Black Armada supports KSRU

We’ve been watching closely the attempts by the Kickstarter United (KSRU) to get recognised by Kickstarter as an official union. We’ve been dismayed by the response by Kickstarter. We support staff efforts to unionise, and we support the demands for Kickstarter to #recognizeKSRU.

We would like to emphasise that KSRU have not called for a boycott of Kickstarter, and doing so unilaterally at this stage is likely to undermine efforts to secure recognition. We are not boycotting Kickstarter. With that said, we support individual choice and nobody should be attacked for choosing to stay away from the platform at this time.

Below is an email we have sent to Kickstarter senior management (kickstarter-sot(at)kickstarter.com) and to thoughts(at)kickstarterunited.org. We’d urge all creators and backers to make your support known too.

To whom it may concern


We are writing as co-owners of Black Armada Games. We are three-time creators on Kickstarter. We have backed dozens of projects ourselves. We truly appreciate the service that Kickstarter and its workers provide to help entrepreneurs and individuals alike bring their dreams to life. We are substantial beneficiaries of that service, and we would like to use it again. Indeed, we have a campaign coming up in early 2020 that we would like to put on Kickstarter.


However, your company’s position on recognition of Kickstarter United has put us in a very difficult position. We support employees’ right to unionise as a matter of principle. We support the aims that KSRU have put forward – honestly, we struggle to see how anyone could disagree with them. It seems to us that those aims, and the support for workers to be able to unionise, is strongly consistent with Kickstarter’s stated values, not least as Kickstarter is a public benefit corporation.


It is clear that Kickstarter’s actions have been to oppose unionisation. While you have claimed to take a neutral position, in practice you have argued against forming a union, you have pushed for a process (NLRB elections) which will impede the speed and likelihood of the union being recognised. And that is without even considering the sacking of KSRU organisers, an action which looks deeply suspicious. We are horrified by these actions and, were KSRU to call for a boycott, they would have our wholehearted support and compliance.


With all that said, we have a decision to make as to whether to put our next campaign on Kickstarter or choose one of your many rival crowdfunding sites. We imagine we are not alone in reconsidering whether Kickstarter is the best platform for our brand and our values. We do not wish to undermine KSRU and we are not boycotting your site, but as a business we have to choose the best platform for our work. We may yet decide to continue with Kickstarter, but this issue weighs heavily in our minds.


And so we call on you to voluntarily recognise KSRU. End your oppositional behaviour. Redeem your reputation and move on from this PR disaster. Live your values and those of countless creators and backers. And selfishly, we’d ask you to do it swiftly so as to make our decision about our campaign an easy one.


Yours


Josh Fox and Becky Annison

Black Armada Games

Racist stereotypes in roleplaying

So, I have been keeping a wary eye on the discussion of Wolsung and with a deep breath I ploughed through the RPGnet discussion of it. Now, I haven’t read Wolsung and I’m not going to get into my opinions on the game. But there were some interesting arguments thrown around on RPGnet that I’d like to talk about here.

1. It cannot be racism if the target is a fictional, nonhuman race. This seems pretty obviously false. A blatant racist stereotype against a particular real life group remains just as blatant if you shift it wholesale onto a fictional race (particularly if you make the fictional race resemble the stereotype in question in an extremely identifiable way). Whether you did it on purpose or not is beside the point, though when the resemblance is very strong, people may find it hard to credit that it was accidental.

2. It isn’t racism if it’s about national culture or if national culture is just as important in the game as race. Well, ok, the term “racism” doesn’t apply to national stereotypes. This doesn’t make it better though. Cultural (and NB also religious) stereotypes seem to have somewhere along the line become the acceptable face of bigotry. But, you know, it’s essentially the same deal – painting an entire group with one brush, and a skewed and, uh, stereotyped brush at that. Focusing on the fact that genes aren’t involved is missing the point.

3. It’s ok because it’s an accurate representation of the historical period that the game is modelling (in this case the Victorian age). Well, this is kind of true. It’s true that some people, perhaps the majority, maybe even the vast majority[*] of Westerners in Victorian age held pretty horrendous bigoted views about foreigners. Note, of course, that the game permits you to play non-Westerners, so this argument is pretty much missing the point as well – why should the game be presented exclusively from the Western viewpoint? Indeed, why not select a few admirable exceptions to the (perceived) general bigotry to act as your perspective characters while noting, perhaps in a sidebar, the general prevalence of racism. In other words, why view the entire game through the lens of racism?

4. This leads me to a more difficult question, for me at least. Point 3 about is really an allusion to the fact that many of us like our fantasy worlds to model reality quite closely, warts and all. Now, the point has been made to me that if we’re happy to fill our games with orcs and airships, why do we suddenly insist on realism when it comes to racism? Well, I just don’t think the two things are the same; orcs and airships are essentially background colour, whereas realistic social behaviour is quite fundamental. I’m in the camp that tends to not want to gloss over real-life phenomena like racism. To be clear, my games have not been known for including racist themes or tackling racism – but I’d like to think I could do so, and I’m keen on the idea of games tackling such serious subject matter.

But it’s equally clear that if you’re going to tackle such serious subject matter in a published game, you want to do so in a careful, nuanced and respectful way. You should ideally have taken some serious study on the matter before charging into such murky waters. I’d go so far as to say that you should take this approach even if you aren’t publishing – if you’re just playing in your living room. If in our enthusiasm to be realistic, or to faithfully replicate a historical period (albeit with orcs and airships and so forth) we accept any old attempt at “serious” issues, even done in a cartoonish and badly thought-through way, then we’re pretty much betraying the principle of gritty realism in so doing, and we’ve trivialised the issue in the process.

One last thing. I think part of the reason people get so defensive about this is that they think “if this game is racist and I like it, then I must be racist; I’m not racist so the game can’t be either”. Well, racism isn’t like a disease that you have or don’t. It’s a spectrum of behaviours and cultural themes which permeate the whole of Western society. You are at risk of saying or doing stuff that’s racist if you don’t examine yourself, even if you yourself are not a racist. You can enjoy a game that covers racial themes, even in a ham-fisted way, without being a racist, but you owe it to yourself to give yourself some careful scrutiny before you do so.

[*] I’m really not sufficiently a historian to argue this point, but the idea that all Victorians were raging racists strikes me as also a possible stereotype.