Fantasy game hires cultural consultant to make sure its fictional races aren’t, well, racist

Ed Nightingale May 24, 2021
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Frosthaven. (Isaac Childres)

The creator of forthcoming tabletop RPG Frosthaven is rethinking the game’s fantasy races.

In a long post on the game’s Kickstarter page, creator Isaac Childres explains how Filipino-American writer, game designer and cultural consultant James Mendez Hodes has been brought on board to do cultural consultation work.

“In a nutshell, he is looking through all the narrative of Frosthaven and at all of the different cultures depicted within, and he is making sure everything is internally consistent and that it isn’t co-opting any real-world terms or ideas that may be harmful to players or any real-world cultures,” he says.

“It’s not just about pointing out problems, but also collaboratively coming up with solutions that expand and strengthen the narrative.”

Childres goes into great detail about the reasoning behind this. If a game is a fantasy, does cultural appropriation matter?

He notes that nothing is created in a vacuum. “Everything we do is stamped with our own biases and influences. And while the intent may be to not harm, our biases have a tendency to cause harm anyway.”

In particular, Childres is choosing not to use the word “race” when describing the different cultural groups in the game.

“Maybe the word “race” has a different meaning in my fantasy reality, but the catch is that people in our reality are the ones playing and experiencing the game, and by using the term “race”, I am not only reinforcing this outdated way of delineating people, but I’m also reinforcing the idea that these delineations are so extreme,” he says.

He’s also avoiding using broad personality types for these groups so as not to reinforce racial stereotypes.

“Not only does implying that reinforce harmful stereotypes in the real world, it’s also just bad world-building,” he says.

“And like many other aspects of board game development, the process has turned out to be so much easier once I brought in a professional, I realised I really should have been doing this from the beginning.”

Childres goes on to explain that any changes are purely for the narrative benefit of Frosthaven and are not a compromise in any way – it’s a win-win.

Let’s hope more creators make similar moves in future.

Frosthaven is the follow up to the popular Gloomhaven RPG and has now completed its fundraising period on Kickstarter.

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Related topics: gaming, racism

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