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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.

A-fucking-men.

Empathy

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.