Sexism in Table-Top Gaming: My Thoughts On It, and What We Can Do About It

Hammerforge

Explorer
Originally Posted by Hammerforge
Regarding the OP: Personally, I haven't seen this issue arise in any games I've been in, and I certainly wouldn't condone any disrespectful behavior toward anyone in a game session. But I wonder: What's next--legislation to govern what can and cannot be done at the game table in a private residence?

I never said that a "one size fits all" ban was the ideal approach.

And I never claimed you did. My point was that the kind of thinking displayed in the article is the kind of thinking behind legislation that ensures equality. Such legislation is good, but I also wonder if it could get to the point that a DM who allows a strength cap for women, for example, could be legally accused of committing a hate crime.

When it comes to private gaming sessions, I suggested in "Confronting Problematic Behavior at the Table" that players and DMs discuss problems where players feel uncomfortable and/or unwelcome, and to speak up when players start treating other players badly.

I agree completely. In far too many games I've played in and run, what I've noticed is that people tend to choose the path of least resistance by keeping silent about something that troubles them instead of telling the DM directly or the DM confronting the troublemaker. One of my players bowed out of my campaign a while back under the pretext of having to spend more time with his newborn son. I suspected there was more to it than that since it isn't difficult to commit to a once-per-month game session. After a hiatus I started up the campaign again--without inviting back a couple of problem players. Guess what? That same player rejoined the game and only then told me that he had been offended by something one or both of those problem players had said, something I had not been aware of.

And to be careful in the handling of certain subjects; not a ban, but to treat it with more care and sensitivity than most other things in a session. For example, if one of your players is an arachnophobe, you might not want to run a spider-themed dungeon with corpses in cocoons without consulting with said player first.

Or I would tell the player in advance that he/she would be better served in another game, and I would expect that player to tell me about said phobia up front before the campaign begins.
 
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Hammerforge

Explorer
Also, something about the OP that made me think was something it did not take into account (unless I missed it): the objectification of women via distinctly sexually alluring images. I've seen quite a number of illustrations in RPG rulebooks and supplementary material that are clearly intended to present women in a way that resembles softcore porn: scantily clad and posing in such a way as to be sexually alluring. The mind-set behind this kind of artwork is to portray women as nothing more than sex objects, not human beings to respect but objects to use for the sole purpose of sexual gratification. While rape scenes are obviously far worse, the mind-set underlying the two is the same: The female is not seen as a human being worthy of respect, love, and a relationship, but rather a sex toy to use and discard when one's lust has been satiated.
 

And lastly, as the final step in my logic, anyone who insists that a game encode mechanical gender equality in its rules is a sexist and worthy of condemnation. It is of course acceptable to fantasize about or imagine a world were this holds true, or to dodge the issue entirely by noting that the realistic strength cap for both genders is well above what is allowed for a starting character of either gender and so such a rule serves no purpose. In point of fact, all the games I've created and rules sets I've created are pretty much games of this sort.* But to accept that all views of reality must assert the anti-rational, anti-historical, and ultimately sexist view that men and women have always been equals in war, as if the real value of a person was their upper body strength and martial virtue, and what was really empowering was to portray women in the comfortable role of men with breasts, is wholly and entirely sexist. It is a threat to the emotional and mental well-being of my female loved ones, friends and family, to assert that the real standard on whether you respect women is whether you show them as being equal butt kickers to men, to say little of what I think that says about our attitude to violence. I will not tolerate it and I will call it out.
Except as I said earlier the concept of gender and sex historically was never set in this rigid structure. Hell there were entire societies where men and women would fight together on equal terms. Ergo, its pretty sexist to try and justify your entire argument because it has nothing to do with historical precedence.
 

mythago

Adventurer
Before I get too much further down this speculation and what I think it means, let me just stop and say, "Does your model of what is being discussed match what I think it does?"

At the risk of sounding Super Unhelpful, I didn't have either as a specific 'model' in mind, both because sexism in tabletop gaming is broader than those two models and because specific subsets of sexism, e.g. "Fake Geek Girl" policing, include behavior not described in either model.

Addressing only the second model you describe (given that I doubt we disagree at all on the first), it's true that the second model is more ambiguous, and it's true that it is more nuanced; sexism can be blatant, it can be unconscious or clueless. Where I would respectfully disagree is with your putting yourself into the shoes of the woman being given the Trivia Quiz treatment. First, as you've said, you personally have a particular point of view where you are extremely reluctant to label behavior as sexist unless it is very blatant, as in your first model, and you are very inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. You decry people who see everything through the lens of -isms, but most people, I submit, do not fall into one extreme or the other. Second, your model does not consider that this may be far from the first time that the gamer in question has run into this scenario, or others like it. So the problem is not just "this one time, this thing happened", but a pattern. If a female gamer only runs into Bob the Jerk one time out of ten while gaming, or attending cons, that may not sound too bad; it's a minority of jerks, right? But that still means that ten percent of her interactions are having to divert energy to this nonsense - energy she wouldn't have to spend but for the fact of being female.

And, at the risk of being a broken record, issues of sexism go well beyond Fake Geek Girl policing.


And also, just because I am firmly disagree with you, does not mean that I am ranting, or any of the other ways you have chosen to characterize my posts. I have not called you stupid. I have not called you dishonest.

In fact, you have accused me of arguing dishonestly, stating that I refuse to acknowledge arguments that I "don't apparently want to hear", that I am falsely claiming moral authority, that I dismissed your arguments because of your gender, and that I am anti-free-speech. I'm happy to have a respectful discussion, even if we disagree, but you're right: there's probably not much use in continuing a conversation where you angrily accuse me of dishonest and vile tactics, and then accuse me of lying about your having done so. As I've said repeatedly, I don't think you are doing this on purpose. But I would ask that you carefully consider what you've said and whether "you're in denial, you man-hating liar" is the best way to advance your point.


No, we can't. Just in the past few weeks I've had to deal with:

That was sloppy and inaccurate on my part, and you are quite right to call me on it. What I was referring to is your comment, linked above, in which you appeared to suggest that people talking about sexism in tabletop gaming were trying to brainwash your daughters with their sexism-paranoid feminism. To be accurate, what I should have said is that in the context of this discussion, nobody here, to my knowledge, is insisting that your daughters accept a particular political or social philosophy. As a parent myself, I am all too familiar with the problem of people trying to shove their own gender anxieties and fetishes onto other people's children.
 

mythago

Adventurer
And I never claimed you did. My point was that the kind of thinking displayed in the article is the kind of thinking behind legislation that ensures equality. Such legislation is good, but I also wonder if it could get to the point that a DM who allows a strength cap for women, for example, could be legally accused of committing a hate crime.

In the US? No, it couldn't; that is not what 'hate crimes' or how 'hate crime' laws work. Even in countries that do restrict certain speech - for example, which make it a crime to deny the Holocaust - this wouldn't fall into that category. Goodness.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I find Paizo's attempts to be inclusive rather bizarre, since D&D is founded on racism being measurably true (e.g. dwarves are genetically hardwired to be good at appraising precious metals, half-orcs are genetically stupider than humans, etc) and ethnic cleansing and crime fantasy being a common past time (e.g. breaking into the homes of goblins, orcs, gnolls and other "ugly" peoples to kill them and take their stuff).

It's very strange to me when in the game world, its okay to be racist towards elves and orcs (even killing them), but when someone is prejudiced toward black people, gay people, or female people, they're irredeemably evil as in the real world. Just because elves and orcs are fictional doesn't excuse prejudice against them or the racist way they're designed. D&D societies display this bizarre moral system where they treat their own kind with 21st century liberal attitudes, but otherwise act like conquistadors/cowboys/etc.

Hiromu Arakawa invented a new human ethnicity for her manga (Ishvalans) with dark skin, white hair and red eyes, and then proceeded to explore the prejudice against them after they were victims of genocide and the horrible struggles they faced. It definitely blew all those shallow D&D sourcebooks on races out of the water.
 

mythago

Adventurer
I find Paizo's attempts to be inclusive rather bizarre, since D&D is founded on racism being measurably true (e.g. dwarves are genetically hardwired to be good at appraising precious metals, half-orcs are genetically stupider than humans, etc) and ethnic cleansing and crime fantasy being a common past time (e.g. breaking into the homes of goblins, orcs, gnolls and other "ugly" peoples to kill them and take their stuff).

Let's not forget the drow, an irredeemably evil, demon-worshipping culture where not only was everyone actually black-skinned, but their social and political structure was matriarchal (horrors!)

D&D is rooted less in "medieval Europe" per se than in Tolkien, where all the orcs were in fact evil creations/slaves of Sauron, and not a race of humanoids with families and villages and so forth. D&D for a long time had a weird hybrid of the two, where orcs, goblins and so on were actually people, but stereotypically evil so it was OK to kill them - one of the main plot points in Order of the Stick is the genocide of goblin races by "lawful good" paladins, and showing families destroyed, children slaughtered, peaceful villages razed because well, they're evil, right? QED.

I suspect the blind spot here is less racism (which is also a problem, and deserves its own full discussion) than the way D&D looks at intelligent beings who are 'monsters'. (Yes, the dragon is evil, but it was just lolling around on its hoard minding its own business until you armored bozos walked in.)
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
And that is why I never allowed any race to be totally evil (nor good alinged people to just rob them) unless there was an ingame reason, i.e all Urukhai were created to be evil). Although I am all in favor to skip the mental ability adjustments for good.

Anyway, this is going off topic, if there is need to discuss racism/portrayal of races in RPG it needs its own thread.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Let's not forget the drow, an irredeemably evil, demon-worshipping culture where not only was everyone actually black-skinned, but their social and political structure was matriarchal (horrors!)
It would've been equally as stupid if everyone had snow white skin and were patriarchal, except detractors wouldn't have noticed. The Drow are just evil WASPs with the colors inverted.

In a parallel universe where, say, black women had colonized the world, D&D would feature white patriarchal drow and still be considered racist/sexist.
 

mythago

Adventurer
It would've been equally as stupid if everyone had snow white skin and were patriarchal

....ah, but that's the point. They weren't. (As my dad used to say, "Yeah, and if Grandma had a beard, she'd be Grandpa.") We're not in a parallel universe, we're in this one, where the evil elves are black-skinned and worship a demon goddess and are not only matriarchal, but oppressively and violently so. They're the D&D version of the ancient Greek's terrified myths about the Amazons; a society run by women? They're evil and will subjugate us!

If what you're trying to say is that everybody is bigoted and in a mirror-mirror universe it would be the opposite, um, that's a pretty hard hypothesis to test. It's also a bit beside the point. Are you trying to argue that bigotry doesn't count because, in theory, everybody in power would do it? So what? Is that some kind of claim that two wrongs (one in a fictional parallel universe) make a right?
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
Maybe, but you're from a different society altogether, one that medieval Europe/D&D is not patterned after. The relevant question is: Would she beat a typical medieval male adult in an arm-wrestling contest?

Never mind; I really don't want to get into this.
 
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BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
....ah, but that's the point. They weren't. (As my dad used to say, "Yeah, and if Grandma had a beard, she'd be Grandpa.") We're not in a parallel universe, we're in this one, where the evil elves are black-skinned and worship a demon goddess and are not only matriarchal, but oppressively and violently so. They're the D&D version of the ancient Greek's terrified myths about the Amazons; a society run by women? They're evil and will subjugate us!

If what you're trying to say is that everybody is bigoted and in a mirror-mirror universe it would be the opposite, um, that's a pretty hard hypothesis to test. It's also a bit beside the point. Are you trying to argue that bigotry doesn't count because, in theory, everybody in power would do it? So what? Is that some kind of claim that two wrongs (one in a fictional parallel universe) make a right?
No. I'm saying that societies that consist of exaggerated stereotypes are silly. Whether its drow or A Handmaid's Tale, they're equally silly.

If the Drow had been morally relativistic and less man-hating lunatics, we wouldn't be arguing how racist they are. We'd be arguing "is it morally right for drow women to force their husbands into the kitchen or to abandon their unwanted sons in the wilderness?" Seriously, sci-fi writers do this sort of thing all the time.
 

evilbob

Explorer
OP: Great thread. Definitely something that needs more discussion. Thanks for starting it. Sorry you basically have to go on the defensive for every position you're taking.

I haven't really gotten into this thread, but some of the more recent post discussions are actually handled pretty well by the OP. Here are some examples:
- Bigotry is bad. It doesn't matter if "reverse bigotry" "would" have happened or not; that doesn't justify bigotry.
- The reason why you cannot compare racism against elves to racism against black people is because elves don't exist. You can certainly explore why racism against elves might be bad in a game, but that doesn't mean that it somehow justifies additional racism against actual people who do exist. Also see: sexism.
- Men and women haven't always been considered equal throughout history. That doesn't justify sexism now. History is full of really bad mistakes. We're talking about now. Even fantasy games set in a historical world do not get a pass because the people who are playing those games are living now, and the feelings they have are being felt now.

A lot of arguments against the OP tend to boil down to "slippery slope" accusations:
"Why can't I include rape when I include spiders? I can't know if you're agoraphobic any more than I know if you're sensitive to rape!"
"If you start telling people they can't include X in their games, that's restricting their free speech!" (The idea being that asking someone not to say something will eventually lead to them not being able to say it.)

These are false premises. The first example (while a little over-the-top) ignores the fact that pretty much anyone can tell the social, sub-textual, and reasonable difference between those two extremes. It's not fair to try to justify an easily recognizably heinous example with an easily recognizably softer one. The second example is exactly the same, although it seems different: the idea that anyone will actually censor your right to say something is absurd. It's about realizing that speech has consequences, not that speech is (or would ever be) restricted. To put that another way: it's not about what you CAN or CANNOT do; it's about what you SHOULD or SHOULD NOT do.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
It's very strange to me when in the game world, its okay to be racist towards elves and orcs (even killing them), but when someone is prejudiced toward black people, gay people, or female people, they're irredeemably evil as in the real world. Just because elves and orcs are fictional doesn't excuse prejudice against them or the racist way they're designed. D&D societies display this bizarre moral system where they treat their own kind with 21st century liberal attitudes, but otherwise act like conquistadors/cowboys/etc.

It's posts like this that make me wonder how I've made it this far being a black guy being part of this hobby since the early 80's. It's posts like this that really make me wonder, if even for a split second, that maybe the people who made fun of me for playing a "white people's game" didnt have a point.

I was considering going full court press on getting my 11 year old and his friends into RPG's this year.

Now I'm thinking maybe, just maybe I should stick with the board and card games (Settlers, Pandemic, Munchkin) that I've been introducing them too. And keep them as far away from the RPG community as possible.
 
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It's posts like this that make me wonder how I've made it this far being a black guy being part of this hobby since the early 80's. It's posts like this that really make me wonder, if even for a split second, that maybe the people who made fun of me for playing a "white people's game" didnt have a point.

I was considering going full court press on getting my 11 year old and his friends into RPG's this year.

Now I'm thinking maybe, just maybe I should stick with the board and card games (Settlers, Pandemic, Munchkin) that I've been introducing them too. And keep them as far away from the RPG community as possible.
I really hope you stick with it and introduce them to RPGs. Out of curiosity, could you elaborate on this point a bit. I would be interested to know what it is in particular about the post that made you feel this way and what it is about RPGs in general that you think causes a lot of people to view it as a white-man's game. I've been gaming since the 80s and it has been getting more diverse in my area, but not much improved since the late 90s I would say.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I find Paizo's attempts to be inclusive rather bizarre, since D&D is founded on racism being measurably true (e.g. dwarves are genetically hardwired to be good at appraising precious metals, half-orcs are genetically stupider than humans, etc) and ethnic cleansing and crime fantasy being a common past time (e.g. breaking into the homes of goblins, orcs, gnolls and other "ugly" peoples to kill them and take their stuff).

It's very strange to me when in the game world, its okay to be racist towards elves and orcs (even killing them), but when someone is prejudiced toward black people, gay people, or female people, they're irredeemably evil as in the real world. Just because elves and orcs are fictional doesn't excuse prejudice against them or the racist way they're designed. D&D societies display this bizarre moral system where they treat their own kind with 21st century liberal attitudes, but otherwise act like conquistadors/cowboys/etc.

You cannot discriminate against fictional races. It's impossible. You can discriminate against real people.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
Bedrock, I dont want to derail the sexism thrust of the thread so I'll be brief. It was the tone of post that just rubbed me the wrong way.

It was the implications that fictional creatures somehow carry as much if not more weight than actual REAL living people who exist.

It was also the idea of racist = irredeemably evil. Which is not the case ESPECIALLY in the US where the first defense against the accusation of racism is "well theyre not all saints" or "Just deal with it" or "You should have a thicker skin". I'm dealing with an issue RIGHT NOW with the seeming acceptance of young white people dressing up in blackface and seeing NOTHING wrong with it at all.

To the second part:
I grew up in areas in NYC where if you were black and male and if you read and knew how to construct and speak in complete sentences you were considered "Acting white". Oddly enough reading Comic Books was OKAY. But anything out of the ordinary, like say the D&D Red Box or the Advanced D&D players handbook was considered a "white people's game" mainly because at the time (and still) there arent a whole lot of black people who are into RPG's.

And historically having been part of several RPG forum communities? I can't say that I blame them.

I see a company like Paizo purposefully looking to be more inclusive and then getting derided for it? Kinda makes me think that racial inclusion at least is a lost cause. Gender and Sexism issues are good to go I think because almost everyone at least knows someone else of the opposite gender. And these days alot of people know of at least one person who is LGBT. But I'm pretty certain that in terms of race there's not a lot of mixing. Especially of black males. So there's that.

Back to the topic at hand...
 

ShinHakkaider, thanks for the response. I just wanted to make sure I understood your position, and that makes a lot of sense. I've seen this debate here and on other forums, and while I think it is fair to for people to argue whether all fantasy RPG settings need to be inclusive, I don't think people should be giving Paizo grief for trying to be more inclusive.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
ShinHakkaider, thanks for the response. I just wanted to make sure I understood your position, and that makes a lot of sense. I've seen this debate here and on other forums, and while I think it is fair to for people to argue whether all fantasy RPG settings need to be inclusive, I don't think people should be giving Paizo grief for trying to be more inclusive.

No Problem BedrockGames.

And just to clarify my stance on inclusivity in RPG's? My favorite RPG genres are Supers and FRPG's.

Supers for fairly obvious reasons I guess. Your race and sex really shouldnt matter that much if you can take over someone's mind or benchpress a tank. (but superhero comics have their own issues around sexism and racism. But theyre handling it a hell of a lot better than the RPG community seems to be doing)

And as for FRPG's? I've NEVER seen them as medieval simulators. EVER. Are there peices of medieval touches in these games? ABSOLUTELY. You see it in the dress and in the armor and in a bunch of other things. But Greyhawk, FR, Planescape and Golarion ARE NOT medieval Europe.

The idea that people claim this and then get pissed off when anyone OTHER than a white/Euro d00d shows up in game just annoys the hell out of me. People who get annoyed with the idea of Asian monks in their D&D are people I just dont need around me. People who scratch their heads at a half-elf PC who's mother or father was black are people I dont need around me. People who go on and on about how Pirates in their D&D game are okay but NO GUNS in their D&D games are people I dont need around me.

Because IT IS FRPG that makes it inclusive. For someone who isnt white and wants to play a character who isnt white because it's NOT medieval Europe it allows people to do just that without worrying if it's historically accurate. You know why? BECAUSE IT'S NOT HISTORY!! LOL!!
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Nowhere did I imply hypothetical reverse bigotry justifies bigotry. Discussing hypothetical histories were [insert race] colonized the world is just speculation. There is absolutely no line of logic where that justifies letting people get slaughtered in Sudan or using racial slurs. I meant to criticize the drow for being cartoonishly evil, and that this applies to all such fictional groups regardless of their race/gender. I wrote a topic about my dislike of always chaotic evil races elsewhere.

But back onto fictional racism, my point is that fictional characters in the D&D world are free to be racist against elves and orcs, but the moment they're racist against black/gay/women people or whoever, they're considered scumbags by the other people in the game world. It's a weird double standard that doesn't accurately reflect human psychology. I would like D&D books to address the topic of racism against fantasy races and real races alike and how to maturely handle it (and not through revenge fantasy).

Fantasy and scifi races were (and still are) meant to be stand-ins for humans of exotic extraction. Basically, they exist to recreate the original racist stereotypes like noble savage and exotic dancer without offending real people by saying that they're aliens/elves and that makes it okay. I don't believe it does.

I feel this reflects a very deep-seated psychological problem with people: inborn prejudice. Since racism is UnPC, writers and gamers decide to project their inherent xenophobia/xenophilia onto fictional constructs instead. But it's still (vicariously) racist and those writers/gamers would be racist against real people if they weren't trained to be accepting by society.

D&D is just conquistador/cowboy/crime/etc fantasy with the indians and chinese and poor people replaced with elves and orcs to look politically correct. But at its core it's still White Man's Manifest Destiny (or, if you live in an alternate universe where [insert race] people colonized the world, [insert race]'s Manifest Destiny).
 

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