Thursday, April 25, 2019

Human Race


I've been exploring a rework of my character background generation system, and that has led me to the above picture.  This is based off this image ... but while a make-up company can be comfortable telling women that they have "espresso" and "walnut" colored skin, I'm not for my game world, so I've done the best I can to produce my own names.  This has meant having to use "cocoa," "mocha" and "chocolate," but I dare anyone to come up with better options.

The only reputable way to talk about skin color on the internet is in the realm of make-up, which is why the only consistent database that's available is one that features women's skin.  Skin color is one of those things that I'm beginning to think of as the "dark hole" of the internet.  We have all the information available that is available to humans, unless that information is politically charged.  As another example, just try to find a definition about "being healthy" that isn't fully based on telling you how to achieve it.  What actual health is, what it looks like, the firm, fixed definition of this thing, simply doesn't exist.

For my purposes, when I tell a player that the character they've just met is from, oh, Senegal ~ or if the player is from such place ~ as a writer I'd like clear, unambiguous language that helps define what that character looks like.  I don't give a shit about racism or the way that racists/anti-racists have decided to co-opt the language to fight their war.  All colors look "good" to me ... but I don't really care about attaching a moral evaluation to the issue.  When I say, that fellow's from Lebanon, I'd like the players ~ who have never been to Lebanon, and who may not be able to accurately separate a Lebanese from a Saudi or a Persian in their minds ~ to have something to go on.  In this quest, the internet is not much of a help.

Which brings me to the bigger thing.  My background generator presumes that as a player character, you don't get a choice about your skin color.  I have the color I have because I happened to have been born to Russian-German stock in Western Canada.  I didn't get a choice about it.  I recognize that for many D&D players, "choice" is the wet dream to which they desperately cling to give their game any value, but frankly I think this self-aggrandizing game valuation strategy is repulsively masturbatory.  And let me be clear about that.  My feelings about ANY person who makes the argument that role-playing is about "living your fantasy" fall into the category of unrestrained contempt.  If fantasy is your object, please explore it in the bedroom or with your hand.  I'm not interested in enabling your fantasy.

The company is, however.  In those dark days when it looked like the company was going to choke and go under, they were grasping for whatever straws they could grab, and the enabling fantasy shift stick was one that came pretty easily to hand.  In my opinion, it has soiled ... well, everything that sort of fanplay usually soils.

I haven't yet had the player who shit a brick because I told him his character was dark in color when he was hoping for KKK white.  I imagine that I have had a player or two online who simply ignored me and believed what they wanted.  This is the real racism that we don't talk about with role-playing.  Not the elves, the dwarves and the half-orcs, but when was the last time your player described a human player character as cinnamon-skinned or molasses?

How much easier is it if your game world is Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, where everyone can be more easily white?  After all, there's no stigma attached to that bottom third of the map, is there?

Here I was just saying I don't care about racism.

One of the benefits of growing up a social leper is that it's easy to identify with the social leprosy that is attached to so many others.  Fundamentally, however, I'm interested in providing depth and distinction to my game world, to give it as tactile and as gritty a feel as I can provide.  There isn't a colour on the above chart that I wouldn't play proudly.

But then, saying that, someone is bound to boil out of their den to scream at me about cultural appropriation or some other such shit, which is a whole different post about a whole different kind of inventing social leprosy.  Whereas I think I've already made my point on this subject.

21 comments:

jamescbennett said...

I've been researching the same thing. I like the Fitzpatrick scale. Mostly because you can roll it on a d6...

Alexis Smolensk said...

My generator is geographically based. You have to be from there to look like that.

JB said...

I have come around to the idea that we have to be more willing to frankly acknowledge and discuss the color of folks' skin...rather than be (or pretend to be) "colorblind" with respect to race...if we are going to ever get a real grip on the issues regarding race that continue to plague our society. Putting it in a game (as a part of random character background) seems perfectly reasonable to me.

However, while your system is based on geography, isn't it acceptable to have a "range" of options based on neighboring regions/states? And while I understand that transplants would be rare in the 17th century, PC adventurers are somewhat extraordinary people...is it possible that one might have a parent of different genetic stock than the usual locals? Or is this already taken into account by your background generator?

On a personal note, I will say my wife and I have very different skin colorations, and our two children have skin colors different from either of us AND different from each other. Modeling genetic mingling is a tricky subject!

Alexis Smolensk said...

The system determines the birthplace of the character based on a random number, which is then based upon the distance of all other mapped parts of the world from the point where the character is generated. Thus, if you roll your character in Egypt, as opposed to rolling your character in Norway, your birthplace will likely drift in an area related to that point of origin.

The skin color is then based on large geographical areas: Himalayan, Sub-Saharan, Western European, Southeast Asian, etc. And the potential tone is then a group of tones related to that area.

Again, no option, past the character's privilege of choosing their race, which I won't go so far as the DM to determine for the player character (though, admittedly, a pureform game OUGHT to determine that by die also). The problem with options is that they lead to munchkinism, on some level; forcing the player to acknowledge their own birthplace, hair, eyes, skin-tone, height, weight and similar like conditions of their existence AS PART OF THE ENVIRONMENT in which they live compels a larger, deeper perspective on game play.

Baron Opal said...

Nice graphic. I found a good 16 swatch graphic but it is just shades. Having a face to look at is better.


After about 3 hours of research, I decided I didn't want to randomly determine three sets of dominant / recessive gene pairs to determine skin color. (AABBCC - AaBbCc - aabbcc, &c.) A logical range from a geographical location is better for our purposes. It would be easier than determining eye color, however.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Back in 2011 I stumbled across a page that related eye-color to geography. I went looking for it last week, but my link is dead. But thankfully, that problem is solved.

G. B. Veras said...

I have some biologists as friends, all of them agreed that the academy avoid research those topics too much because people goes nuts easily. One of them once told me that if we used the same criterion that we use in some animal species, homo sapiens would surely have subspecies. Skin color is only a tiny fraction of the many characteristics that could be used to classify the human population.

Anyway, there is a YouTube channel [1] that talks about the characteristics of many human populations. It is worth check. The guy even made huge a ethno-racial world map full of detail [2].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1vVNQN-TCy8d3Mb_Owr2Kw/videos

[2] https://www.google.com/url?https://www.reddit.com/r/Masastan/comments/arkxy8/masamans_ultimate_ethnoracial_map_of_2019/

Alexis Smolensk said...

You have intrigued me, G.B.

The first link goes to the fellow's channel, not a specific video.

The second link didn't work for me.

Can you post both as clickable links? Or at least tell me which specific vid you were discussing?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oops, I think I found the right vid on his channel

G. B. Veras said...

Hum, didn't saw that I could post HTML. Nice! Here we go...

Masamam's YouTube Channel

@YouTube Masaman's Ultimate 2019 Ethno-Racial Map of the World


@Reddit Masaman's Ultimate Ethno-Racial Map of 2019 [13226x6176]

Alexis Smolensk said...

That is pretty spectacular. I truly appreciat this, G.B.

Jojiro said...

"I don't give a shit about racism or the way that racists/anti-racists have decided to co-opt the language to fight their war."

I've never understood this blind-spot of yours, Alexis. You originally threw me off this blog for daring to make a comment about how there was a more nuanced translation for qinggong. Your objection was to link me to a Wikipedia page that, by the way, proved I was correct and to say you didn't give a shit what some person thought the correct translation was anyway.

You care deeply about mangonels and trebuchets and historical accuracy and making sure bodies of water actually flow somewhere and not randomizing encounters and dungeon room presentation. You'll tear apart reader descriptions of an encounter in the name of teaching precision and care. But when it comes to cultural sensitivity, you don't embrace nuance and learning. You jump to indignation. You jump to the KKK of all things (if a player hopes for KKK white, kick them, don't wait to see if they "shit a brick" or not). You proudly tell your readers "I don't care".

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, this is right, Jojiro. I choose my hills to die upon. Everyone does.

"Cultural sensitivity" is a myth created by salesmen to influence politics as a lever against properly governing people. I'm absolutely steadfast against any sort of white supremacy. In MY country, we outlawed the teaching of it as a hate crime, as did Germany, and I fully support that legislation.

But using the word "KKK" in a sentence is not a hate crime if I don't advocate for it. Here, I advocate plainly against it, suggesting that players who have to have whiteness in their characters to feel comfortable ARE guilty of, as you call it, "cultural insensitivity."

IF I threw you off this blog, and IF I'm so insensitive, and full of blind spots, then why are you still reading this blog?

Don't answer that. It's rhetorical. You're reading this blog because you can't get this material anywhere else. Your only beef is that you can't control the messenger.

G. B. Veras said...

I'm with Alexis here. I'm from Brazil and as you might expect my table always had the full spectrum of skin colors (these people are my closest friends not just game partners)... This "Cultural sensitivity" talk sounds whiny to my ears. Not because of "cultural insensivity" of my part because there is not as much racism down here (there is plenty of it here too). It is just that this kind of talk appears to me as fake and hypocritical as those happy family in butter advertising (or whatever kind of advertising with happy failies you see up there).

Alexis Smolensk said...

G.B., I think the cultural sensitivity Jojiro is talking about relates to not wanting whiteness to be associated with the KKK.

Jojiro said...

"I think the cultural sensitivity Jojiro is talking about relates to not wanting whiteness to be associated with the KKK."

What in the world? Of course whiteness has an association with the KKK.

I'm saying that if a player desires KKK white, if that's their desire and I know it somehow, my priority is removing them from my table. Not to tell them they are dark in color, and to watch if they react. My priority is that my other players don't have to deal with such a fellow sitting at my table.

You are categorically incorrect in thinking that I want the KKK to be divorced from whiteness. What a bizarre and stupid conclusion.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Perhaps you missed the part in the post where I wrote, "I haven't yet had the player who shit a brick ..." I'd think you would, because it's the beginning of the sentence that includes the KKK crack.

As such, I've never had such a fellow sitting at my table. And the post makes it pretty clear that if I did, I'd do exactly what you, Jojiro, suggested. I'd remove them.

So where is the conflict here?

That I made an incorrect evaluation of your statements on the INTERNET? Wow. I'm sure that's never happened before.

I apologize.

Since you and I agree on the inadmittance of sentiments that would oppose a random generation of what race your character is, tell me again where my "blind-spot" is. Because I'm stumped.

The phrase, "I don't give a shit about racism," does not mean, "I think all arguments opposed to racism are meaningless." It means, racism does not apply in this context, because I am treating all races in the context of the generator as equally valid, equally legitimate, equally desired and equally based in Earth-context. It means, I am not accepting arguments at this time that would argue I'm being a racist because I am "talking about race," which in this internet atmosphere, is MORE than enough detail to proclaim me a racist.

The very words, "I'm going to talk about race, because is a factual thing," is enough to tag me a racist with only about 10,000 groups anxious to start fights.

So again. Tell me. Where is my blind-spot.

Drain said...

Ah, yes, when a game from the 70's based on fiction from the 50's and all its implied outdated sensibilities intersect the current cultural mainstream.

Enough mines in that there field to make you think it's a monoculture.

Homer2101 said...

Random skin color selection and such seems fine if you want to poke players and see who gets uncomfortable playing a character with particular skin/hair/eyes/whatever. But it won't add much to the game because there's nothing for players to interact with mechanically. That would require a social interaction mechanic that factors in differences in skin color, religion, and other such. Crusader Kings 2 has such a system, for example.

That said, because someone is claiming humans can be categorized into subspecies in any sort of useful and scientific manner, a reminder from the Human Genome Project:

"DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity."

And another from the AAPA:

"Humanity cannot be classified into discrete geographic categories with absolute boundaries. Furthermore, the complexities of human history make it difficult to determine the position of certain groups in classifications. Multiplying subcategories cannot correct the inadequacies of these classifications."

There is a lot of literature on the subject, if anyone is interested.

There's nothing wrong per se with producing a few score subcategories grouping humans by skin color, language, religion, and other such, and generating them for player characters based on geographic origin. The map linked above illustrates all of the problems associated with the exercise. But creating actual human sub-species which differ in (for example) "intelligence" is unscientific bullshit.

Besides which D&D makes it easy to engage in socially acceptable racism as it is. D&D describes humanoids exactly the way northwestern Europeans used to describe everyone else. Populate Africa with various orcs and kobolds, and players won't feel any guilt murdering the savages and stealing their stuff for king and country.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, I'm running a game, not a scientific study, so I think I'm safe if the lines are sharper in my fictional world than they are in reality.

I'm not implementing the system to get a rise out of persons. Again, I've never gotten a rise out of anyone so far. But I have gotten a lot of feedback from persons who LIKE their character's skin color, eyes and hair, and feel it adds a lot to the verismilitude of their experience. Therefore, Homer, I feel that your statement, "won't add much," is inaccurate and describes only your perspective.

Stealth said...

Homer and Alexis: If we're relating personal perspective, I think that hair, eye and skin color do lend depth to the game. I like knowing what my character looks like, it's as relevant to me as "what's in the room" and how much money is in my character's pockets. Is it mechanically relevant? Depends on the game system, on the DM's setting. But as a player small details deepen my immersion. Makes the game more real, lends it depth. I see skin color/tone as a shortcut to that, providing markers that allow for additional ways to distinguish characters from one another. Different tribes of elves, or whatever.

I suppose I could use ear length, or the angle of the nose, or something else equally arbitrary to distinguish social or geographic groups. This is the internet, and we are bound to offend someone, somewhere, the moment we open browser window and begin typing comments. It is a guarantee that someone will misunderstand, will take offense, and will vilify anyone who stands up and writes anything.

If a player doesn't bat an eye at encountering humans and orcs, I don't see why red skinned humans and purple orcs should be upsetting. However, if I knew that red skinned humans were uncommon in this part of the world, and that purple orcs had never before been seen, that would be a valuable detail that could relate to gameplay. Are the orcs from an undiscovered land, do they have a disease, etc? Are those humans sunburnt or is that a tan indicating that they're from somewhere that gets lots of sun compared to where my character is?

Like anything included in a game, color is an optional tool that can be used to improve and enrich the quality of the game.

Jojiro: It is not polite to call someone's conclusions and opinions stupid, regardless of whether you dislike or disagree with their statements.