Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cultural Differences vs. Exclusionism

Pardon my getting a bit more serious than usual on the blog today.  But it's my blog to write what I like.  If you just want stats for giant platypi or ruminations on how to best implement ninja in your games, come back tomorrow.  I'll likely be back to that sort of thing.

Satyre posted about exclusion and inclusion of non-whites on his blog.  He makes some really good points.  Game settings (and as Trey points out in the comments, the source fiction) tends to focus on European styled fantasy and everyone's white these days sci fi.  Cross-cultural or multicolored protagonists, and societies in RPGs would seem to be the smart business move.  Try to tap into more audiences to earn more revenue.

5stonegames continues the conversation.  He points out, rightly I believe, that tabletop gaming tends to be an activity enjoyed primarily by middle-class white folks (at least in the U.S.).  People in gaming aren't exclusive toward others, but blacks, Hispanics, Middle-Easterners, etc. just don't tend to be drawn to the hobby in numbers.

My take on all this?  I think it would be great if gaming crossed cultural boundaries and resulted in both an increase in revenue for the game companies and a larger player pool for us gamers.  But really, I don't know any gamers personally who exclude others.  Game companies and fiction writers could do a better job trying to diversify the settings and characters.  But I wonder how effective that would be in the end.

Sure, it would have SOME effect.  In the 90's, lots of game companies started using 'she' instead of 'he' as the generic neuter pronoun, and there was some increase in female gamers because of that, according to the anecdotal evidence I've read (don't quote me on that, in other words).  But gaming is still not the sort of thing women take to as easily as men for some reason.

Likewise, an increase in non-white (or East Asian) protagonists in fantasy and sci fi fiction might make a difference, but because it's already a genre few non-whites are reading already.

I think some things just don't cross cultural lines easily.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  You don't see many Hispanics at a bluegrass concert.  There aren't many non-South Asians into Bollywood films.  Sure, there are exceptions.  There always are.  But it's not something inherently wrong with the hobby nor the fan-base if this is so.

White males tend to dig on fantasy/sci fi, and tabletop games.  Non-whites and females to a lesser extent.  It might be nice if it were otherwise, but since it's more a case of the non-whites and females being less interested rather than the white males being exclusive, at least in the case of gaming groups, it's not really something we can change easily.  And maybe it doesn't really need to change.  I don't think bluegrass singers are worried that their audience is mostly white.

Yes, I'm playing Devil's Advocate a bit here.  I'd love to see game companies making bigger profits.  I'd love to have an easier time forming a game group.  If gaming, and fantasy/SF appealed to more people, that would be great.  But maybe we just need to face the fact that it could be a cultural thing that appeals to us but not others, and isn't likely to change much in the future.


  1. There is also the aspect that many of the source material for fantasy (say LOTR) is based on European Myths. Actually Northern European myths in particular. One of the things that attracted Tolkien to this real was that there is a hole in there. Greek Mythology is fairly well known but the elfs from which the names Alfred and Alvin come from are only known in a smattering of fairy tales.
    Then there is also the impact that part of the world had. I mean I think there is a Spanish King called Alfredo. So there is like cultural vacuum there. That continues on to this day in the names of the days of the week. Most of Europe uses the latin based names of planets but in English it's the names of pagan gods mostly. Tiw (god of war), Woden (King of the gods), Thor (god of lightning and thunder), Freya (god of, god of, I used to know this... god of... let's just say french fries till I remember what it really is).
    I think that the source may have something to do with it.

  2. I think there has to be a reason for "non-white males and females aren't as interested."

    And I don't know that we can say "that's just the way it is."

    Perhaps rpgs haven't sufficiently marketted themselves to these populations?

  3. I don't buy the "it's based on Europeans" argument. I only have to say 1 word to disprove the whole thing. Ready?...... POKEMON!

    To me, the whole thing is circular. There are not very many non-whites represented in the art because people say not many non-whites play. Maybe few non-whites play because there are few non-whites in the art.

    Lets change things up a bit and see what happens.

    Just a cursory look into the background of the Regdar character in 3rd Ed and how he was used as a marketing tool (to the displeasure of the design staff) reveals that maybe the problem lies with producers, not consumers.

  4. There is also the point that getting introduced into DND or rpgs requires a group typically so it doesn't grow individually. So while individuals may be interested; there needs to be a quorum to have a group take off.
    But I think RPGs like DND becoming more and more mainstream. Sort of like comic books have become more mainstream.

  5. Funny thing that all this really breaks down when it comes to computer/video games. They cross all barriers. You get all sorts of folks playing fantasy and sci fi themed games on their PC, Wii, PS3 or X-Box (not to mention the hand-helds).

    But try and sit many of them down to play some D&D, or even some Settlers of Catan, and you've got a bigger challenge. I think heavy marketing by the gaming companies could have some effect, but it would take an awful lot of advertising budget, meaning it would pretty much fall to WotC's lap. I doubt if even the second string players like Paizo or White Wolf would be able to really sustain the campaign long enough to have any real effect.

  6. I'd be curious to see what happened if the game-makers began representing all races in their games and art. I'm not saying I'm for it or against it, just that it'd be interesting to watch. One hurdle, in my opinion, is that verisimilitude is important, and it breaks down when there are different human races all being portrayed as typical Europeans of the Middle Ages (in knightly armor, etc.) And yet, if they were depicted in their own historically accurate cultural dress, weapons, etc, there would be claims of it being racist. "It's all fantasy anyway" some will say. Yes, but there's got to be a baseline of realism of it's all so much mindless fluff, and the world has no believable flavor anymore. Not that that version of fantasy won't make money (WoW anyone?)

  7. D&D grew out of war gaming which, in the 1970s, was a pretty obscure hobby practiced almost exclusively by bookish white males who stayed up nights reading and pondering questions like, "What would have happened if General Von Blucher had not arrived in time to aid Wellington at Waterloo? Would France rule the world today?" They were nerds before being a nerd was cool.
    D&D was actually somewhat controversial when it arrived on the war game scene. Lots of wargamers found the fantasy element a deal breaker --- war gaming was supposed to be a serious hobby where modelers spent a lot of time and research finding out the proper color to paint the lapel fobs of the 9th Brigade of Grenadiers from Brunswick in make believe allowed.
    When I started playing D&D (in 1978), girls who played D&D were as rare as hen's teeth. Someone might drag their girlfriend or sister to a game, but the girls rarely stayed. I don't honestly remember us boys treating the girls badly, but I think we were locked a lot more into gender roles as kids in the 1970s than kids are today. Boys didn't play with dolls and girls didn't play war. I recall only one girl at the time showed up regularly to gaming sessions... and I think she mostly came for her boyfriend's sake... she always seemed pretty bored. At the time, D&D as a hobby was considered a bit of a social liability rather than an asset. Most of our players were drawn from the ranks of the freaks, geeks and "burn outs."
    I went to a school were there were only a handful of black students and since D&D tended to spread through social networks, if there was a network of black D&D players at the time, my path never crossed with theirs. Most of the people I played with I knew from school or were friends of friends. We didn't just 'hop online' and post an ad where anyone with access to the network could see it. I remember we put up some flyers at school inviting people to play but they were all torn down almost immediately by other students... plus the dean of students decided he didn't approve of D&D and forbade us to play on school grounds. So our social networking was hampered by circumstance.
    I don't think 'more inclusive' marketing alone is responsible for more females or people of color playing games like D&D. The D&D rulebooks have become less 'war game like' over the decades and players have become interested in RPGs from video games. In 1978, being a D&D player in junior high school was a social liability --- these days I think the kids are (thankfully) a lot less judgmental (at least in these matters). I don't think having multiracial adventuring parties in D&D artwork is going to make the game appeal more to minorities (but I don't think it can hurt, either).