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Bonham R wrote:
Say you have a board game about cotton plantations. Someone will be offended if you ignore the concept that slave labor fueled them and don't include it and some will be offended if you do include a mechanic that acknowledges it.

I think that a better question is that if someone made a boardgame about running competing cotton plantations, including slave auctions, slave punishments, and effectively managing expenses on slave feeding and housing by losing a few per turn if slave plots spoil, or vermin get out of control and disease takes root, quelling riots and employing slave catchers - and the winner was the plantation owner who ended the game with the most money - would you say that was much ado about nothing?

And people always bring up WWII wargames with a Nazi side as a red herring - where's the game where each player manages roundup of Jews, Communists, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and dissidents, the logistics of transportations, locating and fitting out of concentration camps, keeping enough healthy that they can be used to produce for the war effort or contracted out as slave labor to private companies, exterminating and executing properly so that non-productive camp inmates don't have to be fed, but you can still avoid riots, organizing prisoner showcase events for visiting Nazi officials, experimenting on special prisoners for scientific information to help the war effort, and liquidating as many as possible and destroying as many records as possible before the Allies reach the camp? Victory points are given for the amount of respect points given by the Nazi party minus the amount of evidence and number of survivors at the end of the war - would that be much ado about nothing?

I simply don't think it would be. I agree with the OP.

I'm not even saying that games like that shouldn't be made. I'm saying that games like that have a certain responsibility for a seriousness of treatment, and a serious discussion about what victory means. This is about ethics, not censorship - everybody should be able to make whatever game they want from whatever perspective they want.

But, to defend a presentation that demands that you identify in this way as "somebody will get offended about anything," or "it's just a game," or my favorite argument, "oh, please" is completely empty.
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> Should we just ignore a part of history and pretend it didn't exist?

I do wish Stefan had been a little clearer about this central problem with Mombasa, which is that it ignores a part of history and pretends it didn't exist.

What's troubling about Mombasa, and many other games, is not that they portray "unsavory" history, but that they don't. Only one set of human concerns exists in the world of Mombasa: the concerns of the white Europeans. Mombasa treats the actual human story of Africa as an externality. Something that doesn't matter.

There are people who are always confused about why Puerto Rico gets criticized for depicting slavery and Struggle of Empires doesn't. It's simple. Puerto Rico's depiction of slaves is, "These are colonists, not slaves." Struggle of Empires says, "You're goddamned right these are slaves, we're slavers and we make money off abducting human beings and working them to death against their will."

Even in Archipelago, which treats the original inhabitants of the land as two kinds of resource to be managed, they're at least part of the freaking story. You forcibly convert some of them, kill others, buy them off with food, and use them to work your holdings, because you're colonialists, and by God that's what colonialists do.

Imagine, if you will, a game about the founding of the modern state of Israel, in which players expanded from a tiny settlement, establishing agricultural kibbutzes and rural villages early in the game, laying out roads and water systems, and eventually building up universities and high-tech industry. I believe that most people would recognize omitting any mention of the Arab inhabitants of the region (to say nothing of the wars) as a political act.

Mombasa's treatment of Africa is a political act too. So is pretending that it doesn't matter.
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COGGaming wrote:
I came here with a question for the OP, though, rather than wanting to share my perspective on the overall topic. Would you still have an issue if a game allowed players to take on multiple perspectives, rather than just a Euro-centric colonialist one? For example, A Distant Plain in the COIN series lets players (or NPCs in the absence of players) play as the Coalition forces, Afghani government, tribal warlords, and the Taliban; Fire in the Lake does something similar for Vietnam, and are the two in the series I think approach thematically illustrating my question the best. If a similar game released that cast one or more players in the role of European nations, and remaining players as indigenous or exploited parties, all with asymmetric victory conditions, would you consider that more palatable? The "glorification" of the European perspective is still present in the victory conditions for that/those factions, but it's juxtaposed with a more comprehensive picture with the inclusion of other factions that are not automatically relegated to game-controlled background noise.

Basically wondering if you'd consider any inclusion of the colonialist perspective offensive, or if it's the lack of immediate context and alternative perspective that's really the issue for you in a game like Mombasa?
I'm not Stefan, but I find that a really interesting angle to consider and one that enriches the discussion as opposed to the hand-waving of those determined to treat any theme as "no big deal" or "just a game".

In a game with opposing forces such as COIN games there's an acknowledgment that at least one side has to play as the bad guys. I know it's not that black and white in reality and even in the COIN games themselves, but that's what it essentially boils down to if we want to summarize the experience--one or more sides play the good guys and one or more side the bad guys. At that point it becomes almost a role-playing exercise where the bad guys embrace their role and try to achieve their nefarious goals to win. Does that mean they're doing something bad in reality? Of course not. And in the COIN games where who is good vs. who is bad is so blurred that it's no longer clear, there's even more potential for shades of grey and the roleplaying, discussion, and enlightenment that comes from such a nuanced approach.

So what's the problem with games like Mombasa that have an (let's just say for diplomatic reasons) "uncomfortable" theme? Perhaps nothing in general, but Mombasa in particular takes a half-hearted stab at addressing it at the beginning of the rulebook, then the game itself is entirely built around maximizing the very exploitation that is repugnant about this era of history. I believe I've seen (and if I'm mistaken please correct me) the designer try to explain this away by claiming it's some kind of alternate history where the exploitation didn't occur. What? Either own the theme or don't. The token explanation in the rulebook and attempts after the fact to wash away the theme contribute to the feeling that this game isn't even comfortable with its own theme, so why should we players accept it?

Does playing Mombasa make you a bad person? Of course not. But I would challenge everybody to at least engage the topic and make a conscious decision whether competing to see who can be the best colonialist exploiter of the African people and resources is an acceptable use of your time. Let's not turn off our brains and our hearts just to have a good time. At least give it some serious thought and don't wave off the opposing view without a fair shake.

There are some who say it's just a game and don't be so serious. Everybody is welcome to their opinion, but please don't tell us who care about it to turn off our consciences and abstract away an unsavory theme in the name of enjoying a game. No mechanically brilliant game is worth going against one's conscience with regard to theme no matter how good the game design.

tl;dr: I don't have all the answers but have a strongly held view, currently on the side of those repulsed by the theme but coming into it relatively open-minded and very interested in the discussion and where it might lead.

tl;dr2: Mombasa's half-hearted attempt to address then whitewash the theme is infuriating.
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David desJardins
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UhhhClem wrote:
Mombasa's treatment of Africa is a political act too. So is pretending that it doesn't matter.

MentatYP wrote:
Everybody is welcome to their opinion, but please don't tell us who care about it to turn off our consciences and abstract away an unsavory theme in the name of enjoying a game.

It's interesting to me to contrast these two statements. I certainly wouldn't tell anyone to ignore how they feel. There's obviously no reason to play a game that you dislike. But, still, I am indifferent to the theme of Mombasa; it is too abstract and unrelated to actual history for me to take is seriously. So I don't think I'm "pretending" it doesn't matter, I think it really doesn't matter, to me. If it matters to someone else, of course that's up to them.
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pharmakon wrote:
I think that a better question is that if someone made a boardgame about running competing cotton plantations, including slave auctions, slave punishments, and effectively managing expenses on slave feeding and housing by losing a few per turn if slave plots spoil, or vermin get out of control and disease takes root, quelling riots and employing slave catchers - and the winner was the plantation owner who ended the game with the most money - would you say that was much ado about nothing?

I'd celebrate a game that accurately depicted the institution of slavery. In fact I would hope that in such a game, treating slaves humanely would be a losing strategy, and that the most effective winning strategy could be to get your plantation to the point where you could supplement your agricultural income by breeding your slaves and selling their children.

At a time when the Texas Board of Education promotes textbooks that prefer the word "worker" to "slave," a game like this would be welcome. Though maybe not in Texas.
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But, still, I am indifferent to the theme of Mombasa; it is too abstract and unrelated to actual history for me to take is seriously. So I don't think I'm "pretending" it doesn't matter, I think it really doesn't matter, to me.

A fair point, particularly given the ambiguity in what I meant by "it."
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The point at which these arguments fail is the point in which they ignore the arguable birth of boardgames in the subject matter of war. These same people are not demanding that 80% of the board games in existence be "shamed" for their aggressive use of the mechanic. War, a conflict which drives rape, murder, and every kind of abuse- including slavery is used broadly, excitedly, and which much "fist bumping." Using people (soldiers) as pawns, to sacrifice or for the most insignificant gains on a whim. To remove the parts of history we don't like is whitewashing, and far more disrespectful than the inclusion. And it's always white people picking up the pitchforks over these topics, once again belittling the people of color whose opinion should be asked. Kinda like when on here a bunch of dudes argue over whether or not female depictions are sexist, rather than asking the women here to comment. It's not up to white people to determine what should offend everyone else.
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I don't know how so many board gamers can have discussions about the cultural or socio-political implications of games as though this conversation hasn't already advanced to far outpace the rhetorical resistance to it in the community, as demonstrated already in this thread. This entire discussion has already been taking place for decades in the video game community and the RPG and story game communities, and we would be wise to learn from them. Their focus on narrative is far stronger than the board game community's, and that has lead to far more nuanced and constructive discussions of representation, player role, agency, and purpose. There are things that guide game design decisions and player incentivization beyond "fun," "fit," "math," "sales," and "expectations".

There are video games about war where you aren't a soldier, but a civilian or even a child just trying to survive war's horrors, even one so successful it's now been made into a board game. There are video games about soldiers in war that are sure to take the time to emphasize the monstrosities visited upon war's participants, question culpability of covert operatives in civilian massacres, and criticize militant nationalism. There are comedic puzzle video games and mutant scifi action shooters that both become massive hits despite also actively dealing with issues of agency, free will, coercion, and identity through creative usurpation of the expectations inherent to playing the protagonist and the expected forms of the medium like objective-setting omniscient narration. There are horror video games that revolve around unravelling the myriad tendrils of guilt, betrayal, fear and loss resulting from the death of a loved one or similar trauma. There are video games that try to get you to understand a little more about what it's like living with various mental illnesses, and fostering empathy for people in those struggles, whether through fantastical settings and representations or the twisting of realistic ones, and games that try to help those with such circumstances feel better or treat their disorder. And there are story games about just about everything, including how undeniably shitty it is to be colonized.

Iain Simons wrote:
The rise of videogames over the past 40 years has been as unstoppable and exciting as it has been confusing and chaotic. They can be potent and remarkable new modes of expression, as well as harmful intoxicants of our children.

This remarkable new artform – the offspring of pretty much every media form that preceded it – has found its way into almost every part of our lives. For a form that’s so ubiquitous, progressive and so loved by many, it seems extraordinary that we still need to make a case for videogames as a key part of modern culture.

And yet, few cultural institutions have a policy to address or support them. Is it a resistance to the very idea of games as culture?

Of course, for anyone who is immersed in the fringes of contemporary videogames practice, it seems ludicrous to be even flagging this as an issue. Artists/developers are reinventing what we thought games can be with increasing regularity, pushing them toward new kinds of expression, theme and intention.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/20...

It saddens me to see the board game community regularly reject higher, more nuanced discussions of the functions board games can play in society and interpersonal interactions, and how they have their own logics, make their own arguments, and advance their own ideologies; while the video game community has already been fighting hard to establish just such a discussion amongst their consumers, developers, and publishers. Board gamers like to have a haughty air of sophistication and enlightenment, often trying to place themselves above "other gamers" who just want "mindless action" and "flashy graphics." But here we are, yet again, denigrating the kinds of discussions that have lead to some of the biggest indie video game successes.

Criticizing blandly repetitive and oppressive perspectives on deeply political and troubling issues like colonialism and war in board games does nothing to try and forget or ignore these issues' place in history, or the present day. In fact, it is, literally, very much engaging with this real history, or present, in a way that the game being critiqued explicitly chooses to avoid. If anything erases this history, it's creating an entertainment product that completely pretends nothing bad happened because of that history, that we can look back on it now all in good fun.

"War [and colonialism] always happens at somebody's doorstep."
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JM Bosch wrote:
It saddens me to see the board game community regularly reject higher, more nuanced discussions of the functions board games can play in society and interpersonal interactions, and how they have their own logics, make their own arguments, and advance their own ideologies;

I don't see how that has anything to do with this. Who's saying that board games can't do those things? But a game can also be just a game. That's certainly true of video games also. One can certainly have opinions about whether GTA V is harmful or innocuous, without considering at all the notion of other games that play a different kind of role entirely.
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Not every game needs to be about doing good or somehow rising above history on a morality front. I love Mombasa. I love it because it's an excellent economic game. I love it because had I not played it I may not have gone out to Youtube and watched videos going over the history of this time period. I love it because it makes me feel good to win it.

Am I exploiting the african continent and subjecting people and resources for profit? Absolutely! 100%! I'm not only content with doing that but actually excited by it and I don't think that makes me a bad person.

In the same way that exterminating an opposing faction in a game like Eclipse, or Risk, doesn't make me a bad person.

In the same way that pretending to be Hitler in Secret Hitler and getting off on fooling my opponents doesn't make me a bad person.

In the same way that dumping a company, or placing a station token completely screws over my opponent in an 18xx game doesn't make me a bad person.

In the same way that I'm not the least bit concerned about nuking an entire continent or releasing a bio weapon for the sole purpose to commit Genocide in Dirk Knemeyer's Tomorrow doesn't make me a bad person.

In the same way that I actively hunt and kill other human beings in a game like Counter Strike or Call of Duty doesn't make me a bad person.

Games are not meant to be serious. They are meant to be fun. Sometimes they are meant to be an outlet or to let us safely visit a dark side of ourselves while we play them. Sometimes they are about making a better world (Freedom: The Underground Railroad) and sometimes they are about being callously ruthless (18xx & Mombasa) while exploiting other players and the game itself.

I find it very difficult to condemn Mombasa or the designers on the theme of this game simply because it was a messed up time in human history where the British, French and the Dutch were exploiting Africa for it's own gain. In the same way that I don't condemn the designers of The Oregon Trail (video game) just because the US were exploiting the Native American people during that time. It would be ridiculous to do so.
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UhhhClem wrote:
pharmakon wrote:
I think that a better question is that if someone made a boardgame about running competing cotton plantations, including slave auctions, slave punishments, and effectively managing expenses on slave feeding and housing by losing a few per turn if slave plots spoil, or vermin get out of control and disease takes root, quelling riots and employing slave catchers - and the winner was the plantation owner who ended the game with the most money - would you say that was much ado about nothing?

I'd celebrate a game that accurately depicted the institution of slavery. In fact I would hope that in such a game, treating slaves humanely would be a losing strategy, and that the most effective winning strategy could be to get your plantation to the point where you could supplement your agricultural income by breeding your slaves and selling their children.

At a time when the Texas Board of Education promotes textbooks that prefer the word "worker" to "slave," a game like this would be welcome. Though maybe not in Texas.

I agree 100%.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JM Bosch wrote:
It saddens me to see the board game community regularly reject higher, more nuanced discussions of the functions board games can play in society and interpersonal interactions, and how they have their own logics, make their own arguments, and advance their own ideologies;

I don't see how that has anything to do with this. Who's saying that board games can't do those things? But a game can also be just a game. That's certainly true of video games also. One can certainly have opinions about whether GTA V is harmful or innocuous, without considering at all the notion of other games that play a different kind of role entirely.

The issue with "a game can also just be a game" is that it almost never is always and only "just a game". Even with pure abstracts there are different skill-learning routines going on that encourage different types of information processing at the cost of others. And advancing the argument that any particular game "is just a game" is a very political act that places judgements on that game and others, particularly when it is made in response to an individual trying to start a bigger, critical discussion of how that game is very much not "just a game," but advances harmful, real world ideologies. Games, like all activities and representations, are embedded in the time, place, environment, and community they are designed, produced, and played in.

Aside from that, people are repeatedly, intentionally misrepresenting Stefan's post in ways that only make sense if you are under the impression that the logics, arguments, and ideologies in an entertainment product can not have any bearing on reality whatsoever, and/or you reject an honest or nuanced analysis of these elements in such a product. People are arguing that selection of theme and embodiment of theme are neutral, and even a blanket positive because it "brings awareness" to troubled historic events, completely ignoring what the game and its gameplay say about those events. A game representing slavery is not automatically good or mature because it "brings awareness" to a difficult issue, nor is one that avoids any actual real-world peoples or events automatically bad or juvenile because it doesn't. You can make a game about a real, particular exploitation in a wide array of ways, many critical, many revelatory, and many pretending to be neutral. But much of the discussion here has simply been "this theme is based on real history, so it's good." or "themes that are fantastical or abstract are trying to avoid real issues." or "it's just a game." or "why do you want to cover up dark parts of history?" or "don't like it? don't but it." etc. etc. These are not nuanced arguments. They are ideological rejections of any consideration for how a theme is actually built and manifested in a game, and how the gameplay does or does not comment on that.

Obviously not every single person here or in the boardgame community at large is guilty of that, but it is painfully common, so much so that Stefan had to pre-empt it in his first post.

johtara wrote:
I feel sorry for you. You must be spending a lot of time analysing books, films, theatrical plays with "inappropriate" themes.
Don Smith wrote:
I would guess that 90%+ of people realize "It's just a game" after briefly recognizing the veneer of "theme" and move on. ... I respect your position but prefer to play games, both Euro and others, which are based on historical situations rather than bland generic cube-pushers.
doctoryes0 wrote:
Pushing cardboard doodads around a table and exploiting a land and its people.

Judging and insulting people you don't know online and doing something real to reduce the amount of actual suffering in the world that exists outside your front door.
hestiansun wrote:
With regards to the OP's point, I can totally understand it. I don't necessarily agree that we need to completely bury all dark chapters of human history, lock them away, and never discuss them, ...
Where in the hell does Stefan say anything even remotely approaching that?? Oh right, he didn't. Nor did he say anything like this:
hestiansun wrote:

You may think that playing such a game is tantamount to being the oppressor of indigenous populations, but to others it is literally just a different way to push cubes around. Your criticism of them is, I feel, is misplaced.
da pyrate wrote:
Should vegans playing Agricola consume their animals?

Should wargames be able to use nuclear weapons?

Is it really okay to kill zombies?

It is a game. I suspect it is a bit tongue in cheek.

Personally, one of the things I like about games is that they allow me to do things that I can't do as part of my dAily routine at work.
kaziam wrote:
The more games we have about dark aspects of history, the more likely we will recognize parallels in our current political milieu. While some may take a heroic slant such as Freedom: The Underground Railroad, resource exploitation and war make for good virtual conflicts so I can see the appeal.

Couching all of our in game conflicts in safe fantasy and sci fi themes restricts designers and publishers to the same tropes and makes gaming decidedly more juvenile in theme (not that I mind 90% of the time) and alienates those grounded a bit more in reality.
Toenail21 wrote:
Should we just ignore a part of history and pretend it didn't exist? I see no problem with this. Don't like it (and admittedly I don't. It is a little unsavory.), then don't buy it.
hestiansun wrote:
I'm suggesting that most board gamers don't look beyond cubes.

EDIT -

kitanata wrote:
Games are not meant to be serious. They are meant to be fun. Sometimes they are meant to be an outlet or to let us safely visit a dark side of ourselves while we play them. Sometimes they are about making a better world (Freedom: The Underground Railroad) and sometimes they are about being callously ruthless (18xx & Mombasa) while exploiting other players and the game itself.
So in other words, "Games are not meant to be X. They are meant to be Y. Sometimes they are meant to be X. Sometimes they are about X and sometimes they are about X."

Games are culture. Culture presents arguments and supports or undermines ideologies. Culture can be serious or fun or everything in between. But culture is most dangerous when we do not recognize it as culture. Culture is dangerous when we believe it to be outside any other influence and merely existing in a bubble where we can safely interact with it without it ever touching any other aspect of our hearts, minds, or societies, where we believe we can leave it behind without bringing part of it with us.
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JM Bosch wrote:
Aside from that, people are repeatedly, intentionally misrepresenting Stefan's post

I didn't say anything about Stefan's post. I only said a few specific things. If you want to respond to me, please respond to what I said rather than to what someone else said.

Quote:
People are arguing that selection of theme and embodiment of theme are neutral, and even a blanket positive because it "brings awareness" to troubled historic events, completely ignoring what the game and its gameplay say about those events.

Those people are not me. Whatever they said has nothing to do with me and what I said.
 
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You literally asked who is doing X? And stated you didn't understand how it related to the thread:
DaviddesJ wrote:
I don't see how that has anything to do with this. Who's saying that board games can't do those things?
So I gave you examples of people in this thread doing X, and explained how it relates to the issues Stefan's post and this thread are about. Where does the confusion come from?
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JM Bosch wrote:
You literally asked who is doing X? And stated you didn't understand how it related to the thread:
DaviddesJ wrote:
I don't see how that has anything to do with this. Who's saying that board games can't do those things?
So I gave you examples of people in this thread doing X, and explained how it relates to the issues Stefan's post and this thread are about. Where does the confusion come from?

Literally none of the quotes in your original post refer to people saying that board games can't "perform functions" or "advance ideologies". They only say that they don't have a problem with games that don't do any of that.
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