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Culture War Roundup for the week of September 12, 2022

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There are two separate issues with fantasy races here:

  • biodiversity of stats, which I won't discuss in this comment

  • biodiversity of alignment, which I will

Since most campaigns are technically about a bunch of murderhobos slaughtering their way to the BBG the DM needs a way to give mass murder an acceptable coating. Aggressive fauna and animated corpses can only take you so far, at some point you might want to start killing sapient opponents. And how do you justify the killing of sapient opponents? Making them evil is the simplest choice.

Most realistic "evil" opponents exist somewhere on the scale of "voluntary choice <--> victim of circumstances". The further an opponent is to the left, the easier it is to justify killing them. The further it's to the right, the more hoops you have to jump through: making them attack you first, turning them into faceless mooks, even letting the players derail the story by trying to redeem them.

D&D tried to avoid this whole conundrum by making whole races "inherently evil". Not even just "culturally evil", which would place them firmly in the "victim of circumstances" corner. Kobolds steal, orcs raid and mindflayers enslave simply because it's in their blood. You can't fix them or reason with them, extermination is the only solution.

Of course this leads back to the classical decoupling vs contextualizing problem.

Contextualizers say, "can't you see how this kind of portraial of races as inherently flawed is problematic? Would you play a game where you are a SWAT team gunning down Blacks because Blacks are criminals?"

Decoupling grogrnards reply, "But we aren't playing that! We're deliberately playing a group of fictional heroes in a fictional world killing fictional sapient creatures that are inherently evil to avoid any unfortunate implications and have fun without worrying about the ethical side of the game!"

Contextualizers say, "But you can't avoid unfortunate implications! By repeating the same claim about the nature of evil in every fictional world you play in you demonstrate that you are comfortable with this claim, that it you've internalized it, that you wouldn't mind if the real world worked that way."

Decoupling grognards reply, "What do you want us to do? Play campaigns where we have to investigate the violations of tribal land rights of orcish clans that caused their raids on human settlers?"

Contextualizers reply, "Well, this still sounds kinda problematic, with you transforming indigenous humans into non-humans. I bet you have some offensive stereotypes about feather headdresses and peace pipes in your DM notes"

Decoupling grodnards say, "You know what, why don't you fuck off and let us play the games we want in peace?"

Contextualizers say, "That's it, I'm outing you on Twitter. Prepare to get cancelled!"

Umm... They give experience and have loot. That justifies killing them enough. Why complicate things.

Thank you, Belkar Bitterleaf.

Now that Order of the Stick has entered the CW thread, I'll say that I always think of Xykon's legendary "power equals power" monologue to V whenever someone on here discusses conflict theory or institutional capture.

Weirdly enough, it was the invasion of my hobby-space by these kind of contextualizers that made me way more sympathetic to complaints about cultural appropriation. People with absolutely no connection to "nerd culture" suddenly decided D&D et al were cool but that I was playing the game the wrong way and my fun was problematic. Or, more to the point, that I was problematic and that they would keep my game but I could fuck right off and wasn't welcome any more.

If they try to make you fuck off, and esp. if they had the actual power to kick you out of the activity, then that might better be called cultural appropriation than what often gets attacked under that label.

If some white American wears traditional Chinese clothes or makes tacos or learns traditional African dances, or teaches yoga, or whatever they aren't *appropriating *from anyone else. The do what they want to do, and anyone who did it before is still free to do so.

But to the extent they could take over a campaign or a gaming venue, and then effectively kick the people that where there before them out of it, that could be considered appropriation.