Saturday, 29 June 2013

Appropriation (Part Two)

Constant reader Matt responded to yesterday's post with a reply that echoes many of my own thoughts. I thought I'd start today by re-posting that comment in its entirety, just in case you missed it yesterday:

"Even if players confine themselves to character types that match their own experiences, the GM can't, any more than the writer can, without effectively vanishing all diversity from the game. If a white male GM can't run PCs that aren't white males, you end up with a game where anything important is done by white males. And that is pretty damned problematic in its own right.

The advice I have seen given to authors is to do a lot of research, accept that you'll get it wrong, get beta readers who can catch that, accept that you'll *still* get it wrong, and be able to admit that when called on it.

And even then, it's going to be problematic if you have a white person telling the story of non-white people; it's always going to be an outsider's perspective, the dominant culture looking at another culture. But I think it's important, even necessary, to make sure that the characters in our books and games look like the people we're trying to represent. Women, people who aren't white, a multitude of religions, etc., all exist in the real world, so we must have them in our stories, or we end up with stories that say those people don't matter.

This is much harder advice for a gamer - we're supposed to be having fun, so how much research do we really want to do? And the audience is limited to those at the table, so there's a much lower chance of someone catching screwups.

My current supers game is set in north-eastern Ontario, and I have been struggling with representing First Nations in the setting. It's fairly unreasonable to say there aren't any in the area, so there's a rez nearby, but I am worried that I haven't done enough research to avoid racist stereotypes and misconceptions.

The best answer I can come up with is to keep trying, and accept that we'll fuck up, and be willing to listen and change when we find out that we fucked up."

I agree wholeheartedly with the above.  To that, I can only add the following:
  1. Research into playing characters outside your cultural group is really important. Do your homework, and keep doing it. Immerse yourself in that culture and try to pay it respect with your portrayal at the table. Accept that, like Matt says, you will probably still not get it right. 
  2. Dramatic play at the table often means writing characters "large", if you follow me; players often default to characterizations that are more theatrical than natural, which can lead you down the path of stereotype or caricature. Underplaying a character of a different culture or gender is probably a good start at trying to inhabit that character sincerely and more realistically.
As Matt says, telling stories that are diverse and inclusive is a good thing -- we just have to work at doing it well. Being attentive and learning about another culture or point of view is a good thing, and indeed I would argue that all good art is an act of compassion. If roleplaying helps us understand each other even a little bit more, then that's a good thing well worth the effort.

Back when I was studying writing, I took it as the highest possible compliment that I wrote women characters well. That was not something that came easily to me, it was something I had to work very hard at, and be humble and willing to listen to criticism when I was getting it wrong.

And like all things that require hard work, the satisfaction of occasionally getting it right makes all the difference.

1 comment:

  1. has a relevant article up this week: