Tuesday, November 20, 2018

White Wolf, Chechnya, a book review, and me

    So, you may have heard White Wolf Entertainment has been folded into Paradox Interactive. My childhood of Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and Mage: The Ascension had been a big influence on my formative years. The reasons for the end of this venerable institution related to the controversial Chechnya chapter in The Camarilla sourcebook. I also played a small role in the end of my favorite gaming company, though it was more Greek chorus than active participant. How DID White Wolf end up destroying itself?

    If you want to know my perspective on the whole business, I wrote a relatively scathing review of THE CAMARILLA after an extremely positive series of ones for the main book, BECKETT'S JYHAD DIARY, and THE ANARCH (sourcebook). It was very critical of Chechnya's chapter and the presentation of gay persecution there. The actions of the government were presented as the work of literal vampires with its leader being a sun-walking "Thin Blood."

    I didn't just want to criticize the chapter, though, because I saw the Chechnya chapter had a chance to do something far worse than be a bad RPG supplement. The criticism of White Wolf had been that 5E had been catering to the Far Right and/or showing extreme tone deafness in handling of sensitive issues. Given it was founded in the counterculture of Atlanta, Georgia and played such a huge role in my becoming woke to LGBTQ Rights (I work hard for inclusion in my Straight Outta Fangton and Bright Falls Mysteries novels), I was disturbed by this and made a petition for the chapters removal. 

The book that started it all.
   I wanted them to remove the chapter to show they were sensitive to issues and to also head off what I suspected would be a storm of bad publicity. Well, the latter certainly happened but more than I could have ever imagined and I worried someone's livelihood was endangered (my response to something terrible being written as an editor for an anthology is DO NOT INCLUDE IT IN YOUR BOOK). While I took it down after only a hundred signatures for reasons described below, I would later find out the petition was viewed by thousands.

    I was uncomfortable with the hatred on display when the story about the chapter broke. Writers were immediately harassed for their role in the book. Simultaneously, I was accused of censorship and being a totalitarian for my petition to have the chapter removed. White Wolf Entertainment delivered an a public apology and I took down my petition as a result, it having barely gotten off the ground.

    Still, I was curious so I decided to simply ask what the original author thought of it and what his intentions were. I got in touch with him via social media.  I am not mentioning his name because, well, while it's not hard to figure out who wrote the chapter if you do some basic fact-checking--he asked me not to. It turned out that the chapter on the page was not the chapter he created. Unfortunately, it was still a poor taste work aimed at exposing the evils of the Chechen government by making its ruler as well into literal monsters. However, it was originally written from the perspective of a Low Humanity Banu Haqim (Assamite) vampire supremacist i.e. a monster. The in-universe fiction would have him be in a conversation with a high humanity Brujah homosexual.

The crappy text as is.
    Their conversation would include sidebars detailing the RL situation in Chechnya with considerable more respect. The editor, probably to save word count and streamline the work, removed the sidebars and turned it from 1st person to 3rd person universal. What was initially a tone-deaf caricature became actively offensive and bipolar as the article praised Chechnya's genocide in one paragraph then condemned it in another. It gets worse because it had been written in honor of a a gay friend who had been suffered badly under government persecution.

    I took down my petition after White Wolf's initial apology for the content and decided to spread this information while keeping the author's identity secret. It's, honestly, not that hard to figure out who the author of the piece is (some basic fact checking will reveal it). However, he was actually scared for both his friend and himself. The issue became national news in the Russian Federation. If their plan was to prevent the story about Chechen persecution of homosexuals from getting attention, it backfired horribly.

    I was contacted by multiple media outlets and my review was quoted in several national newspapers. I maintain my positions it's inappropriate to handle an real-life tragedy with magical creatures but that Vampire: The Masquerade has a history of social satire. Respect for the victims of the Chechen government should be paramount. I've even been quoted in a few places (see the bottom of the article).

    The real life government, itself, reacted poorly. I was even told they threatened the distributors of White Wolf products in the Russian Federation with jail time. In public, they had a less severe "we're going to sue your ass." I actually offered to pay for the author's friend to get out of the country. I don't think there's any danger anymore, though but did my best to keep in touch. I've also reassured the author that, having verified his story by going over the text that it was horribly mangled and seeing the original, that he was trying to do a good thing that went horribly wrong. I don't think the original text was appropriate but I don't fault his motives.

The standard for respectful treatment of RL horror.
    With the concern of personal safety out of the way, I believe Paradox Interactive made the right decision in folding White Wolf Entertainment into their ranks. It's not as severe as it sounds, though, as White Wolf was only going to publish 4 books before licensing them all out anyway. The only one we're missing now is the Sabbat sourcebook. I believe Onyx Path Publishing will probably pick up the slack and they've shown much better....well, basic editing skills and understanding of what will cause an international incident or not.

    The real irony of all this was the Chechen government's overreaction made sure the author's intentions were redeemed. The government brought international attention to what would normally have passed under the radar and probably be considered to be a poor taste satire. Instead, they showed the world just what they were worried about. If nothing else, millions of people more know about the situation in their country for queer citizens.

    One good thing to come of this was the Rainbow Railroad and other LGBTQ charities have received donations from gamers who have been informed of the crisis in Chechnya as a result of the book. So yeah, it's been a crazy experience. Here's a link for those who want to contribute something good to the cause this Christmas. 


  1. I would be very wary of putting anything like your petition online. You of course had good intentions but the social media echo chamber is completely out of control currently. It is frankly scary to see people act like the Red Guards when they really should know better. This is on both "sides".

    1. Eh, I got exactly what I expected to happen to me happen to me. I also got to befriend multiple White Wolf authors and developers.

  2. Thank you for the article.
    I found it after checking your fB wall after I listened to Mavens review. Like, I thought your avatar looked familiar, wondered if we attended a Larp together and thus scrolled.

    I am a bit surprised by what was cut. A suggestion I made was to literally add sidebars. Which apparently ended up on the floor.

    If you don't mind I would refer your article in a German one am preparing on my blog. Likely it will be done in like January. I do want to address the whole thing in an appropriate fashion.

    Oh, and I was wondering how much your books are related to VtM or not. I do assume that I will like them - tho I still got to read - and might write a small impression on my WODnews blog (likely in German, could consider doing an English one too).

    1. Absolutely, please do refer to my article.

      As for how much they're related, I'd say that it was a big influence on my writing but so was the stuff which inspired it like Anne Rice, the Lost Boys, Dracula, and even Forever Knight.


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