Recently, Mike Mearls (co-designer of the latest D&D edition) and a couple of popular online Dungeon Masters sat down for a chat about the trajectory of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. As somebody who loves insight and opinions on game design I watched it intently. Questions about the game’s past, future, and present were passed around, and then eventually the host brought up his intense desire to see a demographic shift away from… white men in the game. The host himself is a “queer” white man and although I don’t know much about him, judging by this discussion he has a chip on his shoulder about the lack of inclusion in the hobby. He thinks this is a priority that needs to be actively pushed, for some reason, so that some day there won’t be white men leading the culture of tabletop RPG’s.
Even without the popularity of Cultural Marxism and the SJW agendas creeping into every aspect of recreation (I have no idea whether these people subscribe to the ideology,) this is a stupid concern born out of ignorance. But it might not be obvious why it’s so stupid.
Let me state the obvious first. In a free market people can buy and participate in what they want. That’s a powerful concept that SJW’s refuse to recognize because it means people already do the things they want — and the need for cultural overlords like them is nonexistent. White people can play basketball, a Native American can learn Muay Thai kickboxing, and a black woman can play Chess; none of the prevailing stereotypes are blockades. You don’t need a red carpet and a personal invitation to participate in something, you just need the desire and the guts to go do it. There are black women who play Chess quite well, just as there are still white guys playing in the NBA. Minorities have always played tabletop RPGs, and in numbers exactly proportionate to how many of them really wanted to do it. Not only that, but the data shows very clearly that the more fair and equitable you make a system (meaning, less oppression there is) the more people act out stereotypes in a free market–at least in terms of occupational selection and household roles. If we all had several million dollars and permission to do whatever we wanted, science suggests that we would end up fitting the traditional bell curve more tightly, not less. There’s nothing wrong with that. The nice thing about a free market is that it sorts itself out by interest unless there’s some huge financial barrier; which there isn’t in the case of RPGs. Stigmatizing tendencies of a demographic is not only insulting to that group, but pointless because people already tend to do the things they enjoy.
Less obvious is the irony. The show’s host suggests that D&D culture purposely excluded everyone else from participating in the supposedly sexy and fashionable hobby of roleplaying games. And while he said this, the older white men in the panel all nodded along with rehearsed doublethink. The reality is the exact opposite, of course. Speaking as somebody who didn’t play tabletop RPG’s growing up and thought of it as a pathetic escapist hobby for many years (which it was in many cases), I can attest that it was society which rejected, not the other way around. The D&D players were the butt of mainstream culture’s joke, and their coping mechanism was to reject society in turn. They were vilified and shunned by society, and they endured constant derision in order to protect their hobby. The stigma faced by the old guard ended up forging a very strong and defensive culture over the decades. The same thing happened with the arrival of the Internet, and the same thing happened with video games. Millions of potential “normie” customers were too afraid to try these things because TV told them they would be losers if they did. Then, when business models and exposure began to change people’s minds, attitudes softened. Pink-haired hipsters whose only gimmick is revisiting old and uncool things so they can ruin it all over again invaded and brought a lot of sensitive friends with them. They’ll just astroturf anything they don’t like about the places they gentrify. It’s practically become a social experiment to see how much cognitive dissonance the Earth can endure. We’re being told that society’s #1 rejects were actually the “gatekeepers” who tirelessly fought to keep the women and popularity from flooding their hobbies. It’s mind-numbingly cruel and unfair.
In any sort of just universe, society would collectively apologize to the rejected nerds of yore and help them put their guard down. We would help them acclimate to the new generation of open-minded people who aren’t going to attack them. These people should learn from the traditionalists and appreciate their values and cultural norms so that the hobby can be preserved. Instead, we have the Cultural Marxists leading the charge to attack and demonize the very people who have already been attacked and demonized for decades simply because they were a minority. Not a minority of something as irrelevant as skin color and gender, but a minority market made up of whoever cared enough to keep the flame burning with sheer passion and devotion. For as painful as it is to acknowledge, I have to wonder if it isn’t collective guilt and voyeurism that drove the popularity of The Big Bang Theory as “normies” realized that they never gave nerds a chance. They want insight into the weird group of people who endured a lifetime of stigma in order to foster innovation and interests that have now become mainstream. Think of them as an underclass of shamed gurus. It’s fashionable to be a “nerd” now, but nerds themselves are not done being attacked and humiliated, only from the opposite angle now, because they have something genuine to offer and this makes the attention-craving hipster crowd desperately envious. They’re like great soaring vacuums that suck up everything sincere and organic and instead astroturf it with reflective surfaces instead so they can stare at their own smug faces all day, wherever they go.
Are nerds guilty of wanting their revenge? Yes, they want revenge. Revenge of the nerds, you could even say! But the only way for nerds to get their revenge in a free market is for them to use the same weapon of stigma that the mainstream audience invented to attack them in the first place. What I’m saying is, even if there are “gatekeepers” who try to stop queers and women from playing the game, they have no power, nor could they if they wanted it. Unless you’re obsessed with approval and validation from strangers, it shouldn’t affect you. If you really wanted to do it, you would just do it and suffer the ridicule of the “nerd gatekeepers” the way they endured the ridicule of society. They proved that it’s possible to thrive underground.
Probably the dumbest moment of the whole conversation came from Matthew Colville (who otherwise seemed like the smartest guy) when he cited an old Kevin Smith essay about comic book shops as an analogy. He said that comic book shops were designed to keep normal people out, which is why they were dark and stinky. This is like saying that the pornography section of the video store was poorly lit and hidden behind a curtain because the people who dared to rent VHS pornos in a semi-public place thought that they were too damn high-and-mighty to be seen around wholesome attractive women and well-adjusted fellow humans. Are you fucking kidding me, dude? The amount of shame and self-loathing baked into nerd culture before the internet and hipsters flipped everything on its head was insane. You didn’t want to be seen in a comic book store, and you didn’t want normal people in there because they would laugh at you or — just as hurtful — take pity on you. People isolate themselves from society when they feel ostracized, not because they feel elitist. That’s why the pimply-faced teenager with the cracking voice stays in his room; not because he thinks he’s too damn sexy and important for others.
Gatekeepers, Fair and Foul
Do the guys at Penny Arcade laugh in evil delight at their position of power? I know that Jerry Holkins takes great pleasure in hosting D&D shows that millions of people (including myself) enjoy on a regular basis, but does he secretly want to exclude people from the hobby and make sure that only white men enjoy it? Of course not. He wants to be loved by those who once hated him. He wants acceptance. You can almost feel the catharsis he experiences when a stadium full of normies cheers at his dice rolls. It must be like 10 years of therapy in one instant. If anything, you could argue that he wants to make the game as big as possible while owning the brand culturally. This allows him to not only protect it from being hijacked too badly, but also serve as a coach. And as you may know, a coach is not a friend giving you advice, he’s the authority who judges your performance and prescribes your behavior.
But so what? As the hosts of the D&D discussion panel pointed out, radical shifts are already happening in the tabletop gaming world and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it*. More gays, minorities, and women are flocking to the hobby than ever before, and Wizards of the Coast are eager to capitalize on this. Nobody seems to realize it, but being faux-oppressed and embracing things that were once highly unpopular is the hipster generation’s way of deflecting accusations of privilege. So the market numbers are going to keep shifting away from straight white men. That’s okay, because know what? It’s a free market.
I don’t care what happens to the demographics of gaming, whether tabletop or digital. If they become popular among women, that’s great. It’s a shame that so many women missed out on great gaming experiences over the decades due to something as silly as social pressure, but now the tables have turned and it’s up to them whether to push past whatever stigma exists in order to have fun. Although I reject the Cultural Marxist agenda in all its forms I still welcome anyone to enjoy the same hobbies I do. Thankfully, if Wizards of the Coast begin to pander too much to the SJW crowd there will be other alternatives available for me, because yes, that’s also a feature of the free market.
I’m no gatekeeper. When I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons there have been multiple women at the table and they were my favorite people to play with. The guys were all too obsessed with min-maxing and gaming the system while the girls were interested in exploring characters and choices. As I wrote in The Fantasies of Fiction, the true hook of role-playing games is not conformity to expectations, but rather the ability to indulge in dilemmas that aren’t easy or politically correct; and it’s precisely the repressed and socially pressured “normies” who will benefit the most from having an outlet to dream about some alternate reality where they don’t have to keep up with their socially approved stereotypes. It will be interesting to see whether the influx of hipsters — led by traditionalist gatekeepers such as Jerry Holkins — find the path of controversy and embrace it. Confronting our internal contradictions, half-truths, dissonances, and doublethinks are a byproduct of indulging hypotheticals to the extreme, and that’s exactly what roleplaying is.
* Unless maybe Donald Trump announces he loves D&D