Tips and thought leadership on playing other ethnicities/genders/minorities

A conversation I am having elsewhere I’ve asked folks if they do or are willing to play other cultures/ethnicities/sexes/sexuality. Clearly, this is a sensitive topic and I’m looking for carefully written articles, advice and thoughts around this. [To introduce myself - I’m writing this from a white cis male background from a working-class background but now professionally affluent and postgrad educated]

In the play I’ve been lucky enough to participate in with the Gauntlet I have been encouraged to explore, or play in games that encouraged looking through lenses other than my own. I am also really inspired by the wonderful games coming through from minority creators.

I’ve a few questions to ask and things I am pondering?

  1. How do you make the case for paying more diverse and intersectional games (I ran the Watch last year and positioned it as an intersectional story) - especially where players are nervous to play from ‘noble’ intentions?

  2. I find a lot of white gamers deeply worried about playing people of other ethnicities and fear of ‘doing it wrong’. I understand that view of sensitivity - but feel this is also excluding games by and stories about people from minority backgrounds being represented. Given the amazing work happing in indie game design, this sensitivity seems to have a side effect of keeping great games such as Cartel and Passiones de Pasiones away from play. What can be done to help players know they can and even should explore these themes (if done well)

  3. What prep and responsibility does a player (including GM roles as a player) of a minority have as an obligation to do justice to minority people and their stories?

  4. In terms of game and player safety how can you bring these themes in?

Hopefully, this makes sense :slight_smile:

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I don’t know if Mendez would call himself a “thought leader” but he certainly has thought about this a lot:

I would recommend reading everything on his blog. It’s really solid stuff.

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I’m a cis-male latino, so I’m only speaking for myself here. But to answer your 3nd question; regardless of the content you want to explore in your games, if you play characters of a different gender/orientation/ethnicities as people, and not some reductive caricature, you’re doing a passable job, and I think you’d be forgiven for making some mistakes. Everyone does. Listen to the people from those backgrounds if they come to you. Own up to those mistakes, and use them to improve your portrayal next time.

To the 2nd question, I think it’s important to note that you’re not in trouble for playing passion de las pasiones without been latino. I’m not going to break into your house and burn your copy. Will you be capable of accurately portray the emotional drama that the telenovelas emanate without been part of our culture? Maybe. Probably not. And that’s ok. But if the game helps you get a better understanding of the latinx culture, or grow closer to us as people, I think that’s good, and more people should do it.

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Thanks - that’s a great response.

Thank you for posting and be willing to have the conversation, cause a lot of times that’s hard to even broach. <3 I’m going to be frank here with my thoughts and link to some other places too. Please know that I’m talking in general and not being specific to you or anyone else on the Gauntlet. I’m a bi, sometimes light passing, latina, and grew up lower class but thinking she was middle class lol. I was very lucky education wise, and very lucky I grew up in a very diverse and mostly welcoming city. Also, I’m just one person, so, yeah, haha.

  1. The case? That it’s fun to play something different and not the same tired old tropes of most other games (both in rpg and in other game styles). One’s life is theoretically extremely diverse, so games should NATURALLY already be diverse. This is also giving the assumption that straight/white/male is the default for most games. ANY game can be diverse and intersectional. We’re not just urban genres like most book stores and hollywood would like to think. You can have an all black or nearly all poc dnd tabletop experience as characters as well as players. Usually when we play, we almost nearly subconsciously play our characters as white (even if we’re playing non-human type characters). It takes effort for even ourselves to maybe play someone of our own ethnicity, so it’s also intersectional in that way (and in playing other sexualities, genders, etc). Usually the best thing to do before tackling games that are made specifically by and/or for other cultures, is go small and do something minor in your own regular games.

  2. I’ll be linking to some tweet threads below that tackle this and in a very straight/frank/no-nonsense way. I pretty much agree with it in honestly, we’re tired of having to give permission to white players at panels/q&as to let them play non-white (or insert other minority stuff here). Cause as long as one GENUINELY wants to play a diverse character to try something different, and isn’t trying to lean into stereotypes or caricatures (or make thinly veiled excuses to be sexist/ablest/racist etc), then just do it. Play and learn.One of the best ways also, is to CONSUME media made in that culture of the game or setting. I mean, pretty much EVERY RPG corebook has a page of “Here’s Media that’s similar to get you in the mood/theme/understanding”. They will generally be the BEST sources. Consume them if you can afford to (if not available through libraries or what not), and then find other reccs that would work best. It’s okay to make mistakes, to realize oh maybe shoulda not leaned into that trope, after a session. Great, that happens to all of us, fix it and try to do better next time.

Lemme also flip… There’s so many small town middle america games where majority of the settings are white centric, or same with steampunk or victorian settings are generally white-centric (what’s awesome is more and more games being made now are actually being way more diverse/inclusive in every which way), or wild west, or vikings. none of us who are non-white ever go ‘oh man, what can I do to be more authentic to Vikings?’ Unless one is the kind of geek/nerd that likes to be all gung ho into being as historically or min/max their stats, generally we’re just gonna make a kickass (in our heads) character and play in that world and have fun. We’re constantly having to play games where we don’t get to be anyone similar to ourselves (mostly this is more apparent in video games w/ default white dude). So bottom line, that’s what you just gotta do. If you’re genuine, there’s no reason not to play, other than being afraid to confront your own biases/privilege (general you btw).

  1. Besides the suggested media, if one is a GM creating an original setting, maybe get a sensitivity reader or someone of that culture to give it a look over. Preferably you can pay them by buying them lunch or something cause otherwise we’re all doing emotional labor, or they’re close friends and you can go back and forth offering insights. I recommend this even if it’s not a recorded game, cause we have to start somewhere in being inclusive and more open. So even private fun games, try to do research as a GM and get a lookover cause we all have biases/blind spots, and always ever learning. As players, besides the media stuff, maybe have a friend look over too or post online in a safe space (like here or on the slack or another forum/discord that you feel comfortable with) to see if the chara seems okay. I’ve had friends post on FB on them making a character that was pretty much the complete opposite of them including race/culture and ask if it still worked with them being a rogue/thief and worrying about certain races usually portrayed as criminals. So then that way one can feel better about trying something different and being thoughtful. I know this seems like a lot for something on playing maybe a oneshot or short campaign, for a game that should just be fun, but we can be mindful and have fun. Another great way, have a diverse table and especially don’t just have a token player, that will help as long as they too feel comfortable being at the table and everyone playing something different.

  2. General safety tools, and discussion about it at the forefront. Like most Good Society games I’ve seen and the one fun one I played in, it was discussed that this was more of a lax society, where it wasn’t technically uncommon for women to have property, and that race wasn’t going to be a societal issue (along with for the most part, gender/sexuality). Maybe have discussions after sessions. This part I’m more inexperienced with so hopefully others will have some better ideas.

Now, obviously, not everyone’s on twitter, and one doesn’t have to be, but imho the best resources for learning about ttrpg/vg diversity and inclusion has been threads on twitter, discussions there. Obviously the best discussions should be had in forums or one on one so that there’s not as much misunderstanding going on and you’re not limited to characters. But I’ll be linking to some twitter people you should follow if you’re interested in discussions like these, especially in the ttrpg world.

Some of these links are DND specific (as we all know that’s like the DEFAULT in ttrpg) but still work universally:

I recc the link above me to that article by James. Another good related one, that I believe was also linked in the slack (about white people playing a game centering about Asian experience) is this for me, very relatable, interview: https://jamesmendezhodes.com/blog/2019/2/27/clio-yun-su-davis-and-rpg-convention-racism

While a few years old, this article, part of a series on gaming culture, is still pretty good and relevant, to check out: https://bankuei.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/playing-with-good-intent/

I’m biased, as she’s a good friend but seriously, Tanya and her organization is ALL about diversity/inclusion in games and having the conversations and getting past 101 type stuff: Similar to above but different perspective: https://cypheroftyr.com/2017/11/12/on-roleplaying-the-other/
Asking permission: https://medium.com/@cypheroftyr/on-diversity-panels-and-asking-permission-of-the-marginalized-e886c2962b5

Video clip, and link to the whole talk which I’d recc, about feeling represented: https://twitter.com/DnDBeyond/status/1110633346596368384

Sadly can’t find the other threads I’ve saved in the past that had good discussion, but hopefully these help.

Twitters to follow:
https://twitter.com/pocdnd
https://twitter.com/ineeddivgms
https://twitter.com/DungeonCommandr
https://twitter.com/cypheroftyr

And seeing who they retweet will also give you more interesting and thoughtful people.

Overall, def try to encourage people to play games of different cultures, know that something like Pasiones is also a parody of our beloved telenovelas so you’re already playing caricatures (but that’s kinda the point of the game) and that game can def do better in being more inclusive. But def, play all the games and have fun and be mindful~!

(I’m getting used to a new work schedule so I probably won’t be able to respond if there’s any thing that needs clarifying or what not till I get home from work in the late evening (late pst)).

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When I experience doubt and/or discomfort regarding my ability to play characters outside my general perspective, I recall an authors’ panel on diversity which challenged attendees to write characters who have different backgrounds. That same kind of challenge/invitation/permission could also apply to gaming characters.