[Guest Post] D&D, and Who It’s Packaged For
- Rabalias of RPG-gaming blogging collective Black Armada sent us this post, together with a petition. And if you have a guest post brewing in your brain, you know the drill: email us on [email protected].
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is the single most famous roleplaying game in the world, the route most people got into roleplaying, and the flagship of the hobby. So it’s a tragedy that the game is pushing away potential fans through artwork and even game text that is overwhelmingly focused on one customer demographic: white men.
That’s a pretty provocative statement, right there. But I’m confident in making it, because the evidence is there for anyone who wants to see it. You could start by flipping open a copy of pretty much any D&D book and looking through the artwork. See how many women and people of colour you can find – and then see how many of them are half-dressed or made to look weak or submissive.
Actually, you don’t need to, because someone already did it for you. Anna Kreider reviewed the artwork in the D&D 4th edition books (specifically the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Players Handbook, Players Handbook 2 and the Adventurer’s Vault) and rated the images therein.
Kreider’s findings were striking – of the 40% or so of humans (and demi-humans) that were depicted as female, well over a third hit each of the measures she chose (being half-dressed or posed in a sexually suggestive way, for instance). Needless to say, the remaining 60% of images, the ones which were of men, tended to be wearing more clothes, in more active, non-sexual poses.
It gets better, because Chris Van Dyke had a look at D&D from the perspective of race. He was able to find only two examples of a non-white character in the core books of all four numbered editions of D&D. That means non-white folks are practically invisible in D&D.
Now, these findings are based on subjective judgements. That’s unavoidable, because things like “sexually suggestive” and “white” can often only be judged subjectively in artwork. You can go and judge for yourself if you doubt their conclusions. But I think if we’re honest, these results only confirm what most of us already knew from experience.
It isn’t the end of the world. I’ve enjoyed lots of pop culture replete with sexism. And after all, it’s only a fantasy! But then again, shouldn’t our fantasy worlds contain a richer variety of creatures than real life? And what does it say to potential new gamers if they can’t find a picture of someone like them anywhere in these books? Is D&D really just a game about white dudes slugging it out in a dungeon somewhere? I don’t think so.
OK, so what to do about it? I love roleplaying, and despite years of moaning about the mechanics, I still love D&D. The fact that it’s not exactly a beacon of gender and racial equality is, for me, an obstacle to be overcome rather than a sign I should give up on the game altogether.
If you’ve read this far, maybe you agree with me – and if so, it would be great if you went and signed it, and better yet share it with your friends and encourage them to sign too.
The petition won’t change anything in itself. Wizards of the Coast could ignore it, and maybe they will. But if they can see that there are hundreds of gamers out there who want more than whitewash and chainmail bikinis, maybe they’ll respond. We owe it to the hobby to give them a clear message.
- Rabalias is a leftie, feminist Londoner and veteran roleplayer. He plays and GMs more than any normal person and less than he’d like to. He designs games in the time he has left over from playing them, and blogs about roleplaying at Black Armada. Rabalias has two cats and a lady companion who also roleplays, which is pretty sweet.