If there is a hot button issue in gaming right at the moment, it’s about how do we best include people in our hobby who aren’t strictly of a specific general white male persuasion? In particular that there is some required concession to have women, people of color and other minorities getting more recognition and inclusion within various game products. The most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons for example has some excellent diverse art of both adventuring men and women. Most notably, a lot of the art of the female adventurers portrayed in the books is distinctly non-sexualized and depicts several women of color as well (not to mention more racial diversity amongst the male characters as well). Likewise, for a long time now many PnP RPGs have been switching pronouns though the text to refer to the GM or players as he/she interchangeably. A small but important way to tell anyone reading the book they could be either running the game or playing it.
Similarly, many of the roleplaying games I have run that have been set in historic periods like the 1920s and 1930s of Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu respectively, discuss using themes of sexism and racism appropriately. Most notably they discuss them in a way that ultimately suggests you shouldn’t just throw these things at players just because of the setting. Sure it might be interesting for a female investigator to have to deal with sexism in the 1920s or 1930s in some way – but it can also just be a reminder to an actual player about what they still currently face. It’s less important to be historically accurate over how uncomfortable these elements may be for the actual player. An important discussion to at least start and get potential gamemasters and their players thinking about if they are comfortable with it in their games!
For me, as a socially awkward straight white male geek who didn’t think of this a lot back in the early 2000s, I got my first real lesson in how other people could get a very different view of the same books in a FLGS*. While perusing some Forgotten Realms books, I got into a conversation with a man who had moved to New Zealand from Nigeria. While talking to him we got into a discussion about the different races in DnD and he (having dark black skin) pointed out something I had never considered before: All of the “evil” races in the underdark had black skin. Drow, Svirfneblin, Druegar and so forth were all black, while in the players handbooks generally speaking the “good” races were always depicted with light skin.
At the time it never really struck me what the significance of that conversation was or even why it bothered this man. I walked away back then with a “Oh well, I agree to disagree” attitude but not really realizing what the problem was. Eventually I did realize what the problem was: To him this was saying that people like him, who had the kind of darker skin tones he did were being depicted as evil and that light skinned people were always the heroes. It was subtly, albeit not intentionally, reinforcing a negative stereotype that he suffered in his day to day life. Today I wish I could have a chat to him again and find out his current thoughts on the game, especially with the efforts to depict more diverse heroes and characters Paizo and Wizards have been undertaking recently.
Unfortunately there is still a tremendous way to go in the way certain groups or people are viewed as “outsiders”. If the hobby is to grow, expand and develop further it’s important that old stereotypes that roleplaying is just “for teenage boys” and that women or other minorities aren’t welcome need to be debunked. Especially from mainstream media sources, gaming communities and the way we approach letting new people into our gaming circles.