By Christine Martin-Resotko
I’m back! I just finished up presenting for the Michigan Library Association Conference (thanks all who attended) on Tabletop Gaming. Now that it is done, my mind can refocus on continuing blog posts. The conference’s theme was “Open Doors”, on ways to increase inclusion and diversity in the library. As I was presenting, that theme kept coming back to me, and I knew I needed to do a post on inclusion for this blog.
Everyone wants to see themselves in anything they do. For many of us, that isn’t an issue. In an RPG, you think of characters from books and TV who have the typical issues to navigate. But what if you have a disability? What if your gender identity can’t be found anywhere? Don’t you, as you are, deserve to be the hero of the story? We can make this the norm in our gaming communities with just a little work and thoughtfulness on our part.
Physical and mental disabilities are the first to come to mind. In the early days of gaming, if you had a disability, it was handled in the following way in most game systems. You took a disadvantage, and you were at minuses to all rolls that were related to the disability. That isn’t fair. People who have different issues have found ways (often creative) to work around, or with, their disability, function as well in society as anyone else, and that can happen in game terms. Let your player lead you; they will know best where their issues lie. Comfortable players will tell you, and you should reward them for their creativity and their willingness to take the harder rolls: when they will be more challenged and require a more difficult roll to succeed. But what if it is a disability that would have them in a wheelchair and you are playing in a fantasy world? There might be a service animal who bears them, or perhaps they have a wheelchair that has a spell that they can activate a few times a day that helps them float so they can be helped over obstacles. What if they want a service animal for other issues? Give them one! I really would love to see a Star Wars game with a survivor of the Battle of Endor who has a support Ewok, who happens to be played by another gamer. That gives so many possibilities for roleplaying and party dynamics.
Gender and sexual identity are others way that people have had difficulty with representation. The first game to make a point of addressing this was Blue Rose when it originally came out in 2005. They had a specific section of the book to address this and explain that the main country, Aldis, is very egalitarian and accepting of all lifestyles. Over time, more and more games have made a point of stating that there are no gender biases in character creation, or in most of the societies in their settings. Again, take your lead from your players. A player wants to be gender fluid to the point of being able to change gender? Why not give them a limited ability shapeshifter, where they determine what gender they are each morning (including agender). Give them a little sign that lets the rest of the group know which pronouns are in use for that day. Concerned that some of the societies of your world are not accepting of non-cis identities or relationships? Talk to your players ahead of time about how they want to handle that. Maybe your group will become the impetus for change that those societies need.
The goal here is to have a safe place for people to be able to express themselves. Many people are constantly evolving in the way they perceive themselves. Who they are today could change at any time. Our games can be a place where they can explore the different aspects of themselves without worry that they will be judged. Everyone is deserving of representation and respect in all aspects of their lives. We all deserve to be seen for who we are. We are all worthy.
Christine Martin-Resotko is a Library Assistant with the Mason Branch of the
Capital Area District Libraries in Michigan. She has been a lifelong nerd, starting
when she saw Star Wars at the age of 5. She started playing RPGs when she was
in college, and within 4 years was invited by a gaming company to run their game
at GenCon, the biggest gaming convention in the country. She has run games in
over a dozen systems, and personally owns more than 30 game systems at this
time. Christine created the CADL Adventurers Club for her library system, which
encompasses a teen chapter at her branch which she runs and adult and kids
chapters at another branch that she assists with. Christine has a B.S. in
Anthropology from Michigan State University. She lives with her husband, son,
and their crazy cat.