Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diversity circa 1993

Diversity circa 1993

            Mage the Ascension is one of my favorite games, hands down. And one of the things that made me overwhelming support White Wolf back in the day was its approach to diversity. This was very refreshing for someone who was just getting into the hobby and wanted to play characters like him. So this gem of an article was reposted by Satyros Phil Brucato (one of the brilliant writers of that game) in regards to a conversation online about diversity in gaming and the Drow (which one day I’ll write about). This article was written by Travis Williams (another great author on Mage working at White Wolf at the time). This is reprinted with the permission of Mr. Brucato.

In the Howling at the Moon column in White Wolf Magazine #39, Travis Williams wrote:

I'm confused. I’m looking at my game shelf here at White Wolf.

I’m disgusted.

A number of black people approached me at GenCon and
asked about the cover of Mage: “Hey, did you have something to do with that?“

“Do with what? A black man on the cover? What do you think?

I think it’s about time black people were represented in the game industry. As a black man who has scarcely found any people of his kind in roleplaying’s grand clique, it gives me great pleasure to start my own clique. Wanna join? The membership’s free.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I’m bitter. The fact that a race of people is absent from a pastime seems asshckward. Wouldn’t you agree?

Let me take you back a year or two, back to when I joined the White Wolf staff. (They had to hire me, see; I hung around too much.) I remember talking to my friend Darryl. He said,“Travis, since you’re in the biz now, do me a favor and ask TSR a question.” I said sure, what the hell. Boy, did he make me think. He asked me to find out why Athas, a fictional planet with
an elevated temperature, the setting of AD&Ds Dark Sun, didn’t have black people on it. Seems bizarre that there are no real black people on Athas, just whites with tans. I never really thought about it until he mentioned

When I attended a convention where TSR was represented, Of course, they had no answer. I didn’t really expect one. Which brings me to my point - where are the black people in RPGs?

Let’s set a few things straight. I don’t think black people deserve
a bigger place in RPGs than any other race. But the fact that they’re absent makes me wonder about people’s perception of the world. Most fantasy games are modeled after Europe. That’s fine, but Africa is closer to Europe than Japan is, and the Orient appears in more fantasy games than Africa does. Come to think of it, I can’t even think of a fantasy game that portrays
blacks in a “respectable light.”

The point can be argued that only white kids play roleplaying games, so why bother depicting blacks? If that’s so, I’m really confused. Sure, the market’s made up largely of whites, but there are blacks out there playing (there are even some black women in roleplaying - I’ve met two, and I’m dating one of them). Why aren’t there more blacks, male or female? I have a theory: representation.

Ever see a black person on the cover of a rulebook, module, sourcebook or novel? Maybe once or twice. But it doesn’t make up for the multitude of whites that do appear
Hopefully, thanks to some socially aware folks, the times are a changin’. Mage has my character,
Dante, on the cover. Shadowrun and Earthdawn (FASA’s games) have many black characters in their scenarios. Vampire and Werewolf have their share of black people, and Mage will too. I think this industry needs to realize that if it wants to keep growing, it had damn well better broaden its audience, and that means making more people comfortable in it.

To all those RPG companies who don’t have a clue, here’s a free one. Where are the black people? I’m still wondering why Amber, a place of “cosmic perfection,” has no blacks in it. Why are they excluded? Do they think blacks are going to bring crime with them? Help me out, Phage Press. I know it’s Roger Z’s world, but do somethin’.

It occurs to me that representation in games may be white because designers are commonly white. However, Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk has no black people in its rules. So much for that theory. I wasn’t on the staff at White Wolf when Chicago by Night 1st edition came out. However, I made sure there was plenty of color in the Windy City. I’m still wondering
why the Followers of Set (real evil vampires) are for the most part black. Paranoia?

I have never played a white person in an RPG. When I did play fantasy games, I played a member of a nonhuman race, usually an elf - perhaps because elves were the only AD&D race that had black skin. I wonder why the Forgotten Realms’ only black race- the drow - is also the one hated by all the other races? If it sounds like I’m singling companies out, respond and refute me. Better yet, show me a black paladin and I’ll gladly shut the hell up.

If you think I’m being extreme, put yourself in my shoes. If you opened a game and found only black people depicted, how eager would you be to play?

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m overreacting. The fact still remains that RPGs don’t seem to cover the racial spectrum. Comics have learned that representation of black characters works (look at Milestone Media). The movie industry has learned as well (John Singleton, Spike Lee, Bill Duke). And this representation shouldn’t stop with black people. We should represent all races and lifestyles: blacks, Asians, Hispanics, gays ... the whole nine yards. Maybe then this industry will have a wider audience.

You know why minorities aren’t big in RPGs? Say it in writing.

Or maybe I’ll continue to be confused.



  1. https://static3.paizo.com/image/content/RiseOfTheRunelords/Pathfinder7_Paladin.jpg Seelah, the iconic Paladin from Pathfinder.

  2. Yeah I've seen her before. I like how Pathfinder is very up front in that regards. They recently previewed some new iconics that were black from their new book. Makes me wish I had the money to get it when it comes out.

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  4. I met Travis in 1993 at Gen-Con, when it was still in Milwaukee, he was working the White Wolf booth and I was working the FASA/VWE both for the Battletech simulator. At the time my gaming groups where incredibly diverse. Though race wasn't really an issue for my groups I realized that the reason that I was never into D&D, I cut my teeth with The Star Frontiers blue box, because the popular fiction that inspired fantasy genre RPG never had any cultural identification for me. I gravitated more toward, Science fiction and modern day espionage settings. White Wolf was pioneering in it's inclusion of blacks in much of the interior art for their books. But, the lack of black representation was never an issue. When you make a character they are whatever race, color or creed that you want them to be. I had been playing my favorite system, Cyberpunk 2020 for years and didn't find out that Mike Pondsmith was black until the late 90's and one wouldn't have know it to look at his books. And you know what? It didn't matter. RPG is a place for our imaginations to run free without the stigma of race. RPG in general has come a long way much like American society as a whole and no matter matter what color you are EVERYONE benefits.

  5. I think given its modern setting, White Wolf was a lot more inclusive in every way than other systems out there-- its World of Darkness encompassed the entire globe and as such drew from as many sources as possible.

  6. “If you think I’m being extreme, put yourself in my shoes. If you opened a game and found only black people depicted, how eager would you be to play?”

    Very. I wonder if, being part of the majority, we feel so welcomed by the hobby that playing someone who looks like us isn’t important. (Heck, I know people who will refuse to play a game if they can only play humans. They want to play something very different from themselves.)

    Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe most whites would be turned off by such a game.

  7. I tend to think that those who are in the majority don't tend to think much about it. I don't mean that in a bad way or anything. It's just been my observation that things like represenation don't matter in the same kind of way for them because they are the default.

    I have plenty of friends who still don't get why this is an important issue for me. They always tell me "it's make believe you can be whatever you want. Who cares if they don't depict black folks?" And I don't think their racist or anything but I do think that always being represented kinda makes you ambivalent to the issue.

  8. Perhaps part of the reason there's not enough minority representation in games is because there's not enough minorities making them. I saw a study saying only 2% of game developers are black. https://gamesindustryskills.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/igda_developerdemographics_oct05.pdf

    Shitty statistics.