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On Gaming, Personhood, and Safe Spaces

Jason Beck
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[Content note: anti-LGBT violence and slurs.]

I haven’t written anything for this blog in a long time, but it would be neither true nor wise to assume that the initial goal of this blog—to promote inclusivity in gaming—is obsolete.

This past Sunday, the worst mass shooting in modern American history took place, killing 49 and injuring 53 more at a gay club in Orlando. A great deal of ink—digital and otherwise—has already been spilled covering the tragedy; providing hot takes; trying to explain it, or explain it away. It’s Thursday now, which means that the straight world has moved or is moving on. Though the media maintains a sort of symbiotic relationship with these sorts of events, for most, the horror will eventually recede.

For the LGBT community, things are different. We are told that attacks like these are attacks on “all Americans”, but this sentiment—though, in some sense, reasonable, or at least well-intentioned—obscures the truth of the act: that this attack was aimed at queer people in a queer space.

Monstrous acts are committed by people—a fact it is easy to forget in the wake of something heinous, something outrageous, something devastating that seems unreal or otherwise inhuman.

Our response to these atrocities is, at least in some way, the necessary counter-balance to the capacity for horror that we all have within us (being, as we are, human). The immediate aftermath of terrible and terrifying events asks whether or not we have been good friends and family to those around us: did you, for example, reach out to support your LGBT friends and loved ones?

But these events demand more of us than just acts of love and support: they also demand action. For some, this will be donating money. For others, it will be volunteering their time. It could be—and perhaps ought to be—advocating for political change. But, importantly, what it demands of all of us is the necessity of critical evaluation and re-evaluation of our lives, our beliefs, and our culture. Monstrous violence demands that we reflect on our self and our role in society; on our churches and institutions; on the political structures and economic systems we are a part of and participate in.

This kind of self-reflection is never easy, and is rarely—if ever—enjoyable. To walk away from such critical examination with a contentedness is, indeed, to miss the point: we are not perfect, and there is always room for improvement. But aside from such obviousness, the need for self-reflection and critical examination arises because we need to discover how we can do better—both individually and collectively—and, perhaps most importantly, to ask if and how we are contributing to a culture and a society in which monstrous acts can and do occur, and what we can do to make the world a better place.

(You probably came here for some bad jokes, a plethora of commas, and some talk about games, right? I think I’ve got the comma thing covered, but the gaming part comes a bit later.)

The Politicization of the Queer

In my last post, I had this to say on the political existence of the queer person (and I’m quoting myself at length because I think it’s relevant):

On Queer Identity and Coming Out at the Gaming Table wrote:
Let’s unpack, further, why being gay is not “irrelevant.” Like it or not, the very existence of gay people is political. That’s right: MY very existence is a political act. My existence has been turned into a political act by a variety of social forces (political, religious, whatever). I cannot escape—no matter how much the Log Cabin Republicans would like to pretend otherwise—the fact that my existence is simply not palatable to some people and that, as a consequence, my very being is an inescapably political thing. … Indeed, if you don’t believe me, I ought need only point to the fact that there are still people who will say things like, “Well, I believe that homosexuality is a choice.”

That view, right there (“being gay is a choice”), politicizes my existence. I cannot escape the politics of my existence because there are people out there who will not let me escape it. That the notion of homosexuality as choice is utterly bunk, is total nonsense, does not concern them—appeal to logic cannot breach such an invincible ignorance, because a mighty fortress is our bigotry.
The context of my previous post was different, but the point remains the same: the very act of existing by a queer person is political. The massacre in Orlando underscores this point (as do other, similar attacks). There are some who, out of a misguided sense of propriety, will and have advocated that we do not “politicize” the attack—but this is to miss the point entirely. The attack itself was a political act: to gun down the patrons of a gay club during LGBT Pride Month, on a Latin night being headlined by drag queens and trans* folks—this is about as political as it gets.

The politics neither start nor stop with this act. Our society, our culture, our religion—they all feed into the milieu that is America (and the broader global community). And if the monstrous nature of this act demands self-evaluation and a critical eye turned onto this milieu, then we need to ask how and why these things happen.

This event sits at the intersection of a large number of issues and a great deal of violence. A massacre at a gay club during LGBT Pride Month, yes, but also: the huge number of victims who are people of color, and: our country’s long history of terrorizing minorities, and: the anti-transgender “bathroom bills” that have been sweeping the nation of late, and: the erasure of LGBT people from reports and discussions of a crime committed against LGBT people, and: the worthlessness of “thoughts and prayers” offered by pundits and politicians and church leaders who are so eager to “love the sinner and hate the sin”, but pretend to be horrified when the logical conclusion of their theology is carried out, and: that I, a faggot, will never feel safe in a public space holding another man’s hand.

Gaming and Safe Spaces


A “safe space” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and a number of articles have been published in the wake of the Orlando shooting on the necessity of gay nightclubs, on what they mean, on why they are important. These are worthwhile articles and explorations.

A safe space—to me, in my context, here—is a place to exist, to not be concerned about your health or your safety, a place simply to be. I raise this issue because gaming becomes a space that can be safe for a variety of different people. Gaming, yes, is a hobby, but it can also be an escape—a place and a vehicle not only to spend time with your friends, but also to unplug, to unwind, to stop thinking about work and taxes and mass shootings and instead think about dragons and trading and victory points and tapping for mana and building the longest road.

I exchanged this world for another, for a video game, on Sunday night, because eventually I couldn’t process more death and grief, because eventually I was tired of Twitter and the news, tired of being reminded that I am an Other; that even though I went to Pentagon Pride just a few days before where the Secretary of the Navy spoke about the moral imperative that led to the downfall of the insidiousness of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that even though national marriage equality happened a year ago, that queer people can and will be swept aside by monstrous acts fueled by the toxicity of theology and culture that present the Other as less-than.

It is easier, in many ways, to keep the undead at bay with magic missiles and rays of frost.

But the reason all this matters for gaming, for our hobby, is because the critical examination that monstrous deeds demand of us does not spare our pastimes. It is because, though games and gaming may seem trivial in the shadow of tragedy, they are nevertheless texts and acts that we consume and that in turn consume our time and thoughts.

That is, gaming matters because it is a part of our society and our culture (and an increasingly large part, as it proliferates outward through mobile devices and digital distribution, as Settlers of Catan becomes a household name and continues to be a gateway). Our broader American culture is fed by the micro-cultures that sit under its umbrella, and the texts that comprise gaming’s micro-culture—board games, tabletop games, video games—are all part of that.

And so, our examination must ask how we can improve our micro-cultures. Change can come from the top, certainly, and I would happily encourage you to contact your elected officials to advocate for a more just society. But—more to our purposes here—change can and must also come from the bottom-up, and that means creating spaces in which games and gaming are healthy and welcoming.

Not every gaming space is going to be “safe”—nor, indeed, do I think it realistic to expect such. Mass gaming at conventions, for example, is something wholly different from a weekly game night. I do not ever expect gaming spaces to be even remotely akin to gay nightclubs in what they can offer to the LGBT community; that is not the point here. Nor, indeed, do I expect straight people to understand the freedom that my all-gay Dungeons and Dragons group offers.

Rather, what I’m talking about here is game stores and gaming groups that are inclusive and welcoming, that shun hateful and exclusionary language, that break down stupid cliques and nonsensical barriers and instead offer places for people to become princesses or manage shipping empires or save humanity from the Cylons (or doom humanity, as a Cylon) in an environment where they don’t need to worry about misogynistic language or racial slurs.

Building these kinds of safe spaces—where we can simply be as gamers—requires a rejection of the status quo that gives us scantily clad women in constant need of rescue; that gives us a near-total absence of people of color in cover art and player tokens; that gives us digital worlds where the existence of dragons is less controversial than the existence of bisexuals; that gives us playing environments in which racial and homophobic slurs are de rigueur; that gives us a stereotype of a mouth-breathing white guy who lives in his mother’s basement and who is, in all respects, a loser.

Diversity can and does strengthen our hobby, and building welcoming and inclusive gaming environments—from local game stores to game nights with friends to huge gaming conventions—remains an important part of the ongoing transformation of our micro-culture into something better.

In the wake of such overwhelming tragedy, it would be wrong to assume that simply advocating for more inclusive gaming groups, and criticizing media that gives us racist and misogynistic and bigoted representation, and supporting inclusive games with our money, is sufficient to create an America in which LGBT people feel safe. It is not.

However, it would also be wrong to assume that we are helpless to do anything. It would be wrong to assume that kindness and decency cannot amount to anything, especially when deployed en masse. It is never wrong to try to build a better micro-culture and thereby influence the broader American milieu.

There are a lot of things that may seem small to do. It may seem small to speak up and tell someone that it isn’t okay to use a hateful slur (but your LGBT friends will notice—just as they will notice if you don’t). It may seem a small thing to include a wizard who isn’t white (but the African American kid will notice). It may seem a small thing to have a princess rescue a prince (but kids of all genders will notice). And these small things can and will break down the barriers that we—as individuals and as a society—put up to create Others, to create people who are less-then, barriers that ultimately contribute to the toxicity that leads to murder and terror.

Gaming is not the final frontier of social justice. Transforming our micro-cultures to be better is necessary, but it is not sufficient. But it is worthwhile to recognize the good that our hobby can do for people—the socialization and the fun, the escape (when necessary)—and to understand that this kind of transformation is something we ought to do, and something that we can do.
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Thu Jun 16, 2016 3:23 pm
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On Queer Identity and Coming Out at the Gaming Table

Jason Beck
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Alexandria
Virginia
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love walk-in closets

Last Friday, a thread was posted that wondered whether or not a gay man should pre-emptively “come out” to people who are coming over for a game night. I’d like to respond at length to the thread and the conversation it spawned. (Fair warning: The thread has been moved to the dungeon of RSP, so I do not particularly recommend visiting it.)

Much of the thread is littered with straight men insisting that there is no need for him to come out, and that being gay is “irrelevant” to the playing of games. (Indeed, many repeated this position while simultaneously noting that they either hadn’t read most of the thread or that they were simply reiterating what others had already said.) Many also seemed eager to fall over themselves to demonstrate how open-minded, liberal, or whatever they were, insisting that such a thing doesn’t matter, and my goodness, how strange to think that it should!

Tolerance, Acceptance, and Safety

Let’s get some low-hanging fruit out of the way here: There can be (and in this case, is) a wide gulf between a thing that is irrelevant and a thing that ought to be irrelevant.

The blanket assertion that being gay simply doesn’t matter at all, or the assertion that it is strange to think that, in this day and age, this would be an issue, is naïve at best. I’m thrilled that [you] have a gaming group composed of the most enlightened souls in the world, a gaming group that’s a mix of men, women, and non-binary individuals who view sexuality as a spectrum and are so utterly conscious in their actions and their words that institutional discrimination and bigoted social behaviors crumble before them like the walls of Jericho, but please consider that this is not universal.

It really ought come as no surprise to anyone that queerness is not universally accepted or even tolerated, and that there exist plenty of places not only around the world but indeed in the United States and other so-called “Western” nations where gay people can and do experience a gamut of discriminatory practices, from hate speech to murder. It is therefore entirely within the prerogative of every queer person to assess and evaluate individual/specific situations or scenarios and decide whether or not we need to come out (or, indeed, whether or not we can come out).

Sexuality and Sex

The thread is replete with mentions made to sex acts. From Crisco-assisted-Twister to gay sex dungeons to orgies, again and again people would simultaneously insist that “no, being gay doesn’t matter to gaming” and then turn around and say something akin to, “if someone brought up that they were gay, I’d assume there was some other motivation.”

I’m not a special snowflake who will melt at the slightest provocation, but I’d like to take a stab at explaining why this line of “reasoning” is offensive. For years, gays (lesbians have their own stereotypes associated with them, but this one is primarily aimed at gay men) have been routinely stereotyped as promiscuous, as sex-crazed, as bathhouse-trolling, park-cruising, dick aficionados who just can’t get enough. This stereotype is everywhere, and it is malicious. And the assumption is always this: if there’s a gay guy around, straight guys need to watch their backs (or their fronts, whatever), because that homo is gonna get all up on it, amirite?

We saw this, for example, in the debates around the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, with politicians waxing poetic about those dastardly homos suddenly being able to shower with other men, and be on the front lines with other men, and since gay men are All About The Sex, All The Time, that would impact the readiness of our armed forces!

We see it, in another example, in the so-called “gay panic” defenses in court, where a man murders a gay man and then claims it was justified, because, you see, your honor, the homo flirted with me, and so the natural and proportionate reaction to that was literally to kill him.

This assumption is reductive and pernicious because it turns gay men, as a group, to little more than human divining rods, whose setting is on “dick” instead of water. It’s also more than a little silly to see a bunch of straight guys saying things like, “Well, if he brought up he was gay, I’d assume there was some other motive…” Guys, we don’t want to sleep with you. You need to stop flattering yourselves. Here, I will make it easy for you:

How to tell if a gay guy wants to sleep with you
Are you Chris Evans?
No? Congratulations, gay men do not want to sleep with you.

Being gay is not all about sex any more than being straight is all about sex. There are other aspects to sexuality beyond just the bangin’, and this kind of reduction is both silly and unfair. And I’m calling it out here—again, because it’s a pernicious view that needs to be confronted, examined, and put to rest.

The Political Existence of a Queer Person

Let’s unpack, further, why being gay is not “irrelevant.” Like it or not, the very existence of gay people is political. That’s right: MY very existence is a political act. My existence has been turned into a political act by a variety of social forces (political, religious, whatever). I cannot escape—no matter how much the Log Cabin Republicans would like to pretend otherwise—the fact that my existence is simply not palatable to some people and that, as a consequence, my very being is an inescapably political thing.

Hence, I am not particularly surprised the thread got moved to RSP, or that discussions of gay people, or gay things, or whatever, are almost invariably fraught with emotions. Indeed, if you don’t believe me, I ought need only point to the fact that there are still people who will say things like, “Well, I believe that homosexuality is a choice.”

That view, right there (“being gay is a choice”), politicizes my existence. I cannot escape the politics of my existence because there are people out there who will not let me escape it. That the notion of homosexuality as choice is utterly bunk, is total nonsense, does not concern them—appeal to logic cannot breach such an invincible ignorance, because a mighty fortress is our bigotry.

And so I cannot and indeed will not apologize that my life has complexities that go un-faced or un-realized by the heterosexual. Because there is a presumption of heterosexuality such that I oftentimes must come out in order to have my very existence known. (Certainly more or less true depending on the circumstance; a Prada purse packed with rainbows practically spills from my mouth whenever it opens, but there are others less prone to prancing and more to passing who might otherwise go unnoticed.)

This gives lie, too, to the notion that heterosexuals need to “come out.” You do not. This is not a thing. Straight people: Stop making the false equivalence between a need for queers to come out and your need to come out. Literally no such need exists for straight people; the argument (raised by some in the thread) that since they don’t need to come out as heterosexual, why ought a gay feel the need?, is stupid. Again, the presumption of heterosexuality is such that you are assumed to be heterosexual unless you inform people otherwise. These are simply not the same things.

Coming out is a repeat process. Most queer people have their “coming out stories” or whatever—that time in their lives when they told groups of people, en masse, that they were queer. But what we often don’t talk about is that coming out is a process. It is not solely a singular event. Whenever we meet someone new, we have to come out all over again. And this, again, is a political act. And so the question of, “Do I need to come out?” is one fraught with many and more layers of complexity—social, historical, religious, political—than it might otherwise appear. This is not just about etiquette, this is not just about guests, this is not just about the duties of a host—it is about quite a bit more.

And, indeed, this kind of thing can impact thinking even beyond just coming out. I am frequently asking myself, “Wait, am I being too gay?” when I’m at the gaming table, or hanging out with friends, or whatever. (“Do I need to reel it in a bit?”) And this kind of thinking—wrong-headed or not, reflective of/on my friends or not—is the product of the politicization of my being.

The Integration of Queerness in Personhood

You may be saying, “Jason, that’s all very well and good, but, at the end of the day, what has being gay got to do with gaming?” In which case, you’ve arrived at the correct section (assuming you did not skip the previous sections—if you did, tut tut; go back and read them; every word I write is worth reading; and anyway if you don’t read the whole article, however will you criticize my over-use of commas?).

And what I have to say is this: Being gay is an integral part of a person’s personality, an integral part of their life experiences, an integral part of their experiential matrix, an integral part of what makes them them.

There is—perhaps—a distinction that can be drawn between certain social scenarios. I sit down at a table to play a game with strangers at a large convention. We play the game. There is amiable chatter. The game ends, and I leave. In such a scenario, my queerness may, in fact, be largely irrelevant.

But I say may here, because it might not be! Perhaps the group I’ve sat down to game with feels the use of bigoted language is acceptable. Perhaps we’re playing a one-off RPG, and sexuality comes up. Perhaps I’ve not physically sat down with them, but am instead playing a video game, and have thus waded into a chat channel filled with bigoted garbage.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

My point is that, even in isolated situations—situations where you won’t be seeing gaming partners multiple times—queerness can be relevant. But let us restrain ourselves more to the scenario at hand—a situation in which [you] are gaming with someone in their home.

I reject the notion that we ought know nothing of our gaming partners. Human beings are social creatures and gaming is a social activity. The notion that we are all automatons who sit down, play games, and speak nothing of our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our wishes, who reveal nothing of our personalities or our histories, is nonsense.

And it seems almost self-evidently nonsense, doesn’t it? Are we seriously to believe that all these scores of people are playing games with fellow gamers they know nothing about? Because we ought to care. Being gay informs who I am as a person. It may inform my personhood in different ways, but it informs it nonetheless. It may impact my politics, or my religion, or my beliefs, and certainly it impacts my life experiences, my history, and so on.

So my final answer is this: Being gay at the gaming table does matter, because people matter, and some of those people are gay, and because queerness is a thing that is inextricable from a person’s identity in a way that other things simply are not. And because we ought to care, because we ought to care about the people around our game table, and how they are feeling, and whether or not they are having fun, and what kinds of people they are, and where they come from and where they’re going, and whether they’d like another glass of water so long as they know that if they spill it on the BSG board their life is forfeit—gay or not.
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Tue Mar 24, 2015 3:22 pm
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On the Virtues of Diversity in Gaming, Part Two

Jason Beck
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love #CancelColbert

This is the second in what is intended to be a two-part series entitled, “On the Virtues of Diversity in Gaming”. You may have gathered this from the title of the post—but in case you didn’t, there you go. The original post can be found here, and was written in response to a conversation that was started on another part of the site about diversity in the gaming community.

My first post dealt with, unsurprisingly, the virtues of diversity in gaming—or, to put it another way, whether or not diversity in gaming is a good thing. This long-delayed post is intended to address the question of whether the gaming community is already diverse (or diverse enough), as well as the related question of what it means to even be “diverse enough”.

“Diversity” seems to be one of those buzzwords that generates an emotional response from the audience regardless of its use or context. Like “political correctness”, “diversity” is perceived by some as an intrusion by the government—as something that is mandated, forced, or otherwise shoved down our collective throats in the name of some vague, academic-sounding multicultural bullshit.

To put it another way: Sometimes, in these sorts of discussions, there are people who react with implicit or explicit hostility (to my blog, or elsewhere, to other things), as if my or other peoples’ suggestions regarding things like greater inclusivity are an assault on an institution or tradition that they value. It is my hope that we can try to move past these knee-jerk reactions and into a realm of more reasonable and productive conversation by creating and maintaining an atmosphere in which issues are aired politely and greater empathy can be had on one or both sides of a/the debate.

Which is to say, when I answer a question like, “When will our hobby be diverse enough?”, the image that oughtn’t spring to mind is one of mandatory racial quotas, or some other heavy-handed Diversity Enforcement. I’m not here to insist that your gaming table include at least 20% X, 15% Y, and 10% Z.

Instead, I think it would be helpful to think of diversity as a process, rather than some quota-driven end-state. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with a gaming table made up, for example, of white, heterosexual, cisgender males. That is to say, advocating in favor of greater diversity/inclusivity doesn’t mean a simultaneous condemnation of the supposed status quo—or, at least, a condemnation of those people who participate in the status quo. Having social privilege does not make you a bad person, per se. As I’ve noted many times on this blog, I enjoy a great deal of social privilege by virtue of my socioeconomic background, my gender, and so on. But I didn’t choose to be born white or male anymore than I chose my parents, my country of birth, or my historical time period.

To put it another way, I don’t expect anyone to disrupt their regular gaming group because they think I’ve mandated them to go out and find a "token black friend" to add to the mix. That isn’t at all what I mean.

When we approach the issue of diversity, both on the micro-level (i.e. at the gaming table) and at the macro-level (i.e. at the aggregate level in our hobby), I think it most productive to ask, “What can we do to make our hobby welcoming to everyone?” And, as a corollary, “What is it about our hobby that some might perceive as unwelcoming, and what can we do to change that?”

In other words, I’m not asking for all the straight white guys to shove off. (“This is OUR HOBBY now.”) Rather, I’m asking that we reject my initial question (“When is our hobby diverse enough?”) as being fundamentally flawed. Our hobby is not and will not ever be “diverse enough” in any meaningful sense until we’ve constructed a macro- and micro-level culture in which all people reasonably feel welcome.

Successfully doing this, then, is going to require us to ask, for example, what kind of message we’re sending to both the gaming community and to the world outside the gaming community (“There’s a world outside the gaming community?!!11!”) when a noxious game like Busen Memo gets posted to seemingly every geeklist on the site (“But it’s funny!”), or when people feel the need to insist that the existence of the Women and Gaming Forum is itself sexist (“It’s reverse discrimination!”), or when artistic depictions of people in games are so often lacking in depictions of people of color (or women who don’t have a chainmail bikini in their wardrobe).

That is, a successful drive at expanding inclusivity in the hobby will require some measure of introspection. It is not enough to simply look around your gaming table and say, “I am welcoming, therefore the hobby must be welcoming”. Not all experiences are universal, after all, and we, as participants in the hobby, bear some level of responsibility for the macro-level culture of the hobby itself, even if we have already worked to create a micro-culture that is welcoming, open, and diverse.

In other words, it becomes worthwhile for us to, as an exercise in diversity, challenge our assumptions about the hobby. Are we, for example, docking points in reviews of games if those games exhibit sexist (or otherwise prejudiced) proclivities? If there was a widespread tendency among reviewers to say, “I was going to give this game 7 stars, but I’m giving it 6 instead because the art is ridiculous and sexist”, it seems plausible that game makers would respond. Similarly, actively patronizing companies that create games that include minorities is a way we can put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.

At the end of the day, diversity and inclusivity are abstract concepts that we can and should view more as a process than as a static goal. Creating an atmosphere/environment in both our micro- and macro-cultures in which women feel welcome, and people of color feel welcome, and LGBT people feel welcome, and so on, is not something we can simply pronounce, “Okay, done!” and move on. Rather, it calls us to review our own behavior—to be sensitive to language we use, attuned to the merchandise we consume, and attentive to the company we keep—both because it is the right thing to do and because we, collectively, can only benefit from making our hobby more inclusive and diverse.
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Thu Apr 3, 2014 8:50 pm
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On Sexism and Failure of Imagination

Jason Beck
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love playing straight characters

Recently, a thread sprouted up here on BGG about female representation in the new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Somewhat surprisingly, the genesis of the thread was actually a complaint that there were too many female characters, rather than the usual (and usually justified) comment that there are too few. I’m not interested in attacking the people who’ve commented on the thread with whom I disagree—rather, I think it’s useful because it’s illustrative.

The original post says, “Just wondering, because it's always hard to get my 13-year-old son to play female characters (and I don't really like to pick them either). Are there a lot of women playing Pathfinder games? Easier for me to "role play" when I have at least something in common with the cartoon character I'm playing.”

This isn’t an uncommon attitude, and I’m going to harp on it because it packs a lot of assumptions into one small bite. And it’s probably worth noting again that I don’t think people who say things like this are bad people—I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to these things because social privilege comes with the unfortunate downside of insulating you from non-privilege. That is to say, it can be a kind of “bubble”, and sometimes perfectly nice and well-meaning people simply don’t understand something because they haven’t been properly educated on this topic (and maybe I’m softer on these people because I used to be one).

The flip-side of this attitude is obvious. If the complaint is, “There are too few men, and too many women”, the obvious rejoinder is, “I bet women don’t mind”—not because women are happy to see men marginalized, but rather because they’re happy to finally have some representation. Note also the justification for the request—that it’s “easier” to RP a character with whom you have something in common. And again, this is identical to an argument I’ve made before: that yes, people do prefer to be able to connect to characters, that it’s easier to relate to a character if you have common grounds for relating, and so on.

And again: There’s nothing wrong with that kind of attitude.

Really! It’s perfectly okay for a white dude to want to role-play a white dude in a game. The argument has never been, “Games should force privileged white people to only play as non-white characters!”, but rather, “We are tired of the lack of inclusivity in games because not everyone is white, not everyone is male, not everyone is straight, and so on, and we would like to see ourselves represented, because we exist, too.” To put it another way: I’m not saying that there’s a problem if you want to play a straight/white/male Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, and I’m not saying that Bioware should restrict Commander Shepard to only being gay/non-white/female. Instead, what I’m saying is that, “I’d like for there to be options.” (NB: I know Mass Effect has character customization; that’s why I’m using it as an example.)

I don’t think this is altogether too difficult, nor do I think it should be particularly controversial. However, it is perfectly reasonable to note that, sometimes, games are restricted in their options/offerings simply because of practical constraints. That is—perhaps Paizo wanted to keep the costs for the game down, and so they decided against doing male/female options for every character. Perhaps a computer game company doesn’t have the resources Bioware has, and so cannot offer a game with a wide variety of alternative appearances. That’s fine, and I think we should all be understanding when it comes to those sorts of limitations.

What does rankle a bit about this sort of assumption (or presumption, such as it were) is the failure of imagination that can be evident. When Dragon Age II came out, a lot of people got their knickers in a twist over the “universal bisexuality” of the potential romantic interests in the game—e.g. they were bothered because you could romance Isabella as a guy or a gal, or Anders as a guy or a gal, etc. Why make everyone bi? That’s not how it is in real life! And so on.

This line of argumentation seems spurious (to me) because, even if you set aside the (again, I think reasonable) arguments about technical limitations (even a company like Bioware doesn’t have infinite resources to make their games), it baffles me that people would have a problem with “bisexual” characters and not with, say, dragons. Or monsters. Or magic.

Because what we aren’t seeing are complaints about characters who presumably have far less in common with your average (whatever that means) game player than some dude who likes other dudes, or some lady who is a warrior. Right? We’re not seeing complaints that, “Hey, why’d you have to include so many Dwarves in this game? I have no possible way of understanding and therefore connecting to/with a Dwarf character, because they’re totally mythical! I have no idea what it would be like to grow up a Dwarf, to toil away in vast, underground cities.” Are we seriously to understand that the intellectual difficulties posed by choosing to play a female character (or to be hit on by a character whose sexuality you don’t share) are actually greater than gigantic flying lizards that breathe fire?

And again, I’ll note that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see “yourself” represented in a game. The problem comes when your desire for personal representation comes solely at the exclusion of others. You [in a non-specific sense] need to be able to step back and see that the vast majority of art and the like cater to a certain—privileged—section of the community. That is, when you look down at a character card and think, “Oh man, I wish this [character] was more like me,” what you’re experiencing is something that female gamers or gay gamers or non-white gamers experience all the time—the “default” experience for [us] is this, whereas this is the rare exception for [you].

Perhaps, then, the same imagination we use to appreciate flights of fancy (or even just board games about utilities) can be applied in our own pursuits, in the same way. Which is not, of course, to say that a desire to “see oneself” in a character or a work of fiction is faulty—it is indeed quite fair. But if you’re confronted with a situation in which the “norm” has been disrupted in favor of greater inclusivity, maybe we can apply our “suspension of disbelief” just as surely as we do when we watch a group of Dwarves tromping across the land, fighting monsters.
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Tue Sep 3, 2013 5:11 pm
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On Experiential Value

Jason Beck
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Chris Kluwe

Of the five most recent posts here on The Bored Gaymer (BoardGameGeek’s most popular blog with “bored” and “gaymer” in the title!), three of them have dealt with the issue of sexism (and, more specifically, sexism in geek culture). Since apparently no one got the memo (“Hey guys, Jason’s said something about this topic, so I guess we can pack it in and stop being sexist now!”)—which is weird, right?, because I write memos all the time—the topic of women and geekery has come up again.

The upshot is that this time it has come up in the context of a delightful video called “Nothing to Prove”, which is by geek girls and the Doubleclicks. The resulting discussion was more civil than these things usually seem to be, and yet—and yet!—we still got the usual canards trotted out by people who—I assume—are essentially well-meaning but somehow manage to miss the stark contrast between women saying, “I have been treated in X way that made me feel unwelcome”, and men saying, “I have never witnessed women being made to feel unwelcome and therefore I can conclude that it does not happen”.

This is an issue that has come up repeatedly here, often under the guise of, “I don’t care what a fellow gamer’s sexual orientation is, therefore I do not [see why this blog is necessary/think that anyone else would care what your sexual orientation is/understand why you would play games with people who care what your sexual orientation is].”

Can we talk about why this kind of assertion is problematic? Boy howdy you betcha! This is my blog, after all.

The Non-Universality of Experiences
Or: Woah, Jason, are we getting sub-headings now?


Everyone experiences the world in a different way.

This probably seems obvious, but it’s actually kind of a complex notion in practice. You interpret the world differently than I do; I interpret the world differently than you do; the totality of my existence functions to give me a different experiential matrix through which I interact with the world than your experiential matrix. What I mean here by “experiential matrix” can be likened (albeit imperfectly) to glasses: If I am wearing sunglasses, I’m going to perceive my surroundings differently than someone wearing rose-tinted glasses. Our matrix functions like these glasses—it is a composite of our memories, our beliefs, our actual physical selves, our dreams, our hopes, our fears, and all the different things that go into making us our own selves, and then we view/experience the world through this composite.

For example, someone who is paranoid (legitimately paranoid, I mean) is going to perceive the world to be a threatening place. They are going to perceive that people are “out to get them”, that they are the targets of hostile thoughts and plans by other people and/or organizations. So now imagine that this paranoid person goes to the ice cream shop, where the hapless-and-overworked teenager standing behind a hundred and eighty-seven different flavors accidentally scoops out Mocha Chocolate Blast instead of Extra Mocha Chocolate Explosion.

The paranoid person may interpret this accident as evidence of conspiracy or hostility—in other words, they’re going to see this slight mix-up as a personal slight, rather than an accident. Now, put yourself (or me!) in this hypothetical: It’s no big deal, right? I mean, aside from being rather confused as to why I’m ordering ice cream to begin with, I’m probably going to understand that this hapless-and-overworked teenager just made a mistake.

This is an extreme example, but it’s meant to be illustrative (not exhaustive) of the point here, which is that even in the same situation, the experiential matrix of one person is going to result in a different perception of the world than the matrix of another person.

Certainly, there will be commonalities. We may both sit down to eat a pizza and have very similar experiences of pepperoni, and so we may discuss the pizza, post-eating, and not notice the experiential differences between us.

Even still, despite the commonalities, there will be differences. What if my sense of smell or taste is subtly different from yours? How will that physical difference have an impact on my life/world? What if I’m a vegetarian and find the consumption of meat ethically problematic? Then, what you perceive to be a simple act (eating a pizza) becomes a much larger one (for me).

“But Jason,” you might say, “why are we talking about pizza and ice cream? Are you hungry? Because I’m hungry.”

Well, I might be hungry, but probably not for ice cream. Oh, now I really want a biscuit.

That was going to be a non sequitor, but it actually helps to underline my point: When I mentioned food and being hungry, did you immediately leap to biscuits and sweet tea? Maybe you did (were you raised in the South, too?), and maybe you didn’t (raised in the North, I assume). And maybe when I mentioned “biscuit”, what you thought of was actually a cookie! (I’m looking at you, England.) (See? Even language can shape our experiential matrices!)

What this boils down to is a non-universality of experience—that is, you cannot apply your own experiences universally because they simply are not true universally. Even something that some might experience as terrible (“Oh no! This [person important to me] has died! I am distraught!” v. “Ding dong, the witch is dead!”) might not be similarly perceived by someone else. Note, of course, that I’m not trying to establish a world where sharing is meaningless because of the utter difference posed by our understandings and comprehensions of the world—that isn’t the point here, and I would argue against that kind of solipsistic nonsense anyway.

The point, rather, is that we need to understand that our own experiences and interpretations of the world around us may not—and indeed probably will not—be the same as those around us (both online and off-). And here, I shall blatantly plagiarize a friend of mine: “My perception of my own experience is universal. If anyone else's experience differs, they must be lying or mistaken.”

If it’s put like that, it seems a little… silly, no? And yet, when we approach a situation (like the ones I mentioned above) with the notion that, “I have not personally witnessed [this], therefore it must not be relevant,” that’s the basic assertion we’re making. It’s problematic, really, and understanding this fundamental difference is integral to our own capacity to look at an issue from someone else’s point of view (that’s the point of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, right?—you know, so that when they notice, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes).

Differing Experiential Value
Or: Freedom of speech lets you say things, but it doesn’t mean those things matter


And so, after a long and tedious explanation (hey, I talked about biscuits—what more do you want?), we finally get to the subject of the post—namely, what I’m calling “experiential value”, but which basically just means that some people are going to have more insight into certain situations than others.

All experiences inherently have value, simply by virtue of being experiences that we’ve had. Experiences have inherent value because we have inherent value. You may disagree with my interpretation of an experience, you may find my understanding of events alarming or misguided, but on a fundamental level, experiences are like feelings: they’re no less real even if they’re reprehensible or stupid.

Sometimes, it behooves us to realize that our own experiential value is simply overshadowed by that of someone else. Yes—I am making, here, a value judgment; I am asserting that some experiences are simply more useful than others in certain contexts.

For example, I could write a blog post about “Being Queer and Having Asthma”, but, since I am not actually an asthmatic, you might question the usefulness of such a post. You might say, “Jason, what are you adding to the conversation, here?” And perhaps you would be right to do so! If I have no experience of having asthma, my experiential value in such an area is simply going to be low. In other words, I lack the experience for my perspective to be of significant value in this context. This may seem obvious, but it’s a principle that’s applicable to broader issues, too.

So, if I go to a forum on racism in America, and I get up and speak, it would not be unreasonable for people to ask, “What is this white guy doing, talking about racism in America? What does he know?” And, based on our country’s history, modern society, and other factors like that, this question is not unreasonable. What do I have to contribute to a discussion on racism, anyway? I have no real experience of it, after all. I cannot point to an instance in my life where I have felt the sting of racist beliefs or actions. What I can do is talk about other things—like queer issues, and what it’s like growing up a fag in North Carolina. But that’s not what we’re talking about, is it?

And so, my experience is simply less valuable in that context. Similarly, my experience is more valuable in the context of, say, talking about queer issues. Academic discourse and intellectual exploration of issues are all well and good, but on a fundamental level, when we say something like, “I have not witnessed [X] and therefore do not understand why we are talking about [X]”, we are already making a value judgment about other peoples’ experiences.

Because, after all, what we’re talking about here are not angels-on-a-pin hypothetical situations. I’m not saying, “Gosh, it’s so hard to be a Purple People-Eater in today’s geek culture—no one understands me!” That’s ridiculous. But when women go to lengths to speak up, to say, this is a way in which I have felt uncomfortable in geek culture, or that is a way in which I have felt unwelcome at the gaming table, it is uncharitable—at best—for us not to listen.

You may, at the end of the day, decide that someone’s experience is distorted, that their interpretation of an event or a culture or whatever is, ultimately, wrong. That can happen, sure. You may encounter someone with a martyr complex—for whom any perceived slight is a deliberate wound, inflicted with malice. But those people are the exception, rather than the norm, and there’s something particularly vulgar about approaching discussions of inequality or hostility or discrimination in a certain situation with the mindset that, “Oh, you’re just trying to get attention”, or, “Oh, it’s not as bad as you say”, or, “Oh, that’s just the people you’re around—why don’t you remove yourself from that situation?”

Instead, we ought to recognize that what a woman has to say about the experience of women in geek culture is more valuable than what some guy has to say (in general) about the experience of women in geek culture. That, if we are going to talk about queer issues, it would be more valuable to include queers in the discussion than to have a panel composed of heterosexuals pontificating on what it must be like. In other words, our default approach to situations like the video that prompted this post ought to be thoughtful reflection, rather than chomping at the bit to chime in about, “Well, I’m not a sexist, so I don’t see what the problem is.”

Great! Congratulations—by not being a sexist, you’ve managed to clear one of the lowest bars we have in the “Please Don’t Be A Terrible Human Being” pole-vaulting competition (or whatever—sorry, I’m not great with sports metaphors). But let’s not forget that other peoples’ experiences may not or will not be the same as yours, and so it’s a false equivalency, in some sense, to say, “This is my experience, therefore I do not see the point of this discussion”.

None of this, of course, should be understood as an attempt to stifle discussion or suppress conversation. I’m not here to say, “My experiences are more valuable than yours, Heterosexual White Man, so you should just STFU.” (Really, I’m not. Seriously, who would say STFU? Is that acronym still a thing?) But I am here to say that your experience of sexism in geek culture is not something that you ought to value over and against a woman’s experience of the same, in a similar way that my experience of racism in America is not something I ought to value over that of a person of color.

Put another way, we should understand that a woman may have more valuable things to say about being a woman than a man does, but a man will similarly have more valuable things to say about being a man than a woman does. So, if a woman says, “I experience geek culture in X way”, the wrong response would be, “No, you don’t.” A better response would be, “Oh, interesting, because I experience it in Y way.” And then, we can all sit down and have a nice chat about why our experiences differ and—if some part of those experiences is negative—how we can collectively improve the atmosphere/reality/culture.

In some sense, it may be difficult to accept that “my” experience may be more valuable than “yours”, but—again—it comes with an important qualification: in certain contexts. My experience of my life is the most valuable experience of my life, to me, because it is my life. Right? The “value judgment” that I’m delineating here is not a zero sum game between “worthless” and “necessary”, so it would be erroneous to understand the statement “A person of color’s experience of racism in modern America is probably of greater value when discussing racism in modern America than that of a white person” as necessarily dismissing that white person’s experiences as meaningless, because that is not the point.

It’s fine—really!—for you to contribute to a discussion or a conversation even if you don’t necessarily feel like you have something that’s as meaningful to say as what other people are bringing to the table. But there’s a world of difference between saying something like, “This is interesting, and I will think about it”, and, “I do not see the value of this discussion because it does not align with my experience”. It very well might not, but people don’t start these kinds of conversations (they don’t put together elaborate videos to illustrate their point) because it is just so much fun to talk about difficult issues On The Internet.

It isn’t. They do it because they perceive a need to do so, because they think it will help, because they identify a problem and think that talking about it—bringing greater awareness to and about the issue—will help contribute to its resolution. But, at the end of the day, our conversations, both within our micro-cultures and within the macro-culture of “gaming” (or “geekery” or whatever) are not elevated by those who stubbornly insist that their experience, because it is different, is necessarily universal.

So yes—please, by all means, continue to run your gaming table in a way that is inclusive, that is not sexist, that is not bigoted, and so on. That’s great! But, at the same time, realize that this is not necessarily the experience of everyone else—that some women will have their “geek cred” called into question simply because they’re ladies, that some women will be ogled at by mouth-breathing nerds, that some women will encounter disbelief from the male persuasion when they insist that the game they’re buying is for them, not their boyfriend. And that, in the end, we are better served—as people and as a gaming/geek community—by stepping back, taking stock of our own experiences, beliefs, and opinions, and admitting that the universality we might want to attribute to our experiential matrix simply isn’t the case.
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Wed Jul 31, 2013 6:24 pm
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On Straight GMs and Queer Players (Part Two)

Jason Beck
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love sequels

This is the second part of the imaginatively named series “On Straight GMs and Queer Players”, the first part of which can be found here. The previous installment dealt with the issue on a more conceptual level, with a promise that the next post (i.e. this one) would offer more concrete suggestions.

Anyway, let’s get down to the proverbial brass tacks: How can (non-specific, heterosexual) you create a gaming atmosphere that is welcoming, inclusive, and a safe place to play for (non-specific) your queer friends, with whom you do not share a sexuality, and whose individual struggles and/or experiences of discrimination, bigotry, or other forms of hatred you don’t really understand?

Start small. If you’re already playing in a campaign (especially in an established setting), don’t worry about revamping the whole world or overhauling everything forever in some attempt to make things “inclusive”. Calling huge amounts of attention to the whole process (“Hey guys I’m going to retcon the princess that the dragon kidnapped into… a prince! Because Mike is gay! And I want to make him feel welcome!”) is likely to have the opposite effect. This post— and the others here on this blog, and discussion from people like me on the same subject— isn’t intended to create (or encourage) a sort of, “Look at me! Ermehgerd I’m so different!”. Rather, the purpose is to engender in the gamers around us a solid notion that gaymers are normal.

Similar subjects in works of fiction allow for a greater increase in accessibility, which in turn allows for a larger amount of fun to be had. Recently, I started playing Dead Space 3 and the story almost immediately involves mention of a female in whom the male character is romantically interested. Now, this is fine, but the game also lost a piece of my attention right away. I’d never have a girlfriend, so how was I supposed to know how to relate to this part?

I’m exaggerating my reaction a little to make a point— Mass Effect (to take another recent sci-fi game as a comparative) grabbed me and pulled me into the story far more than Dead Space has (so far) because I was allowed to participate in that aspect of the story-telling. Which is not, of course, to say that every game must always include a gay romantic option—that isn’t my point at all (and yes, I’m aware that blah blah blah it’s expensive to make endless story options for everyone blah blah blah). However, when we (as queers) are constantly inundated by the heteronormativity of our society, the accessibility afforded by a game company/designer taking the time to acknowledge that hey, we’re people too, we’re normal, we have relationships, we might want to see that reflected in games, is nice (a relief, even).

The same principle carries over to tabletop games: The effort you take in making your world/campaign/setting more accessible affords me the opportunity to just play a game. “But Jason, aren’t you just over-reacting [as usual/to Dead Space]? What’s the big deal? Most guys are interested in the ladies, statistically.” No— see, the point is, while you regard the female love interest as “normal”, for me it serves as a reminder of society’s assertion of my abnormality. You can just sit down and play the game and not even notice, but to me it’s a sign of my perceived Otherness.

So, again: start small. Introduce an innkeeper and his husband. A minor noble with a quest to find her missing wife. A conflicted bounty hunter who’s secretly in love with his target. These are harmless background color, but they serve as illustrations of the fact that the world we/you are playing in is one in which everyone can play and is represented, rather than the typical (and tired) tropes of the genre.

But note that I’m not talking about you throwing me the proverbial bone, here. I’m not interested in a "token gay" or a tedious stereotype anymore than you’re interested in playing games with boring, two-dimensional heterosexual characters. Providing a level of accessibility to your game doesn’t mean pandering to someone, being condescending, or endlessly fretting about “political correctness”. If we’re talking about a game that’s trying to offer an immersive experience—like a video game, or a tabletop RPG, or whatever—isn’t it in the GM’s interest to be inclusive? If a GM improves the play experience for one of the players, isn’t it reasonable to assume that such a player will be more involved and thereby improve the play experience for everyone? (NB: Obviously I mean improve the play experience within reason—I’m not advocating re-shaping a game around one person.)

Alright, so what else can be done?

Well, let’s try to avoid the “ick” factor. Look, I get it: You’re a dude who likes the ladies and frankly the thought of two dudes getting it on is a little gross to you. Fine, whatever. I don’t see the appeal of two ladies getting it on, either, but I’m also mature enough (gasp!) not to be like “Ewwwww: ladies”. But I’m not advocating for explicit sex scenes here (unless that’s the kind of game/campaign/story you have, in which case: okie dokie)—the issue is being respectful and open.

Again, note that the central premise, in many ways, of what I’m recommending is the assertion of normality—e.g. try to curb behavior that treats things that are different from you as the dreaded Other, as alien, as different-and-therefore-wrong or different-and-therefore-undesirable.

Similarly, as a GM, you should be open to discussing homo-related topics when or if they come up. If a player wants to know how gays are treated in [the campaign world], is that really any different than asking about any other topic? I had a GM who was very open when I asked about those sorts of things [in the Forgotten Realms], and it was not only refreshing for me on a personal level, but also interesting on a more intellectual plane.

All of this pre-supposes some sort of character development, narrative, and the like from the game that’s being run. These issues are obviously going to be less at the fore if your campaign is a hack-and-slash dungeon-fest where a character background is more “Jimmeth Bobus is a Fighter because he likes to fight and get treasure” and less “Here’s a ten-page discourse on my character, his allies, his enemies, his hopes and dreams, and a discussion of his abandonment issues”. And that, of course, is fine: I’m not advocating the forced mutation of games/campaigns/settings to fit some rigid definition of inclusivity anymore than I’m advocating forcing complicated political intrigue onto a group of players that has zero interest in anything beyond a dice-laden dragon-hunt or an explosion-filled trek through space.

As a GM, you also need to be aware of your players/audience, their experiences, and their limits. I don’t expect you to have a comprehensive background of every player you’re GMing for, of course— maybe one of your players has abuse or other trauma in their life that they never talk about. It’s possible, or maybe it’s something they don’t talk about with you. (Or maybe this is a pick-up game at a convention and you’ve never met them before, or you’ve assembled a group of new people that you met off the internet, or whatever.) So, when it comes to introducing issues that may be “harder”, such as it were, a degree of caution should be exercised.

This, indeed, is fair to say of issues across a broader spectrum that are not homo-exclusive. But what constitutes a “hard” issue in a game where there are magic swords that cut peoples’ heads off on a certain die roll? A fair juxtaposition, but the bottom line is that none of the players at your table has ever been beheaded, but one (or more) of them might have been abused (or experienced some other kind of trauma).

So, it might make total sense within your campaign setting to have, say, a kingdom where queers are heavily persecuted by society, but just because there’s logic behind it doesn’t mean that a queer player is going to be interested in exploring that sort of topic in a game. On the other hand, you might have a queer player who is totally okay with complex or unsettling social issues being present in the campaign. Or you might have a queer player who would be okay with that sort of thing, but doesn’t really know you very well (and vice versa), and so would be off-put by that kind of campaign setting because they lack the context to know why it’s there (e.g. “Is this guy just a huge bigot?” v “Oh, Maria and I talked about this earlier and I’m totally fine with it”).

As usual, much of what I’ve said can more or less be summed up as “Don’t be a jerk”, and this is especially true when discussing other players in games. However, a GM (or creator/writer of a game, whatever) has more direct control over the game environment than a player and so can introduce (or not introduce) elements directly relevant to the storyline, to the setting, and so on.

At the end of the day, the suggestions here for broadening inclusivity in game settings are not particularly broad, sweeping, or complex. Taking conscious, deliberate steps to making a world more inclusive and accessible helps create a win-win scenario for everyone involved: increased player happiness and involvement (owing to an increased level of accessibility), which in turn makes a campaign/game richer and more interesting for the GM and the other players. This may, ultimately, require more work from a GM, or at least a re-thinking of your default approach; if your “default mode” is “kill the dragon, rescue the princess”, then you may have to make a conscious effort to move away from these more “traditional” tropes towards a more open an inclusive mindset, but it seems reasonable to say that the potential benefits are worth it.
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Mon May 6, 2013 4:16 pm
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On Straight GMs and Queer Players (Part One)

Jason Beck
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Virginia
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Felix alearum famis! Et posse impares sumus erimus en tui semper favoris.
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love unrequited bromance

This year, I attended PAX East 2013, which, aside from being my very first convention, left me harried and overwhelmed in its wake. I had the opportunity to attend a panel there on sexuality, gender, and gameplay- which in turn left me thoroughly underwhelmed. The panel did not really address the issues of sexuality, gender, and gamplay, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do so- and, specifically, to address a question raised by an astute member of the audience who asked if they had any advice for straight GMs running campaigns with queer players and how the former might help to facilitate/construct a more inclusive atmosphere for the latter.

I should probably go ahead and note that I’m sure the panel presenters are all perfectly nice, perfectly well-intentioned people, so please don’t read any of the above (or the following) as an attack on them. I do, however, strongly disagree with the advice they offered and so would like to address it before moving on to more productive dialogue. The response to the aforementioned question- and the subject of this post- was that GMs could consider creating, for example, a villain with homophobic tendencies, so as to allow the queer character to derive some sense of satisfaction or vengeance from the former’s defeat.

This kind of retributive "justice" (or whatever you want to call it) is wholly unhelpful and not at all conducive to creating an atmosphere or environment in which LGBT players can or will feel able to operate safely. Sure, some (or all) of us may derive some sense of satisfaction from seeing someone get a well-deserved comeuppance, but sessions of DnD are not avenues for therapy and, even if they were, this isn’t an overly healthy method of exploration. I generally try to avoid making sweeping statements, or speaking on "behalf" of gaymers writ larger, but I think it’s safe to say that "we" are not interested in beating up a dragon opposed to marriage equality.

So Jason, you might ask, how shall we do this, then? If not that, then what?

Certain things may work for some groups that don’t work for others, a caveat that’s probably more or less universally applicable. Engaging with the "micro-culture" of your gaming group is important, and part of doing that in an effective and substantial way is understanding who and what you’re dealing with (e.g. your group may respond differently if it’s composed of teenagers than they might if it was a group of 30-somethings).

The important thing to remember, as with most things, is that the person sitting across from you (or next to, or wherever) is still, at a fundamental level, a person. This may seem obvious, but it is very easy to abstract out our understandings of other people- that is, when someone is different in some way, it’s easy (and very human, in some sense) for us to view them as The Other, as someone who, rather than being considered simply as a person, is instead associated (by us) with a concept, an idea, or some other sort of de-humanized group.

Ignoring the humanity of someone else is the best and easiest way to dismiss their feelings, thoughts, or concerns as irrelevant or generally meaningless. The reason politicians constantly pepper their speeches with anecdotes about "Jim Bob who lost his job at the plant and all he wants to do is work and provide for his family" or "Mary Sue who can’t afford her blood pressure medication" is that these sorts of anecdotes connect us immediately (or try to) with a more tangible, personal representation of what otherwise might be an abstract concept. In a similar way, it is incumbent upon us to realize- especially when talking about things like this- that queers are people too; laws and policies, cultural attitudes, social hostility, all of those have an impact in a very real (and sometimes literal) way on the lives of LGBT people.

None of this is intended to suggest the creation of an atmosphere where everyone is walking on eggshells so that they don’t offend that irritating gay guy with a blog on BoardGameGeek, so much as it is to suggest that gaming environments can and do have an impact on people and that it isn’t really enough to say "I don’t have any problems with the gays so I don’t understand why I should change my GMing style".

It’s very easy to slip into attitudes or modes that can create situations that dehumanize the people at our gaming tables- and note here that when I say "dehumanize", I’m not necessarily speaking of more "extreme" instances (though admittedly regrettably common) instances where dehumanization results in violence. I expect a common reaction to my "treat people as people" comment above might be off-handed dismissal ("Oh, gosh, I know people are people, Jason- how silly!"). But let’s return to the panel I mentioned: a group of ostensibly well-meaning people discussing sexuality, gender, and gameplay, who were nevertheless fundamentally incapable of answering an extremely basic question on how to shape a gaming session to make LGBT players feel more welcome.

There’s a level of abstraction in the reply, and clear evidence that it was a panel being run by... non-queer people. Speaking about these topics in broad sweeps has its own limitations: generalities may be necessary to hold a conversation on a macro-level, but these sorts of things are practically irrelevant if we can’t apply them in real, substantive ways to our micro-level experiences.

In the next installment I will be dealing with concrete examples of ways you can improve the inclusivity of your game/campaign. Additionally, there are extended discussions of certain topics- like heteronormativity and social privilege- that may be of interest, here on this blog. In many ways, all of these topics are inter-connected; heteronormativity, for example, feeds into the construction of RPG milieus that either overtly or inadvertently discourage more open and inclusive atmospheres.

Small changes, however, can make a big difference, and so we’ll be dealing with some of those in the next post.
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Wed May 1, 2013 4:05 pm
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