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Wednesday 19 November 2014

If You Want the RPG Hobby to Become More LGBT-Inclusive, You Need to Accept That Most LGBTs Are and Will Be Playing D&D

So we hear a lot these days, some from people who are really just desperately interested in having everyone see how activist they are, and some from those who actually give a fuck, about the question of LGBT-inclusivity in RPGs.  Many people have been arguing in favor of LGBT-representation in game settings, and that's fine (within the boundaries of what's credible for a setting, obviously).  But some have also pointed out that just having a few mentions of LGBT characters in a game setting is not really any great thing, and is not necessarily something that will make the hobby more welcoming to LGBT people as gamers.

Correct!  The question is, what's the solution then? Some have talked about RPG mechanics, and how these should be changed somehow, or new RPGs/storygames made that address these.  In one particularly productive G+ conversation I was involved in, one writer suggested the following as mechanical elements that they thought would appeal to LGBT players:

 "character non-monogamy, subversive models of character agency, mechanics that interrogate themselves, fluid codification of characters, games without characters."

Now, here's the thing: none of those things appear in D&D, nor will they ever.  And not because D&D is homophobic, but because they're just irrelevant to it. Those types of mechanics are as relevant to D&D in both system and style as they would be to baseball.

Other people in that same conversation (or maybe the same person, I forget) were also talking about the importance of panels at cons.

Now, here's the thing: the types of mechanics described above are all well and good to appear in new games (most likely small-press indie games). Fine. Panels at cons, fine.  But both of these amount to preaching to the choir, to people already operating inside the hobby. And note that by "choir" in this case, I do NOT mean LGBT-people, but rather that very tiny subset of the same that are really really interested in LGBT issues in Gaming, and actively participate in things like panels at cons, and play quirky story games.
Most RPG players don't even GO to cons.  Most RPG players don't play storygames.  And among that classification of "RPG Players", I include most LGBT players.

I will say it right here: I would be willing to bet my finest pipe that, in exactly the same way that the vast majority of RPG players only play D&D, the vast majority of LGBT people who play RPGs only play D&D.  And there's no reason to suspect that the vast majority of LGBT people who become tabletop RPG players in the future won't also follow that same trend.

Does this mean that there are no problems with inclusion? No, of course there are problems. What this means is, as long as the ownership of the discussion of what to do to bring more LGBT-people into the hobby and make the hobby a more welcoming and inclusive place belongs to people who like to talk about college-level identity politics theory in panels at cons and play storygames, as long as that particular (dare I say privileged?) group claims ownership over this issue, a huge disservice is likely being done to the majority of LGBT-gamers.

Why? Because as far as I can see, D&D (and its clones) will continue by far to be the largest RPG in the hobby, and the one that will keep successfully bringing in the most new people to the hobby.

So I think if the goal is to create inclusion, you're left with two choices:

a) Go to war with the entire hobby and try to destroy D&D, which is a fools' errand, though certainly some fools are trying.


b) talk more productively about those ways that can provide inclusivity within the structure and model that is unlikely to change, nor should it need to change.

"Queering" D&D is like "queering" basketball, or bridge.  It either can't be done, or can only be done by making something so radically different from what is presently called 'basketball' or 'bridge' that it would no longer be recognizable as such.

So I would argue that D&D is the elephant in the room of the whole discussion as it currently stands. Are you doing all this to make yourself feel better and to be smug, and create a little pseudo-intellectual ghetto for yourselves while abandoning to the wolves any LGBT gamers who have no interest in spending their time talking about Queer Theory; or are you doing it because you actually want the very core hobby to be more inclusive and to be a place that is more open, welcoming and gives more centrality to LGBT people?  If the latter, you need to recognize the reality that D&D is the hobby (in terms of what your goals would be), and that therefore its pointless to talk about 'steps' that don't take D&D into account.  There's not much reason to talk about changing things at the rules level (because you couldn't do that with D&D, aside from fluff rules).  Instead, what you do need to talk about are the many many other levels in which you can focus yours efforts with D&D to achieve your goals.

No one's saying it's a bad idea to make a game that specifically appeals to the interests or identity of a minority (though I think that can often create either tokenism, or ghettoization, both of which have problems of their own); but the point is that D&D IS the RPG hobby for most gamers!  You won't create an overall environment that's positive if you don't address how you can work with D&D.  And furthermore, I think that D&D is the RPG hobby for most LGBT gamers!    Sure, there are some that will really be hyper-aware of the 'bigger hobby', but it's likely that, just like 90% of all gamers don't play anything other than D&D, 90% of all LGBT gamers don't play anything other than D&D too.  So you're doing those people a disservice by ignoring D&D.

I think that 5e D&D has done (and is on course to doing) great stuff with representation.   I think that the places where D&D can work better for LGBT involve just about everything that surrounds the system (plus maybe a few secondary elements of system itself), and how they present settings/adventures; but I think its much more important to stop thinking about this in terms of the elements of the game, and start thinking more in terms of the elements of marketing, public relations, organized play, etc.  Conventions are important, sure, but they aren't the "ground floor" of the hobby.  Instead, you want to be promoting LGBT involvement in play through FLGSes, school clubs, community groups, etc, plus online play (if WotC can ever figure out how to do that last one right).
The interesting thing is that this are ALSO precisely the areas that WoTC needs to be focusing on if they want to make the hobby grow in general; and they could do this at the same time as they make an effort to making D&D (and thus the biggest part of the hobby) more LGBT-friendly.

Hell, for years now gaming companies have from time to time engaged in or participated in programs to send RPG books to overseas military (which has, by the way, resulted in a disproportionate amount of U.S. RPG players being active or veteran military).  Why not do the same to gay-straight alliance clubs in schools, or other kinds of youth groups?

That's the kind of thinking you need to be working on if the goal is really to reach out and welcome LGBT gamers; working from the assumption (no doubt distasteful to some, but a reality) that the vast majority of LGBT gamers are and will be just like all the other gamers and want to play D&D, so the answer to inclusiveness is getting more LGBT people (especially LGBT youth) trying out D&D.

As for the Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs outreach thing, remember, folks: you heard it from the RPGPundit first.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Gawith's Squadron Leader


  1. It's interesting how the activists you describe seem to have built a strawman of the LGBT gamer that happens to be interested in just the kind of games themselves want to promote. After all, using potential LGBT gamers as ammo in an argument they know nothing about yet isn't going to put them off, amirite ? Intellectual honesty, so hard to find...

    1. I should clarify that I do NOT mean to imply that ALL of them have bad intentions. I think that many people involved in this discussion actually mean well, but are just making some erroneous fundamental assumptions based on their own perspective (which is, I think, the definition of 'privilege').

  2. I've said it before and I'll say it again - where, in any prior edition of D&D, does it state you CAN NOT play a LGBTQOMGWTFBBQ or whatever you want to play? SJW activists want codification of their desires, not permission to act on them - they've had the ability within them all along! Click those slippers together, Dorothy.

    1. Of course; but at the same time, if a rulebook really feels like it needs to have a section where it says "pick a gender for your character", there's no reason NOT to be explicit about what the options are.
      Likewise, IF the internal logic of the setting allows, there's no good reason NOT to represent a variety of sexual preferences, relationships, etc.

      Furthermore, this post when it comes down to it is saying that all of the above is LESS important than what the hobby can really be doing; that if it REALLY wants to get more LGBT people playing RPGs (and maybe you don't, but I for one want to get ALL kinds of people playing RPGs!), the real answer is in things like marketing and promotion, and not Con discussion panels or representation in setting (though there's nothing inherently wrong with either of those).

    2. I disagree. If the player wants to play an LGBT character they don't need the game designer's permission to make that type of character. They can just make that type of character.

      This crap some of these activists say like "If they don't say you can make an LGBT character then clearly they don't want them to exist in their world" is just garbage. There are plenty of games that don't talk about Native Americans, African Americans, French people or British people. That doesn't mean they don't exist, it just simply means the designer can't cover everything.

      I am all for the LGBT community being treated equally, but adding in the text like the new D&D does is just pointless.

    3. Again, that is not the main point of this blog entry; I'm talking about outreach in the real world, not representation in RPG books.
      But that said, I'm a bit confused by your vociferous opposition. What harm does it do, exactly?

    4. What good does it do? Did the text no being there stop people from making LGBT characters? Probably not.

      Even if you were, for example playing a game by a raging homophone who put the text NO LGBT characters are allowed in this game would that stop people from doing it anyway? No of course not. No one needs the game designer's permission to make whatever character they want and even if the game designer was against LGBT (Which I am NOT) they aren't going to knock your door down and take the book(s) back. It's your game, do whatever you want to do with it.

      The text is pointless and all it does is say people can make a type of characters they have been free to make all along. It's unnecessary text and if I were going to create a rpg I wouldn't put in that text because it is totally pointless.

    5. Would you put in a text that says people can choose a gender? Would you make a setting where there are explicit heterosexual romances or relationships described?

    6. By your logic, you could make the same argument about writing just about anything in an RPG ("why do we NEED to explicitly tell people they can be an elf?", "Can't people just play Sembians without a gaming company having to make a statement by writing about it??", "what good does it do to suggest to people that they could play a mutant? If that wasn't in the rules wouldn't people want to be X-men anyways??").
      And yet the only thing you seem to be concerned about here is the gays. Funny that.

  3. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that getting more LGBT people into the RPG hobby is not, in and of itself, a worthy goal.

    Frankly, I don't think either the gaming hobby or the gaming industry should specifically bother itself with trying to attract specific sub-groups of people, whether they be homosexuals or redheads.

    Grow the total number of gamers, and the numbers of homosexuals and redheads, and every other sub-group, will naturally grow with it.

    The argument that "people like to see people like themselves represented in games" is a fallacy. One need look no further than the hobby in the late 1970's. I guarantee you there were homosexuals playing D&D in 1979, even if the DMG didn't have any pictures of two men kissing.

    Saying that homosexuals somehow *need* some sort of artificial support is a condescending attitude that plays into the "gays aren't just like everyone else" idea that is the true source of prejudice. By treating gays, or any other sub-group of people as something needing special accommodation, one is tacitly forcing that group into the category of "the Other".

    Homosexuals are members of society like anyone else, and I've yet to see any evidence that they are under-represented in the RPG hobby/industry. Want more gay gamers? Get more gamers. The gay gamers will simply come in with the rest.

    1. I think getting more of ALL kinds of people into the hobby is a worthy goal. So, that said, there is worthwhile marketing and less worthwhile marketing, in terms of how likely that promotion is to actually generate more players. I suspect that marketing to YOUTH of all kinds is in general a more strategically sound goal than marketing to soccer moms, or plumbers, or Lutheran ministers, as a group.

      And within that, again if we're being purely strategic, I think that youth groups are generally a good target. And within those, I think that we will be more likely to meet with success by targeting Gay-Straight Alliances in High Schools and Colleges than we would targeting the Pat Robertson Defense of Family Youth Ministry, or something like that.

  4. I don't think a lot of activists in the hobby want a more diverse and larger hobby. They want power and position within their communities. Panels on cons? What does that do? Provides power to the privileged elite. Like you said, I never hear your ideas like sending or reaching out to gay clubs and offering books. That brings in new players.

    I suspect they don't want new players because that means D&D will be even more successful. They hate that.

    1. A lot of the pseudo-activists, yes. There are I think some people who legitimately mean well but have gotten trapped in the discourse of that particular indoctrination/narrative, and can't see the forest for the trees.

      So this is an attempt to excise control of the argument from that group and talk about something productive.