How Should We Deal with Lovecraft’s Influence in Games?


#23

Especially in light of this getting a Hollywood treatment now, wow, this is nuts. I was aware that the mangaka had some bad opinions on Japanese annexation of Korea, but nothing like this at all. Nothing has even vaguely suggested this in the anime yet.
Less a question of problematic influence there and more why was this published at all, if that’s the case…


#24

I work at a used bookstore… David Irving gets asked for more often than most single historians. Make of that what you will :confused:


#25

I’m really surprised that no one’s mentioned the role playing game.

In 1981 Chaosium released Call of Cthulhu.

This game flew in the face of the other games around at the time, due to its sanity system. If you saw too much it would drive you mad. If you used magic, it would drive you mad. The end of every game was madness.

Cthulhu was beloved as a result of this, and it was at role playing conventions everywhere. If you rolled dice at a table, at some point you risked madness.

The role players were gamers and pop culture aficionados. They went on to create the same.

This game, I’d argue, has been far more influential on propagating the Cthulhu mythos than the original works of Lovecraft.


#26

It is a real shame, those after that type of material only want their own views reinforced. I can’t imagine the damage that is has done to survivors.


#27

In relation to what Rob Zacny notes about Lovecraft writing about forgotten places and people, I highly recommend the story Faith of Our Fathers, a Philip K Dick novella which reads as if George Orwell wrote Lovecraftian horror about people in power.


#29

Lovecraft was extremely racist, this even made his peers uncomfortable, going but he did X reduces that which is the antithesis of this whole topic. Arguing that the Overton Window will move, making us some route source of all evil is frankly insulting.

Your view is based on the American political system which has a large disconnect from the rest of the world, this is the same as your defensive stance which can easily be used to justify any atrocity. “But they did X too…”. Shouldn’t be a defensive line.


#30

Just a note that the series that was discussed towards the end of the podcast (Lovecraft Country) is based on a Novel with the same name, in case you’re interested in the story itself and don’t want to wait until the series is out.


#31

I’m just gonna point out that JK’s post contained all the nuance and thoughtfulness that you think your post does.


#33

That and it is a good novel.

If folks are interested in other works that engage with and interrogate Lovecraft’s xenophobia, I would heartily recommend The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle and I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas.

If you want to have your view of Lovecraft really turned on its head, read The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge. I must stress that this book is fiction and while it incorporates real people, it does not portray our reality therefore what you read should not be taken as fact. Having said that, I think it presents a very beautiful look at Lovecratft’s relationship with R. H. Barlow.


#34

It’s probably pointless to argue with a forum guest but buddy this is a very selective/reductive look at history.

Also you seem to have to totally missed or ignored the responses and articles linked in this read that engaged with your original post and pointed out that Lovecraft was not a product of his time that we can just excuse or downplay.


#35

The moderation team removed a couple of inflammatory posts from this thread, following a ban of the user in question. This might make the thread + the replies to said posts slightly hard to follow, and we apologize for any confusion.


#36

I think I want to push back on Patrick and those arguing against Lovecraft not “being a product of his time,” and this isn’t to excuse his actions but to not revision the late-1800s/early-1900s as some civil post-racial society. This is a time period where fascists were gathering modeling their ideas off of American eugenics ideology. Colonialism was rampant. And anti-black and white supremacy in America was on the rise.

He might be the most openly racist in his work, but I’m not so sure his sentiments weren’t in the hearts of many.

What’s my opinion on reading Lovecraft? He’s pretty deplorable, and a lot of his stories aren’t just subtextual racism but much is quite literal on the page. It’s hard for one to even try to pretend it’s not there (not suggesting you should be turning a blind eye to what you’re reading); however, I think at least from a critical perspective there is merit in engaging with the writing, as waypoint has done, and discuss why even his more subtle themes in the work is problematic.

I wrestle with works like Bloodborne as well and maybe a replaying is necessary. The blood transfusions do give a eugenics-esque message, but many of the experiments are initiated from these higher institutions (the church or the college) which maybe could be read as these societal institutions are creating the marginalized monsters? Again it’s been a really long time since playing, and I was mostly in the same mindset as Natalie of focusing on the win-state not the narrative.


#37

Several posts up, people provide evidence this view of history is inaccurate.

Really, most of history can be chalked up to a government getting fucked up or a few rich guys screwing up the cultural landscape for gain. The nazi party had a low approval rating but all they needed was to get into power through election shenanigans (like having members threaten violence at polling places). The kind of stuff Lovecraft was into before he realized how awful he was came from that loud minority of violent thugs beating entire countries into doing what they wanted and letting apathy from much of the populace do the rest.


#38

One thing that did surprise me a little bit about the discussion was that they made it seem like Lovecraftian horror was solely those intrinsically racist staples with a side of being slippery and ocean-related and about New England, and that they were shocked to see from the source material that his work has been given such a prestigious influence on horror ever since, when that seems somewhat reductive to what the appeal of Cosmic Horror was and is in a lot of ways. Of course noone should downplay what a horrid little racist gremlin Lovecraft and a lot of his work is, and Natalie or anyone else being fundamentally uncomfortable by its existence isn’t completely understandable. I get those feelings. I’m Middle Eastern and I know full well how he portrayed arabs and turks and immigrants in his work and I knew that well into my foray into the genre, and that’s not even counting other people of color or his obvious horror at the notion of race mixing. It sucks a lot.

But for me what made the genre interesting to look into again and again, besides the aesthetic, winds up being how existentially horrifying it is to think that the horror out in the abyss doesn’t even notice our presence, that it could wipe out everyone and everything for no reason at all, just because that’s the nature of things. Nothing has terrified me more than when I learned a gamma ray burst could destroy the earth before anyone even knew it was coming, and that’s the kind of fear this genre does when it does right. It may be born of Lovecraft’s paralyzing xenophobia but a good adaptation could take that part of the genre and do right by it. Hbomberguy did a great video about adapting Lovecraft’s work and horror a while back, and he talked about this schlocky 2006 movie called Cthuhlu which was supposed to be an adaptation of the Shadow over Innsmouth, but made it about a gay college professor coming home to a deeply conservative and creepy hometown and also a cult is involved.

None of this is to say the conversation about Lovecrafts racism, antisemitism, classism, fascist leanings and homophobia or the conversation that has been had around it isn’t something deeply necessary, or that if I wind up reading one of his works i’m not thinking about that constantly.


#39

This is what always makes me come back to Lovecraft and weird fiction. The sensation I feel when I am reading a story that manges that existential twist or horrific reveal is really something.

This thread has made me think it may be worthwhile to recommend some Lovecraft stories that are absent racist or xenophobic material. To that end, may I suggest:
Dagon (shortest story on this list and encapsulation of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror)
The Colour Out of Space (this may be is best story all around… no Cthulhu or Shoggoths but a colour… that and maybe this story anticipates nuclear fallout and radiation?!)
The Temple (content warning: the protagonist of this story is a German on a u-boat in WWI but that is not what the story is about. I want to give people aheads up, but the story is really about what may be outside of the u-boat and what is calling to its crew.)
In the Walls of Eyrx (this is a collaboration with Kenneth Sterling but Lovecraft essentially wrote everything. Very peculiar sci-fi story about a maze, overwhelming futility, and the sense that the narrator and humanity may be arrogant and have misjudged the worlds and their inhabitants.)


#40

I mean the links provided offer anecdotal evidence from other writers, who’d I assume often have more progressive leanings. But I don’t think any of the articles really take into account how popular the eugenics movement and the upholding of racial segregation was in, at least, America at the time.

I should also note that the eugenics movement was framed as a progressive stance and by the mid 1910s 28 states had passed into law forced sterilization programs. And then the passing of stricter immigration acts in 1924 to keep foreigners out. This was the time of America First policy. The racist nationalist rhetoric that is being brought up again today.

I’m kind of wondering in 100 years if people will be having this conversation about 2018, suggesting there wasn’t a larger undercurrent of racism in our society.


#42

If you are really interested in reading more on the subject and getting a sense of how Lovecraft’s views were unique for his time, along with how he changed towards the end of his life, I would recommend reading S. T. Joshi’s biography, I AM PROVIDENCE. I realize recommending you read a +1100 page biography is kind of absurd but it is going to be the absolute best way for you to get a sense where Lovecraft’s thinking was (drawn entirely from his writing—thank goodness he was such a voluminous correspondent) in comparison to society at the time.

Also, did you notice all the acts of violence in the past two weeks carried out against minorities or the fear mongering and hysteria about a caravan of migrants breaking into the country? To say nothing of constant police brutality and the murderr of black and brown people? Heck, I am cherrypicking very easy obvious examples. We live in a deeply racist society.


#43

This was a really interesting podcast to listen to (or the first half has been so far!)

I’ve always had a thing where I’m deeply interested in the “Lovecraftian”, but never really managed to warm totally to Lovecraft. I think there’s a lot about the atmosphere of the Lovecraftian that I love (the unknowability of the vast universe being the source of horror / the spookiness of out-of-the-way areas, and the idea that can speak to the fact that the homogenising nature of global capitalism is nonetheless build on “stranger” foundations, etc.); but I find that, yeah, in Lovecraft’s own work: his racism often finds its way in there in a way that can break immersion in that atmosphere, and transform any of that ambiguity into just “oh right, he really hates immigrant communities”.

I think that possibility for ambiguity within that uniquely Lovecraftian atmosphere is why its so wide-reaching outside of his own work, though: the idea of out-of-the-way communities corrupting could be used as an allegory for the emergence of fascism, and all that jazz.

Ya know.


#44

This is the point where, as @Alveric gestures at, one moves from a notion of “can’t be blamed because they are a product of their time” towards “can’t be blamed”. In the logic of ‘acceptability at the time’, there is no point at which one can say “okay, this is when being racist became unacceptable” that is not arbitrary. Spotlighting contemporary anti-racist figures undermines the notion that “oh, everyone from this time period was racist, so it was fine”. Everyone has a choice.

To paraphrase Marx, people make their own history but not in circumstances of their choosing. We do not choose when we are born, but we all have the capacity to choose how we interact with it. There are, undeniably, material factors from our past that shape our attitudes and desires; few but the crudest materialists would say that these are determinative of our attitudes in life. Lovecraft had better contemporaries; “racism is bad” was not an idea that had yet to be invented.

Additionally, ‘anecdotal’ becomes more valuable in a context in which we often don’t have rigorous and unbiased surveys of popular opinion (leaving aside questions about whether polling is a ‘good’ way to measure public opinion). There is room to dispute many assumed facts about our histories or multiple ways to interpret them. Few would dispute that racism was a huge issue in Lovecraft’s time period, but there is an exoneration implied in “everyone did it” that is worth pushing back on.

Ultimately, if ‘everyone did it’ is acceptable to sweep away the racism of the 1910s, that same broom will be used by the children of today’s racists to clean out the records of their parents.


#45

Exactly this is not same case as with Henry Ford where there is documented evidence of him being a horrible person and violating the Geneva convention. He would have been a contemporary of Lovecraft, again showing the same level of disregard for humanity. Looking at them in hindsight whilst going “everyone was doing it” as carte blanche to strip any negativity from historical figures, is the same as going “X did bad things but”.

Any historical figure should be able to be held accountable for their views and actions, otherwise you head down a path of justifying actions.