Racism in the Classic Setting

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Nvision
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Racism in the Classic Setting

Post by Nvision » Mon Nov 12, 2012 4:54 pm

I'm just curious as to how (or if) others address the issue of racism in the game. This also extends to sexism and classism. As these elements were fairly prevalent in the 1920's are they ever present in your games? Personally, I've addressed it on occasion through the attitudes of certain NPCs in a few scenarios, and it played it fairly major role when I ran "The Plantation" for my group. Have you had players run characters of varied race and had it affect the way other characters interact in the game? Have you run games with non-caucasian or female players and still had these negative elements surface during a story?

It's a very touchy subject, and I think it has a lot to do with the level of maturity and familiarity of the people playing. If handled properly, I think it can add a level of horror to the game, as such attitudes can seem as out of place and disturbing as any shambling tentacled mass the players may encounter.

I've not run a Gaslight scenario, but I assume attitudes would be even more intensely polarized during the period...

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Re: Racism in the Classic Setting

Post by Keeper Jon » Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:28 pm

Yes, depending on the scenario being played, the groups I've been with role-play racism either very seriously, or very tongue-in-cheek. If we're playing it seriously, then it is usually in a scenario where the element of racism has some kind of bearing on the game. If we're playing tongue-in-cheek, we limit our role-play of racism to dissing on the Irish, or Scotts, or English; since those rivalies are so old and, (for the most part), water under the bridge in modern times.

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Re: Racism in the Classic Setting

Post by Keeper Dan » Tue Nov 13, 2012 12:25 am

While certainly historically relevant, I've never really emphasized those aspects in my games. I'll let some NPCs show their bias by using some derogatory remarks, but I haven't really used the usual slurs. Now that I think about it, I've not had a PC that was non-white, so that hasn't really come up. I have been fortunate enough to play with women on many occasions, and I'll throw some general things their way to show that women have "their place" in the eyes of many men. This usually gets fun as most of the female PCs in my games are in professional careers and their players enjoy the opportunity to lay into some small-minded jerk. :flamer:
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Dr. Gerard
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Re: Racism in the Classic Setting

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:13 am

Yup, I've had a few bumps in this area. I've had players from minority groups at my table before, and we ended up chatting out-of-character about Lovecraft's outdated attitudes and the racist underpinnings of his work. It was a good discussion, and it helped to address the topic head-on from the outset. For in-game, I avoided pushing those elements very strongly. I'm not sure avoidance is really the best strategy, but that's what I was comfortable with.

Come to think of it, I made quite a lot of story out of conflicts between Portuguese, Italian and Irish immigrants in a Kingsport campaign I once ran. Like Jon, I suppose shifting the race elements to European groups was my way of putting class and race into a 'safer' context. Players from minority groups were at the table, but all decided independently to play white characters in this New England setting.

It's interesting that, on the other hand, gender discrimination has come up as an in-game element fairly regularly when playing with with female players. As Dan said, it tends to come up in a playful way, baiting PCs with comments from sexist NPCs, or making it part of the challenge of the role play -- and it seems somehow more safe than doing so with race. A female doctor in the classic era, for example, would get a lot of dismissive comments from NPCs or have a patient refuse to be treated. I don't think it would be quite so playful to use racial slurs and enforce segregation against a black PC -- unless everyone at the table specifically wants to explore those elements.

There is something quite awkward about having a white Keeper try to render what discrimination would have been like to, say, a black character in an era of segregation. Something about that makes me uneasy, and I'm not sure I'd be up to the challenge. Likewise, having non-minority players running a minority character could be dicey.

There's a KKK sourcebook out there somewhere, and there are written scenarios that put race at the center of the story. I'd be willing to run them, but to be honest I probably wouldn't choose them over other scenarios.

There are a lot of displaced race elements built into the Mythos. We just talked about shoggoths on the show -- those are an unsophisticated slave race bred for work by their alien masters, who revolt and end up destroying the civilization of their 'makers.' There's a lot of xenophobia in the DNA of that story. The characters in At the Mountains of Madness basically end up being sympathetic with the Elder Things, which is kind of at the core of that story's horror.

So I do think it can be a great horror element, but seems to me you have to have complete buy-in from players and Keeper if you want to push those buttons. I think it's perfectly reasonable to hand-wave these things in the interest of fun, if players are sensitive to such issues. We don't generally play this game to hammer out the problems of the world.
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Nvision
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Re: Racism in the Classic Setting

Post by Nvision » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:37 pm

Excellent points and perspectives, all. This is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for.

I've had run-ins with the topic both as a player and keeper. Once I played in a game where another player was playing a character who was part of a Chicago crime family, working with another who was essentially in a "managerial" role. He was an actor and played the character to the hilt, including very colourful language and clearly defined opinions of other races and genders. Once, when he was trying to fast talk a particularly repellent warehouse manager, he was relating his disdain for the, "darkies and kikes." This was immediately met with furtive, worried glances towards me, being the only Jewish guy at the table (probably in that part of the city). I shrugged it off, as I understand it's the character talking, and I really do appreciate the level of immersion it gives to the narrative (plus, I've heard and seen far worse).

It did introduce a level of discussion after the game that was very informative, and a nice counter-balance to the evening's escapism.

At my own table, I've had elements present in gameplay a few times, and I feel comfortable doing so because I know my players quite well. I doubt I'd ever attempt this at a convention game... In The Plantation, since it seemed appropriate, this became a major stumbling block for the investigators. Travelling with Little Joe brought them plenty of looks, and a reduced Credit Rating chance when dealing with certain individuals. It was most influential to their plans and play-style when travelling to South Carolina by train. They initially all bought first-class tickets, but soon discovered Joe wasn't allowed in that section of the train, or even in standard coach. They had to split the party, and one stayed in the "Jim Crow" car with Little Joe, drawing a mixture of amusement, suspicion, and hostility from the other passengers therein. Consequently, Little Joe and his chaperon bypassed the horrors that took place further up in the train ;)

Little things like that can add some grit to the setting, if that's what your players are looking for. Something as simple as detailing the police attitudes to crime involving minorities (Harlem events in Masks of Nyarlathotep would be a good example) can darken the mood significantly, without having to resort to out and out epithets or stereotyping.

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