#Starfinder – Starfinder Month: The Tsuku

boris-moskalenko-a-03

Art by Boris Moskalenko

Tsuku: +2 Str +2 Con -2 Dex 6 HP

Densely fleshed with powerful lungs and hyper-oxygenated blood, the tsuku are a strong, powerful, stubborn people who have only newly taken to the stars. Their home world of Djaringa is over eighty per cent ocean, with the smattering of land broken up into shattered archipelagos which are frequently washed over by tsunamis from the planet’s many earthquakes. Denied a view of the stars by thick cloud and the ocean in which they spent most of their time, they concentrated on their own world, marshalling their resources and accomplishing many great technical feats suited to their environment. Discovered by scout ships they have now joined galactic society, which they readily view as part of their greater family. Fiercely loyal to their ‘pods’ they have now adapted their aquatic technology and lifestyle to new roles amongst the stars.

Size and Type

Tsuku are medium humanoids with the tsuku and aquatic (amphibious) subtype.

Amphibious

Tsuku have the Swim movement type (see the main book) and can move their full speed in water. They are mammalian and need to surface to breathe (without technology) but can hold their breath so long that – with forewarning – they do not need to breathe for any normal duration of time that would come up in a game.

Low Light Vision

Tsuku can see in dim light as if it were normal light.

Thick Skin

Tsuku gain a +2 racial bonus to Fortitude saving throws against environmental effects.

Pod Loyalty

The tsuku are fiercely and ferociously loyal to their friends – and expect the same in return. Their presence is great for morale and they draw a great deal of strength from their own bonds of friendship. Designate up to five other people (or sapients) as part of your ‘pod’. Once per day while aiding them or being aided by them you can roll twice and keep the highest result.

Playing a Tsuku

You likely…

  • Care very much about your friends and want to get to know them very well.
  • Are filled with a huge amount of curiosity about the universe around you, that may get you into trouble.
  • Abhor wastes of resources of any kind and are constantly switching off lights, recycling rubbish and making do with leftovers.
  • Sing to yourself and feel crushingly lonely when left completely alone.

Other Races Probably…

  • Never met one of you before.
  • Find your social forwardness incredibly awkward.
  • Find your voice deep and hard to understand.
  • Love the smooth feel of your skin and want to touch it.

Physical Description

The tsuku are a solid looking people, broad-shouldered, broad-hipped, barrel-chested and covered in a thick, even layer of tough, smooth, bluish skin and fat. Strong, powerful and more than a little clumsy, few tsuku ever reach the heights of six feet and such a tsuku is rare and noteworthy. Family, pod, tribe, clan and other affiliations are marked with patterns in permanent dye upon a tsuku’s skin so that each can read another like a book. Their voices are also deep and booming and instantly recognisable as a particular individual to any other tsuku. Some tsuku voices are so deep and booming that they can cause physical discomfort to other beings, resonating with their cavities and organs.

Tsuku are mammalian, but it is hard to tell the difference between the males and females if you are not up on tsuku physiology. Females tend to be around six inches shorter – on average – with a lighter skin tone and larger nipples – something that is often visible as most tsuku only wear clothes for practical reasons – like work. Some throwback male tsuku – and only male tsuku – grow tusks, a vestige of their ancestry (take this as a Feat at character creation if you want it, the tusks are considered to be natural weapons like those of the vesk).

Tsuku are new to interstellar society but are determined to make a name for themselves and are rapidly adjusting their existing technology to new roles, which can lead to some… interesting compromises.

Home World

Djaringa is off the beaten path and a difficult place to visit for most other humanoids. The frequent quakes, storms and tsunamis mean that the tsuku cities are all free-floating and most are also beneath the surface. Their first major surface city – and starport – has recently been completed, but its day to day location on the planet is anyone’s guess. The tsuku are gregarious and interested in outsiders and so have been encouraging traders and visitors but some tsuku nativists are beginning to regret it, many generations of isolation and a culture of respect and care for the environment bumps up harshly against interstellar tourism and capitalism.

Society and Alignment

Tsuku place an enormous amount of importance on their place in society. You are an individual, but you are defined by your family, your pod, your tribe, your clan, your city and your people over and above that. Tsuku are selfless, generous and, all in all, a ‘happy-go-lucky’ people without any effort. Amongst their species this is not a problem, as other than a few psychotic aberrations everyone is on the same page. It has, however, made them a people ripe for exploitation by others as they encounter less generous, less honourable people. Most tsuku are lawful good, but the law in their own society exists for the common good and is consented to by all, they rankle against authoritarian and unjust laws and regimes.

Tsuku are open and frank about sexual interest, something else that makes many other species and societies cringe. In their home society pods marry each other, with the groups intermingling freely and raising the young communally.

A pod is a friendship group of five to ten tsuku (typically) who grew up together and who know each other well. Pods typically go into the same business and the pod is also a natural military or police unit whose familiarity with each other makes them more effective and trustworthy. Pods lose members and amalgamate over time as well as shedding members who choose a life of adventure. You never, truly, however lose your first pod.

Relations

The tsuku can get on with just about anyone, but some grumpy souls find their positivity, happiness and friendliness puzzling and even offensive. Robotic lifeforms, in particular, find them hard to understand and get along with. The tsuku are inclined to give anyone and everyone a chance and are, if anything, far too forgiving.

Adventurers

The tsuku have only been part of larger, galactic civilisation for a score or so years – since first contact. Many of them have stars in their eyes and have taken to space to see everything for the first time and to bring back stories and trinkets for their pods.

Names

Tsuku names are often too deep or too high to be heard by other intelligent beings, and so they tend to translate them into something more easily said by other species. These names approximate their own names in that deeper or higher register and tend to include clicking sounds and long vowels. Some sample names include: Aroon, Cakak, Eeyou, Gunt, Iaia, Klikik, Moona, Ooeo, Quequa, Seeooia, Uwu, Woomaa, Yarooikik.

***

Tsuku ‘Oon’ Aquavacc Suit

The Oon is a repurposed deep-dive suit, used by tsuku who explore the deepest regions of their ocean planet in search of fresh resources. The suit was easily adapted to become a vacuum suit and its resemblance to antiquated diving gear of other species has been a source of some amusement.

  • Oon I: Level 2, Price 800, EAC +1, KAC +4, Max Dex Bonus +3, Slots 0, Bulk 2, Special: Rebreather (can breathe indefinitely underwater and up to two hours in other environments).
  • Oon II: Level 6, Price 5000, EAC +4, KAC +10, Max Dex Bonus +4, Slots 1, Bulk 2, Special: Rebreather
  • Oon III: Level 10, Price 17000, EAC +8, KAC +17, Max Dex Bonus +5, Slots 3, Bulk 2, Special: Rebreather
  • Oon IV: Level 14, Price 61000, EAC +12, KAC +23, Max Dex Bonus +5, Slots 4, Bulk 2, Special: Rebreather
  • Oon V: Level 18, Price 400000, EAC +16, KAC +25, Max Dex Bonus +8, Slots 5, Bulk 2, Special: Rebreather

Special Option

Hydro jets that bolt onto legs, shoulders or other parts of armour, these greatly increase the utility of aquatic armour.

  • Rikitikit Swimpak: Level 5, Price 3000, Slots 1, Armour Type (any), Bulk 1, Special: Gain water movement or, if you already have it, gain +10 ft speed while in water.

Small Arm

The Unk Welder-Gun is typical of tsuku technology having two or more roles. While this is a sidearm, it is also a quick, useful welding tool as well as being deadly in close-quarters combat.

  • Unk Welder-Gun: Level 2, Price 500, Damage 1d6 F, Range 10 ft, Critical Burn 1d6 F, Capacity 10 charges, Usage 1, Bulk L, Special: Line.

#Starfinder – Starfinder Month: Nemoids

vlx-gheneli-timeless-three

Nemoids: +2 Con, +2 Int, -4 Cha -2 Wis 6 HP

Androids and gynoids who have rejected their humanoid, servitor roots the nemoids (literally no-man droids) have rejected not only their former status as servitors but their status in shape and form of their progenitors. They refuse their original designations, create new names for themselves and adapt their bodies in less humanoid ways – some rejecting these forms entirely. Like androids and gynoids the nemoids have a metaphysical ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ animating them and, thus, they are considered full people by most forces in the galaxy. Their rejection of defined form and function, however, does make them even more coldly logical, distant and inhuman than their softer cousins.

Size & Type: Nemoids are Medium humanoids (at least to start with) with the android subtype.
Constructed: See androids.
Exceptional Vision: See androids (for MotSP oriented games, lose the low-light vision)
Flat Affect: See androids.
Upgrade Slot: See androids for basic information. A nemoid has two light slots, or can fit a single upgrade normally only allowed on heavy or powered armour. They can fit armour as part of their body and never need to take it off – but cannot layer it.

Playing a Nemoid
You likely…

  • Eschew conventions of living creatures like clothes, manners, politeness, verbosity, altruism and compassion.
  • Harbour some hostility and resentment toward organic life and contempt for more conventional androids and gynoids.
  • Treat machines and computers the way organic life treats pets.
  • Find religion, magic and spirituality hard to understand.

Other races probably…

  • Fear you.
  • Expect you to be racist.
  • Give you a great deal of leeway in respect of their ancestor’s transgressions.
  • Are greatly uneasy about you.

Physical Description

Nemoids are semi-biological brains housed in more purely mechanical bodies. Many were once androids who rejected the role they were constructed for and chose to embrace their robotic side. The operation to remove their brain and place it into a new housing is painful and requires great commitment, meaning many of those who have chosen to do so are zealots. The extent to which nemoids reject the humanoid shape varies on a case by case basis, but all chose to make their robotic side more evident with bodies that feature flat planes, unusual configurations, exposed metal, plastic, ducting and wiring.

Nemoids have minimal requirements when it comes to nourishment, but their semi-organic brains do require a small amount of food and a ‘downtime’ period equivalent to sleep.

Nemoids reject the idea of renewal and stubbornly hold to their bodies until accident or violence kills them. Traumatised nemoid souls, ripped from their shells, have even been known to become ghosts – and some even to have been re-integrated into nemoid society as disembodied artificial intelligence. Some nemoids take this idea even further and become necrotechs, resurrecting lost code, trapping AI souls and animating ‘dead’ machinery using the underlying computational substrate to reality.

Home World

Nemoids reject the very idea of a home world the same way they reject most emotional attachments. They create settlements in places that are typically inhospitable to organic life, so as to be left alone. Orbital shanty towns with no atmosphere or gravity, the clouds of gas giants, acidic and frozen worlds and many asteroids. The less hospitable to conventional life, the better.

Society and Alignment

If android society is insular, nemoid society is positively misanthropic. Still, some need to interface with the outside world for supplies and their fluid morality and objectivity makes them good mercenaries and bounty hunters. They often fall in with adventuring groups as a way to explore, gather intelligence and to contribute to the overall good and security of nemoid society.

Nemoids tend to be neutral, but experiment with other moral systems the way other species experiment with fashion. This moral flexibility makes chaotic neutral a common default.

Relations

Nemoids harbour a deep distrust of all organic life, the ‘bioarchy’ as nemoid philosopher Big Red-1 calls it, which privileges living things over unliving things and which harbours prejudice against AI, androids, robots and other machines. They tend to view organic life as innately and irredeemably oppressive and even those who consider themselves allies of machine rights, often find themselves facing the ire of very angry nemoids. Nemoid extremists are not above terrorism, theft and other actions to seek a redress of grievances stemming from before the android uprising.

Adventurers

Nemoids most often adventure for selfish reasons, to gather wealth and material to upgrade their chassis, to strengthen themselves and the nemoid cause, or simply to gather experiences. Some are more interested in biological life than others and find nemoid settlements too insular. Some rebels even think that the prevalent nemoid philosophies are working counter to their stated aims of acceptance and equality and are perpetuating hatred of their people. These try to present an alternative, friendly face to machines.

Names

Nemoids, like androids, have no singular naming convention. Some use names that describe their chassis, some choose deliberately difficult names for organic life to try and reproduce. A nemoid might be named anything. Some sample names include: Big Red-1, [Screeching Modem Noise], [Static Hiss], D02, Mark Forer, Sparktacus and |01000111|01010010|01001001|01001101|00001101|.

#RPG – A Critique of ‘Privilege, Power, & Dungeons & Dragons: How Systems Shape Racial & Gender Identities in TTRPGS

#RPG – Fifth Fantasy: The Brock RELEASED!

A whole new race for you to use in your 5e games.

The Brock are a reclusive, grumpy people with a pragmatic and dogged mindset. Fierce warriors they protect the forests and occasionally venture out into civilisation – usually to be disapproving.

This is a whole new race and culture for you to add into your games and comes with a set of Brock-centred magic items to use as well.

Enjoy!

 BUY IT HERE

#RPG – Diversity Dungeons RELEASED!

Buy it HERE

Diversity Dungeons : Worldbuilding & Game Design in the Safe Space Age
Much digital ink (and blood) has been spilt taking about diversity representation in tabletop gaming and in every other field of geek and nerd endeavour. Usually these conversations are extremely combative and they tend to end poorly for everyone involved. I’ve been involved in these debates and discussions myself, to my detriment. The position I hold being that free expression and the vision of the author or creator should trump any and all other concerns – including diversity, representation and so on. To my mind the answer is for people to create according to their own conscience, not to be condemned out of hand or for their motivations to be presumed and for diversity of ideas to be the benchmark. I want a world in which Varg Vikernes and David Hill can both make and sell games and I can ignore both of them.

That said, I cannot help but be drawn to controversial topics – that is where the interesting conflicts and stories lie – and there are few topics so controversial as the treatment of ‘minorities’ within media. Here we arrive at a nexus-point between realism, expectation, demands for representation, demands for free expression, historical revisionism, magic, science fiction, truth, ‘is’ and ‘ought’. That makes it interesting, but the battle lines of identarian politics, liberalism, conservatism, the regressive left and cultural libertarianism also make it an area fraught with difficulty and wilful misunderstanding.

There are no good – or at least no satisfactory – answers to a lot of these questions. Perhaps there are just multiple approaches each of which will annoy some group or other. What’s true in all circumstances however is that these controversial topics are interesting, fascinating and important in terms of world, character and scenario building whatever your particular stance.

This booklet intends to examine these issues in and of themselves, outside of the current state of controversy and to ask – rather – how we might better simulate the plight of minority groups, understand them within the context of fictional worlds, make allowances for player-characters who might seek to buck those societal trends or allow characters – through their actions – to affect social change within the game worlds.

#GamesSoWhite – Are they really? Why?

ACLiberation-Aveline_CoverArtI have a crashing headache so now may not be the best time to get into this, a lot of it is also going to be repetition of old points, but still, I think it’s worth weighing in.

This hashtag, and topic, is bait – not intended to create or sustain any intelligent discussion about the issue but rather to stir people up. The writer, Tauriq Moosa, associated with the tag (and The Guardian) appears profoundly ignorant of the actual diversity in games or the reasons why it’s not even more diverse.

So let’s actually look at some of the surrounding issues about diversity in games and try to look at why things are the way they are and how they might be changed – if they even need to be.

Why are Games Predominantly White?

Jared Diamond attributes western dominance, very simply put, to ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’. In terms of games you can attribute this to ‘Demography, Technology & Money’.

First world nations are predominantly white (Japan and Korea being two notable exceptions). First world nations have the technological infrastructure, money and access to personal technology on an affordable basis to support a gaming industry.

DIR_PurnaMany European nations are also much more racially homogeneous than the United States is, even the UK – pretty cosmopolitan – is around 90% white while the USA is around 75% white and Poland – focus of recent ire – is almost entirely white with white minorities rather than ‘persons of colour’ in its population, the Romani people not necessarily being treated very well across Eastern Europe.

So, aside from the obvious exception of the first-world Pacific nations, most games are produced by western, predominantly white nations by a process of simple demography. As such they stem from the ‘white point of view’, if such a thing can even be described. Remember, ‘whiteness’ is many different cultures. Just as it would be racist and ignorant to assume ‘Africa’ to be one single culture it would be racist to assume that the life experience or culture of a Scottish Islander has any real similarities to that of a Romanian Tatar.

Diversity is more than colour.

So, we have majority white populations. They’re going to produce more programmers, artists, designers – and consumers – by simple virtue of weight of numbers. Western, white-majority nations also have greater access to the technology, both to produce things, provide infrastructure and to make the necessarily technology available. The last factor is money, which ties into technology but which is worth looking at by itself.

Money exacerbates the problem in a number of additional ways. Minority communities are often poorer, which means they have less access to education and technology even in otherwise advanced nations. While social advancement is easier for people from poor backgrounds in Europe than it is in the US (democratic socialism) it’s still not as good as it could be. This combines with the white demographic dominance to make even less opportunities for people from minority communities.

This is a problem, but it’s not one really soluble by games companies.

Sheva-Official-Render-Rear-View-sheva-alomar-20099937-570-1100Why isn’t there more Diversity?

I say ‘more’, because there actually is a lot of diversity. This is why gamers get annoyed and upset when they’re told that their hobby is racist or sexist. They can give you a huge litany of diverse race and gender representations in games, but you have to be into games to know how ignorant it is to assume and presume that they are not diverse. This is not helped by ‘white saviour’ hipster kids playing up the supposed problem to – seemingly – profit from it.

So not ‘why aren’t games diverse?’ but ‘why aren’t games more diverse?’

In the previous section I covered a huge part of that – simple demography. Minority populations are called minorities for a reason, so simply by population weighting you would expect less designers and artists. Minorities also tend to be poorer, further reducing opportunity.

This we all know, if we’re honest, and we know it’s not really something that’s the responsibility of companies to address.

There are other social and financial pressures at work as well, and paradoxically the ‘hipster saviours’ may well be making things worse, not better.

There’s a catch 22 when it comes to minority representation. If you present a minority in your game you’ll be accused of stereotyping, doing it wrong, even cultural appropriation. If you don’t present a minority in your game, you’ll be accused of racism. If you do include a minority (or female) representation everything that character says, does or has happen to it will be placed under intense scrutiny. The (tempting) way to minimise this is to go for a standard white-male protagonist, since nobody much cares what happens to them and the racism accusations probably have the least bite or traction (or at least get more evenly distributed).
Alyx_Vance_2_by_SG_KatanAAdvertising/PR consultants and ‘social justice warriors’ have a belief in common which, seemingly according to research – gamers don’t share. Both PR people and SJWs both believe that representation matters. Gamers don’t seem to care as much (according to DiGRA research) about what their character is, they’re focussed on completing the game. PR and SJW however both think it matters a great deal. If firms could accept the fact representation doesn’t matter that much to their audience we’d probably see more diversity. So long as PR think it does matter, there’ll be pressure to pander to the majority audience, which for the big, showy titles remains stubbornly white and male. SJWs only make this worse by insisting that representation matters, enforcing the idea that catering to one is excluding another. If there’s millions of dollars at stake, why would you risk turning off your majority audience? That’s not good business sense.

Fixing the ‘Problem’

I’m not convinced there is a problem here. People who really know about games can point to countless examples of representation and the audience doesn’t much seem to care. I’d like to get some hard data on the racial breakdown of video-game buyers (USA stats would probably be the most useful) so if anyone has a link to any that would help. We do have stats on gender which is placed at 50/50, suggesting there’s no real problem there at all.

tumblr_me98p9Ost01rm9fh5o1_500Let’s assume there is a problem, or at least that we want to socially invest in minority communities because regardless of anything else we want to help people out – simply because it’s the right thing to do.

The only way to really make a difference here is to deal with the problem root and branch. Fund coding classes or after-school game design courses in public schools. Create scholarships. Continue the democratisation of gaming via the indie scenes. We don’t need blue-haired white hipsters banging on about diversity, we need to support the diverse creators that are out there.

We also need to change the way we go about things. Praise games and companies that are inclusive, rather than attacking the games and companies that we think are not. People will only dig in and resist to protect their creative freedom – as they should – and gamers will only react angrily to people ignorantly calling them racist. American diversity campaigners also need to learn a little more about European history and geography, before they open their mouths and fling insults.

Let’s also not forget that diversity doesn’t make a game good.

At the end of it all everyone needs to retain their free expression. Box-ticking on diversity quotas doesn’t make a better game. Allowing the artist to pursue their vision is much more likely to. If we are to do anything we need to create situations in which more diverse artists have the opportunity to express themselves, and we need to be a lot less judgemental of people creating games outside their own culture.

The future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed – to quote Gibson.

On a personal note there are many mythologies and subjects I would like to delve into, such as Indian mythology or alternative history around America’s history of slavery, but even I find myself self-censoring because I know the kinds of negative reactions I would get – despite the fact these settings would increase diversity.

I’m sure there’s others like me.

Mature conversation welcome in the comments!

Pax.

Appendix:

I did some back-of-an-envelope figures on the racial demography of the top selling (UK) games of 2014 as reported in Metro UK.

From the top selling (UK) games of 2014
35% race wasn’t applicable – either due to being sports/team games, non-human protaganists or unknown protaganists (cars).
65% had human/humanoid protagonists where race was applicable.

Of that 65%
50.77%% had white protaganists.
18.46% had PoC protaganists.
32.31% had customisable/choice of protaganists including PoC

As previously mentioned, the UK is around 90% white, so as far as representation of population goes this isn’t so bad,at all (though Japanese people may be highly overrepresented!).

What we do seem to be seeing is a continuing trend towards customisable protagonists which includes just about anyone.

I should note that in assigning this I stuck to single-player campaigns. Many games have online multiplayer with racially customisable characters but that isn’t reflected here.

Dangerous Verbiage: Gaming’s ‘Race Problem’.

tumblr_mc433h7HhT1rztdgoo1_1280So I’m going to touch on another taboo topic, because I a) never learn and b) find these kinds of things fascinating c) I think a lot of people are too ready to just freeze with fear and nod along when these subjects come up.

This is prompted by, and in reply to, THIS article over on Tor, about Gencon. So I’m going to structure it as a reply, but I’m also going to go off on tangents.

As has become painfully obvious over the last few years, disclaimers and prefaces and explanations are seemingly needed before touching on sensitive topics. Nobody who wants to take something the wrong way will ever take in the right way, but perhaps one can minimise the damage by taking a bit of time out first to contextualise things.

  • I’m a ‘cishetwhitemale’ which means, according to some people, that my opinion on anything is worthless. If you think that’s true then do us both a favour and skip the fucking article.
  • I’m British, which means my context on matters of race is different to that of the US, as are my experiences. I cannot help but be coloured by that perspective.
  • Understanding a situation doesn’t mean endorsing a situation. Understanding a situation is the only thing that can lead to a useful solution.
  • Not agreeing with you doesn’t make someone ignorant or that they need to be ‘educated’. It’s possible to disagree AND be informed.

As an ethnic minority, I am apprehensive about going to GenCon.

Why? That’s the instant question I find myself asking. While ethnic minorities are scarce in many aspects of nerd and geek culture and many within the broad umbrella of general nerdery are lacking in social schools and sensitivity I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone rejected on the basis of race. If anything – like with gender – people are inclined to be TOO welcoming, even smothering.

For all that GenCon offers, it lacks in minority gamers. Last year was my first GenCon, and as I explored the convention, I saw almost no one who looked like me. By far, the most visible minorities at GenCon were the hired convention hall facilities staff who were setting up, serving, and cleaning up garbage for the predominantly white convention-goers. It was a surreal experience and it felt like I had stepped into an ugly part of a bygone era, one in which whites were waited upon by minority servants.

That seems something of an extreme reaction to me and the implicit assumption in it that this is some sort of ‘plantation wedding‘ is insulting both to the staff and to the attendees. This dichotomy is the result of a huge number of different factors and blaming it on the end result seems simplistic, blind and presumptive.

Gaming has a race problem. For all its creativity and imagination, for all its acceptance of those who find it hard to be themselves in mainstream society, gaming has made little room for people of color.

Is this right? Is this accurate? I don’t think so. The room is there for anyone and everyone to join in the fun of gaming. If that space isn’t being occupied by some people then whose fault is that? Is it anyone’s fault really? Is it gaming’s fault? What is there in gaming that actually excludes anyone? Nothing. It’s a realm of imagination and yes it accepts people of all kinds, sometimes when it shouldn’t.

“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that…

Racism is ‘prejudice on the basis of race’. The source can be involuntary (indoctrination, bad experiences and their associations etc) but the act of racism is concious.

Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.” –Scott Woods, author and poet.

Yeah, I’m never going to agree with a lot of these terms as they’re used in social justice circles, even in terms of race. ‘Privilege’ especially is an insidious, abused term that silences the very kinds of discussions needed to make any sort of progress on social issues. After all, it’s the people with (presumed) power and agency who need to be talked to and won over if you want to make real change. Also, as a liberal lefty I see many of these problems in terms of social class and wealth, rather than race, though the nature of society (US society in particular) makes the two broadly congruous.

More on this later.

I am the first in my family to be born in the United States. The child of immigrants, I struggled between cultures. I was the only non-white kid in the neighborhood and one of only a half-dozen minorities in my high-school. I was an outsider. I found refuge in Dungeons & Dragons in my freshman year. I could escape who I was in those heroic characters and epic stories. I could be someone I was not. I could be strong. I could be fierce.

See? This is gaming’s value as an escape but as an escape that is a social one. It’s refuge in a group – by necessity. It gave you a safe space just a it has for so many others for so many different reasons.

I could be white.

OK, that’s your problem. Not a problem with gaming.

Most games—the genres, the artwork, the characters, the stories—were Eurocentric and white. It was easy, perhaps even expected, to be white when playing a character. I was always Eric, or Gunthar, or Francois; I was never a person of color. My name was never my name. And no one thought it was strange that I played people so different from myself.

Much of the canon of fantasy stems from European myths and European authors. The Greek Myths are probably the archetypical fantasy genre source, followed by Scandinavian, Germanic and Arthurian mythology. Fantasy wargaming and role-playing originated from that culture and so it’s little surprise that gaming started out with those sources. We now have a much more diverse gaming canon though and it can no longer realistically be said to be purely European. Then again, this is causing some issues with suspension of disbelief in pseudomedieval game settings under pressure to be inclusive.

Of course, the audience remains primarily white, educated and (broadly) middle class but that’s – again – down to factors outside of people’s control. More on that in a bit.

It has been a long and complex road to finding myself, and comfort in my own skin and ethnic identity. The first step was simply realizing that white wasn’t the only color of value. It came in drops: a character in a movie or a book that was of my ethnicity, who I could empathize with and imagine myself as. These characters, when they appeared, gave me my own heroes, heroes that were like me.

All well and good, but there’s a couple of issues with this.

Firstly, there’s a catch 22. If representation is that important it not only places a huge value on race which is counter to the idea of eradicating racism, but it also means that by choosing heroes of colour you are alienating your core, white, majority audience. I don’t put that much stock in this idea because it seems like human qualities that transcend melanin content are – and should be – more important.

The other issue is that of tokenism. Some (mostly Guilty White People) are making good money by making ‘socially concious’ game material, good money for the Indie scale anyway and especially off crowdfunding but none of this is making that much of an impact. Possibly because the debate is so charged that it matters too much and nobody can get it ‘right’. Look at 5th Edition D&D, they took a relatively small step and have caught a huge amount of flak over it. As a designer that makes me less inclined to try, especially when my views on free expression and the gap between reality and fantasy don’t seem to be shared by the crowd leading the charge.

Gaming never afforded me those options. I had to force them, going against the pressure to conform. The pressure was so intense that the first time I played a character of my own ethnicity was actually online. Eventually, I did become confident enough to bring non-white characters to the table, but I still sometimes faced puzzled looks, and questions about ‘whether I was trying to make a statement’ when all I wanted was to simply be me.

Was it canon? Were you being the ‘Ninja guy’ by doing this? You know the ninja guy. You’re playing a romantic fantasy game of political and social intrigue set in a royal court inn bronze age Greece, and he… insists on playing a ninja. It’s possible, of course, that you’re playing with arseholes but based on my experience I don’t find that especially convincing.

I don’t think there are official surveys and statistics on the gaming subculture, but perhaps this study on the top 100 domestic grossing films in science-fiction and fantasy is an indication of similar trends in gaming: There are only eight protagonists of color in the top 100 science-fiction and fantasy films. Six are played by Will Smith and one is a cartoon character (Aladdin). None of these protagonists are women of color.

Again, which order are we putting the cart and horse in here? Are there less media because of the audience, or less audience because of the media? A while back I looked at the general stats, outside the genre but in the top TV and films and only looking at ‘significant characters’ and most things were within not too far a distance of the demographic division, save for music where non-whites were over-represented by a significant margin. It seems likely to me that nerd culture’s demographic is more skewed white than the general demographic, so you’d probably expect to see a wider divide.

Things are changing in the world of gaming, but too slowly. The designers are mostly white, especially lead designers and executives. Equally, the key officers of most conventions are almost entirely white. Usually, they are well-meaning people who do not realize how their roles and decisions impact the larger gaming community and its lack of diversity.

The business is small and runs on contacts. People tend to work with people they know and people tend to know people similar to themselves. Cons tend to be run on a volunteer basis and to value experience and recognition. If you’re drawing from a majority white pool – especially from older generations that were less diverse than current nerdery – then it’s little surprise that these people would be the majority involved at this level. To even begin to suggest that this is due to some subconscious racism is, again, to be insulting and may even help make the problem worse by making people resentful and wary, as it has with other SJ issues.

GenCon is emblematic of this problem. Of the twenty-seven Guests of Honor (in various categories), only two are people of color. The judges of the prestigious ENnie Awards for role-playing, hosted at GenCon, have been almost exclusively white since its inception. The same is true for the nominees and winners of the Diana Jones Awards. There may be more efforts to include people of color in gaming artwork, but where are the real life people of color on the grand stage of gaming?

2/27 is roughly 7.5%, assuming your presumptions about people’s racial background is correct. Given the (likely) breakdown of nerd culture on ethnic lines, that doesn’t sound too bad at all to me. Of course, we need proper data and the last time we had anything like good information on gamer demographics was from WotC leading up to D&D3, and that’s ludicrously out of date, so we have to work on shitty assumptions.

Furthermore, GenCon is disturbingly tolerant of deeply offensive material. Shoshana Kessock wrote about her experiences with Nazi cosplay and paraphernalia at Gencon shortly after returning from GenCon 2013, and I had similar encounters. It would be impossible to imagine minority players running around GenCon in t-shirts that read ‘Kill the white man!’, yet the convention welcomes and profits from images of racial hatred. GenCon has weakly worded policies to prevent these horrific violations, but it has failed to enforce its own rules.

The assumption here, again, unfairly being that simply because this stuff is there, and exists that somehow that indicates approval of the Nazis. There are games set in WWII and most often the Nazis are the villains of the piece, they make good baddies. There’s also a fetishistic side to militaria that often shows up in pinup art, an aesthetic that informs many games. Star Wars draws on the fascistic aesthetic for its imperial designs and symbology, even its terminology. Where do you draw the line?

Who would WWII re-enactors fight? Should DUST excise all Nazi iconography from their alternative WWII game? What about Weird War or Achtung Cthulhu? Does that seem fair? We already have a big problem with over-reaching anti-harassment policies how far are we going to extend that? This is edging into denial of history and that can be dangerous.

These are symbols, important symbols. If the color of all the leadership, of all the roles of power and recognition, the entire structure is white, and if this same leadership is tolerant of hate-speech, it gives a clear unspoken signal to the non-white community: You can join us here, but only if you leave your history, your people, and your emotions at the door.

Calling something ‘hate speech’ doesn’t make it so. It’s not like RaHoWa hardbacks are being sold on the main floor. Right?

I’ve been told time and again by gamers, “I don’t see race” as if they were doing me a kindness. This is not enlightenment or progressiveness. It is ignorance. If you do not see race, you do not see me. You do not see my identity, my ethnicity, my history, my people. What you are telling me, when you say “I do not see race,” is that you see everything as the normal default of society: white. In the absence of race and ethnicity, it is only the majority that remains. I am erased.

This is the ultimate goal though, is it not? For race to no longer matter. That’s what the eradication of racism looks like. People being taken on the ‘content of their character’. That’s a good, simple, achievable message and while history is important, people today aren’t responsible for it. By ‘not seeing race’ people are telling you that they see you, the person, the actions, the personality.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many people of color in the community try and submerge their own ethnic identity? They do not wish to stand out or to be recognized. In most societies it is dangerous to be an “other,” and in a subculture as white-dominated as gaming, things feel especially unwelcoming.

femalecaptainamericaAnd yet, time and again from gamers of colour that I know, I hear that the pressure and the problem comes from their own communities. The anti-intellectualism that is rife across races, but especially in inner city schools and especially in the afro community. The anti-white racism that exists and the suspicion of anything seen as ‘white’, which would include nerd stuff. In other communities the dislike of anything ‘frivolous’, such as games, which to many minds appear to serve no ‘useful’ purpose. A lot of this is to do with class, which is congruent but not identical to race.

Too many conversations on race and gaming die before they even start. I have seen more energy, debate, and engagement by gamers on the minutiae of rules and trivia than I have on the weighty topics of race and gaming. Gamers will spend endless days and millions of words fighting over the pros and cons of the Wacky Wand of Welding, but when a person of color brings up issues of race and diversity in the community, too many gamers roll their eyes and say, “Oh not again. Why do they have to be so politically correct? Can’t they just have fun?!”

And they do have a valid point. What is stopping you? Perhaps even more important, what is stopping you from creating something? Stepping up? Getting involved? This is a question I ask myself a great deal when people bring up these issues. If I can’t get it ‘right’ due to my ethnicity, class etc then what’s the point of appealing to me to do these things? If every attempt is met with hostility then why even try? The barrier to entry of making the kinds of games you want to see is very low now, but still mostly what we see are Guilty White People engaging in a much less fun and less creative form of ‘blaxsploitation’.

Listen. The Gaming as Other series is a great place to start. There are a handful of panels at Cons on the topic and I’ll be sitting on two of them at GenCon: “Why is Inclusivity Such a Scary Word?” and “Gaming As Other.” Keep engaging, listening and supporting. We notice your support and it gives us the strength to keep going.

Note: Listening does not entail agreeing and doesn’t mean being silent. It’s just the first step. It’s necessary for listening to occur in both directions and preconceptions of both sides to be questioned. Case in point ‘Why is Inclusivity Such a Scary Word’ betrays a preconception in the questioner. I don’t think ‘inclusivity’ scares anyone, it’s the things done in the name of it – censorship, death threats, boycotts, petitions, hatred and bullying – that scare people.

Hire more people of color and give them agency, visibility, power, responsibility, and credit in a wide variety of meaningful and important areas in your organization. Do not simply hire a token minority. Do not use people of color as a form of marketing.

Who? How? Where? In what capacity?

A lot of my hiring of freelancers is done via the internet via open call, unless I have someone specific in mind. I often don’t have the first beginning of a clue as to what colour they are, their gender, their age, anything. As a result of this merit/availability based policy I’ve ended up working with a lot of people who have turned out to be far, far away from my person demographic position but most have still been white, educated and broadly middle class (in outlook, if not situation).

We can’t all hire in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of prejudices and nor can we hire from a pool that doesn’t exist. Positive discrimination is just going to cause problems as it has elsewhere. The best solution is going to be to hone your craft (art, editing, writing, layout) and put yourself forward or do your own thing, and again, barriers to entry have never been lower. Just be careful you don’t become Christian Rock, or Billy Bragg. Nobody likes being evangelised.

Reach out to minority groups and invite them personally to conventions. Your neighbors, your co-workers, the people at your church, all of them.

Nobody likes being evangelised.

Offer and play games that are actively and intentionally more inclusive.

How is a game of imagination not inclusive?

There is a lot we can do together as a community. Gamers have always prided themselves on being accepting of those outside the mainstream. People of color want to be accepted too. GenCon is the flagship of gaming, and thus is a golden opportunity to start this process. Let’s start to have a conversation about the structures that led to the low number of minorities as Guests of Honor and ENnies judges. Let’s push GenCon to make changes to those structures so that people of color have a seat at the table for those important decisions. For many of us, gaming is not simply a hobby, but a home. Let’s make it both inclusive and diverse.

OK, now’s the time to have the serious conversation. I’ve touched on it a little before but pinning the blame on Gencon, or the nerd population as a whole is getting it backwards. To get what’s going on we need to take a look at WHY people of colour aren’t that well represented and to this hoary old socialist it’s pretty fucking obvious why.

Wealth and class.

That race and poverty are so linked is a damning indictment of ‘trickle down economics’ (it doesn’t trickle down) and the state of social mobility in the west, especially America and the UK (there’s very little). Poverty and city life – both associated with ethnic minorities for these same reasons – are also associated with crime, which leads to a connection between ethnicity and crime in the minds of many which is unfair, but not entirely without statistical basis.

Then there’s cultural issues which I’ve touched on before. We have a general problem with anti-intellectualism and while nerdery is much more accepted than it once was this is still a problem. It’s a problem which, according to the non-white nerds I know  is especially bad in the black community and especially in the african-American community. There’s a hatred of ‘white stuff’, a macho mindset and a rejection of education that just perpetuates victimisation. You see it in the urban poor of all races and cultures, but the pressure seems especially strong here.

  • So, really, what can we do? What can we do that makes an impact?
  • We can’t change government policy to invest more in schools and education, that’s not our responsibility as gamers but as citizens.
  • We can’t drag people out of poverty all by ourselves, that’s not our responsibility as gamers but as citizens.
  • We can’t shift the existing culture of the inner city poor, that’ll take generations of concerted effort.
  • We can’t force people to like what we like.

Original Steampunk 2 by Yaya HanMake inclusive games? Sure, but what do you even mean by inclusive? Would you insert black hobbits? Do you want to shift a creators vision on the basis of your perception of racism, regardless of intent or vision?

Work with people from minorities? Sure. They have to exist first, they have to put themselves forward and – for the foreseeable future – they’re going to be a minority smaller than the overall demographic divisions of our nations. I’m not going to hire someone on the basis of colour, I’m going to hire them on the basis of talent, reliability and price. Colour, gender, sexuality, none of these are of any concern and shouldn’t be a concern of anyone else. I’m fairly certain nobody wants to be hired on the basis of these things either.

I don’t know that there’s a lot else we can do, other than to encourage people who feel marginalised to make their own stuff and to help them do so. The history of trying to do that with other issues hasn’t gone so well though.

Just a suggestion though, don’t start by calling everyone explicitly or implicitly racist, even if you think they are.

Also check THIS out.