Is The Pathfinder Setting Ethically Problematic?


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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Michael Gentry wrote:
thejeff wrote:

To quote the OP and elaborate a little:

Quote:
it seems particularly problematic that the people of central Africa (and therefore Black People in general) are depicted as either Pirates, Talking Apes, or Gnolls.
Garund is pretty obviously an analogue of Africa, but on this map, especially in Central Africa, that's all you get. I suppose you could assume that black people don't actually inhabit the Africa analogue, other than possibly as coastal Pirates and that the Apes and Gnolls aren't intended to represent them, but given the long history of blacks being represented as sub-human that's a bit of stretch. At least it is using no more information than is on the map.
No, I have to disagree with this. The map is problematic but it does not exist in a complete contextual vacuum. Even with the understanding that the southern continent is an Africa analogue, there is a big difference between inferring "This region contains demonic apes and gnolls" and "The demonic apes and gnolls in this setting are meant to represent black people." It is really difficult to see the latter as anything but an attempt to make the least charitable assumption possible.

If there were more representative black people shown on the map, I'd agree. If there wasn't a racist history of depicting black people as apes/monkeys or other sub-humans, I'd also agree. As is, I think it's reasonable.

It's not just "This region contains demonic apes and gnolls", it's "This region contains demonic apes and gnolls where I would expect to find black people and there aren't actually any black people shown in that area."

We may have to just disagree here.


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Evidence Golarion is not based on racism: Old-Man Jetembe. That is all.


The game is written for a certain audience, by a group of people which mostly recruited itself from that very same audience. It draws strongly on many of the western literature myths. That is why there are gorilla-people in the jungle.

That many of those western literature myths were quite racist ( Tarzan, especially ) is another topic and beggars the question if we are to disown them because they hark from a somewhat less enlightened era.

To finish, saying that Gnolls are supposed to represent black people is, IMO, ludicrous.


Cerberus Seven wrote:
Evidence Golarion is not based on anti-black racism: Old-Man Jetembe. That is all.

Fify.

If you're green, though...tons of bigots.


magnuskn wrote:

The game is written for a certain audience, by a group of people which mostly recruited itself from that very same audience. It draws strongly on many of the western literature myths. That is why there are gorilla-people in the jungle.

That many of those western literature myths were quite racist ( Tarzan, especially ) is another topic and beggars the question if we are to disown them because they hark from a somewhat less enlightened era.

To finish, saying that Gnolls are supposed to represent black people is, IMO, ludicrous.

a) It's not so much disowning them as finding ways to reference them that aren't so racist. Which I think Paizo's done a good job of.

b) It is ludicrous to say that Gnolls (or Apes) are supposed to represent black people, based on anymore knowledge of the setting. Based on just the poster, it's more questionable.


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Comrade Anklebiter wrote:
Cerberus Seven wrote:
Evidence Golarion is not based on anti-black racism: Old-Man Jetembe. That is all.

Fify.

If you're green, though...tons of bigots.

It's not easy being green.


thejeff wrote:
b) It is ludicrous to say that Gnolls (or Apes) are supposed to represent black people, based on anymore knowledge of the setting. Based on just the poster, it's more questionable.

I still have no idea where the idea of "hyena people = black people" is even coming from.


thejeff wrote:
Comrade Anklebiter wrote:
Cerberus Seven wrote:
Evidence Golarion is not based on anti-black racism: Old-Man Jetembe. That is all.

Fify.

If you're green, though...tons of bigots.

It's not easy being green.

They're one of the most violent, crazy, pyromanic, baby-eatingly evil races on the planet...and they manage to be prolific as all hell in spite of people wanting to see them wiped out for such. Goblins be doing well, in my opinion.

Liberty's Edge

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It is pretty obvious that Golarion is built on common tropes. The idea of the savage south (ie savage africa) is such a trope. Is it racist ? Well, it does come from a time period in our history that was pretty racist by our standards.

However, these tropes appear in other parts of Golarion and could be deemed racist there too. Asian people are all samourai, ninja and mongol barbarians. And many parts of Not-Europe are filled with gypsies, orcs, vampires and diabolists, which are hardly a positive representation of Europeans/White people.

The concern raised by the OP is interesting to take into account so that people do not get the wrong ideas about Paizo and its products, but I really feel that it hinges more on the sensitivity of the viewer and his/her ability to see tropes for what they are.

If we put too much weight on this issue, we have a very real risk of Paizo throwing all ambiguous depictions of any Golarion part by the window and end up with a perfectly PC world with only beautiful humans (and maybe elves) with the appropriate tone of skin in every part of it.

I, for one, would not want to adventure in such a bland world.


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Saying "Golarion really isn't like that" does not redeem the map itself. The OP didn't say Golarion was "Evil and 100% racist," they said it was "problematic," and I think that's fair. Of course I think the designers are swell people. It's still worthwhile to turn a careful eye on setting elements that state, imply, or simply tacitly accept tropes that insult real people. It's true, there are talking apes primarily because talking apes are cool. But let's look at three things. First, they're taking up real estate. Not that much literal real estate, apparently, but in the sense that they're appearing on the poster in place of other things. Whether or not the world guide states certain demographics, the setting as seen and presented is the actual Golarion that matters. Second, the whole "talking apes" thing is itself rooted in a mythology of exotic Africa. Just by referencing talking apes, you are tapping into a huge cultural trove that implies Africa is weird, mysterious, etc. Third, there is a (recent) real world phenomenon of relating apes to black people. In fact, many (not all, but many, and perhaps most) 19th century anthropologists actually believed Africans were less involved. There are even illustrations from that era that make (inaccurate) comparisons between Africanoid features and ape bodily features. Putting Africans and any anthropomorphized animal-like being in the same paragraph is automatically going to raise such associations. If you are going to emphasize gnolls and talking apes as the cool things about Blackest Not-Africa, you're asking for extra work if you want to avoid hurting people. The most obvious remedy is to humanize the pseudo-African inhabitants, but the poster mentioned by the OP basically fails to do so.

A similar complaint has been raised with regard to GW's Warhammer stuff, in which the Americas are populated by frogmen and goblins and such decked out in Aztec and Algonquin-inspired "tribal" gear. There was a fantasy something or another recently that also got in trouble by positing that when the European analogs discovered the Americas, they found it entirely populated by magical talking animals and not inconveniently located indigenous people. A softer complaint has been made about Tolkien, who relegated Sauron's realm to the South and East, essentially making a majority of Saracens and Ethiopeans in his setting into devil worshippers, and inviting comparisons between the orcs and eastern marauders such as the Huns, Magyars, and so forth. I personally feel Tolkien did fine with his setting, as he defined it, but if you decided to thoughtlessly copy his geography without imitating his moral nuance, you are walking into a minefield, especially working from a 21st century perspective.


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thejeff wrote:
If there were more representative black people shown on the map, I'd agree. If there wasn't a racist history of depicting black people as apes/monkeys or other sub-humans, I'd also agree. As is, I think it's reasonable.

And if those were actually the only contextual cues available to the OP, I would be more sympathetic to her and your concerns. But they aren't. There is also the context that Pathfinder is a fantasy RPG, that the setting contains various kinds of monsters that are meant to be antagonists, and that those monsters might be located in thematically appropriate places in the setting. The apes, I'll grant you, are something that should probably be presented more care and context, but one of these monsters is gnolls, which do not exist in folklore or in any literature outside of D&D. You're going to have to dig up some actual sources comparing Africans to hyena-men before I'll believe anyone would legitimately mistake gnolls for some kind of racial dog whistle.

But finally, there is also the context that literally comparing black people to monkeys is not just racist but really quite horrifyingly racist, and we generally ascribe the most profoundly ignorant and hateful motives to the people who do it. That sort of thing does not just fly under the radar. It would be truly extraordinary for a major publisher of one of one of the top two RPGs in the business to go on for five years doing that without anyone ever raising a fuss, and I think that a reasonable person would not immediately jump to that conclusion, even if they did have problems with the poster.

"Why are the northern nations illustrated with what seem to be representative citizens of those nations, while the southern nations are mainly illustrated with monsters and bad guys?" is a reasonable question and one that I think someone in Paizo's marketing department maybe should have asked themselves before okaying that map. "Guys, I'm worried that maybe Paizo thinks black people are all basically monkeys, is that really true?" is just concern-trolling.


magnuskn wrote:
thejeff wrote:
b) It is ludicrous to say that Gnolls (or Apes) are supposed to represent black people, based on anymore knowledge of the setting. Based on just the poster, it's more questionable.
I still have no idea where the idea of "hyena people = black people" is even coming from.

There is a tendency for this in the works of some "furry" artists.


magnuskn wrote:
thejeff wrote:
b) It is ludicrous to say that Gnolls (or Apes) are supposed to represent black people, based on anymore knowledge of the setting. Based on just the poster, it's more questionable.
I still have no idea where the idea of "hyena people = black people" is even coming from.

It's coming from the map and the (mistaken) idea that the Manna Wastes are supposed to be sub-Saharan Africa.

Dark Archive

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RJGrady wrote:
The OP didn't say Golarion was "Evil and 100% racist," they said it was "problematic," and I think that's fair.

The Op wrote "Incredibly Racist", might want to read it again. And that is not fair. It shows an ignorance of African culture, while it pretends to defend it.

Just as western Culture has Myths of Dragons and Elves, African Culture has its own Myths which include talking Gorillas.


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber
WillowX wrote:
... Maybe I'm wrong and there's more to Pathfrinder's setting than this. But if I am, then Paizo is doing itself a disservice by presenting it in this way.

My take on that is that they show the themes of aventuring type that will be encontered there either the good, the bad or the significants! Definitly not the common folk ...

Flip threw this one

http://paizo.com/products/btpy8hih?Pathfinder-Player-Companion-Inner-Sea-Pr imer

It gives a good smell at the groove.


The black raven wrote:
Asian people are all samourai, ninja and mongol barbarians.

Only that they are not.


thejeff wrote:
Comrade Anklebiter wrote:
Cerberus Seven wrote:
Evidence Golarion is not based on anti-black racism: Old-Man Jetembe. That is all.

Fify.

If you're green, though...tons of bigots.

It's not easy being green.

Preach on, brother!

Let everybody know!

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

thejeff wrote:


I will also say that fantasy analogues of Africa are a minefield. Especially when you want to play around with pulp tropes and settings as Paizo often does. So much of that is based on European colonialist and racist takes on the area. It's a rich field of fun and interesting ideas to use, but it's very firmly rooted in the racist ideas of the time. It's very hard to do anything with savage jungle tribes, lost kingdoms, or even talking apes without running smack into racist tropes.
I do think Paizo does a very good job of navigating that minefield. Of providing us with a pulpish not-Africa that fills that adventuring niche, without descending into racism. There are some missteps, but the intent is good and usually successful.

I think the OP raises a fair point, and touches on something that has crossed my mind before. I think thejeff summarises my own feelings pretty well.


Cerberus Seven wrote:
They're one of the most violent, crazy, pyromanic, baby-eatingly evil races on the planet...and they manage to be prolific as all hell in spite of people wanting to see them wiped out for such. Goblins be doing well, in my opinion.

See! This is what I'm [redacted] talkin' about! We're not any more violent, crazy or baby-eating than you [redacted] pinkskins, regardless of your particular individual skintone.

We do like fire, though.


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Evil Midnight Lurker wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
thejeff wrote:
b) It is ludicrous to say that Gnolls (or Apes) are supposed to represent black people, based on anymore knowledge of the setting. Based on just the poster, it's more questionable.
I still have no idea where the idea of "hyena people = black people" is even coming from.
There is a tendency for this in the works of some "furry" artists.

Thanks, now I can never unsee this. >.<


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber
Comrade Anklebiter wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Comrade Anklebiter wrote:
Cerberus Seven wrote:
Evidence Golarion is not based on anti-black racism: Old-Man Jetembe. That is all.

Fify.

If you're green, though...tons of bigots.

It's not easy being green.

Preach on, brother!

Let everybody know!

Yhea! I'm Green and Slimy and Proud of it!

Edit: Keep that flamy wood away you gobliny-gray-not-so-green! ;)


Transylvanian Tadpole wrote:
thejeff wrote:


I will also say that fantasy analogues of Africa are a minefield. Especially when you want to play around with pulp tropes and settings as Paizo often does. So much of that is based on European colonialist and racist takes on the area. It's a rich field of fun and interesting ideas to use, but it's very firmly rooted in the racist ideas of the time. It's very hard to do anything with savage jungle tribes, lost kingdoms, or even talking apes without running smack into racist tropes.
I do think Paizo does a very good job of navigating that minefield. Of providing us with a pulpish not-Africa that fills that adventuring niche, without descending into racism. There are some missteps, but the intent is good and usually successful.
I think the OP raises a fair point, and touches on something that has crossed my mind before. I think thejeff summarises my own feelings pretty well.

All I can say is:

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

(Who was actually Vudrani, but whatever)


Slime wrote:
Yhea! I'm Green and Slimy and Proud of it!

Say it loud!

I'm Green and I'm Proud!

[Goes for a fistbump, but thinks better of it at the last second]

Grand Lodge

Point is: For an outsider looking at this poster, Golarion is racist. This misconception will surface because of the elements shown on it. It was an minor slight in advertisement, but the problem ends there.

am i wrong or this adv. is OLD?


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Every fantasy land since forever has been based on PREJUDICES about real world countries, whether in the form of a reversal or played straight. Making that work without risking offending someone is, mildly put, going to be impossible. The only alternative is wholesale creation of a culture, which would A) probably still look like the above, B) be a sodding lot of work, and C) if you manage it, result in people not feeling it realistic, interesting and so on.

No, it isn't a race you can win. Paizo has done exceedingly well as is.


Nimon wrote:
RJGrady wrote:
The OP didn't say Golarion was "Evil and 100% racist," they said it was "problematic," and I think that's fair.
The Op wrote "Incredibly Racist", might want to read it again. And that is not fair.

Let's break that down.

Quote:


Afrcian peoples by European ones, it seems particularly problematic that the people of central Africa (and therefore Black People in general) are depicted as either Pirates, Talking Apes, or Gnolls.

This is incredibly racist.

Emphasis mine. By breaking context, you're implying the OP called everyone evil racists. But in fact they were just pointing out what they perceived as a mistake. The OP went out of their way to talking about the issue, while you are responding ad hominem.

Incredible means, literally, "I cannot believe this." The OP stated that they could not believe how racist the depiction of the African analog was. That is their opinion, it's a legitimate one, respectfully if strongly stated.

You don't have the right to decide what they consider racist or not, and you are certainly not in a position to say whether they should be incredulous when they encounter something they perceive as racist.

Quote:


It's possible, I suppose that the setting isn't actually that racist.

Maybe I'm wrong and there's more to Pathfrinder's setting than this. But if I am, then Paizo is doing itself a disservice by presenting it in this way.

I'm quoting this to point out that the OP is being completely fair. They may be mistaken, in your view, as to what Golarion is, but they have formulated a thesis based on their perceptions that is completely fair. While acknowledging that the setting might not be that bad, they have argued that the poster comes across as "incredibly racist."

The Exchange

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Do I really have to apologize to WillowX on behalf of all Pathfinder gamers everywhere? He* was worried enough about the possibility that a bit of promotional advertising gave the false appearance of racism that he created an account just to post about the perceived problem and see what reaction he got.

And he's definitely seen what reaction he's getting. Bad logic is what he's getting. "You called me a nasty name! Or at least, a nasty name was used, in reference to a question of intent involving something that is distantly related to a game that I enjoy - which is the same thing!"

* I'm leaping to an assumption there, WillowX, based on balance of probability. If I employed the wrong personal pronoun, no sexism was intend... gosh darn it, now I'm doing it!


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I think the poster in question presents an unspoken expectation that Avistan is where the PCs are "from" and Garund is where they "go" to adventure in exotic climes. Considering that the poster is some people's first introduction to Golarion, I think it's a bit unfortunate.


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This psychosis some people have that they might not be PC enough and might offend someone, somewhere is really astounding.

Grand Lodge

RJGrady wrote:
Saying "Golarion really isn't like that" does not redeem the map itself.

Yes, but the map isn't advertising Golarion. It's advertising the Inner Sea World Guide by highlighting a very small sample of the nations detailed in that product (and focusing mostly on villains, from the look of it) found in one single corner of Golarion.

So drawing too many conclusions from that advertisement is figuratively judging a book by its cover. The idea that Geb is an "empire" of white-skinned liches is a perfect example of what happens when you try to draw sweeping conclusions from incomplete data.

Grand Lodge

Most people draw conclusions on what is shown, all advertisers know that.

That said, the adv. have this problem, nothing is perfect.

Actually, it has other problems: Too many info on an adv, people tend to bore before trying to understand all they are seeing at.

Product per se is lost on the poster, some people would even know of what is being advertised.


magnuskn wrote:
This psychosis some people have that they might not be PC enough and might offend someone, somewhere is really astounding.

LOL, yep. People see and hear what they want to see and hear and disregard the rest. Some people really enjoy the "Where's Waldo" guide to discerning racist (or other -ist) intent. It makes them feel real good about themselves that they are able to find it so readily.

I marked your post a "favorite" because I couldn't mark it "awesome."

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If you were to flip the map upside-down, would the OP have the same argument?


Adamantine Dragon wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
This psychosis some people have that they might not be PC enough and might offend someone, somewhere is really astounding.

LOL, yep. People see and hear what they want to see and hear and disregard the rest. Some people really enjoy the "Where's Waldo" guide to discerning racist (or other -ist) intent. It makes them feel real good about themselves that they are able to find it so readily.

I marked your post a "favorite" because I couldn't mark it "awesome."

OTOH, the idea that nothing is racist or sexist or otherwise offensive unless it appears so to me is also pretty stupid. Some people do read too much into things. Some are also blind to it unless someone is screaming racial slurs.

I doubt I would have noticed the issues with this poster, but now that they've been pointed out they seem clear to me.


magnuskn wrote:
thejeff wrote:
]OTOH, the idea that nothing is racist or sexist or otherwise offensive unless it appears so to me is also pretty stupid. Some people do read too much into things. Some are also blind to it unless someone is screaming racial slurs.
Sure, but this idea that Paizo might be racist because of that poster map reeks of concern trolling to me.

Heh, me too. Although it is well known on these boards that I am somewhat less concerned with how other people search for offense in everything they see than other people.

It's not that I COULDN'T find plenty of offensiveness if I really wanted to. I just have only so much time and energy in my life and prefer to invest it in more personally fulfilling endeavors than "OMG, could that be racist?!"


3 people marked this as a favorite.
thejeff wrote:
Adamantine Dragon wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
This psychosis some people have that they might not be PC enough and might offend someone, somewhere is really astounding.

LOL, yep. People see and hear what they want to see and hear and disregard the rest. Some people really enjoy the "Where's Waldo" guide to discerning racist (or other -ist) intent. It makes them feel real good about themselves that they are able to find it so readily.

I marked your post a "favorite" because I couldn't mark it "awesome."

OTOH, the idea that nothing is racist or sexist or otherwise offensive unless it appears so to me is also pretty stupid. Some people do read too much into things. Some are also blind to it unless someone is screaming racial slurs.

I doubt I would have noticed the issues with this poster, but now that they've been pointed out they seem clear to me.

Maybe because in most of those cases, it's NOT actually racism. The OP fails to deliver a logical argument on numerous levels. Why are pirates worse than evil looking knights? Can't pirates be cool, even virtuous to an extent? Why are talking gorillas racist but orcs done up as vikings aren't? I know which one I automatically associate with the higher degree of savegery due to common stereotypes. Why is it wrong to have a pale undead in the south but not in the north? They're undead, who cares what race they are? Why is he comparing black people to monsters like the one in Thuvia or the Mana Wastes? There's a couple non-human races on either side of the Inner Sea, but only one side gets racist connotations assigned to it? YOu see what he's doing? He's inserting carefully hand-picked racial stereotypes into a fantasy setting that has almost nothing to do with Earth and for which the illustration of Avistan and Garund can provide numerous non-offensive explanations for. You're not seeing a problem with the map, you're seeing a problem with the idea of the map as he has put it into your head.


Has anyone been able to find a copy of this map online yet in good enough resolution that you can actually read the text? Because it occurs to me, we're judging this entirely on OPs take of the look of the map but we hear nothing on the text description under each portrait for the various regions.


No one has actually given viking orcs a free pass.


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I find it troubling how many of the comments are "the OP finds this offensive," when the OP (and others) voiced their concern over the arguably racists content of the poster as "problematic." In fact, by focusing on the emotional state of the OP (and others), this discounts their arguments and concerns as a problem them (the OP and others) rather than the material being discussed. The pathologizing language of "psychosis" and "it makes them feel real good" is just a shallow attempt to derail the discussion and dismiss the points of the OP (and... others).

That being said. I actually agree with the OP for the most part. Someone earlier in the thread pointed out how problematic the "far east" (Tian Xia) demonstrates another such problem to how Golarion replicates contemporary notions of culture. In fact, Tian Xia reeks of orientalism (a concept described by Edward Said), both in form and function.

It is clear that Paizo picks up a great deal of their material from modern interpretations of "real world" cultures and races (whether mythical or not), and in this vein, it should come as no surprise that they pick up some of the racist and ethnocentric content (whether they intended to or not).


JRR Tolkien was heavily criticized for having orcs be dark-skinned with animalistic features. When asked about how this was a potentially racist image, he said something along the lines of: They are ORCS. Not PEOPLE. They are intended to be monsters to differentiate them from people.

I've pointed out before that "races" in Pathfinder are more accurately called "species" from a biological standpoint.

It would be more accurate to call depictions of orcs or trolls as being negatively relating to neanderthals. And probably more historically relevant too, since I strongly suspect most troll or ogre legends come from a time when humans and neanderthals co-existed and interacted.

So where is the anti-neanderthal attitude outrage?

Senior Editor/Fiction Editor

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For the record, as a representative of Paizo, I think it's perfectly reasonable and even *considerate* to tell us, "This piece of marketing material gives a poor impression of Paizo's take on race and ethnicity." The point of marketing is to show us in our BEST light, so if this is making people think poorly of us, that's a problem.

If folks want to discuss Garund and portrayals of the various ethnicities, that's also an important conversation, but a different one. I hope that folks who dig into the setting will see that we're trying hard to avoid the racism (and sexism, and homophobia, etc.) inherent in many games.

Last but not least: everybody remember to stay friendly. :)

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