I was going to stay out of this, because if people want to play L5R then that’s fine. But the whole SU&SD comments debacle and the continuing dogged defence without consideration of others’ viewpoints is deeply irritating, so here’s a list of things that I think you should think about.
On having a war cry to start your tournaments
Look, I get that it’s a tradition and you’ve always done it. I understand that it gets the adrenaline flowing and makes you feel like part of a community, and that it differentiates you from other card games. But let’s leave the context of the words to one side for a moment, and consider the impact of a room full of people, mostly white men, bellowing a war chant at the top of their lungs before sitting down to play a children’s card game.
Now, imagine that you’re a female player, already uncomfortable because you’re in a space full of people you don’t know, already nervous because gaming as a hobby, let’s face it, has a history of treating you badly and making your life just a little bit worse. Or maybe you’re a nervous person anyway, unsure about attending tournaments. Maybe you have other mental health issues or social anxiety. Or maybe you’re somebody playing another card game in the same room.
Do you really think that a big bellow-a-thon is the best way to create a warm, welcoming and inclusive atmosphere? By its very nature it’s exclusionary, aggressive and intimidating. I dare say that, to most of the people doing it, it’s just a fun ritual. But maybe you should also think about the people who aren’t playing your game because they don’t want to be involved in this sort of situation, or the people who are telling you that they are put off by the concept.
On the connotations of the word ‘Banzai’
I know that you think you’re using it in a harmless context. I know that you can point towards a traditional meaning dating back centuries, and believe me I’m not accusing you of supporting Japanese atrocities in mainland Asia.
But that’s the point of language. The meaning and usage of words over time changes. And there have been many, many examples of people explaining just what that word means to them and why it’s so upsetting, both here and in various other corners of the internet.
So when people explain that point to you, do you really think the best response is to tell them that they’re wrong, that they shouldn’t be upset and that you’re going to carry on with the activity that’s causing them a problem? Again, that’s not how you create a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment, but more importantly it’s not how you be a good human being. We don’t get to decide what people will be upset and offended about, but we do get to choose how we react afterwards. If, for some reason, you must have a war cry to start your tournaments could you not change the chant?
On whitewashing of the art
The original L5R had a historical problem with this. The new one appears to have the same problem, though time will tell whether it’s to a greater or lesser degree. You don’t have to look particularly hard to spot it ; there’s a fairly clear example on the box art of the core set. Again, numerous people, including some who worked within FFG at the time, have expressed concern about some of the art that’s being used.
It doesn’t matter to me if the person who produced the art is Asian or not, to be honest, any more than an overtly sexualised picture of a half naked courtier would be better if it was drawn by a woman. Interestingly, a number of people have suggested that many artists aren’t good at drawing Asian style characters because there’s not much call for it in the industry, and this hodge-podge style of western features and colouring in kimonos is the natural result. If that is the case then FFG have a huge opportunity here to help set the standard in the industry in this regard, but they won’t achieve that if everyone buries their head in the sand and pretends that everything is fine.
I’ve played L5R in the past and I may well play it in the future. But there are a lot of very valid concerns that people have about the game, the setting and the community that are off-putting. I haven’t gone in to detail about the way the system reduces proud and varied cultures with centuries of history and tradition in to shallow stereotypes jammed in to a fantasy world, or the fetishisation of Asian culture that permeates the organised play structure and the community.
But the single most off-putting thing is the reaction of the die-hard L5R community to any suggestion that they might not be perfect. You’ve got a great opportunity here; you’ve got a brand new game with loads of company support and a ton of hype. Please don’t waste it by refusing to listen to concerns, or by blindly carrying on with what you’ve always done because it’s ‘traditional’. Take this chance to make your game better, make your community more welcoming, and I guarantee that you’ll end up with more and happier players.
Or carry on shouting Utz Banzai. It’s up to you.