Right before GenCon this article was published on Tor. I know the person who wrote it and he spends a lot of time doing outreach to the gaming community on race.
I was deeply disappointed to see that several people have taken this article as some sort of personal affront… including at least one person who I had a lot of respect for because of her work on advancing feminism in gaming circles.
Folks, I appreciate the knee jerk reaction that many of you feel. There aren’t a huge number of people of color attending GenCon (this isn’t up for debate, we white people currently far outnumber them), but the number has been growing. I understand why as a white person it is easy to see that and think “well the problem is slowly solving itself, I’m sure it’s fine.” And then get upset when someone calls gamer culture out about the topic.
I think the important things to remember are: 1) We do not live in a magical post racial society. Sorry, we just don’t (this also isn’t up for debate). I wish we did, but no. (I mean come on, this is not a subtle problem!) And 2) If you are not a person of color it’s harder to see the problem. The smaller signs that show up for white people are easy to forget as “unimportant” because we’ve been trained to see the status quo as ok.
When people bring up race in gaming, the first thing that comes to my mind is the many marginal experiences I’ve had as a white woman in gaming. Like the year when my husband came back from a WWII supers game and told me how extremely uncomfortable he was with one of the other players playing an Asian-American hero as a blatant Asian stereotype. Or how I’ve only been offered an African-American character at a con once, for a demo of Steal Away Jordan… and how acutely uncomfortable I was playing that demo and watching one of my white male friends try to behave as if his white-male privilege still existed in a setting where it did not. Or how this year at GenCon I was asked to play an overtly racist character in a historical setting… at a table with a player of color. Or when I wrote a LARP with an Indian immigrant character (who was a highly educated doctor and prided himself in his correct English) and I got to watch a player play him with an Indian accent consisting of mangled, broken English. Or how every con I wince when I see white people dressed up as Drow in full black-face makeup.
I could go on… this stuff happens and it’s awkward and uncomfortable even for white people.
I’m not asking anyone to jump up and become a crusader for people of color in gaming. I’m asking that we give people like A.A. George the benefit of the doubt when they come to us and tell us that there’s a problem. I’m asking that we pay attention to things happening at future cons and remember the marginal and creepy stuff that we see.
I’m also asking that people recognize that “racist behavior” and “behavior that makes people of color uncomfortable” are not the same as saying “gamers are racist.” Most gamers are not overtly racist nor are they trying to be horrible to people of other races. It’s easy to do something that hurts others because it’s a common thing in the mainstream (and as previously stated, the mainstream is not post racial!), without realizing that what you’re doing is hurtful.
It feels super easy to write a con-game with all white characters (I’m white, I know what that life experience is like and no one will yell at me for messing it up!), but when the vast majority of games do that it means that there are few minority characters available. Their stories aren’t told (some of which are quite interesting!) and we don’t have the opportunity to develop empathy for people who are different than ourselves by playing them. This mirrors an unfortunate trend in media, where we have few to no darker skinned actors to watch, even though non-white people make up a very sizable portion of the population in the US.
I’m not saying that people who write all white PCs for a con game are being racist. I don’t think they are. I’m saying that it’s easy to go with the way things have always been and it’s hard to include people who aren’t like you. It takes work and forethought. It requires us to care about an issue that probably hasn’t been important in our lives.
Again, I’m not asking people to leap up and start doing this work. All I want is for us to be more open minded to understanding there is a problem. To take time to see the problem and be patient with people who are complaining about it. I am especially asking that feminists in gaming try to be understanding as we’ve suffered similar ills because of gender, and have every reason to empathize.
Gaming is not a utopia. None of us live in a utopia. We can make gaming a better and more accepting place for everyone by working on the problems that the culture has. If we ignore the problems they aren’t going to magically get better on their own.
If you don’t see the problems, that’s ok. You don’t need to become a Super Justice Warrior to be a good person, just be nice to people who do.