Thursday, May 28, 2015

A vegetarian and a butcher

Years ago, as a teenager, I participated in a class that would allow people only learning English to talk with actual native speakers. Each time we would discuss a specific issue based on a short text. I remember one of them specifically, as it discussed especially awkward mistakes made in all sorts of student exchange programmes. One of those mistakes was sending a vegetarian to a butcher’s family.

There is nothing wrong with being a vegetarian, and nothing wrong with being a butcher (although, I know some people might disagree with any of these statements). A problem may appear, however, if we try put these two together under one roof for at least six months. And as much as it looks like no more than a basis for a failed nineties sitcom, it does have something to do with board games. 

I’ve already talked about listening to your testers when you’re developing your game – and listening to them not only when they talk about what they think works or doesn’t work in your prototype, but also when they try to tell you that they feel uncomfortable with an idea your game might include, promote or be based on. However, there is one more thing you might want to actually do. 

A vegetarian is not out of place in most civilized western societies – and neither is a butcher. Still, by trying to make one work with the other might (just might) result in a disaster. Now, I specifically don’t want to point fingers at any particular games, but it often happens that a thing that is hardly worth a gasp in one culture, but perceived as deeply offensive in another, ends up in a family board game. To me that is a blunder you can easily avoid. 

There are many reasons somebody might feel offended, starting from the history of a given country or region, and ending with personal experiences that differ significantly, based on where you’ve been raised and where you live. And it would probably be impossible to be certain that your game will certainly not make anyone in the world uncomfortable. But some due diligence is necessary. 

To put it in simple terms: if you’re making a game about a specific region, specific people, specific historical events, just do your homework and be certain that you are not trampling the toes of someone whose ancestors or family members might have been involved. Don’t base it on just your assumptions, just spend a day making sure that you did not get anything horribly backwards, and you should be okay. 

But by all that is good an pure, spend that day.
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1 comment:

  1. I am reminded of a comment made on a podcast - I think it was the Plaid Hat Podcast, and they were discussing market testing of Dead of Winter in Germany. There were some cards in the game that the developers had identified as possibly inappropriate for children, with the suggestion that parents consider removing those cards before playing with kids. The German reviewers commented back that they were confused regarding the choices as to which cards the American developers considered inappropriate for children and which they did not. Cards that were sexually suggestive were marked as potentially inappropriate, because American parents tend to be sensitive about exposing children to sexual topics prematurely, whereas the Germans didn't find them particularly bothersome. On the other hand, they found other cards to be rather violent, and couldn't understand why the Americans had not marked those as inappropriate for children; it seemed that German parents are much more sensitive than Americans about exposing their children to suggestively violent content. It was a very interesting lesson in cultural differences regarding appropriate and inappropriate content.