Matt Stevens (kent_allard_jr) wrote,
Matt Stevens

The Source of My Annoyance

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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