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Farewell to Connected: the Orient Messages in this topic - RSS

Alexis Kennedy
Alexis Kennedy
Posts: 1374

11/20/2013
You might notice some content changes around long-established characters occurring in the near future. In particular, you'll see, at some point, Connected: the Orient change to Connected: the Widow.

When I started writing Fallen London back in 2009, I wanted to make a particular point about Victorian British attitudes to the outside world, and use language that signalled to the reader that they were entering a time and place with a different mindset. I made a conscious choice to use the word 'Orient', as a word which - in British English - has a complex history and has been the focus of lively debate, but which is still in current use.

I didn't realise that it's a much more problematic word in American English, and 2/3 or more of our audience has developed in the US. I also didn't realise, candidly, how iffy it would look to have ethnicities as disparate as Turkish and Tibetan tied together. I wanted to indicate that the Victorian Orientalist, the chap who studied the cultures east of the Golden Horn, was more likely to have connections with a variety of non-European cultures - but it turned out not to be a terribly useful point to make. And finally, I think it's become more problematic over here in the last five years (SOAS in the link above are much coyer about what the name stands for than they were last decade, I think).

By the time I did realise, it was substantially baked into content, the narrative surgery required to remove it was considerable, and it's not an outright nasty word in the way some period epithets are. So we de-emphasised the quality, added some flavour to make its context clear, and hoped we'd think of a better solution some day.

That better solution has turned out to be to tie the quality to the Widow - who although [spoiler] not actually Chinese herself [/spoiler] has considerable pull with the Chinese community in Spite - and disconnect many of our East Asian NPCs from the Widow. This makes Connected: the Widow something of a mirror of Connected: the Duchess, which makes sense given their relationship. We're indebted to Amal El-Mohtar for suggesting this.

I know that some players will be annoyed that we didn't make the change years ago, and others will think we're bowing to political correctness. To the first charge: sorry - we're learning as we go. With hindsight, whatever the word's historical relevance, I'd never have used it. To the second, I agree that we have lost some of the flavour of Victorian London. But we've never made a serious virtue of historical realism, and one too many people mailed me to say [I paraphrase] 'look, I like your game, but when I see that word used in that way, it makes me feel like I don't belong here.' In the end, that's the important thing.

edit: spoiler tweak

  • edited by Alexis on 11/20/2013
  • +16 link
    Alexis Kennedy
    Alexis Kennedy
    Posts: 1374

    11/20/2013
    Some supplementary points. Here's a late nineteenth century source giving us a reminder of the kind of casually appalling racism in vogue at the time:

    'It would hardly be supposed that an effeminate race such as the Chinese would have a taste for working in metal. But it should be remembered that they have not always been a degenerate race softened by luxury and by too great a facility for enjoyment.'

    ...that's actually from a V&A Museum handbook. We're just never going to be interested in immersing our players in that kind of material for pure flavour's sake.

    And here's Orwell, talking in 1943, intelligently as ever, about the ways attitudes change and the terms we use need to change with them - with inevitable irony, using terms which are now themselves very much of their time.

    "It is an astonishing thing that few journalists, even in the Left wing press, bother to find out which names are and which are not resented by members of other races. The word 'native', which makes any Asiatic boil with rage, and which has been dropped even by British officials in India these ten years past, is flung about all over the place. 'Negro' is habitually printed with a small n, a thing most Negroes resent. One's information about these matters needs to be kept up to date. I have recently been going through the proofs of a reprinted book of mine, cutting out the word 'Chinaman' wherever it appears and substituting 'Chinese'. The book was written less than a dozen years ago, but in the intervening time 'Chinaman' has become a deadly insult. Even 'Mohamedan' is now beginning to be resented; one should say 'Muslim'. And after all, we ourselves do not actually like being called 'Limeys' or 'Britishers'."
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    Blackleaf
    Blackleaf
    Posts: 552

    11/20/2013
    A good change in my opinion. On a side note, I see the "Public echoes" feature is offical now.

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    circe
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    11/20/2013
    Makes sense. I hope this means we see more of the Widow and the Duchess in the future. Both are fascinating ladies and it would be fun to learn more about them both.

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    Master Polarimini
    Master Polarimini
    Posts: 310

    11/20/2013
    But I actually liked the idea of a general and mysterious "Orient" that fascinated so many (especially in the popular culture) around the Victorian period...

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    Alexis Kennedy
    Alexis Kennedy
    Posts: 1374

    11/20/2013
    Master Polarimini wrote:
    But I actually liked the idea of a general and mysterious "Orient" that fascinated so many (especially in the popular culture) around the Victorian period...



  • And so did I! But real people are playing this game who are from - or whose families were from - what Victorian Britain identified as 'the Orient'. Some of them, over the years, have found it has the incremental effect of making them feel the game's not for them. It's only polite for me to recognise that.

  • edited by Alexis on 11/20/2013
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    Kade Carrion (an_ocelot)
    Kade Carrion (an_ocelot)
    Posts: 1374

    11/20/2013
    As someone with ancestral ties to the "Mysterious" "East" / "Orient," I applaud this change, because (I assure you from personal experience) the entire concept is not just a quaint historical quirk but an actual ongoing stereotype.

    (Edit: x-post with Alexis.)
    edited by an_ocelot on 11/20/2013

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    streetfelineblue
    streetfelineblue
    Posts: 1459

    11/20/2013
    For a minute there, I thought the connection was going to vanish for good, much to my chagrin (the Urchin-Orient conflict card is a useful Nightmares reducer for me). Seeing that it's mostly a redenomination, I can't but cheer the effort of game creators so considerate of their gaming bases' opinions and sensibilities. Chapeau.

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    Mr. Mercutio
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    11/20/2013
    I greatly approve both of the change and of the manner in which you have let us know about it. The regular transparency from Failbetter is really awesome, and it makes being a part of this gaming community a treat.

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    Curious Foreigner
    Curious Foreigner
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    11/20/2013
    While I can understand it, it still makes me sad. As a member of the alemannic language family tree, the word Orient has no negative meaning for me; It's instead linked with a sense of Mystery, of ancient and mighty civilizations and the Unknown.
    I don't understand why this word is treated with such scorn in the States, but I'll just have to accept it.

    Well, "The Far East" is almost as good a word.

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    Cocytus
    Cocytus
    Posts: 187

    11/20/2013
    Indeed, congratulations on your finely nuanced approach to cultural sensitivity. I am also relieved that you're not getting rid of the quality altogether!

    This leads me to wonder; is there any Irish presence in Fallen London? A lot of us migrated to Britain during and after the Famine, which was just before the Fall. The trend continued into the 20th century and indeed, goes on to this day; I myself labour in Unfallen London, building roads for the English like my ancestors, only I do it from behind a computer.

    You'd probably find us on the Docks, complaining about cheap Clay Man labour.

  • edited by Cocytus on 11/20/2013

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    Master Polarimini
    Master Polarimini
    Posts: 310

    11/20/2013
    Alexis Kennedy wrote:
    Master Polarimini wrote:
    But I actually liked the idea of a general and mysterious "Orient" that fascinated so many (especially in the popular culture) around the Victorian period...



  • And so did I! But real people are playing this game who are from - or whose families were from - what Victorian Britain identified as 'the Orient'. Some of them, over the years, have found it has the incremental effect of making them feel the game's not for them. It's only polite for me to recognise that.

  • edited by Alexis on 11/20/2013

  • I completely understand that. The line between historical reconstruction and risk to be offensive to the players is thin.

  • P.S.: it must really be a cultural difference between the two sides of the pond, I'm south european and I also do not attribute anything remotely offensive to the word Orient.

  • edited by Master Polarimini on 11/20/2013

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    Diptych
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    11/20/2013
    Curious Foreigner wrote:
    While I can understand it, it still makes me sad. As a member of the alemannic language family tree, the word Orient has no negative meaning for me; It's instead linked with a sense of Mystery, of ancient and mighty civilizations and the Unknown.
    I don't understand why this word is treated with such scorn in the States, but I'll just have to accept it.

    Well, "The Far East" is almost as good a word.


    I think those very implications you describe are a large part of the problems people have with the word. "Orient" isn't and wasn't used exclusively negatively - a great many "Orientalists" made serious and successful attempts to bridge different nations, economies and cultures - but the term's become mired in an antiquated view of Asia as someplace distant, different, and unknowable - when, in reality, it's just another place with a bunch of ordinary people who get sore feet and sing songs and fart; that is quite large and diverse, but only distant in relative terms and not to the people who actually live there; and it's certainly not unknowable because, again, a whole lot of ordinary people know quite a bit about it, and for everyone else, it's not too hard to learn if you put a bit of effort in. In short, the term comes straight from the Victorian image of Asia as the Other, the grand and bizarre Not-Us - which is prime material for a satire of Victorian values, but isn't terribly inclusive for a large and diverse community like Fallen London has become.

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    Curious Foreigner
    Curious Foreigner
    Posts: 210

    11/20/2013
    Sir Frederick Tanah-Chook wrote:

    I think those very implications you describe are a large part of the problems people have with the word. "Orient" isn't and wasn't used exclusively negatively - a great many "Orientalists" made serious and successful attempts to bridge different nations, economies and cultures - but the term's become mired in an antiquated view of Asia as someplace distant, different, and unknowable - when, in reality, it's just another place with a bunch of ordinary people who get sore feet and sing songs and fart; that is quite large and diverse, but only distant in relative terms and not to the people who actually live there; and it's certainly not unknowable because, again, a whole lot of ordinary people know quite a bit about it, and for everyone else, it's not too hard to learn if you put a bit of effort in. In short, the term comes straight from the Victorian image of Asia as the Other, the grand and bizarre Not-Us - which is prime material for a satire of Victorian values, but isn't terribly inclusive for a large and diverse community like Fallen London has become.


    I see your point; but I don't really see the difference between the terms "Europe" and "Orient" in that regard. Both describe a collection of different cultures, and certainly not everyone who uses "Europe" has an actual understanding of the different People involved, yet noone (as far as I know) has a problem with that word.
    I see how the change makes Fallen London more inclusive, as you said. I just don't understand the RL-problem with the word.

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    Playersideblog
    Playersideblog
    Posts: 397

    11/20/2013
    Cocytus wrote:
    Indeed, congratulations on your finely nuanced approach to cultural sensitivity. I am also relieved that you're not getting rid of the quality altogether!

    This leads me to wonder; is there any Irish presence in Fallen London? A lot of us migrated to Britain during and after the Famine, which was just before the Fall. The trend continued into the 20th century and indeed, goes on to this day; I myself labour in Unfallen London, building roads for the English like my ancestors, only I do it from behind a computer.

    You'd probably find us on the Docks, complaining about cheap Clay Man labour.

  • edited by Cocytus on 11/20/2013

  • I have no idea if this is canon, but until stated otherwise, this is absolutely canon to me. I always knew I liked the Dockers.


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    Laluzi
    Laluzi
    Posts: 456

    11/20/2013
    I liked having the Orient there for flavor - it did fit Fallen London's social atmosphere wonderfully - but I can see why you chose to change it, and I thank you for your openness with us. Political correctness is a tenuous subject, and I'm afraid that the US does tend to encourage a low tolerance for anything that might be politically incorrect.

  • edited by Laluzi on 11/20/2013

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    Alexis Kennedy
    Alexis Kennedy
    Posts: 1374

    11/20/2013
    Cocytus wrote:
    This leads me to wonder; is there any Irish presence in Fallen London?


  • Here and there.


    - Alexis Kennedy
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    Alexis Kennedy
    Alexis Kennedy
    Posts: 1374

    11/20/2013
    Cocytus wrote:
    is there any Irish presence in Fallen London?



  • In seriousness: undoubtedly, although I think the only visibly Irish NPC is Wilde in heavy disguise. But referencing ethnicities directly has tripped us up in the past. You add a couple of visibly French NPCs and someone notices that both of them like wine (because lots of people in Fallen London like wine) and it looks like a stereotype. We have two probably-Jewish characters (that I can think of) - Schlomo and Madam Shoshanna - and we've been accused of anti-Semitic stereotyping because 'all [our] Jews are mystics.' As it happens, Schlomo is Freud (minor spoilers there) and Shoshanna is a riff, like so much else, on the Waste Land, but even innocent intention can look weird on the Internet.


    A related point I may have mentioned elsewhere is that Paul drew dark-skinned versions of the fist and muscled torso icons. And we never use them, because we realised that if we illustrate a storylet about fighting or hard labour with a dark-skinned icon, people will quite understandably say, good grief, what exactly are they suggesting?
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    Kade Carrion (an_ocelot)
    Kade Carrion (an_ocelot)
    Posts: 1374

    11/20/2013
    Curious Foreigner, I think the place to start is that "Europe" is a label coined by the people who live there while "The Orient" is a label coined by outsiders who, through it, are imposing a harmful cultural narrative about that geographical area and the people who live there.

    And I am 100% over people looking at me and thinking about "Mystery" and "the Unknown." Gasp! I'm just a person like everyone else!

    (Yes, it's true, I am not actually an ocelot, sorry to disappoint you all, but really, ocelots can neither type nor dictate, so it shouldn't have been a surprise.)

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    Diptych
    Diptych
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    11/20/2013
    Curious Foreigner wrote:
    I see your point; but I don't really see the difference between the terms "Europe" and "Orient" in that regard. Both describe a collection of different cultures, and certainly not everyone who uses "Europe" has an actual understanding of the different People involved, yet noone (as far as I know) has a problem with that word.
    I see how the change makes Fallen London more inclusive, as you said. I just don't understand the RL-problem with the word.


    Yeah, on paper, it's not a big difference. I suppose the problem is that we're not only talking about how people in different regions saw each other - we're talking about terms used during a time of dramatic power imbalances, when Europe was invading and colonising much of Asia. So, there was a huge power imbalance - like millions-of-lives-irreparably-altered huge - in how different terms were used. If I were to call you some dehumanising term - say I said you were indeed a Curious Foreigner, and in fact not only Curious but quite Different and Alien. That wouldn't really matter, because I'm just some bloke and no-one listens to me. But if everyone said such things about you, from heads of state down? If the terms were used in propaganda inspiring troops to take control of your nation, and parroted by every chatterbox on the street? Then the terms would rankle, as they never would have if they weren't associated with those actions.

    Anyhow, I'm just trying to sum up off the top of my head what decades of study have said before me, and will continue to say, far more eloquently and with considerable debate on all sides.

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