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.

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Day 15, Cycle 5: Representation

I had an interesting reading experience yesterday. I’d been waiting for a certain graphic novel to be on sale and it suddenly was, so I downloaded it. The first page hit me like a ton of bricks, and I thought “She’s like me!

I remember being a kid, of course, and being excited when I could find adventure books featuring girls. And I keep picking up and circulating stories on social media, illustrating how important representation is. But I didn’t expect at my age to feel it again as a raw emotional response. And that’s only a small taste of what it is to a child — maybe a girl, brown-skinned, amputee, autistic, trans — who sees themselves represented for the first time!

It gave me a fresh desire to help in any way I can to lift the cloak of invisibility society has thrown on too many people.

ComicsNChemo

Deaf as a stone

dice and pawns

An open letter to a commenter on this blog, and to the like-minded.

Dear Pierre,

FrankieYou are vocally against inclusiveness in games, as you have made clear both in your comments on my earlier post and in the discussion thread that had partly inspired it. When you started posting on my blog on Sunday, I allowed the comments through because I try to let the conversation flow as long as it remains civil, because I harbour silly hopes of good-faith discussion of serious issues, and because I don’t mind allowing people to be damned by their own words and deeds. I may also have been lulled into false hope because like me, you are French Canadian so I expected more meeting of the minds. But you’re skirting dangerous close to outright name-calling so I must attempt to bring this delightful exchange to a productive conclusion.

I’m not sure why you’re posting here. Unfortunately for my resilient idealism, you don’t seem to be here to engage in a fair-minded discussion. It doesn’t look from your words like you read the posts you were commenting on, nor the points that had been presented by various commenters on the original thread. When one of your arguments is demolished, you continue just repeating it until people have so thoroughly beaten it into the ground that it’s embarrassing, then you move to another flawed argument but you don’t bother acknowledging that your points have been rebutted.

This shows that your conclusions are not based on your arguments, since the arguments can be rebutted and your conclusions are untouched. Instead, you use whatever you have at hand to try to prop up your conclusions, namely that making efforts to address gamers who are not able-bodied straight white cis men is an affront to the latter, the only “true” gamers. Is there anything anyone could say or do that would lead you to say “Oh, I had not thought of that, or I didn’t know that, you make a good point?” I doubt it.

So the very essence of good-faith discussion is missing. You’re not here to exchange, but to restate your grievances. Do you harbour hope of changing my mind, or any of my readers’? If you did, you would try to convince rather than ignore and evade, wouldn’t you? And that requires listening as well as talking.

GemmaBut not only have you failed to make any valid points; you have failed to convince me or anyone else of the importance of your cause (able-bodied straight white cis men) compared to mine (inclusiveness). You see, there is no shortage of games, books, movies, comics, television shows and other fiction and non-fiction showing your constituency in starring roles; in fact, it’s hard to find anything else. Why do you object to a few depictions and mentions of anyone else?

The form of your comments suggests that you don’t know anyone who doesn’t look like you and you have convinced yourself that they do not exist. But I know real gamers, real people who are hurt by this forced invisibility. You have spent your efforts trying to keep difference at bay; I’ve spent mine — years of gaming and organizing conventions in many cities — trying to open the gaming community to newcomers. I started on this path because I wanted to spread a hobby I dearly love; now it has brought me in contact with a vast circle of fantastic gamers and even more wonderful friends. I sit at the table with people who are disabled, trans, non-white, people of different orientations and genders and origins, and we have memorable adventures in our shared imagined worlds. Saying no to inclusive language and illustrations is saying no to real people.

Is this really who you want to be, the guy who holds the gate against women, minorities, and marginalized people? This is your cause? “At least I defended futuristic super-submarines from wheelchair users and trans people”?

Cancer constellation in a circleI don’t think you bothered to read anything on my blog, but if you did you may have noticed that in the weeks since you started this kerfuffle, I’ve had to face my own mortality. My treatment is proceeding but the carcinoma is described as “aggressive”, so I have to seriously address the fact that I may not be here for very long. I asked myself whether it was worth bothering with stupid little game-related flame wars with the rest of my time.

And the answer is “Fuck yeah.”

Every day of our lives, we must act as the people we want to be if we want to be remembered that way. If I’m going into the ground soon, I want to leave the memory of one who tried to hold the door open for others to get in, not the one who closed the gates.

It saddens me that you prefer to be “sourd comme les pierres.”

Dive, Dive, Dive!

cover of Deep Dark BlueWelp, having used the example of the Frankie West character from Deep Dark Blue (Evil Hat Productions) in yesterday’s post, I was then haunted once again by the wish to play or run in that kind of setting. (I loved Fantasy Flight Games’ Blue Planet v2 way back when). I loaded the first season of seaQuest DSV on Netflix, and longingly thumbed through David Brin’s Startide Rising.

FrankieAfter the stupid kerfuffle about whether you could have a character who uses a wheelchair on a science fiction submarine, and looking at Streaker and seaQuest built to accommodate frickin’ dolphins throughout their length, I want to yell at people who lack both empathy and imagination. Even as I wish I could play right this minute!

seaQuest_layout
Darwin the dolphin swam everywhere on seaQuest!

How can you not see how great it would be to have someone like this:

Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS) - January 2010 trip
Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS) – January 2010 trip

Popping out on the bridge or in the lab alongside this dolphin:

Winter the dolphin with a prosthetic tail
Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tail

I swear as soon as I get a chance, I will play this character. How is that not the coolest thing in the middle of a big battle scene for the character to unlock their powered wheelchair from the gunner station, dive into the nearest moon pool opening, swim to the lab, get the macguffin, dive back in, zip to the torpedo bay, fix the problem, and swim back to their station?


Credits: Illustration by Arthur Asa taken from Deep Dark Blue, © 2016 Evil Hat Productions. SeaQuest layout from seaQuest V play-by-email sim by Crazynexus. Photo of diver © 2010 Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS). Photo of Winter the dolphin © 2008 Barry Bland.

 

Inclusiveness in games (Part 2): Doing our best

—This is Part 2 of a reflection on the efforts made towards inclusiveness in the role-playing game subculture and by extension, in related geek subcultures. You can read Part 1, where I talk about the background of this push for inclusiveness, here. Holy shit, I think I made it way too long but I really tried to make this constructive.

Caucasian AdventuresLet’s move on to what we can do about our own knee-jerk reactions to change in the face of pushes for inclusiveness. I’m addressing a reader who does not want to deliberately exclude anyone from our gaming hobby on the basis of gender, race, religion, orientation, disability, and so forth, but is nonetheless bristling at some of this newfangled stuff.

How far should we go in the name of inclusiveness?

TL;DR: As far as we can.

Continue reading “Inclusiveness in games (Part 2): Doing our best”

Inclusiveness in games (Part 1)

GemmaAll right, today is a long snark-free post (really!) about the efforts made towards inclusiveness in the role-playing game subculture and by extension, in related geek subcultures. Some people may recognize their point of view and even their own words in the examples I will use. If this is you, please understand that I am not mocking you or criticizing you. I am spotlighting attitudes and underlying assumptions in our geeky hobby that too often remain unexamined.

I want to address people who are not already entrenched in an opinion but do feel jostled by new language and new attitudes promoting inclusiveness. I’ll providing some background in this first part, then in the subsequent ones I will discuss some recent examples and use them to illustrate solutions, i.e., how I suggest we, as individual gamers, approach those moments when we feel jostled.

In a society where women get paid three-quarters of what a man makes and where people of colour are at risk of being jailed or even shot just for existing, some game publishers are now releasing books showing not only women and non-white persons in a variety of roles but also characters who are explicitly gay, trans, non-binary, disabled, aged, fat, or from other previously ignored groups. They may use weird pronouns like the singular “they”, “s/he”, “xe”, or “zhe” for certain characters.  In real-space, game event organizers are posting codes of conduct, declaring bathrooms to be non-gendered, adding braille signs, and similar actions intended to signal inclusiveness.

A lot of of this can be shocking if you face it for the first time in your life. As such gestures become more frequent, game books, stores or conventions can look very different from what they were decades ago. The question can be raised: how far should we go toward inclusiveness and representation of groups that appear to be tiny minorities in an already small subculture?

Continue reading “Inclusiveness in games (Part 1)”