It's time to let Lovecraft go.
Over the past couple of days I've been in Mexico City. Over the past couple of days, I've been "the other" in a sea of faces and lives like and yet not like my own. My daughter, who has fair skin, red hair and blue eyes, was stopped frequently around the Zocalo by folks wanting to take her picture because she is so different than what Mexicans are used to seeing on their streets. They weren't scared, hateful, or distrustful of us. Instead, the Mexican people we interacted with were welcoming, kind, and wanted to share their culture with us. We were not regarded as monsters, although many white Americans tend to treat the Mexican people as sub-human creatures.
All of that may seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, but today I read a piece over at Eurogamer.net by Sam Greer that pushed me towards a personal decision about Lovecraft and where I stand with this hugely influential and ever-present author known for his xenophobia, racism, and fear of "the other". The "strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown" quote extends to folks that aren't white, male and American. Not just tentacle monsters.
It's definitely a hot take piece and there's certainly room for debate about aspects of her position, but reading it today less than 24 hours after being in another country, I've decided that I am absolutely through with Lovecraft anything. I can no longer excuse the racism, I can no longer look the other way just because I like pulp horror and tentacle monsters. I cannot in good conscience continue to support and promote literary works or media based on them when said works are rife with overtly racist subtexts. I am removing all Lovecraft books from my house, as I do not want my kids encountering them before they are old enough to discern the subtle and not-so subtle moral wrongness of the writer's perspectives. I am purging my game collection of all designs explicitly based on Lovecraft and I will not review, cover, or discuss any game that features Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, or any other Mythos-specific character or creation.
Racism, which is impacting millions of people in the United States alone, is far more terrifying than any bullshit about cosmic terror or eldritch gods or whatever. America-first xenophobia is threatening global culture every day. And I'm supposed to be scared of reading a spooky book or a mysterious color? The really frightening thing about Lovecraft is how much his work has been appropriated without analysis, consideration, or context...and along with it, his hateful worldview.
I stand by my existing reviews of such works- Cthulhu Wars, Mythos Tales, and Eldritch Horror for example- but would disclaim all of them to indicate that the source material is racist and these games should be regarded as unfortunate for basing their designs in racist and intolerant settings. Sadly, I will not be covering Nikki Valen's upcoming Arkham Horror revision for this reason. I don't think you can really get away from the racism if you are playing in this setting. Adding in a stereotypical black jazz musician or a female Chinese martial artist doesn't cover it all up or excuse it. It calls it into relief.
I want to be clear that I do not regard anyone making these games as racist or intolerant. But I do question the need for gaming in a larger sense to be so dependent on directly using the Lovecraft source material instead of more sensibly taking those influences and moving them away from the race-hating ugliness that pervades virtually all of his work to some degree. It's there. Don't pretend it isn't. It's time to move on from that privileged white male geek attitude. It's time to just fucking admit that you can't "separate the art from the artist" when the artist's art is an expression of their values, attitudes, and beliefs.
Here's the thing. Lovecraft is an important and influential writer. But the reality of it is that there are so many books, stories, comics, films, and games that have been inspired by Lovecraft that are BETTER than Lovecraft. So why don't creators take the compelling elements of the Mythos stories and instead do something more interesting with it all? Why is there the need to continue to pledge fealty to Lovecraft and drag out the same Lovecraft shit over and over again? Witness Games Workshop's Lovecraftian pantheon of Chaos Gods, or going back further Moorcock's Lovecraftian elements. There's Annihilation, The Thing, Lovecraft Country, True Detective, In the Mouth of Madness...we don't NEED Lovecraft any more.
I know that I certainly do not. I don't regret being interested in him or his work, I don't regret the time I've spent reading or studying At the Mountains of Madness or playing the Arkham Horror LCG or whatever. But I'm at a point where I'm saying "no more". In Greer's post, one thing I especially liked is that she points out that in addition to Lovecraft being racist...he's also BORING. I'm sick of it.
And I'm sick of making excuses. I'm sick of saying the words "Shub-Niggurath" and having to subconsciously push back against the fact that the very concept of that Mythos deity is screamingly, blatantly racist. I don't ever want to look at one of my friends, an African-American, and explain that Lovecraft was a product of his time, that's how white people in Providence at the time thought, et cetera.
So this is it, I'm divorcing myself from Lovecraft. I wish that other game players would do the same- stand up and say "enough is enough". In this day and age, with right-wing sentiment on the rise and fascistic viewpoints creeping into the mainstream, I believe it is dangerous to promote even the subtlest racist media. It's time for game designers to knock it off with the Lovecraft shit. It's time for game designers to look for inspiration elsewhere. It's time for us to cut Lovecraft loose and move on to something better.