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Tuesday 25 April 2017

Classic Rant: If You Want the RPG Hobby to Be More LGBT-Inclusive...

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 other 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 it's 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.


(originally posted November 19, 2014)


  1. I'd be careful with stating programs for sending soldiers RPGs is the reason military members/veterans are a large proportion of the hobby. The reason probably stems from the game's origin as a tabletop war game. The nature of the modern game (forming a group to pursue adventure and wealth) is a very natural thing for those who would also pursue the same kinds of adventures in life. I don't have any data, but I would say that would be my focus if I were to do an academic study on this topic.

    If I have to go out of my way to make someone feel "included," I guess I would be engaging in the equity in outcome versus equity in opportunity. Either people start at the same spot, or you want people to end in the same level of success. You can't have a system that supports both, and equity in outcome is the epitome of socialism. If everyone ends up with the same level of success, why even play the game? If your choices, in the game or in life, don't have any effect on your outcome in all of its dynamic measurements of success, what kind of life is that?

    If you're in my game and you're LGBT, you're LGBT. This fact in of itself is not that interesting. If you flaunt this in public, you're probably violating the traditional norms of the average person in your pseudo-medieval setting. People are fighting to survive. Anything outside the norm will be feared and vilified, just as any other deviation from norms.

    However, this does not necessarily mean that the average person you come into contact with as an adventurer is one of these average people. You deal with merchants, and those with metaphysical powers, and nobles. There is plenty of evidence that many of these would also engage in such behaviors because of their financial security and places of influence and power.

    I can already hear the backlash: "I'm POOR and I'm GAY!" If you live in America, or another wealthy country, even if you are the poorest of the poor, you are many times more wealthy than your average citizen in the world. You're playing RPGs, maybe going to conventions, and able to ponder the need for inclusion in a niche hobby. You are privileged. Get over it. Here's some data to dry your tears

  2. Wtf is a mechanic that interrogates itself?

    I've played with lots of military men and women. Their interest had nothing to do with anyone sending them a game. It had to with their preexisting interest in games, war games, and such things, and a lot of them had large periods of time with not much to do but also not at liberty to go anywhere and found RPGs were a great and relatively inexpensive way to fill that time. Many of them were young and single as well, and had the time and resources to pursue it in their private lives with civilians like me as well. I've found them to be in average more fun to play with and more likely to show up on time and ready to go, no doubt due to military discipline.

    I haven't seen any games that exclude anyone, but maybe there are some out there stating "NO GAYS ALLOWED TO PLAY HALF-ELF RANGERS" and "ONLY LATINOS ALLOWED TO PLAY DWARF CLERICS."

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  4. When I was a kid in Wales, I found out that a major ambassador for D&D was the local airbase (where a lot of US personnel were stationed). When I was in my teens, my DM was in the RAF. I really don't think these people had been sent any free games to get them into gaming.

  5. " writer suggested the following as mechanical elements that they thought would appeal to LGBT players..."

    Ugh, I threw up a little reading that. We don't need special mechanics or some such nonsense. No edition of D&D has ever made me feel excluded, and I never needed explicitly inclusive language like in 5e. Just leave choices on gender or sexuality up to the players, like in 3e. The issue this hobby has isn't with rulebooks (well, except for FATAL. Seriously, what the Hell?), but players. There are some bad eggs — your Cascianos — that ruin the hobby for others, and that's what needs to be dealt with. Not just at cons, but anywhere gamers congregate, both IRL and online

  6. Yes, the idea that gay DnD players somehow need special "gay rules" is about the LEAST inclusive idea I've ever heard.

  7. Are LGBT players supposed to have LGBT characters? Are those characters supposed to have rules modifiers for kicking in doors and killing monsters to steal their stuff?

  8. Oi vey. One of my players from back in the day is trans. I don't recall her asking for special rules so that she could "represent." Actually, that particular player usually preferred baseline humans and elves who were completely straight, now that I think about it. For that matter, another of the players was black, and played an Asian samurai. He didn't want special rules to account for his skin color either.

    What would those rules even look like? Do you have to roll your character's sexuality so that there's the right number of LGBTQ characters, whether you want to play one or not? (Yes, probably.) Do non-cis characters get special abilities?

  9. Elves seem more than a little pansexual and/or tran or whatever. Anyone that wants more LGBT in their game could easily turn that up to 11 and take it wherever they wanted.