Gatekeeping Part II: The OG (Original Gatekeeping)

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
A particularly surprising, vicious, and pernicious form of gatekeeping that I hadn't seen in some time recently reared its ugly head, causing me to reflect on a subject. I thought I'd start by proffering this analogy which I find helpful.

There's two concepts that I find helpful when I think of attempts to exclude people from TTRPGs; the ideas of de jure and de facto. Let's examine what they mean.

De jure means "by right" and is contrasted by de facto which is "by fact" or "by practice." In America, you often see this when describing discrimination or segregation, but it can be applied in all sorts of circumstances.

To give a simple, easy-to-understand example that moves away from contentious legal-isms, imagine you that there is a kids clubhouse.

If the kids have a sign on the door that says, "No girls allowed" then that would be an example of a de jure prohibition on girls.
If, on the other hand, the kids had a custom that only kids with short hair would be allowed (knowing that it was the custom in that area that boys had short hair and girls had long hair), then that would be a de facto prohibition on girls. Technically, girls could be allowed (so long as they have short hair) but in fact, they won't be allowed.

This difference is reflected in the quote by Anatole France, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." It is important to be conscious of the way that seemingly-neutral rules can effect people in different ways.

I am reminded of this distinction when it comes to issues of gatekeeping in the TTRPGs. It is rare to non-existent for there to be de jure gatekeeping or discrimination. Which is no small thing! Getting rid of express barriers to entry, while the bare minimum, is still a worthy achievement. But I think most of us would b hard-pressed to find examples, today, of "no girls allowed" and you'd have to go back quite some time to even find unfortunate comments like, "Gaming in general is a male thing. It isn't that gaming is designed to exclude women. Everybody who's tried to design a game to interest a large female audience has failed. And I think that has to do with the different thinking processes of men and women."

Which leads to the issue of de facto gatekeeping. This is when people who play the games that we all love make assertions about what the game "is" in a way that seeks to exclude other people. Which brings me to my first experience with gatekeeping.

When I was but a wee player learning to play D&D, there was a lot of pushback by the OGs (original gatekeepers, original Grognards) toward us young whippersnappers playing silly fantasy RPGs. Real gamers, real nerds played wargames. They did artillery distances. And sea battles. And painted miniatured, and made towns, and did historical accuracy. Us, with our "dragons" and "elves" and "hit points" and narrating combat? Yeah, we weren't real gamers. At that point, no one was even using the term "Theater of the Mind," but that's what caused the explosion of new players into D&D. Very few people could afford and play with a full set of miniatures, but everyone could get some dice, paper and pencil, and tell a story. So insisting on "one right way" was essentially an exclusionary maneuver that would necessarily limit the hobby. Thankfully, it didn't work.

And I was reminded of this because I see that, today, a lot of new people are playing D&D; many of them are not within the "traditional" mold- we are attracting a lot of people that are new to the game, and have new stories that they want to tell; people that don't come from the traditional, white male background that many came from over history (not that there's anything wrong with that). And so many of them learn to play through TOTM. Which is wonderful and amazing.

I recounted a while back how a group that I taught 5e split off, and were (among other things) running their own, completely narrative dice-less D&D game during their lunch breaks at high school. HOW COOL IS THAT? It's so very cool. IMO. Is it D&D? Sure! It might not be the D&D I know, or fully understand, or even that I taught them, but it's their D&D, and their stories. And they will grow and add things to the hobby.

Which brings us back to the original point. I was duly shocked to see someone saying that D&D has to be complex, and real D&D can't be TOTM, not just because it's the type of gatekeeping I thought was abandoned long ago, but it's just another iteration of the impulse toward needless excluding new generations of players. I mean, I wish I was the future of the game, but I'm not. The best I (and many of the people reading this) is to act as a good steward to attract even more new people to the game so that, in the end:

1. They make the game their own; and
2. they internalize the true, terrible nature of Paladins.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Not sure I have much to add. I will say I am encouraged the high school D&D club I run has great attendance and 50% or more are young women.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing that D&D is expanding to new players. Everyone should get a chance to enjoy it.

...then again, I'd probably be doing miniatures if I was as good at creating them and painting as you! :)
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Which brings us back to the original point. I was duly shocked to see someone saying that D&D has to be complex, and real D&D can't be TOTM, not just because it's the type of gatekeeping I thought was abandoned long ago, but it's just another iteration of the impulse toward needless excluding new generations of players. I mean, I wish I was the future of the game, but I'm not. The best I (and many of the people reading this) is to act as a good steward to attract even more new people to the game so that, in the end:
This kind of strikes me as a semantic debate as much as a gatekeeping debate (although enforcing linguistic standards is also a good way to gatekeep!) Assuming one doesn't formally adopt another system, can one drift D&D so far so as not to be D&D? Or does any TTRPG activity loosely derived from D&D still count? Or is this a case where trying to derive a formal definition doesn't even matter? (This is what I lean towards.)
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
This kind of strikes me as a semantic debate as much as a gatekeeping debate (although enforcing linguistic standards is also a good way to gatekeep!) Assuming one doesn't formally adopt another system, can one drift D&D so far so as not to be D&D? Or does any TTRPG activity loosely derived from D&D still count? Or is this a case where trying to derive a formal definition doesn't even matter? (This is what I lean towards.)
Mmm... I think the more interesting question (for me) is what is the impulse that causes people to need to classify what other people do as either D&D or not D&D?
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Mmm... I think the more interesting question (for me) is what is the impulse that causes people to need to classify what other people do as either D&D or not D&D?
I posted about this briefly in one of the other threads, but I think the desire to fix language into strictly defined meanings comes from a psychological desire for authority and purity.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Mmm... I think the more interesting question (for me) is what is the impulse that causes people to need to classify what other people do as either D&D or not D&D?
True Scotsmanism I think.

I actually think I hit upon something in another thread that never registered to me before I thought of it. Gatekeeping is the moral guardianship of D&D.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker
Mmm... I think the more interesting question (for me) is what is the impulse that causes people to need to classify what other people do as either D&D or not D&D?
In my case, it's not about other people Doing It Wrong, or excluding anyone. I've played enough TTRPGs to know there are many ways to skin the various necessary cats. If people talk about "playing D&D" and it turns out they're not using what is arguably the core mechanic of D&D (rolling dice), I'm probably going to feel as though they aren't, in fact, playing D&D. Once we (or at least I) know what we're talking about, there can be a conversation that can accomplish something. It doesn't feel like True Scotsmanism to me, but YMMV.
 
I posted about this briefly in one of the other threads, but I think the desire to fix language into strictly defined meanings comes from a psychological desire for authority and purity.
Fixed definitions very much index authority when youre the one doing the fixing. Authority equals control, and from thence gatekeeping. Those definitions are slippery buggers though and they tend to shift under argumentative weight at the worst moments. I'm trying to stick to you do you and I'll do me for these convos.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
In my case, it's not about other people Doing It Wrong, or excluding anyone. I've played enough TTRPGs to know there are many ways to skin the various necessary cats. If people talk about "playing D&D" and it turns out they're not using what is arguably the core mechanic of D&D (rolling dice), I'm probably going to feel as though they aren't, in fact, playing D&D. Once we (or at least I) know what we're talking about, there can be a conversation that can accomplish something. It doesn't feel like True Scotsmanism to me, but YMMV.
...hmm.

So let's try this out.

Person A: I play D&D.

Person B: Me too! Tell me about your game!

A: Well, I modified the Amber Diceless roleplaying mechanics and incorporated it ...

B: Wait. You don't use dice when you play D&D?

A: No, like I was saying, for the D&D that we are playing, I modified the mechanics from the ...

B: Woah pardner! Before we talk anymore, we need to get our definitions straight! I'll be happy to talk to you about your game, but only if you don't refer to it as "D&D." Because it might be fine ... for you ... but it sure isn't D&D.

A: ¯\(ツ)


I may be exaggerating a little and having a bit of fun, but I hope that the point in clear. I don't think that there is much value added in that exchange. "D&D" has taken so many forms that I don't think it's particularly helpful to exclude people, especially enthusiastic new players, based on one's own definitions.

Don't prescribe what something is. Instead, share your joy, and see if it takes. If you think rolling dice is what matters, then share your joy of rolling dice. :)
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker
"I've found that diceless mechanics and the rules-light, narrative-heavy games (such as FATE) which they've inspired don't work as well for me, because they put me in the position as a player of wanting my character to fail, and they seem to call for a GM to be less of a collaborator with the players, and in many ways force the players to be more competitive than cooperative. I'm curious how you fit such subjective mechanics into something like D&D, which still occasionally shows its wargame roots."

See, you stopped getting my part in the conversation anything like right by the second line.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Oddly, I was reading Amber this morning in the quest for crunch ideas (how weird does that sound?).
....woah!

I have incorporated a fair amount of Amber mechanics into my D&D games to streamline the process, but it's more for rule of thumb, decision-making, flow. Not sure I'd use it for crunch. :)
 

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
Let it be said, before anything, else, that I hate Paladins, but I love and play Paladins often...

And, although I hate TOTM, it's great that others enjoy it and want to play using it!
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
See, you stopped getting my part in the conversation anything like right by the second line.
Eh, that's fine. That's a conversation. I'll call your attention to what you wrote above:

If people talk about "playing D&D" and it turns out they're not using what is arguably the core mechanic of D&D (rolling dice), I'm probably going to feel as though they aren't, in fact, playing D&D.

You are entitled to your feelies, but things get, um, DICEY when you start telling people that "they aren't, in fact, playing D&D."

Hehe. Dicey.
 
....woah!

I have incorporated a fair amount of Amber mechanics into my D&D games to streamline the process, but it's more for rule of thumb, decision-making, flow. Not sure I'd use it for crunch. :)
Well, crunch and whatever. Mechanics are fine, I love making and using them, but sometimes it's more about the narrative tools, or a combination of the two. For example, in a recent Blades in the Dark conversion to 5E the author connected inspiration dice with the ability to use BitD style flashbacks, which I thought was bloody brilliant. Anyway, that sort of thing, just trolling for inspiration. Amber and Burning Wheel have been my light reading for that lately.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker
Eh, that's fine. That's a conversation. I'll call your attention to what you wrote above:

If people talk about "playing D&D" and it turns out they're not using what is arguably the core mechanic of D&D (rolling dice), I'm probably going to feel as though they aren't, in fact, playing D&D.

You are entitled to your feelies, but things get, um, DICEY when you start telling people that "they aren't, in fact, playing D&D."

Hehe. Dicey.
Fair. They're playing a heavily-houseruled version, probably so heavily-houseruled that any conversation would focus on that. OTOH, my own games are heavily-houseruled, too, just in a different direction. I ... think, and I might argue, that my games are more recognizable as D&D to more people who play D&D as D&D. That doesn't mean that anyone is doing anything wrong.
 

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