Statement from KiwiRPG chair Liam Stevens
Kia ora tātou
I wanted to take a moment to respond to this last week’s controversy surrounding World of Darkness’s appropriation of the likeness of Tāme Iti, renowned activist and kaumatua of Ngāi Tūhoe, and their response to it. Due to the complicated and confusing nature of publishing for the World of Darkness line between Paradox and Renegade Game Studios, I shall refer to both entities as World of Darkness.
It is already documented elsewhere, but the TL:DR is that World of Darkness released a preview from their upcoming Werewolf The Apocalypse book. In the artwork of this preview was a character that had Tāme Iti’s face, including his Mataora, using a replication of a photo of Tāme. The community noticed and called on World of Darkness to fix this issue. World of Darkness posted two statements, one stating they would look into this, and then later another stating that they would be removing this art from the upcoming publication.
Removing the artwork is the right thing to do, and I have to commend World of Darkness for taking this step. This issue happening at all is unacceptable. That said, it is important that we acknowledge when actions are taken to right these sorts of wrongs. Sadly it is all too common that the injustices against indigenous communities by publishers go unrectified in these situations. So when action is taken I am always glad to see it. Hopefully this is only the start of more efforts to move towards avoiding this sort of wrong completely going forward.
Let me be blunt here; World of Darkness is fortunate that their cultural incompetence was caught in a pre-publishing preview. Had any other page in their book been the subject of this preview, it is highly likely that this appropriation of Tāme’s likeness and our cultural traditions would have been published. And I do wonder what other wrongs exist in the pages yet unseen.
The industry needs to normalize the practice of not utilizing indigenous cultures for their game’s aesthetic. It is very likely that the artist in this case did not know much about the culture they were using, they likely searched the internet for tribal facial tattoos and just helped themselves to the image, making many faux pas in the process. Instead the use of indigenous culture, or any culture for that matter, should be a deliberate act, with the experts of the culture being engaged from the start to ensure it is used with the care, mana and respect it deserves. When you treat cultures like aesthetics or bags of inspiration for the plunder, you are going to put your foot in it, and World of Darkness demonstrated this fully.
Much has been made of the collaboration with indigenous consultants for the current Werewolf line and yet this still happened. This is because not all indigenous cultures are alike. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is one too often forgotten.
Often when publishers talk about seeking consultation about cultural safety, what they really seek is to be safe from criticism for the use of this culture. But the reality is you are never safe from criticism for using another’s culture, nor should you be. Instead seek collaboration to empower indigenous cultures to express themselves as they see fit, either through their own works or as collaborators on yours. Often we have had to fight, and still do, to maintain the mana of our cultures, so it should be us who shares them with the world.
There is a common saying “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”. It is that thinking which has resulted in indigenous cultures having to cling on to the edges of their cultural identity with tight fists as colonial aggressors take take and take some more. When a game designer thinks it’s their right to include our culture, watered down as it is, into their works without permission, they are joining the long line of colonial thieves. So instead, let us change the dynamic. Let us encourage others to not only ask for permission, but collaboration. Let indigenous tell their stories, rather than discover their face upon your page, awkwardly attached to another body bearing Polynesian tattoos.
But until then, I acknowledge World of Darkness for admitting their wrongs and seeking to fix them. What is done is done, but hopefully going forward they learn, at the very least, what not to do. And going forward won’t need to seek forgiveness. I have just seen that Tāme is aware of what happened and has contacted World of Darkness to discuss. Hopefully they learn from him and his mana too. Let us all see this for the lesson to the industry that it should be and aim to do much better.
Whāia te mātauranga hei oranga mō koutou
Hei konā mai
Ngāti Kahungunu ki te wairoa
Chair of KiwiRPG