On Mestnichestvo and Russian Imperialism in Midnight Sun

Hello, Netrunners! I’m Jo from the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) team. In our article about core damage a few months ago, EDI Team Lead Laury wrote that we “work to ensure that [Null Signal Games] and Netrunner represent a diverse range of people and maintain a safe and welcoming culture for everybody.” This is the spirit that drives the EDI team, and indeed all of Null Signal. In light of that, we need to address an issue with one of the cards in Midnight Sun: Mestnichestvo.

Mestnichestvo with original illustration, displaying a coat of arms

The artwork on Mestnichestvo uses what looks like a symbol of Russian imperialism. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine hadn’t started when the theme for this set was determined, publishing a card with such associations at a time when resurgent Russian imperialism is responsible for untold violence in Ukraine has caused hurt to many in our community. We have received feedback from multiple members of our community (some of whom are directly affected by the war in Ukraine) expressing how upsetting this symbol is to them.

We sincerely apologise for the harm we have caused. In this article I’m going to outline how this mistake happened and what we’re going to do about it. In case our stance on the war is not clear, we would like to state it plainly: Null Signal Games does not condone any country invading another, and we consider the Russian invasion of Ukraine reprehensible.

Background

Mestnichestvo” is the name for the particular type of feudal social structure that was in place in the Russian Empire from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. The artwork for the card Mestnichestvo is based on the old Russian Imperial coat of arms. The modern coat of arms of the Russian Federation, adopted in 1993 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is based upon that old Imperial coat of arms. 

Although the old coat of arms is defunct, it represents a symbol of Russian imperialism from a time in which the Russian Empire dominated many of the independent states, states which modern Russia is presently pursuing an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy towards, including Ukraine. The card art in today’s context therefore evokes not only a historical political phenomenon, as it was intended to, but also Russia’s current imperialist ambitions and the violence it perpetrates in pursuit of them. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the art with the flavour text, which asserts that “mere” symbols gain their power through fear, was read by some as metatextually dismissing criticism—as if it were saying, “Why are you letting this icon bother you?”

The Narrative team worked with external consultants from the region Midnight Sun takes place in to ensure we treated the setting with sensitivity. The art brief for Mestnichestvo had not yet been completed when the bulk of these consultations were taking place, meaning we did not receive feedback on this particular piece and it slipped through the cracks. 

We always strive to ensure that everybody who wants to play Netrunner can do so. If there is a barrier to entry because Netrunner isn’t welcoming and inclusive, it’s our mission to change it, and therefore when we identify a mistake like this, we try to fix it. 

What we are doing

We have recommissioned the artwork for Mestnichestvo and rewritten its flavour text. Future printings of Midnight Sun will contain the new version as soon as we update the relevant files on our storefronts. We will also distribute replacement playsets to anybody who wants or needs this new version, free of charge. The new card art will become the canonical card art and will replace the old art in all digital representations of the card that we control.

Mestnichestvo with new illustration, depicting a labyrinthine family tree emerging from a book

We will provide further updates when that commission makes its way into Midnight Sun on our print-and-play files and on our storefronts. We will distribute a suitable number of copies of the new version of the card alongside Game Night Kits in the near future for no additional cost, and will also provide additional copies to both of our current authorised resellers, netrunnercards.co.uk and netrunnercards.com.au, which they can package with any of their sets they have already stocked. We have also ordered replacement copies to be made available at our upcoming 2022 World Championships in Toronto, Canada. Finally, players can request a set be sent directly to them. Once these cards are available, we will provide an update with the email address to contact with these requests.

We request that players use the updated version if they have the option to do so, out of respect for other players. We will not, however, be banning the use of the original printing.

Netrunner addresses difficult topics. Midnight Sun broaches a subject we will revisit time and again: resistance to a greater power. Part of depicting that involves depicting the oppressors. We can, however, be more careful in those depictions going forward so that we do not uncritically replicate real-world dehumanisation. We can do this by ensuring we have our work more thoroughly checked by the consultants we work with and being mindful of the present-day context in which our work is being viewed.

I hope I’ve been able to provide some clarity about this issue. I look forward to being kept out of your servers with a new and improved Mestnichestvo at a tournament soon!