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Nemo
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« on: 08 November 2006, 02:30:56 »

Hello Santharians  wave

I joined this forum with this name just in order to ask you something of a more sensitive matter. I would be really interested in your answers (so please do not flame me  peace ) and I think it is a question that needs to be addressed.

Ok... now let me see how can I frame this...  idea

I was doing a little bit of research on the web about issues of race (which is the reason for which I'm here now anyway) and I found this interesting topic in a Guild Wars (an online computer game) forum:
http://forums.gwonline.net/showthread.php?t=427264
(you may need to register in order to view it, so I just post this for your reference)

The problem discussed there is that while the "Factions" campaign (with an Asian setting) had a lot of players comfortable with the idea of sporting and Asian looking character, in the "Nightfall" campaign (Middle East/African setting) something strange happened: while all the NPCs were designed to have darker complexions all the players were running around with white characters.

This is just one of the possible examples. Another one would be the single player computer game called Gothic 2, where all the savage evil orcs that the player needs to wipe out (which at some point makes you feel like you would be playing a genocidal maniac) have a distinct Native American looking garbs.

To go to the extremes, I recently read a review on GameSpot about a new RTS which "innocently" refers to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, as "races."

This seems to be a bit of a problem. But then, thinking about it a bit further, I started to think about the fantasy genre in itself (that all these games adhere to). The question would be aren't these seeds of racism planted in the very (so to say) "bible" of the fantasy genre: Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings?"

And I'm not talking just about the movie, which can become dubious at some point, when you think about how Jackson presented the savage evil Uruk-hai so close to New Zealand's Maori people. I'm also talking about Tolkien's depiction of the "fair" elves, the "tainted" humans (that can only be redeemed through loving/seeking the white folk), or his description of the darker skinned orcs as "corrupted" white skinned elves.

Race exists as long as racism continues to support and construct it. I would also state the obvious by saying that nowadays computer games are an important cultural form, being able to propagate cultural habits and ideas. My question to you, a community not only consuming fantasy but also creating fantasy, doesn't this genre contain seeds of racism at its very core?
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Marvin Cerambit
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« Reply #1 on: 08 November 2006, 22:36:16 »

Actually, I find it far more racist how Tolkien depicts the Haradrim, but that's besides the question.

I don't think it's really racism though, but rather people writing about what they know and playing what they know and making chars that look like (white people playing white people) them. Prejudices and clichés (primitive orcs resembling primitive RL tribes) can make it easier to recognize things.
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Gean Firefeet
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« Reply #2 on: 09 November 2006, 00:53:18 »

Dear Nemo,

my compliments for finding such an interesting name. I'm not sure whether you're familiar with the Greek Epos 'Odyssee' by Homer(os), where the main hero tells a villain he's called "nobody", which leads to a very interesting situation on later in the story. We'll see what happens here.

The issue you bring forward is very interesting; I'll see if I can show it in different lights and what the response is of the rest of the community. Let's first define racism:

Quote from: Oxford Dictionary
1. (prejudice based on) belief in superiority of particular race, 2. antagonism towards other races

The essence of the definitions presented is, in my humble opinion, that there's an opinion of one race about another one, and that there's a negative feeling involved. This does not deny the fact that there are different races, and that we can recognize these.

I'm not a biologist, I don't know the biological definition of race, but when I travel to the southern part of the continent (Europe in my case), the people there look different, though you would still consider them 'white people'. When I travel to the east, the only example I have from my own experience is Russia, just north of Mongolia. The people there are really different in appearance, though you would still consider them 'white people'.

I ask, is the mere fact that I see that people are different in appearance, a basis for racism? In my opinion, it isn't. The problem is, for a racist feeling, the first thing you need to do is actually to distinguish that you are different from another one, the next step is to say that you are better or that you're hostile towards the other.

To me, travelling is one of the most worthy experiences I've had in my life. I've been among different cultures, felt that people are different in their habits, saw that they look different. To me, this enriches my life. Does this contain the seeds for racism?

Perhaps it does, but this solely depends on the people who interpret the information that there's something like 'race' leads to 'racism'. To me, these not necessarily be connected. I think the case is the same with Santharia. There are certainly different races, true enough some of the evil races are black, while most good races are white, but it's only the seeds of racism if you want it to be. The distinction between light and darkness is (pure speculation here) as old as humanity, where the daylight is safe and the darkness at night is hostile.

Further more I agree with Marvin: there's a cultural bias, because most people are white. I can even say for myself that when I describe things for Santharia, be it places, people or history, I have trouble imagining things I haven't seen in real life. Since I've been to a mountain range in real life, describing one has become much easier. I think very few people live or have been to Africa here, or even Asia. This causes a natural dominance for 'white' things here. It's only racism if you condemn people for delving from their own experiences.

Let me finish this (probably far too elaborate) answer with saying that you're most right by bringing up the subject, but I hope that you say that there's only an immediate danger here if people who are already racially biased view our material and that it not necessarily contains seeds that need to blossom.
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Nemo
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« Reply #3 on: 09 November 2006, 06:02:16 »

@Gean:

Yes, I intentionally picked that name (and I was actually surprised to see that it's available). However I have no intention to blind the cyclops after telling him that my name is "Nobody" :) My purpose is not to accuse but just to hear your thoughts on this matter - as coming from a community dedicated to this genre, and a community that creates fantasy and not just consumes it. That's why I thank you for your lenghty reply - I wouldn't have expected any less :) - and I'm still curious about other members' opinions as well.

You bring up an interesting point, and the definition is correct indeed. However, the problem is that, biologically, Homo Sapiens is a species that has no races. That's why I was implying that the supposition of race is in fact connected to racism. And that's why I was mentioning that RTS game referring to different nations as races.

The "first step" would be indeed that acknowledgment of difference. But aren't we all different? "Race" provides a common identity based on (fake) biological features. From here to a postulate of superiority it's a very short walk, and my question about fantasy was if it makes this walk easier or not. Your point is that, after all, there are no more seeds of racism inherent to fantasy as there are seeds of racism inherent to anything. But isn't fantasy, by the very fact that it's a fictional genre akin to allegory and myth, and by it's use of metaphorical races, actually driving us in that "walk?"

As I said, just a matter to discuss, because I'm curious to hear your opinions, not because I want this matter to be solved right here, right now, in anyway :)


@Marvin:

In that Guild Wars thread a lot of people offered this explanation, though they were ruled out by the fact that the game gives you the possibility of playing 4 characters from the start - and that still doesn't explain why they made all their 4 characters white, especially when the game gives you the "white" choice as just one out of many others (not to mention their "incentive" by providing a world filled with anything but "white" NPCs).
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Marvin Cerambit
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« Reply #4 on: 09 November 2006, 06:21:47 »

Why doesn't it explain that? Why is disliking none-white a better explanation then preferring white? If someone picks a certain flavour once, why is it so strange he picks something similar the next time?

Or maybe it was just the game. I've seen games where certain skin colours simply looked better then others (and I believe white was one of the uglier ones, so it's unlikely that it was related to different races in any way).
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Artimidor Federkiel
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« Reply #5 on: 09 November 2006, 06:37:03 »

Well, to add my 2 sans (the Santharian equivalent to cents) in here, Nemo:

Fantasy worlds deal with cultures and as such as well races, which make things interesting for readers or players. Recipients expect to see something different, that's why they play in "fantasy worlds", that's why fantasy races are created. You find elves and hobbits, dwarves and orcs there - but strange enough, people to a great degree pick those races to role play themselves, which are the most noble or beautiful (elves) or the strongest (human fighters for example). I guess it's a cultural thing that you strive to be mainly that paladin character or a "princess in disguise", simply because our cultures put these patterns in our heads. People want to be themselves, but somehow want to play a perfected edition of this own self.

In the same way I think various fantasy worlds are constructed by taking elements of our cultures and - often unconciously - using them in a fantasy setting by associating them with the "good ones" or the "bad ones". I don't think however that there's mostly a direct intention to make a racial statement there.

On the other hand I think there'd be room for people to learn from this: Role players should strive more to investigate e.g. the depths of a character of midget size and learn from that. Playing in such tiny shoes will be even more fun than to try to be "prince charming", it's worth a try. And fantasy writers ideally should not try to strengthen stereotypes, as - quite frankly - we have too much of that in our world, though admittedly bad fantasy is working very much with clichés. On a closer look one can discover that there's much more that unites people than seperates them, be it race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion or whatever. It helps to approach people and get to know them to counter prejudices. Many fantasy concepts might implicitly however work against that notion.

The Santharian Dream is a fantasy project BTW that unites people by establishing connections between contributers from all around the globe, regardless of racial differences, with the aim of creative fantasy world building. Thus we are constantly getting to know each other by working together, learn about other cultures and even establish friendships over the internet. Such friendships resulted already even in real life meetings, bringing Americans, Europeans and Asians together. I guess you could say that Santharia is an active project working against prejudices of any kind, in terms of fantasy world development itself and how this world is being developed on the net.

Maybe that adds a new perspective for you as well :)
« Last Edit: 09 November 2006, 06:43:22 by Artimidor Federkiel » Logged



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Gean Firefeet
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« Reply #6 on: 09 November 2006, 09:08:12 »

Dear Nemo,

a debate! 's Been a long time since I had one of those online. I'll proceed by addressing some of your lines of reasoning, followed by another concern of my own, inspired by an item in your reply.

Quote from: Nemo
However, the problem is that, biologically, Homo Sapiens is a species that has no races.
I have to believe you on this one, as I have absolutely no clue. The only things that do come to mind is that I remember a distinction made of Homo Sapiens and Home Sapiens Sapiens? But you will probably know better than I do. Still, assuming your biological reasoning is right, there's still the fact that the term 'race' in culturally imbedded in at least the western world and probably globally. We cannot deny that the concept of 'race' exists. It helps people getting a grip on the world, just as you distinguish between man and woman, a dualism which doesn't have merely positive effects as well.

Quote from: Nemo
And that's why I was mentioning that RTS game referring to different nations as races.
It's undeniably an error to make a racial distinction between Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, I grant you that.

Quote from: Nemo
From here to a postulate of superiority it's a very short walk
Is it? I tend to disagree, but I've always had a very positive, probably naive, view of mankind. I can at least say I hope it's more than a giant leap, one mankind won't make too often.

Quote from: Nemo
But isn't fantasy, by the very fact that it's a fictional genre akin to allegory and myth, and by it's use of metaphorical races, actually driving us in that "walk?"
This one is very interesting! I agree that Fantasy as a genre is akin to several others, be they allegories, myths or fairytales. I hope you agree that one of the characteristics of these genres is, is that they present simplications of reality to get a point across. From here we can go several roads. We can follow yours and say "because of the simplification, the road to racism is indeed even clearer than in reality", we can go on another one and say "this is fiction, and people will make the distinction between the fictionous world and reality". Both roads have their strong and weak points.

In favour of the Santharian Dream, and I have to agree with Artimidor here, I can only say that Santharia is based on cooperation. On top of that, I think because the level of simplication is rather low here; on the contrary, where trying to present here -speaking in level of details- to present a realistic fantasy world.

To adress your discussion with Marvin, I think I have to agree with him, see my first argument in this post. White people will play white people more easily because that's in their culture, it's part of their concepts that represent the world. To follow the same analogy, I will roleplay a man automatically, only when you start thinking about it, you will play a character of a different sex. Do not underestimate of thought automatismi, they make you drive home safely every night...
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« Reply #7 on: 09 November 2006, 14:11:51 »

Small but crucial note:  let us distinguish between the way Terra uses the word 'race' to demarcate, basically, skin colours - and the way that Caelereth uses the word 'race' to distinguish between completely different strains of sentient beings - a distinction which does not exist in Earthen terms (with all respect to whales, dolphins, and the great apes).

Here we use 'clan' or 'tribe' to differentiate between various human ('Man' - with no sexism intended! :P ) groups, who range in skin colour, eye and hair design, and even ears which vary into gills...    while 'race' refers to the different branches of more or less intelligent humanoids.    If anything, the concepts and ideas which are propagated by attempting to conceive of the alternate ways in which such races might think, behave, live, and deal with each other can only foster tolerance and understanding.

Digression, nonetheless relevant:

To those who believe that intelligent life exists on other planets and that there is a possibility of us opening communication with it, I am often regretfully disposed to say: 'ah, but what makes you think there is intelligent life on this planet?'  (and then after they've stopped hitting me, I add, 'and what makes you think we can communicate with other beings when we can't even communicate amongst ourselves?')

It's quite possible that there IS other life, in my opinion, and if it's smarter than we are it'll wait to touch base (like the Vulcan First Contact, perhaps?) until it has some sign or evidence that we can get along with each other first.  How can we hope to deal fairly with a green-skinned being with pointed ears from another star  if we are predisposed to judge someone of this planet by his swarthy complexion, epicanthic folds, or tightly-curling hair?   (And that is allowing a generally humanoid shape to our theoretical alien, an oxygen-breathing system, a carbon-based body, and a common means of communication.   SF writers have supposed far more exotic possibilities...)

My apologies for the long digression, but I believe it's relevant in arguing that no, fantasy worlds do not support or propagate racism but indeed the reverse; that in attempting to imagine myself in the mind/body of a female orc shaman or an elegant drow elf I am more able to appreciate the cultural differences that exist in the 'Real World' of this little planet. 

 In carefully detailing and writing out the culture of the devout, stubborn, loyal, meticulous Thergerim (the dwarves of Caelereth), I must draw on the riches of the various cultures, religions, and 'races' which I have encountered and experienced here within Terra.    There is something of my ancestral dour Dutch Calvinism in my dwarves, but also a good dose of the hard-working, hard-playing Koreans among whom I was privileged to live for six years... a spice of Russia, a dash of Greece,  a flavouring of the Philippines and a shake of Beijing... :)

And perhaps some of that melange of lovingly-gathered and detailed flavours will come through and ring on the tongue of the devourer, the passionate reader and roleplayer who takes in what I have to offer.  In partaking of our fantasy food he/she feeds not on the insubstantial lotus root of feverish dreams but rather of the meat of life's experiences, the distilled drink of many sentient beings' memories, the grain from many countries brought, as in communion, together in one loaf.

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Irid alMenie
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« Reply #8 on: 10 November 2006, 03:56:42 »


To adress your discussion with Marvin, I think I have to agree with him, see my first argument in this post. White people will play white people more easily because that's in their culture, it's part of their concepts that represent the world. To follow the same analogy, I will roleplay a man automatically, only when you start thinking about it, you will play a character of a different sex. Do not underestimate of thought automatismi, they make you drive home safely every night...

The way I read the 'playing white people' incident, it wasn't white people who were playing white people, it was people from the middle east or africa who were playing white people. That can hardly be described as 'playing what you know', can it? So why would they do that? Do they have the feeling that the white race is superior? Do they think they are 'better' people when they're white? (This has to do with Arti's argument that people play fantasy to become a 'better' self).

For myself, I don't think the fantasy genre is racist. The 'white' elves and 'black' or 'dark' villains has nothing to do with skin colour, and everything with the ancient viewing of 'white' being good and pure, and light, and 'black' being evil. For example, in Belgium we say that if you lie, a black (!) cross appears on your forehead. Or you have a black heart, for example. That has nothing to do with skin colour, it's to do with the ancient distinction (like someone has mentioned before me)

We had a quite interesting discussion about racism today in the class 'American Studies'. The teacher said that 'racism' isn't so much a 'racial' problem as it is a 'social' one. In this case he was mostly talking about the problem of the gypsies here in the Czech Republic. Many people are racist against the gypsies, but when asked why, it's all social. It's not because they are a different 'race'. (I'm using to many apostrophes, I apologize).

Oh well, my two san's worth :D
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Irid al'Menie
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« Reply #9 on: 16 November 2006, 03:33:44 »

(Hm. Board is still up. Don't know how long. I assume this post will make it into the archive, and will possibly even be read if the board re-opens later. Anyway...)

Quote
The way I read the 'playing white people' incident, it wasn't white people who were playing white people, it was people from the middle east or africa who were playing white people. That can hardly be described as 'playing what you know', can it? So why would they do that? Do they have the feeling that the white race is superior? Do they think they are 'better' people when they're white? (This has to do with Arti's argument that people play fantasy to become a 'better' self).

In fact, it's the opposite of "playing what you know", and to be encouraged in my opinion - it would be similar to you (sorry for making assumptions, but your post seemed to be written from a Western perspective) or I playing characters from the Middle East or Asia - or just opposite genders. As has been said, that is a part of what roleplaying is about; broadening horizons and trying to change perspectives. If they are playing something they aren't, they are simply good roleplayers.

-----

This does not cover the other points mentioned, of course - the orcs cast as Native Americans, Tolkien's southerners and easterners being described as a filthy lot of savages, etc.

A lot of trouble results from the fact that most great literature - the works we look up to when writing - was made early in the last century, when racism was all the rage. Besides Tolkien's Haradrim and C.S. Lewis's "Tash", just look at Lovecraft's incessant comments about swarthy, untrustworthy immigrants who are usually demonic cultists and murderous savages. The problem is that these books are good. So we find ourselves either condemning good authors who were but a product of their era, or defending works which would today be acknowledged as ridiculously offensive.
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« Reply #10 on: 27 November 2006, 18:37:30 »


I see that I'm perhaps a bit late, but I thought I might share something with you guys.  When I first created Grunok (the exception to the idealised-version-of-self rule  cool), he had an accent which was so strong as to make his speech pretty much unintelligible.  He's not stupid (except for a certain naievete), but this might come as a surprise to others whom I RPed with; because of his poor command of Tharian, most characters thought he had pretty limited intellighence.

This was quite distressing to me at first, but I took it as a learning experience which firstly deepened the RPing experience, and secondly gave me quite a strong appreciation for the difficulties faced by people who come to live in a place where they don't speak the language very well and can't communicate in the way that those of us who live somewhere where our native language is spoken take for granted.

In summary, RPing has made me less racist (though I'd like to think I wasn't before) by giving me an experience of how it is to be marginalised because you are from somewhere else.  Whilst it was not an experience in real life, it is not one I can easliy forget.
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« Reply #11 on: 28 November 2006, 03:06:18 »

rp-ing characters with any kind of disability or problem is often quite rewarding, as well as show you a bit of the world as it would be to people who actually have that problem.
I've played a blind girl for somewhat over a year on a now-dead online rpg. It was certainly difficult, but also verry enjoyable!
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Avrah Kehabhra

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