Maybe not the right question, definitely the wrong answers

February 17, 2013

RPG.net : “What is the most inclusive RPG setting on the market?”

As some folks point out, “inclusive” by itself is a little broad. To really talk about this, we have to understand there are basically three levels we can set the bar at, especially since, if you read a lot of the replies you can see these are very different things:

1. Acknowledgement of existence (AKA – The Chinese people in Firefly)

Games that point out you “could play” any gender, or that you “could play” any race, or some kind of setting that says racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. is gone. The reason that this is such a low bar is that saying this without any further details basically puts all the onus on the group to try to figure out what that looks like. It also means no real thought was put into the setting itself if this is the only real place where it shows up.

If you SAY all sexual preferences are accepted, but your setting only SHOWS heterosexual relationships, you’ve now put all the work of actually making that true onto the people playing your game while not accepting the same responsibility yourself- a disingenuous ass-covering move if anything.

I’ve seen a few RPGs do this really interesting thing where they say the characters in question are supposed to be brown people, and then proceed to have no art depicting them, or, art that would suggest otherwise. In this sense, this is the same thing where it’s an invisible acknowledgement without actually having to have them there…

2. Portrayal

Ok, so you include the actual folks – artwork, characters, setting bits, etc. Good for you! Now come the harder questions – are the portrayals negative? Are they based on stereotypes? Are they only there to serve the privileged audience rather than the people who they’re supposed to represent? (The difference between lesbians as hot media icons for straight men vs. lesbians as characters for lesbians…) Are they only secondary or minor characters?

3. Good portrayal

If you get through the questions in the previous bar, you should reach good portrayal. What defensive privileged folks often confuses is the idea that “good portrayal” should mean some kind of spotless 2D idealized figure, when in fact, all folks are asking for is real humans who are not based on the caricatured stereotypes are NOT real.

Anyway, when we look at these 3 potential levels of inclusiveness, you can see that stuff like, “Play a transhuman game, you can play ANYTHING” is a shitty response that doesn’t really do much of anything.

Ben Lehman once asked why I enjoyed playing the highly problematic Legend of the Five Rings and I pointed out it’s one of the few games where I could play an asian character and no one would look at me and think, “You’re just doing that because you’re asian!” (Of course, the horrible white folks’ Japan fetish in that game scene is a whole other issue…) – but the point is that there’s plenty of games where problematic representation can be had, and it’s really kind of the roleplaying equivalent of “You can have space in our imaginary world as long as your heroes conform to our racist stereotypes.”

Escapism and fun for all, indeed.

Personally, I’d rather look at the 3rd tier as the one to aim for. Inclusive means it’s actually got people in mind, not appropriating things through a stereotype lens for the entertainment of the privileged nor simply hitting a checklist of inclusiveness for show.

In that space, I think of these games as inclusive – Dirty Secrets, Steal Away Jordan, Dog Eat Dog. There’s maybe 1 or 2 borderline games I’m waiting to see which way they fall. Maybe there’s some I’m forgetting, and if so, I’ll add them later, but, yeah, it’s a small small number.

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