How to Be the Change in the RPG Community
I want to be clear from the beginning that although I am a part of the RPG (role play game) community, I am not a part of the BIPOC (black-indigenous person of color) community. There is an intersectionality that I’d love to help people consider. However, if you’re here and want to learn more about these topics, please follow, learn, and compensate those folks who have the most direct experience. I have lots of links throughout this blog to help make that easier for you.
Being a Geek and Gamer is a Privilege
There are financial, time, accessibility, and community barriers in the way of folks getting into geeky hobbies. It starts when we are little kids. What were our friends doing? What kinds of cool toys, gadgets, costly TVs, board games, or convention road trips were they sharing with us? Were we the ones sharing these access points? With who?
Were our caretakers and family okay with us getting into these specific interests? If we didn’t grow up with access to games, comics, or owning movies/anime, etc., how likely was it that when our worlds expanded as we aged the gatekeepers of these communities let us in?
Could we even spend the time researching the lore or arcs of shows when we had to work to help out around the house? When we entered certain jobs and our coworkers or bosses asked us what we liked to do outside of work, how did we answer? Was it truthful?
Now that we are adults, how much can we budget for nerdy things like graphic novels, going out to the movies, paying for streaming services, or for D&D handbooks, maps, miniatures, or even internet access? When can we take off work or have the “right” work schedule to play with our friends?
These are a lot of questions to ask yourself what privileges within the geek/gamer community you have had. Think about how you might be able to share access with others. Are there lending libraries you could start? A way to “sponsor” someone who wants a game? Free game nights at a local comic store? A way to pay-it-forward?
How Does Oppression Show Up?
The previous questions might have gotten you thinking about the barriers to being able to enter into these communities and hobbies. If you’ve managed to get past those, what comes next?
Unfortunately, BIPOC may be turned away at any point of this process because of the harmful stereotypes and implicit biases written into characters and lore.
Black representation falls into the pitfalls including Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and the Strong Black Woman for women; and the sexually aggressive, fetishized, criminal, or “magical negro” for men (Layla F. Saad). Not only are black characters pigeon held as serving non-black characters, but when we look up from the pages to see who is around the gaming table, often black people do not see people like them.
As an aside, then when cosplayers dress up as their favorite character they receive flak for race-bending. Follow @thatjayjustice on Twitter for more on that! If you have a Facebook account, check out Splendid Rain Co’s post on more stereotypes.
Within Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) specifically there are plenty of problems. Most recently, attention has turned to the Orc and Drow races as inherently racist. Wizards of the Coast has released a statement to try to rectify these problematic stereotypes. Something else to think about from a world building standpoint is if the main conflict in the story is a race war one. How are the different cultures and cities in your world separated by race? Is there racism within the world (elves vs dwarfs, etc.)?
Some folks are specifically looking to improve participation of BIPOC folx in TTRPGs by providing inclusive spaces. A great example is the Valkyries- A black women RPG group in Oakland, CA.
How to Re-Write Inclusive Fantasy
So far I’ve provided examples of how to be an ally with regard to representation and reach. What I focus on next is related to the storytelling piece of RPG. If you find yourself as a DM/GM, author, collaborator, content creator, or player that’s been asked to create some lore, this part is for you!
I’ve created a list of questions for you to consider when world building.
(This list is also available as a PDF here: TTRPG Campaign White Supremacy Considerations)
Consider how the following topics and themes show up in your campaign:
Power and control- does it belong to white straight men?
Race- what are the IRL racial stereotypes written into the characters?
Slavery- how it is introduced? From whose perspective- the slavers?
Oppression- is there systemic oppression with the people in power?
What is “civilized” vs “savage?” Is it something in the way they use language?
White acting = goodness?
Colonizers as “explorers?”
Do the adventurers conquer or erase cultures/races?
Relationship with morality and spirituality (are the “good” religions modeled after IRL Christianity)?
Exploitation/othering- is it based on a race in the world?
Who are the heroes? Are they white? White acting?
Who are the criminals/ villains? Are they white? White acting?
Once you’ve illuminated how white supremacy shows up in your campaign/world, take some time to consider how you’d like to make small or large changes. These can be explicitly discussed and changed within your group, or a change in your lens while writing in the future.
If you notice resistance to the idea of making changes, consider why. Often, we play these games several hours a week, so the fantasy worlds we engage in do matter to our implicit biases. These are also topics that you can unpack in therapy.
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.