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America has a problem. It does not seem to realize the rest of the world exists. Those who consider themselves enlightened, modern and progressive have developed a blind-spot to their own burgeoning racism, bigotry and authoritarian stances on art that comes from other cultures. We’ve seen it increasingly happen to Japanese games, but the most recent vitriol and hysteria has centered around games from Central and Eastern Europe.

There was a wave of protest, and even veiled threats, against developers such as the team behind The Witcher 3 because the ethnic makeup of their games were being judged by purely American standards. Polygon’s Tauriq Moosa wrote an article entitled “Colorblind: On The Witcher 3, Rust, and gaming’s race problem” laughably missing the point that the Polish are themselves a minority group. There was also the belated follow-up by Leigh Alexander’s failed experiment, OffWorld, entitled “Video games without people of colour are not ‘neutral’” which went further, denying the rights of CD Projekt Red to their cultural heritage and Slavic mythology. The idea that there is somehow a default “right” way to do a game and deny a neutral blank canvas is an insipid way for many who wrap themselves in “American progressivism” to try and bat away different ideas they find unpalatable.

centric side 1I have strong words for the writers of these articles; they are a cultural colonialist imposing their patronizing views on an entire section of Europe. Both Sidney Fussel and Tauriq Moosa regard Polish developers like the early European explorers regarded other cultures. Backwards savages to be civilized; sexist and racist brutes that need to hear the good word of Social Justice and amend their art to reflect the progressive whims. They operate on the same principle as those in the past who wanted sex and violence expunged from media. It comes from the political left rather than the political right this time, but the mode of operation remains the same.

Developers, in their own words, have tried to get this idea of censorship from the left across — often very articulately and graciously — and have been met with pretty frank insults and attacks. What do we call someone who lashes at out those attempting to explain their culture and history? We call them a closed minded bigot. There is a subtle racism at play within these editorials; the theme that there is one single block of “White people” in the world. Despite being separated by geography, language and vastly different history.

Patryk Kowalik, a Polish developer for the game Elysian Shadows, penned this thoughtful reply to Americans demanding racial quotas in videogames. The uncomfortable truth is that being Polish is an uncomfortable type of “White” for the rich socialists in American universities to address with their “Critical Race theory.” The Polish are a distinct ethnic group that has suffered undeniable hardship and oppression — real oppression — easily shown over the past century:

“Three sovereign powers took Polish lands for over 100 years and tried to erase polish language and culture. The country briefly regained independence after WW1, only to lose it after WW2, when it became communist puppet-state with widespread censorship where history was altered, art policed and every political opinion was dangerous one. That ended only 25 years ago.  But hey, why stop only on history – Poles are still discriminated against in modern Europe” 

As someone who lives in the EU, and has traveled within it, I can tell you first hand the discrimination Polish immigrants have faced. Especially within the UK where Polish immigration levels has been high over the past decade. When you don’t live in the American “progressive” bubble you begin to see just how xenophobic their ideas are and how authoritarian their methods of accusation and shaming really are.

He went on to say:

“To people from multiracial countries, demanding racial diversity in video game might seem like something good, a progressive thing. However the game is not just any game, it’s Witcher. Game made in country which battled through history to maintain it’s own heritage and language, game which builds upon slavic mythology and promotes it internationally. You’re trying to shoehorn foreign elements into their culture, enforce your own standards onto theirs. In case I haven’t hammered my point down strongly enough: you have people of a minority culture that were persecuted and discriminated against in last 250 years, who made this awesome work of art that represents them, and you’re telling them to change it because it’s not American enough.”

That’s the crux of the issue. This isn’t diversity, this isn’t tolerance –- this is a group of spoiled writers saying “these games do not reflect my own cultural and political sensibilities, change them or I’ll call you racist, sexist or accuse you of being a Neo-Nazi.” And yes, that last part has happened; multiple outlets reported the false rumour that the developers of the game Hatred, Destructive Creations, were somehow linked to Neo-Nazi groups because a misinterpretation of a symbol on a team-member’s t-shirt.

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Turns out the developer was wearing a Cursed Soldiers emblem, a symbol of resistance against the enforced communist regime the Polish endured — a symbol of national pride. These accusations were sourced from a Tumblr post by “Fuck NO Video Games,” an anonymous individual who has launched multiple attacks on Gamers, journalists and Developers — all of which being as poorly sourced as this shameful indecent. Never the less, this account has gained traction on both Tumblr and Twitter, being shared and referenced by many Games Journalists in their desperate bid to halt consumer actions against them.

The Website “Player Attack” even acknowledged in its comments section their article was poorly sourced and factually incorrect and yet their headline of “Hatred is the neo-Nazi hate-crime of video games” still remains to slander and stain (and draw in clicks).

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This is what willful cultural misunderstanding does: it turns a developer wearing a symbol of his forefather’s resistance into hysteria about “Fascists.” The “Eastern European Skin-Head” is itself an ugly and outdated stereotype. Poland is a modern Central European nation and the portrayal of its game development as backward, ignorant and racist by journalists sourcing bigots on Tumblr is the real racism in these instances. This also backfired spectacularly, catapulting Hatred to the top of the Steam charts after so much attention was given to it by those trying to unfairly tear it down.

The irony is that those exposing the virtues of diversity and tolerance the loudest are the ones who are spreading a modern form on intolerance and mob-rule where the creative vision and culture of developers is sacrificed for increased uniformity. Fellow Polish developer Adrian Chmielarz summed it up well:

“It’s hard to have a rational, nuanced discussion on diversity these days. For example, if you believe Poles have the right to make a game that is essentially Polish, you’re an ignoramus who literally dehumanizes the people of color. Because diversity apparently means homogenization.”

centric side 2There is this push to make all entertainment this safe, mock UN box ticking exercise where creative vision is replaced by placation and pandering. In creating a game that is culturally Polish, these devs have inadvertently come into conflict with the American political correctness police. We used to joke about percentage quotas for gender and race in media but now the idea is being presented with a straight face, a press blitz, and a social-media mob to back it up. If you look at the USA and Europe and you only see a uniform set of culturally identical “White people” then you might just be a closed-minded fool ignorant of any vestige of culture and history.

The centre of this problem seems to be arrogance. A group of writers thinking they know someone else’s culture better than they do. Progressives assuming they can “fix” something to make it less offensive — not realizing that in the process they are asking for artists to strip-out what represents them and their identity. You can’t judge the rest of the world by America’s hang-ups on race and sex. Not everywhere has the same mix of people, ideas or the same history that America does, and part of diversity is recognizing that art and media has different context in different cultures. In presuming they are the arbiters of tolerance they have become some of the most intolerant people in the videogame landscape. They have set up a system where everything revolves around their own political sensibilities and in doing so have set out on a crusade to undermine the cultural representation of others and devalue and dismiss their ideas.

This new progressive racism needs to be shown for what it is and blunted, before it causes more misery to game developers just trying to realize their vision without bowing to the standards of a small clique of privileged American journalists and out of touch slacktivists.

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a terribly British man with a background in engineering. He writes long-form editorial content with analysis of gaming, games media and internet culture. He also does the occasional video game retrospective with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good measure. He also does most of our interviews for some reason, we have no idea why. A staunch supporter of free speech and consumer rights; skeptical of agenda driven media and suspicious of unaccoutable authority but always hopeful for change.