Two days ago, I listened to a most interesting podcast , The RPG Room, posted on G*M*S Magazine, about „Culture and Social Advocacy in RPGS“. This is a topic I normally avoid, but there is one thing I heard (and actually another one I didn’t hear) that disturbed me quite a bit so I need to get it off my chest. But let me start with saying that I’m all for social advocacy and that I agree with most things said in this podcast. To me, being inclusive is an important thing, and so I embrace if RPG products take the same stance, because to feel included, you need to feel represented. And I’m well aware of the fact that as a part of the white male group, I enjoy some privileges compared to nearly every other group of people, privileges I didn’t ask for, privileges I don’t need to feel included.
What disturbed me a bit was the notion that came up quite often in this podcast, that people who don’t agree with the need for inclusivity are being old-school. In fact, the term „old-school“ seemed to be used as kind of a synonym for those people. Now, as I said before, I’m all for being inclusive, but I’m also considering myself as being quite old-school (I mean, I’m not a first generation grognard, but I most certainly belong to the generation following the trailblazers of RPGs.) No I won’t deny at all that the time I grew up still wasn’t very friendly to women and that a lot of groups where discriminated against (being a role-player meant to be part of such a group). But at the same time, the games I grew up with playing seemed to me more progressive generally. D&D made clear from the start that women were as able as men and made a point in not making differences for example as far as the attributes were concerned. Not everyone liked this but I happen to think that this was much more than could be expected by other media of that time, so I think that even at that time, role-players were ahead of it. Was it perfect? Naturally not, but as far as it did cater to a certain segment of the society (young, male whites), I don’t think that it did that out of racism or social ineptitude, but simply because that was the major group interested in and ready to pay money for it (at that time).
Which is kind of a problem of modern time as well. Lately, Paizo got kinda accused at being racist for starting their setting of Golarion with a very eurocentric viewpoint. And again, I don’t think that this claim is true in any way, it’s just a fact that when they started they kinda went the safe way (no wonder, when you know that the existence of Paizo publishing firmly depended on the success of the Pathfinder line) so they published what they knew that it generally sells. And even in the beginning, they had already two major nations from Asia (Qadira) and Africa (Osirion) firmly integrated in the core part of their setting, followed soon by an Oriental adventure-style AP, one playing in the northern Africa equivalent (Legacy of Fire) and one playing in the central African (Serpent’s Skull). You can even say, that in the very first Paizo AP, two defining cultures where influenced by hispanic Roma culture (the Varisians) and by the native American culture (Shoanti) respectively. Doesn’t keep people from complaining of exact these cultures about being left out of the greater picture (and just in case, I’m not talking about Paco Garcia Jaen, one of the two hosts of this podcast).
Paco made a good point in explaining why people who fell victim to discrimination time and time again tend to overreact if they perceive something as being injustice, but sometimes it seems that they make life quite hard especially for those people caring. Paizo has a proven record of trying to be inclusive regarding race, gender and sexuality, and they are very clear about that this is intentional part of their policy especially to those people who disagree for whatever reason. So I don’t get it at all why they have to defend against criticism for having included one group but not having included another. Because, you know, even if you want to include every group imaginable, you still have to start somewhere, so just because your group wasn’t so far, that doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to in the future, and it especially not means that they are discriminating your group.
This is also why I tend to avoid such topics, because I have experienced to often being acused for discriminating people just for not agreeing with everything they said 100 %. I can live with being offended by all those idiots out there who think they have the right to discriminate because they are something better than anyone else, but getting attacked by the people whose side you’re actually on is something I don’t like to get used to (and working as a nurse, I already get that a lot by my clients; it’s part of the job, but it’s no fun at all).
Which brings me to my second point about what was left unsaid. At the start of the podcast, Paco and Jim spoke about what RPGs meant to them, when they grew up: it meant a safe space where they didn’t have to put up with the same crap they had to in reality. I totally can relate to that, and that’s exactly why I actually don’t want to explore topics like race, gender and sexuality in my games. From the start, I’ve played with everyone who wanted to partake (can’t remember one group without women at the table and that goes back to the early 80’s) and we have played characters with different races, genders and sexualities, so it’s not as if those topics didn’t exist within the frame of our games. But it was never about those topics, because what we wanted was having fun together as friends with a good, healthy dose of escapism involved. Talk to me about those topics anytime you want, but role-playing is the one part of my live I actually don’t want to do it.
So if suddenly those things seem to be the only one to matter regarding a product’s quality irritates the hell out of me and not being able to communicate that without being directly called a bigot, a racist or worse already made me feel unwanted more than one time.
My safe place doesn’t seem so safe anymore. And that is something Jim was too cautious about addressing in the podcast, that having been discriminated against doesn’t give you a free pass to discriminate against other people. It also doesn’t make everything you say automatically right. It just makes the environment more unsafe for everyone, if you’re looking for offense where none is meant. If you need help raising awareness, I’ll stand by your side, but when you’re getting offensive, you’ll lose me immediately, and in the end, I don’t think that you’ll win the war this way.