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Monte Cook, D&D, and representation

July 7, 2008

Don’t listen to me, let the professionals tell you:

It’s not only incorrect to assume that the audience is all white males, but it just makes the issue worse when the artwork only fixates on white males. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, in other words.

Addendum:

James Jacobs at Paizo:

Keeping a balance between genders and ethnicities in our characters has actually been a goal for us from the start. In fact, making sure that three of the first four iconics were women was a very conscious decision on my part to turn the standard “Three guys and a gal” makeup of most classic groups on its ear. And including various ethnicities was also a goal from the start as well; even in the adventures themselves we try to mix it up as often as possible so that not every NPC is a white guy. The world we live in isn’t so bland and boring, after all, so why should the worlds we create be bland and boring?

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22 comments

  1. I should say something sarcastic here about tone and white authority, but meh.


  2. I think it’s both sad and telling to see how hard they had to fight for representation changes in the industry leader in 2000.


  3. So tempted to post a link to this on one of the many 4chan threads.


  4. If you do, I wonder if Monte will actually get any real 4chan crazy, or if he’ll just get more of

    a) “Let’s talk about Regdar and totally avoid the topic of your post”

    OR

    b) Insinuations that PC-ness has destroyed our free speech in a post where the creative team is hampered by a marketing department that is ANTI PC

    I’m glad he put it up, though I suspect, sane minds didn’t need that prodding to see the obvious already.


  5. It’s fascinating to see the history behind that, and also Gerard in Magic.

    I was telling Alexis about it and she was like “oh, yeah, Gerard… that was around the time I stopped playing magic.”

    Girl stops playing fantasy game at the same time that the awesome white male character is shoehorned into boss around / show up / rescue the cool female characters. Must be coincidence.

    yrs–
    –Ben


  6. The strange part about that piece by Monte, though, is they wanted to replace the standard white male by … a short white male (dwarf)? Great.


  7. Well Ben, I’m sure the marketing department had figured out there wasn’t enough nerdy white boys playing Magic, and that, a geeky activity full of girls would be too intimidating and scare them away, and that, pursuing 51% (or more) of the human populace was thinking too small.

    Waitaminute…


  8. Clinton,

    Yeah, you know?

    And the fact that people keep objecting that this is a matter of political correctness and folks are being too sensitive and pushy when basically white folks won’t buy a product unless it has a white guy on the cover?

    Maybe you should change the cover for TSOY and make a million dollars! Clearly that’s all that’s been holding you back 😛


  9. “…basically white folks won’t buy a product unless it has a white guy on the cover”

    Is that true, or is that just what marketing departments (WotC’s and others) like to assume?

    Cuz, I’m a white guy, and it pisses me off when companies make this assumption! If they think they have to put a white guy on the cover to sell it to me, then basically they’re saying they think I’m a racist. Shouldn’t I be offended by that?

    I remember the Gerard/Sisay thing pretty clearly, as I was still heavily into M:TG at the time, and I remember finding out that “Sisay, Captain of the Weatherlight” was a black woman (she was pretty famous from quotes in flavor text long before she was ever a picture on a card, so we got to know her by her sense of humor before we knew what she looked like.) Anyway, I remember seeing her on the card and I was like,

    “Huh, that’s interesting. So WotC has the guts to make the highest ranking member of the crew a black woman — which would at least make this stupid metaplot the tiniest bit more original and less generic — but then they don’t have the guts to let her into the spotlight. She’s the central character in theory but not in practice. Was this story written by committee or what?”

    And now, ten years later, I see one of the commenters on Monte Cook’s post reveal that yes, in fact, the split personality of the story was in fact a reflection of a behind-the-scenes creative power struggle. Veerrrrry interesting.

    I’ve always rather liked Monte Cook’s game work (he worked on Planescape too!), so I’m happy to see that he seems to be a decent and thoughtful person, too. From what I can tell from his blog, anyway.


  10. Ben, I’m curious to know if Alexis said herself this might’ve been the reason for her quitting Magic? Did she express disdain over Gerard when you brought it up, or did she just mention how she quit around that time? Did she read all the Magic novels?

    I understand if you feel that she may have subconsciously felt distaste for the character, but I ask because while I played Magic back then, I never read any of the books, and had very little notion of who Gerard was, or that he was rescuing people. Actually, I thought Sisay (the tan-skinned woman) was the hero of the story. She was the captain of the Weatherlight, after all, and seemed to have a much more prominent and commanding role in the story based on the cards alone.

    I know neither of you, of course, but I’m surprised to hear that you feel she may have quit Magic over a stereotyped white male character in one of the storylines. Especially considering that I always felt that socially inept and arrogant Magic players themselves were the biggest obstacle to decent people getting into the game. :p

    It’s funny, though. If marketing want to bank on sales directed at white males, they should have put a woman on the cover instead of a guy. That always worked for me when I was a teenager.


  11. Hi Jono,

    I think the element of truth to it is that people like to identify with characters for the sake of wish fulfillment. (Which, is pretty much my argument for more diversity). The fact that white males are seen either as the primary or as the only worthwhile demographic to pursue says a lot.

    We see this same problem come up in cover art for fantasy and sci-fi books, where characters of color (including the primary protagonist) are illustrated as white.

    The big difference, though, is that D&D is already a strong name brand- if you put a POC central to the cover, it’s not like the fans will suddenly not recognize the game for it’s name. (“What’s this? I dunno, looks like some no-name rpg. Let’s go play D&D.” )

    But yeah, pretty much what the marketing department and the defenders of “ZOMG you’re being PC” is that roleplaying needs racism to survive.

    And people say I’m cynical.


  12. Hi Jonas,

    Amongst my friends, we’ll often talk about which tv, book, or comic series we’re following, or, not following as there is a shift in spotlight and/or problematic material.

    If part of the fun of the game is that you’re considered enough to be a hero, more than just a damsel in distress, I can imagine removing that might remove a good portion of the fun of play for you. Or, if not that, sometimes seeing what the creators are saying they think of you, though their media, can sour a lot of things.

    ( Women in Refrigerators is a good example re: comics – http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/ )


  13. Hey, Jonas:

    Actually, it was a casual comment to me in a conversation about Monte’s post. I hadn’t even known that she played magic before that, and I certainly didn’t subject my girlfriend to the third degree about why she quit playing an expensive fantasy card game over a decade ago. Nor am I going to on your behalf.

    So let’s make a deal: let’s pretend that whatever standards of “evidence” you need won’t be met. After all, this is an anecdote — one person’s experience will never be anything more than one person’s experience. You can go on believing whatever belief is making you feel threatened and defensive, and pretend you never read my comment. In exchange, you don’t ask me to interrogate a friend of mine about the personal trivia for the satisfaction of a stranger on the internet. Deal?

    yrs–
    –Ben


  14. Um, I do read this blog. Just sayin’

    And, despite being a sheltered and oblivious 13 year-old girl at the time, yeah I was disgusted that once again I would have to read about some boring generic white guy rescuing the woman. That just wasn’t the fantasy I was looking for. So, after three years of playing the game, I stopped.


  15. I’m not in love with that James Jacobs quote. It seems like a sort of naive pro-multi-culturalism statement the implications of which haven’t really been thought through. There are big ideological problems with the all-white ideological assumptions of most fantasy texts, but “bland and boring” is still making the assumption that the white dudes are the basic people, and moreover holds the implication that you should include non-white people cause they’re especially spicy and exciting.

    To undercut my point, I don’t feel especially strongly about this, and I guess it’s the kind of sentiment that’s hard to express without looking ridiculous on the internet.


  16. Hi Ryan,

    I guess I’m not reading nearly as much exotification as you are into that statement. Is it bland and boring because he’s coming from the white normative or is it bland and boring because it’s the glut of the market of fantasy? (Don’t know, I’m tending to read the latter, maybe incorrectly).

    I pulled the quote because it points to something a lot of folks still haven’t made the connection about- as much as we think of design these days as a deliberate affair, so is presentation. (graphic designers, illustrators, etc. they know this.) The excuse “it just came out that way” is not a good rationale for game design OR presentation.

    ALSO- as a good example that two of the high 2nd tier publishers think about these things, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting their sales or causing hue and cry from gamerdom, as much as the “Oh NOES!!! Politcal Correct EVIL!” crowd keeps claiming will happen.


  17. Ben, Alexis;

    I’m despondent that my comment sounded threatened and defensive to you, and that I failed to express my curiousness in a constructive manner. I never imagined my involvement in the discussion would upset you both so much. I apologize, and I will stay away from your blog in the future.


  18. Jonas,

    Don’t play the confused and wounded puppy. Reread your post and think about what you said and how you came off. When you get it, then you’d be capable of making a real apology.

    If you want to do something constructive regarding the whole affair, try doing some research regarding media representation- this could be reading online, reading books, or talking to people who are underrepresented in the media.


  19. Yeah I agree that the quote serves those purposes and is generally a positive statement, or at least an attempt at a constructive statement with good intentions. The wording strikes me in an unfortunate way, but not so strongly that I should presume some insight about the way it was meant.


  20. I had a discussion with a fellow white gamer.

    He said the reason there were few black characters represented in RPGs was because Black people do not play RPGs, and because Black people do not become game designers.

    Most Blacks according to him, where interested in Rap (which I am, but so what), milking the government (I nearly hit him at that), or how to make children (please tell me what is wrong with that?).

    That was one racist SOB, and to tell you the truth, I appreciated the fact he was not afraid of speaking his mind, but you know what, I also spoke mine.

    I first of all said I knew a lot of brothers and sisters that gamed. In school, we had a huge RPG group, and all of them were Black. I told them, that because of where he came from, he probably didn’t see it, but it didn’t mean we didn’t exist.

    Second I told him, we are a minority in the country, there are more whites than blacks in the US, so I reason that more whites play the game probably because there are more of them than of any other race in the country.

    Third I said, Rap is just like any other form of music. There is good Rap and bad Rap. If he wanted, I could show him some of my albums, I bet if he listed to the right stuff, he would love it.

    The last two points, I told him were plain racist, and he should really watch himself around Black folks when saying stuff like that. We spent a lot of time working for our rights, some died so we could have them. And we are proud to be what we are.

    Yes, as a community we have problems, but where the whites all good? What about the whole sale killing of native Americans? The enslavement of the Blacks? Or the exploitation of the foreigners? Most if not all of it done by whites. Probably his direct ancestors!

    I see a lot of white folks talking just like that. Either openly of behind closed doors. Until we can get them to stop viewing us like that, this situation will never change.


  21. Hi Mequisha,

    Ugh, that sounds extremely tiresome, dealing with that level of foolishness.

    A common bullshit defense in geekdom is “Oh, those people aren’t into this” as a sideways way of claiming ownership and denying that others have the imagination, creativity or intellect to participate (you see this when guys try to defend sexism with regards to sciences, business, or geeky things as well…)

    Mike Pondsmith is one example of a black designer who has been publishing games since 1982, with R. Talsorian games which has had sizable successes like Cyberpunk, Teenagers from Outerspace, Mekton, and has been publishing anime based rpgs way before anime became popular in the US.

    Julia Bond Ellingboe released Steal Away Jordan and got a chance to present it at Spelman.


  22. This is one of the reasons why I love Everway so much. It was an early game being good at this.

    As for captain Sisay, she was cool but Gerard totally damselled her when she got abducted. They kinda ruined the story about there.



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