Monday, January 25, 2016

Puerto Rico and Five Tribes: cultural revisionism and slavery

So in my first post I mentioned Puerto Rico, and the fact that I know people that won't play it, because it depicts slavery. Never mind the fact that the rules call them settlers. Never mind the fact that it's a game. The fact that slavery exists in it and existed in history means it must not be played, and others are evil for playing it. Denying history doesn't change it.

Are there games I won't play due to my personal issues with the theme? Most certainly. I don't participate in virtue signaling about these games, ask for their revision, or say they shouldn't exist. However, most of the games I have strong feelings about are due to my perceptions of the game mechanics being bad.

Now, a quick look at Five Tribes, a game from Days of Wonder in 2014. I haven't played this; it looks somewhat interesting, but I'm also not drawn into it. Many gamers had a very strong reaction to the game including slave cards, enough that DoW came out with a second edition rewritten so there are no slaves. Here's a blurb from the game description on BoardGame Geek:
     Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala.    The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy? Invoke the old Djinns and move the Tribes into position at the right time, and the Sultanate may become yours!

Now, we have an Arabian Nights setting. Slavery is appropriate to the game, as there are slaves in the stories. In fact, slavery still exists in the Muslim World. Here's a map of slavery percentages:

 And here's a weighted map of the Muslim World, from Pew Research:

Here's a relevant chart from Pew's study as well:

Countries with the Largest Number of Muslims

Estimated 2009
Muslim Population
Percentage of
Population that
is Muslim
Percentage of
World Muslim
Indonesia 202,867,000 88.2% 12.9%
Pakistan 174,082,000 96.3 11.1
India 160,945,000 13.4 10.3
Bangladesh 145,312,000 89.6 9.3
Egypt 78,513,000 94.6 5.0
Nigeria 78,056,000 50.4 5.0
Iran 73,777,000 99.4 4.7
Turkey* 73,619,000 ~98 4.7
Algeria 34,199,000 98.0 2.2
Morocco* 31,993,000 ~99 ~2
* Data for Turkey and Morocco come primarily from general population surveys, which are less reliable than censuses or large-scale demographic and health surveys for estimating minority-majority ratios (see Methodology). As a result, the percentage of the population that is Muslim in these two countries is rounded to the nearest integer.

Is there a perfect correlation between slavery and Islam? No, in fact some of the countries in southern Africa with high percentages of slaves reportedly have  a majority Christian populace. And some of the low percentage countries in northern Africa have majority Muslim populations.  One fact these raw numbers ignore is slavery as part of the culture, that is, a legal, and expected norm. It took Europe over a thousand years to come to eliminate slavery as a cultural institution the first time, then it came back in the Renaissance, and took another few hundred years to banish again. It took the United States almost a hundred years to abolish slavery after gaining independence.

If I come across a game with a setting that contains slavery as a cultural institution, I expect slavery to be a possible consideration of the game. If I come across a game with a setting where human sacrifice is a potential consideration, human sacrifice may be present. I likely won't play the second, but I won't advocate it being changed, either. Ignoring history, and not acknowledging differences in culture is foolishness: man is flawed, and no benefit is derived from pretending otherwise.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.