Friday, 18 January 2019

Yoon-Suin is Not an Analogy for Anything or Anywhere

I have been quite lucky that Yoon-Suin seems to have escaped online culture wars relatively unscathed; before it was released I worried some people might make bad-faith readings of racism and orientalism in it, but rather pleasingly, they mostly haven't. That said, I do occasionally come across negative posts about it on various online platforms, mostly describing it as "problematic" or words to that effect, because it is wrongly thought to be an "analogue" (I hate that word; it makes me think of watches, and anyway, "analogy" is itself a noun) for real world places and cultures. 

I want to take the opportunity to write a definitive statement on the matter, mainly so that when I see people making this kind of statement (as in a recent thread on Reddit which I won't link to), I can direct them here.

Yoon-Suin is not an analogy for anything or anywhere. Words actually have meanings, and an "analogy" does not merely mean something which just takes inspiration from another thing, or which happens to superficially resemble another thing in some way. An analogy is a thing which is very similar to another in at least one important respect, and is generally used a method for illustrating something about that other thing for the purposes of argument or clarification. In other words, an analogy is not just a resemblance between X and Y. It is an observed similarity between X and Y which reveals something about one or the other.

Yoon-Suin is not intended to reveal anything about anything in the real world. Nor is it similar to the real world. It has slug-men in it, for goodness' sake. And a city populated by people cut in half. There is no analogy being made or drawn in it. None whatsoever. If you are worried that is my intention, don't. If you are worried others will draw that inference, that's their problem. 

That said, all ideas come from somewhere, and the root of what became Yoon-Suin did begin as me idly wondering one day why there were fantasy versions of most places in the world (Europe, China, Japan, India, and so on) but not Tibet or Nepal. I used that initial seed of an idea to create a campaign to run games in which became the Mountains of the Moon area of the setting. Yoon-Suin kind of spread from there. It sort of looks like the geography of the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal because that's what I was looking at when I made up the map. It has some monsters loosely based on folklore from Burma, Bengal and Tibet and many which aren't. It is a fantasy version of that region of the world to the extent - probably less than the extent - to which Greyhawk is a fantasy version of Europe. In other words, it's nothing like it but has a little bit of the furniture. 

You might think it is illegitimate for me to have made it that way, maybe because you have read online summaries of Edward Said's Orientalism or half-paid attention to his writings as an undergraduate; if so, there's probably no getting through to you, except to resort to an old but sensible cliche: sometimes imitation is just the most sincere form of flattery. And only that.

In closing, I did once, perhaps stupidly, make the statement that Yoon-Suin is "Fantasy Tibet by somebody who has never been to Tibet and knows nothing about it, but likes the idea of yak-folk." (Some people call Yoon-Suin "fantasy China" or "fantasy India" or "fantasy South-East Asia"; please, if you're going to call it "fantasy-anything", which you shouldn't, then call it "fantasy Tibet, Nepal and Bengal and a bit of Tajikistan and also Burma".) I thought it would be evident when I wrote that sentence that I had my tongue firmly in my cheek and was self-deprecatingly calling attention to the fact that I am a very ignorant person, not a student of real-world cultures in any formal sense, and was poking fun at myself and others in that position. I forgot that people who comment on Reddit don't understand irony and themselves have egos too massive to contemplate self-deprecation. 

21 comments:

  1. Frankly these people are going to push and push and push, forever. Taking offense at increasingly harmless things.

    You shouldn't have to feel "lucky" that they haven't targeted you yet.

    They're bullies and if no one stands up to them, they're never going to stop. There will *always* be something new.

    Get ride of Sonja's chainmail? Then her trim figure becomes the "problem". Someone accuses orcs of being "analogs" for blacks, so lets make them pale? Insensitive to albinos.

    Appeasement is no real solution. This is the new moral panic.

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    1. This is an incredibly silly and stupid thing to believe.

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    2. It starts with consideration (which is great), then appeasement (which is tricky and should be viewed skeptically), and finally capitulation (which I liken to annihilation, being an anti-authoritarian).

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    3. Since I specifically said in the post that I was glad Yoon-Suin avoided culture war bollocks, I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from smuggling it into the comments.

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    4. Dude, I was trying to defend you... and the 1st anonymous post.

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    5. I know - I appreciate the gesture, but I really don't want to be involved as a representative or footsoldier for either side.

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    6. Sadly once you DO get jumped, some day, you won't *have* that choice, man. For now all you can settle for is that Yoon-Suin is a bit of a cult classic in the OSR, with very dedicated and loving fans who have more to offer to it than simply turning it into yet another battleground.

      You should at least be happy about that. We love Yoon-Suin for what it *is*, not for what some ideology think it represent. What any RPG book should be but sadly something we all forgot...

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    7. The amount of people on Earth who would actually take issue with pale orcs or a woman whose lifestyle inherently leads to being fit being fit probably doesn't even reach 6 digits. The amount of trolls, "satirists", and propagandists who would pretend to is a lot higher and it seems you've mistaken their strawmen for a significant amount of people

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  2. Well I kind of thoughgt Yoon-suin was supposed to be vaguely asiatic without wallowing in a limited almost fetishistic subset of lore and pseudo-history. Which it is according to what you typed here.

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  3. The sad thing of today's RPG market is the same thing as everything else, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you make a setting with non-European cultures someone will have a bone to pick with you for misrepresentation and appropriation...but you also CAN'T make just fantasy Europe less you somehow get accused of having a copy of Turner Diaries next to your Conan books on your shelf.

    The funny thing is most people who would complain probably can't put the Himalaya on a map and their knowledge of India is limited to Gandhi and curry.

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  4. Too much war in general these days...

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    1. Every 5 or 10 years there's a war, gets rid of the bad blood. It's been about 10 years since the last one.

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    3. That was a Godfather reference.

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  5. One reason I enjoyed Yoon-Suin so much is precisely that it isn't an obvious "reskin" of some real-world society. It's original and strange and fascinating.

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  6. One interesting detail I noticed about Yoon-Suin is how much of what little implied history it has (not in a bad way, mind you) isn't exactly rooted in the history of the real-life countries of inspiration. Hell, the Yellow City isn't even ruled by humans but rather slug-people.

    Heck, humans might not even be native to Yoon-Suin. It's a really alien place, not a cookie cutter fantasy counterpart culture.

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  7. But it is an analogue for things in the real world, if only loosely. You object to the term analogue and then argue against the word analogy, but people used the word analogue instead of analogy advisedly.

    An analogue is a thing that can be compared to another thing. An analogy is an intentional representation of a thing by means of another thing.

    Nobody thinks Yoon Suin is an analogy for real-world Asian cutures....but it is an analogue for them, and as such can be evaluated through critical lenses that might find problematic associations. That doesn't mean that you're a bad person or that Yoon Suin is a bad product. It just means that it is is situated in culture and can be evaluated critically as a cultural product.

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