I have been wanting to write this blog for awhile now, well ever since the Days of Wonder issue with Five Tribes. While I know not everyone will agree with me, I hope this at least sparks a healthy debate as to when it becomes okay to start censoring words or images in games. With the hypersensitivity in the world today towards anything that can be construed as offensive, I see this as a very destructive, divisive and completely hypocritical road we have begun a journey on.
Let’s put out a few examples:
#1 The word slaves in Five Tribes: I personally, am not sure why this was quite so offensive to some and not to others. What is even more mind-boggling is how the issue was simply resolved by replacing one title of a human sect with another title of a human sect but the mechanics or actions of the humans didn’t change one bit. In other words, humans were still being used to function exactly the same and that was somehow okay. What was also disturbing is no one was offended by the use of ivory and the maiming of elephants to get said ivory. Yet, one word, “slave” set off a firestorm like I couldn’t believe. The word slave has definite negative connotations to it, yet there is a whole culture of people who identify in their lifestyle as to being a slave so to them it isn’t negative. So how is it that we can ban or censor a word that has both good and bad meanings? I know in this case Days of Wonder chose to change the word to appease their fans, but the effect is the same.
2. The Confederate Flag: With a the rage over this flag all the sudden there has been such a knee jerk reaction that America is completely divided over it. Amazon has quit selling games with the confederate flag on it, yet they still sell Nazi flags and games with it on them, Che Guevara flags and tons of other paraphernalia that has extremely negative connotations to it. But not the Confederate flag. Can you say hypocrite to the extreme? I’ll also note a recent CNN poll showed that the vast majority of Americans do not see the Confederate Flag as a symbol of hatred. How many board games or wargames have a confederate flag on it? How many have other divisive and controversial icons or memorabilia attached to it? Should we ban them all?
The truth is anything and everything in existence pretty much has a negative connotation to it. We use them in board games all the time. What about American Railroads? Why is that okay to make a board game about a railroad empire when they were built of the backs of Chinese slaves? What about the Pyramids? How come we have game after game that features an empire built completely off of Jewish slaves and yet no one bats an eye? Well then, shouldn’t we then ban or censor any images relating to the use of slaves in 7 Wonders, Kemet or a host of others games that feature pyramids, rail roads built in America and World War II games. This list could go on forever. What about games featuring Colosseums that highlight slaves that were used in games to entertain the public and were killed routinely for sport and no reason what so ever? Any other Roman games, I mean look how they conquered half the world and brutally murdered millions of people in doing so. What about Mongol China?
When will it stop? What would be actually left if you try to ban or censor everything that could be construed as offensive?
This completely harkens back to the late 70’s – early 80’s when very conservative people tried to ban and censor Dungeons & Dragons due to the violent and demonic imagery. There was a mass hysteria about how and what kids could get roped into back then and how they might lose themselves to dark powers or witchcraft and start sacrificing people. Yet some people completely laughed it off and thought it was absolutely ridiculous. To this day, I still see articles about this and people saying how stupid it was, but in reality, it wasn’t to those offended by it. They felt just as offended and as strongly about what they were saying as people today who are offended by the word slaves or flags. Why was it not okay to censor Dungeons and Dragons but it is now okay to censor other games? We spent decades fighting censorship in books and movies claiming the right to be creative and tell our stories or sing our songs and nothing was off topic. Yet now…. we are censorship happy to the extreme. The very same side that fought all this just a couple of decades ago. Wow, the hypocrisy is through the roof on this.
Just think about it. If you try to censor everything that could be offensive, you will have zero things left to use to be creative with. How are we encouraging creativity or honest discussion of our past with censorship? When do we stop censoring offensive things? Are we personally gonna start to censor people’s snarky sarcastic comments because they are offensive? Or are we gonna claim free speech then? It’s great to censor or ban things you don’t like until it affects us personally right?
Censoring things, just because of a negative past is a very, very bad thing to do. We fought long and hard against censorship and the right to have free speech in America whether it is offensive or not.
Also, we can’t just censor some things due to slavery and not all things due to slavery. That would be hypocritical right? Do you personally own games that have images of empires built on the backs of slaves? If you do and you are part of the group that thinks that word should never be used, you better sell all your games that have ANY iconography, images or references to anything slavery was used to build in the history of the world. Otherwise, we are being hypocritical. Yes, I said it. WE are a hypocrite if we fight to censor or ban some things that are horrible but not other things that are just as horrible whether or not they are to us. To be fair, I think everyone is a hypocrite honestly, it’s in our nature, myself included.
Censorship of any kind should never, ever be encouraged or allowed. It simply kills creativity. How would you feel if you created a game and all of a sudden a small ground swell of people started ripping you and your game apart for something in your game that never even occurred to you, but others found it completely insensitive whether it is or not. How does this affect your decision-making going forward? Does it make you gun-shy to continue to create? Does it make you question constantly what you can and can’t use due to the backlash of people who may find offense for no reason?
I see all kinds of people who get upset over certain issues but then when I run a poll the vast majority are not offended at all by what the topic was, but the vocal minority make it feel the other way. Do we let them dictate what we can or can’t use to create? Or do we not use anything that could be deemed offensive to try to not offend people? I mean we already know that no matter what we do, someone will be offended or not happy with the product. Should that really be the driving force when making decisions with our creativity?
Just look at the social media justice warriors that completely jump all over every movie that comes out today and find 8 million things wrong with it even when it really isn’t there. Remember how Maleficent endorsed rape or how Jurassic World is completely sexist? What about the recent E.L. James issues? How people claim she endorsing all this rape and manipulation of another? Well, if all this is true? Why is the best-selling book series of all time if it is so offensive? Do you really think these people are trying to be what these people on the internet claim? Remember, the whole argument that we all used to justify what we wanted to see in a movie or read? Fiction isn’t real. Oh, wait… now it is real, or real enough anyway that people are so easily influenced as to actually let these images and words influence our behavior.
How come we aren’t back to censoring music then again? How come we haven’t banned rap music with all of the violence and the way women are spoken about in many of the songs? The threats to police? Why is this okay and no one is rallying against it? I mean music is the most influential of all media out there according to every study ever done. If these are issues and mediums that truly influence us, why isn’t this happening?
Now please understand, I am not advocating to purposely be offensive. Quite the contrary actually. What I am advocating is we not cower to censorship just because someone might be offended. Censorship has and always will kill creativity. That is not acceptable in any form. At least in America, we have the right to free speech for a reason. Some even use it to hurt others, but that is their right to do so as wrong as it may be. Once you advocate censorship on any level, you might not like the final results down the road.
Ask yourself and be completely honest. Do I own ANYTHING that could be construed as hateful or controversial? If we do and we rally against other things, we need to stand by our words and get rid of everything that could be offensive to other people. If we don’t, we are being a hypocrite.
Then we need to ask ourselves, what is the true cost of censorship? What does it do to our culture, our entertainment? How does it affect our greatest artists and creators? Is it worth it? What is the true impact censorship brings to us in the long run? When is it going to far? When are we going to learn that censorship on any level is wrong?
Or is it just okay to censor things when WE find offense with something?
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