Hi there, Jason Nelson here. It was correctly brought to my attention that the new product we announced yesterday, the Asian Spell Compendium was both inherently culturally insensitive and also had absolutely awful timing, considering the recent murders targeting Asian Americans in the USA. My heart goes out to the families not just of the victims but of entire communities that are being terrorized by individual criminals and by a culture of fear and terror against Asians in general and doubly so for immigrant Asians. Our releasing that product yesterday was horrifically tone-deaf, but timing was just one part of the problem.
Xenophobia and anti-Asian racism is nothing new. My former father-in-law and his entire family were rounded up and sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake, California, surrounded by barbed wire and machine gun nests, for the simple crime of being Japanese-American, and even after their release could not return to their former home for years. Even in the 1970s, he had his phone wiretapped by the FBI for “potential anti-American activity.” Anti-Asian racism, violence, and discrimination are pervasive in the USA, from the federal government on down to individuals, from the 1800s right down to today.
And yet, yesterday in the context of just the latest incident, we released the Asian Spell Compendium for Pathfinder Second Edition. Why that day? No particular reason, really. That was when the product got finished and was ready, so we released it. When I was a kid and I did something wrong, I’d often say “But I didn’t think…” and then come up with some rationalization or justification, but my mom would usually jump in at that moment and say, “That’s right, you didn’t think.” And I didn’t. That’s one of the essences of white privilege; you usually don’t even stop to think because nothing in society forces you to. As a publisher, it’s easy to get into the rote cycle of “next product up, get the words, do the mechanics, get the art, get the layout, get it packaged, then release… and on to the next product.” In this case, I didn’t really think about the impact of the content or the horrific cultural context going on while I had my head down in the grind. As the owner and publisher, that’s all on me, and I’m sorry.
But it’s not only a matter of “not thinking.” It’s also about the traditions of “orientalism” or “exoticism” and in fantasy and fiction as well as RPGs. Something doesn’t have to be a 2-dimensionally racist “Yellow Peril” stereotype to be culturally appropriative or insensitive. There’s certainly debate as to whether white creatives should be involved in creating media and products influenced by cultures other than their own at all. The RPG industry has long been dominated by white voices and interpretations, and we need to do more to recruit and foreground contributors of color. Legendary Games has a deep bench of Asian artists among our contributors and they’ve made all of our products look more amazing, but authors? Not so much. We can do better, and we’ve been reaching out recently to add needed diversity to our authorial roster.
So where do we go from here? We have delisted this product and our entire Far East product line for all systems. These were products we mostly produced around 2013-2016; recent releases have just been updates for different game systems, like the Asian Spell Compendium was (originally released in 2016 for Pathfinder RPG). We should have known better then, but as a small company we just kind of made what we thought sounded cool at the time. “Sounded cool” is very far from good enough, and for that we apologize. We’ll reconsider what to do with this product line in the future, and we’re likewise going to be delaying our planned Asian Monsters Kickstarter project. In the interest of transparency, we’ll be sharing some of the details of that project going forward, which features much more direct involvement from a variety of Asian contributors than our older Far East product line did.
When you know better, do better, and we’ll do better.
PS – I notice there was a second, related issue wherein we put out a social media call for cultural reviewers for upcoming products. This is a paying assignment, but looking back at the original announcements that was not explicitly stated. POC have long been asked for free emotional labor to help whites feel better and this was never intended as that, but all critiques to that effect were 100% fair and warranted.