History 2E

   Over the past six to eight months I have heard of several weird “politicized” gaming incidents in Yan Kor, the Forgotten Realms, and my beloved Miskatonic University, and it got me thinking about political correctness in this wonderful hobby of ours. Historical reenactments, to be more precise, is the first thing that came to mind. Like, are we now expected to tweak history in order to make any and all role-playing politically correct?

   If I run a Hundred Years’ War campaign and run it accurately (no magic swords, no fireballs, et cetera), you better not choose to rock the boat – because people who rocked the boat ever so slightly usually died, back in those dark days. Just ask Joan of Arc: a celibate woman refusing to wear robes and donning heavy armor instead!

   So if you choose to play in THAT campaign, and your character is an openly gay French knight who also happens to blithely deny the existence of God, and goes on to marry an Ottoman sculptor in Granada... you’re going to be burned at the stake. Sorry. It’s nothing personal.

   If you don’t want to be burned at the stake, don’t play this character, or just play it in a different campaign, like Numenera. History is a huge mess, I agree – but never expect me to rewrite it for your sole enjoyment. I am no revisionist, and if you don’t appreciate accurate historical reenactments, that’s totally fine; we have lots of stupefying fantasy worlds to choose from...

   This weekend, we’ve got that new movie starring Matt Damon, The Great Wall. It is pure unadulterated fantasy – not a shred of historical fact in there whatsoever. In today’s climate of political correctness, a big-budget film about Chinese soldiers killing Mongol tribesmen would have been very toxic. Mongolia would have made a big fuss. And then Tibet would have jumped in too, because they are still being oppressed by China as we speak. And then, Taipei would have hopped on the bandwagon. And then various Human Rights organizations––

   What I’m trying to say is, you cannot kill human beings in movies anymore. You’re still allowed to kill individual human villains: a Latino drug dealer, a White crime boss, an Asian serial murderer, a Navajo necromancer, or even a Muslim Sith Lord if you want – but they have to remain unique individuals. You cannot make any distinct group of people the enemy; if you do, the group in question will call you out and organize a huge worldwide boycott of your movie or book.

   Even if you choose groups of people that don’t exist anymore – like classical Assyrians and Babylonians – I know their remote descendants will stir something up. Let’s say your movie is all about undeterred Assyrian troops conquering the “corrupt” and “decadent” Babylonian Empire, vanquishing village after village, burning, razing everything, until they get to the big city itself and exterminate Babylonians like it’s 1236 B.C. – because it is.

   Well, I’m pretty sure some contemporary Iraqi folks will find a way to disagree. “Babylon was in Southern Iraq, and Assyria was in Northern Iraq – thus the Assyrians are evil Sunni aggressors, and the Babylonians are good cultured peaceful Shia people!” Something along those lines. You can’t escape it.

   Ten years down that road, you won’t see any “living” antagonists in movies; it’s gonna be robots, zombies, and ghosts, all the time. That’s extreme. And you certainly can’t kill animals, unless they are very ugly insects or reptiles, but no mammals please, because, after all, we are mammals!

   The Great Wall replaced the Manchu and Mongol warriors with scary computer-generated crawling beasts of chaos. No Human Rights / Animal Rights group will ever defend the liberties of the crawling beasts of chaos (although it would be hilariously cool). So, you can kill as many of these monstrosities as you want: they’re not furry, neither cat-like nor dog-like – it’s perfectly okay!

Manchu and Mongol warriors north of the Great Wall
have all been polymorphed into Hunting Drakes!

   Obviously there is no Zombie Rights or Robot Rights organizations anywhere. This is why zombies and robots are fair game. But it’ll get old pretty fast. Trust me.

   “Real people” fighting “real people” always result in the most splendid and heart-wrenching stories. Always. Gangs of New York is a good example. Nobody’s evil. Nobody’s good. They just want and believe different things. They’re all unhinged, all afraid of what’s coming, but that desperate, portentous, sorrowful struggle will make you cringe and recoil and cry. You wouldn’t experience any of it with those damn zombies or robots.

   The highly civilized and highly patriotic Chinese thought Manchuria and Mongolia were barbaric, and a beleaguered wasteland. That’s why they had slaves build and rebuild that wall over and over again. Manchu slaves and Mongol slaves, most probably...

   History of the world is cruel / depressing / mind-boggling / terrifying – but it is our history, and we have to own it. Burying our heads in computer-generated sand won’t help us a bit.


  1. Your mentioning of historical reenactments reminded me of something a few years back. But first I want to say that I'm a huge fan of live reenactments and have participated in a few myself (colonial and medieval). Back in the 90's there was a WWII reenactment on the grounds of a museum that a friend suggested we go to. I wasn't that keen because I thought WWII is too recent. Boy was I wrong. Seeing the soldiers and equipment up close and seeing them reenact the hedge battles in France (Germans vs. US) was a very educational and impressive experience. I mention this, because about 5 years ago, there was some politician running for office - I'm not sure if I remember correctly but I think he was a republican in Ohio - and a huge stink was made of the fact that he had participated in public WWII reenactments as a german officer (I just googled it and found this http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/10/12/candidate.nazi.outfit/ ) Now, I don't know anything about the politician, but it was very disturbing to me how quickly he was vilified. When I think back to how much I learned form the museum reenactment I saw, I wonder if "politicization" has put a death nell in that kind of learning experience. I wonder if any of those guys in the German uniforms, who put all that time and effort in to getting the history right and giving us that fascinating first hand experience, would dare to do it today? I suppose civil war reenactors are in the same boat.

    1. Yep. Every single historical conflict will eventually be made "family-friendly", and nobody will learn anything valuable from those censored versions, as you said. It is hypocrisy, pure and simple. "If we don't mention that thing anymore, it'll be like it never happened."

      But history can prove difficult to censor sometimes. Cortés against the Aztecs is a good ambiguous example. Who's the villain? The Aztecs were pretty nasty, sacrificing young people twice a year to please the gods. But wait: Spaniards are White men, while Aztecs had brown skin - so it's White colonialism again, right? Can you find the elusive villains in there?

      It cannot be just people against people these days; somehow it has to be Good against Evil, all the time - and it has to be clear as day, with no ambivalence. This is why I believe history as we know it will ultimately be rubbed out and replaced by a Disney version of history.