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Counterpoint: I don't want to be THOSE guys

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When game identity and topic becomes a problem, how do you deal with it?

We've been having many conversations about identity, acceptance, and tolerance around this site in the last few weeks; some it has been mostly game-oriented and some of it has been on a somewhat higher level. But something occurred to me today that has stuck out to me a few times in recent years, but that I've typically either brushed away or, in some cases, avoided by simply not sitting down at the table. That thing is the question of identity and action within the little spheres that make up the worlds of these games. Is the distaste for an historical scenario or even a fictional one enough to deter you not just from playing that particular faction but from playing a game at all?

Case in point: I love Rommel in the Desert, not just because I really enjoy Columbia's block wargames, but also because I have a great deal of respect for Rommel's vision and foresight when it came to mechanized warfare and the tactics that embodied it. In military science terms, he often did more with less and continually confused and evaded his enemies to maintain a front that he likely should have lost relatively quickly. Similarly, I really like playing Shenandoah, another Columbia block game, because it often gives me a chance to play as Stonewall Jackson; another forward thinker on the battlefield and one whose accomplishments there pushed him into the realm of legend even while he was still alive.

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However, there's no debating that in both cases, the regimes that they fought so brilliantly for were despicable; one promoting the ownership of human beings "not like us" and the other promoting extermination of them. It doesn't really matter what Rommel's views on Jews or Jackson's views on slavery were, either. They fought to enable the ability of others to commit crimes against humanity. So, when it comes to playing their armies in these games... what do you do? Is it easy for you to detach yourself from the underlying motivations of the faction that you're wielding in the game? Do you approach it with the perfectly valid perspective that it's "just a game"? Or do you hesitate?

I confess to never having really had a problem with historical wargames. Most regimes are pretty awful from one perspective or another. I could cringe at the thought of playing either the Americans or the Soviets in Twilight Struggle, since I know in fine detail about the proliferation of crimes committed by both nations during the Cold War (and beyond.) But I'm able to compartmentalize that in the same way I do playing the Germans in Panzerblitz or, for that matter, the Uthuk Y'llan in Runewars. They're not "the good guys"; not even close. But that's OK, because it's just a game and I'm not promoting demon-worship or Nazism by playing as them for a few hours. But I've noticed that some things have gotten more difficult as time has gone on.

I was never able to get into another of GMT's famous card-driven games (CDGs): Labyrinth. It's a game about the American "War on Terror." From my one play, I knew that the perspective on this situation was so out of touch with the reality and felt so distorted in the execution of its vision that I simply had no interest in playing it again. I felt like it was helping to spread a message that was hindering public perception of a problem, rather than helping people to understand. Is that because it's a game about a situation that persists to this very day, as opposed (kinda...) to the American Civil War? History often has answers for who the "good guys" and "bad guys" are (taking into account the aphorism that history is written by the winners.) It's certainly easier to feel a step removed from situations that occurred 80 or 800 years ago than it is those that are still extant in the news and modern culture. But I noticed that one of the interesting things was that I wasn't so concerned with playing a particular side in Labyrinth, so much as I was simply playing. As with most GMT releases, the mechanics were fine (if a little convoluted), but I just didn't feel like immersing myself in that slanted of an outlook on a nebulous scenario.

GMT Pldek News Head

In contrast, TWBG just published a news item about an upcoming release by Ravensburger: Jaws: The Board Game. Unlike most of the stuff from Columbia and GMT, this isn't an historical simulation. Like Runewars, this is a fictional scenario, albeit a fictional scenario set in our own real world. My initial reaction was one of consternation; in part because I don't have faith that the game can replicate what makes the film great, but also because I find myself utterly disinterested in playing a game where the object is for one group of players to eliminate a member of a species that is currently threatened by people trying to do the same thing in the real world. I don't want to play this game because I don't want to promote the ideas that sharks are bad or that the solution to them being bad is to kill them. Of course, as noted in the film, this is no ordinary shark. The whole plot is based around it being unusually large, powerful, and aggressive. So, again, it's fictional... but it's real enough to me to not want to participate.

From the same perspective, we had a game designed and developed by a couple regulars here at TWBG: SEAL Team Flix. The players are a SEAL team, protecting the public from the eco-terrorist organization, Gaia's Hope. Right away, that stuck out to me. It's not just because the enemies are "terrorists", with all of the viewpoint-laden trappings that that label carries ("One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.", etc.), similar to Labyrinth. But it's also that they're ECO-terrorists; as in, people who are nominally fighting on behalf of the environment. These are, uh, not the people that I want to be gunning down as a highly-trained military operative. I mean, I'm not sure that I want that job in the first place, but I especially don't want to be doing it to people that may just be a really hardcore sect of Greenpeace or The Sierra Club.

This is an obviously fictional scenario... or is it? Is it really that hard to imagine, as temperatures continue to rise and forests continue to diminish that, at some point, the guns and bombs will come out to try to take a stand? I'm not eager to see that and I know that the designers of SEAL Team Flix weren't making any kind of political statement. In creating an adversary for the SEALS, they were conscious of trying to make something that seemed too outlandish to be real, but also wasn't a pack of bug-eyed aliens from Neptune. (No offense, Neptunians.) And mostly they were just trying to make a good game, as were the designers of Rommel in the Desert, Shenandoah, Jaws, and every other game I've mentioned here. But once the box is bought by someone else, there's no telling what kind of messages will be drawn from it. Most people don't get their education from board games... except when they're historical board games and people can learn quite a bit from both gameplay and the often-detailed histories that companies like Columbia provide with their rulebooks. Do I want to be playing a game with the most murderous tree huggers ever known? Do I want to play a game where Nazis win all the time? (I'm pretty good with Rommel, yo.)

Seal Team Flix Header

This is a possible quandary of identity, too. As noted before, I've been a peace activist in the past, but I play a lot of wargames; my considerable library is loaded with military histories; I've cited my respect for forward thinkers in tactics like Stonewall Jackson. I'm clearly not wedded to a principle when it comes to playing games. A lof ot people don't really like wargames because they're either so averse to the concept of combat or they don't like directly "killing" their opponent's pieces, if not both. But in the same way that no one is promoting the idea of killing sharks, no one is actually dying at the game table. It's just a game. But these are also games that resonate with ideas that I'd rather not be promoting. Am I promoting those ideas by simply pulling the game off the shelf and suggesting that we play? Not necessarily and no more than I would be promoting the ideas of shooting heroin, rape, and hiding corpses if I suggested we sit down and watch Pulp Fiction. So, clearly, I can compartmentalize some things but am not so successful with others. Is that similar to liking some kinds of games and not others? Possibly. But it also feels like something more, since I tend to think of it as an external conflict ("I don't want to spread this idea or make it comfortable"), as opposed to an internal one ("I don't enjoy/am not good at dexterity games.", which is another reason for not getting into SEAL Team Flix.)

The difference between this conflict and one that comes largely from taste ("I don't like action movies.") is that board games are an inherently social activity. They're something that you do with other people and experience with them in ways beyond sitting in a dark room and drawing whatever internal message you derive from a film. These games of ours are a group message; a multi-person determinant in how we interact and what we choose to do. It's an open question as to whether that means more than I think it does.

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Marc Reichardt  (He/Him)
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Marc started gaming at the age of 5 by beating everyone at Monopoly, but soon decided that Marxism, science fiction, and wargames were more interesting than money, so he opted for writing (and more games) while building political parties, running a comic studio, and following Liverpool. You can find him on Twitter @Jackwraith and lurking in other corners of the Interwebs.

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hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #293163 28 Feb 2019 08:03
This is a good article. I think it's very normal for different people to have different levels of tolerance for various forms of entertainment, and they don't have to make "logical" sense. I also think that as long as someone is observing the moral quandary ("do I want to play as the Nazis") then they are acknowledging that Nazis are bad, and it's still okay to play as them for a while.

The Goombas surely view Mario as a mass murderer.

I deeply regret calling the enemies in STF anything more than "bad guys." We never intended to make any sort of statement; we were only looking for an excuse to kick down doors.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #293165 28 Feb 2019 08:19
No, I totally get it. That's why I wanted to emphasize the point that you guys were just trying to make a cool game which, from everything I've heard, you did. I didn't ask you or Pete about the process, but I was imagining that there may have been some discussion about just who the "bad guys" should be, given all the potentially controversial identities of real world potential targets of the SEALs. And, again, just because I'm having that kneejerk reaction doesn't mean that anyone else is.
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hotseatgames replied the topic: #293168 28 Feb 2019 08:47
Oh, it's not just you. I think the game would have gone over better if it was not a real world military organization; something made up like The Doomsday Squad, etc.

I imagine that there are mountains of emails that go to companies that produce military games like ARMA.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #293173 28 Feb 2019 09:14

It's certainly easier to feel a step removed from situations that occurred 80 or 800 years ago than it is those that are still extant in the news and modern culture


This is the crux of it, for me. As we grow up, we learn to take a view of history totally coloured by our own cultural bias. That makes it much easier to compartmentalise being "bad" in play.

Events in flux, on the other hand, are not only often too close to the bone but it's much harder to see them as being "right" or "wrong". For all the problems with Labyrinth's model, one thing it got right is that it didn't seem to hand down a moral judgement. And the first time I committed a terrorist atrocity, I felt physically sick.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #293174 28 Feb 2019 09:15
I'm not any good at wargames partly because I don't like the idea of war being normalized. I don't want to study battles and tactics of a situation where humans are killing other humans because they don't know what else to do. There's a lot more wrapped up in it, but that's the basics of it.

Sure, I still play things like Neuroshima Hex or T&E or other games where combat is clearly happening, but something about taking that into the real world, not abstracted, and then poring over the results like it's just an interesting apersonal study is just not something I'm going to take an interest in.

Sure, it's a vague line, and I enjoy some things that probably cross it but for some reason I'm okay with. I just don't think it's possible to abstract actual historical battles in any way that doesn't nod approval at warfare altogether. It's the alleged Truffaut quote about it being impossible to make an anti-war movie.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #293175 28 Feb 2019 09:18
As I first started reading this article, I understood the point, but it seemed fussy to have qualms about playing a wargame set in WWII just because one side was the Nazis. And I still feel that there should be always be a place for historical wargames, even if one side or both sides committed atrocities, as long as the game doesn't glorify the atrocities or distort the historical aspect.

But once you started writing about Labyrinth, I found myself nodding in agreement. The designers of that game did have a warped perception of recent events in the Mideast, and their game only served to spread that flawed viewpoint.

I'm not an eco-terrorist, but the moment I learned that the bad guys in STF were eco-terrorists, I completely lost interest in the game. Eco-terrorism is wrong, but so is wrecking the environment, even if done in a legal manner. We only have this one planet that we can live on, and I honestly don't think we will ever successfully colonize another world, so we should be a lot more careful about how we use this planet. I understand that our FATtie designers aren't anti-environment and weren't trying to make a political point, but I'm just not interested in playing unless there is a 2nd edition with less controversial opponents. I would feel the same way if we were in the '70s and talking about an STF game where the Black Panthers are the bad guys.

So maybe that's the distinction for me: a game based on history is fine, but a game based on a current conflict might be too touchy. I'm not saying that there should be any kind of censorship, except maybe self-censorship by designers and publishers who want to promote inclusiveness over divisiveness in the hobby.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #293178 28 Feb 2019 09:27
I have done a lot of role-playing over the years, usually as the game master. That means I tend to run the bad guys. And the npc good guys and normal people and everybody else, for what it's worth. When I have been a player, I have often played morally ambiguous characters. But I never took joy in the evil acts that my characters committed.

My two all-time favorite PC games both allow players to choose their own morality. Temple of Elemental Evil allows you to choose the alignment of your party, and all of your player characters must be within one step of that alignment on the D&D nine-space alignment chart. I've played the game a few times, including with neutral or evil parties, because that opens up different ways to interact with the game, but I really hated it when I found myself forced to fight against good npcs or normal townspeople. Vampire: Bloodlines has a Humanity trait, which goes up when you do good things and goes down when you do really bad things. And I actually felt a little better or a little worse about myself whenever the game notified me that I had either gained or lost a point of Humanity. Not for the mechanical stat adjustment, but because my own sense of self was impacted by how I played the game.
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Colorcrayons replied the topic: #293182 28 Feb 2019 09:57
I enjoyed the Reservoir Dogs movie when I saw it in the 90's. I think Cash & Guns is a pretty fun game. Or at least the idea of it.

But each an every time an orange foam gun is pointed at me, I flashback to when my mom's 5th husband put me in a headlock and placed the tip of a pistol against my left temple as I hear the hammer cock.

There is nothing about moral equivalency here because I found the genre humorous in a very decadent "end of western civilization" sort of way, that only privileged suburban white boys who enjoy death metal can.

I don't think I visibly cringe anymore at orange foam guns. I hope they don't notice it, if I do. Although inwardly, I ball up in a corner with my hands before my face, palms towards the violence. Tightly clenched eyes and gaze averted, a sign of anguish rarely seen outside of victims who endure such sublime abuse. Every time.

But when pointing an orange foam gun, I feel no satisfaction either. Only pity for those at the end of my barrel. They answer my aggression with laughter, without knowing how fragile their life truly is.

I laugh too. Faking my enjoyment. I gotta be fun at parties, or I shall die a lonely man, cowering in a corner, waiting for the *pop*. The loyal slave learns to love the lash.

My empathy for victims of such trauma prevents my enjoyment. I can no longer afford the decadence required of me, to remove myself from the reality such violence represents.

To me, the foam guns no longer represent an impersonal yet quick death or injury. They are now symbols of someone dancing around me, with my detached ear in their rapacious grasp. Reveling in my pain, and the breaking of my psyche.
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Sagrilarus replied the topic: #293183 28 Feb 2019 10:09

Shellhead wrote: I have done a lot of role-playing over the years, usually as the game master. That means I tend to run the bad guys. And the npc good guys and normal people and everybody else, for what it's worth. When I have been a player, I have often played morally ambiguous characters. But I never took joy in the evil acts that my characters committed.


In roleplaying things can break two different ways with "evil". One way is that you're playing a nasty person that takes what they want and steps on people's heads to get it. I've played those characters, in fact had a long "career" with an evil mage that teamed up with an evil samurai to really carry out awful acts. We were wildly successful, and it certainly was a taste of the other side of life for me.

But -- that's not the same as playing a character that deems all people from a particular religion or sect or nationality as grounds for special evil treatment. One is a micro-evil, the other a macro-evil. The thought of playing a character looking to enslave or exterminate a particular group is a line I'm never going to cross. I've never played that sort of character nor even heard of anyone who has. To me that's reserved for the DM to play, the target of destruction for the players.

And I think that playing Rommel or Jackson falls in the micro-evil category. Though allied with evil entities they weren't personally carrying out the atrocities, (at least not to my knowledge.) Playing Eichmann . . . that's a whole bigger ball of wax. I'm not walking down that lane either.

So the first game that popped into my mind as I started reading your article was An Infamous Traffic, a game about the English gentry's well-planned effort to correct the trade imbalance with China by selling opium to the Chinese populace via non-sanctioned ports and ships. Though you don't play as a particular named person, you represent one of the family companies that the English government gave permission to become wildly rich by sowing despair and death into the landscape of a foreign country. This was a truly despicable act, orchestrated with intention for economic reasons.

My first play of An Infamous Traffic was overwhelmed by learning the ins and outs of the rules, but my second was more sanguine. I found myself considering the history of the moment which is a valuable morality check for anyone, but was able to push past the ugliness of the scenario and thrive in the gameplay. It was an intellectual challenge, based on the rules that were laid out in front of me.

Here's the question -- did the people that actually carried out these awful acts 200 years ago, removed by thousands of miles of ocean (or even just dozens) use the same part of their brains to justify their actions as I did sitting at my kitchen table? I had hindsight and a broader understanding of the world to press the point harder on me, but it was just a simulation. They had much more out-of-sight-out-of-mind available to them, and a patriotic legitimization handed to them by their country's government. We may have been playing the same game from a level-of-morality perspective.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #293184 28 Feb 2019 10:14
By the way, fine use of column space Mr. Reichardt. You're not seeing this kind of article on other sites, and it's a much broader topic than "gaming". Delivered with perfect pitch as well.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #293188 28 Feb 2019 10:46
Thanks a lot, Sag. It means a lot to know that people not only enjoyed it but that it triggered some thinking, game-related and non-.

A few other things:

Matt: My problem with Labyrinth is that it did seem to be implicitly rendering a judgment on the scenario that was slanted to one side (the US one.) Here, again, we run into that difficulty of perception: If my side is committing atrocities for what they consider the greater good (how much torture was conducted in the 'black sites'?), is that better?

Lego: I totally take your point. I don't understand it myself. As noted, me, the lifelong peace/enviro/progressive activist is a regular wargamer and an enthusiast of military history in many ways (although that's starting to wane; you can only read so much.) I don't get it, but I just really enjoy games that require that kind of strategic mindset, from Hammer of the Scots to Siege of Jerusalem to Battlelore, 2nd Ed. I played Warhammer and 40K for 15 years and spent thousands of dollars on a hobby that was mostly about shooting your opponent with (ahem) progressively larger guns/fireballs while I was running the Green Party...

Shellhead: You hit the nail on the head with the modern day thought. I know that's part of my response to Labyrinth and STF because they lack that historical distance. As for RPGs, I was usually the DM in my games, too, so I ran the gamut of the type of characters to play. I don't know that I intrinsically objected to those roles because I knew that I was telling a story and it's similar to an actor playing an otherwise despicable character. Similarly, my all-time favorite army in 40K was the Dark Eldar. There's a lot of pretty heinous lore behind them that you kind of have to engage with the modeling and painting and even some of the game play with the Haemonculus Cults. I didn't embrace that but, as noted, I love playing the Uthuk in Runewars and Battlelore and there is something entertaining in being able to play that role with your plastic toys while being utterly separate from it in the rest of your life. A release valve of sorts (albeit a macabre one)?

CC: I totally sympathize with your perspective. I can completely understand that embedded reaction and I'm sorry that you had to go through those events that shaped it. Thanks for talking about it.

Sag: An Infamous Traffic is a perfect example of this. The historical remove is there, but I'd end up having the same kind of inner disbelief that I was engaging in this. It's a similar reaction that a lot of people had to Puerto Rico once the fascination with the mechanics faded out: "Hey, this is a great game. But it's based on a scenario that exploited humans as property and often worked them to death. Wanna play again?" The opium trade may even be a step up in malice, since wars were fought to stop the trade and the British fought back with the explicit and oft-cited intent of keeping their profit elevated. It's one of those historical scenarios that, like slavery, makes one shake their head at the idea that any decent person could countenance this. Admittedly, just the audacity of the circumstances makes the game sound interesting...
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #293194 28 Feb 2019 11:46
I do want to point out the larger point I was trying to make. And that point is that it is much more difficult to involve yourself in such games when you can easily imagine the true damage behind the curtain.

In your Rommel example, you speak of the ingenious tactics and strategies employed. As you note, each person has their own threshold for divorcing themselves from what is behind the curtain, unspoken of except in passing during the game.

I still play and prefer games of high conflict. Games like Nexus Ops, Wiz-War, Cosmic Encounter, Gorechosen, etc. where it is easier to divorce yourself from the damage, since these themes take place in extraordinary fantasy circumstances and settings, making them less relatable.

But games such as Cash & Guns, war simulations based on reality, etc... these just hit too close to home and no matter how much I find the puzzle surrounding ingenious strategies to be compelling thought exercises, they are detestable to me. Time doesn't lessen their impact. "Too soon?" doesn't apply.

It doesnt matter which side is being played. I don't want to be any of THOSE guys. But I still want to shoot you in the mouth with a fireball as you fall into a pit of poisonous spikes.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #293196 28 Feb 2019 12:09
I think I might fall into the "Tone deaf White Dude" camp (My term). I've never had a problem playing as the Nazi's in Axis and Allies or any game that came after. If I would have been sitting there when Seal Team Flix came up with Eco-Terrorists as the baddies, I wouldn't have raised a red flag about it, I've never felt weird about the foam guns in Cash N Guns (and, yes, I have had a real gun pointed into my face..by an overzealous cop). I've been mugged but never thought twice about playing a game about mugging someone. I always disassociate myself saying "It's a game." and I don't even consciously do that. I'm not saying that it isn't a concern for others but it never registers that way for me.
One the not-quite-the-flip side, I have absolute zero desire to play a game based on modern age politics, it bugs me that Divinity Derby only features Gods and not Goddesses, I don't want to play a stock market game about amassing riches by bilking others, having only one female character to select from in a certain post apocalyptic pick up and delivery stuck out to me in a bad way.
xthexlo's Avatar
xthexlo replied the topic: #293199 28 Feb 2019 12:37
I really enjoyed this article: it made me pause between paragraphs and think. Of course, everyone has their own reason(s) to approach or recoil from a game based on its theme or setting or context, but not everyone is willing or able to articulate those reasons. This article provides some nice vocabulary to start these conversations for those that wish to engage.

Also, it raises an interesting question regarding the influence of social society and norms on game design. Are the days gone where designers would simply create games driven by their own interests, and now must temper their creativity to ensure public acceptance? (Perhaps those days never really existed, and I'm merely looking back through foggy lenses.)

I would love to see a high school or college level course that uses some of the games mentioned (e.g., Labyrinth, Seal Team Flix) to motivate conversations about uncomfortable issues (e.g., racism, geopolitics, gender identity, social disenfranchisement) and enable students to think about the world from new perspectives.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #293202 28 Feb 2019 12:45
I'm reminded of my favorite PC game of recent times, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. The first map (and thus the most popular map) has a few "hot spots" that are particularly violent.

I suspect this was unintentional / an unfortunate coincidence (the developers are not from the USA), but the MOST dangerous place in the whole map is an abandoned school. This comes down to map location; the school is in the center of the map and is thus tactically advantageous in a battle royale game.

Many times, I have thought about how grim it is that so much virtual lead is being flung around in the halls of this virtual school, despite there not being a living soul left on the island. Indeed, the times I have landed at the school and lived to tell about it are victories in themselves. Ultimately, it is one location among hundreds, and I move past it, because I love the game.

I can easily see how some might have more trouble moving past that.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #293203 28 Feb 2019 12:57

xthexlo wrote: I really enjoyed this article: it made me pause between paragraphs and think. Of course, everyone has their own reason(s) to approach or recoil from a game based on its theme or setting or context, but not everyone is willing or able to articulate those reasons. This article provides some nice vocabulary to start these conversations for those that wish to engage.


Awesome. i'm glad it worked for you.

xthexlo wrote: Also, it raises an interesting question regarding the influence of social society and norms on game design. Are the days gone where designers would simply create games driven by their own interests, and now must temper their creativity to ensure public acceptance? (Perhaps those days never really existed, and I'm merely looking back through foggy lenses.)


Can't remember where I saw it, but there was a piece from a few years ago that cited several games from the early part of the 20th century that were, uh, not socially acceptable in modern times. I think people are more conscious of those factors now, but the question remains: Is it because they're actually concerned about offending someone and perpetuating a ridiculous ideology/perspective or because they know they'll be accosted for it instantly through Twitter or other media?
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #293204 28 Feb 2019 13:01
I played Secret Hitler a year or two ago and enjoyed it, even as a fascist. In one game I was even Hitler and when everyone's eyes are closed and I was supposed to put my thumb up for my team, I decided to be extra noticeable and do the Nazi salute. My team thought it was funny and struggled to control their smiles and all avoided laughing. We went on to win... The game is so far from reality though, I mean the fascists are depicted as reptiles. Perhaps my gesture was in poor taste, and I can play the "I'm actually a Jew" card, but I don't think the game glorifies their ideas in any way.

I also think the game would be less popular if it had a Harry Potter license or something as some have suggested. So it's deliberately using the shock value of its title and subject matter as marketing.

In general, I find that games are a safe space to engage in otherwise antisocial behavior (perhaps that's why we get some more weirdos per capita?), be it bankrupting your friends in Monopoly or Acquire, down to outright violence in current settings.
xthexlo's Avatar
xthexlo replied the topic: #293205 28 Feb 2019 13:01

Jackwraith wrote: ... but the question remains: Is it because they're actually concerned about offending someone and perpetuating a ridiculous ideology/perspective or because they know they'll be accosted for it instantly through Twitter or other media?


This question is critical.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #293206 28 Feb 2019 13:22
Great article.

I have been considering getting into Bolt Action, a WW2 miniatures game, and it strikes me that, while I don't have a big problem playing as Rommel in a zoomed-out depiction of war, I have a much bigger problem playing with little Nazi soldiers. The players in the store I go to have modded the game so that The Red Skull and units of dolled-up Nazi She-Wolves are a part of the play, but it's pretty unconvincing.

I briefly considered instead playing as the Soviets, but then someone mentioned that you'd paint them "in all grey, with grey, hollowed out faces" and I thought, yeah, not that either.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #293207 28 Feb 2019 13:32

Jackwraith wrote:

xthexlo wrote: Also, it raises an interesting question regarding the influence of social society and norms on game design. Are the days gone where designers would simply create games driven by their own interests, and now must temper their creativity to ensure public acceptance? (Perhaps those days never really existed, and I'm merely looking back through foggy lenses.)


Can't remember where I saw it, but there was a piece from a few years ago that cited several games from the early part of the 20th century that were, uh, not socially acceptable in modern times. I think people are more conscious of those factors now, but the question remains: Is it because they're actually concerned about offending someone and perpetuating a ridiculous ideology/perspective or because they know they'll be accosted for it instantly through Twitter or other media?


Well, since STF is being used as an example, I'd like to chime in.

I think there is a market for STF. While I can suspend my own discomfort long enough to enjoy what STF has to offer, I would enjoy it more and actually purchase it if it held a different theme.

That said, it handled what it did well. There is no outcry from on social media about the eco terrorists portrayal for example, when some could knee jerk with a reaction and take it personal. I think it left just enough room to allow liberals to see the danger of extremism without pointing fingers. It trusted in the intelligence in some small way of the consumers not to be utter pratts.

It must also be noted that someone will always choose to be offended by something, and shout from the mountaintops about how horribly they are personally disenfranchised. The full spectrum of extremes from Ted Kaczynski all the way to the other side by claiming #MeToo because you had a bad date with Aziz Ansari. I don't believe you can prepare for those extremes. You can only have faith that the majority of people aren't idiots.

But if you are using the "creating using your own interests" as a shield to hide behind by creating objects that glorify examples such as vaccination alternatives or racial supremacy, then you reap what you sow. Plus, you'd lower the collective intelligence in the room with that garbage.
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Jackwraith replied the topic: #293208 28 Feb 2019 14:03

Jexik wrote: I also think the game would be less popular if it had a Harry Potter license or something as some have suggested. So it's deliberately using the shock value of its title and subject matter as marketing.


Yeah, and I think that's actually a valid approach. On the one hand, I don't want the concepts behind Hitler or the Nazis to be perceived as acceptable enough to become part of the norm (i.e. On every shelf: Tigris and Euphrates, Settlers of Catan, and Secret Hitler.) OTOH, I don't want the topic (racism, genocide) to become Godwinned, either. I think it's stupid that we can't have normal conversations about this point in history and the people that drove it. We have to remember this stuff and the usual calls for "Keeping politics out of games/sports/movies/Sunday dinner conversation/whathaveyou" are a dodge. Games are part of the real world, even if they're a form of escapism. Thus, they are impacted by politics and the history that follows.
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Jackwraith replied the topic: #293209 28 Feb 2019 14:08

Colorcrayons wrote: It must also be noted that someone will always choose to be offended by something, and shout from the mountaintops about how horribly they are personally disenfranchised. The full spectrum of extremes from Ted Kaczynski all the way to the other side by claiming #MeToo because you had a bad date with Aziz Ansari. I don't believe you can prepare for those extremes. You can only have faith that the majority of people aren't idiots.


Well, on that last point, prepare yourself to be miserably disappointed most of the time. However, I don't want the extremes to be used to dismiss something that's valid. Just because the professional offense-takers do exist doesn't mean that the entire #MeToo movement can be casually waved away as much ado about nothing. And I wasn't trying to encourage the crowd down to their local Torch and Pitchfork. Despite using STF as an example (sorry, Hotseat), my intent with this was purely to reflect a personal choice and maybe ask some questions about how people (including me) make those choices.
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Jexik replied the topic: #293210 28 Feb 2019 14:15

Jackwraith wrote:

Jexik wrote: I also think the game would be less popular if it had a Harry Potter license or something as some have suggested. So it's deliberately using the shock value of its title and subject matter as marketing.


Yeah, and I think that's actually a valid approach. On the one hand, I don't want the concepts behind Hitler or the Nazis to be perceived as acceptable enough to become part of the norm (i.e. On every shelf: Tigris and Euphrates, Settlers of Catan, and Secret Hitler.)


I don't own the game, but the more I think about it, I don't think I'd suggest it to my mom and her rabbi. But my mom kind of hates playing games anyway.
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ThirstyMan replied the topic: #293211 28 Feb 2019 14:22
I play more wargames now than I ever did say 10 years ago and they are usually to do with the titanic Nazi-Soviet Patriotic War (as the Soviets called it).

Strangely, I have no interest in playing the Americans in any of my wargames (primarily Operational Combat Series and ASL) but I think that may just be an innate anti-American bias that I struggle with.

I have had an interest in military strategy and tactics since a very young age so I make no apologies. I can separate the idea of playing the Nazi side from my personal feelings about the politics and the same for the Soviet side. It was nice to make Jeff listen to the Soviet National Anthem when he lost a game of ASL to me, playing as the Soviets, but that is just me being cruel to Jeff. There are, of course, some distasteful characters in the hobby whom I generally avoid when I am not being blocked by them on Facebook. Obsessions with the symbolism (rather than the actual politics) is quite usual so the continual argument about black counters or blue counters for the various factions of the SS is quite a common debate that usually ends up with a banning or two (particular to ASL players).

I totally understand why people may feel uncomfortable with conflict, war, bad guys, Nazis and Soviets.

When I was about 9, I stated to my Dad that I never wanted to play Monopoly or Careers ever again. He bought me a 50p game, from SPI, on Waterloo and I was hooked. I loved the strategising but rapidly realised that I hated abstract wargaming like Chess or Go. I needed some immersion to enjoy it. Never looked back.

Of course, the simpler explanation is that I have some sociopathic tendencies, which may or may not be true, so I can 'switch off' my strong political feelings when I am playing. I guess everyone has their own justifications for playing wargames and I am sure that every one of them is different. I don't enjoy the competitive aspect of wargaming (the 'I HAVE to win or it's not worth playing' syndrome) so ALL of my play is solo play which I hugely enjoy.

On an associated note, there is a fairly amusing comedy sketch, from a UK show (Mitchell & Webb, I think), where the SS are questioning whether they are the bad guys after one of them notices a skull on his helmet.
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Frohike replied the topic: #293217 28 Feb 2019 17:14
This dynamic spans so many media, but it hits harder in board gaming for me, and I haven't really asked myself why that is. At it's core, it's a question of identification. I perceive my capacity to identify as a form of currency. What perspective do I gain in exchange for identifying, for my brief stint as a tourist at the center of another world view? Is it worth the expense? I also acknowledge that this currency, much like the real thing, is a finite supply delimited by my socio-political status. My comfort or discomfort with crossing the lines of identification can be afforded by my position in a society where I'm still seen as an "unmarked" identity, a free agent who can drift from colonizer to colonized and be given the foundational illusion that "I get it." Am I as wealthy with the capacity for identification as I think I am? Am I as judicious in spending it as I think I am, when certain lines of expense & reward are already laid out for me & auto-withdrawing from my account?

I think part of what brings these questions into sharper relief in board gaming is the explicit nature of the rule set. We're given the blueprints for our enactment and our role, and proceeding with play doesn't feel as nebulous as some other media. There's a kind of dotted line that I sign while learning & rehearsing my role that feels heavier than in other forms of entertainment.