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Subject: Historical games, what is 'the line?' rss

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Josh Willenbrink
United States
New York
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I am working on a historical hidden role game. This game is a personal project because it is about a section of history I enjoy to study. Because I am using all real historical figures the issue has been raised to my attention that some may view this game as insensitive or in bad tastes because some players my be "the bad guys" and I have also had it said all games should avoide themes connected with actual loss of life.

Is there a hidden rule I'm missing in the gaming community? Most of the responses have been very positive but the few that haven't been were very strong. Thoughts on this matter appreciated.

Thanks much,
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Carel Teijgeler
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Vlaardingen
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If you want it historical you cannot ignore those facts. Change the historical figures to a more abstract name (a country) to aoid a more personal approach.

On the other hand, if you want a historical setting, but not historical accurate (if that is possible to achieve anyway) you should design an Euro game. One theme springs to mind: The Scramble for Africa.

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G G
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anijunk wrote:
One theme springs to mind: The Scramble for Africa.

Nah, try "Warden of Treblinka" - that's a tough sim.
 
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Some people can be offended by anything. The general population safety line is this:

Is the game exploring some nasty behaviour, or brushing by it? Playing Rommel in a purely wargame atmosphere is not a big deal. Playing SS officers vs. people trying to hide Jewish people is going to not be fun for many but could actively explore interesting things if well handled. When killing or selling of people that actually happened is used as merely a point gaining mechanism, you will cross the 'general population wanting your game to exist' line.

Non-Nazi example: Game of Chinggis Khan conquering lands, no problem for most. Game of Chinggis Khan's armies taking villages and earning points for men killed and women raped, problem.

There is no perfect line, but I think that is the standard:

"Am I treating a horrible thing as a side note to victory conditions in my game?"
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Brian Hoare
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Around 1750.
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G G
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I agree that making your players into monsters is over the line.

What's interesting is how many wargames we all about killing the enemy for VPs, despite that being ahistorical and non-strategic. Fortunately, more modern games have shifted to battlefield objectives, positions and movement. That's an improvement, but the focus on kills is still often big in the mechanics and scoring.

Similarly,.I recall trading games that would have abstract "slave" or "narcotics" as possible cargo - high risk, high reward. Haven't played that in a while, though, but I assume it to be passe
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Sight Reader
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anijunk wrote:
One theme springs to mind: The Scramble for Africa.
I vaguely recall hearing something about that controversy. What was it that got people mad? Was it their handling of slavery or something?
 
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D Weimer
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Hm. I, too, am working on a historical game where I ask the players to be bad guys, and haven't heard complaints. Though in my setup, killing people isn't the objective per se, and these particular bad guys mostly just killed other bad guys.

So I guess I'd echo a couple points that have already been made. One, that some people will be offended by anything. History is complicated, and if you want to model its ugly parts, you'll just lose some of the more sensitive parts of the market, and that's just how it goes.'

For everybody else, the line will depend on the player. I doubt many people would be able to look past the theme to play "Gas Chamber Tycoon", though I'm sure some perfectly well-mannered, normal people would, and I wouldn't judge them for it. There just wouldn't be much of a market for it.

[How low will I go? I really want to try An Infamous Traffic.]
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Glenn Ford
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Honestly, its hard to say from the OP, its true that some people are offended by anything, but its also true that some things offend everyone, and its probably true that you really shouldn't make things that offend everyone. There is such a thing as people being right to be offended.

Its another know it when you see it thing, but if there are easy rules (there aren't) time is the first one, anything in people's lifetimes is more sensitive. Second is how sensitive you're going to be, that's why more subtle works of art can get away with more, and in a game you're going to be being blunt about things, its out of your power. Third depends on what's being done and in board games, killing is generally not going to offend people unless you personalise the killing. So, no one ever got offended by Risk, even when you're marching across Africa from Europe absolutely massacring the natives just because you're trying to get to South America, but if I tell you the name and background of a meeple and then tell you that its worth points to kill them, that gets a little hairier.

One thing to do is figure out why the game doesn't offend you. If its just because you're too deep in the weeds on it and its all mechanics to you now then get fresh eyes on it. If its because the targets of the actions are of a different demographic from you, that's a worry. If you honestly can't say why its not offensive to you then it might be oversensitivity on someone else's part.
 
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Brendan Riley
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La Grange
Illinois
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"Life is more fun if you play games." - Roald Dahl
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One illustrative example for you might be Secret Hitler, which rings many of the bells you're talking about. When the game came out, their strategy was:

1. Make it clear that the Nazis are the bad guys, be clear that we hate the bad guys.

2. Build in interesting mechanisms that give the Liberals power when they pass Fascist laws.*

3. Embrace the controversy.

That said, there are many people who just won't play SECRET HITLER, and find it to be in terrible taste. I was that way for a long time, and am still ambivalent about it. I have used it in a class during a unit about satire, humor, and "the line" (paired with THE PRODUCERS). But if I just have some time to play a game and I want the experience, I pull out my print and play of SECRET VOLDEMORT.

From my perspective, I guess I'd ask why the game needs to be in that setting. What does it do narratively or cognitively for the players to put it in that particular historical era? Like any artist, you need to consider these consequences as part of what you're doing.

*I thought this was REALLY interesting until I played it and realized the powers are just a salve, not a strategy; often you have no choice about which kind of law to pass. I would say it's almost never in the Liberals' interest to pass a fascist law in the game. Or real life for that matter.
 
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