Dnd, Masks, and the Exploration of identity

Interesting article from the London Review of Books on the appeal of TTRPGs in 2022

A lot of those people turned out to be trans. Tabletop role-playing games such as D&D (TTRPGs, for short) give players the chance to inhabit bodies and lives not their own. Unlike most video games, TTRPGs let us do so with friends, in real time, with no limits imposed by what a programmer may anticipate or what a designer can put onscreen. You can’t have a talking echidna in a video game unless the programmers have inserted it. But you can have one in any TTRPG, if the game master can confect monotreme-friendly rules. In the same way, you can have whatever body you like, any build and appearance, if the game master and the other players accept it. In particular, as the chemist and gamer Amy Proudman recently explained, ‘characters [are] chances to try out different ideals of gender.’ She’s written – and she’s far from alone – about how D&D helped her come out.
TTRPGs like D&D or Masks can set up classic psychodrama, allowing us to work out in a made-up setting what we hope to manage in real life. The game designer Robin Laws classifies stories, and moments within stories, as either procedural (characters try to accomplish a concrete end – capture the leopard, solve the murder) or dramatic (characters change one another through their interactions). A James Bond film is almost all procedural; Pride and Prejudice is mostly dramatic. Hamlet mixes the two. D&D and most of its offspring focus on the procedural; Masks stands out for the ways in which its rules encourage dramatic play instead. Where D&D characters have Strength and Dexterity, the attributes in Masks represent characters’ feelings and their sense of themselves: Saviour (how much they want to defend other people), Mundane (how much they relate to others as equals), Danger (how willing they are to throw, or take, a punch). Every dice roll is a chance to consider emotional dilemmas: how they arise, how to solve them, what to do if they get in the way during a stakeout or a siege – or a tumultuous work meeting.

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Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
In particular, as the chemist and gamer Amy Proudman recently explained, ‘characters [are] chances to try out different ideals of gender.’ She’s written – and she’s far from alone – about how D&D helped her come out.

I have more than a sneaking suspicion this occurred for one of my Cyberpunk players back in the 1990s. She was playing a gay male helicopter pilot in a CP 2020 Cops campaign. The following term, she came out as a lesbian.
Fascinating article. I’ve been reading about Masks a lot lately and may be shortly giving it a try.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
As Erika Ishii said in an interview with Brennan Lee Mulligan on his show Adventuring Academy, “My characters started dating girls before I did”.

For me it was playing characters that were bisexual, and while I’m not trans, I have grown much more comfortable not caring about my gender presentation and related stuff as I’ve played more female characters.

Not to mention playing characters who are dealing with trauma and cognitive disorders, and the fact I’ve gained or refined tools because of those characters.

It’s also just fun as a person with severe ADHD, and significant anxiety, and depression, with pretty bad physical overstimulation sensitivity, to play a Shadar-kai monk with a dry humor when level and unhinged humor when manic, who sometimes sleeps in a sensory deprivation tank and other times wakes up after a multi-day blackout. He’s all my problems and all my talents and strengths turned up to 14, and because I love his brain every day, I immediately am Khalid when I sit down to play him, even though he is certainly different from me. It’s fun and helpful.


There is an essay in a book that I have - Queer Game Studies - that talks about trans and non-binary people exploring their gender through video games. My partner partially realized that they were trans (and gay) through video games as well, though this was before I met them. The idea that TTRPGs empower a similar queer exploration of gender and/or sexual identities through character creation and play seems pretty obvious.

aramis erak

A bit tangential, but I've noticed similar things with running games with Autistic teens. It gives them a form of social practice, as well as seeing that you can make good decisions but still lose. That's just life. (Star Trek quote in there somewhere, I think.)
Not quote, but paraphrase of JL Picard...

  • Captain Jean-Luc Picard : "It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life."


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