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Play Matt: Cultural Vacuuming

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01 Feb 2021 00:00 #318632 by Matt Thrower
Questions like this are everywhere in the modern age. One...

Have you ever seen My Left Foot? It’s a film in which Daniel Day-Lewis portrays an artist with severe cerebral palsy. Day-Lewis is phenomenal in the role, as he always is, and it won him a deserved Oscar. He prepared for it by spending eight weeks in a cerebral palsy clinic and learning to paint with his feet. It’s an astonishing performance but in retrospect, it begs a huge question: why not cast an actor with actual cerebral palsy instead?

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01 Feb 2021 01:12 #318633 by trif
Replied by trif on topic Play Matt: Cultural Vacuuming
I understand Eric Lang's trying to redress this with mentorships for POC designers but I think you hit something when you mentioned the lack of agency on behalf of the colonised in most games on the subject. (I kind of love Archipelago for allowing the game state to trigger the natives into murdering the players in their beds. The graphic design though - shudder.)

Spirit Island was meant to redress this but I still think there are issues (as you're playing spirits, not the inhabitants themselves.) Doesn't Geronimo put the players in the position of the Indian nations during the Plains War? It's still a design thread that needs to be explored.

The only criticism I have to your much needed piece is that somehow you transformed Tilda Swinton into Cate Blanchett.
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01 Feb 2021 10:22 #318641 by Shellhead
Interesting topic. My Left Foot is a great movie. I watched it with my grandfather, who was crippled in World War II after his tank was blown out from underneath him. That didn't stop him from helping his two brothers when they worked together to build a lakeside cabin after the war. All three of their families shared the cabin for decades afterwards. He admired the Day-Lewis character for his "grit," and it never dawned on him to criticize the actor for playing something he was not. Arguably, that is the essence of acting, and directors should always be concerned more with acting ability than stunt-casting for an exact physical match for each part.

The Ancient One is never explicitly identified as either asian or white in the comics. His name gives no hint of his ethnicity or, for that matter, gender. He did have a beard, so it's reasonable to complain about his gender being changed for the movie, or else that a female character played a male character. Older people of either gender tend to get more androgynous looking aside from facial hair, which is probably a reason why so many old men grow out their facial hair. More importantly, the Ancient One was consistently depicted in comics with the same skin color as Doctor Strange and other white characters, at a time when the limited four-color palette of comic books often led to asians colored as either yellow or even orange. Anyway, unless somebody has a particular grudge against white males, complaining about the Ancient One's race or gender in the movies is right on par with complaining about Heimdall, Valkyrie, or Nick Fury being black when their characters were white in the comics.

Board games are not movies or comics. Inclusion in movies is limited by the available talent, but inclusion in comics is easy to improve and so it has in modern times. Respectfully representing diversity in board games should be easy, but it is probably not a priority for most designers, so it would be great if publishers made it a priority to seek diversity in their game designers. In theory, Kickstarter could offer a meritocracy, but that brings us around to the lack of diversity in players as well as designers. There are a lot more women playing board games now, but not many people of color. Maybe we players could take on some responsibility by encouraging people of color to try board games. It's been too many years since I last did volunteer work, but when I did, I was playing board games with kids in a community center in a latino neighborhood.

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01 Feb 2021 15:53 #318677 by Gary Sax

trif wrote: Spirit Island was meant to redress this but I still think there are issues (as you're playing spirits, not the inhabitants themselves.) Doesn't Geronimo put the players in the position of the Indian nations during the Plains War? It's still a design thread that needs to be explored.


Grab a copy of Comancheria or Navajo Wars for this, they're very good for this perspective.

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01 Feb 2021 23:51 #318711 by DarthJoJo
An important difference between film and boardgames is the levels at which representation appear. There are an awful lot of people involved in a film, but we can mostly say the most important representation comes from the writer, the director and the actor. In other words, whose story is being told, how is it told and who is telling it.

In boardgames we can say roughly that it’s the designer’s story that is being told and the publisher determines how it’s told through graphic and physical design, but it’s the players who tell it. When we play a game, we are representing the actors within it. This is a huge difference and an important one in this particular discussion of representation. Where films hold us at the distance of the screen while asking us to empathize with these characters whose lives are so different from ours, boardgames invite us to be those characters and societies and institutions. We assume new identities. Sometimes they bend to us and sometimes we bend to them. A vegan begins to chant “Blood for the blood god,” and a different player refuses to sacrifice a single pawn for a superior position.

What this means for how designers of historical games should orient themselves, I don’t know, but I can say it gives me a little more understanding of Spirit Island. I’ve never really bought its acclaim as the anti-colonial game for the same reasons as trif: you’re not playing the resisting natives but “spirits.” The natives ares still, more or less, powerless and dependent. But what if the players were different clans or families rather than the supernatural? What if they they were burning homes with families within them? What if they were breaking legs, poisoning fresh water with rotting corpses? Would that have been better?

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02 Feb 2021 12:39 #318733 by engelstein
Thanks for the article! I agree with your points. The Zenobia Award (started by Volko Ruhnke and Harold Buchanan) is specifically trying to deal with representation in simulation games, and just accepted 99 applicants to move on to the next phase. My own New Voices In Gaming is also trying to promote more diversity in the ranks of designers.
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09 Feb 2021 03:09 #319015 by mtagge

Shellhead wrote: The Ancient One is never explicitly identified as either asian or white in the comics. His name gives no hint of his ethnicity or, for that matter, gender. He did have a beard, so it's reasonable to complain about his gender being changed for the movie, or else that a female character played a male character. Older people of either gender tend to get more androgynous looking aside from facial hair, which is probably a reason why so many old men grow out their facial hair. More importantly, the Ancient One was consistently depicted in comics with the same skin color as Doctor Strange and other white characters, at a time when the limited four-color palette of comic books often led to asians colored as either yellow or even orange. Anyway, unless somebody has a particular grudge against white males, complaining about the Ancient One's race or gender in the movies is right on par with complaining about Heimdall, Valkyrie, or Nick Fury being black when their characters were white in the comics.

From his origin he is from Central Asian areas West of Central China. The Ancient One was whitewashed so that the movie would be allowed to air in China which is a huge market for action movies with blockbuster effects. So this one was done to appease the Chinese Communist Party who only allow their "citizens" to view a limited number of Western films. The mouse is notorious for caving to CCP sensibilities.
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09 Feb 2021 15:33 #319038 by jason10mm
Great article for discussion and presented in a very diplomatic way.

I've often pondered why games choose the themes they do. Mechanically most games could be reskinned or even deskinned into such an abstract concept that the theme is literally window dressing yet it is VITAL to player engagement. How many mediocre games are there that survive because a viking berserker is on the cover?

I think it would be difficult to make a game about the colonized if in the end they lose. Thus most games allow for victory or at least post both players as equally likely to "win". There ARE games about countries that successfully resist occupation, anything about roman conflict, El Cid, the crusades, etc. Colonization was at least attempted to pretty much every place on earth.

As for acting, how many CP actors can there be? I only know of 1, the boy from Breaking Bad. So the pool is very shallow because opportunities to act outside of their disability is probably quite limited. Same with the actor who played Corky from "My so called life" back in the day (or the DS girl from American Horror Story for a more contemporary example). There just isn't enough work for many to survive. There are a few, Peter Dinklage most prominently but also Jamel Debbouse etc that can get "normal" work that essentially ignores their handicap or doesn't revolve around it. I don't require my actors to have lived life experiences identical to the character, it's called acting for a reason. Plus characters like Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump would be more difficult to represent on screen if it cast a double amputee from the start.

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