OK, I’ve been agonizing still more about the “ethnicity-locking” aspect of this story. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s necessary, but at the same time the less I like it, which is a pretty bad position to be in! So I’ve had a few thoughts about a possible way forward, to increase representation without compromising the story: I’d really appreciate people’s perspectives on whether this is a good idea, especially (but not only) from people whose preference is usually to play as a non-white MC. Apologies if this post gets rambling, and apologies for angsting over this yet again, this is just the type of thing I worry about, probably excessively!
So the reason I decided to ethnicity-lock the character is, above all, Chapter 3 (and to some extent Chapter 4, but that isn’t out yet so I don’t want to talk too much about that). Basically, Chapter 3 takes place on the MC’s home turf, segregated New Orleans, which was clearly not a “colour-blind” society, and in which the MC’s ethnicity is going to determine all kinds of things, including what job they do. So, if I wanted them to be an archaeologist at Tulane, then very bluntly they would need to be white, because that was the law back then. I did think about loosening those restrictions and coming up with some kind of bullshit excuse to explain how a POC could have got some kind of special exemption and been allowed to teach at a white college, but I decided against that, because, despite all the stunts and swashbuckling and alligator-feeding, I do want these stories (Chapter 3 above all) to take a serious look at questions of race, prejudice, colonialism and oppression, and I didn’t want to dilute the reality of segregation by giving the MC a magic pass to get around the Jim Crow laws. It was an aspect of the oppression and hardship faced by POC in that society that they weren’t allowed to teach at white colleges: I didn’t want to sugar-coat the reality by pretending that there was a work-around when there wasn’t, as that felt disrespectful to the struggle that people went through back then.
However, I am aware that, back in the days of Jim Crow, there were people of non-white ancestry who were able to “pass” as white, and who, by doing so, were able to get jobs that were, by law, restricted to whites only. So I wonder if this could be the start of a solution? If, for example, it is possible for the player to specify at some point that they had, say, a non-white grandfather (doesn’t have to just be African-American, I can offer a range of options), and the MC has always identified with that heritage, even if the law has necessitated that they “pass” as white. This could be a good way to make people who prefer to play as non-white characters feel a little better represented, while at the same time staying true to the difficulties and legally-imposed limitations that POC faced under segregation. Do people think this would be a good idea? If you prefer to play as non-white MCs, would something like this help you get into a character who is semi-ethnicity-locked as white? Or do you think I’m barking up the wrong tree?
Basically, history has saddled me with the necessity of ethnicity-locking my main character (thanks a bunch, history!), and I’m trying to find ways of improving representation while working within that necessity. Any thoughts on this, or any better ideas about how to do this, would be most, most welcome.
(On another note, I’ve barely started Chapter 4, but Rome was great and filled me with lots of archaeological inspiration, so I’ll get on it properly real soon!)