay but I won't buy it camp.







The game comes with one of these stylish ski masks. I plan to wear mine when I pick my little boy up from daycare. No sense coddling the youngsters, they should learn early not to fear and reject things they don't understand.








The most interesting responses though were the several people who felt the game subject was out of line because it was topical. They argued that Puerto Rico, where the underlying foundation of the economy was the abduction of blacks in Africa, by stronger African tibes, the selling of those slaves to European slave traders, the horrible transportation of the helpless victims to Puerto Rico (and other islands) and then the brutal working conditions where the average slave survived only 5 years, where allowing them to marry and breed was more expensive than just getting more slaves from Africa, so families were banned... that brutal piece of history is okay as a theme for a game because it happened a few hundred years ago.

If you carry that logic further you would conclude that anything evil or destructive, as a theme for a game or a subject matter, is fine so long as it isn't current. War games are okay, just not ones that deal with current or very recent wars. Which I suppose means that there is no evil so evil that it can't be a game subject so long as it is distant history and not likely to offend anyone in the here and now.

I gave this some thought and realized that political and religious differences in gamers has never really played a part in who I game with. If you read my little list above you could hardly call me anything but very opinionated and very firm in my views on the world. But I can't see how avoiding evil or bad behaviour as a game subject makes anything better or worse. To me, it's a non-issue. Refusing to play a wargame involving the English suppression of Scottish patriots doesn't change that history. Nor does playing it. Choosing to only play games that involve the Italian Rennaissance doesn't make the oppression of the lower classes in Italy go away, nor does it remove from history the terror of warring merchant fleets, imprisonment and assassination. Not to mention the toll paid in human life and suffering for prized merchandise from the East.

So here's what I think. I think that unless you're playing an abstract game like chess or Go or one of the goofy looking GIPF ones, then you're most likely playing a game that has a theme based closely or loosely on human history. The last time I checked, the history of humans on this planet has pretty much always involved death, suffering, inequality, oppression, murder, mayhem and injustice. But human history is also one of a gradual advance towards the opposite of evil. If you had told me back in the 60's that the internet could exist I would have agreed. Being a fan of Science Fiction and having a restless mind, I knew instinctually that such things could exist. But, if you had said that not only would the internet exist, but that China and the USSR would allow it's oppressed masses access to that level of communication with the outside world I would have laughed at you.

Last week I sold about $200 worth of out of production miniatures to a gamer in Moscow. And if you pay close attention to the little flags on BGG I think you'll see a couple that originate from China and a few other "evil" places.

I'm not sure what, if anything, this proves to anybody. But my thinking is that bad things are more likely to go away when confronted and dealt with. Since the most popular games involve humans and history of some sort, then evil will always be a seed in many games popular within our niche. So yes, I sent the fledgling publisher in the UK a pre-order for their War on Terror game. Playing it won't make more terrorists and it won't lessen terror. But ignoring it won't make it go away.

Besides which, it's possible that the game will become one of those sought-after eBay gems. And fairly gained profit is always good.

23 comments:

MWChapel said...

"Besides which, it's possible that the game will become one of those sought-after eBay gems. And fairly gained profit is always good."

Yes because Ghettopoly and Pimp & Ho's are going for "top" dollar on eBay right now. Or not.....

johnnybravoh said...

Wha? This is a RED STATE!!!????!!!??? OMG I'm outta here!!!!

Connecticut here I come.

Hopefully I can make it there by taking only lefts.

Iain said...

To replace the UN, Bruno Faidutti and you should charter planes to Ascension Island and play games to decide world events.

What games would you both play? You're both Poker fans.

Anonymous said...

Ha, you won the last game of M'44 DW. I stayed away from topics involving politics because it is clear that we would agree on very little...it is pretty bad form to show up at a guy's house and argue with him. I will talk about current events while gaming, depending on who I am with. My girlfriend and my main wargaming parter are interested in talking about such things. Depends on who ya play with, I guess.

It is funny what is offensive; the other day a guy walked into the gamestore and asked for Ghettoploy, which caused my moron detector to go off. I think that game is deliberately offensive, so it riles me. The War on Terror game....I don't get the same feeling. As someone who plays wargames it is hard to say certain topics are verboten, I guess.

Steve Bernhardt
wargamer66

Joe Gola said...

My question is, would you feel comfortable showing off that War on Terror game to a veteran of the Iraq invasion? How about someone who was wounded in Iraq? How about the parents of someone who was killed in Iraq? Would they think it was funny, or would it make them feel like shit? Political satire is as well and good if the only people getting hurt by it is the intended target, but is the joke really that funny that it's worth the wounds to friendly units?

OzGamer said...

Well, in regards to the first bit, I think our society is geared towards bipolar systems. Most Anglo countries have more or less two party political systems, our legal system is adversarial, our economic system is based on direct, take-no-prisoners competition, so it's not surprising that most people feel the need to take a position and then dig in and hold the line. But I think you would find that:

* Nobody thinks we should pay 0% or 100% tax. The argument is about where on the line between those two we need to be.

* Nobody thinks there should be no oil exploration, but everyone thinks that some places are more worth protecting than others.

* Collateral damage, or civilian casualties are a very bad outcome, but almost nobody would put the pilot who causes them in the same moral basket as a deliberate terrorist.

* Children need to learn self-reliance and about consequences of their actions, but not all in one go - it takes years of nurturing to make a healthy adult.

In every case, there is nuance and complexity, but mostly people like to take diametrically opposed points of view and just yell at each other.

As regards the War on Terror game, I would think that there is no way anybody should try to censor what is obviously intended as satire, but there's clearly room to be sensitive about what are current events. Someone who brought this game out at a game night where there was a good chance somebody had lost a family member in the said war would be just plain rude.

DWTripp said...

Interesting that Ghettopoly and Pimps & Ho's gets brought up. But no offense at "Weed", or "Bootleggers"? Or "Escape from Colditz".

This sort of illustrates my point - that offensive material is in the eye of the beholder and what you or I might find offensive isn't the benchmark for the rest of the planet.

To answer Joe directly - Neither I nor you really want to live our lives within the confines of what other people can find to be offended about. To extend your argument (which I suppose is: be careful and don't say things, do things or act in a manner that someone could be offended by) to daily life and the vast number of potential insults or offensive things a human being can do is not the way I'd ever live.

What in the world does it matter if I would or wouldn't feel comfortable showing The War on Terror game to an Iraq Vet? Like most people, I don't go out of my way to offend anyone, but at the same time I won't spend my life worrying if anything I say, do, own, enjoy, listen to, read or watch might somehow be construed as offensive to another person I might or might not come in contact with.

One of the most popular cable shows the last decade has been South Park. Millions of people tune in to watch other people be grossly offended by that show. That's the point of South Park - to offend. Personally, I think the show stinks. I've watched it a few times and nothing I saw even made me smile a meager smile, much less laugh.

So, is South Park a social failure because I hated it? Or is Pimps & Ho's to be reviled because it casts aspersions on... well, Pimps and Ho's?

As for war vets and the loss of others. I have indeed played many war games with vets of wars. Not to mention with people who have lost loved ones in wars (I am among that group myseilf). I doubt that someone who uses their emotions as a bludgeon, to intimidate and control other people... like, oh... Cindy Sheehan, would be interested in me, a game, or anything I have to say or do. But I don't make any decisions in my life based upon whether her or anyone like her might approve.

I personally like Iain's idea. Playing poker with Faidutti. But why Ascension Island? Isn't that some sort of jumping off point if you're planning an invasion of Argentina?

GrillTech said...

Remember the huge ruckus that was caused by the RPG "The Price of Freedom"? I still have some old issues of White Dwarf (back when they allowed letters and articles that didn't just pimp their own products) with huge flame wars about how horrible TPoF was.

Joe Gola said...

I guess you're right, D.W. I'd still like to know your answers to my questions, though, even if they don't matter.

DWTripp said...

Ha, you won the last game of M'44 DW.

While that may be true Steve, you know as well as I do that I only just barely pulled it out. And how about the Ancients scenario? You never even needed the ambush units.

Remember the huge ruckus that was caused by the RPG "The Price of Freedom"?

Of course I remember. In fact, Price of Freedom is the only RPG I have steadfastly refused to get rid off. Putting that in context with the War on Terror and the game... it's amazing how fast things can become "okay" to make games about. The Cold War and the terror of impending nuclear war lasted for 40+ years. Now, a mere 20 years later most people who weren't school-age in the 60's have zero concept of the threat level that we all lived under.

Do you remember when ABC (I think it was ABC) ran that mini-series: Amerika... that was a real scene, but the press was so Left-oriented back then that most of the clamor was about how the Rednecks were so stupid for a) fearing communism b) forcing communist dictatorships into becoming bad actors because capitalism was evil and unfair and c)being so dumb as to actually stockpile groceries, ammo, water and other basics.

I still own a copy of Red Dawn and watch it once a year.

I'd still like to know your answers to my questions, though, even if they don't matter.

Sure Joe. I'm a great host and am almost always acutely aware of other people's sensitive spots. So no, it's unlikely I'd bring any game out if I was aware of the potential for offense.

My other side, the evil-twin part of me, is constantly irritated by assertive sensitivity and political correctness. The power of these two things in our world is both oppresive and at the same time evil. We have become a culture where what we say, do and sometimes even think is dictated by how other people may be offended by that.

Going back to Cindy Sheehan... I watched her on TV several times, delivering her rap and my daughter, who happened to be in DC when she was speaking on The Mall gave me a detailed overview of the whole schtick. Basically, I am 100% positive Sheehan has turned the death of her son in Iraq into a bludgeon for her political objectives. She uses her son's death as a shield and anyone who questions her or her motives is automatically accused of being insensitive and uncaring.

The one thing that tipped me to how pervasive this is was a show I saw where the host was questioning her virtue in utilizing her dead son politically and said as much to a Sheehan supporter and Democratic activist. The Activist replied, "Okay, well, have you lost a son in Iraq?"

To which the show's host could only say no. And the Activist said, "Well then, how can anyone take your opinion on this seriously?"

I remember thinking: Man, these guys are good.

Just this morning I watched an hours worth of coverage on the ongoing war between Israel and the Hezbollah terrorists. The coverage was very focused on the loss of life of innocent women and children in Lebanon. Strangely, there was no mention of the loss of life of innocent children and women in Israel.

Perhaps I'm reading more subtlety into this than it deserves... but frankly, it's hard for me to reconcile with the notion that one group of children are any more deserving of sensitivity than another group.

My conclusion is that NOT talking about things that very much ought to be talked about, even in a satirical way, is much more damaging than facing things head on.

Context is the key Joe, right? If we're gaming and one of the group had lost a family member in the 9/11 attacks or in the ensuing hostilities then there are many things I would never say or do.

Iain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yehuda said...

Uh oh. Let's not start this, please.

Yehuda

Iain said...

Just deleted my last comment - Yehuda is right.

OzGamer said...

I assume the deleted comment referred to the current events concerning Lebanon and Israel. I think this emphasises the point that while;

a) DW and others rightly feel that they should be able to state their legitimately held views without constantly being concerned about causing offence.
b) Some issues are obviously going to incite passionate feelings in others and common sense and courtesy suggest that care should be taken.

I have opinions on the said events, by the way, but will only voice them if everyone promises to stay nice! :)

DWTripp said...

I have opinions on the said events, by the way, but will only voice them if everyone promises to stay nice! :)

Well, the reason I highlighted the game I did on the blog is exactly that... to keep free communication flowing.

For what it's worth, Monday's blog is mine and I'll retain the right to censor or not. I doubt seriously anyone voicing an honest opinion would be offensive.

And I'll always be nice.

Joe Gola said...

My other side, the evil-twin part of me, is constantly irritated by assertive sensitivity and political correctness. The power of these two things in our world is both oppresive and at the same time evil. We have become a culture where what we say, do and sometimes even think is dictated by how other people may be offended by that.

You would be hard pressed to find any culture in the history of culture in which what one said and did was not dictated by how other people might be offended. More to the point, though, is suggesting that something is cruel or insensitive automatically a case of Political Correctness? That's a pretty sweet cop-out for just about everybody.


...My conclusion is that NOT talking about things that very much ought to be talked about, even in a satirical way, is much more damaging than facing things head on.

That sounds nice and punchy but I don't think it's true. Talk and satire aren't necessarily productive. Yes, difficult situations ought to be talked about in a positive way (positive in the "moving in a direction of progress" sense), but they can be made worse when people say the wrong things.


That's all probably just pipsqueaky-nitpicky stuff, though. My only real point is that to me the game in question seems crass and insensitive, and I mean "insensitive" not in the punchline "why can't we all just get along?" sense but more in the "dead to stimulus & oblivious to the world around" sense.

DWTripp said...

You would be hard pressed to find any culture in the history of culture in which what one said and did was not dictated by how other people might be offended. More to the point, though, is suggesting that something is cruel or insensitive automatically a case of Political Correctness? That's a pretty sweet cop-out for just about everybody.

I was chatting to another board gamer buddy on the phone this morning and we were discussing this almost exactly. Both of us agree with you that insensitivity for the sake of insensitivity is non-productive.

In real world terms though, so much of what "can and cannot" be said or spoken without raising a hue & cry is often determined by a very small and aggresive minority.

The War on Terror Game suits my purpose well in opening a minor dialog about what is or isn't acceptable in our little insignificant hobby niche.

I'm pretty sure you know exactly what I'm talking about... I'm not referring to mean-spirited assaults on the soft tissue. I'm referring to the attempts to control public discourse and define for the community at large what is and isn't acceptable... based on the minority values of a few vocal and self-proclaimed judges of correctness.

My very good friend from high school had his head blown off on his 2nd patrol in Nam. Yet games, movies and discussions about Nam, war and the politics therein aren't all meant to rub raw an old painful memory of mine.

I had a roomate in LA named Bob who is a black man. We played a few Civil War games (mainly Gettysburg) and the subject of slavery never came up. Bob was equally interested in playing the Confederacy, despite the fact that he is black.

What do I really think about all this? Well, I believe that way too many people seek out things to "be offended" by. Not only as a attention-getting device but also as a power-hungry control grab.

You and I agree, in principle, that pointedly trying to cause pain is poor behaviour. Yet still, it's all too easy for individuals and groups to scramble to claim some imaginary moral high ground in order to enforce their world view.

A real world example of how twisted and suffocating this type of diminshed communication can be was about 10 years ago. My oldest son got into a school fight with another boy who had bullied him and poked at him for the entire day. Finally, my boy hauled off and whacked him in the nose... breaking the bully's nose. My son got a 3 day suspension for defending himself. The bully got a 1 day suspension. Why? According to Official School Policy anyone who draws blood gets 3 days. The specifics of the incident were dismissed and penalties were meted out on an arbitrary assignment of culpability based on a politically correct School Board policy.

It's my view that openess and free communication are so often the thing that defines a free society that the isolated cases of insensitive behaviour cannot be allowed to dictate what can and cannot be freely discussed.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. We do badly need a pithy phrase to describe right-wing political correctness as well... Fascist Correctness? Questioning the Dear Leader leads to bouts of this, especially on Fox news.

There is plenty of this going around, on both sides of the political spectrum.

OzGamer said...

According to Official School Policy anyone who draws blood gets 3 days. The specifics of the incident were dismissed and penalties were meted out on an arbitrary assignment of culpability based on a politically correct School Board policy.

This is a good example of the problems with mandatory sentencing. That's why a good justice system gives latitude to the judge in each particular case to determine the suitable penalty. You can see the point in saying that, in general, acts which draw blood indicate a more serious infraction. The problem was that there was no room given to the principal or whoever to make a judgement on the individual case.

Just another example of the point I am making that nothing is as simple as most people would like to make out.

I've never actually understood how anybody can disagree with "political correctness" in principle - surely the argument must be about what is and isn't "correct".

I think you can't legislate manners, but it would be nice if more people learnt them.

Joe Gola said...

D.W. sez: In real world terms though, so much of what "can and cannot" be said or spoken without raising a hue & cry is often determined by a very small and aggresive minority.

It's true, the people who end up making a stink about stuff are sometimes a bit on the needy and annoying side, and if you don't agree with them it's tempting to assume that they're not really sincere about how they feel about issue X. The trap that some people fall into is the assumption that no one who disagrees with them is ever sincere; I know a few people with that attitude, and it's actually impossible to have any discourse with them at all. You might as well argue with your cat.


What do I really think about all this? Well, I believe that way too many people seek out things to "be offended" by. Not only as a attention-getting device but also as a power-hungry control grab.

I do agree with that, for sure.

DWTripp said...

The trap that some people fall into is the assumption that no one who disagrees with them is ever sincere; I know a few people with that attitude, and it's actually impossible to have any discourse with them at all. You might as well argue with your cat.

Joe, you said exactly what I feel about this, only better worded. Except that I don't have a cat.

Here's a true story... guy comes to my door as part of a group assigned to raise money to "Save the Environment". I tell him no thanks and he holds up a binder with random pictures of fallen trees and eroded hillsides and says - and this is word-for-word, "So you mean you want the environment destroyed?"

My reply? "Well, of course I do. I'm a Republican."

Questioning the Dear Leader leads to bouts of this, especially on Fox news.

Frankly, this is the type of snarky generalization that serves only the purpose of galvanzing "sides". As a regular observer of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC the only difference I can see between the three channels is that Fox News has "entertainment" programming that leans towards the conservative views of it's "entertainment" hosts.

If you're going to watch Hannity & Colmes and treat it as a New Program then you are just plain obtuse or just unwilling to marshall your critical thinking skills.

Nancy Grace on CNN is most assuredly NOT a conservative... yet you rarely see any charges that because of her show CNN is anti-Bush or pro-liberal.

The sore spot I have regarding news programming is that the detractors of Fox (as an example) are duplicitious in their accusations... assuming that anyone who watches it is a dumbed-down red state retard. The unstated and arrogant message is what? That one ought to be watching left-leaning news programming in order to be as well informed as the Fox detractors? That is a crock of BS.

It's also a similar example to the entire War on Terror board game. The harsh position against such products is that the people making it are "bad" and that anyone who purchases or plays it has somehow played into the hands of the wrong-thinking and mean-spirited forces on Earth.

In order to believe such nonsense or to actually believe that watching Fox News is a sure sign of dullness the critic has to assert that thier perceptions of the world around us are somehow, miraculously more insightful, more erudite and more rational.

In short, that sort of yammering is the screed of the self-annointed and patronizing pricks who one day looked in the mirror and decided they knew better than their lessers.

By comparing Puerto Rico, a game loosely themed on the colonization of an island using human slaves and The War on Terror, a game loosely themed on a much more topical, but equally sad subject I merely meant to point out that, manners and good taste aside, the perceptions of what is right and wrong are often aberrated by the assumptions people make about their own intelligence or insight.

Anonymous said...

"In short, that sort of yammering is the screed of the self-annointed and patronizing pricks who one day looked in the mirror and decided they knew better than their lessers."


I get that feeling when I read a lot of DW's posts. Except when he gets all soft and liberally talking about FLGS.

DWTripp said...

"In short, that sort of yammering is the screed of the self-annointed and patronizing pricks who one day looked in the mirror and decided they knew better than their lessers."


I get that feeling when I read a lot of DW's posts. Except when he gets all soft and liberally talking about FLGS.


Agree or disagree, but in the future any commentary that snipes at me, no matter how justified or intelligent, will be removed if it's anonymous.

I don't hide behind a curtain like a coward when I write my blog, so whoever you are, get an ID here or put a sock in it.