Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Nazi Games

I don't have answers to all these questions, but it seems to me far too many conversations go too far with out ever asking questions like these. People get stuck on boring, kindergarten-level questions like "Can art affect people?" (Yes) "Can art be racist, sexist, etc?" (Yes) "Can art be unconsciously those things?"(Yes) "Can fiction be racist, sexist?" (Yes, but it's relatively rare)  "Should we avoid offending people at all costs?" (No) and "Should we censor things" (No) and pretend the argument is about that. Here are some questions which are for adults.

I chose Jewishness as an example because it is a form of marginality (however minor, in the US in 2015) that I can claim by birth--I am not, myself, religious--but these questions are still meaningful when ported to other, considerably more marginalized, groups of people. So here we go-- the easy ones are first:


1. Hitler writes a game. He intends it to clearly reflect his worldview but he's so bad at writing, no-one can understand it and it has no effect on anyone.

Is it anti-semitic? Why or why not?


2. The author of this game harbors no prejudice and is kind to everyone -- this is publicly known and is privately true. Or at least as true as it can be of anyone. No-one has ever even suggested she harbors any bigoted feeling or idea. She has sacrificed a great deal for the well-being of the marginalized.

Her game is rancid with prejudice, Jews are called kikes, every race is slurred and degraded. The imagery and experience system suggests it is heroic to slaughter anyone less well-off than wealthy blonde white men--and it is written at a level suggesting it is for children. Her motives are unclear: perhaps she wrote it as a kind of cathartic exercise to purge herself of wicked thoughts, perhaps simply as an intellectual challenge to write in a voice that was not her own--it's impossible to be sure.

However, this game is unreadable. It is written in a language that was lost forever and will never be remembered or recovered, even by the author. No-one knows anything about it.

Is it anti-semitic? Why or why not?


3. The motive behind the game is repulsive -- it seeks, proactively, to begin a race war. The author is unimaginably racist. No-one knows any of this.

The game is a ridiculous failure in its secret purpose and nobody even notices the racial overtones, they are so clumsily coded and poorly written. It comes across as a charmingly inept kind of Gamma World or Mutant Future.

A prominent celebrity of color is quoted as saying he is a fan. Its odd and accidental charm makes it not only popular but immensely, disproportionately popular among players of color. A statistically meaningful number of people who aren't white take up the hobby because of it. People who do play it generally walk away with a greater feeling of tolerance toward others than they walked in with. Universities where they study games, like UCLA and Columbia -- notice these things and report them. The results are confirmed. This goes on forever.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


4. Hitler writes a game. Or maybe Goering or Goebbels. Or the Grand Wizard of the Klan.

Nobody knows they are the author. They die.

The game is discovered later, author unknown. It is published, embraced. It has no content anyone ever accuses of being racist. It seems considerably less ideologically loaded than, say, Pong, to anyone whoever plays it. Let's say: even in these fraught times, it attracts less racial critique than any other RPG ever, though it is popular. The audience is skewed in no particular way. Social scientists can detect no notable change in attitude among people after playing the game. In fact: there is none.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


5. The game is produced with the best will in the world by the most progressive soul imaginable -- but not the most talented. It becomes popular.

Because it is kind of dull or because of the social circles through which it propagates or for some other reason that's difficult to trace, the earnest (and in no-way detectably offensive) game only manages to acquire a very WASPy audience. It changes their attitudes in no way, as it was preaching to the choir. Because it is popular, it actually makes the RPG audience less Jewish and more WASPy than it already was.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


6. A Jewish person produces a game. They harbor no self-hatred. Exactly half the Jewish community finds it offensive and anti-semitic. The other half doesn't and, in fact, hails it as a vital exploration of social issues essential to the community that couldn't have been addressed any other way. It changes the game audience in no way and there are no detectable changes in peoples' attitudes about race after playing or reading it.

Is the game anti-semitic Why or why not?


7. A white anglo-saxon protestant produces a game. They harbor no anti-Semitic feeling. Exactly half the Jewish community finds it offensive and anti-semitic. The other half doesn't and, in fact, hails it as a vital exploration of social issues essential to the Jewish community that couldn't have been addressed any other way. It changes the game audience in no way and there are no detectable changes in peoples' attitudes about race after playing or reading it.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


8. A person bearing no prejudices produces a game. It is broad and written for children and relies on stereotypes about people of many ethnicities either because they're oblivious or because they think this is a good way to get ideas across to children. It is incredibly popular among people of precisely those ethnicities and encourages everyone who plays it to learn more about those cultures. It is, in fact, more popular among a diverse audience than an earlier, less stereotype-riddled version of the same game.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


 9. A progressive person produces a game full of progressive ideas about people of all ethnicities, including Jews. It is dull and (measurably, like in a lab) makes people think these kinds of games suck.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


10. 30% of Jews say the game is anti-Semitic and offensive, 70% say it is a vital exploration of social issues essential to the community that couldn't have been addressed any other way.  It has not other measured social effect on the audience or the audience's attitudes.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


11. A person bearing no prejudice produces a game. 10 Jewish people play it and are offended and say it's anti-semitic and never play RPGs again. 10 Jewish people love it and have the best experience of their gaming lives and go on to do a great many game things. It has no effect on anyone's attitudes about prejudice except the offended people--people who like it just say it's fun.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?

What if 20 Jewish people love it?



Only 2?


12. A game divides the Jewish community. All the Jewish people you get along with and think are smart consider it a vital and necessary exploration of their identity. All the ones you don't and think are stupid consider it anti-semitic.

Is it? Why or why not?


13. A game is produced by a superlatively progressive person. The game is for adults. It has no measurable effect on the attitudes of adults or on the demographics of the adult audience.

It is not for children, but if children were to play it, they have a chance of adopting anti-semitic attitudes.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


14. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. The game has only one sociological effect on the audience and it is measurable: people who have anti-semitic beliefs are more likely to take an anti-semitic action after playing.

Is the game anti-semitc? Why or why not?

If so: is beer therefore anti-semitic? Why or why not?


15. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. The game has only one sociological effect on the audience and it is measurable: stupid people are more likely to be racist after playing.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


16. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. The game has only one sociological effect on the audience and it is measurable: mentally ill people are more likely to be racist after playing.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?

17. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. Smart people become less racist when they play the game and understand important issues better and more viscerally, stupid people become more racist. There is no other way to address the complex issues in the game except via playing the game in its current form -- it, for example, requires people to adopt roles of real-life Jewish people who were guilty of banking-related crimes.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


18. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. The game is old: the game's measurable effect on the audience at the time was to diversify the audience and make it more progressive. No Jewish people at the time were offended. However, now, looking back, there are elements which are not as progressive as the language we use today -- however the style of the game is so dated that everyone who reads it, looks at it or plays it has a level of historical distance or irony akin to when they read the casual references to Jewish bankers in 19th century novels. It is not for children.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?

19. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. It offends only extremely, orthodox conservative Jews who have some sexist or homophobic ideas built into their way of doing their religion. But it does offend pretty much all of them.

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?


20. Progressive author. Fun, popular game. No measurable effect on participants' attitudes or the wider game world's demographics. However, it is written in english and english is a language and so contains inherently racist constructions like "Hip hip hooray".

Is the game anti-semitic? Why or why not?

If not--how many Jewish people must claim to be offended before it is?

21. Let's assume you are not Jewish but you hold the purse strings at a company about to give money to the author of game 7 above money for another project. Let's assume that for whatever reasons you need to decide whether their game was anti-semitic or not and back that decision with your money.

Can you? Or do you leave that to Jewish people to decide? And assuming they are split -- how do you decide?
This entry is old and accidentally got deleted, here are the original comments:
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  1. (Off topic = deleted)
  2. Sorry, didn’t want to derail your discussion. I will have a try, though I fear my english is too bad for complicated expIanations, I also hope I did understand every entry as intended:

    Clear yes for 1 (intent delivered)

    3 yes (intent delivered) - It’s like people of colour walking with PEGIDA (

    4 nope (no intend, author unknown); becomes a “yes” as soon as the author is revealed

    5 nope

    6 nope (not intended)

    7 nope (as 6)

    8 nope, though the author is playing with fire

    9 it probably sucks, but nope, not anti-semitic

    10 nope

    11 nope

    12 is hard… I’m not sure, perhaps I’m very exclusive with my jewish contacts - perhaps I only chose the non-religious or what. Probably isn’t anti-semitic per se, though.

    13 no, it’s not. It’s like some immature person who likes anti-war-movies because of the action scenes - as long as it is clearly stated that reader-discretion is adviced, the work is not anti-semitic.

    14 why does it promote anti-semitic actions? Any hint in the text or is it interpreted the wrong way by those weirdos? And no, I’m not that into alcohol at all but beer is not anti-semitic.

    15 same with 14, perhaps even more dangerous; manipulating the “simple-minded” is a big problem with any kind of extremism

    20 nope, no. This is like saying: Hey, Fabian, you’re born in germany so you’re totally anti-semitic. Too simple.

    With these I’m a bit overburdened by now - they are probably the questions you find most interesting: 2 (???), 16, 18, 19, 21.
    1. So for you intent alone is the important factor.
    2. Perhaps not the only factor but a very important factor. The way the intention is delivered to the reader is important, too. You probably cannot expect every reader to get your intent without stating it somewhere. And a little bit of honesty and authenticity won't hurt either.
  3. The answer to 4 would have to be "no." It would be like asking "if Hitler made a garden, would the tomatoes be anti-Semitic?"

    I think makes more sense to ask two questions, rather than ask if "work X is anti-Semitic": (1) Does X express anti-Semitic ideas? (2) Does the work suggest the author is anti-Semitic? These are things you couldn't tell from, say, Hitler's tomatoes.
    1. True on various levels.
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.
    3. I don't really buy your two alternate questions, Matt. Take Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft's fiction definitely includes racist and anti-semitic ideas if you look for them (and often even if you don't - check out "The Horror at Red Hook"). Lovecraft was a racist and an anti-semite (despite his marriage) - that's virtually undisputed. That does not mean we should stop reading, enjoying, studying, or being inspired by Lovecraft's fiction or games that draw on it. Reading Lovecraft or playing Call of Cthulhu does not make one a racist. That's surely what's more important - effect, not intention or the beliefs of the author, nor the presence of unpleasant ideas in and of themselves. These might be worthy things to point out, but not as a basis to condemn the works in question.
    4. Jonathan:
      "That does not mean we should stop reading, enjoying, studying, or being inspired by Lovecraft's fiction or games that draw on it."
      do not lower the conversation by introducing simplistic ideas into it.

      Whether "we should" read something is entirely unrelated to the question at hand.

      The question at hand is whether or not you can call a thing "racist". Not what to do once that determination is made (which is a much simpler debate for much dumber people).
  4. Well, I wrote a thing long enough to run into Blogspot's character limit, and then I refreshed the page and saw your comment to Jonathan about not caring about the question of what to do about it, so I'll summarize my views:

    Basically, I think effect is what matters, not intent. Intent matters a great deal when you're trying to decide what to do about a problem, but effect is what determines whether there's a problem in the first place.

    If something is causing harm, there's a problem that should be addressed. However, I don't necessarily think that people being pissed off is harmful in and of itself. There needs to be something more serious going on. Sometimes people - even marginalized people - are pissed off for dumb reasons.

    If there's no harm, then I don't think it really matters what the intent was. There are too many harmful things in the world to waste one's time and energy on condemning harmless works.

    By those standards, my view on most of these should be clear, but I'll comment on a some of them:

    5 is complex, because although the game is causing harm, I would argue that it's not problematic in and of itself. It's not directly hurting anyone or promoting any kind of hate, but it is having an effect on the overall shape of the market. There's a lot to be said about this, but in the interest of keeping this brief and on-topic I'll just say that I think the solution is not to do anything about this game, but to create and promote other games that have an opposite effect.

    My feelings about 6, 7, 10 (all cases), 11, and 12 are more-or-less the same: The game is not causing enough harm to worry about, and it may even be doing good by sparking off debate that could wind up advancing the overall conversation.

    8 is a perfect example of the kind of thing that people need to stop worrying about.

    9 isn't hateful, but it is harmful.

    14-17 all are contributing to harm, but in all of these cases the root cause of the harm is something else. Any energy spent on addressing the harm added by the game would be better spent on addressing the root caue of the harm, be it pre-existing racism, stupidity, mental illness, etc.

    In regards to 21, my feeling is that you should definitely look to the views of the Jewish community to inform your decision, but ultimately you need to make up your mind for yourself. It's a cop-out either way to make your decision based only on whether other people are upset or not. You have to look at the strength of the actual arguments the different sides of the debate are making.

    In general, I think that focusing on labeling things as racist (or sexist, homophobic, etc.) or not distracts from the work of actually making the world a better place. It's just too easy to get lost in tangles of semantics.


John Doe said...

Ok so I live in France and Antisemitism is kind of a fashion, as is condemning people for it with or without reason, so here's what I'd answer.

1. No, since it cannot be understood as such

2. No, for the same reason

3. No, for the same reason

4. No, since nobody perceives it as politically/ideologically loaded

5. I don't understand that one, sorry

6. No, since it isn't actually anti-semitic

7. No, same reason as 6

8. No. It relies on stereotypes, and bears no prejudice, as you said

9. No, since it's not, you know, fueled with hatred or prejudice toward people of jewish confession

10. I don't know, I have neither read the game nor was I informed of the author's intentions. If I don't know anything about the game, I can't tell that, and I don't believe X% of people of Y religion are more in authority to say whether something is or isn't anti-semitic.

11. Same issue that I have with 10, can't find the answer.

John Doe said...

And the follow-up :

12. Same issue that I have with 10 & 11, though biais might make me feel like the game is definitely not anti-semitic, but I'd be ready to reconsider given actual informations on the game.

13. No, I think a game made for adults should be played by mature people, in the same way a child shouldn't watch, say, Daesh propaganda videos just for the hell of it. It doesn't mean the game is Anti-semitic though.

14. I don't know, since the only things I know about the game is that it's fun and popular. Who knows what's in it? Beer is 100% not anti-semitic.

15. No, for the same reason as beer.

16. See 14.

17. American History X did that to friends of mine. The idiot one thought it was all about Nazis being secretly the good guys and violence being the only option with "those people", speaking about black people that is. The other was just like "wow, I didn't know there was such hatred in America in-between ethnicities". So, no. Not Anti-semitic.

I'm starting to see a pattern here.

18. Is Cyberpunk 2020 racist or progressive? I'd say neither. It used to be progressive, and not racist, and now it's just a cool relic from the 80s.
So no, not anti-semitic.

19. Nope. Anti-semitic means something. People being offended by things don't make them right about it. Tends to make them wrong, actually.
Not all the time, though.

20. Funny you talk about "hip hip hooray" when as a french, for me, the most racist thing in the english language is the casual use of race in a world that has long understood that races aren't actually a thing. Anyway, no because while language is power, it's still not hateful toward the jewish community. Seriously, "races". I regularly think about this word and its use in the english language and wonder if it does help spreading racist theories, since it's so common.

No idea. When you ask "is it anti-semitic", I assumed we were talking about the almost-objective truth. Now if it's a legal matter, I'd say a hundred in France, don't know about America.

21. Damn, this is one of those game that isn't necessarily fun, or progressive, or cool. So I have no idea whether I should back it up with money, at all. I don't have the proper factors at hand, to be honest.
But I agree to decide whether its anti-semitic or not.
First, I'll read it. Then I'll see what all those guys saying it's anti-semitic have to say, and think about why. Then I'll publish an article that answers those issues by properly discussing why the book is anti-semitic after reflexion then not publish it, or why the book is not anti-semitic after reflexion then publish it.

I think that's about it. By the way, I'm a bastard, with roots from liban, armenia, poland and some french blood in the mix. My huge family has orthodox christians, a jewish guy from poland that I've never met but who's one of my grand father, but mostly agnostics or non-practicing "regular" christians. Since christianity and religion is not always a big deal where I live, so you can just say "I'm christian" and it's ok. And I'm not a religious person myself.

Zak S said...

Your explanations for 6 and 7 don't make sense, they're a "begging the question" fallacy
6. No, since it isn't actually anti-semitic

7. No, same reason as 6

you are saying
"Example 6 isn't anti-semitic because it isn't anti-semitic"

I think (based on your other answers) you may be trying to say that a lack of _intent_ is sufficient to ensure a work is not anti-semitic regardless of audience response but I wouldn't want to put words in your mouth.

John Doe said...

Sorry about that, it's not a subject I tackle often.
I thought I corrected that, but I forgot about it, my bad.

But yeah, I meant that, I don't think it is possible to accidentally be hateful toward someone or something. You can be awkward, and you can even hurt people (like if I ask someone "how's the wife" and she's actually dead but I didn't know), but I'm not sure this would count as spreading hatred.

I think that's a huge reason why I don't manage to see how your exemples could be anti-semitic.

And I'd love to hear your input if you disagree with me, that's why I posted here.
I now must go to a class, and I'll try to set up an internet connection there but I can't guarantee it, so I may not answer until four or five hours if I can't manage to do that.

Zak S said...

I think the main thing is not that I have answers, but more that people who go around accusing objects of being bad think very clearly about what their answers to these questions are.

John Doe said...

Does this mean they are right?
I know a lot of people with extreme ideas who (I hope) are usually not right about what is good or bad.

I don't know if you're implying that having no clear-cut answer is good in your book or exactly the opposite.

And if I take more specific exemples, like let's say, FATAL or Racial Holy War, I think the context doesn't make them more or less bad. They're like, objectively full of shit. I'm not really good at exemples.

Zak S said...

having answers is good as it implies having thought before accusing.

and, no, it doesn't mean anyone is right

John Doe said...

Makes sense.

Turd Miner said...

Assuming the questions are not rhetorical, the answer to each and every one of them is: "It doesn't matter."

An object or an idea means nothing unless people act upon it. Even then, the fault or merit is with those people rather than the inciting media or incident. I could tell people to go kill all the Jews all day long forever, but, unless someone listens, nothing has changed.

Nice post. I really enjoyed thinking about it (though my answer might lead one to believe that I spent very little time doing so).

WrongOnTheInternet said...

I'm not a big fan of the whole death of the author stuff, but content also is important, so I'll break my judgement down based on Intent (did the author intend to produce an antisemitic game?) and Content (Is the text of the game anti-semetic? Is it detectably so?). Effect on audience, such as increasing or decreasing antisemitic attitudes or thinking that the game is antisemitic don't matter outside of the arguments said hypothetical people could provide.

1. No. Intent is anti-semetic, but the anti-semetism can't be found in the content.

2. Yes, but it doesn't matter. Not knowing a language is part of effect; it would be hard to produce a game with this level of antisemitic content without intending to produce an antisemitic game, but it doesn't matter, because no one can understand it.

3. No. Intent is antisemitic (again), but antisemitism can't be found in the content.

4. No. Intent is unknown (author is antisemitic, but did they intend to produce an anti-semetic game?) and anti-semetism can't be found in content.

5. No. Intent is not antisemitic, neither is content. Effect, while negative, doesn't imply antisemitism.

6. No. Intent is not antisemitic, and content is unknown. Effect doesn't matter.

7. No. Same reasoning as 6.

8. No, although it IS racist. Antisemitism, in this case, would be about having negative views of Jews; in this case, the author is ignorant and promotes stereotypes, but they aren't actually anti-semetic. Content is also racist.

9. No. Intent and content aren't antisemitic.

10. Unknown; intent of author can't be known, and content isn't known either; to say one way or the other is just jumping on someone's bandwagon without knowing the facts.

11. No. Intent isn't there, content is unknown (although it can be inferred that the content probably isn't antisemitic either). Amount of Jewish people liking the game can only change the inference about content, which is still unknown.

12. Unknown. I don't know the author's intent, and the content is unknown; other people's beliefs don't have an impact on whether or not this is actually antisemitic.

13. No, intent isn't there, and content isn't there. Impact on kids who might not grasp the subtleties of the content doesn't matter so much.

14. No, intent isn't there; content is unknown, but doesn't seem to be antisemitic. Effect doesn't matter, but is also likely caused by some other factor.

15. No, intent isn't there, neither is content, reasoning similar to 13.

16. No, same reasoning as above.

17. No, same reasoning as above.

18. No, intent certainly wasn't there, and content may seem that way, but the intent carries through in the content despite the less PC language.

19. No, intent and content; a game that expresses a view that orthodox jews disagree with doesn't mean that a view is antisemitic.

20. No. All languages are toolkits; the idea that a phrase that was once racist is in a language makes an entire language racist is fucking stupid. Again, no amount of jewish people will affect this claim.

21. I'll back it with money provided the game itself is good (Well-designed by my standards). The resulting controversy will be hilarious.

Content matters the most here, but without intent to create an antisemitic thing, it's hard to call something antisemitic. With the racist (but not antisemitic) example above, the author's obliviousness is part of intent.

Zak S said...

You base all your reasoning on "whether the content is antisemitic"

_Without_ circular reasoning:

How do you decide (since we've separated off both intent and effect) whether the "content" of a fiction is antisemitic?

A nonfiction can say "kill jews" but a fiction can only say "jews were killed". And without intent or effect how do you decide whether "it" (the text alone) is antisemitic?

This is not a rhetorical question.

WrongOnTheInternet said...

Clarifying: Intent matters, it's just hard to judge intent without content, particularly if the author is dead or unreachable. If a progressive author with no prejudicial views somehow produced an antisemitic game without intending to; I'd be shocked and have to reevaluate how the world works.

I'm not sure if I clearly expressed that there needs to be both an Intent to produce an antisemitic work and antisemitic content for the work to be antisemitic, but I'll try to answer both your questions as best I can.

Deciding if the content of a fiction is antisemitic using some rules based evaluation is very difficult, and I'm not sure I can do it. In terms of what's literally written, I can't present a solid definition of what antisemitic text is (I'm not sure there IS an airtight definition to be found), I can only present examples. Does the text present views that are hostile or hateful towards Jews without putting them in some sort of context, such as the game being a satire, or the viewpoint being one of many expressed, none backed as the definitive view of the text? Context in this case means the entire fiction as content, and the intent of the author so far as can be known. If a modern author used "hip hip hooray" (for example), I would say they probably aren't antisemitic, they just don't know or care about the historical context. If the content can be read as potentially antisemitic (Look! This monster resembles a Jewish stereotype! The game is antisemitic!), then it really is a grey area where we'd have to look at the author's intent. If the text is ambiguously antisemitic like with the stereotype monster above, and we can't know the author's intent; then it's impossible to say conclusively.

The author needs to have some intention of producing an antisemitic work for that work to actually be antisemitic, though. This can either be an outspoken viewpoint, some kind of purging (like with question #2), or ignorance, but the stereotypes have to go there intentionally.

Without knowing anything about the author's intent before reading a fiction, I think that most content could be put in the "Yes, antisemitic" or "No, not antisemitic" groups just based on the viewpoints presented in the fiction. However, I think there's going to be quite a bit of fiction that falls under "Not Known", just because it's hard to get all of the context without intent. In some cases (racial slurs, suggestions that Jews are evil) it's pretty easy to place the content alone as antisemitic. In other cases (the possibly accidental Jewish stereotype monster above) it can't be decided, at least not in a rational way.

Some of this, unfortunately, eventually falls under "I know it when I see it" which isn't a good way to categorize. I wouldn't suggest trying to place these based on content alone when the author's intent can be known.

I'll try and create an incomplete list of what will make content and content alone antisemitic, though:

WrongOnTheInternet said...

- Content has detectable hatred for or bias against Jews. (For question 1, since the bias is undetectable in the content, it isn't antisemitic despite being written by Hitler. This doesn't apply for question 2, because if the language it was written in was deciphered, the antisemitic content would become very clear.)
- Content is not satire, views and tone are presented as primary or displayed without further comment (If the author makes an offhand comment about Jews and never talks about it again, it's probably antisemitic)

What DOESN'T (necessarily) make content antisemitic:

- When it expresses views that some of or the majority of Jews disagree with.
- When the content is more likely to bore people of a Jewish background.
- Possibly controversially, when the content is prejudiced but not in a way hateful towards or biased against Jews (something odd like "All Jews like eating onions", racist but not necessarily hateful)
-Content IS satire that could inspire the young or stupid towards antisemitism because of perceived antisemitic message
-Content is written in language with racist phrases

Oh balls. I hope that at least somewhat answers your questions.

Zak S said...

I think you could've left it at
"I know it when I see it" which isn't a good way to categorize.
and saved yourself some trouble

ricaugjnr said...

Don't most of the cases you've created as illustrations contain their own answers? The reception of art is, in virtually all cases, a confluence of public opinion, critical discourse and linear time. What the author meant or felt is, as the intentional fallacy has it, only a small part of how a work of art is to be understood. One of the elements (popular opinion and critical discourse) can sway the other to a greater or lesser degree but ultimately it is still a reciprocal combination of the two. So, Lovecraft: the intent of his work- racist or not- is ultimately irrelevant if enough people take pleasure in it and choose not to take Lovecraft's racism as the predominant theme they draw from the work. Eventually, critics began to perceive things worth considering in his work too and so concede to public opinion. Joyce is almost a case in reverse: disliked by the public and censors but adored by critics, the public came to recognise his genius. Or Moby Dick.

Obviously, as this is a nexus of the two elements (there may be more, this is a QAD argument) there is no fixed location at which those who perceive a work of art choose to take it as one thing or the other. Instead, there is a point at which a certain impasse is reached in which public opinion and critical attention meet.

Zak S said...

"Don't most of the cases you've created as illustrations contain their own answers? "

Of course not. Your arguments and criteria for a work's ultimate meaning are your own, not givens for all readers or audiences.

And, since it is so vague, it can't be used to meaningfully discuss any artwork.

David A. Powers said...

I think the problem is in the fact that you pose the question in a binary fashion. Furthermore, there is some ambiguity in the term "anti-semitic" itself, in that if you say a person is anti-semitic, versus saying a speech or a work of art is anti-semitic, you are actually making two different kinds of statements. In the first case, you are dealing with questions of motivation and general worldview, which can only apply to an individual. In the second case, you are analyzing language and artifacts.

If the term "anti-semitic" actually signifies something different when it refers to speech, as opposed to a person, then it is clear that we cannot use author's worldview and intention to judge whether some artifact is anti-semitic. This is especially so, given that industrially produced products may have multiple authors with conflicting worldviews.

Therefore, I would argue that we should only be concerned with looking at the actual game artifacts, and the effects caused by the game. Games with clearly anti-semitic statements are anti-semitic. Games with coded anti-semitic statements that follow common anti-semitic tropes are likewise anti-semitic, regardless of whether the audience notices them.

Now, you complicate things in an interesting way by also talking the effect that the artifacts have. If some artifact acts as an effective piece of racist propaganda, I feel we have to judge it is de facto racist, regardless of origin or intentions.

Things get complicated here though, because in the social sciences, causation is almost impossible to prove. Therefore, in reality it would be very difficult to know if a game had a negative impact. I would be skeptical of an idea that something thought not to be racist actually somehow magically functions as extremely effective racist propaganda.

Some of your other questions seem to be red herrings. Languages, for example provide the structure necessary to articulate both racism, and anti-racism. Creating societal pressure to remove racist linguistic formulations from common circulation, is an example of how language is contested, and dynamic. Expressive languages encompass all possibilities, and this is their value.

I also feel that your examples of how communities respond to the games, are basically irrelevant to the question of whether a game is anti-semitic or racist. The only effects I would be worried about, would be if games were actually causing racism, but again this would be difficult to prove and I find it hard to believe that such works would not also be obvious works of racist propaganda when viewed without regard for the effects they are causing.

So to sum up, for an artifact to be anti-semitic it must:
* express obviously anti-semetic views,
* express coded anti-semitic views that can be discerned as such, OR
* stir up anti-semitism, which in reality means it probably must express either obvious or coded anti-semitic views.

McCabre said...

I think I wrote something on the original but eh.

Ultimately it needs to have a hurtful effect, or at least a blatantly hurtful intent before you can really call something anti semitic. I mean "intent" in a different way than "the author tried to express his prejudiced worldview as correct" but rather "this passage is trying to make people think Jewish people are bad" whether or not it's actually succeeding. If we look at old depictions of black people in cartoons they're clearly racist but people aren't really hurt by those depictions anymore. Depending on context cues I can invoke that ancient ignorance in a modern work to express or mock those old sentiments.

For most splits I'd just go "are people I think are smart offended or are people I think are stupid offended?" If someone chooses to be numb to tone and subtext and declare a nuanced work blatantly offensive, for example a story where the hero is racist but the racism is subtly criticized, they're not going to be easily spoken with.

Zak S said...

"If the term "anti-semitic" actually signifies something different when it refers to speech, as opposed to a person, then it is clear that we cannot use author's worldview and intention to judge whether some artifact is anti-semitic. "

Your argument is 'it is clear' that what you think is true is. No evidence? That's called a begging the question argument

This is especially so, given that industrially produced products may have multiple authors with conflicting worldviews.
That's irrelevant in any of these examples which weren't produced that way, so it seems insane you'd bring it up.

'Games with clearly anti-semitic statements are anti-semitic.'

Circular--you haven't defined "anti-semitic statements". The important thing here is fiction v nonfiction. Can you even have an "anti anything statement" in a fiction? It's not an instruction manual. If so, under what conditions?

"Things get complicated here though, because in the social sciences, causation is almost impossible to prove. "

Again, you are falsely making the question more complicated for no reason. In the examples I provide, we know the cause. You're being asked to address THESE examples, not ones you made up.

"stir up anti-semitism"

Again: undefined term.

Zak S said...

"Ultimately it needs to have a hurtful effect"


The examples provided gives different examples of "effects"--
-making people more anti-semitic
-making Jewish people not play a game
-making Jewish people offended

...which, by your lights count as "effects" ? You didn't say.

Zak S said...

Within your definition, if you have a fiction where there's a wide variety of characters (Moby Dick, Neuromancer, etc) and some minor character on a bus in the background of a crowd scene incidentally says "I hate Jews" then the work is antisemitic because:

"Does the text present views that are hostile or hateful towards Jews without putting them in some sort of context..?"

Yes it does.

McCabre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
McCabre said...

Yeah, I was kinda short there. I was more trying to bring up the opposite point. I can invoke archaic forms of racism (e.g the way black people are drawn in tintin) without being taken seriously because they've lost their potency.

I don't think "making Jewish people offended" is anti-Semitic. Claiming you're offended is easy. Being offended intellectually doesn't actually make your life bad. Making people believe and express anti-Semitic values and encouraging them to act upon them is definitely bad. Making our ideally inclusive hobby appear hostile to an entire demographic of reasonable people is also bad.

But stupid people are going to get the wrong idea from things sometimes, and moral guardians are going to do the same thing except on purpose. Unless something is being made "for" them (eg marketed as an RPG for noobies but then is very nuanced in its handling of, say, anti-Antisemitism) then I don't think it's right to stifle the art form in case of idiots. Egregiously stupid people shouldn't have knives or matches but you can still buy them at the store.

In regards to making not people play a game, in for example the WASPy game, I don't think that's an issue unless the WASPs you know are really mean or something. Not everything has to be for everybody. In much the same way I wouldn't mind if someone made a game that only Jewish people found compelling and everyone else found incredibly dull. The issue is only if every game is like that and people feel they can't participate. if a game makes reasonable Jewish people not want to play RPGs because they feel personally unwelcome in the community due to this game's content then we'd have to hang that game out to dry.

Intent is weird, and a deliberately harmful intent, even if poorly delivered can still make you feel unwelcome and upset. Let's say I just made up a bunch of weird rude shit about jewish people and made it fact in my game to portray them as lesser, but far away from traditionally hurtful stereotypes. I think the clear hurtful intent would probably do just as much to create an unwelcoming, antisemitic environment as making all the Jewish characters villainous bankers with big noses.

McCabre said...

On the flip side, you can say really racist stuff to someone's face if they know you're not a crazy bigot and get a few laughs. The fighting game community, for example, is full of casual racism and that would upset a ton of people if you were anywhere else but nobody is ever actually offended by it in that community.

By similar reasoning, I think ignorant portrayals of a culture or issue can be as good for that culture or issue as a well informed one. Stupid people are going to glean the easiest to remember facts at best and distill it to a moronic stereotype, while people who are much less stupid are going to be aware that there's something they don't know and look into it either way. I've learned a fair deal about autism since it became a standard 4chan insult.

WrongOnTheInternet said...

I'd say the context there is that it's some random dude on a bus saying he hates Jews. In context, who cares what some guy on a bus thinks about Jews? If the guy's views are framed as correct, then it becomes antisemitic.

I think this does narrow my definition, though. "Presents views hostile or hateful towards Jews putting them in a context where the views are framed as correct." Hmm... I think that's a better definition, but I'm still not satisfied. It leaves a grey area of, "The main character's views are racist, but there's no way of telling if these views are intended to be portrayed as correct or if they're just presented as an aspect of the character, without comment." I think there's a better, more precise definition, but I'm not able to think of it right now.

Zak S said...

Yeah you haven't described how to know a fiction has taken views and "framed them as correct".

Although you apparently have changed your mind.

WrongOnTheInternet said...

Other than the obvious "It actively argues for hatred of Jews or Jews are inferior", I'd say if it presents Jews as inferior or as bad people because they are Jews. This is about as complete of a definition that I'm capable of. There's still going to be a grey area, though. (E.x. all Jewish characters portrayed in this story are bad people, but that's presented independent of their Judaism)

Zak S said...

That's as vague as not answering the question at all.

What exactly qualifies as " presents Jews as inferior or as bad people because they are Jews."?

Can a clear description of that be given?

"presents Jews as inferior"
"present views that are hostile or hateful towards Jews"

are miles apart.

For example:
In The Wire there is one Jew: he is a corrupt, greedy stereotype (Leavy--the lawyer) the first time we see him he's babbling about brisket.

This does not "present views that are hostile or hateful towards Jews" (in fact nobody in the whole 5 season of the Wire even mentions opinions about Jews). It presents zero views about JEws.

It does, however, depict a Jew. That Jew sucks in a very stereotypical way. It very arguably presents A single Jew as inferior or as a bad person because he's a stereotype and possibly because he's a Jew. Does it depict _Jews as a group_ that way?

But what it unarguably does is simply present a possible reality without context.

Which is all to say: you've typed different (nonmatching) definitions of anti-Semitic fiction without describing what qualifies as "anti-semitic content in fiction".