Monday, October 28, 2013

The Elven Bro

The Elven Bro
Artwork by Deviantartist Dame Eleusys
         I was once asked why it was important to me that there be diversity in fantasy races in the medium of rpgs. The friend who asked me admitted that yeah there could be more minorities in the design of humans but didn’t understand what the big deal was when it came to elves and dwarves, races traditionally depicted as white. This is a valid question, why should these races be depicted in a manner that fly’s in the face of tradition?
            The answer is self identification. When I play an rpg I want to be able to self identify with more than just the human races in the game. The ability to self identify with the fantasy elements of the game is a powerful thing. Let me take a moment to talk about Star Trek.
            Star Trek is great for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important thing Star Trek has done for sci fi is being one of the first shows to feature an African American as a key member of the cast. The shows progressiveness is one of the reasons why the show is a cornerstone in sci fi. But for me the show didn’t become an all time favorite until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It was in Deep Space Nine that I saw for the first time a black man as the commander (and later captain) in a sci fi show. I had watched a lot of sci fi programming before that, and I’ve seen black characters in the cast (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5). But as someone who was in charge? No, that was a rarity (and still is). I was instantly hooked on the show. I watched the good and the bad. It’s the only Trek series that I own on DVD.
Captain of the Year
            Or how about Star Trek: Voyager. This show stood out to me because of one character, Tuvok. Vulcans were one of the shows main alien races. There had been black actors playing in the roles of Klingons (such as Micheal Dorn’s Worf on the Next Generation), but as a main cast member we hadn’t seen an alien that was black. And this was a rarity in the realm of sci fi. You don’t often see a black race in space. So to have a character be black and Vulcan was a powerful thing for a young black man. It drew me deeper into the Star Trek universe. It allowed me to identify even more with a race of aliens that were one of my favorite things about Star Trek (Spock was my favorite character on the original show). To go one step further, Voyager was the favorite Trek for one of my closest friends because she could identify with Janeway, the first female to sit in the captains chair.
            And that’s what you want when you’re developing a product. You want your customers to look at it and say “that’s me”. This is a very important element for rpg’s because the entire product is based around players forming make believe worlds. You want your potential customer to be able to open the book and flip through and see a fantasy race and think “wow that’s cool I want to play that”. Shadowrun is one of my favorite games because it does just that. Its fantasy races can come from any race. You can be a black elf. Or a black half orc. A Hispanic elf. Or even an Asian dwarf.
            Yes I know that traditionally, these races are not multicolored. But we are talking about a make believe world here. There isn’t a logical reason why dwarves and Halflings need to be white. After all ….. we have a black Nick Fury and he’s one of the best elements of the Marvel movie verse. Elves are one my favorite fantasy races. One day I hope to open a fantasy rpg book and see a black elf and know that I could play that. We’ve come a long way, but there is still more to be done, and this is one of the bigger milestones that needs to achieved in our push for diversity.

            Also I think we can all agree that a dwarf with a wicked afro would be cool.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Epic Fantasy

Epic Fantasy

   So it appears I need to be reading Pathfinder Tales. Why? Because Paizo is a promoter of diversity in gaming and that’s the kind of thing I love to support. So Publishers Weekly did a web cast with James L. Stutter from Paizo and Marco Palmeri who works at Tor Books that talked about epic fantasy. Part of the discussion moved onto the increasing use of diversity in fantasy settings. And I just want to say it’s refreshing to hear people who write fantasy novels and who make table top role playing games be so open about including more people of color and even different sexual orientations in their products.

            As the hobby grows it’s important that the people at the top realize that the image of a pasty, socially awkward guy in his basement is no longer the audience that is being marketed to. Instead it’s good to see that the marketing and the stories are going to be done in a way that is meant to include more people. There is still plenty of room for growth (I have a future article on minorities and races to come later), but we are at a point where we can start building a more diverse hobby.

            The most interesting part of the webcast for me was when James mentions that in the Pathfinder world they have some African themed nations. I didn’t even know that!! Now I need to figure which stories and which supplements might show me this African inspired part of Pathfinder (game I finding myself loving more and more, I am late to the game after all).

            These are all aspects of our hobby that need to be encouraged. At the end of the day if we don’t let people like James and Marco know that we appreciate their work then we make diversity that much harder. So make sure you let them know that their work is well received.

            If you want to listen to the podcast ( which list some authors who work in non-western themed fantasy) then take a gander. Now .... to brush up on my writing skills. Maybe one day .......

            The Future of Epic Fantasy

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Witch Doctor Woes

So I wrote the following piece for class about two weeks ago. I’m opting to post it now because I think the basic concepts in it are important. You’re likely to hear me talk about symbolic annihilation in future musings and it’s a concept I feel applies a lot to not only the game in question but to a lot of nerd culture.

So sit back and enjoy.

The Witch Doctor or Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

Male Witch Doctor
            For those who haven’t left the World of Warcraft in awhile (and I mean a long while), Diablo 3 is the third game in a franchise that Blizzard Entertainment had allowed to go dormant for far too long. I would blame Warcraft, but that would be a digression I’m sure I shouldn’t take. Instead I want to talk about the Witch Doctor from Diablo 3.

            The Witch Doctor is one of five playable classes in this game. His power set is similar to the Necromancer from Diablo 2, in that he raises things from the dead, summons helpers and has a magic hue of sickly green. Though Blizzard claims he’s not the Necromancer. The main difference between the two appears to be that the Necromancer was white, meanwhile the Witch Doctor is black. And herein lies the problem.

            The problem isn’t so much that the character is black. It’s that the portrayal of the only black character in the game is that of a savage primitive. The voice acting for the character has that old school authentic African touch. He wears big voodoo mask that look more like Zulu warrior mask. Oh and don’t forget the bone jewelry, the icing on the cake.

            To explain why this is all wrong I would like to first introduce a sociological theory called symbolic annihilation. This occurs when a minority group is marginalized or trivialized in a media portrayal. This occurs when negative stereotypes are reinforced. Or when the only thing we see of a minority group is not positive. Good examples of this is when lesbians are shown only as butch. Or gay men only shown as flaming. Jewish accountant, Asian drycleaners and even only athletic black men are also all examples of symbolic annihilation as it regulates those minority groups to these very specific and often times negative roles. When you’re only exposure to a sub group is through video games, movies and tv shows these portrayals become very problematic as it forms your only idea of what that group or minority is like.  

Female Witch Doctor
Black people are not seen in fantasy games very often. And it’s been over a decade since Blizzard’s more positive portrayals from Diablo (the black character was a wizard) and Diablo 2 (the black character was a paladin). So for many players their only exposure to a black man in a fantasy setting is that of a primitive savage, which reinforces the subtle idea that black people are more primitive than white people (the other four classes are all white).

            Now Diablo 3 is an otherwise fun game. And I don’t think that when Blizzard set out to create the Witch Doctor they were plotting and planning and intending to portray black people in such a negative way. I’m pretty sure that when the idea of the Witch Doctor came up it was thought to be a fun addition to the game. So I by no means mean to imply that Blizzard is being malicious in it’s portrayal here. But that’s the insidious part of symbolic annihilation. The in group is, in some cases, unknowingly marginalizing a minority group. The in group (in this case white males) are deciding for their audience how a minority group is going to be portrayed and be told what is “cool” for them. That’s a powerful thing. And it’s something that as gamers we all need to watch out for. Because in the end if we remain silent then we allow these images to continue and these idea’s to spread.


If you’re interested in what the Witch Doctor looks like and what the class entails here’s Blizzards page on the class.

For a really good read on symbolic annihilation check out this article.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Who am I

Who am I?

            So before we get too far into this I figure it would be good to talk abit about who I am. Give new people a chance to get to know me some.

            I started gaming back in 96. I think it was either my junior or senior year of high school. First game I ever played was Rifts. Man that was a fun game. I mean there are a lot of problems with the way Rifts is written and the overall game mechanics but there is no deny that the setting material is pretty fun. We also attempted a bit of Shadowrun but didn’t get as far with that as we did our Rifts game.

            In college I continued playing Rifts, but was introduced to the World of Darkness via online role playing sites. Started out with Vampire and then feel in love with Mage. I ended up playing everything White Wolf produced at the time but Mage remained by far my favorite game of the line. Though Kindred of the East and Demon the Fallen (which was a horribly broken game) turned out to be good second place games in my heart. Along the way I moved into playing Legend of the Five Rings, both the CCG and the RPG.

            My friends describe my gaming taste to be somewhat eclectic. I’ve played Spycraft and Mutants and Masterminds. I love Star Wars (even the Saga Edition rules) and Stargate. I’ve read through small games like Qin and some of the majors like Pathfinder.  I just love gaming that much I suppose.

            Along the way I’ve dipped my toe into the gaming industry. I started playtesting for 3rd Edition DnD when they were doing the monthly Psionics updates. I then got a chance to move on to become deeply involved with Legend of the Five Rings doing things like playtesting and even proofreading. I even had the chance to playtest Thunder scape (the next big thing in my book), though I wasn’t able to give it the kind of time I wanted to.

            Outside of rpg’s I love sci fi and horror. My favorite shows being Stargate and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I love the Star Wars movie, though I enjoy the OT more than I did the PT. The Clones Wars animated series though was awesome and I have high hopes for the upcoming series set after Ep. III. Oh and Bruce Campbell is one of the best actors ever … ever. Him and Samuel L. Jackson, for different reasons of course. 

            As one can guess from my avatar I love Batman. My favorites though are Nightwing and Batgirl. Barbara Gordon makes the best Batgirl ever. Ever. I’ve been trying to give Batwing a try but ever since they replaced David with Luke the stories have been a bit underwhelming. If you’re looking for a good example of an ethnic spin on an old favorite take a look at Watson and Holmes, a retelling of Sherlock Holmes in Harlem.  

            Other than that, I’m in school working on a Masters degree in Sociology. After I get my Masters I’ll move onto a Ph.D. and begin doing science. Mad social science!!!! No but really I hope to study geek culture, with a look towards minorities. In the mean time I enjoy playing the games and working behind the scenes when I can. I’d like to write at some point for an rpg. I’ve gotten the chance to write NPC’s for L5R and I hope to continue that, but would love to do more NPC work for other games in the future. And maybe a little bit of supplement writing for a game.

And that’s me in a nutshell. I have some others working with me on this project and I’ll let them introduce themselves when they are ready.

P.S. I also, from time to time, play Star Trek Online pretending that my Trill captain is only getting promotions due to a Star Fleet program of affirmative action. :)

The U.S.S. Solus C

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Making of a Black Character - Part 1

The Making of a Black Character – Modern Era

Detroit aka the Modern Era
            So as we start down this road of building awareness for the use of black characters I thought it would be good to start with what it means to be a black character. Now in my opinion what it means to build a black character is going to be somewhat different based upon whether or not the game takes place in a fantasy setting, a modern setting or a sci fi setting. Each of these different genres of role play is going to have different needs and in many cases a different basis for the integration of black characters into the game.

            I've thought about how best to approach this and I figure breaking it down by genre’s will give me the chance to explore the topic in greater detail, starting with games set in the modern era. For the purpose of this article I’m going to be drawing from the World of Darkness. I know there are other modern games, such as Spycraft (and the Spycraft supplement Shadowforce Archer: African Alliance) but overall I think World of Darkness is going to be one of the more common experiences people have with a modern setting.

            Now White Wolf does feature a fair number of minorities, so this isn't a statement to say that the game doesn't do its part for diversity in the industry. However at times the black characters don’t so much feel like black characters so much as a skin tone was added more as an afterthought.

            What I feel is missing from the way black characters are created and used in games such as the World of Darkness is how the structure and the institutions of the mortal world impact them as a supernatural character. In sociology we have a concept called structural racism, in which the nature of the rules that create a bias against minorities. It’s not an active form of discrimination so much as a passive remnant from a time when minorities weren't extended the same rights.

            When you’re looking at a character like Dante and Theo Bell you have to wonder (at least from where I sit) how does this affect them? Does being more than mortal automatically make them above the inherent limitations placed upon them by the system? Sure it’s a mundane detail, but it’s a detail that makes the character more than just a set of stats that happen to be colored black. 
Theo Bell - Brujah - Vampire the Masquerade

            And it isn't anything that needs to be outwardly stated. Theo Bell doesn't need a line or two about how he handles the mortal world charging him extra because of the color of his skin. But the fact that those kind of things happen is something influences how a character like Theo Bell looks and approaches the world.

            I’m not looking for overt racism here. Or even covert racism. What I’m suggesting though is a deeper understanding for the characters of color in regards to how the mortal world (at least in the United States) is set up to disadvantage minorities.  You may be wondering why this outlook would be important in an rpg. It’s a valid question.

            Such a perspective turns black characters into something more than just a different skin tone for an NPC. It provides people (let’s be honest the hobby is still overwhelmingly white) who don’t face those challenges a means to see them. Most importantly it gives black players something deeper to identify with. And when we have something deeper to identify with we are more inclined to pick up some dice and join you at the table.

- Dace

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Welcome to B.R.O.

Black Role-Players Organization

Welcome to the Black Role-Players Organization blog, also known as B.R.O.. What is this about? Well it's about raising awareness of minorities in gaming. Now I know the title says Black, but really I just liked the acronym B.R.O.. Really this is about minorities in gaming. Black, Hispanic, Asian, native american, it doesn't matter. You are welcome here.

Minorities is a growing part of the rpg community. And as a growing part of the audience we want to feel well represented in the gaming material. This includes having more NPC's that are of minority origin. More artistic work depicting minorities. Stories with in the medium that feature minorities and the minority perspective.

So I look forward to discussing the good, the bad, and as one of my favorite youtube channels say ... the nerdy ;) of rpgs. And it is my goal to give a voice to a growing segment of this wonderful hobby.

And of course one final note, don't forget to like us on Facebook