Tabletop RPGs

Inclusivity, old days, fun taxes, and empathy in gaming

In the wake of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, two posts about gaming and inclusivity have stood out to me.

To both, I say right the fuck on.

The “good old days”

The first was Steve Kenson‘s The Bad Ol’ Good Ol’ Days. On what sorts of characters he wants to play, Steve says:

Do I want to play someone who is like me and either deal with the world as it was then or ask the GM for a fantasy variant where homophobia and misogyny (which spring from the same root) don’t exist? Or should I play an asexual character—or even a heterosexual one—in order to fit in and dodge the issue? They’re the same questions queer people have to ask themselves about their real lives all the time, and that can be wearisome when it comes to something that’s supposed to be just fun.

This gets at privilege, in a nutshell, and Steve’s conclusion is as painful to read as it is accurate:

If, by chance, you’ve read all the way to the end of this and find yourself thinking, “Wow, that sounds like it would suck all of the fun out of things. Do we have to deal with such heavy stuff in our games?” Well, then you have some small idea of how it feels for some of us all of the time. While it must be nice to have the option to just ignore it, but some of us don’t. Consider that as you create your next world.

I was nodding while reading that, because I used to say things like, “I just want to play.” Which sounded reasonable to me at the time, but makes me wince now, as I type this.

Changing how I approach gaming in order to be more welcoming to other folks isn’t hard. Nowhere near as hard as, say, being the object of ridicule, bigotry, hatred, and exclusion, like millions of LBGT folks — and other minorities, of all stripes — are every fucking day.

The fun tax

The second post that stopped me in my tracks was Curt Thompson’s “And on the topic of inclusion in gaming” over on G+.

We’re gamers. We accept FTL, strong AI, magic, vampires, dragons and superpowers as part and parcel of the gaming experience. As givens, even in ‘historic’ games, a lot of time. If we can accept those, we can damned well accept that prejudices can be overcome. Even erased.

Who gives a shit if “that’s how it was” if making it that way in a game sucks the fun out of it for others? Curt ties this back to privilege, and his point is similar to Steve’s:

But for me it always comes back to that concept: the fun tax. Should there be a extra burden for gamers like us? And at my table, the default answer to that is no.



No one’s perfect. Everyone fucks up, and that includes fucking up at being empathetic — at trying to see the world as others see it, and learning from that experience. I’ve fucked up in that way before, and I’m certain I’ll do it again; I’ve been hurt by friends who couldn’t empathize with me, and I’m sure that will happen again, too.

But I’m mystified by folks who aren’t willing to even try to be empathetic. Where’s the cost? Where’s the burden there, exactly? It can be challenging to empathize; it can be draining. But at the most basic level, it can sometimes be incredibly simple.

Empathy trumps hate. Empathy is part of what makes us human. It has a place — an important place — at every gaming table, and in every gaming book.

Digging Yore? Check out my book!

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is available in print and PDF.
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You can validate others’ experiences without invalidating your own

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem, by De Scriptorice, has been making the rounds in my circles on G+, and I’ve been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about it. Not because I’m of any importance, but because what that post describes is awful, and speaking up matters.

Yesterday, I read Why Should We Listen To Anecdotal Evidence of Harassment in Gaming? and Why I Don’t Play Magic Any More (both by Ferrett Steinmetz), and it clicked.

De Scriptorice’s experiences

Here’s an excerpt from De Scriptorice’s post:

I am thirteen years old and in a game store for the first time. I examine their selection of dice and take them to the counter to pay.

“How old are you?” asks the balding, middle-aged man behind the counter.


“Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed!” he chuckles in glee. The Warhammer 40K gamers at the table behind him take up the refrain. “Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed! Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed!”

I run.

That’s one of the least-bad experiences she relates, which speaks volumes about the kind of shit she’s dealt with over the years.

My experiences

None of the experiences in those three posts jibe with my experiences as a white, male, cisgender[1] gamer.

I’ve gamed in groups with women, people of color, gay and bisexual folks, and folks with physical disabilities, and if there was harassment at any of those hundreds of gaming sessions, I didn’t spot it.

I love that anyone can sit down together and pretend to be other people for a few hours, no matter who they are in real life. This has shaped my perception of gaming as a positive force, and of gamers as a welcoming community.


But. But. The fact that I haven’t witnessed harassment doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, or that it’s not a real problem.

The world is much, much bigger than my worldview. Which is sometimes an uncomfortable thing to realize, but just as often a transformative, meaningful, mind-expanding thing to realize.

And at the same time, recognizing that there’s a harassment problem in gaming, and in related spaces like conventions and gaming stores (and related hobbies, like cosplay), doesn’t invalidate what I’ve experienced. Both truths are true.

It’s possible to both see gaming as a good thing, which it is, and as a hobby that attracts its share of assholes, bigots, sexists, and other problematic folks, which it also is.

Willingness to change

Seeking to invalidate someone else’s experiences of harassment in the gaming community is bullshit.

The same goes for fighting against inclusivity and diversity in games — that’s bullshit, too.

Change is good. Change can be hard! But it’s still good. When I see bigotry, I see people who don’t want to change even a little bit. Who don’t want to acknowledge that the world isn’t exactly as they’re currently picturing it. Whose personal identities appear to be so bound up in their current worldview that calcification is preferable to admitting they’re even a tiny bit wrong.

We — everyone, all of us — should be open to seeing the world in other ways. If someone says they’ve experienced harassment in the gaming community, accepting that as truth costs you nothing.

For those who aren’t open to that, well, Chuck Wendig says it best in this response to folks complaining about gay characters in Star Wars: Aftermath:

And if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming. And it’s a fabulously gay Nyan Cat meteor with a rainbow trailing behind it and your mode of thought will be extinct.

Harassment, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and hate speech have no place in the gaming community.

The more gamers there are rolling dice and making cool stuff and designing weird adventures and sharing their perspectives, the better off all of us are.

That’s what I want gaming to be.

[1] My gender identity matches the gender I was assigned at birth.

Digging Yore? Check out my book!

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is available in print and PDF.