A while ago I asked some of my fellow contributors and friends for article ideas that I could write. I was inundated with all sorts of various, extremely creative ideas for subjects that I could cover. But one of those ideas really struck a chord with me, and I haven’t been able to shake it. The problem was that I didn’t know how to write an article on the subject! You see, the suggestion was how a GM could make their games more inviting to the LGBT+ community. And if any of you have looked at my profile here on Rolling Boxcars, you’ll see that I’m very much part of that community. However, I’ve only recently come to the epiphany that I’m LGBT+, it’s taken me some time to admit that to myself. Once I started my journey of self-discovery, I found myself unable to stop from digging deeper and discovering other aspects. The ancient Greek aphorism “Temet Nosce”, made famous in the Matrix movie, seems to be my guiding principle these days!
I think the cornerstone of understanding each other comes from knowledge. It is the lack of knowledge that keeps us from being able to accept those we see as different. Once the veil of mystery is pulled aside, I find that there is very little we don’t have in common. I say this as someone who has been on a life long journey of learning, and it wasn’t always by choice! I was born and raised in a very small town, it has one stoplight in it to this day, and I remember them putting that stoplight in! There weren’t any Black people in this town, no Asian people, and most definitely no LGBT+ people (at least not those who were out of the closet!) It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I got to meet someone of another race, and it didn’t go so well. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I heard about the neighbor’s adult son being gay, and it didn’t go so well. But I grew up and moved away from there. I’ve seen some of the world, lived in a lot of different places, gotten to know a lot of different people. My circle of friends and therefore my circle of understanding has grown exponentially over the years.
So, today I sit down to write not just about how you can be inclusive to the LGBT+ community, but how you can be inclusive to ALL minorities. Hopefully, I won’t falter in this enormous undertaking! And should I make a misstep, I ask that you let me know so that I can make the appropriate corrections to this article.
Rule # 1
We’re all human beings.
That means that we all make mistakes, we all have our strengths and weakness, we all succeed and fail, and we all put our pants on one leg at a time. Unless you’re one of those weirdos who sits on the bed and just shoves both feet in at the same time like some kind of barbarian! Just kidding!
But seriously, this is the starting point that everyone should take when approaching any minority! We’re ALL human beings. So, regardless of skin color or nationality, regardless of gender, sexual orientation (or lack of!), regardless of neurodivergence, religion, philosophy, or culture, we’re just people! There’s nothing so different between us that we can’t see this one commonality. Take a second and disregard what you see as being so different from you that you can’t understand it, just see this. We’re all human.
So, if someone comes to the table and they look different than you, sound different than you, or act different than you, try to see them as what they are. A different branch of the same human family. The things on the outside are like wrapping paper and a soundtrack. What’s inside the box underneath is all the same, it’s all that matters, and that’s what makes us all one beautiful people!
Rule # B
Let people be themselves, within reason.
People express themselves in different ways. They aren’t always the same ways that you may express yourself. Keep in mind that behavior you may find unacceptable or inappropriate may be seen from a completely different point of view on the other side of things. Just because someone happens to process the world differently than you, it doesn’t mean that they’re mentally deficient, weird, or amoral. It just means that they’re different from you. You’ll often find that some extreme behaviors can be minimized or placed under better control given a little time and patience. The thing that you don’t want to do is give a knee jerk reaction to someone who seems like they’re too wild for your game group.
Give people time to settle in, get to know them a bit. I find that having a gaming session that is for creating characters and simply chatting is a good way to see how the group is going to get along. You’ll be able to see right away who will work and who may have trouble. It will give you time to address any potential problems you find on the surface. If someone’s behavior is a little out of bounds for the dynamic you’re looking for, see if you think you can deal with that in the game. If not then consider politely having a word with them, sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing anything different than those around us!
Occasionally you’ll have someone who either can’t change their behavior or simply won’t. If you feel that you’ve made every attempt at trying to integrate this person into your game group and it’s not working out, don’t feel bad for asking them to leave. Gaming is a social activity and it takes a level of cohesion in the game group in order to work. While I don’t condone groups that feel like a high school clique, I do recognize that you can’t simply accept everyone. I’ve played in games with people who had trouble controlling their behavior, I’ve run games with these same people. Having a game group with diversity is possible, but it takes work from everyone to make it happen.
As an aside, I’ve run a game group that was made up of mostly people who have trouble controlling their behavior. Those who had an easier time controlling themselves were the minority! However, everyone was dedicated to making things work! The group got crazy often enough, but everyone recognized when it was time to reign themselves in. This should be your benchmark for whether someone is going to work in your game group!
Rule # 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582
Don’t “trigger” your players.
If you’re interested in having a more diverse gaming group, then you’ve probably already been rubbing elbows with a minority of some kind. You may have even heard of being “triggered”. This is a word that has been adapted to the English lexicon, meaning that a person has experienced a traumatic event or flashback in reference to something that has just happened. This can be because of something that was said, something that was seen, or simply something that was felt in relation to any given situation. In this modern context, you could say that being triggered is like a mild form of PTSD. And just because something is mild, you shouldn’t brush it off. Even mild forms of PTSD have significant effects on a person’s ability to function in society. Studies have shown that mild cases of PTSD, left untreated, can develop into serious psychological trauma that may take years of therapy to overcome.
Minorities aren’t the only ones who get triggered. I’ve met enough cisgender, heterosexual, neurotypical, white men who get triggered to know that it isn’t just minorities suffering from this. However, minorities are disproportionately triggered more simply because we’re minorities. Our society was set up by a dominant majority and continues to have that majorities narrative reinforced. In fact, even minorities will help to reinforce these narratives in some cases. Just because someone is a minority, it doesn’t mean that they are completely aware of every other minority and their struggles. As such, there are various aspects of our society that can be traumatic to us. You may also find a certain level of intersectionality, where someone is part of several different minorities. So, it’s a good idea to practice a level of understanding for all minorities, not just the ones you know about.
In the same way that you wouldn’t graphically describe violent child abuse in a game, there are things that you shouldn’t describe in detail for us. The problem that you will encounter with this is that you have NO IDEA what may or may not be triggering to different minorities! You will, trust me on this, YOU WILL feel like you’re walking in a minefield! But don’t worry, we’re here to help! If you know someone is of a particular minority, I suggest you try a Google search first. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for, try asking the person you don’t want to offend. Now, don’t just blurt it out! Approach them and let them know that you want to run something past them that may be offensive but that you want their opinion on it. Most of the time, we’re happy to point you in the right direction simply because you’re willing to try and understand. Making that effort is almost always a sure way for us to be willing to help you! You should also consider adopting the “X card”, you can find more information here.
The easiest way to get into trouble is in how you use language. Let’s face it, gaming is nothing but language, books, and dice at its core. It’s a social exercise that we do for enjoyment, and social interactions involve communication and most communication happens with speech. While some may disparage the idea of being careful of your language, you should remember that words have power. As a Game Master, your words set the scene and the tone of your games. Allowing yourself to use offensive language is also allowing others at the table to do so. This creates a hostile environment to minorities and pretty much ensures that we will never participate in your games again. So, I want to present to you a couple links that can help you understand why the things you say may trigger someone in your game group.
Rule # 四
Always tell your game group just how far you’re going to go.
Just like you wouldn’t want to go see a movie with a subject that you don’t enjoy, players don’t want to participate in games that could be offensive to them. The surest way to keep minorities out of your game is to not say anything beforehand and then smack them over the head with everything they find offensive. If you are upfront about it though, you may find that some people are willing to play anyway. Not everyone is triggered in the same way, so a Cthulhu game set in the 1930s sounds fantastic to me regardless of the lack of societal advancements, but a game set in the modern day south would probably be something I avoid. The reason for this is that I haven’t lived in the 1930s and portraying someone from that period of history doesn’t carry any negative connotations for me. However, I’ve lived in the south for decades. I wouldn’t go back there for anything short of a major lottery win.
My games tend to fluctuate around the PG-13 and R categories. There are simply some things that are best left to the imagination in my opinion. I’ve been in games that were closer to NC-17 and X categories. They were, disappointing to me. I came to the table to play a game, not live out a sex fantasy. But you may have players who want to portray someone that has some different attractions. Letting them know what kind of a world they’re playing in will help them to decide a lot of things about their character. If overt displays of sexuality could get their character in trouble, they will know to keep things under their hat, so to speak. But if your world is accepting of diversity, you will probably see a slightly different nuance in that character than before. If a player wants to get more graphic than you think is appropriate you have the right to shut that down! Just make sure that you hold the same standard for everyone in the game.
And speaking of nuances, it’s okay for your NPCs to have their own opinions and prejudices. Yes, you heard right! All worlds are full of people, and people are a great, diverse, and many-colored tapestry of all colors and types! The thing you shouldn’t do is continually hammer your PCs with people like this! And you shouldn’t make the NPCs too nasty about it either! Think about it along the lines of covert prejudice versus an overt prejudice. The NPC can make their opinion known through a turn of phrase, a disapproving look, or a hushed comment to someone else that can be overheard. But you should avoid the shouting, insulting, pitch-fork waving kind of hate that minorities put up with all too often.
Rule # ✪
Just because they’re a minority, it doesn’t mean they aren’t a jerk.
Most people recognize and understand the world that we live in. It may not be our version of paradise, but we understand that we must navigate it. Therefore, we’re more than willing to overlook small mistakes or give feedback on things when asked. But not everyone can be at their very best all the time.
Sometimes we have a bad day, sometimes we get caught off guard, sometimes we get pushed repeatedly so much so that we lose it. And sometimes, some of us are just jerks! We’re human after all! Try to not let the encounter with one minority shade your view of the rest who share the same traits. It’s only by happenstance that we’re born the way we are. Allowing yourself to see someone through the lens of the previous interactions you’ve had is robbing you of a potentially fantastic friendship!
As I’ve stated before, minorities are people, we’re human, just like you. And just like you, we run the gambit of all the various types and varieties. Through my expanded social circles, I’ve been able to meet people from nearly every social class and an extensive variety of careers. I’ve had in depth conversations with people who sell their body, people who work full time and still rely on government assistance, people who own million-dollar homes, people who run large religious organizations, people who are extremely conservative, and people who are liberal social justice warriors. They were all minorities of one type or another. And they all had the potential to be jerks. Just like every other human being.
So, if someone happens to be a minority and they seem to be taking every chance they get to beat you over the head with it, let them know they’re being a jerk. I mean, if you’re honestly trying but occasionally making a mistake and they keep jumping all over you for it, you have the right to defend yourself. And in that same vein of thought, if you keep making a lot of mistakes, you just might be the jerk in this situation. When in doubt, ask another person in the room, then ask another, and another. Seriously, ask everyone, not just the guy you know is going to agree with you!
Bigger, Better, More
In the overall scheme, what you want is to have a bigger pool of people to draw from so that you can have a better game, with the end goal of having more fun. You accomplish this by understanding how people need to be interacted with, by learning what they consider to be respectful behavior. Interfacing with someone who is a minority and making changes in how you conduct your game, in how you interact with people in general, is only going to expand your social contacts, it’s only going to enrich your life!
I honestly wish that I could go back in time with the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years in relation to minorities. There were so many people I should have talked to, so many people I should have been friends with! My life was a drab black and white film in comparison to the many layers of culture, history, wisdom, joy, love, and freedom that I now experience! By opening my mind and enthusiastically opening my gaming table to all despite whatever label they wear, I have gained ever more than I thought possible!
(A Bi-Romantic, Demi-Heterosexual, Neurodivergent, Non-Binary, Transgender, Caucasian Woman.)
The following are some inclusive, gaming-oriented businesses I’ve found! Please feel free to share others you may know of in the comments!
Wayward Masquerade – Unique, handmade dice bags!
HeartBeat Dice – Pride colored gaming dice!
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Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon
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