Let's talk about the collection of essays Outside the Dungeon, published by Asterisco Edizioni, and how it tackles gender, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation discrimination in the role-playing community.

Asking how society's practices and ideas interface with the role-playing community is always an interesting topic. After all, "we live in a society" and the way we approach many practices, including play, also reflects the characteristics of the societies we live in, for better or for worse. IS Outside the Dungeon wants to investigate just this: how role play interfaces with the social disparities present in our societies.

Outside the Dungeon is edited by Editions asterisk and is edited by Martha Palvarini, former author of the role-playing game Dura-Lande, of which we have spoken here e here and that is crowdfounding here!

Outside the Dungeon is a collection of essays of different researchers and researchers in various areas of social studies. The collection is introduced by a presentation, specially written for the Italian edition, of Avery Alder, game designer author of Monster hearts, Dream Askew e The Quiet Year. Each essay analyzes the relationship between role playing and some social issues. At the end of the volume, however, the results of the studio di Women, Dice & Data (DD&D) on gender discrimination in the Italian role play.

The Facebook cover of Donne, Nuts & Data, which collaborated on Outside the Dungeon
The Facebook cover of Women, Dice & Data, which he collaborated on Outside the Dungeon

An important premise: why is talking about the problems of our community positive?

The fact that the role-playing world is not an isolated planet from the rest of reality it shouldn't sound new to anyone. Nonetheless, whenever we talk about any social issue in our community, those who believe that role-playing is on a different level from the material one always comes up.

However, like any activity done by humans within a company, it is only natural that in the role-playing game behaviors, beliefs, ideas and prejudices already present in the aforementioned society will reoccur. And when these behaviors, beliefs, ideas or prejudices are toxic, it is necessary to study them to understand them better, not to hide them under a pillow.

Just because many of the people who play role-playing games today are fortunate enough to be able to play in positive and inclusive environments, this has not always been the case. And this is not always the case for everyone. We have brought some examples here.

More study, less simpleness

For this reason, the best way to understand how to deal with male chauvinism, hazing, homobitransphobia, racism and classism in our community is, as always study, study and study. Solutions like "just don't play with bitchy people" or "fuck the sexists" are certainly effective. After all, it's common sense, isn't it? But these solutions are actually "simplifications". Were it that simple to eradicate sexism and racism, we won't have hundreds of them yet testimonies of sexism at the table collected by DD&D in 2018.

These calls to common sense are little different from the "close the borders" and the "close the ports" of certain populist homegrown politicians. These simple claims flatten complex and stratified social problems under simple but completely ineffective solutions. In some cases, perhaps they are the result of more of a willingness not to take the problem seriously than an intention to resolve discrimination. This is why it is necessary to study the subject thoroughly before proposing solutions. That's why you have to listen to those who have been dealing with these issues for years. And that's why it is more useful to talk about consensus at the gaming table, rather than simple bar solutions.

The fight against discrimination as a path of personal improvement

Here because Outside the Dungeon it is an important book to read. Confronting the study and the experience of experts in the sector is instructive and helps to get a better idea of ​​the issue. The fight against discrimination of all kinds is complex and addresses extremely difficult social issues, which have spread over decades or centuries.

Even those who consider themselves open, progressive, non-sexist or racist always have something more to learn. Because true understanding of these issues is not simple, it is not obvious it cannot be reduced to "but I'm not a racist / sexist". We were born and raised in a society where certain discrimination and certain asymmetric relationships are not only accepted, but also taught. The "not being racist / sexist / homophobic" is not a state of affairs, but a path in which the causes and dynamics relating to discrimination are gradually better understood and attempts are no longer perpetrated.

In fact, it is very difficult for a person to be "spotless" in this sense: we have all said or done sexist, racist, homobiphobic, transphobic, classist, skillful things. Me first. But the point of the situation is not being "pure", but being willing to continue learning. As my beloved says Sanderson, journey before destination.

The cover of Fuori dal Dungeon
The cover of Outside the Dungeon

A few words about Avery Alder's introduction to Outside the Dungeon

The introduction of Avery Alder it is actually a short essay in turn, in which the author asks herself briefly about what representation is and what it is used for in role-playing.

First, Alder points out how the representation of a certain category of people is not necessarily something positive, if done with malicious intent or carrying forward prejudice. We must therefore ask ourselves whether people in the position of writing RPGs have the appropriate tools and adequate knowledge to make representation in a non-stereotyped way. In this sense, Alder takes up the essay by Sihvonen and Stenros, where the subject is dealt with more deeply.

So Alder tells his experience as a game designer, in which she tries to be the first not to write about other people based on her own prejudices. Precisely for this reason, she consults or calls to write with her people with life experiences different from hers, then also relying on sensitivity readers, i.e. editors specialized in the treatment of delicate and discrimination issues. Furthermore, Alder acknowledges that the representation of people in the game is not made only through the images of the manuals, but also through the game mechanics themselves. However, Avery Alder acknowledges that writing the manual does not allow control over the game table, where the stories that are created are wild and unpredictable. However, Alder tries to tackle this aspect too, wondering if he is creating intuitive and accessible games both in terms of terminology and economically.

Vampires, one of the first role-playing games that included queer themes
Vampiri, one of the first role-playing games that included queer themes

The first essay by Outside the Dungeon: Out of the dungeons. Representation of queer sexuality in RPG manuals.

Written by Tanya Sihvonen e Jaakko Stenros, this essay focuses, as the title suggests, on how non-heterosexual sexuality was represented in role-playing. Important premise: their article does not analyze the way people play at the table, but focuses on the manuals. Sihvonen and Stenros, in fact, realize very well that whoever plays can stage stories, characters and relationships not necessarily described in the manuals.

Analyzing English manuals printed between 1974 and 2005, Sihvonen and Stenros point out that queer issues are almost totally absent from them. In fact, although some fringes of society accuse them of Satanism, role-playing games are actually very conservative in the social situations they offer.

When in the 70s / 80s there was talk of queer people in the RPGs. What did they say?

And what about the titles that, instead, of queer sexuality have spoken? Here, they do not always make a good impression.

Queer sexuality was first explored in the late XNUMXs, but non-straight and / or non-cisgender characters were usually relegated to the role of antagonisti, of monstrous creatures or repressed and homophobic homosexuals. This is the case, for example, of Mack the Knife in the title GURPS Supers: Wild Cards, inspired by the homonymous novels edited by GRR Martin. Indeed, in role-playing Central Casting: Heroes of Legend, published by Task Force Games in 1988, homosexuality, transsexuality, asexuality and bisexuality are listed among the dark personality traits that can be had, all under the category Sexual disorders. And it was not an oversight or bad taste! In fact, the editors of the Task Force Games wrote in black and white that for them the only legitimate sexuality was not even between man and woman, but precisely between husband and wife.

First steps towards positive representations: cyberpunk 2020, Vampire: The Masquerade e Blue Rose

The RPGs related to the cyberpunk genre were like cyberpunk 2020, to clear customs and queer relationships first, without demonizing them. However, even in their case, the representation of queer people was not devoid of heavy stereotypes.

Things have changed with Vampire: The Masquerade, in the XNUMXs, which placed sex and sexuality at the center of history, where previous games explicitly avoided these themes. Vampiri evidently had a different target and committed to include queer characters, although often this representation expired in tokenism and queer quotas.

The fantasy genre will take longer to insert non-monstrous queer characters, and the first steps taken will be small veiled hints. With the XNUMXs, however, queer characters will begin to appear more massively, with RPGs like Blue Rose.

The research ends in 2005, leaving out the publications of the past 15 years. However, it offers an interesting overview of how the RPG has been a very conservative environment for a long time, at least in its editorial side. Fortunately, things are improving.

How were women represented in the first editions of D&D?
How women were represented in the first editions of D&D?

The second essay by Outside the Dungeon: Privilege, Power and Dungeons & Dragons. How systems shape racial and gender identities in board role-playing games

Written by Antero Garcia, this essay focuses on how game systems, and how they represent gender, race and power, shape the experiences of gamers. To do this, Garcia relies specifically on D&D, in its 11 editions, which also includes the first edition of Pathfinder.

Garcia points out that, although the moment in which it takes place in role play is perceived as separate from the rest of reality and dedicated to fun, in reality the "magic circle" of the game is not impervious to conventions and social prejudices. And the structure of the D&D manuals, especially in the first editions, shows all these conventions and all these prejudices.

Female players and characters in D&D

D&D was born from the wargaming community, composed mainly of white men and its first editions reflect this very masculine perspective, with titles such as Men & Magic e Fighting Men. The players were considered something rare and exotic also in subsequent editions, and the 1978 manuals provided that female characters had lower Strength statistics than male ones. It was clearly differentiated Pathfinder, with its iconic female characters, the alternation of female and male in the descriptions and the inclusion of many queer characters.

Then analyzing the images of the manuals, Garcia notes that the female characters were represented graphically in rather low percentages in the first editions (about 22%), to then occupy 50% of the images in today's manuals. Predictably, Pathfinder even exceeds D&D 5e, with 62% of images including women. In addition, the first editions of D&D they depict their few women in tendentially skimpy clothes, or in impotent poses (curled up or terrified). With Pathfinder e D&D 5e, things have obviously changed.

Breeds and white people: between stereotypes and exoticism

Garcia therefore shifts his attention to the complex and sometimes antagonistic breeds and relationships that characterize them. Gygax has in fact entered the racism between races within your game, making it a conflict engine for the stories told. There are, however, breeds characterized not only for their physical properties, but also for social habits that are typical of a character not because of the society in which he was raised, but as genetically belonging to a certain breed. Therefore, half-trailers are genetically aggressive and wild, which recalls certain western beliefs of the early twentieth century. Focusing instead on humans, Garcia notes how, prior to the fifth edition of 2014, most human characters were typically Bianca, with different ethnicities generally brought in additional supplements and treated as exotic.

Finally, Garcia analyzes the figure of the master and the power with which these are invested in manuals. Indeed, if D&D 5e defines the master as a creative force, the previous editions instead implemented the semi-absolute power of the master.

In conclusion, Garcia shows with D&D how cultural constructions, systems and people change over time. “D&D is a system of possibilities,” says Garcia, capable of opening up to new horizons.

Cover of Eclipse Phase, mentioned in Outside the Dungeon
Cover of Eclipse phase, referred to in Outside the Dungeon

The third essay by Outside the Dungeon: Role-playing Games as Resistance. The new dream laboratory

This essay by Catherine Cross explore how role playing can be used for explore life possibilities that would not normally be granted in real life. For her study, Cross focuses on the experience of women who have used role play to explore themselves outside the constraints of social sexism.

In particular, Cross tells about his experience as a player of World of Warcraft, during which she realized she was a trans woman, thanks to the possibility of playing a female character. Of course, the Blizzard with WoW he hadn't expected his title to be used by trans people to explore their gender identity safely. But that didn't stop anyone.

This self-exploration was also studied by Cross in board games pen and paper, paying particular attention to the RPG Eclipse phase. In this title, it is explicitly said that gender has become an obsolete concept and the manual uses the singular as a neutral pronoun they. Eclipse phase not only pays particular attention to the exploration of the social and economic dynamics of his setting, but also presents a great variety of different characters. In fact, many NPCs are activists, women and people of color.

Cross concludes his essay by underlining how pen and paper RPGs are a "creation site that necessarily expands the player's mind". The feminist narrative should look at role play, as this allows one to tackle complex problems in created worlds, becoming a real dream laboratory.

Even wargames are covered in Outside the Dungeon!
Even wargames are treated in Outside the Dungeon!

The fourth essay by Outside the Dungeon: The first female gamers

Written by Jon peterson, this essay talks about the experience of the first D&D players.

The essay begins with excerpts from a review of D&D written by Jim Dapkus in 1974, in which the author was concerned that the game offered little versatility for female characters. When Dapkus presented his concerns to Gygax, Gygax said that he would only bow to women's demands when a woman bought a copy of D&D. But weren't there really any women interested in D&D?

Women in the wargame community: very few and, generally, wargamer wives

To better understand the target audience D&D, Peterson retraces the wargame history from the late 1800s. In fact, in some environments, women were frequent players, although in other environments the female presence was practically zero. Then there are cases in which wargame players said that their opponents in leaving were often their own wives, since they could not find other players in the sixties. Therefore, women in the wargame world were generally included in the role of "Player's wife".

Wargame companies claimed they didn't have a female fanbase, but as time went on some female names, like Donna Powell, began to make their way into the community. However, the female presence remained mostly confined to some specific environments, such as the Spartan Wargamers club. From surveys in the early XNUMXs, we know that women made up the1% of the wargaming community.

Why didn't women play wargames?

The two creators of D&D, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, also frequented all-male gaming environments and therefore their game was written with only male players for reference. It is no coincidence that the Fighter class was initially called Fightingman, or the titles were all male (Lord, Warlock, Patriarch). These choices were probably a "Reflection of the demographic realities of the players of the time". Hence, Gygax had valid reasons to believe that women would not buy D&D. However, "if the game excludes female participation, then women may have little incentive to buy it".

Concerned about losing potential buyers, the publishing houses tried to understand why the wargaming and gdr community was 99% made up of men.

Peterson reports the results of Jack Greene's 1975 interviews. In these interviews, we read the words of Marc Miller, future author of Traveller, according to which there were few women in the community due togender education that the women received, that is the "opposing dolls to toy guns". In general, it was thought that theforeignness of women to military life made them less likely to make calculations or conceptualize moves and countermoves.

Other members of the wargame community claimed that women were not educated to develop a competitive nature, and that the aggression of the game short-circuited them. According to others, women only attended wargames for don't lose sight of their love interests. For some wargamers, competing against a woman was considered inappropriate and aggressive.

Then interviewing the first female game designer, Linda Mosca, Greene reports that, according to the interviewee, women did not play wargames due to"Cultural indoctrination" received, which pushed them towards less aggressive, but also less stimulating activities.

D&D and the increased female interest in role play

However, in 1975 it was noted how women were more attracted to D&D than from classic wargames. Some women interviewed at the time, in fact, said they did not appreciate the male competitiveness of wargames, where D&D was more in their ropes. In fact, D&D was a collaborative game and one that made the characters' story "personal". Additionally, fantasy themes allowed for the merging of wargame fandom with fantasy / science fiction fandom, with a very different demographics. Indeed, the fantasy and science fiction community attracted many more women, often authors of articles and stories published in fanzine, like that of Hilda Hannifer.

Therefore, in subsequent editions and fan-written supplements, female presence was included and in the way these manuals were written (with the use of the pronoun s / he, for example). However, often the focus on female characters was theirs less physical performance and that female characters should be beautiful. In fact, spells like "Seduction" were the prerogative only of female characters and can only be used on male characters. Physical differences (and female weakness) between men and women were discussed at length in the fanzines in the XNUMXs.

In 1978, when Gygax published Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, stated that men and women had the same possibilities as characters. However, even in this edition the female characters had a lower Strength score than the male ones.

Ultimately, by 1979, Gygax claimed that the women who played D&D were the 10% of the total. But if the role players increased, the same could not be said of the wargamers, who always remained around 1%. So ultimately we can say that Dungeons & Dragonsdespite the closure of its creators, it has opened the doors of the game world to women.

Photo from the presentation of DD&D research at the University of Trento
Photo from the presentation of DD&D research at the University of Trento

Gender discrimination in the Italian role-playing community: DD&D research in Outside the Dungeon

Outside the Dungeon closes with a summary of the search for Women, Dice & Data on gender discrimination in the Italian role-playing community.

We have already talked about this research at length, both for yours presentation at Modena Play 2018, both for its presentation at the conference Genre and R-existences in Movement at the University of Trento. In Outside the Dungeon you can read a scaled down version of the document already freely available on the DD&D website.

This research is based on data collected by over 4.000 people who participated in an online survey, which investigated both the numbers of gender discrimination in our community, and how it was implemented. Furthermore, solutions and strategies have been proposed to deal with this type of behavior.

The four chapters of DD&D investigation in Outside the Dungeon

In Outside the Dungeon, the survey is divided into four sub-chapters, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the survey and was written by the researcher who dealt with it.

The first chapter is a 'introduction looking and its numbers, written by four hands by Claudia Pandolfi and Francis Giovinazzi. Here the motivations, objectives and methodology of the survey are explained. The data on which the analysis was then based are reported and commented, highlighting the most significant statistics and contextualizing the data relating to gender discrimination.

The second chapter is thepsychologic analysisto testimonials from Aurelio Castro. Aurelio analyzes the different ways in which women and non-binary people are discriminated against at the gaming table, investigating issues such as gatekeeping, the delegitimization of experiences and tokenism. Finally, Aurelio proposes some strategies to deal with this kind of discrimination.

The third chapter, Game table: a political space for defining power, is the result of the work of Robert Lazzaroni. Roberto investigates the game table in anthropological terms, recognizing it as a social arena where power relationships develop. In the conclusion of the chapter, Roberto offers some ideas for creating a balanced game space, in which everyone assumes their own responsibilities.

Finally, the fourth chapter, Linguistic considerations, it was written by me, Glory Comandini, aka Seeker G. I will take a few more lines to talk about my little research, since it is the sub-chapter that I can explain with more knowledge of the facts.

Linguistic considerations: a little insight

Given their low number in terms of number of words and tokens, it was not possible to make a quantitative analysis of linguistic phenomena detected. However, the very specific nature of these writings allows one to observe some phenomena which, normally and on others corpora larger, but also much more generic, would be impossible to study. In particular, in this extract I preferred to focus on two phenomena: the lexical use of discrimination (e discrimination e discriminated / a) and the use of speech as a textual strategy.

Specifically, I analyzed how men tended to describe the negative experiences of the term more often discrimination, while women preferred to resort to other lexical solutions, describing the experience in more detail. It is also very interesting the use that respondents make of speech reported, which here can hardly be seen as a precise citation of dialogues that took place in the past, but is more a textual strategy for highlighting certain sections of the text.

If you are interested, you can read my short linguistic contribution on Academy or on ResearchGate.

Marta Palvarini and part of the DD&D team at the presentation of Dura-Lande and Fuori dal Dungeon in Bologna
Marta Palvarini and part of the DD&D team at the presentation of Dura-Lande and Outside the Dungeon Bologna

Two final words on Outside the Dungeon

Outside the Dungeon it is a reading with one strong specialist footprint, but still manages to be very approachable also for non-professionals, thanks above all to the care and attention paid to the disclosure of Marta Palvarini.

Even for those who are not interested in gender studies applied to the field of GDR, Outside the Dungeon also offers a remarkable historical in-depth analysis on the RPGs. Thanks to its bibliography and the many testimonies reported, this collection of essays is also very useful for those wishing to deepen the history of our community.

Personally, I thank Marta so much for your patience, for your availability and, above all, for the opportunity it has given us, as well as for having brought together and brought these beautiful essays to Italy.

You can buy Outside the Dungeon here.