TTRPGs: Too white, too straight, and too many dicks?

Errr... our character called me what?
Portrait by Tash Van Der Walt

The demographics of Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TTRPGs), make it overwhelmingly likely that you, like myself, are a straight white male, and I think there are problems with that.

But let me start at the beginning…

I was writing a two-part guide on Session Zerolast week, and rather improbably, it got me whipped into full-on rant levels of agitation in the process.

The trigger that sent me into a whirl of typing-and-fury was the part on how Session Zero can proactively deal with ‘negative stereotypes and bigotry,’ such as, but not limited to sexism, homophobia, and racism.

My research took a detour through r/rpghorrorstories on Reddit, and the first post I read was from a female DM relaying a story about a player who went to extreme lengths to roleplay what amounts to a sexual assault on an NPC, and meanwhile, the other players (all of whom were male), did nothing.

A “what the actual fuck?” slipped off my tongue as I set about rage-typing this post; reflecting on how it’s a massive detriment to our hobby, that on the whole, those playing it are too white, too straight, and too male, and that some of us are dicks.


What about some facts?

To get us going, let’s start with each of our personal anecdotes. I’m writing from a UK/North American perspective, and I can’t imagine anyone arguing against the statement that the majority of people playing TTRPGs are both white and male. A walk into your local store should bare that out.

Hard stats on this are tough to come by, but a couple of small, and relatively informal studies, here, and here, demonstrate that people who identify as ‘male’ are between 69% and 73% of the total. The same studies put ‘white’ ethnicity at 89%, and ‘heterosexual’ preference at 71% of respondents.

Therefore, if you are a player, you are overwhelmingly likely to be a pale hetero male.

Clearly that’s not to say everyone who enjoys our hobby belongs to this homogenous group, but the available statistics speak for themselves. Hell, even the fact that there are no large, statistically relevant survey results available on this topic is a reason to worry*.

Indeed, why haven’t the big publishing houses conducted more thorough surveys and analysis on this topic? I assume they have, or at least Wizards of the Coast have, since they put out this overdue, but nicely balanced blog last year. So if they have these statistics available, why are they not published for us all to see? But that’s something to dive into another time.

*If this does exist somewhere, please point me in that direction, as I had a bloody good look, and could’t find it.


Who cares?

If your response to the information above is along the lines of; “why is that a problem, and what does it have to do with me?” then you are probably a straight white dick, and whether you realise it or not, you are part of the problem.

Of course our hobby would be more rich, more rewarding, more surprising, more entertaining, more challenging, and just generally more fun if only it had deeper representation from women ,and people from BAME/BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.

This isn’t a recruitment drive to get people from those communities into the hobby, but it is shining a light on what we as the largest population of players need to do to make the hobby more accessible to others.

And yes we should care, because the only thing on this planet that wouldn’t be improved with broader inclusion from people of diverse backgrounds is a white power parade (and even then there’s a chance…).


A little theatre of the mind

Let’s run a thought experiment for us straight white guys.

Firstly, imagine you have different genitals, darker skin, an alternative view of your sexuality, or identify with any other non-majority demographic.

And secondly, remember the statistics mean you are very likely to be sharing a game with mostly straight white males.

Now image a few specific things that may happen to the minority you, in-character:

  • What if you identify as homosexual, or you have a disability, but the game literally never depict people like you. Or worse still, those types of people are shown as caricatures, or just generally belittled?
  • Or next, what if you are a woman and your male peers create lascivious, ditzy, half-nude female characters for some kind of personal wish fulfilment? As a female gamer said to me; “There’s a world of difference between playing a slutty whore for self titillation, vs roleplaying an empowered woman who uses her sexuality to get others to bend to her will.”
  • And finally, if I reference the Reddit thread at the top once more. What if you are any normal, reasonable, human being and another player tries to roleplay sexual assaults against females in-game… how does that make you feel?

I can tell you that it makes me fucking furious.

Obviously I can’t and won’t speak for any minority group, but I imagine that if your first or repeated experience of play is one where the other people at the table reinforce negative stereotypes about a core part of your identity, then that probably lowers your desire to keep playing. And therefore our hobby struggles to diversify.


Does this piss you off?

Some of my fellow straight white males may be protesting in all the ways that offended straight, white men with privilege do.

  • They say this is a straw man argument and it doesn’t exist in reality.
  • They say offended minorities need to grow a thicker skin.
  • They say they, personally, don’t behave in these ways, and shrug the topic off.
  • They say that ‘snowflakes’ like me writing this piece, should stay in my lane and shut up.
  • And mostly they say, ‘who cares.’

But we must care, because unless we straight white guys do a better job of checking our privilege and making the game more open for minorities of all types, then we’ll be left playing in an echo chamber with ourselves. Sure, we’ll still have fun, but will it be the most fun we could possibly have?

Obviously not.


So what should we do?

All this amounts to two tiny requests to my my fellow straight white males.

1. Try to be more conscious and respectful of players who are different to you (I’ll also try to do the same).

2. Next time someone at your table says something disrespectful about people who are different to you, whether the disrespect is unintentional or otherwise; call it out right away. No ifs, no buts. (I’ll also try to do the same).

Cheers,

DT

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