Creating a Setting Without Bigotry


How do other people feel when an author makes a statement about their setting like this? As in, “Racism, misogyny, homophobia/transphobia, ableism, etc. is a thing of the past.”

It’s such a bold statement to make, IMO. I appreciate the intent (escapism through gaming works better when someone doesn’t have to be reminded of the crap they deal with IRL), but it’s not a promise that’s easy to deliver on. Because of our own environments, we all have unconscious biases, and they almost always show in our writing. Not to mention that writing a setting likes this requires a good understanding of all these things, which are extremely complex and woven tightly into our society and the world around us.

Whenever I see a claim like this in writing, it’s never fully backed by the setting. I’ve seen stories say that misogyny isn’t a thing anymore, then later have a female character talking about the expectations and assumptions put on her by everyone because she’s pretty.

A lot of the time I feel like stories would work better if authors just let us make our own assumptions about the setting in that regard. I suppose that’s the middle ground here.

And I wonder if anyone would prefer if stories actually included realistic depictions of oppressions (in order to better relate to characters or feel their struggle is recognized, perhaps).


Where have you seen this? It may help to know what novel or project this is from.


Not necessarily within IF, just writing in general.


Right but that’s what I’m saying, is it a real statement you’ve seen somewhere?


Not word for word, of course. I’d have to go back and look though.


Let’s take a look at a well-recognized piece of literature (in the U.S., at least) like The Great Gatsby, for example.
Is the point of the story either to eliminate completely or to overtly show any of the things in the quote you listed?
Sometimes stories that find success are the ones that tell it like it is, and let the audience make of it what they will.


Yeah, that’s how I feel. I don’t think there’s a concrete answer on this sort of thing. It mostly depends on the story and how the setting impacts it (or doesn’t). Even in stories in which the author attempts to create a setting that’s free of discrimination, that setting serves a purpose. It’s probably just something we, as writers, should be more conscious of when writing.


Discrimination (or the lack thereof) is only one tiny sliver of the wholeness and the entirety of life. If we are human beings, then we should be able to create stories that express a full range of human emotion, and not simply look under the microscope at things when a microscope isn’t called for. The lenses through which we look at writing, and through which we tell stories, must not be misused.


Yeah, I get what you mean. @Carlos.R, I’ve seen this more in games than in novels - generally when you can play as any gender. You get a handwave of ‘oh, men and women are treated equally’ to reassure the player that there’s no difference in play between the two. However in the actual setting you might still come across women being treated in a way that doesn’t quite make sense in a supposedly egalitarian society.


But that’s all politics, right? I just hate it when politics takes over Creative Writing. :neutral_face:


I saw a criticism like that leveled at Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series a couple times (and I think a couple other series’ that I didn’t recognize)–that in the lore it’s described as being entirely equal with regards to queer romance, but in the context of the game the only same-gender romances you’ll ever come across are if the main character gets involved in one.

I like the idea of a completely equal society, but it’s often botched in execution. I think it works a lot better if it’s just unstated; since I tend to play games for escapism anyway, I’m not really watching out for bigotry and discrimination. However, if the game setting comes out and declares itself a paragon of equality, I’m gonna notice when it fails to live up to that standard.


There’s nothing wrong with being aware of the world around you to better understand the messages you’re sending to your audience as a writer.


Yeah, this is what I was talking about. I mean, if a piece of media is diverse, the writer does have to say something about discrimination in their setting, even if it’s indirect (like in the ways other characters react to same gender relationships, for example). It’s something that’s easy for writers to forget, particularly when it involves experiences we’ve never had. Which is why I say it’s good to be informed and aware😄


It’s only “just politics” if it doesn’t effect you, personally. Hard to be so flippant with types of things when it’s something that has an impact on your day to day life.

And all forms of media (including fiction) have an impact in the real world. The example given would imply that women are naturally treated a certain way (or should be), just because they’re women.

It’s not politics taking over creative writing, it’s being self aware as a writer. It’s important to understand that what you write is not exempt from any existing (perhaps unconscious) bias from the world around you. When you don’t, it’s very easy to be misunderstood or send the wrong message in your writing (something nobody wants).


Speaking for myself, I think no setting truly can escape some sort of limited level of bigotry (as you said). Personally, though, I don’t like it when a game says ‘everyone is equal everywhere’. Not only is it not realistic, it also blatantly ignores real life religious, social, and economic factors taking part in human history.

Making a setting with realistic and acknowledged bigotry is a challenge, especially if someone wants to also make sure the reader/player feels at home within the setting. There are a thousand ways it can go wrong, but I feel like the author’s success makes the risk all the more worthwhile in creating a realistic society. At the very least they have the advantage of being able to acknowledge the bigotry of the setting instead of just accidentally letting it bleed into their writing.


Right! And that’s certainly not to say that every piece of writing must be about bigotry. However, good writing establishes some type of setting regarding these things if the author has made the choice to include characters who are marginalized (which isn’t nearly as difficult as some people make it out to be).


Writing, unfortunately, does not qualify as a substitute for counseling.
That said, writing can be quite cathartic.
Have you experienced discrimination in your life?
Would you like to talk about it?


I’m disappointed that you seem to have missed my entire point. And your reply here reads as incredibly patronizing.


It was an honest question. I’m sorry you were offended by it. You did say: [quote=“sammyboy, post:14, topic:25677”]
it’s something that has an impact on your day to day life.

I do understand if you’re not willing to talk about what’s really bothering you.
That’s not a problem.

We just disagree on certain things, and that’s ok!
It’s wonderful to have diverse opinions.
We don’t have to agree with one another so long as we respect each other.
That’s why I was asking if you wanted to share what was bothering you.

Correct! However, even with our best intentions and a full mastery of language, even in using words correctly so that they only have one meaning, other people may still interpret things differently than we intended – as you demonstrated by taking offense to my genuine concern. But again, no worries, it just seems to be a misunderstanding. My point is that we can in fact become over-sensitized to the offense that people might take to the point of paralysis; to the point that we are no longer able to express ourselves. This is wrong. That’s why I said I don’t like it when politics takes over Creative Writing.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can clear up for you, or if you feel that anything else still needs to be resolved.

We are talking about bigotry after all, by definition, "intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself."
In that regard, I believe that eliminating bigotry starts with trying to understand one another and a willingness to try and resolve any differences.


In one of my stories (which I wrote very quickly) I had an author note that I was deliberately leaving out almost all racism and sexism because I wanted to have a range of characters who all had the same chance of success. It was lazy, definitely, and I was called out on it.

I write a lot of steampunk (alternate history) and a lot of steampunk hand-waves huge issues. Typically, any female or non-Caucasian person is made fabulously wealthy just so they can have a measure of independence and/or power. (Or, if female, they can cross-dress as male in order to be able to do stuff.) Or they have a powerful white male ally who looks after them. I feel like all of these are such massive cliches, and that the character would still get constantly stymied in ways that feel stupid to a modern reader. It also makes me incredibly sad to face the true reality of racism/sexism, and I don’t want to write sad stories (or, indeed, realistic ones).

This is more of a confession than a comment.

Obviously this is all still processing in my brain as I try to learn how to be respectful (and not to hamper characters unfairly) without destroying the light tone I want to take in my stories.