Gloomhaven sequel Frosthaven isn’t even out yet and it’s already tracking to be one of the biggest board games of the last decade, so it’s very cool seeing the way the game is going to taking a different approach to the way its “races” are depicted compared to more traditional fantasy storylines.
In a major update posted to the game’s Kickstarter page last week, creator Isaac Childres says the development team recently “brought James Mendez Hodes onto the Frosthaven team to do cultural consultant work”, which will involve “looking through all the narrative of Frosthaven and at all of the different cultures depicted within, and...making sure everything is internally consistent and that it isn’t co-opting any real-world terms or ideas that may be harmful to players or any real-world cultures.”
Dungeons & Dragons has been doing something similar recently, with the welcome changes basically revolving around the idea that some of the ideas and terms fantasy literature are based around are, in 2021, looking a little cooked. Stuff like using the word “race” at all, when it’s generally an inaccurate term to differentiate entirely different species, but then also doing stuff like applying generalised traits to every member of that “race”, which borders on mirroring the prejudices of real-world racism.
And it doesn’t even have to be overt, intentional racism. As Childres writes, some of his creations for Gloomhaven “hew dangerously close to very harmful stereotypes of real-world cultures, because of...my own unconscious biases.”
Childres stresses that none of this changes a single thing about how games like Frosthaven will play, they’re simply tweaks to the narrative of the game world and the way different characters and species are portrayed. Here’s another example of some of the types of changes they’ll be making (though these aren’t really changes, since the game isn’t out yet!):
If you look at the history of Frosthaven I wrote during the Kickstarter, you may notice the religiously fueled colonialism vibes running rampant through it. This itself isn’t an issue. This is how the main human nation behaves in this fantasy reality. But I’ve since become uncomfortable with how the story written in that update forces the player to opt in and become complicit in this behavior without choice. Some people may not be comfortable with that.
So we’ve shifted the story around so that Frosthaven is a separate entity that doesn’t want to, by default, take over by force a territory inhabited by other peoples. The story is still just as rich or richer than before, and certain individuals will still come in, recruiting you to advance the colonialist agendas of the capital, but now the player has agency in how the story plays out, which is always a good thing.
Everybody wins. Except for the select few pissbabies upset at this broadening of the game’s horizons, for whom Childres—like he did with anyone “who didn’t think black lives matter” after previous updates—is more than happy to offer a full refund to.