Dungeons & Dragons, Gaming

Why Inclusiveness is Important in Nerd Culture

I’ve seen a lot of articles and stories recently about streamers refusing to play with girls, about players having to leave Esports teams because of harassment from the gaming community and women and members of the LGBTQ+ community having to create their own gaming tables because they are uncomfortable playing with the usual group of boys who have dominated this community for years. And that’s unfortunate. It’s sad, and it’s wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t see a problem with members of the LGBTQ+ community, or a group of women, or people of colour, or any other group setting up a table or game that’s just for them so they feel safe. My problem lies in the fact that they don’t feel safe. That isn’t their fault, that’s the fault of the section of nerd and gaming culture that make them feel that way. It’s the fault of the group of gamers who would rather keep someone from sitting down at their table than pulling out the chair for them and inviting them into their group. However it’s an unfortunate reality, and something that needs to change.

So let me be clear here, I’m writing this as a white, straight, male. It’s entirely possible I will get facts or feelings wrong. I may make assumptions. I will more likely than not use incorrect terms. If I do please let me know, it isn’t my intent to upset or insult anyone. I’m always open to polite, insightful and respectful conversation, especially if I have something to learn from it. For the most part I will be referring to tabletop rpgs because, well that’s I play for the most part.

Ok, back to the show. For years, certainly since I was a kid in the 80s, reading comics, playing video games, and RPGs and anything else that would be considered “nerdy” or “geeky” was for all intents and purposes something for boys. Or at least seen as something for boys (for the moment I’m going to use the terms boys and girls to keep things simple. I am aware that it’s far more complicated than that). However the kinds of boys who enjoyed these things were, for the most part, the socially awkward, bullied and less popular kids in school. Playing D&D when I was a kid wasn’t cool, reading comics wasn’t cool. It was easy to be ostracized by classmates because you enjoyed these things. Getting picked on and be called nerd as a derogatory term were the norm if anyone saw you with a comic, or playing D&D or even reading a book for that matter. Thankfully the things I loved when I was a kid have become a part of the mainstream, the kids who were picked on for doing these things are now the same ones shaping the face of popular culture.

This is what upsets me when I hear of people not feeling welcome in the community. These hobbies of ours are meant for everyone. To keep others from enjoying them because of skin colour, gender, or sexuality is doing the exact same thing that happened to me when I was a kid reading comics. It’s bullying, it’s purposely making someone feel unwelcome because of who they are. We should be welcoming everyone with open arms, we should be seeking out people who are different than us to sit with us and roll some dice. This is how we learn and grow and meet people with different perspectives to enrich our lives.

It’s important for us as a community to be more inclusive than any other. Otherwise we become the jocks who picked on us when we were kids. If anything we should be more sensitive to others because of what we went through. I know I try to be. In my D&D games I love having a cross section of different people in my game. To me it creates an interesting dynamic within the party, something that wouldn’t be there if it was 4 or 5 middle aged white dudes.

The problem I think, and I’m just assuming here, I have no data to back it up, is that many of this generation’s gamers and nerds didn’t have to grow up hiding the things they loved because it’s such a part of pop culture now. However, that doesn’t mean that some of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s playing these games are any less guilty of creating a toxic community. I am aware that there are people (mostly white men, sorry but its true) who are just as responsible for making others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome as many of the younger generation. Yes I am generalizing. I can only base this on what I’ve read and seen on Reddit and Twitter and whatnot and it certainly, at least I hope, isn’t representative of everyone.

Right now I run 2 games on Roll20. One is a group of 4 men and the other is 3 men and 2 women. Of those 2 women one is black and the other is gay. Do I care? No, it has absolutely no bearing on the game to me. We’re all telling a story together, and if they want to bring aspects of their real lives into the game that’s up to them and it’s welcome. I also didn’t purposely plan the groups to be that way. The group that is 4 men just happened to end up that way. I chose them out of the people who applied for the game as being the ones who seemed the most interested and interesting. The other group, which I’ve been playing with for a long time and have become friends with, I didn’t know before we started playing together. Yes I did purposely seek out women for the group because I wanted it to be diverse and dynamic. And I’m happy I did, it’s created an interesting group and hopefully we’ll continue playing for a long time to come.

If I look for players on Roll20 a lot of the time I’ll search the forums to try and find interesting people to play with. What I see more and more now is GMs and/or players looking for a LGBTQ+ friendly game. The problem here though is that implies that many of the games are not friendly towards those players. Also, at least to me it’s confusing, does that mean they don’t want to play with people who aren’t members of their community? Is my game not LGBTQ+ friendly because I didn’t put that in the description of my game? I feel like I’m welcoming to everyone in my games. If I put that in my game description am I being disingenuous because I’m not a member of that community? So to be safe I don’t put it in the description, but am I ruling out a bunch of people it would be fun to play with because they don’t feel safe at my game? This is one of the problems, without being inclusive of everyone we are missing the chance to meet and play with cool people and possibly make new friends.

Does this mean that everyone plays well together when I start a group? No, of course not. There’s still the chance of personalities not getting along, there’s still the growing pains that comes with any group. But the only time I ask players to leave my game is if they are being a dick. And let’s face it, anyone can be an asshole regardless of how they identify. But at the very least I like to give them a chance and hopefully it can be worked out.

Again this is a kind of stream of consciousness post. I have probably gotten things wrong, and if I did I want to hear about it. The point is as a community of people with similar interests and hobbies we should be welcoming each other, sitting down with them and having fun. At the end of the day that’s all any of us want. We want to have fun doing what we love with fun people. There’s enough anger and hate in this world without bringing it into our hobbies.

Have something to add? I’d love to hear it. Let me know in the comments.

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