Thinking about Gaming and Gaming Culture

I’m lucky.

Actually, more than that: I’m privileged.

There are at least a thousand ways I could illustrate and demonstrate this assertion, but in this case, I’m thinking of a very specific example, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

First, a little history.

I’ve been messing around with role playing games pretty much ever since I was old enough to decide how I’d spend my free time; I think I got my copy of the magenta Basic D&D box back in 1980 or 1981, when I was about 9 or 10 – maybe for my tenth birthday, actually – and after that? Well, I’m sure you can imagine how I got from there to here.

The funny thing is – the wonderful, fantastic thing I only just realized this morning – in all the time I’ve been messing around with RPGs, I’ve almost never been a part of a group that matched the typical image of a standard D&D group: a bunch of white, cis male gamers. (There are a few exception to this, one of which I’ll get back to in a sec.)

I’m not saying every group I was involved in was a diverse, enlightened crowd of high-browed intellectuals – I mean, I played in high school, with a bunch of high-schoolers, after all – but it was never just a bunch of white dudes being white dudes. My high school group counted the class valedictorian (and elven druid) as a member – she’s a practicing doctor out in the Black Hills, these days. In fact, every campaign I’ve ever run (and all but one I’ve played in) has had a mix of men and women. The most recent campaign I ran was damn near perfect in terms of participants, by which I mean white straight guys were the minority.

And please don’t think I’m saying that out of some kind of white guy guilt, because that’s attributing me motives far more noble than the reality, which is that I’m just kind of selfish: I like my RPG sessions to be interesting, and homogeneity is fucking boring. Diversity in a creative space is life blood.

So, yeah: I’m lucky.

I’m also – as I was recently reminded – privileged.

See, for the last few months, I’ve been laboring under a terrible first-world problem: with my new job (great pay, coworkers, and benefits), wonderful wife I love spending time with (often watching great genre TV over a fast internet connection), three amazing kids who like spending time with me, and a new puppy to hang out with, it’s difficult to find enough time to work on my next novel and schedule some gaming.

Yeah, I know.

How can I go on under such a burden…

Anyway, I recently had a chance to get a little gaming in via Roll20/Hangouts – a classic scenario I’d never had the chance to play, using a system I really enjoy.

And folks, I’m here to tell you: it was like jumping headfirst into raw sewage.

Basically, take every negative gamer stereotype – every negative ‘-ism’ – stack it up in a single online chat room, and squeeze the whole mess down a wire and into your comfortable white earbuds. I should have known what was coming just by how many participants were using anime characters as their profile icons, but I ignored the signs.

It reminded me I was lucky; virtually every group I’ve been a part of, including the all-white-cis-male yet polite and respectful college Star Wars group (which high character I attribute largely to our excellent GM) – has made it hard for me to really understand how bad the worst representatives of my hobby can be.

It also demonstrated (again, as though I needed proof) that I am privileged, because no matter how terrible the table talk got, I never felt threatened. I never worried I might become the target of the group’s verbal abuse, because there was literally no version of The Other that could make me a target. I was safe and, in this context and with these kinds of people, I would always be safe in ways that so many of my friends would not.

It made me nauseous.

I left, of course, and spent time in the days after talking with the group organizer(s) and a couple of the players about why I left, and I honestly think the talking did some good, and will change the culture in that group, even if I never go back (which I certainly won’t).

And maybe that matters. Maybe it changes something, somewhere, and may make someone else’s life a little less terrible. I hope so.

In the meantime, I’m writing this to say thank you to everyone who’s made me lucky; who’s helped an ignorant white farm boy from the very middle of Middle America open his mind a little and love Difference – love the strange and unfamiliar and uncomfortable Other.

You’ve made my world better, and I promise I’ll keep trying to do the same for you.

All these games, fighting monsters.

It’s really time to apply what we’ve learned.


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