Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Unsavory Past

As someone who originally went to school to become an historian, I have learned over the years that human nature is the same no matter the location or the time. As a consequence, every people, in every place and every time, are capable of soiling the image of God and are capable of revealing the image of God. Good and evil emerge from each of us every single day. Everyone sins.

The first time this was driven home to me was when I read Thucycides and his History of the Peloponnesian War. At the time, the Cold War was still raging and I was shocked at how similar the opening chapter was to the behaviors of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Indeed, had I read a transcript of Thucydides where the names of places were swapped out for the U.S., the Soviet Union and their satellite states I would have been hard pressed to tell the difference.

It should be no surprise, then, that I am not fond of the recent disclaimer by Wizards of the Coast on their legacy publications. When we make blanket condemnations about entire histories and peoples, we condemn both the good with the bad.

For example, I recently was going through the first two editions of The World of Greyhawk because I am contemplating how I would set up a sandbox campaign using the original material found therein. I happened across this statement by Gygax about the fantasy races that inhabit his world:

In general, the skin color of an individual is of no particular importance.

Since we have been informed that legacy products, and The World of Greyhawk specifically:

…may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time

and that

These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today

Wizards of the Coast have opened the door to declaring that the racists position of judging someone exclusively by the color of their skin is proper and correct. Is that really what you wanted to say WotC?

As a serious aside, for those unfamiliar with the history of the Soviet Union, they played fast and loose with history, bending it to their will in order to justify the starvation and murder of millions of their own citizens.

The path taken by Wizards of the Coast will end up having us consuming ourselves.

BTW, this nonsense was announced just as I was contemplating getting the 1st edition of Greyhawk in POD. I won't be buying that or anything from WotC anytime soon.


Ryan said...

I feel just the same way. I'm waiting on some POD products that I had already ordered, but I'll refrain from other purchases in light of these awful statements from WotC.

Ryan said...

I should say, as a pastor who studied Classics (esp. Greek language and history), your thoughts resonate with me quite a bit!

Unknown said...

Could you include a link to the statement that you are quoting? I cannot find the quotes you are talking about on their official announcement page.

FrDave said...

The statement is in the description of WotC legacy products on Drivethru and DMs Guild. For example, you can find it at the bottom of the description on 1e The World of Greyhawk:

Unknown said...

Um dude. That’s boilerplate legalese. You see that on materials from Loony Tunes, Tom and Jerry and Sesame Street with the IP name traded out in the exact same words. It is not a deleterious statement- it says the material MAY contain SOME depictions that we have come to realize are wrong but it is not saying it is all wrong. And it tacitly acknowledges the noetic effects of sin in that it may take some time to realize something was wrong. In your example it says that there might be something that is offensive but not all of it is. In fact it leaves space for what you quoted Gary as saying to be correct.

Unknown said...

Now with more clarity: It’s a boilerplate disclaimer. You see that on Loony Tunes, Sesame Street and Tom and Jerry with the IP names interchanged. It’s basic “cover your ass“ legalese which In no way accuses ALL products from the time of being racist/sexist/homophobic etc. or all of a product’s content. It says SOME products MAY contain objectionable material. That does not mean this statement is saying the product is ALL wrong. It is not a negatory statement. In fact the statement is forgiving - in that it tacitly acknowledges the noetic effects of sin and that it might take some time to recognize a wrong. It is not saying everything in greyhawk is wrong... just some stuff in it may be and that in buying this product you should be prepared for depictions of people that society has come to learn are wrong. And some material may be right. What Gary says about skin color is not negated.

FrDave said...

You missed the point of this post. Sure, we can all agree that what Gygax said is true. We can also assume that WotC agrees with Gygax. My problem is that the "boilerplate legalese," as you put, allows someone to use the exact same language to say exactly the opposite. It empowers people to play fast and loose with history and with the legacy of the game. If you want to acknowledge sin, you must name it. What exactly is unacceptable? By refusing to name the sin, it allows everyone to interpret it in anyway they want. It hides and empowers the sin rather than bringing it into the light.

Nathan Irving said...

So do you have a solution? Or should these things be left unlabeled and unacknowledged? Or should the products be revised or removed? Your comment "you must name it" seems to imply every "act of...prejudice" should be labelled.

Frankly, it's hard not to see this as another tacit statement of "thems the way things was and gosh its a shame but lets sweep it under the rug and pretend everything is different". If that's not the case, and you don't like the disclaimer, then what's your solution?

(And frankly your example is so utterly bizarre I can't even.)

FrDave said...

This statement comes from fear. As mentioned in the comments this is a CYA tactic that says less than nothing. If WotC really cared about the various "isms" that were represented in their legacy products, they should have gone through all of them and specifically called them out. They didn't want to do that because a) it would take time and money and b) what offends people today won't be what offends people tomorrow.

The real solution would have been to have the courage to say nothing. Once you start worrying about offending people, there is no end, there is no solution. In the same way that every person sins, every idea offends.

D&D is a great game and has entertained millions of people since the 1970s irregardless of the rule-set. That should have been the end of it.

I gave the extreme example I did for the very reason that it is ridiculous. I wanted to demonstrate how easily I can manipulate their official language to mean exactly the opposite of what everybody thinks it is supposed to mean. It is much worse than saying nothing because in the future, this language can be manipulated to mean whatever anybody wants it to mean.

Thus, Gary's sentiment on the color of people's skin can be rendered to mean anything someone wants it to mean rather than being a sentiment most people can agree upon.

Had WotC had the courage to say nothing, Gary could have simply spoken for himself with the words that he wrote. Now, he can't because WotC has condemned him.

Pilgrim Procession said...

Another contentious but hilarious and intriguing post. Down with Gary Gygax, the herald of social justice! How dare he (looks at script) exist in the past! (/s)

lige said...

Your first paragraph sums up a lot of what's going on but I don't think your conclusion is accurate. I think rather than fear they are trying to be sensitive to peoples feelings. These things are subjective and obviously you aren't the person the disclaimer is aimed at and that's fine. It's also fine that WOTC didn't make a bunch of subjective cuts to old material. Instead they've left it up to the person reading the material to make their own judgement on the contents. I also don't think anyone is being condemned personally.

FrDave said...

I am the target of the statement because I am the one buying the product. That statement condemns me for buying and using that product. It condemns everyone involved in using, producing, and writing these products because "These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today." We are all wrong.

If you are going to go through life trying not to offend anybody, you are going to end up living in a cave by yourself, because everything is offensive. Had I been worried about offending someone when I started this blog, for example, it never would have gotten off the ground because it offends both gamers and Christians. I knew that then and I had the courage to plow forward anyway. Would only WotC do the same.

porphyre77 said...

"May contain traces of nuts" ...

lige said...

The disclaimer says MAY contain "depictions that were wrong". And that's very true - it's not saying anything about you or anyone else - it's just a warning about the content in the older work - it's not even saying there is anything definitely wrong in the specific work.

A.F.W Junior said...

People on "is just a may contain" are underestimating the power of language.
Excelent point Fr. No one yard for chaos.

Branduan said...

So what you're saying "lige" is that WotC is unaware of what is in a decades old product which they have been selling for some time? That they are like a canning company that puts a label on their soup saying "MAY contain poison" but it's ok because it's true that the can might or might not contain poison? I guess this is better than the soup can without the label which very truly might also contain poison. Hey, why don't we put warnign labels on everything thet might or might not be wrong, I mean it wouldn't be saying anything specific about anything and guys like you would feel real good about it. Unless you ate the poison soup I suppose.