How should IC discrimination be handled?

  • @arkandel

    This is extremely true. Which is why I think any type of IC bigotry should be 'bought in' by everyone involved and extremely clear. Or not at all.

  • I've been on Dream Chasers MU*, and I've been pretty happy with how the themes have been handled. Due to how things are set up, there's definitely more than one way prejudice comes into the picture. You have your sky city civilization looking down on the uncouth surface people, you have humans looking down on beastmen/demihumans, you have ancient space aliens looking down on humans, and you have a secret returning race of humans looking down on just about everyone, even employing a sort of forced labor system on their grounds. Magic guns are a thing most have, but depending on where you are, it could be seen as anything from 'a necessary evil' to 'a mark of a demon'. And this doesn't even touch on the ones that are more based in reality, like sex, gender, skin color, class, etc.

    I agree that the trick is to allow people to play their characters as they wish/feel is IC for their character, or visit those themes in ways they feel comfortable portraying. There can always be NPCs to fill the void if a playerbase strays more one way or another.

    It's also comfort level. Some levels of prejudice are easier to pose than others, and if someone finds something, even if it's innocent, that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should be able to feel free to contact staff about it and/or talk it over with the player(s) involved.

  • Pitcrew

    In any sort of urban fantasy, or somehow linked to our actual world setting, I generally give it a hard pass.

    In a fantasy setting, I think it can work well if there's a sort of Rock-Paper-Scissors sort of discrimination triangle, where if you have three races, each one discriminates against one of the others but it's never a back and forth. Or if there's some reason to work together.

    Discrimination is tough. And discrimination can be done well if there's a cultural reason to hate <x group>, but PCs who play as part of <x group> should be able to have ways to not be totally downtrodden 100% of the time. (See also: halfies in Firan) Without that, then you're effectively asking an entire group of PCs to be footnotes and scapegoats in other people's stories, and I think it's very hard to do that in a way that is engaging for everyone involved.

  • Coder

    Sorry. I just can't see any constructive usage of IC discrimination, for any reason, surviving in this day and age of SJWs railing on about the Chinese plight during the Victorian era (example in OP) or sexism in the 50s.

    All it takes is one loud-mouthed self-righteous opinion to kill people's drive to RP in such a setting, and to do it with a hefty dose of shame.

    Everyone* out there knows that discrimination is bad, but in the OP's instance, this sort of thing is key to whatever the setting is proposing as a backdrop to whatever other struggles are going on. Some people just won't be able to see their way past that. I firmly believe that most people are increasingly wearing self-justified attitude blinders, assured that they are okay and correct in their thinking.

    *Everyone but the zealots and the neanderthals.

  • @rook

    Bah, sorry, phone was being glitchy there.

    In that proposed scenario, I'd wonder about the communication between the community, and whether a player was mistaking IC for OOC, which is a problem that's old as time. In situations I've had, it's usually that, or something unintentional being conveyed.

    Confession time: I remember back when I was a dumb Midwestern kid back in the 90's, when a friend had to politely correct me on certain words.

  • Coder

    As a person who has ran into a lot of discrimination for various things beyond my control RL, I can say that when it happens IC it all comes down to one thing:

    Is the person doing it being a dick OOCly too.

    The quickest thing to make it be an issue OOCly for me is if the 'discriminatory' character says:

    I am just playing in character. The character is racist.

    And then just uses that as a defense for anything, and to try and get out of any ICC due to their ICA.

    At that point the character is not the only asshole present.

    I am playing a bigoted character, but it is mild, and will be more of a social thing than anything else. Will it affect her RP and story? Absolutely possible, I certainly hope so, maybe she will one day even grow out of it. Maybe not.

    What I will /not/ do is use it as an excuse to attack other PC's or justify ruining a scene, or make it the /focus/ of a scene because no. It might be a thing but if it turns the PC into nothing but an Antagonist it's not really /adding/ anything an NPC couldn't do better.

    I remember playing on a Western game way back when (Not sure if it was @faraday 's Sweetwater Crossing or not) and it /was/ a disconnect to the theme, which can be a major turn off, when nobody seems to be playing things the way theme says things are.

    I wanted to play a minority who would do awesome and great things in /spite/ of her race and gender, which is very appropriate for the setting but... it didn't turn out that way IC.

    IC discrimination should be handled ICly, but by the same token, nobody can be forced to RP with someone or something they don't enjoy. If my PC's bigotry becomes an issue that causes her to be excluded, then that is on /me/ and I won't take offense to that.

    I /chose/ to play a bigot, that means I get to reap what I sow.

  • I run into this a lot more in live action environments because there are a fair amount of RPers out there that want to explore themes that basically traffick in the oppression of another culture. Granted online isn't equal offline but I generally don't know of any game that's been improved or the theme or mechanics made better by the inclusion of racism.

    Someone generally always gets hurt, often its the person trying to be the bigot as @Kanye-Qwest points out. And that's kind of the problem here: No two people are going to approach this material from the same level. When you consider that every player is coming from a different race, gender, socioeconomic class, and even countries where the context for all this is different - no two people will approach this the same way. And because of this inherent mismatch, it often causes a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings and refusals to RP with people and forming conclusions about the players behind the characters that, to me, becomes in for a penny and out for a pound.

    Also, consider that not everyone behind a screen comes from a place of treating bigotry and racism as a character study. I'm of mixed race. And for me, games are source of escapism from those difficult aspects of my real life which is full of coded language and unconscious bias (and very aware bias) that comes with a package of living now in the United States. I really don't want to explore those themes in a game. I truly get my fill elsewhere and don't need it and I on some level don't want to labor to help others explore it. So for my money, I tend to avoid games that have these themes or if not, I tend to avoid these characters.

    I may be missing out on other opportunities in terms of RP quality, perhaps but the cost of admission isn't worth the reward.

  • Coder

    Personally, the more there is discrimination in a setting, the more important it is to set a standard for OOC behavior. If you're a bigot IC, you need to be careful to leave this IC. I know people have a tendency to, for example, talk semi-ICly while on channels or in the OOC Lounge, but these OOC areas need to have a properly respectful OOC tone. Leave IC, IC.

    Here's m1963's conduct policy:

    Staff here at Marvel: 1963+ have a very simple philosophy when it comes to the conduct of our players; we expect our players to conduct themselves as adults and treat others with respect.

    As the IC subject-matter of this game covers a number of things that are sensitive and controversial, including but not limited to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and so on, it's very important that we maintain a respectful OOC tone on these and other subjects. We aren't trying to create an environment that stifles discussion, but we also aren't a venue where OOC social politics is welcomed. This is a game; we're here to play it, and it's important to keep OOC things -- especially about these sensitive issues -- on a level that makes everyone comfortable.

  • Coder

    @gangofdolls If a game has a must of 'human' characters, I personally find it easier to get into a character I can draw on more of my own experiences with than not. If I try to play a straight white person I disconnect from the character far more often because it is difficult (for me) to form a bond to the character. I worry if I am doing it justice, and being believable, and I often here the converse, playing another ethnicity or sexuality it is very easy to come across as a bag full of tropes.

    Really, most of the problem with bigots in games is the ones who carry it over OOC or their 'desire' to play one means anyone who doesn't enjoy that type of interaction is suddenly in the 'wrong' for not wanting to interact with the bigot.

    That idea is the problem, nobody should be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable OOCly.

    We have Fade to Black rules on a large swathe of games. We have rules about not being an asshole OOCly.

    If someone /chooses/ to make a Bigot, then they are /choosing/ to deal with those consequences of doing so. They should do so maturely and respectfully instead of being a whining child about it. That proves they don't have the maturity to play that type of character.

    That said: I much prefer completely fictional bigotry as a theme element. If it's bigotry against dwarves, elves, whatever... that is far less likely to impact people on an OOC level because as far as I know, none of us are those things and it's much harder to take it personally.

  • Pitcrew

    I think the biggest issue to me comes down to is it fun for everyone involved. After all that is the goal of the game. So as a player i am not really comfortable RPing a character who is sexist or racist because I know there are other players who have to deal with those issues every day.
    It feels different to me if I am playing a character that hates Mutants in a Marvel setting, or dislikes Joe because he is a Gangrel, there might not be much IC difference but on an OOC level I know none of the players are mutants or Gangrel.

  • @lithium I see what you're saying and don't disagree. I will offer though that alternative world racism can sometimes be a problem, so I tend to review what the basis for the racism is.

    Like for example, there's a general perception amongst Dwarves that Elves are bad parents because they raise their children in a communal setting and don't name their children because a child must earn its name. They don't even form a relationship with their child until they an adult. And Elves are quite certain that Dwarves are the worst because they dislike sunlight and refuse any sort of interaction where sunlight is involved. They are trying to inconvenience everyone else just because they have this seemingly strange thing about light and it won't kill them to be in the sun anyway.

    I'm sure someone can find coded subtext in there somehow because I sort of wrote this on the fly but basically, the reasons fantasy races hold perceptions and assumptions about each other that could be seen as racist in the setting don't have direct analogues to real world races.

    It's the fantasy settings though where Drow are black and everything dark=
    evil (this has literally made zero sense to me forever because everything in nature that lives in an environment with no/little light has no pigment) and Dwarves are weird swipe at Jews, etc. that bother me. Unfortunately, a lot of original fantasy races are informed by some of this stuff.

    I think it is easier though to take the pressure off when you're not dealing with real world analogues whatever the setting.

  • Coder

    @gangofdolls The Drow thing has a lot of backstory to it, and they were dark before they were ever cast underground. I can see why some might think of it that way however.

    The real crux of it is this: There is no way to truly avoid discrimination because at this time humans are discriminatory by nature.

    Sometimes it's racial ethnicity.

    Sometimes it's social disparity.

    Sometimes it's land of origin.

    We as a species are always finding ways to /be/ discriminatory, so there's no real way of getting around that.

    We even here on this board are discriminatory against certain types of RP, certain ways people describe their characters, certain character tropes.

    Does any of this make it right? Probably not but we don't treat others equally. The only thing we can do is try to stop problem behavior.

    As for the topic of the thread though, how should IC discrimination be handled? ICly. I don't hang out with people I dislike RL if I can avoid them. Why should it be any different in a game? I can dislike a character though, and still like the player, and still have fun interacting with that character but ICly, I guess it comes back to ICA=ICC.

    At least for me.

  • I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the context of Fading Suns. Specifically, discrimination against psi powers. My experience on previous games has been that by and large nobody will discriminate against those with psi powers even though, in character, there are excellent reasons to do so.

    It is not just down to medieval knee jerk 'burn the witch!' stuff which is certainly prevalent in setting, psi powers are genuinely terrifying even for the most educated and enlightened. That person with psi powers could well be reading your mind or 'pushing' at your emotions without your knowledge, they might be spying upon you with no possible way to detect it, etc.

    There is literally no way to protect yourself outside of outrageously expensive and rare relic technology and for that matter? Psychics actually do go crazy and get possessed by or spawn the evil twin mirror version of themselves, so even your best friend might well act against you despite their will. That said how can you tell if they are really your best friend when they could potentially have edited your memories of them?

    So how to encourage people to have such in character discrimination and worries whilst keeping it interesting for all involved?

  • Pitcrew

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

    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."

    I know this post is two weeks old and I apologize for dredging it back up, but it hit on basically the reason I avoid historical games: importing modern sensibilities into historical or quasi-historical settings always bugs me when I go to play in them, because it robs the setting of credibility.

    And I feel guilty about that, because it's probably the height of white privilege to want to take a vacation into oppression, but I can't help feeling that while progressive utopias would be great to live in IRL, they're excruciatingly boring to play in.

  • Coder


    I agree with you. What's the point in wanting to play a period piece if you're not going to play a period piece?

    But I have one note: Star Trek.

    Utopia shouldn't mean boring, we're just not creative enough for them. Just like the people who think "Lawful Good" means "stick up their bum".

  • Admin

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

    Utopia shouldn't mean boring, we're just not creative enough for them. Just like the people who think "Lawful Good" means "stick up their bum".

    That is correct. However consider that Star Trek is built around this premise; it's supposed to show us humanity at its best, or at least at a point of its history where they've (we're?) conquered many chronic social issues, and live in a society mostly free of racism, sexism, money-chasing, etc.

    But let's say you're setting a game in the fifties (or the Victorian age) and you're trying to be at least somewhat historically accurate. It's quite feasible even then to accept or even to require PCs to be more liberal in their outlooks; certainly there were plenty of individuals back then who didn't look at a free black man or a self assured woman as a bad thing, but societies as a whole did. Doing away with those parts ("in our version of London all races are equal") can still be done of course, it's simply not the same thing.

    Can it be creative? Damn right it can be. You can create alternative settings of just about anything and make them a blast. Utopia isn't the problem, a lack of vision is; if you change one major aspect of life then you need to chase those alterations down their rabbit holes to see where they lead, and see how you can turn the outcome into something fun. So there's no racism in your city - awesome! What happened to slavery? Did the United States still have a civil war? What was Britain's role?

    And the biggest question... what does that all mean to the actual RP you will do in the game? It's not about just being able to use Michael B. Jordan as your PB, it has to all make sense as a whole. Which takes a bit of work.

  • One of the most interesting things re: Trek as a setting is that it's 'utopia', but there are still abundant problems.

    They're just different problems.

    One of the most common being, 'how do you relate to a non-utopian society, or one with a vastly different idea of utopia than yours'.

  • Pitcrew

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

    But let's say you're setting a game in the fifties (or the Victorian age) and you're trying to be at least somewhat historically accurate. It's quite feasible even then to accept or even to require PCs to be more liberal in their outlooks; certainly there were plenty of individuals back then who didn't look at a free black man or a self assured woman as a bad thing, but societies as a whole did. Doing away with those parts ("in our version of London all races are equal") can still be done of course, it's simply not the same thing.

    I think my problem with this would be that it borders on the cliche at this point, because it seems like that's what every game set in a (quasi-)historical period is doing these days. Maybe it's just confirmation bias, but speaking only for myself, it doesn't work for me.

    As someone who sticks around these games for the day-to-day narrative/social RP aspects rather than the endless cycle of PRPs, I get frustrated when a game's setting goes out of its way to remove every negative societal trait that I would potentially have to deal with. Maybe sometimes I want to play Joan Holloway or Betty Draper, you know?

    Games set in crappy/oppressive worlds have flourished before, but it seems like there was some seismic shift over the last few years where everyone got worried they'd be labeled some sort of '-ist' and now everything's sanitized and pretty boring. People don't seem to leap to OOC accusations of the player behind a character being a murderer when that character kills a bunch of people, and I'm confused why we seem to have decided that's self-evident but a character being a sexist or a racist is legitimate cause for OOC concern.

  • Admin

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

    I'm confused why we seem to have decided that's self-evident but a character being a sexist or a racist is legitimate cause for OOC concern.

    I am often frustrated by the same thing. In games we kill hordes of enemies without the social stigma, right?

    However that's my emotional response. My brain chips in to re-inform me that murder, as a whole, is pretty much universally condemned. Sexism or racism are alive and well everywhere around us.

    It's way easier to be triggered by something that has actually happened to you or someone you know. But how does that relate to gaming when that's just an IC point of view not shared by players? Well, that's what this thread is about.

  • Pitcrew

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

    People don't seem to leap to OOC accusations of the player behind a character being a murderer when that character kills a bunch of people, and I'm confused why we seem to have decided that's self-evident but a character being a sexist or a racist is legitimate cause for OOC concern.

    Maybe because it's not entirely about this, but instead about people not wanting to deal with the shitty things they have to deal with IRL (those pesky -isms that are so fun for people who aren't usually impacted) in their pretendy fun-time games.

    ETA: Like, why does my PC have to suffer the same crap I do IRL for somebody else to be having fun?