In creating this answer, I am going to piss people off. So I’m going to have to preface this with a disclaimer.
Stay with me.
I have nothing against diversity in gaming, women in gaming or any of the other usual buzzwords, phrases and emotional shortcuts you’ll see bandied about. I’m all for it. I agree with the ends, it’s the means I take issue with – and the characterisations of the gaming community that go along with them. I’m not even going to say ‘however…’ or ‘but…’. What I am going to do is to examine the state of gaming and associated nerd media, and the effect that recent ‘modernisation’ efforts and the broadening of the gaming hobby/lifestyle have had.
Gaming has always been open. Perhaps too open. We have long been accepting and tolerant, providing a safe haven for people who are socially awkward, hygienically challenged, on the spectrum, disabled, infirm or marginalised in any other way. Gamers have always put ‘gamer’ ahead of all other identities and this served the industry extremely well. Gamers also – unfortunately – developed an understandable siege mentality in light of the Satanic and Vampire panics and the many slings and arrows flung at related hobbies and fandoms.
To see my beloved hobby, always more (genuinely) progressive and open than the culture around it become an intolerant, gate-kept, hate-filled arena of social acrimony, censorship and vicious accusations has hurt me an enormous amount; as both observer and victim. The particularly bitter irony is that all this hate and exclusion comes from people who style themselves as being ‘progressive’. Rather than adding diversity and variety to games, their strident demands force games into a more and more homogeneous pile of indistinct grey goo.
My co-host on Inappropriate Characters, The RPG Pundit, calls this RPG pablum ‘Cartoon Funtime Fantasy Seattle’. While we disagree on a great deal, and he has advocated gate-keeping in the past (for ‘Lawncrappers’) I believe he has a point. One of the great appeals of RPGs (and fiction as a whole) is the opportunity to inhabit other times and places, even ones that are horrific, historical or purely fantastical. If we whitewash everything, if we make everything into ‘Wizards and Wokeness’ we lose a huge amount of what makes RPGs appealing in the first place.
It seems paradoxical, it is paradoxical, but in seeking to erase the unfairness of history, to create safe and tolerant fantasy worlds, in trying to increase diverse representation the only diversity that matters – diversity of thought – is damaged. I want a world in which the RPG Pundits of this world can create their Old Skool fantasy RPGs AND the likes of Olivia (formerly David*) Hill can create their emotional, narrative story games. More is always better than less. There will always be some sort of struggle for the ‘soul’ of the few truly mainstream RPGs that exist, because of their influence, but otherwise I think people should be left the entire-and-actual-fuck-alone to make what they want.
Getting more and new people into hobbies is great, but not at the cost of the existing, main base; which leans white-male in gaming, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s down to societal factors beyond our control. The problem with the tactics of those who fancy themselves progressive is that they seek their goals by a process of forcing diversity, whitewashing (ironically) history to make it more ‘palatable’ and creating an incredibly intolerant and hateful atmosphere of judgement and fear.
By all accounts RPG games are enjoying a renaissance right now, but it’s hard to unpick the various factors at play. Certainly the rise of online play and streaming has played a role, 5th Edition actually being good compared to 4th Edition (and being more open) has helped. Media appearances of RPGing in cartoons, comedies and computer games also cannot have done any harm. Outreach to people considered ‘passed by’ may have played some role, but we have to be wary.
‘Get woke, go broke’ isn’t just a catchy meme, one need only look to the disastrous state of comics, the furore around the Hugo Awards, the acrimony over Gamergate, the bitter dismay of Star Wars fans, to see that. The wilful misrepresentation of the ‘honourable opposition’ in each case as ‘misogynistic’, ‘racist’ or other slurs doesn’t help either. So far gaming has proven more resilient, probably because it’s just as DIY as it ever was and the slant of official material has limited impact on play at the table. Still, we should be cautious.
Gaming evangelises itself, play to its strengths – friendship, imagination, scope, possibility, openness, sociability – and it’ll grow like it always has. Just don’t close it up like a clam-shell in pursuit of homogeneous ‘diversity’.
*I know ‘deadnaming’ is frowned upon, but since reading the story of ‘Doctor V and the Magic Putter’ I strongly believe that transition should not allow one to escape reputation and past actions.
Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!