Why Increasing Diversity in RPG Rulebooks Is A Good Thing

Despite the title, Mordicai Knode’s A Modest Proposal For Increased Diversity in D&D is not satire. He makes the point that a more inclusive hobby is a good thing. I agree with him. It seems obvious to me.

But some of the comments to both the original and to a BoingBoing link piece are hostile to the idea. These arguments are not new:

  • This is fantasy. Don’t bring real-world race politics into it.
  • Just because there aren’t that many images of non-Caucasian characters in rulebooks doesn’t mean the game creators (or, players) are racists.
  • Where do you draw the line? Are you saying there should be quotas for how many characters are drawn white, how many are drawn black, and so on?
  • Fantasy games are drawn from Northern European mythology, which is why dark-skinned or Asian-looking characters, for example, are out of place.
  • These games are predominantly played by white folks. Why should we cater to people who aren’t even the target audience?

To me none of those arguments holds water:

This is fantasy.

Yes it is. And the best fantasy is just as much about the real world as it is about the fantasy world. It is an escape from the real world, but it is not detached from it. Fantasy epics tell us how evil begets evil, how self-sacrifice is important for the greater good, how even the seemingly insignificant can change the world, how enemies can become friends. If an elf and a dwarf can become friends in The Lord of the Rings, why is it so odd to think that there might be dark-skinned dwarves?

We’re not racists.

OK. I’m a white male. I don’t consider myself racist. I try hard to maintain self-awareness, to fight the prejudices I know I carry with me. But I also have seen enough to realize that I am surrounded by a bubble of white male privilege. This is not me feeling guilty, or me trying to pander to anyone else. This is how it is.

With very, very few exceptions, wherever I go, I am regarded by everyone around me as the baseline, the norm. I am that which is accepted without question. I am like air. Nobody would ever stop to think, “Hey, what’s that northern European-looking guy doing here?” I never have to wonder whether how I am being treated relates to the color of my skin.

To me it seems more than reasonable to work toward a world in which everyone gets to enjoy that feeling of belonging that is so ingrained that it is almost completely unconscious. Acknowledging white male privilege doesn’t mean all us white males are racist.

What’s next, quotas?

For the sake of argument, what if there were quotas? How would that in any way make Average White Guy Gamer’s life any worse? How would that make the game less enjoyable? Seriously. Game companies already employ racial quotas anyway, as Monte Cook points out. The quotas are implied, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. That’s how white male privilege works.

Fantasy games are based on Northern European mythology

Yes and no. They are drawn from a mixture of ancient myths, modern stories, and quite a lot that lies between the two. I don’t recall reading about a Gelatinous Cube in Beowolf. Describing fantasy RPGs as some sort of pure interpretation of a particular culture is akin to searching for “racial purity”. These are phantoms. They do not exist.

It’s mostly white males playing these games anyway

True. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if there were more women, more people who don’t look like me, who don’t necessarily act like me or hold the same opinions as I do? I’ve always thought that one of the great things about tabletop RPGs is that they bring people together. I’ve forged friendships over the game table with people I otherwise would never have met.

I want more diversity in game art, even if it doesn’t add more diversity to the group sitting around the game table. As a white male, I tire of seeing white males and scantily-clad females in practically every illustration. There’s nothing wrong with being a white male. There is certainly nothing wrong with a scantily-clad female. But it gets boring. Real-world diversity makes life interesting. It’s a shame that so many of our fantasy worlds ignore this.

One Last Bit:

If you’re a white male reading this, imagine that your child is not white. Imagine that you’re trying to introduce your child to tabletop roleplaying, and finding images in the rulebooks that show heroes who look more like your kid and less like you is extremely difficult. You might come to the conclusion that the hobby you love can’t be bothered to even hold out a hand to him, can’t be bothered to show him that yes, he is welcome.

  1. unpossiblelabs reblogged this from oldschoolgm
  2. madelonmacartworks reblogged this from oldschoolgm and added:
    Great post! These are the same ideas i want to keep in mind when visualizing the world of New Titan City.
  3. oldschoolgm posted this
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