Racism I Can Do Without: Low-hanging fruit for the white ally

OK, Ramanan S pointed out to me that we have not had significant discussions of race in tabletop roleplaying games since The Thing last year. I take that as an indicator of the chilling effect, but nonetheless it’s not a good excuse. We need to talk, and even more so we need to act.

This is not a post to examine the root causes and come up with an overarching plan to eliminate racism, tokenism, erasure, etc. I can’t be the one to tell you all about race problems in the tabletop gaming community. I’m not on the receiving end, and my white privilege means I will, by definition, not be able to see all the instances.

But there are some things that are obvious enough that we can see them, and react to them, as white allies and tabletop gamers. I can speak about what I do see, and what I can do about it.  Continue reading “Racism I Can Do Without: Low-hanging fruit for the white ally”

Atwood read the blueprint

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. [Don’t let the bastards grind you down.]
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaids have entered the Texas legislature.
Nan L. Kirkpatrick‏ @nanarchist Mar 20:
The Handmaids have entered the #txlege. #sb415 #fightbacktx pic.twitter.com/Fpa9cNGHR0

The rate at which proposed  regulation, crafted by the American Far (“Christian”) Right, targets women’s most basic rights has been accelerating over the last several years. Bills that used to be outlandishly unthinkable are now commonplace, what with the Republican Party having wholly embraced the right-wing fringe, especially in its Dominionist flavour.

A protest against proposed draconian restrictions on abortion last week at the Texas legislature was only the most recent to draw parallels with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel about an ultra-Christian future of gender-regulated servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course, the upcoming release of Hulu’s series based on the novel has also brought the book to the forefront of pop culture again, but the novel has been increasingly mentioned in news, streams, threads, and conversations about the Right’s treatment of women.

Earlier this week I was reading about the original critical reception to Atwood’s landmark book. It was darkly funny to learn that some reviewers — like the New York Times’ Mary McCarthy (Feb. 9, 1986) — felt its premise was too unbelievable to be successful:

“Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ”Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ”Brave New World” and, to some extent, of ”A Clockwork Orange.” “

“It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood’s very readable book ”The Handmaid’s Tale,” offered by the publisher as a ”forecast” of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ”place” – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out. “

It’s worth reading the entire review, it seems like a point-by-point comment on current news, 32 years after publication. It’s hard to believe these days that McCarthy found A Clockwork Orange’s dystopia more likely than the one in Atwood’s “palely lurid pages.”

[Edit: Here are some very current topics touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale which I jotted the last time I read the book:

    • Patriarchy and kyriarchy
    • Rise of religious fundamentalism
    • Feminist reactions to pornography
    • “Freedom to” versus “freedom from,” and safety versus liberty
    • Abortion, contraception, and reproductive choices
    • Self-determination, ownership of one’s body
    • Right to take one’s own life
    • Environmental degradation
    • Surveillance and information technology
    • Gun control
    • Sexual orientation and choice
    • Non-reproductive sex
    • Citizenship
    • Poverty
    • Access to education, knowledge as power
    • Status of and relationships between U.S. and Russia
    • Public apathy and the creep of authoritarianism
    • Isolationism
    • Televangelists and the Christian media industry

And I bet I missed some.]

Partisanship has been increasing over the past 25 years. The Republican Party now controls the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives, as well as the “trifecta” (governorship + both State congressional houses) in 25 state legislatures, the senate in 12 more states, the house of representatives in six more states, and governorship in eight more states, and soon the ninth and deciding seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The trend is clear, and it is frightening.

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Credits: Photo by Nan L. Kirkpatrick, as seen on Vulture.

Get Off Your Ass and Stand Up For All

dnc_ass-assPart of my entertainment last weekend when I was in the hospital was to watch SS-Gruppenführer Milo Yiannopoulos lose traction. First, there were Larry Wilmore and Malcolm Nance telling him what’s what on “Overtime With Bill Maher.” Heads-up: you need to wade through the opening bullshit before you get to the good stuff. Then there was NAMBLA(1) Chair Yiannopoulos’ own recent words finally being acknowledged for once, and finally Laurie Penny’s post-mortem.

But amusing as it was, there was a background to this that infuriated me throughout: the continued treatment of Yiannopoulos and his droogs, and the validation of his odiousness as just what everyone is really thinking. It peeked through in Penny’s reluctant tenderness for “Peter Pan” and the “Lost Boys,” but it was shoved front and centre in Bill Maher’s handling of him.

Milo Y constantly spouts racist, misogynist, ableist, transphobic shit, but the (alt-)Right only flinched when he sounded too much like their idea of gayness. They don’t give a shit about protecting children but they do have a knee-jerk reaction for the Gay Man Preying On Their Sons. BFD, nothing new in the Log Cabin’s closets; but we, the liberals, #TheResistance, we should not normalize any of this. I was appalled to hear Maher join in the denigration and mockery of trans persons rather than tell Milo he’s not edgy — just a narcissist piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be humoured. Thank you, Larry Wilmore, for taking the burden on yourself.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to come to grips with the Maher type of liberal, spouting old garbage like it’s 1974 or something. Look at them in the face or in the mirror: the privileged, gated community, comfy, bougie liberals; the not-my-backyard, not-my-problem liberals; the All-Lives-Matter liberals; the white women who voted for trump; the TERFs and the SWERFs; the “race realists”; the I-got-mine-Jack liberals.

Fuck ’em.

Let’s not BE them. Let’s not be this clueless, let’s not insulate ourselves in our little corner of privilege like a bit of blanket allowed by those hogging all the riches and power. Let’s respect human beings as we want to be respected. Let’s fight to protect the rights of women, persons of colour, refugees, children, DREAMers, disabled people, trans persons, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, LGBTQ, and any number of artificial divisions I’m forgetting right now.

Trans persons are not confused: they want to be treated like full human beings, be protected from assault, and have their bodily autonomy respected.

Black people and persons of colour are not reverse-racists: they want to be able to get decent education, employment and housing, their children to have the same chance of surviving a police encounter as if they were white, and a shot at the famed American Dream every once in a goddamn while.

People advocating for marriage equality are not asking for new rights: they just want to form a family on their own terms with the same protections heterosexuals receive under the law, including some simple peace of mind.

Refugees are not terrorists: they’re fleeing terrorism, state-sponsored violence, persecution, famine and other calamities, and they get extensively vetted before they are even allowed a visa.

Immigrants are not rapists and murderers: they’re hard-working people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families in a country that shows them little but contempt but is all too happy to exploit them for cheap labour.

Muslim beliefs are not any more threatening than Catholic, or Baptist, or Latter-Day Saint ones: the Quran speaks words that are dang similar to those of the Bible or the Book of Mormon.

People with disabilities are not a burden, nor are they inspirational: they’re us(2), needing to marshal our strength and use life hacks when it’s not a hip Buzzfeed article.

And cis women do not need need to be protected by the law from trans women — they need to be protected from cis men. Their rights, their autonomy, their safety, their health care, their paycheck need to be protected from greedy old cis men in Congress and in the White House.

What part of this is hard to understand?


(1) National American Milo-Boy Love Association. Return.


Edit:

(2) I woke up at 2am, remembering this sentence and hating it. It sounds like I’m comparing living with a disability to having a bad day; that’s not what I intended. What I mean is that people with disabilities are ordinary folks like us us, not strange others, and that many of us will deal with disabilities in our own lives at some point; moreover, much of the help required — for example, under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) — is very modest, not the insurmountable barrier some people imagine. Return.

Come at me, 2017

2017As you might have guessed, the last several weeks have been harder on my morale than my body. The last stretch of the American presidential election was hugely stress-inducing, and the results were soul-crushing. I know my friends know what I’m talking about, I heard it in their words and read it in their posts. Except for the most upbeat of topics — my gaming group, Thanksgiving, and the good progress in my treatment — I have been unable to write anything in over eight weeks. I keep thinking of words in my head, it’s all there, but I’ve been unable to put them down in writing.

Two months ago, I was cautiously optimistic. I thought we would probably get a weak Clinton victory, then some incremental building on the cautious progress made under the Obama administration; against this backdrop, I was expecting to focus a lot of energy on my geek communities, and particularly the gaming community, as I returned to health.

Then the world changed. I’m still not ready to unpack this event, but the result is that people previously known as “Gamergators,” “MRAs,” “pissing booth warriors” and “some racist trolls in the bottom drawer of the Internet” now feel emboldened to take their assholiness for a stroll in real space. Suddenly, it’s not just in a few compartments of our lives that we can meet with acts of hatred from people we don’t even know. After what most of us considered a shitty year, 2017 looks like it will be even worse. I met January 1st more downcast and apprehensive than I ever have in my life.

My backlog of writing is not helped by the fact that I feel I will be discussing many unpleasant topics this year. Indeed, in late October and early November before I sank into depression, I was planning to start writing a series tackling some of the successes, failures, and possible paths forward for diversity in tabletop gaming and related geeky pursuits. I feel this is more needed now than ever, but I don’t know how much justice I will be able to do to the topics.

Nevertheless, I can’t just roll over and play dead. It’s not the first time I have dealt with depression, and I will deal with it this time again. In fact, I was hit by a wave at about the same time the year before, when my kind and benevolent employer unilaterally cut my hours and stripped me of my benefits. You know what got me out of the ditch? Cancer. That’s right, sometimes it’s not an improvement in circumstances that serves as the ladder to climb out of a hole, but a disaster you have to respond to. And 2017 looks to be quite the disaster, so I might as well hold on to that to climb.

Happy New Year, folks. Me, I take pride in the fact that I managed to write this post without too much profanity.

How to discourage me from playing your game: Part 3

AaaarghThis is the third of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances. In this section I focus on their ease of use at the game table. I’m not talking about system choices and mechanics, but strictly about how well the book supports game play.

3. Use in Play

At the game table, the reader will be trying to find specific information quickly, particularly rules information.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game: Part 3”

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2

Aw-noThis is the second of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Naturally, a single mistake probably won’t do it unless it’s ginormous and egregious, but a few too many and I’ll move on to the next game on my long wish list.

2. Readability

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances.

  • The leisurely reading you do on the bus when you just received your book from a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The selective reading you do to familiarize yourself with the setting and make a character for next Friday’s meeting with your gaming group.
  • The studious reading your friend is doing to prep for that same game as game-master.
  • The frantic reading in the middle of a game session to locate a particular piece of information or interpret a rule.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to address all these needs; for example, a book may be perfectly well organized to present the setting information in an orderly fashion, but make it a nightmare to retrieve in a hurry at the game table. Today, I want to examine the ease of reading proper, all the kinds of reading we do when we are not actually playing.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2”

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 1

Scary-BookI’m a gaming junkie, especially where it comes to role-playing games. I’ve been gaming for decades, I have played or run at least 177 RPGs as of this writing, not counting different editions, playtests, or homebrews, and my shelves are overflowing with more I have yet to play. All this to say, I want to love your game. But it’s amazing how many published games still turn me right off because of mistakes that could be avoided with moderate effort, and sometimes even quite easily.

Not that that writing games is that easy, I know! There will be competing objectives, budget and schedule considerations, and so forth. But there are also some elements that can be incorporated in the planning, and hurdles that are make-or-break. In our cottage industry of devoted hobbyists, some mistakes are being made over and over. Even free games can be ruined so thoroughly by some of these mistakes that they lose the chance for a good review, which can’t be why you’re putting them out there!

One big challenge for game publishers is that there are several ways to approach the reader or, if you want, several opportunities to lose a gamer, so let’s look at them separately.

I’ll post the other sections over the the next few days.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 1”

All in one: Homophobia, Racism, Misogyny

pulseFirst, my deepest condolences to all those affected by the terrible murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There is nothing comparable to the chilling, senseless grief left by such an event.

I woke up early this morning and saw the sad news about yet another damn mass shooting, this time targeting a gay bar on Pride Month. And I also was warned by the CNN headline that called it “terrorism” — I knew somewhere in the article I would discover that the shooter had brown skin and might have read the Quran at some point. Reading the article confirmed this, before any names or details had even been released.

A violent crime motivated by homophobia, and reported with blithely oblivious racism.

I went back to bed for several hours, knowing that today would suck.

When I got up for real, I checked the news outlets for details. By then we had a name, Omar Mateen, and selfies for the shooter, some background, and a body count revised horribly upwards.

We learned that Omar Mateen had worked as a licensed security guard and a guard in a juvenile detention center, had a concealed carry permit, and had obtained his assault weapon and handgun legally. But he also had a history of domestic violence — what a great idea to allow him to own firearms!

And a few hours later yet, the media have come up with their narrative: they’re biting hard into the Islamic terrorism meme because Mateen, twenty minutes into his hostage-taking and shooting spree, called 911 to claim his actions were in the name of ISIS/ISIL. Now they’re pulling on tenuous threads to weave a better connection, ignoring the massive amount of information we have that report him as a man with a fixation for wielding authority through force, the kind of man who wants to become a police officer for the wrong reasons and fails, the kind of man who uses domestic violence and destroys his marriage then becomes angry and resentful, a man who got agitated and angry just for seeing two men kiss on television.

But no, let’s confidently talk about connections to Islamic terrorism and not about the painfully ordinary tale of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and ridiculously lax gun laws. And let’s do it in a racist way, because terrorism can only be performed by brown people called Omar, not by white men from Indiana called James.

How to tell the candidates what to do

 BSanders-HClinton2Last night my husband and friends voted in the California primary in what was dubbed this year “Super Tuesday IV” of the U.S. presidential election, then we watched the returns with friends. (I don’t get to vote but my naturalization process should be complete in time to vote in the November elections.)

Early in the evening I started seeing acrimonious posts on social media between friends who supported Bernie Sanders and friends who supported Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. Some are saying “It’s over, Mr. Sanders, get behind the presumptive nominee;” which really means “STFU Bernie supporters, support my candidate.” The latter answer with “Our candidate said he was in until the national convention in July, he’s not going to fold now,” which really means “No you STFU, I’ll support who I want to.”

I understand both sides and they both have good points, but I find the bickering infuriating. Besides, the votes and in the candidates have announced their decisions — social media rants are not going to change that. So I’m going to tell you what to do too, and it involves reaching out to your candidate instead of antagonizing your friends. Continue reading “How to tell the candidates what to do”

Women as Action Heroes: Supply and Demand

ST1

We’ve heard about a number of prodigiously insulting marketing decisions at the intersection of merchandising, pop culture and genre fiction, such as the disappearance of Black Widow from lines of Avengers merchandise and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise. It’s been made clear that boys are the target market for toys. But do you ever wonder if it’s not also a deliberate ploy to manipulate supply and demand for price gouging?

We just learned that to mark the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek series, CBS has licensed toy company Mattel to produce a line of Barbie-style dolls based on Lieutenant Uhura, Captain Kirk, and Commander Spock. I immediately checked on Amazon, because I want Lt. Uhura on my desk! But I discovered that she’s unavailable, even though the other two can be purchased just fine for $34.99 each.

Uhura-doll

StarTrek50th-dollsWhat gives?

But Amazon went on to offer me other lopsided-deals on memorabilia Barbie-like dolls. How about Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman figures based on the recent movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Hey, good news: all three are available. And priced at…

Wait, what? Continue reading “Women as Action Heroes: Supply and Demand”