Tempest over Mage: The Awakening

For those of you who give a damn, White Wolf’s newest World of Darkness game, Mage: The Awakening, hit stores this week. There’s all sorts of debate and discussion going on, some of it rather heated.

For example, this thread over on RPGnet. The main point of contention seems to be the existence of “Atlantis” as a major part of the Awakened mythic history. One poster in particular is of the opinion that this piece of information, coupled with other bits and pieces in the text, gives the game a strong Euro-centric slant — so strong, in fact, that it invalidates any non-Western occult tradition.

The Atlantis thing has caused problems since it was first revealed in the spoliers White Wolf released over the summer. Using an existing piece of mythology (like Atlantis) can add levels of resonance to an artistic work that a wholly original construct could never bring to the ballgame. The danger you face when co-opting mythologies for your own purpose is that your audience may bring all sorts of unintended personal resonance — and those mental affiliations may alienate a porton of your audience.

I’m reminded of the furor raised in the circles of Xena fandom I was involved with back when the latter seasons of the show were airing — particularly the “Christian” story arc during the tail end of season four and the beginning of season five. I even wrote an article on the subject (Closer to God). I didn’t think it was a big deal there, and I don’t think it’s a big deal in Mage: The Awakening.

Of course, it may be that my position as a priviliged child of western mythic tradition prevents me from feeling the pain of those whose cultural heritage is somehow slighted in the latest White Wolf rulebook. Perhaps the symbology chosen for the game is so closely aligned with my own inner symbology that I can’t recognize or appreciate the disconnect felt by those who don’t share that symbology.

I take a rather Campbellian view of myth, however. Symbols are just that — symbols — and while the exact image may vary from culture to culture and myth to myth, they generally represent something common to the human experience (whatever cultural tradition you come from). The important thing is not to get hung up on the symbol itself, but rather what the symbol represents.

Atlantis may not have been the wisest choice to go with, but what symbol could you have chosen that generates the same sort of mythically appropriate resonance? If you don’t choose one, you risk diluting your thematic emphasis so much that it becomes meaningless, and that much harder for people to plug into. You need to write to your audience, and the primary audience for White Wolf’s games are westerners. It may not be terribly politically correct, but it makes a certain amount of sense to me.

I haven’t read the book to see how narrow the focus really is, but I can’t help but feel that there’s plenty of room for expansion into other mythic traditions and modes of thought.