Andy doesn’t have a blog, and this kind of thing isn’t always backed up by such a lot of actual experience. Here it is.
So. Equality and diversity in LRP – practical basic steps. This is not going to be short, and it will include random swearing because I can’t help myself and I write how I talk.
My names Andy and I help to run a large fest LRP in Britain called Empire. Having seen some recent controversy, I thought I’d jot down a few practical things I learned about creating a welcoming game environment. So we’re clear – this isn’t theory. This is actual stuff we did in our actual game, which runs four times a year and last time I checked averages between 1.3k and 1.5k players (I’m not a numbers guy – I cannot stress this enough).
Let’s be clear – I am pushing an agenda here. I’ve not got much time for the people who say “LRP is just naturally super accepting and I’ve never seen any prejudice”. It’s just possible that you have been to a great LRP where theres a 50/50 split between men and women in all prestigious roles, and where no male player has ever said that a fellow man does “fights like agirl”. That’s great, and you are very lucky. But I **have** seen prejudice and intolerance and it is all over the shop disguised as “just the way things are.” If you have ever been crewing an event and heard someone say without irony“This role needs to be played by a man because …” or “this role needs to be a woman because…” and they weren’t talking about the ability to physically push a small human being out of their genitals, you’ve seen prejudice in action.
I’m going to talk here mostly in terms of gender and sex, and occasionally mention sexuality and skin colour, because I think the same basic principles apply across the board when you’re trying to create a welcoming, tolerant game environment.
So here we go.
Why would you want to bother? I’ve got two answers to this – the straightforward, cynical one and the slightly more complex, less cynical one. The first reason you want to bother making your game as open and welcoming as you can is that word “welcoming.” There are a lot of people in this world who are not straight white men, who pay for their tickets just like anyone else does. The second reason is that its the goddam 21st century and we’re members of a wider culture of geeks who ought to have a great deal of sympathy for people feeling excluded and unwelcome.
So here’s some practical steps.
Firstly, get yourself an Equality and Diversity statement and make it public. Lay out what you want and why you want it. Be clear on the kinds of behaviour you expect from your players and your crew. Use straightforward language as if you’re speaking to fellow adults. Tell them flat out what is not going to be acceptable behaviour if they want to attend your game.
Then you’ll want a good robust complaints procedure. Again, tell you players how this works. My boss deals with every single complaint made by players, from the state of the toilets all the way up to sexual assault. I do not envy him, and it is usually a thankless task.
Next, prepare yourself for the criticism. It is coming. Whatever your policy is, I can almost guarantee that it will be too progressive for people who don’t see what the fuss is about or are secretly worried you are taking “their” game away from them. At the same time it will not go far enough for the people who are bitter about decades of marginalisation and poor treatment. Stick to your guns. It is worth it, believe me.
When you’re in this stage don’t be afraid to talk to people and look at how other folk do it. We were fairly certain about what we wanted – an environment where live-roleplayers could have a whale of a time roleplaying with each other without the baggage of prejudice. There are live-roleplayers in all walks of life, and its entirely possible there are people in your LRP circle who have experience with this kind of thing – human resource staff, union representatives, lawyers, even women, all do live-roleplaying and in my experience are happy to chat about the realities of improving equality and diversity.
The reason to make it clear is twofold. First, you want your players to make informed decisions about whether they attend or not. There should be no misunderstanding – if someone engages in discriminatory behaviour at your game, you point at your E&D statement. Secondly, though, its also there for you to look at – to remind yourself what you’re trying to do and why.
Then you enforce it. This is harder than it sounds. You warn people their behaviour is not acceptable at your game, and then you ban them, and they stay banned. You don’t allow “its just a joke” to fly as an excuse, and you don’t make special exceptions for someone because they are popular, or a member of your crew. Otherwise you might well as not have bothered. Again, you steel yourself for criticism. Sometimes, the arguments that are coming will seem trivial – and sometimes they are trivial – but you stick to your guns because the goal is worth it.
The next step is your game itself.
We created our game from scratch – rules, setting everything. That gave us a lot of freedom, although it created problems of its own, but they’re outside the scope of this post. What we established right from the start is that we weren’t interested in including themes of real-world discrimination. We used the phrase “gender blind” but all that means is that every part of the game should be open to any player who has the gumption to go get it. When building the world we simply assumed that nobody in it thought that gender, sexuality, or skin colour mattered and built accordingly.
Not every LRP has this luxuty, but it is important to understand that like an author writing a fantasy/science fiction novel or a screenriter creating a movie, you are ultimately responsible for what goes into your game. Sometimes people talk about “historical realism” as a way to justify sexism and racism in fantasy and science fiction worlds. This is bullshit. Unless you are creating a game that is looking to create a perfect analogue of some part of the 12th century (and if you do that from past experience you will find that sexism and racism are by no means cut-and-dried historically), there’s no excuse for including real world intolerance in your game world. And the moment you add a single wizard, dragon, or goblin to your game world any pretence of “real world history” has gone out of the window (unless there have been some pretty exciting developments in archaeology or history in the last hour or so).
Language is a subtle but powerful tool in making your game more welcoming that is often overlooked. We’re British and write in English, and except where we are referencing specific individuals we use the pronouns “they” and “their” rather than “he/his” or “she/her” and its worked fine for us so far. Stylistically it can take a little while to get used to doing this but the longer I’ve been at it the more jarring it has been reading things that fall back on the old he/his.
Some people will want to take this further. I am a stick-in-the-mud, and grind my teeth at some of the demands people who are more progressive than me make of my writing style. At the end of the day you make your own decisions at what you think is appropriate. But that said, as an example, we had something in the game called a “Warden Brotherhood.” This lead to a serious question from one of our players as to whether a woman could be part of a Warden Brotherhood. So we changed the name to “Warden Fellowship”. They’re exactly the same thing, fill exactly the same niche, and we have no more questions about whether a woman can be one or not.
We use male titles exclusively, and this has not been without criticism. We could just as easily used female titles, but we chose not to for two reasons. Firstly, in almost every case in English a female title is the male title with some suffix indicating “but its a woman!” An Empress is an Emperor – but it doesn’t have penis! A Duchess is a Duke – but its a woman! I made the decision early on that if we were serious about that, all the -ess’s were going round the back of the gas sheds and getting a bullet in the head. Secondly, in a moment of cynical realism, we identified that while we knew plenty of women who would embrace the idea of being a Merchant Prince, we didn’t know many men who would be prepared to be a Merchant Princess. Damn you Disney!
Don’t include discrimination in your setting. A lot of LRP includes a nation or faction where the women are in charge and the men are subservient. So edgy! Drop it. It’s not worth your time. Take anything in your setting that discriminates based on a real-world trait and skip it. We cut sexual discrimination, we said nobod in our world cares who you marry, we dropped the idea that anyone might discriminate against someone with darker or paler skin than they had, or based on whether they stand to piss or not. Then we built who social structures based about despising people from different social structures – because politics is fun – and we introduced a bunch of magical stuff that gave people plenty of opportunity to be small-minded idiots against people based on what they had **chosen** to roleplay rather than some accident of genetics.
One last thing – I’m not talking about just opening everything up to women. You put a bullet in the head of all that “women are mysterious, intuitive, privy to secrets no man can know” bullshit as well. Nobody misses it. You create a space for male roleplayers to be myserious, intuitive, family-oriented, domestic, non-violent … all that crap. My experience is that nobody misses it.
There’s more but this is already three pages.
Is it worth it? Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. You get a better game when you dispose of real-world prejudice. You get more players. You get more people doing cool things. You get a bigger pool of people to play with, all on the same level, all playing what they want to play (within the bounds of your system).
What makes it worth it for me especially is when the dads who play our game talk to me privately about how they enjoy taking their daughters to our game (yes we allow kids – short version was we found it odd that we’d discriminate against LRPers for being too young. Another post another time). Because they know those girls are going to be playing in as tolerant and open a game as we can possible create for them, on as equal a footing as the boys as we can create. And for some reason, they like that idea.