How should IC discrimination be handled?

  • Admin

    I will preface this conversation by pointing out it's in the Constructive section of the forum. Please be considerate since some parts of it might become controversial.

    I'm wondering what the consensus in the community in general is when it comes to playing flawed characters like that with moral hangups in even more significant moral areas as long as it fit the setting.

    For instance would you feel about a vaguely racist characters belong on a MUSH set at a time slavery was still legal? Would you find it appropriate (or how inappropriate) for a Victorian age PC to use a slur against Chinese NPCs? How about sexism if the game is set in the fifties("you mean a woman is in charge of your team?!"). How about playing homophobes?

    Do characters like that have a place at all? Is it the responsibility of game runners to tweak their settings so all of the above is simply out of place IC? Are they doable as long as the players are considerate and don't simply use their characters as an excuse to drop n-bombs everywhere? Or should the very archetype never be played, period, since it can trigger people who've faced discrimination in their real lives?

    What's the best way to handle this sensitive matter?

  • It depends on what the staff is going for, I'd imagine.

    I know that a concept I try to keep in mind when gaming is the Fun Tax.

    The essence of the Fun Tax idea is that gamers and game designers tend to bake in assumptions in their games and then cling to them stubbornly as 'genre appropriate' or 'historically correct'. Never mind the game has magic swords, dragons or zombies. Nope, that doesn't stretch the imagination as much as people not being assholes towards black folks, women, Jews and queer folks.

    This means that those of us who aren't your typical gamer have to pay a higher buy-in to the game and put up with more insulting and/or disturbing stuff than the average cis/white/straight dude. And that's not fair.

    So I ask my players what they want. And if they don't want to deal with discrimination in the game, we don't. Screw genre fidelity when it gets in the way of fun. And again, dragons, zombies, magic. If those don't stretch credibility, neither should somebody's hardboiled lesbian PI or black wizard.

  • IC discrimination is IC. As long as it doesn't bleed OOCly and is not unthemely you should just let it be.

    We're all adults.

  • Pitcrew

    I think it can be done very few people.

    Even when it comes to discrimination against purely fantastical beings that have nothing to do with skin tone, you will have people who take it too far for others’ tastes, people who can’t bear it or who will be made extremely uncomfortable and then the people who gleefully stomp all over people ooc and ic in the name of justice.

    I put this in the same category as rape and mind control powers as far as things that you probably want to have some boundaries about, and to realize that there is probably going to be some ooc tension around it.

    I have really enjoyed exploring historical tension in regards to culture/race/power in my RP before, but as Dan Savage says, that’s kind of a varsity level kink. Many people can’t handle it well, it’s not something you should ever surprise someone with, and you are going to need to have some understanding and discretion around other people’s very understandable issues surrounding it.

  • @admiral With respect, there are times when that's a burden that sucks for the people who have to put up with that same discrimination in real life. Why should some people get a pass into Narnia and others get hassled at customs?

  • @collective There are many RP things that are burdens. It just depends on the player.

    Bar RP? Burdensome.
    Massive drama fests? Burdensome.
    Leader PCs who just TS all day? Burdensome.
    Poor RPers who just want to inflict themselves on everyone? Burdensome.

    Don't throw out the baby with the bath water. If someone can effectively play a racist/sexist/whateverist PC let them. If they cannot, don't.

    If you get rid of every negative character trait for PCs you will wind up with bland, boring, nice little robots.\

    ETA: I understand that discrimination sucks in real life. So do murder, and rape, and hate, and many many many other things. But we can't remove all the negativity of the human experience from games.

  • @admiral said in How should IC discrimination be handled?:

    If you get rid of every negative character trait for PCs you will wind up with bland, boring, nice little robots.

    This is ... an interesting argument. Are you positing that other people should have to put up with slurs and hate (even when it's hate being lobbed at a fictional character, when that hate is put out there because the character is like you, gay or a woman or black, for example, it stings) for your entertainment?

    Because that's kind of how that comes off. Screw the rest of you as long as some people get to enjoy a more conflict-heavy environment. (And that stuff is the laziest kind of conflict, by the way.)

  • Pitcrew

    Think of all the issues surrounding power exchange and discrimination built in to the very familiar WoD. How many times have we heard people complaining about ghouls? Kinfolk? Both always had their own neat potential but it often gets shoved aside with other people’s extreme distaste for “who would want to play that except for TS! They’re useless!”

    And that is a purely fantasy thing, without any sort of real world history ties.

  • @collective said in How should IC discrimination be handled?:

    With respect, there are times when that's a burden that sucks for the people who have to put up with that same discrimination in real life. Why should some people get a pass into Narnia and others get hassled at customs?

    Because no one can know for certain if someone seeks Narnia or not.

    Because IC discrimination can be the basis for IC antagonism, and that antagonism and tension, if thematic, is a form of RP that can increase activity.

    But, as Mietze points out, it is rare to find a player that can inflict discrimination and absorb the backlash with the sort of sensitivity to others that would make the RP interesting and rewarding, rather than painfully reminiscent of RL.

    I think that this form of RP is more appropriate for fantastic settings, but I understand why fantasy games would want to avoid the same. But people hate and fear Geralt of Rivia, just as they fear and hate Aloy, despite the Nora, and forgetting or omitting that can sometimes make a setting feel empty.

    For a World of Darkness game, I'd see more IC justification for it, yet these games may also engender the strongest kind of backlash.

  • Admin

    I quite agree with @Collective that there should be a discussion - somehow - between staff and players, although the exact mechanism of that (given that before a game opens you have no players per se) is tricky to establish. But the former need to be pretty firm about what their expectations and boundaries are.

    Then it's also on the PCs to portray this properly. A racist character who looks uncomfortable around certain PCs, or a sexist character who grumbles and detests taking orders from a woman is a completely different beast than someone who goes out of their way to throw IC insults like they're going out of fashion, since that can trigger people without generating any actual RP, or worse... someone who tries to block RP venues based on their IC preconceptions. The latest in particular should be a no-no regardless of anything else.

  • @ganymede said in How should IC discrimination be handled?:

    @collective said in How should IC discrimination be handled?:

    With respect, there are times when that's a burden that sucks for the people who have to put up with that same discrimination in real life. Why should some people get a pass into Narnia and others get hassled at customs?

    Because no one can know for certain if someone seeks Narnia or not.

    Which is why the first first thing I said when I mentioned this concept was 'I talk to my players'.

    I have no problem with consensual exploration of those themes. I just think that using the 'hate is ON!' toggle in a gaming setting without exploring that as something other than the default puts an undo burden on some players.

  • Pitcrew

    Staff also needs to be prepared to deal with some of the burden. Realistically they are going to need to be able to deal with over and over again incoming people’s freak outs or somewhat oocly motivated crusades. Whether that’s about a particular character or something that’s touched on in a plot, etc.

    That’s annoying even with the most mundane topics. But when you add in the emotion and stress level of something that’s a very big problem right now outside of people’s gaming lives, that puts an energy into it that can be very difficult to deal with (as player or staff) and that can also increase staff stress/ability to respond without snapping.

  • Back when I ran Sweetwater Crossing (a western), the policy allowed PCs to have modern sensibilities (making them outliers for their day and age) but permitted IC discrimination as long as it was kept IC.

    Playing a female ranchhand, I was fully prepared to deal with era-appropriate discrimination. I saw that as an important thing that shaped the character and something I didn't mind exploring - even as a woman iRL. It was actually a little jarring when she would go around talking about her struggles in a town full of PCs who had no problem with her whatsoever. Off-camera discrimination just didn't resonate with people.

    On the flip side, a situation arose where some PCs wanted to form a lynch mob to get an African American PC who was romantically involved with a white woman PC. Holy cow was that a horrible situation. Yeah, it's historical, but it was really uncomfortable (as, probably, it should be) trying to moderate that kind of thing. Not only did it pit the characters against each other, there was no small amount of anger and "You're a horrible person!" at people for playing within the game's setting.

    So I can see both sides of the argument ... not wanting to sugar-coat history vs. not wanting to throw the worst parts of history into peoples' faces. But for me personally? I prefer fantasy/sci-fi settings where the discrimination is because "You're from Tauron" and not "You've got dark skin."

  • Admin

    I do agree with @Admiral that if everyone is just a liberal, nice person then it makes the game more generic, and avoids having some IC friction which can spice things up. Characters who aren't quite villains but are jerks can be great... if played right.

    Now the clear argument here is that this is a truism; obviously a PC will be fun if they are played right, no? The issue is that if a racist/sexist/whatever PC is not played properly they can really polarize people very quickly, and shit can hit the fan soon after that.

    For example consider the possibility of a homophobe Sheriff in a WoD MUSH, and the escalation from "he rolls his eyes when two girls are kissing", "he goes out of his way to IC disparage homosexual characters" to "he turns down a gay PC for a position of Deputy". All of those things can be perfectly legitimate RP, and the player might have the best intentions, but the IC consequences to the characters themselves may be something they should discuss with staff (or, perhaps even better, with the players of the PCs who stand to be affected).

    Respectful communication when playing these sorts of themes is very important. Playing a villain can be charming or it can be offensive based on just that.

  • Pitcrew

    @arkandel I played a bigoted character in the past and mostly did what you describe in the first example - looked uncomfortable and refused to acknowledge contributions by the people he was bigoted against. He did at times use IC insults, but I tried to keep those really rare, specifically because I didn't want to have people think I was OOCly just looking for the chance to be racist.

    I also tried to combat the OOC hard feelings by being proactive with disclaimers and following up with concern for the people in the scene. I found a simple, "I just wanted to check on whether you're okay with that" went a long way to helping people separate the IC from the OOC.

    I had someone who didn't take the IC stuff well. I asked someone we both knew to be my advocate, and we just decided that we could be OOCly good with each other, but he probably wouldn't be in a scene with me. It seemed like a good compromise.

  • I have played bigoted characters before. It was in an acknowledged way that recognized that bigotry OOC, though, written into part of his concept. I wanted him to be able to work towards development on-camera and eventually change over time, and in some ways he grew; in other ways I'm not sure it ever got addressed in part because the game in question ended but it was an important part of his arc.

    I think that one of the most important things about playing any kind of asshole who has the capacity to be hurtful to other characters is to double down on being nice OOC while you're doing it. If you can't do this, you shouldn't be playing an asshole in my opinion.

    That said, if you're going to give people a lot of IC shit for things your character is bigoted about -- race, sexuality, whatever -- you absolutely should not be flinging it at them in metaposes. It must be respondable. There should be a very clear IC/OOC divide about where the stuff begins and ends. And if someone really is OOC uncomfortable with it, keep it out of their face.

    I have no need to force someone who deals with this shit OOC on a day to day basis to deal with it in a game if they aren't up for it. It's all about being sensitive to the collaborative nature of what we're playing here.

  • @faraday said in How should IC discrimination be handled?:

    So I can see both sides of the argument ... not wanting to sugar-coat history vs. not wanting to throw the worst parts of history into peoples' faces. But for me personally? I prefer fantasy/sci-fi settings where the discrimination is because "You're from Tauron" and not "You've got dark skin."

    Omg how dare you discriminate against Taurans! ;)

    Anyway. I think enough should be kept within a setting to allow for strife that is positive towards story and interaction. Run from a family who doesn't accept you. Use someone's nationality as reason to kick up a fight when you're already at odds with their group/house/ship/whathaveyou. But keep it IC and play within the theme.

    On a piracy game, I expect to see someone who may struggle with acceptance of their sexuality, but I don't expect it to be "Well you're not a gold star lesbian therefore you suck".

    And people should try to be on the same page, even if that page is just "PCs are the open minded members of society". I was on a game once where LGBT was wholly acceptable socially, but one player insisted on playing that his character was ostracized and marginalized for being gay. The dissonance was frustrating because hey there's a flamboyantly gay man there, a lesbian couple over there, and then this dude... crying ICly over all the dicrimination .

  • Admin

    @auspice That's one way to do it, too. Maybe make it part of the rules discrimination can only be directed at or affect NPCs, but not PCs.

    Perhaps knowing the black guy is badass, and has badass friends, and you might be in combat with him at your back mitigates your IC views; that might limit these characteristics' footprint a bit, and avoid having venues blocked for PCs ("sorry, we don't accept your kind in our crew").

  • Pitcrew

    @arkandel If you're going to have it in your game, but only directed at NPCs, then don't bother having it at all, I think. I don't play a game to interact with NPCs, so if a key flaw of my character is his hatred of people with blonde hair, it should come up with PCs for it to actually make an impact.

    But, I DO think it's important to try to find ways to not close doors on other PCs. So, maybe all the blondes who want to join the crew have to "prove themselves" in way more ways than the brunettes, and even then might be eyed with suspicion or something.

    I wonder if that's just something too many players forget; they're so busy making the game fun for themselves that they don't look for ways to engage other PCs, especially when it requires a modicum of thought and creativity.

  • Pitcrew

    I want to engage fully with whatever setting I play in, and most settings have some form of elitism, ethnocentrism, or prejudice. So I do consider and often include some of those biases and prejudgments into whatever character I make. I usually try to key them so that they do not involve harassing or encouraging the harassment of other PCs, but I find a certain level of tension to be an enjoyable challenge in PC to PC interactions which can otherwise be bland.

    For example, I currently play on Arx. Theme files suggest that there is prejudice not based on sexuality or ethnicity, but on culture. So, my character is notably biased against 'shavs' and Prodigals on a cultural level, viewing them as barbarians in need of civilization. That said, he can interact quite pleasantly with individual Prodigals, so long as they don't say anything crazy like suggesting shavs are cultural equals or superiors of the Compact, and he doesn't approve of wholesale slaughter (although he's fine with driving them off land that 'rightfully' belongs to members of the Compact, if they won't bend the knee, and killing the ones who refuse to go). He likewise looks down on practitioners of shamanism, atheist characters, and nobles who like to act like commoners and don't abide by the standards of personal honor and behavior set by the main culture.

    He has a lot of people who he looks vaguely down on, is what I'm saying. And sometimes it's hard, and he can get cut out of stuff because of his IC snippiness about 'those sorts' (whichever group of 'those' he's complaining about today), which I consider a reasonable consequence for his views. Even if, OOC, I find it a little frustrating that so many PCs hold very modern opinions in defiance of the setting, since the setting is really what I'm trying to play, warts and all.

    In general, I'm more comfortable with playing fantasy prejudices than real world ones. I don't really want to play a racist character, even if I don't think there's anything necessarily /wrong/ with it, as long as OOCly it wasn't making the group uncomfortable. It just wouldn't be fun for me, and I probably wouldn't want to play at a table where someone was hitting that note hard, even if it was totally IC-only. But if you want to play someone who hates elves? Or wizards? Go for it.

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