Centric header

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.