An Absolutely Disgusting, Bigoted Game Gets Funded on Kickstarter

It is rare that I have a topic that is completely appropriate to post not only to my gaming blog, Greyhawk Grognard, but also to my blog that deals with issues relating to my Heathen faith, GOPagan. However, my attention has been drawn to just such a thing by an article in the Boston Globe (h/t to The Wild Hunt blog).

Let me preface this by saying I abhor Political Correctness. It’s nothing but an excuse for professional offense-junkies to try to silence the free speech rights of those with whom they disagree by invoking a non-existent “right not to be offended”. This is not that. This jackass has a right to make this game, and retailers have a right to sell it. Just as I have a right to weigh in on that question of whether or not, when one has a right, one necessarily should exercise that right, and whether there exists a line on such things that should or should not be crossed.

The game in question is Salem. It was successfully Kickstarted on November 1, with 553 insensitive assholes pledging $33,812 towards it. The premise?

See who can kill the most witches in Salem.

Modern-day witches and Pagans don’t think it’s at all funny that people were killed in all sorts of horrible ways just for being accused of being what they are today. It’s not cute, it’s not an historical footnote, and it’s not something that begs to be made into a fucking game.

“You’re insulting my faith by mocking it” is one thing, and utter nonsense. All beliefs should be open to critique, questioning, and even ridicule. “You’re making a game out of slaughtering people who are like me” is quite another thing entirely.

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s make a new railroad game. Each player is the commandant of a Nazi death camp. The one who can ship the most cattle cars full of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals to their camp, while still making the trains run on time, wins. Mazel tov!

Or another. This one’s a resource allocation game. You have a limited number of negro slaves on your antebellum plantation. You need to allocate them between the cotton fields, the house, and in the slave huts making babies to increase your “labor supply”. The player who earns the most money, either by selling cotton, selling slaves to others, or (in an exciting side-game) having your slaves run cockfights, wins. “Uppity nigger” cards can be negated by “If it’s a whippin’ you’re a-wantin’…” cards. Hilarity ensues.

One more. A racing game. You’re in Texas, and each player has a gay man chained to the back of your pickup truck. The one who can make it around the track first, without his faggot falling off the end of the chain, wins. Careful– take a curve too fast and you’ll lose ’em before they die. Game over.

Am I overstating the case? I don’t think I am. It’s a concept that’s offensive on its face, the same way that nobody would think to make a game about the Holocaust, black slavery, or the murder of James Byrd, Jr.

For centuries, Christians engaged in witch-hunts, in which tens of thousands of accused witches were burned, hanged, stoned, and otherwise put to death. This is no “burning times” fantasy. It really happened. And for those who, in the modern day, identify themselves as witches, Pagans, and Heathens, it remains an open wound, even if most of those who were accused were guilty of nothing more than being widows and spinsters with property that was coveted by their accusers and judges. The fact that most of those murdered were killed not because they actually were witches, but because they were merely accused of being so, does not lessen the horror of their deaths, or their relevance in the modern day. People today are being slaughtered– literally– because they’re accused of being witches.

It gets even better– as a Kickstarter exclusive, you get little plastic nooses to use as player tokens, and a cardstock 3D gallows to adorn your game board. (I’m not making this up.) How jolly! The Zyklon-B replica canisters, real cowhide bull-whips, and 6′ length of chain will make dandy props for your game as well.

I don’t know how this vile game concept ever got approved by the Kickstarter staff, I don’t know how it ever found 553 people to commit money to it, and I don’t know how such a game could ever be published, when it essentially makes light of the concept of murdering a group of people who are roughly equal in size to the number of Sunni Muslims in the United States.

Joshua Balvin, head of Rock Paper Scissors Games, should be ashamed of himself. He is an insensitive jerk who obviously doesn’t give a crap about making light of the murder of people because of their beliefs, and anyone who buys this game should also be entirely ashamed of themselves.

WARNING: The comments on this post will be monitored very closely, and not only will offensive comments be deleted, but the author of said comments will be banned. Caveat scriptor.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

37 thoughts on “An Absolutely Disgusting, Bigoted Game Gets Funded on Kickstarter

  1. I like you and you're blog more than ever before. It's good to have another "esoteric/alt religion" non-liberal old school gamer to chat with. Love the other blog due to that by the way.

  2. Joe, thanks for bringing this up. I'm Christian, and I also believe strongly in freedoms of religion, and I agree with your assessment of this game. One could argue that D&D is all about seeing how many orcs you can kill, but there's one salient difference: orcs aren't real. The Salem trials, and the witch-hunting frenzies in Europe, are very real, and a game like this, as you note, only serves to reinforce and justify prejudice.

  3. Modern day "witches" have simply co-opted the name "witch", they have nothing to do with the supposed devil worshiping ones supposedly at Salem.. Same with modern druids vs the historic ones. They might be trying to follow what they believe the historic ones believed, but there is no real connection.

    That said, I definitely agree it's in bad taste.

  4. Joseph,

    I am right there with you, this is absolutely disgusting. One would have thought that this project would have been stopped before it got off the ground.

    That rare breed is not exclusive to a few 😉

  5. I'll assume that this is unknowing, not sarcasm: Brenda Brathwaite (moderately famous video game designer) actually has done board games about the death camp trains and about the middle passage.

  6. As a neo-druid, I'm torn on this; on the face of it, this game looks like something quite awful, but I can kind of see it as an interesting and thought-provoking game in suitably-mature hands.

    Given how easy it would be to make the game less offensive though, such as using werewolves or spies or Mafia, I can only imagine that they were looking to be controversial.

  7. You raise an interesting point, Joseph. My wife is a Wiccan and I certainly have sympathies with so-called 'alternative' religious practices. In my degree course I have studied witch trials, in England and the US, and the Holocaust, two subjects that, in my opinion, are not suitable material for games. That being said, I also object to games wherein the player takes control of a professional hitman or a low-life criminal on the rise. I exercise such personal objections by not buying games of this kind and I wonder if there is some mileage in contacting the owner(s) of Kickstarter to register objection to this vile game about persecuting innocent people. Or is it simply enough to ignore the game's existence and not support it?

  8. The part I found ironic was the designer admitting that the women hung were accused due to personal vendettas, not actually being witches, yet still the premise of his game is to win by amassing the most "correct" hangings, and supporting the fewest "false" hangings. He states historical accuracy as a goal, yet structures the win conditions around successfully killing the most "real" witches, all the while admitting that historically those hung were not witches…

  9. Well, I dunno. Witches aren't any more real than orcs and fairies so I'm not sure I buy the Jewish connection. Also, most (perhaps all) of the people killed in Salem didn't even think they were witches themselves, so again it's not really a parallel with the Nazis who by and large persecuted people who were what they claimed they were.

    I don't really see any difference between this and a Walking Dead game where you have to kill zombies. Or playing the German side in Battle for Stalingrad.

  10. I am of a couple of minds on this.

    For starters I never a fan of saying "X should never be made". While you raise some very good points, I am (personally) not sure if they are enough to say authoritatively that this should not be done.

    One the issues of the game is that it hunting witches. Well there are games like that out already. I have even seen games that take the harder stance of "witches are all evil and must be killed", this game at least acknowledges that these women and mew were killed more as personal vendetta's.

    If anything I would argue that as opposed to being anti-Pagan, this game is subtly being anti-Christian. Because in order to be a good christian in this game you need to be a backstabbing murderer.

    I don't know. Is it any worse that Dark Hersey or Colonial Gothic? I suppose in those games there is other things to do.

    Unrelated, I find it very interesting when the RPG/OSR bloggers I know and follow have other blogs. Your Republican Pagan one might be as far away from my liberal Atheism one as you can get (still haven't read all of yours to know for sure) but I still find it cool.

  11. A lot of folks don't realize there are witches. They treat them as something that is ficitonal as goblins or talking skeletons. It doesn't make a witch hunting game forgivable but ther are an awful lot of folks out there that simply don't get it that there were real people (mostly other Christians) killed.

  12. @ Timothy Brannan

    > If anything I would argue that as opposed to being anti-Pagan, this game is subtly being anti-Christian. Because in order to be a good christian in this game you need to be a backstabbing murderer.

    That's a very good point, and one that bears repeating.

    I'm a Messianic Jew–that is, I believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is indeed the Messiah, but don't think that he came to tell Jews to stop keeping Torah. That gives me a lot of cross-purpose sympathies when it comes to history.

    With that in mind, should I be offended that nearly all fantasy RPGs–and fantasy novels or movies–are set in worlds where if there are any monotheists, they are almost universally portrayed as either narrow-minded or as the "witch hunters" out to murder the nice, innocent pagans?

    I play in the Kingdoms of Kalamar system, which includes slavery and gladiatorial combat as part of the setting. Should I be offended because the pagan Romans used to use Jews and Christians as lion-fodder?

    I mean, there are all sorts of things one can be offended at in a game. I agree that the particular abomination in question is over the line and deliberately offensive to both pagans and Christians. My question is where exactly do we draw that line and why?

  13. @baronkohinar – The difference between Brenda Brathwaite's game and this, is that Train is deliberately making a statement not only about the holocaust but also about the way we play games.

  14. Indeed, I was by means saying they were analogous, it was just the first thing I thought of when Joe said 'what if the made a game about sending Jews to concentration camps'. If you go to Salem, they have something similar: mock trials, where the evidence is presented in a historical context, then the audience is forced to act as a jury and decide what to do. Being put in that situation yourself, especially when you're not prepared for it, really makes you think.

  15. do you have the same kind of sentiments when it comes to the recent controversy over the "King Philip's War" historical wargame?

    I'm unfamiliar with both the game and the conflict it portrays, so I don't really have an opinion. However, I'm also not in the business of being offended on behalf of other people. If the game in question offends certain American Indian tribes, then they can decide what is, and is not, an appropriate response.

    As a Pagan and someone who practices witchcraft myself (as an aside, to those who claimed otherwise, I can attest that witches do exist today), I feel much more entitled to an opinion on this particular subject.

  16. What exactly are the negative consequences you expect from this game?

    The harm comes from the general normalization of the idea that killing witches is either acceptable or even a positive thing.

    Bear in mind that today, right now, people in Africa and in African immigrant communities are being persecuted and in many cases killed because they are accused of being witches. Google Africa Witch Hunt and you'll see what I mean.

    Anything, such as this game, that encourages such behavior and leads to it being seen as acceptable, is something that should be shunned.

  17. @Bloch: Does the game present the killing of witches as an acceptable or positive thing? I followed your links, but I can't find anything that suggests this game or its maker condones witch hunts. If you feel a moral judgement has been made, could you point it out to me?

    What about the wargames? Do they normalise the concept of warfare? People die in wars every day. When I play Diplomacy, am I contributing to a culture of violence?

    1. I've played many wargames but no innocent plastic tokens have starved, no cardboard orphans have been left behind, and no lead widows have lamented love brutually taken from them. Playing wargames does not trivialize oppression, bigotry, and hypocricy or promote war any more than reading a book on history does.
      Were there a game on the salem witchhunt that was realistic and sober there would be little to complain about.

  18. JD: Neither are any innocent game tokens suffering because of this game. So your objection isn't that the game is portraying these events, but that it's not portraying them seriously or realistically enough for you? Is that correct?

    1. The "Witches" of Salem were normal folk lacking wealth and influence that cynics and cowards destroyed with the legal system of the time. Oh what fun. Mayhaps the game crosses the threshold from explotive to educational, bonus gallows just don't give me that vibe for some odd reason.

  19. Modern day "witches" have simply co-opted the name "witch", they have nothing to do with the supposed devil worshiping ones supposedly at Salem.

    Jeremy, while it is true that most (not all) modern-day witches don't consider themselves to worship the Christian devil, it should be remembered that the church considers Pagan Gods and Goddesses to be devils. From the Christian perspective, when I make offerings to Odin or Thor, I'm making offerings to devils. There is at least one Medieval Icelandic source that speaks of Odin and Satan feasting together in Hell's hall. Naturally, that's a Christian invention, and not to be found in any genuinely pre-Christian source.

    It should also be pointed out that there are traditions of witchcraft, particularly in the United Kingdom, but also in Scandinavia, which do incorporate Biblical symbolism which would be considered "Satanic". This doesn't mean that those individuals are consciously inverting Christian dogma and morality, but rather that they recognize the fundamental Christian doctrine of demonizing Pagan deities (literally) and embrace it as a symbolic device.

    That said, all the evidence points to the fact that there were no "real" witches (of any stripe or strain) in Salem. But that does not mean that modern-day witches are not associated with them in the public consciousness; just walk down the streets of contemporary Salem to see the truth of that!

  20. What about the wargames? Do they normalise the concept of warfare? People die in wars every day. When I play Diplomacy, am I contributing to a culture of violence?

    Bear in mind that warfare is already a normative part of society (for good or for ill, it simply is). Society as a whole accepts the necessity of warfare, and I agree with that assessment.

    I'm also not overly concerned with fighting the "culture of violence". I'm concerned with violence aimed at a particular group that is already marginalized and which is suffering real violence in certain parts of the world, which certain people might see as desirable to spread to my part of the world.

    Plus, I would point out that Diplomacy, of all the examples you could cite, is one of the more abstract games out there, and thus one of the most far removed from actual depictions of violence and the effects of war.

    Playing a game where tokens look like male and female heads, with a cardstock gallows in the center of the table, is quite a bit less abstract than that, I hope you'll agree. 🙂

  21. Hoo boy! What a moral and ethical quagmire this is. On the one hand, I do see the place of a game such as this. It could easily serve as a useful educational tool to open a dialog on the matter of witch hunts in general. There is a lot of important value in that discussion, especially when we see the fairly recent witch hunts around the world and even here in the USA (the so-called "Satanic Panic" of the 1990s, for example).

    On the other hand, as a polytheist, I am distinctly uncomfortable with this particular example (and, to answer one of the above comments, I would be especially uncomfortable with a depiction of "medieval" – actually, early Modern, at its height in the late 16th century – werewolf hunts that treated the subject in any way as positive).

    Joseph: As an aside, I am not completely up on my New England history. Is it the case that historians have absolved Tituba of any connection with Afro-Caribbean spiritual traditions (though, it should be noted, she was probably Arawak Indian, it was also believed at one point that she could easily have learned some form of Afro-Caribbean religion)? I ask because you assert that "all the evidence points to the fact that there were no "real" witches (of any stripe or strain) in Salem", and my understanding was that, from some definitions of "witch", there was at least the one (ironically, one of the people who was not put to death for the accusation and subsequent confession).

  22. The middle suggestion (the slavery one) sounds a little like Puerto Rico.
    The game Guillotine is based on the French Revolution, which is a hundred years more recent than Salem.

    While Salem was horrible, you cannot really relate it to the much, much more modern Wiccan faith. The victims were not Wiccans.

    I can't say I approve. I wouldn't have backed the game. But I can't get that upset about it.

  23. Minor quibble, but the Church does not believe the Goddess or any other pagan deities to be "the devil." At least not since Vatican II, which recognized other paths to the divine than the Catholic Church.

  24. @Bloch: In other words, the reason wargames don't offend you is that warfare is already "normalised", and/or the effect of those games is harmless. Is that accurate?

    Assuming that it is, would you explain what you mean by normalisation? When I asked before what the negative consequences of this game were, you replied that the game normalises the idea that killing witches is acceptable or positive. Could you define what you mean by normalise in that context, and explain how the game causes it to happen? You also claimed that the game encourages the persecution and murder of witches, and leads to that behaviour being seen as acceptable. Could you explain how this occurs? These are easy claims to make, but I haven't seen anything to suggest this game causes the slightest harm to anyone whatsoever. Can you show otherwise, or at the very least make clear your reason for believing so?

  25. This is grotesque. Hopefully nobody will buy it and only the warped backers will be interested in playing it; making a closed system of douchebaggery.

  26. aha! i've found the source of my recent onslaught of angry emails. fairly certain i'm about to be banned but i am the game designer, and i appreciate all of your comments and thoughts. the most important reason i've gone forward with this game is the fact that the witch trials are an iconic and completely misunderstood part of history (for example, one angry email said he had a relative "burned" in salem…no burnings took place in salem). i'd be curious to hear your thoughts about arthur miller's "the crucible" as that was the inspiration behind this project. the game serves simply (and executes brilliantly) on illustrating what fanaticism does: when your life is on the line and you can save yourself by lying or placing the blame on another, what do you do? i'm open for a dialogue with anyone who respectfully wants to engage in one. interestingly enough 4 of the top backers are direct descendants of people whose stories are told in this game. they have all said it's so important to tell the story of what actually happened. i think it's important to underline that "witch" in the wiccan community could not be further from the puritanical prejudice of a "witch". to anyone out there who thinks this will forward a prejudice, you should see the shock as the story unfolds in the game. "but… she didn't do anything" "did that really happen?!" the narrative of what actually happened is shocking to people who have only a casual understanding. i've even had a number of gamers from the wiccan community play the game and express admiration at the authenticity, respect and reverence of the game as it's about breaking apart the prejudice and bigotry that so often define religious fanaticism (and for the record, i am not religious). but after reading this, i'm guessing we'll never see eye-to-eye on this

  27. I helped kickstart this game. I've even played it before. After reading your article I can tell that you haven't played it. Your description of "see who can kill the most witches" is pretty much the opposite of how the game works. While playing the game, the witch trials do unfold and people do die (because that is what happened after all) but its not glorified as you make it sound. The game actually teaches about history and which helps players learn how crazy it was back then.
    I view this much like a book about the salem witch trials. I'd be equally confused if you got upset at a history book for writing about the people being killed. "as you keep reading, more people keep dying, its like see how fast you can read to make more people die".

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