Scramble scramble

https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/vb9gd9/a-cancelled-board-game-revealed-how-colonialism-inspires-and-haunts-games

So, this has been lighting up sections of the BGGverse for the last week… in case you have not heard, or are trawling through this blog years from the time it was posted:

  • GMT Games put up for P500 a game called Scramble for Africa in February. From the ad copy, it seems to have been in broad terms a “3X” game (Explore- Expand-  Exploit) as opposed to a “4X” game ( -Exterminate) where European powers enter the Dark Continent, found colonies, interfere with each other, etc.
  • After GMT posted the developer’s notes at the end of March with some more specifics, it emerged that this game was shall we say a bit light on historical accuracy and completeness – the native population was more or less the background on top of which the players drew their designs.
  • An increasing amount of adverse commentary on Twitter, Facebook, Boardgamegeek, and other spots led GMT to pull this off the P500 list, with a very measured and reasonable explanation and apology from the publisher.

People are still yelling about it, but more in defence of or offence against their own straw men. Some decried it as bowing to the mob, erasure of unpopular opinions, censorship, my god this is the beginning of the end what’s next erasing the Nazis soon they will come to pry all my wargames from my overheated flabby hands… never mind, you can imagine all this yourself (and if you can’t, there is a thread on BGG that is over 1,000 posts long now, counting the unusually large fraction of ones deleted for personal attacks and abuse).

Others had more measured and thoughtful responses. The link above is a much better explanation of the event and what it means than I can write; go have a look. It also gives due credit to the thoughtful games GMT can and does produce. Colonial Twilight, Navajo Wars and Comancheria all get praise for handling complex issues well, as do Freedom: the Underground Railroad and This Guilty Land, two games by other publishers.

Again, I did not have a chance to learn very much about the game, but it seems it was too cavalier and light a treatment of the topic to be appealing to the strong-history crowd, and not satisfying enough for the theme/history-be-damned, strong-play crowd. So, a sound business decision, and one that is GMT’s and only GMT’s to make.

We should not shy away from historical controversy, for that is the most direct way history teaches us it’s still there and still valuable. But it has to be done in a productive way, that advances the state of play. Obviously, this game did not do that.

Probably more than a few people have commented that if the game were rethemed and placed on a distant planet as “Scramble for Afraxic”, they might have  had a goer on their hands… sometimes that works. GMT has a few of these 4X in space games in their stable, and they sell very well… I suppose they are good games too, but I don’t play much science fiction stuff anymore. But the point is that there is sufficient distance from what is going on, even more so than the usual abstraction of playing a game about something, to not bother people.

 

 

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The myth of the apolitical game

https://www.grimme-game.de/2019/01/17/der-mythos-vom-unpolitischen-spiel/

This very good piece is written concerning video games, and the coyness of their publishers and marketing people in “not taking a side” when they very clearly have done, but it goes for manual games as well.

The “translate this page” will work well on this one, but here is the money quote for me, at the conclusion:

Alles ist politisch

Es scheint absurd, dass es dezidiert ausgesprochen werden muss: Kein Werk entsteht unabhängig von seinem Schöpfer, dessen Ansichten, Meinungen und politischer Überzeugung – auch und besonders dann nicht, wenn es behauptet, “die Realität” zeigen zu wollen. Der Wunsch, sich Spiele als unpolitisches, reines Unterhaltungsprodukt zu “erhalten” – mit dem Schlachtruf “keep politics out of our games” -, ist deshalb nicht nur illusorisch, sondern auch problematisch, weil er die vorhandene, unweigerliche Politikhaltigkeit jedes Mediums negiert und deren damit verbunden Botschaften somit unbewusst, und damit noch wirksamer, ihr Werk tun lässt.

Die Kritik, die der Industrie heute angesichts als absurd erkannter Rechtfertigungsmanöver zunehmend entgegengebracht wird, lässt hoffen, dass Spiele irgendwann auch hier zum Kulturgut wie jedes andere werden. Es gibt kein Buch, keinen Film, kein Album und kein Spiel, das frei von Politik wäre – wie bei jedem Kulturprodukt ist die ganze reale Welt ihrer Schöpfer der Stoff, aus dem sie entstehen.

Alles ist politisch; diese Tatsache in vollem Bewusstsein anzuerkennen, ist ein notwendiger Schritt für Macher wie Konsumenten auch des Mediums Videospiel.

Autor: Rainer Sigl

or:

Everything is political

It seems absurd that it has to be decidedly stated: No work is created independently of its creator, his views, opinions and political convictions – even and especially not when he claims to want to show “the reality”. The desire to “get” games as a non-political, pure entertainment product – with the slogan “Keep politics out of our games” – is therefore not only illusory, but also problematic because it negates the existing, inevitable political content of each medium and their Associated messages thus unconsciously, and thus more effectively, lets do their work.

The criticism, which is increasingly given to industry today in the face of absurdly recognized justification maneuvers, gives hope that games will someday become as much a cultural asset as any other. There is no book, no film, no album and no game that is free of politics – as with any cultural product, the whole real world of its creators is the stuff of which they emerge.

Everything is political; Recognizing this fact in full awareness is a necessary step for doers as well as consumers of the medium of video games.

I have said as much, many times.