SJWs, Alt-Right, and Fascists, Oh My! Real World Horrors in RPGs
There's a lot of controversy going on with the latest incarnation of Vampire: The Masquerade. Apparently, in the new Camarilla book Vampires are posited as being behind the Chehen anti-gay purges - somehow related to hiding the true threat of Sharia law or something. To be honest, I found the editing of the text a little hard to follow.
White Wolf's owners, Paradox Interactive, has announced they are recalling a pair of books with such offending text as well as exercising greater control over White Wolf and no longer developing products in-house.
The backlash has ranged from "about time" to "they're not really taking responsibility" to "they are caving into social justice warriors".
I'm thinking a bit about what I would consider to be, at best, a horribly clumsy attempt at including real-world horrors into an RPG. At worst, it was an act of ill intent, trivializing the real suffering of LGBT people to push an agenda I find abhorrent. Truthfully, I'm not familiar enough with the particulars to judge. It's something I've really only seen at the periphery. I do know that I'm not fond of a number of people involved in the 5th edition - but I'm not certain as to their current status.
I also know that when I was most familiar with Vampire:the Masquerade, in the early to mid-1990s, the audience was a very diverse group. I knew a number of women who were fans of the game. Ditto many people of LGBT identity. Lots of goths. When I attended a Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie concert in 1995 there were a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade t-shirts in the audience.
I'm a proud "social justice warrior". I've protested Trump's anti-immigration and refugee policies at Copley Square. I've attended Pride parades in Boston. I fall pretty much on the side of "WTF were they thinking?" I've friends of a variety of politics. I freely acknowledge that it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree with each other. I was once a Libertarian-leaning Republican who is now a liberal Democrat. But I draw the line at people who embrace hatred and cruelty. Much to my shock and horror, I've encountered a few actual, "Hitler was right" fascists. And there I don't have tolerance.
There's a lot real-life horrible stuff happening in Chechnya, particularly to people of LGBT identity. A horror game will likely find itself face to face with real-world horrors. But what does one do about it? I get the argument that a game - or fiction - is not obligated to ignore such horrors. And I'd understand people not wanting to read or watch them. But if such horrors are included, I believe they need to be done with care and sensitivity that was clearly not shown here. Again, assuming no ill intent.
Where I think White Wolf went wrong is turning acts of real-world horror into "a vampire did it". When I play historical games I avoid making supernatural beings the causes for real-world horrors. In my opinion, it cheapens them. It takes away from the fact that real people chose to perpetrate horrors such as the Killing Fields, the Holocaust, American slavery, Native American genocide, Armenian genocide, trench warfare, etc.
I find fiction works better when they keep that maxim in mind. For example, the recent Wonder Woman film rejected the notion that Ares, god of war, was behind World War I. He took advantage of the war, but humanity caused the war without any divine help. In Atomic Robo, Baron Heinrich von Helsingard allied himself with the Nazis to be able to use their resources, but he was not behind their atrocities. He was a monster of a human being who had no problem dealing out death and destruction. But he was not some man behind the shadows causing the Third Reich so as to have a smoke screen for his work.
I want to touch on the "snowflake" pejorative. Not wanting one's entertainment to be filled with real-world horrors does not make one a snowflake. You're not weak if you are triggered by something horrible. I've family who deal with PTSD - they're not weak for avoiding things that trigger them. It's reasonable for a parent of young children to not want to play a game that features the death/kidnapping of children. With an LGBT player in my group, I don't believe I'd use an adventure that involved the killings of such people. I'd exercise an abundance of caution about introducing things that might trigger friends and family. And if as GM you shove such things down your players throats, knowing such sensitivities, that makes you an asshole.