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The Source of My Annoyance
morans
kent_allard_jr
I feel bad that I don't update this journal more often. Hell, I feel bad for not doing much at all these days. Occasionally, though, I feel compelled to write something. Sometimes it's out of pride, other times it's out of annoyance.

In my last entry I wrote about designing a fantasy campaign based, loosely, on sub-Saharan African cultures and legends. I said it was inspired by a discussion of The Witcher, specifically about its lack of non-white characters. Now agrumer commented on it, and I'm sorry I never got a chance to respond.

agrumer pointed out that The Witcher was a fantasy world, and many fantasy worlds (such as D&D worlds) are filled with silly and anachronistic elements. I'm aware of this -- and I'm no fan of The Witcher, or "generic" pseudo-Tolkien fantasy in general -- but I don't see that as something to emulate or extend.

I take world-building seriously as an art form of its own, and one of the principles is that fantasy worlds should resemble our own unless they have a good reason not to (and you have to explain why they don't). In our world, people come in distinctly different "races" because their ancestors come from geographically separated regions of the globe, whether by choice or not. Either they just arrived, or laws or customs have prevented them from interbreeding to the point that they're no longer discrete groups.

Now there's nothing wrong with having fantasy cities that are harmonious mosaics of different races and cultures. They've existed throughout history! But the critique of The Witcher suggested that all fantasy settings should look like that, and that is something I can't accept.

Still, I really do see the value in more diverse characters and stories. That's why I come up with my Africaesque fantasy setting. Of course, something like that can be considered "problematic" too. And today we have an example.

Once again, I feel forced to defend something I'm not all that fond of. Rowling's take on pre-Columbian magic is extremely vague and is all of four paragraphs. Still, it's clear that the "native appropriations" author isn't upset at this because it's too brief. She's upset that Rowling wrote about Native American traditions at all. As she says, "That you don’t need to know. It’s not for you to know." The lesson is: Don't write about Native American people, write about white people. But have more diverse characters!

This is what I find so frustrating about these topics. The approach is to assume people are being rude and insensitive (i.e., sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.) all the time, to see all actions -- including opposite actions -- as confirmation of this assumption, and use any attempt to argue against these claims as a personal affront. Then, those who embrace this approach think they're being model citizens! They're not being obnoxious, self-righteous jerks, they think they're changing the world for the better. It's no wonder we've seen so little progress over the past forty years.

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You misunderstood the point of my comment about invented worlds. The point isn’t that the setting of The Witcher is an invented world, and therefore could have had unrealistic diversity. Rather, since it’s an invented world, it could have had realistic diversity.

If we opened up a time-door into ancient Rome, would we see only ethnic Italians, or would we see lots of people from all over Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, plus maybe a smattering of people from either farther away? Likewise if we looked instead at Jerusalem, or a large city along the Silk Road?

OK, sure, you might say, but what about the Medieval period, and what about rural regions and more remote parts of the globe? Well, check this out: A woman from Sub-Saharan Africa somehow made her way to Gloucester, England in the 9th or 10th century CE.

There have been times and places that were mono-racial, but plenty of historical times and places were diverse (or at least had some diversity). If you’re setting up an invented world, you’re making choices about what you’re copying.

Oh, there'd be plenty of diversity in a place like Rome, although even there you'd be talking, largely, of different shades of white folks. And yeah, there would be an occasional Ibn Battuta / Marco Polo far traveler like your African woman. And it's not as if I would object to such characters; players introduce them all the time into my D&D campaigns and I'm fine with them.

Here's my fundamental take, to give you some idea where I'm coming from: I don't like prigs and scolds, and I dislike them as much on the left as on the right. The reason I get so angry at the left-wing prigs is that my friends RT them with admiration and say "go get 'em girl!" I don't see them as people who are making the world a better place; I seem them as self-appointed, self-righteous bullies. And I feel obligated to defend their targets, if I can see a reason to defend them. (Obviously, some actions really are indefensible, and some folks deserve to get ripped.)

So I'm inclined, most of the time, to give creators the benefit of the doubt, even when I'm not a fan of their work. So yes, I'm happy to see more ethnic diversity in fiction, but to enforce this as some kind of requirement, and demand that every rural village look like a Captain Planet posse, really rubs me the wrong way.

OK, but the problem with that (well, a problem) is that you wind up defending the worldbuilding abilities of JK Rowling, whose worldbuilding has always sucked.

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