DexCon 2015 Recap Part 1: Inclusion

I spent my July 4th weekend locked in a hotel with a bunch of nerds. It was glorious.

As per what has become usual, I ran a Dresden Files RPG KristaCon event with three other fabulous GMs, the fabulous Krista White (of KristaCon fame), Brennan Taylor, and Matthew Aaron. We prepped for weeks for that game, taking into account comments that we received during roses and thorns expressed after our last Dresden KristaCon event.

We used the Paranet Papers, which just came out very recently. The nature of the Paranet lent itself really well to the use of the three tables, and we were really excited to see a lot of movement between tables for the first two sessions, not to mention the number of “text messages” that were sent between players to keep each other up on what was happening at each table. The sessions were filled with highlights for me.

But this, by far, was the best one from the entire weekend of Dresden games for me:

This was said to me after the first session of Dresden on Thursday night by a player who I had never met before this weekend. And it meant so much to me. Gaming is a space that is dominated in a lot of ways by a straight white cis male narrative. The landscape can be pretty bleak when you look out at it as a person who isn’t those four things all wrapped up in one. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten bored with a game simply because I was forced to play a male character. I mean, it happened to me just last night with Batman: Arkham Knight!

Inclusion is important. More than that, inclusion isn’t hard. When we worked on the Dresden game last year, we made sure that our characters were representative of more than one narrative (i.e. the overwhelming straight white one). We created characters that covered a wide spectrum of backgrounds. And you know what? It was just as difficult to make those characters as it was to make any other characters that I have created for the Dresdenverse. You use the same stats. The same mechanics for deciding aspects. It’s all, shockingly, the same! The only real, concrete difference is some of the background work. For example, when we decided to make a native American character, we had to look into the groups that lived in a certain area and make sure that the things we created for that character rang true for those groups.

When you are working to make a game inclusive and friendly to people other than your generic EveryWhiteMan, there are some things to consider. And it should be noted that you are going to make mistakes. Here’s a great example. There was a moment during planning this year when we realized that all of our sites for the game were in the United States. We quickly scrambled and decided that South America would be a third site and scrapped Indianapolis as a city. The South American site turned out to work really well in a lot of ways, and we felt pretty good about the decision to not be yet another game that takes place only in the USA.

Here’s some cliff notes on how to work inclusion into your game while still being sensitive to the groups that you are trying to represent. And remember as you are going through this process: these are not obstacles, they are opportunities! So many new avenues appear for you and your players when you open up your game to new ideas.

  1. Setting. Consider setting your game in an area that you are not as familiar with. This might take a little research on your part. But you will find that some games (like DFRPG, for example) have settings fleshed out for you already. Honestly, you can get a pretty good idea of a lot of areas by looking at Wikipedia and then following the reference links for deeper knowledge.
  2. Gender & Sexuality. If you are building characters for your characters to play at a con or writing questionnaires for your gaming group, try defaulting to they/them pronouns. Leave out specifying the gender identity and sex of any romantic entanglements. Let your players build their characters into the sexual identity and gender expression that they are the most comfortable with. Leave out names and let your players create those for themselves.
  3. Racial Identity. I like to include photos with character sheets when I’m doing a con. If this is something you like to do, try to make sure that the characters you are representing are diverse. If you are including characters from a background with which you are not familiar, do a little digging and make sure that the details you include are authentic and do not read as a cartoon parody of the culture that you are referencing. (i.e. do not make Japanese ninjas) This is an important element of creating characters that ring true and that are not going to be insulting to the culture that you are trying to represent.

The most important thing that you can do when you are trying to be inclusive in your games is to listen to your players. If they tell you that something seems off or express discomfort, hear them out. Make changes where appropriate. Be an accessible and fierce ally for the people who are trusting you with authority over them.

Have any other ideas on how to make games more inclusive? Let me know in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “DexCon 2015 Recap Part 1: Inclusion

  1. Instead of attaching pictures to character sheets, you could provide a bunch of pre-printed portrait squares. Players can cut these out and attach to their sheet. All you have to do is provide diversity in your selection of images. This worked really well in an AW long con I attended where the GMs asked players to all contribute a selection of pictures, so everyone got to include some of their own ideas of diversity.

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  2. Have a selection of images and names for the random NPCs. It’s not just Bob or Barbara at the quickie mart; the clerk’s name is (look at list of names) Kresha, and looks like (pick image). If your source is diverse, you won’t default to all one type of person.

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  3. I do the unspecified gender identity thing too. I’ve never had any comments for or against, I think most people barely notice it, it seems very natural. Like the Dirae said, it’s super easy — to anyone who’s considering this, I highly recommend it!

    If you like giving your pre-gens names, here are two options that have worked for me:

    1) Gender-versatile names like Dana, Alex, Morgan, Sam, Kelly, etc.

    2) Typically female / male names side by side, separated by a slash, in “circle one, cross out the other” format. My default has been to use similar names within each character (Anita / Anton, Kurt / Karen, etc.) to avoid any impression that each gendered name comes with certain other differentiation (e.g. Brock / Treasure sound like two different characters to me), but that’s just a best guess.

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