What is censorship in the face of sensitivity?

So I originally had this as a blog post on boardgamegeek.com.  I suspected it would be too hot for it to handle.  Sure enough, before the day was over:

admin message

“Your blog has been deleted due to multiple severe violations of site rules, including defending sexism and objectification, dismissiveness to concerns about inclusiveness, personal attacks, and antagonizing.”

And when they mean “blog,” they don’t just mean this post that I’m basically going to mirror on this site.  They mean EVERY post that I have ever made under the “Board Game Philosophy” blog title, which is roughly 30 blog posts I think.  Jesus suffering Christ, that’s overkill isn’t it?  Considering all my other posts weren’t anywhere near as bad as this one in terms of arguments against inclusion.  Granted, I’ve evolved a bit since my earlier posts, but I referred to them every now and again for an introspective.  My thoughts on what I thought about dice rolling, solo gaming, critiquing games objectively, etc.  Basically the only surviving posts from that series are my rant against Gloom of Kilforth, and then my apology for the rant.  I mean, fuck man.  Those EU articles about Internet censorship must really be fucking them in the ass if they want to fuck users who have legit grievances about board game news up the ass that hard.

Dismissiveness to concerns about inclusiveness?  Could’ve just said “dismissive.”  But anyway, that was the whole point.  The whole point of the blog was an argument against inclusiveness!  Bunch of hypocritical cocksuckers these admins, especially when they’ve got exclusive groups on their inclusive site.

rainbow bggers
I’m feeling the inclusiveness from this forum doesn’t apply for straight people.

I’ve heard about how restrictive this site was, how hypocritical and selective the admins were about what comments they would allow and which they wouldn’t.  But now I see how bad it really is.  Honestly, after seeing this, it’s worse than I thought.  So bad that you can’t even argue about how the community would be better without inclusiveness.  So bad that they don’t even practice what they preach!

Your life is trite and jaded
Boring and confiscated
If that’s your best, your best won’t do

Whatever, here’s my damn blog post that got me a stern talking to (and worse).  I did add in some fuck-bombs though, for this site (along with some images and vids).

Definitions and Business

We’ve got the right to choose it
There ain’t no way we’ll lose it
This is our life, this is our song

So anyone who has viewed some of my previous blog posts know that I’m no stranger to this topic. I’ve noticed the conversations related to “censoring” an aspect of a board game (if not the whole board game itself) tends to implode upon itself at some point because I, and a few others, fail to do the one thing that should’ve been done in the first place. Ask what censorship is, if it applies to the current situation, if we’re not confusing censorship with something else, etc. It is eventually argued that, “it’s a business decision,” as if business decisions themselves don’t involve the act of censorship on occasion; or even if it did, that doesn’t make them wrong. Among all other sorts of situations.

Well, it’s high time I actually tackled the issue of what censorship actually is. The best place to begin is…

…the dictionary.

definitions of censor:
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University
*(verb) subject to political, religious, or moral censorship

*(noun) a person who is authorized to read publications or correspondence or to watch theatrical performances and suppress in whole or in part anything considered obscene or politically unacceptable

*(verb) forbid the public distribution of (a movie or a newspaper)

*(noun) someone who censures or condemns

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition
*(noun) A person authorized to examine books, films, or other material and to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable.

*(noun) An official, as in the armed forces, who examines personal mail and official dispatches to remove information considered secret or a risk to security.

*(noun) One of two officials in ancient Rome responsible for taking the public census and supervising public behavior and morals.

*(noun) Psychology The agent in the unconscious that is responsible for censorship.

*(transitive verb) To examine and expurgate.
definitions of censorship:
from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition
*(noun) Psychology Prevention of disturbing or painful thoughts or feelings from reaching consciousness except in a disguised form.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University
*(noun) counterintelligence achieved by banning or deleting any information of value to the enemy
definitions of self-censorship:
Merriam Webster
*(noun) the act or action of refraining from expressing something (such as a thought, point of view, or belief) that others could deem objectionable

Cambridge Dictionary
*(noun) control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary

Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
*(noun) The act of censoring one’s own work or what one says without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority, often for fear of sanctions

The irony is not lost on me.

Businesses are the ones that decide whether a board game will be published, but also determine what aspects of the game make the final cut in order to be published. They can censor it for political, religious, or moral reasons, primarily with customer interests in mind. Because some potential customers may not be interested in their business or their product if they find the product(s) the business is making to be politically/religiously/morally questionable, let alone offensive. Because, whether they have short term or long term interests in mind when making such decisions (or a combination of both), it’s all about making a profit either way (that’s usually a safe assumption to make), and minimizing the risk of financial loss while maximizing the odds of financial gain.

That is businesses making business decisions. As they say, “It’s a business decision, pure and simple.” And censorship can be a part (if not the major reason) for certain business decisions, particularly self-censorship. So regardless of what some may say, businesses do censor their own products.

But that’s not the important thing per-se. Censorship isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To bring back up one of the above definitions:

An official […] who examines personal mail and official dispatches to remove information considered secret or a risk to security.

In other words, censorship can be necessary in order to prevent the release of information that is a security risk, whether to the business itself, or to individuals whose personal information is at stake. It can also involve blueprints or the process for designing something, whether its the design process for a game, or the recipe for a drink or food they make (can’t risk other businesses stealing those formulas).

If games were produced that moderated for the sensitivities of all, no games would be produced. GMT had the right to pull the game, believing perhaps it was not in their best interest. That’s not really censorship. It’s a business decision. 

— abadolato01

However, when some bring up the excuse, “It’s not censorship, it’s a business decision,” that could imply a few things. The most significant reason that aims to attack the idea that it’s being done for political/religious/moral reasons (which I’ll refer to as “the hot 3” from here on) is that it was done for a reason completely independent of that. Such as flaws in gameplay, issues with the art and the artist (which again would have nothing to do with “the hot 3” in this context), contractual issues, number of potential pre-orders, analyzing the actual market and projecting the potential income from the endeavor, etc.

In other words, the argument that anyone who claims the censorship is done because of “the hot 3” is just pure projection from those who are making complaints about the changes or the cancellation. On the other hand, it could be argued that those making the complaints do want that altered/cancelled content because that is what they’re looking for in the game. At which point then it becomes an issue of which side the business actually wants to listen to, or whether they even care enough to worry about what either side thinks. If a business tends to show a pattern of what side of the argument they take over the years, that tends to answer the question for some.

In any case, I aim to talk about censoring games for political/religious/moral reasons, and why that’s a bad thing.

Censorship for Sensitivity

We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong

Political, religious, and moral issues (which I’ll refer from here on as “the hot 3”) tend to be the hot button issues. All one has to do is say, “This game is about slavery,” or, “This game is about running a whorehouse,” and that’s guaranteed to draw eyes towards it. Because such themes (among others) are guaranteed to invoke the hot 3 if it’s going to be a theme in the game. “But that’s morally wrong! It’s sacrilegious! It’s politically divisive!”

Or everyone’s favorite, “It’s culturally/racially insensitive!” Which is basically an extension of the hot 3.

And complaints such as these have been proven to have an effect on business decisions. For example:

The last goal was to commission Kerem for a new piece of art inspired by the game. Even though we did not make the goal I went ahead and did it. The cost was in the thousands of dollars, not hundreds. But the end result was an incredible piece of art the Kerem himself called his “best work to date”. Here is is:

Well, that’s not quite how it was. The female mage had a bit more leg revealed in the original. See the changes below:

The first image is the original, and the second is an update Kerem made.

Why?

Well, a handful of backers were upset with the image. The argument is that images like this “objectify” or “sexualize” women. I thought it was rather tame and showed a woman in a position of immense power, but it seemed many disagree. The woman in the image was not striking a sexual pose in any way, but her physical beauty and clothing caused a negative reaction in some.

Now, here I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I am being asked to censor my artist or be labelled a sexist.

Crap.

— Tinyelvis

And for a more recent example:

[EDIT (4-23-2019): I made the mistake of putting in the image of an entirely different board game also titled Scramble for Africa that was released in a different year by a different company with different designers.  That image has been removed.  The (currently unpublished) version I refer to in this article refers to a game designed by Joe Chacon that was going to be released by GMT games, until it was cancelled in April 2019.  Don’t let this version be confused with any other.  This is what I get for not verifying the image used.]

ScrambleForAfrica_banner2190317-S4A-mountain-example

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard from a growing number of gamers who had concerns about both in regards to Scramble for Africa. To those of you who took the time to share your concerns with us privately and also to those who shared concerns in public forums in a polite and constructive manner, I want to thank you for the kindness and class with which you shared negative feedback.

[…]

I both misread the market and didn’t look carefully enough at the game treatment. It is that nexus of a “breezy, 3X, let’s get the highest score, eurogame” treatment with a serious perhaps controversial subject that I should have caught (and Andy Lewis or I almost always do at that stage). Totally my mistake, and the moment I realized it I knew I had to cancel the game – because there was just no way to make minor changes that would have fixed it. It needed a complete overhaul…

In the future, for whatever (comparatively few) eurogames we do, I think we’re going to have to be a lot more discerning up front about topic and treatment…

The number of times this has happened is irrelevant for the purposes of this post. The point is complaints over an aspect of a game because of “the hot 3” have caused a designer to alter an aspect of the game, however big or small. Which fits in perfectly with self-censorship.

The act of censoring one’s own work or what one says without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority, often for fear of sanctions

The main issue is whether this is right or wrong for reasons pertaining to “the hot 3.” And there have been several reasons given as to why it is morally right to censor.

A person is complaining that a company has chosen not to produce a game where they can cosplay as slavers (of a ‘pretend’ people who are very much disadvantaged in the modern age as a direct result of this) are treated like they are arguing in good faith, for some reason. If they really wanted to see the game, people would respond with productive changes to make the game more even-handed or an idea for a retheming.

I have a much better regard for GMT after all of this, since I have always had an unfair, subconscious stereotype of wargaming (which I associate with GMT) as being imperialist and overly pro-western civilization. Responding in this way suggests to me that, if these biases are present, it isn’t out of intentionally pushing a certain worldview.

— Rostasky

This is not a knock against GMT or any other publisher, but you are absolutely right the hobby has a problem with pro-imperialist and pro-western bias. It’s pervasive in society and culture, so of course it’s expressed in game design as well. If anything, it’s worse in with eurogames.

— sdiberar

Agreed 100%. The subtext that many SfA apologists are hinting at is, you eurogamers better be careful, or else we’ll start criticising euro games for dealing insensitively with colonialism!–then you’ll be sorry.

To which I can only respond, YES BY ALL MEANS PLEASE DO EXACTLY THAT!

(It is my experience also that eurogame designers are worse culprits when it comes to being insensitive to history than wargame designers.)

— Pokeweed Mitogen

Reason 1: Unfair subconscious (or even conscious) stereotypes, and pro-imperialistic and pro-western biases that need to remain in check. In other words, check your privilege.

568bdeabf9bb8a672e9bf999029057ab

Labyrinth is definitely a game that not all folks will play.

But even the WMD victory is the end result of a fair bit of effort of the terrorist faction, entailing a logical set of steps, constraints, and operations in line with their capability and goals. The game does a decent job of demonstrating their goals and methods and how they interact with the opponent in the form of the US and its allies.

The game is designed to portray the struggle of the GWOT and all of that entails.

So the difference between Labyrinth and Scramble for Africa is that Labyrinth doesn’t shy away from portraying the tragic reality of the GWOT and the stakes involved. It helps a player understand (as much as a game can) the struggles in the Middle East and the West’s interaction with terrorism prevention. The card notes in the playbook (IIRC) providing context for the historical events supports the exploration of the subject matter.

Scramble for Africa by comparison, using the available information in the Designer notes blog, trivialized the exploitation of Africa with the tragedy covered up by meeples and tiles. The struggles of the native Africans erased, or simplified to a footnote random card draw at best. The point of view is simply the European powers’. A player of Scramble for Africa likely wasn’t going to leave the game with any greater understanding of the setting besides “plantations and mines good! competing European power bad! exploring is neato!”.

Again, an actually interesting historical GMT game could cover this subject. Some day perhaps.

— srd5090

Those games don’t pretend that a historical genocide didn’t happened, which is the issue here.

— miriku

It seems like folks are defending the designer’s and publisher’s abstract freedom to create historical simulations with controversial settings, rather than the actual game as it’s actually described to us.

This is a tile laying Euro that could be themed in one of a thousand different settings. Not only did the designer choose one of the most fraught he possibly could have, but he’s implementing it in such a trivializing way as to render out any of the historicity that might conceivably be there.

— dpbush

Reason 2: To uphold historical accuracy; for the sake of accurate representation of history (or in some cases, accurate science). So as the player(s) won’t get confused about the actual history of events while playing the board game. Therefore board games that cover certain events must not leave specific details out in order to avoid risking the glorification of people/events that shouldn’t be glorified.

The concern is that the game reproduces and, thereby, perpetuates the forms of “thinking” that made colonization and genocide possible then and now. To your point, this is history we should have already learned from.

— carlotresca

Dealing with these themes requires caution and care, and some games handle it well, while others, like Puerto Rico, erase the realities of history by employing complex themes with a light hand. It’s not that these games engage with this historical material that’s wrong, but that they do so without the due gravity that one should give to the situation. They do so without caring whether or not your “colonists” suffer and die after arriving on their “colonist ship,” or are nearly exterminated by forced labor and disease as the Taíno were. They only care that you got enough points to win. The suffering that took place—and still takes place—is either ignored or has no repercussions.
Jon Bolding of Vice

[…] it would not have been cancelled if having the usual approach/quality/historicity of the famous GMT titles. But instead of that, it was supposed to be a lightweight eurogame in which the native population of Africa is just gracefully “abstracted away”, so that they don’t come in the way of your fun, light-hearted “escapism”. The game is super offensive and a lazy job at the same time.

— kissgg

Reason 3: Accurate representation for minorities/races/nations that you don’t belong to or live with/in. So as to avoid misconceptions and unfair stereotypes. More games with this sort of content must be made so as to avoid the misrepresentation of said minorities/races/nations that has been committed in the past, which needs some making up for.

I enjoyed the concluding requirement from the Vice piece that we need better people playing. I wonder why? Better people (presumably our sort of “better”) would pretty quickly grasp that the players in Scramble were not there to spread the Word, or that the players in Brass were early exemplars of benevolent employment. They don’t need better games though they may prefer them. The point is that it is the non-Better people who do need the better games so that they pause and think and so they personally identify the issues. One persuades few people, but one’s arguments may help them persuade themselves.

— Charles Vasey

Its a lot more infuriating that a product died not because there were not enough people demanding it, but because there were people who are unhappy that there was a demand for this in the first place or a market supplying this demand.

— pistonsfan94

Do you think this will be happening more? It seems to be happening in other hobbies.

— nodalpoint

I realize you’re baiting to get this response, but I’ll embrace it: I hope so. I think we’re experiencing what a new level of amplification of voices of minorities that we didn’t have before, and I think it makes us better as a people, even if we have to question if some of the things that we were ok have greater consequences than we knew.

Cheers.

— miriku

More games from minorites, not less games from the majority, is what ultimately empowers them. Pro-active to create wonderful things, not react to what other games should be.

And note that many games dont demand to be the representation of inclusion (i.e. this is THE game that captures your thematic itch) but rather simply a game that wants to be included in your collection, along with other games.

— pistonsfan94

This is our agree to disagree point, I don’t find “I’m willing for things to change as long as nothing affects me” particularly genuine or persuasive. I’m willing to change to make the hobby more inclusive, even if it costs me playing a theme I’m personally not offended by.

— miriku

Earlier this year, I talked about how the hobby was not as inclusive as I would like it to be. And what could companies do, what could I Tom Vasel do, to make the hobby more inclusive.

[…]

But that’s the way it’s always been as far as I know in gaming in general, whether it’s video gaming or board gaming. And I don’t know that that’s a healthy thing for the hobby.

[…]

Now it really behooves me to make the hobby a friendly welcoming place for females. And I’ve met some females that say they have no problem with the objectification pictorial references of women in games. That’s fine. But I’ve met many more, who are not necessarily gamers, who think that sort of thing is ridiculous, who really don’t like it.

[…]

I’m just advocating a bit of the equality here. And it’s not just what they wear or anything, it’s how they’re portrayed.

[…]

So I don’t care what all you- you know- what people say is ‘Well I know someone who did this,’ and ‘Well I know someone who did this,’ and, ‘Well these women don’t seem to care.'” *hits table 3 times with hand palms* “Well you know what!? My daughter did care! And I think that’s where we’re kinda missing the point here. I know somebody who cared. My wife cares. Those are 2 people, and frankly, they’re more important to me than any of those people you mentioned. But it’s not just them, there are other people. And every time they say, ‘I don’t really like this. This makes me feel uncomfortable,’ it seems like there’s a course of peoples saying, ‘Well you shouldn’t be uncomfortable, that’s not that big of a deal.’ Hey! They said it was a big deal!

[…]

Um, but it really kind of saddens me to see that, while this streak is changing, I’ve definitely see some companies, who should be called out and say, ‘Hey look, these companies made it, they have equal representation in their games. Their characters don’t look like they’ve stepped out of a teenager’s fantasy dream sequence. They look normal.’ And it’s that sort of thing, diversification. And I’m not just talking men and female but diversification in many different ways. And that makes the hobby a welcoming place.

Just the, the uh, when someone comes to our game meetup, I want them to be able to look at the games I’m playing and go, “Oh, ok, that looks interesting and fun.’ And not look at it and go, ‘Huh, so the stereotypers of gamers are true.’ That’s problematic to me. And here’s the deal, if you say, ‘Well it’s not that big of a deal.’ If it’s not that big of a deal, then back off! Then what do you care if it’s not that big of a deal?

[…]

But I don’t just want to play games with geeky guys. I want to play games with lots of people.

[…]

The hobby has been male dominated. And yes, that’s been very fortunate for me. But. I want to see this change. I want to see the companies change, I want to see an equal representation. You say, ‘It doesn’t need to be an equal representation.'” *slams paper onto the table in anger* “Yes it does! Alright? Because board gaming is not a guy’s hobby, it’s a hobby for everyone.

[…]

Now, have we been perfect on it? No. You know, is, is every game that I have in my collection? No, no it is not. But I would like it to get to that point. And if nothing else, I’d like to have the dialogue. I’d like to listen to what people say. ‘I don’t like this in a game.’ Really? Well tell me more about that. What don’t you like about that in a game? And then publishers, let’s listen to what people say. You say, ‘Grr, the vocal few.’ Guess what? Buddy who says that? We ain’t the vocal few. There’s a lot of us.

— Tom Vasel

Reason 4: To be inclusive towards “better people.” To have less games with thematic elements that risk causing offense and more games less likely to cause offense so as to make the board gaming hobby more open to those who aren’t already a part of it, and who may not have been a part of it for the past few decades because of those reasons. In other words, to have more board games that uphold certain moral values, which must be imposed on the industry in order for that to happen. Because that will ultimately make the hobby more “healthy.”

Those are the main 4 reasons to justify censorship (whether one claims these are calls for censorship or not is irrelevant; unless they wish to challenge the definition itself). Reasons as to why censorship is called for and necessary. And all 4 of them are terrible reasons. They may sound great in theory, made with the best of intentions, but those whose arguments are based on those reasons fail to see that these good intentions are making them pave the road to hell.

Reason 1: Unfair/negative subconscious (or even conscious) stereotypes, and pro-imperialistic and pro-western (and thus colonialist) biases that need to remain in check. In other words, check your privilege.

Virtually every board game is filled with stereotypes, whether they are of a pro-western bias or not. Board games can’t afford not to be biased on a thematic level. But the argument is more on the issue of biases towards negative stereotypes that, I believe this is implied, the privileged possess; or at the very least those who are western and imperialistic. The problem with this argument is that the non-western, non-imperialistic people also have their own set of biases, their own stereotypical views. Many believe that the Axis powers in WWII were bad people who had bad intentions and did bad things throughout the war, but the Axis powers would’ve likely felt the opposite (may even view that much of what the Allies did during then was done with bad intentions, and did bad things). If one looks up atrocities committed during WWII, one will find that both sides committed atrocities. And we could argue all day about which atrocities were worse, or which were exaggerated, etc, without ever coming to a set conclusion about the ordeals that the imperialists/non-imperialists faced, let alone the winners and losers of history.
In fact, one could also argue that colonialism was the best thing ever to have happened to certain countries. Such as how portions of Africa became better from a technological and agricultural point of view as a result, how North America eventually became a nation while those who came before (which are referred to as Native Americans, a more politically correct version of indians, even though they had migrated to that continent themselves many years prior) had made no steps whatsoever towards forming a nation, but instead stayed within a tribal warfare mindset.

To give an example using a board game, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, the game is about taking black slaves from the South and smuggling them to Canada. This is to promote the message that the underground railroad built up the strength of the Abolitionist movement, which would later go on (historically) to contribute towards the ending of slavery. It is stereotypical (though not exactly inaccurate) to view the black slaves as victims, and the southern plantation workers as those who viewed them as less than human, and that northerners (future unionists) tended to be better people (as opposed to the future confederates); the stereotypes the game provokes. Yet the game doesn’t take into account that a good portion of the northerners were just as bad as the southerners; nor does it take into account that slavery was a thing in Canada, even to the point where black slaves would flee from Canada to Vermont in some cases. It also doesn’t take into account that some slave owners didn’t abuse their slaves and weren’t necessarily bad people. It also doesn’t take into account that there were black slave owners (or even that the first slave owner in America may have been a black tobacco farmer named Anthony Johnson). Or even that black slaves tended to be owned by rich people only (generally not by middle class or even certain upper-class families). Does the stereotypes this game convey address those issues? I think not. Therefore by Reason 1’s logic this game evokes an unfair stereotype and therefore must not exist.

Privilege is irrelevant. There is always a grey area when it comes to the current position and past history of an individual, a race, and a nation. No board game can ever hope to include all of that. Not even a single book can hope to cover all of that, even assuming the author himself/herself didn’t have certain biased views one way or another. There are pros and cons to every view and position. Anyone who has played an asymmetrical board game can attest to that (though that assumes one race/faction/character isn’t broken or overpowered so as to make the game unfair; though for all we know that might’ve been the designer’s intent).

Besides, many people have fun with stereotypes, no matter who it is that is being stereotyped. Stereotypes, like board games, can be fun, in a variety of ways.

 

Original title.
New politically correct title.

Reason 2: To uphold historical accuracy; for the sake of accurate representation of history (or in some cases, accurate science). So as the player(s) won’t get confused about the actual history of events while playing the board game. Therefore board games that cover certain events must not leave specific details out in order to avoid risking the glorification of people/events that shouldn’t be glorified.

Winners write history. There are aspects of history that are left out of history books used in classrooms and universities, intentionally or unintentionally. For all we know, the designer could be trying to evoke an aspect of history many don’t know about, or that is deemed too controversial. For example, looking into the history of how The Holy Bible was compiled and released over the years, you will find that many of the scribes had issues when making copies, leaving out certain words and sentences, or even that the copies of the copies of the copies of the original manuscripts were never used (because they were either never found or had been lost to the ravages of time before the stories could’ve been compiled into one large book). And that’s not even mentioning the books they chose to leave out of the Bible for various reasons. Yet many are fine with considering The Holy Bible a flawless piece of history that dictates how everyone should live.

Many believe and are taught that Albert Einstein was the one who came up with e=mc2, yet it is argued he stole that equation/idea from Italian industrialist Olinto De Pretto. This goes against what is currently accepted history, yet there are those who would claim it as fact and historically accurate.

Hell, we don’t even know who created what is one of the most famous and arguably greatest abstract strategy game of all time, Go. But it is alleged it happened somewhere in China, before the Japanese took it and made it their own.

I could go on onto topics that are much more controversial than those when it comes to revisionist history (even though some of it relates to certain board games that have been published, including by GMT), but you get my point (plus the moderators would probably ban me for it). You will find it quite difficult to demonstrate how some of what you were taught in school can be proven with reliable sources.

Board games shouldn’t be censored because of how they depict history (or even how a player projects how the board game depicts history). If anything, board games can be how the designers interpret one or several aspects of history. Whether that interpretation (and thus the theme) is appealing should be up to those who purchase and/or play the game (see Freedom: Underground Railroad example above).

Reason 3: Accurate representation for minorities/races/nations that you don’t belong to or live with/in. So as to avoid misconceptions and unfair stereotypes. More games with this sort of content must be made so as to avoid the misrepresentation of said minorities/races/nations that has been committed in the past, which needs some making up for.

Oh this is good. This is real good. Because representation for all should be a thing. How about an accurate representation for murderers, pedophiles, rapists, 9/11 truthers, Church of Satan, Climate Deniers, some religion claiming their better and more truthful than all other religions, etc? What could be considered an accurate representation for some would be considered offensive and a criminal misconception for others. Nazis thought Jews should be represented as evil people who wanted to destroy their nation and the world, but they didn’t ever get their board game. In this day and age, it is way too easy to come up with an example to showcase how this is not a good excuse to censor a board game. Here’s an easy one: Donald Trump is the president of the United States, and he won the presidency legitimately without Russian interference. Let’s see how many would agree and disagree (violently) over that statement which is considered an accurate representation over the current state of the United States for some, and highly inaccurate to others. That can be particularly problematic when those who agree/disagree with it are in a position to where they can dictate whether a game that expresses that theme should or shouldn’t be published. Though Corporate America certainly had fun with that.

Personally, though I do believe he won the presidency legitimately, I’d still play a board game that was designed to evoke the whole “Russian Collusion” theme, where one player plays as, I don’t know, local American PACs that support Hillary Clinton or something, while the other player plays as the Russians who have to influence television and social media (and use mind control devices when they can) to try and prevent Hillary from winning. I don’t agree with that theme, I don’t find it to be an accurate representation of America from the perspective of the MAGA movement (and whatever else is related), but damnit if I’m not playing the hell out that game and having fun with it! It may represent the views of a minority I don’t agree with (or at least I assume it would be a minority), but if that game was made well, I would definitely give that a try. That game concept sounds awesome, whether you agree with who it represents, and how it represents them, or not.

But in all fairness, there have been classic films and shows that utilized this “wishful thinking” aspect about truth and history to great effect. From an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Big Tall Wish,” to John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.

But anyway, I’ll end my current judgement on Reason 3 with this:

Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. […] The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.
— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

And for the last reason:

Censorship for Inclusivity

Oh you’re so condescending
Your gall is never ending
We don’t want nothin’, not a thing from you
— Twisted Sister

Reason 4: To be inclusive towards “better people.” To have less games with thematic elements that risk causing offense and more games less likely to cause offense so as to make the board gaming hobby more open to those who aren’t already a part of it, and who may not have been a part of it for the past few decades because of those reasons. In other words, to have more board games that uphold certain moral values, which must be imposed on the industry in order for that to happen. Because that will ultimately make the hobby more “healthy.” Can be considered an argument for equal representation.

I’ve been told this one many times in many places, a good portion of which are on this site. “We need to make this hobby more inclusive. We need to get more people into it. We need to make this something for everyone.”

To which I respond, “Why?” Why should we? Why should we make this hobby/profession more inclusive than it is now (or that is has been since, I don’t know, since Kickstarter started crowdfunding board games)? And one of the reasons that people such as Tom Vasel give are more condescending than anything else I’ve ever heard. To make the hobby open towards “better people?” What the hell is that supposed to mean? The people already in the hobby aren’t good enough? There’s something wrong with the hobby as-is? That we’re intentionally putting up barriers so that no one except for some privileged selection get to come in and enjoy it? How do we know that the people outside of the hobby aren’t “worse people” who will make the hobby less “healthy?”

There are board game groups who only want certain types of players playing their games, and I’ve seen them all. There are groups exclusively for gay board gamers. There are groups exclusively for women gamers (that’s even a category on this website). There are groups that are basically for casual gamers who only play light games that would never run longer than an hour unless one or more of them had analysis paralysis (which is more than likely in groups like that). There are groups for those who only want to play tabletop RPGs, and never want to touch a board game outside of that. There are groups who strictly play wargames seriously and competitively, and who have no intention of holding anyone’s hand, and expect everyone to carry their own weight when it comes to learning and playing the game. I’ve seen groups who dedicate themselves exclusively to the long 4+ hour epic board games like Advanced Civilization or 3rd edition Twilight Struggle (which they believe to be superior to the 4th edition). And more importantly, I’ve seen groups fracture and fall apart because they became inclusive and started getting people (calling them gamers is questionable) into the group so as playing the more heavy/competitive/involving games became impossible afterwards, lest they exclude the new guys/gals from any and every game that was normally played up until then. I’ve seen D&D groups fracture for similar reasons.

Well you know what? This hobby isn’t for everyone!

And just to make sure you all read that correctly, I’ll repeat:

This hobby isn’t for everyone!

Certain board game groups are not for everyone, otherwise they would be interfering with what they normally enjoy doing! I respect the fact that there are gay gamers only groups, women only groups, party game only groups, wargame only groups, Advanced Squad Leader only groups, D&D only groups, etc. I respect them all. But I would also expect all of them, and everyone else, to respect the type of games I want to play, and the type of people I want to play them with, and respect those people for playing the games I want and the games they want. That also means respecting “men only” groups, “straight gamer only” groups, etc.

I mean, Jesus, some of you act like no other hobby exists outside of board gaming (and every hobby likes to be exclusive to some degree). If this hobby doesn’t appeal to you, find another hobby to do! There’s plenty to choose from! Can’t stand making quilts like you do in Azul but are interested in quilting? Then start doing real life quilting! Can’t stand moving those chits and counters around on a map of hexes but you want to shoot people and blow stuff up? Join the army or some anarchist group!

And if you do love board games, and there are specific games you want to play, but there’s no one willing to play them with you because they don’t find those games to be fun, then tough shit. I’ve had my droughts where I couldn’t find anyone to play the games I wanted, but I didn’t become some whiny beggar who intruded on some D&D campaign or some Magic: The Gathering group and demand they play one of my games and not whatever it was they were currently playing. Know what I ended up doing? Something else besides board gaming!

And this clearly extends beyond just the people and who they want to play with. This is extending into the games themselves. Like that board game HATE.

Some games shine despite their theme…sometimes the game and aesthetic of a game make a game better than its actual game play. And sometimes games have such a degrading message they deserve a 1 rating without ever playing them. We live in an age where human life is already a commodity…why cheapen it even more with your art. Sorry…will never play this game and I think less of CMON for publishing a game like this.

— irishroar

Well you know what, your message is degrading! Because you think less of a company for publishing a game (because of its “message,” something I addressed in an earlier point), and think less of the people who play it. As if the people who play and enjoy this game are any less than you. Some of us want to play exclusively games like this! Not because we want to start raping and pillaging and killing other people, but because it’s fun. We find it fun. It’s a game that is intended to be fun for those who play it, and a portion of those who play it have fun! We could play a game with naked men and women having an orgy getting off on other slaughtering many in some arena or battlefield while spaceships fly over and bombard a few towns wiping out a couple thousand people/aliens and wiping a few races out of existence, and find it fun! Sometimes we play and enjoy those games while forgetting about the theme entirely (like virtually every Eurogame ever made)! Sometimes we want groups exclusive to that kind of gaming (not to mention games with the loli artwork from Japan). It also tends to act as our way to “relax,” escape from reality a bit, take some of that stress off that accumulates daily by doing, I don’t know, anything besides playing that game (the stress could accumulate from putting up with people who believe in censoring games for the greater good).

And even if we do enjoy the game because we immerse ourselves into the theme and revel in the depravity of it, that doesn’t mean we’re going to start acting out that way in real life. Sometimes when we want to escape into a fantasy world, we want to act out on those inner urges of ours in a safe manner where no one gets hurt, assuming there isn’t any rage quitting and table-flipping (see how long those people will last in a group).

More importantly, people like Tom Vasel who make the argument for inclusivity destroy their own case for it in a very short amount of time, exposing the hypocritical nature of that view.

“Well you know what!? My daughter did care! And I think that’s where we’re kinda missing the point here. I know somebody who cared. My wife cares. Those are 2 people, and frankly, they’re more important to me than any of those people you mentioned. But it’s not just them, there are other people. And every time they say, ‘I don’t really like this. This makes me feel uncomfortable,’ it seems like there’s a course of peoples saying, ‘Well you shouldn’t be uncomfortable, that’s not that big of a deal.’ Hey! They said it was a big deal!

— Tom Vasel

You know what, you’re right, it is a big deal. It’s become a big deal because of how inclusive this hobby is becoming. And because it’s a big deal now, I’ll point this out. Tom Vasel may care about his wife and daughter, and care that they mean more to him than anyone else, and thus has their interests and preferences at heart over the preferences of everyone else, and that’s fine. That just means he’ll have to focus on getting games that they will enjoy. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to care. Because me, personally, I don’t give a fuck about your daughter, I don’t give a fuck about your wife, I don’t give a damn about any of them. I only give a damn about me and the people I play with who enjoy the games that appeal to me. If I ever get a family, that might change, or it might not. For all I know, I might get a wife and make a kid who have crap tastes in games, and I may never want to play with either of them. Therefore, I’d be spending quality family time with them separate from my board game hobby, spend quality time at work supporting them, myself, and my hobby; and when I can, spend quality time gaming with the people I enjoy gaming with. And if you or your family came along to my gaming group and said you were uncomfortable with what we were playing, then we would kindly tell you to go away somewhere where you will be more comfortable. Besides, dealing with uncomfortable issues and situations is an inevitable part of life. Deal with it.

Also, Tom used to say, “Real men play board games.” The thing is, he wasn’t far off. It’s a hobby men primarily dominate because it’s a biological thing backed by science. Men in general prefer certain things women in general don’t, and vice-versa. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t women gamers. They tend to be few and far between, but they are there, and some of them are fantastic players. I got my ass kicked all over the table over a game of Dominant Species and Evolution because of a female gamer who owned everyone. She was a true gamer, a gamer’s gamer, a role model for gamers. Those are the type of women I would love to game with, those capable of playing the more gamer’s games, less of that lighthearted party game fluff. She may not have been a man, but she certainly had enough of a masculine (ie tomboy) attitude to fit the description. I would prefer to game with her than hundreds of other people (mostly men, some women), I’ve played with over the years. Because ultimately, if the individual can play the type of games I enjoy, and play them well, I’m not going to care at all if they’re a man, woman, black, white, minority, majority, whatever. Because that’s what I want when it comes to the board gaming hobby for me personally, and everyone else who thinks otherwise be damned.

1102trweb_07+2010_southeast_showdown_truck_show+hooters_girls_twister

Note: And I just know someone is going to come along and use the line, “Because you think less of a company for publishing a game,” against me to point out that, in a similar fashion, I shouldn’t think less of a company for not publishing a game, I disagree. You know why? Because a decision like that implies they think less of those who wanted a game like that, and think more highly of those who prefer whatever other pansy game (I’m exaggerating for the sake of humor when adding the “pansy” adjective here, and using it as an adjective, for those of you who aim to point me out as a hypocrite) they plan on publishing for whatever other customers that want it. That shows it’s not a company with my interests in mind, so they won’t get my money or support. Some other game company, such as CMON, who actually has a pair of balls, will get my support. The money I intended to spend for some game with that company I used to like, will now go towards a company that I still like. That especially goes for companies who censor games (and yes, censor, I’ve been over that definition and showed that it applies) for “the hot 3” reasons, because those reasons are terrible reasons.

“The moral training of games is surely to be seen in the way that the player of them has to balance the different goals of the game. Life is perhaps less simple with its paradoxes less clear cut, but in it too we find a variety of ends, in the achieving of which we have to sacrifice other prizes.”
— The Philosophy of Leisure, edited by Tom Winnifrith and Cyril Barrett

PS: If BGG mods take this blog down, no worries, I’ll have it backed up on a blog site that I’ll link to should that happen. I’ve learned to take precautions against that sort of thing. Call it a gamer’s intuition.

Links to other threads that got caught up in a similar discussion:
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2168809/colonialism-theme-board-games
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1153313/women-depicted-boardgame-art-publishers-conundrum
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1225866/days-wonder-responds-slave-controversy
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1215170/slaves-really
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1832085/slavery-cards

2 thoughts on “What is censorship in the face of sensitivity?

  1. I am the designer of a game called “Scramble for Africa”. It is NOT the game of the same name that was the subject of the GMT controversy. However, it is the game whose banner you have posted here. I don’t want myself or my game dragged into this controversy, so I would appreciate it if you would remove it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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