- Gnome Stew - http://www.gnomestew.com -

Why Are Most Gamers in the U.S. White and Male?

I’ve been gaming since 1987, and in that time I’ve observed that the majority of gamers, at least in the U.S., are white guys. I gave it away in the title, but the meat of this article is an open question to the gaming community:

Why are most gamers in the U.S. white and male?

We’re about to talk about race and gender on the Internet, and I believe this will be a fruitful and civil discussion. Why? Because the Gnome Stew community is well-known as one of the most intelligent, civil, and rational blog communities in the world. (Yep, a site whose masthead features three dead gnomes in a cauldron of blood is known for civil discourse — those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.)

There are over 11,000 comments on this site, spanning almost three years, and we’ve never had to ban anyone — hell, we rarely even have to remind anyone not to be a jerk. I can’t think of any better place to have a discussion about this topic.

(Like 10 Reasons Why Roleplaying Games Are a Positive Force for Kids and Adults Alike, this piece isn’t specifically about GMing. We stay on-topic 99.9% of the time here on the Stew, but once in a while we diverge to talk about something broader than game mastering.)


First, a few things worth mentioning:

My question isn’t intended to offend

I’m not saying that if you’re not white, not a guy, or both, you’re somehow less a part of the gaming community than white guys are. I genuinely want to know the answer to my question, and I think it’s a topic worth discussing — and which I haven’t seen discussed often enough. It seems like an elephant in the room, and while talking about elephants isn’t always fun, it’s usually worthwhile.

I’m not a scientist

I’m a writer, which is like the opposite of a scientist. My observations are based on nothing scientific, just 20+ years of noticing the gamers around me. My “qualifications” to raise this issue are that I’ve lived in four very different places (Sable, France; New York, NY; Ann Arbor, MI; and Salt Lake City, UT), grew up and went to high school in a very diverse place (NY), spent time in gaming stores all over the country, attended 11 GenCons, and I’m not an asshole.

I love that gaming is an inclusive, welcoming hobby

I’ve gamed with all kinds of folks over the years: old, young, thin, fat, suave, socially awkward, disabled, not disabled, frustratingly muscular, encouragingly wimpy — the list goes on. My gaming groups have often included a mix of women and men, whites and people of color. When I sit down with seven strangers to play in an event at GenCon, I don’t care what they look like, what gender they are, how old they are, whether they’re in a wheelchair, who they voted for — and neither do the other folks at the table. We’re all there to game.

Gaming appears to be getting more diverse

Since I attended my first GenCon (a fuzzy yardstick for this discussion that I’m going to come back to in a moment) back in 1997, I’ve noticed that GenCon is becoming more diverse across the board: There are more women and people of color attending recent cons than there were 14 years ago. Gender diversity seems to be growing faster than racial diversity, but both have gone up.

I wish gaming were more diverse

I’d love it if there were more gamers who were not white, not guys, or both in our community. There’s nothing wrong with people who are white, or guys, or both (I’m both), but diversity improves communities. I didn’t set out to choose mostly white guys to write Gnome Stew with me, I just picked folks I knew through Treasure Tables who wrote well and who I trusted — but I’m cognizant of the fact that, on the diversity front, the Gnome Stew authorship is lacking.

That’s where I’m coming from and why I’m interested in this question.

Some Data

2009 U.S. demographic info:

In a fictional world where:

…and gaming groups always include a GM and five players, you’d expect those five people to break down like this:

In that same fictional world, you’d expect GenCon 2010, which had roughly 30,000 attendees, to have looked like this:

GenCon is an imperfect measure, as it also draws non-tabletop RPG gamers (CCG players, anime fans, etc. who aren’t there to play RPGs) and folks from outside the U.S., and my intention isn’t to pick on GenCon — the folks who run it have no control over who attends. But it’s useful as a fuzzy yardstick that a lot of gamers, including myself, have personal experience with.

“Does your gaming group look like that?” is a less interesting question to me than “Did GenCon 2010 look like that?” Any individual gaming group will be a very, very small microcosm of the gaming community as a whole — certainly part of my, and your, experience of how gaming intersects with race and gender, but also subject to all sorts of other factors. But GenCon is big enough to take a quick snapshot and see, in a rough and anecdotal way, how the population of GenCon attendees compares to the U.S. population as a whole.

Why do all these numbers matter?

I was at GenCon 2010, and while I obviously didn’t do a demographic survey, a lot less than half of the thousands of people I saw were women, and a lot more than 63% of them were white.

That’s far from scientific, but good enough for me to think I’m on the right track about this question — “Why are most gamers in the U.S. white and male?” — being worth asking and worth discussing here on the Stew.

So, How About It?

With context, some data, and some conclusions covered, it’s time to circle back to the question. There are actually 2.5 questions here, though, not just one:

Obviously, I think the answer to the first question is yes. I don’t have an answer to the second, much more important, question.

What do you think?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. You can find out a bit more about him on his personal website.

80 Comments (Open | Close)

80 Comments To "Why Are Most Gamers in the U.S. White and Male?"

#1 Comment By unwinder On February 28, 2011 @ 2:02 am

I’m guessing it’s mostly because people tend to live in communities and work at jobs with people similar to themselves. White guys got into D&D when it started, and white guys invite their friends to join, who are usually white guys.

But there seems to be some other factor underlying it, because it seems like white guys tend to be more likely to get into all kinds of geeky hobbies than other demographics. My grandfather is in a radio-control airplane club, and it’s all white males. My friend started a book club at the library, and it was all white males. Even online where your race is invisible, white males seem to dominate geek subcultures. I post on a webcomics forum where nobody can see anyone’s race by default. Someone ran a poll a while ago, and it turned out that we were mostly white males.

I imagine women tend to get into these kinds of hobbies at a lower rate because there’s social stigma associated with it, but with non-white races, I have no idea what the deal is. Perhaps there’s just something about white culture that attracts us to nerd stuff.

#2 Comment By tariqk On February 28, 2011 @ 2:04 am

Yes. And why? Because of history, and something called “white privilege”, which I call dominant-culture privilege.

There’s a wikipedia article on white privilege, and a Google Search reveals something called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. Both are worthy reads, I feel, and go in some way to explain a little more about what I’ll be talking.

The thing is, U.S tabletop gaming owes it’s particular existence to D&D, and the D&D crowd, while definitely liberal or at least progressive in outlook, was and is to this day relatively affluent. In America, that usually meant that you were more often than not white, although I’m sure there are many non-white gamers, as well as female gamers as well. But in effect? Most of the earliest voices, and most of the influential figures, tended to be white males (with the occasional white female).

Now, the thing that I’ve noticed with dominant-culture liberals (i.e. in America it would be white liberals; in Malaysia, where I’m from, it’s Malay liberals), is that while they can decry the racism and bigotry of their more conservative counterparts, tended to not notice the biases of the institutions they formed. So while you can *say* that gaming is inclusive, probably because you *are* dominant-culture, someone who belongs in a minority might dispute what you say, and note that there are instances where the dominant-culture majority may make things harder, if unconsciously so, to the minority to participate in fully.

What kind of actions could minorities consider as barriers into participating fully in that hobby? Examples may include cultural appropriation without due acknowledgement and sensitivity towards minorities, treating the occasional minority as a representative member of that minority’s community, tokenism (he’s the Black Guy, I’m the Muslim Guy, She’s The Latina), model minorities (“You’re so creative for an Asian guy!”, “You’re *really* well read [for a Black guy]”, “Finally, a sane Muslim!”), economic barriers (not everyone can afford to travel to the Next Coolest Convention), and so forth. Even when a minority brings up this issue, the response itself, or the predicted response — “It’s not that bad”, “I’m not racist”, “You’re just imagining things”, “You’re too sensitive!” — becomes a barrier for a minority to engage fully.

And you may argue — well, these are small things. Surely there is no toll to participation for minorities? To which I’d like to point you to the latest psychological studies on micro-aggressions against minorities, and note that these sort of things do exert a toll on the mental and physical health of the affected minorities. And when — as seen in recent flaps involving racism in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community during 2009 (google Racefail 2009) — the response of established members of the community that there may be systemic bias is to *over-react the fuck out* and threaten the safety and security of minority members, you can imagine that the incentive to speak up against systemic bias and oppression is greatly reduced for minorities.

Please note that all of these barriers may actually be invisible or hard to see for members of the dominant culture. In U.S. tabletop gaming’s context? That means white dudes. What does this mean, really, in the end? Well, simple. It basically means that the demographic remains strongly entrenched in a particular demographic, and no one is particular sure why, and the most obvious answers are ignored, dismissed or shouted down.

I’ve seen it happen in video games, science fiction and fantasy, romance novels, tabletop gaming, Hollywood and even some forms of social justice work (yes, even mainstream feminism, as witnessed by people like Amanda Palmer and Naomi Klein). There are movements that fight these — notable examples being the Racebending online community, which was protesting the “color-blind” (yet strangely whitewashed) casting of The Last Airbender, and sites like Racialicious, which track these kind of things and discuss them at length.

#3 Comment By tariqk On February 28, 2011 @ 2:11 am

@unwinder – I’ve kind of elaborated at length in my comment, as you may have already seen.

I don’t actually fancy my chances right now. Despite what the OP has said, I suspect that this particular conversation may actually end in someone getting their ass banned. I just hope it’s not me.

#4 Comment By unwinder On February 28, 2011 @ 2:28 am

As one of the only Christians in my game group, I’ve definitely seen how easy it is for members of the majority to alienate others without even noticing.

Even then, it’s very hard to get a read on the minority members. I have a Hmong guy in my group who seems delighted to be “the Asian guy” and takes every opportunity to joke about his race, which makes it really hard to know what’s appropriate and what’s not. For instance, if he’s playing his character as a broad ethnic stereotype (Generally Asian, but not Hmong), and drawing attention to the fact that he’s playing a broad ethnic stereotype, how far am I supposed to run with it? Do I introduce similar NPCs for him to play off of? Do I put him in situations that are resolved by his character’s ability to do math and be really obsessed with baseball?

Another thing I’ve noticed, is that when majority players play characters of other races or sexes, nobody has any problem seeing them in that role, but when a minority player starts a character, it’s very difficult for other players not to treat the character as a member of the player’s race/gender/orientation/religion/etc.. For instance, I have a lesbian player whose characters are always assumed to be lesbians by the other players. Whenever an attractive female NPC is introduced, everyone looks at her for a reaction. A roomful of young males are playing straight male characters, and everyone always expects her to be the first to notice a female NPC.

This post got away from me a bit, and I have no idea how to end it, but it seems relevant, so I’ll post it anyway.

#5 Comment By Tariq Kamal On February 28, 2011 @ 2:45 am

@unwinder – That’s actually a good question. And it’s not unusual for a minority member to act in the way your Hmong player does — I do that too, as a Muslim guy on spaces where I’m a minority. I don’t know how your Hmong player feels about it, but after a while that stuff for me grows kind of old — especially considering the limited tropes most people expect from Muslims. >_>;;

How do you fix it? I’m not sure. Certainly talking about it and listening to your players is a good start. Remembering as well that minorities do not have the same kind of structural support that majorities do is also something that’s useful to do, especially in conflicts.

I’m not necessarily saying be biased towards them, but to remember that in terms of communal power-relations, you and other members of the dominant-culture have an advantage, and to take that into account.

And you’ve outlined an example of privilege in your third paragraph: for the majority, the default is always them, and they can be the ones comfortable with changing their identities without any baggage. And yet when a minority player does that, they drag along their identity with them, often to the point where other players start reinforcing that stereotype, without themselves noticing.

#6 Comment By Tariq Kamal On February 28, 2011 @ 3:02 am

@unwinder – I’m a little slow at it, mainly because I am in a space that isn’t my own, but I just noticed your “hard to read” statement in the second paragraph.

The whole “inscrutable” and “difficult-to-read” thing is, I note, a stereotype that is applied to a *lot* of Asians and other “exotic” minorities. And me, personally? I don’t like it, and I know some other Asians who’ve complained about it, too.

That being said, I’ve had a few minutes to think about it, and I note that the best way to deal with the fact that you may upset and offend people whose culture you’re not familiar with is to come to terms that at some point you’re going to screw it up. The next thing is to come up with a way of dealing with screw-ups like that. More often than not when people call you out the best thing to do is to figure out exactly what went wrong, acknowledge the error, and to primarily listen to people’s concerns without dismissing them.

As someone who’s fucked up in situations like this (in front of my LGBT friends, for example), I find that this strategy works a lot better than the usual deny-and-defend strategy most people want to adapt in the event of screwing up. And I know for a fact that it sucks, and I often feel bad, but I normally remember that I just hurt and offended someone.

To take it as a metaphor, if I accidentally injure someone, I think what they want me to do is to take a look at their injury and make it so that the injury goes away, even it it does take some time.

Spending that whole time cutting my wrists for being a Bad Person or denying I did something wrong isn’t going to help the person who’s bleeding out on the street. Besides, no one wants to see someone beat themselves up for making mistakes; that one might be better done in your own time, after the initial injury is addressed.

#7 Comment By unwinder On February 28, 2011 @ 3:38 am


Not sure what you mean by the “difficult to read” stereotype thing. What I meant to say was that it’s hard to get a feel for what’s going to come across as appropriate and what’s not. I don’t mean that I don’t ever understand this guy. He’s a fairly easygoing real-man type of player who likes combats, and never trusts an NPC. I’ve never had a player so easy to please.

I do have a different player with a speech impediment, though. This can be an even trickier issue than race, in my opinion, because you have to keep drawing attention to it. Every time I ask him to repeat something, I’m reminding him that he has a speech impediment, but there’s no way to avoid it when I can’t understand him.

#8 Comment By DnD101 On February 28, 2011 @ 4:54 am

“White Privilege” and political rancor is such an easy and unenlightened assessment of the situation. And only represents an attempt to seem educated on the subject. While “discretionary income” does and has played a factor in RPG/D&D adoption and success, even amongst our own, the real story and answer to the question is much less benign.


The RPG Genre/D&D was born out of War Gaming by two White guys. Whites have largely been the instigators and victors of Modern and Ancient War.

In addition RPG/D&D was born of Tolkien. So RPG/D&D is very British which is, Very White, and by Tolkien’s own words The Lord of the Rings was born out of War as an allegory of WWII, in which Tolkien served as a code breaker.

The RPG Genre/D&D was born in Wisconsin, USA. With the exception of Milwaukee/Racine and Madison by interstate connection to both Milwaukee/Rockford, IL via Chicago, Wisconsin is primarily, White.

As RPG/D&D was born in WI it’s first areas, markets of saturation and conventions were in the Midwest and it’s suburbs. The midwest suburbs of the day were, yes, largely if not entirely, White.

RPG/D&D was born out of the miniatures and model hobby industries. It’s initial publications and materials were distributed through mail order and hobby stores. While today’s hobby industry bears little resemblance to yester years hobby stores, (Mom-n-Pop vs. Big Box i.e. HOBBY LOBBY, Michaels.) One need do more than pass through a hobby store past or present and see that it’s clientele was and remains largely, White.

Other areas that experienced this White phenomenon where early Video Arcades/Video Games. If you look at early Video Game Record Books or Documentaries the players are all, White Suburbanites.

One slowly moves into more gray areas when discussing Comic Books where publishers have attempted in vain to draw in more of a non-white readership for decades. So I will put forward my first of two questions.

Why are non-whites less if NOT, interested in RPG/D&D?

To answer that one might look at other White originated/dominated organizations where non-whites are largely present and accepted.

There are three organizations born of European/British/American Culture where we can observe significant Racial Integration. These are Churches, Armed Forces and Boy Scouts. What do these all have in common they are all Nationalistic and they all Recruit.

In addition all three of these groups are hated by Progressives and Social Elitists. So watch what you wish for these groups might come for your hobby.

In that vein the real question is why does, or MUST any or every cultural phenomenon mirror the American gender ethnic demographic?

Why doesn’t Soul Food consumption or Blues Concert/Club attendance not represent these American Gender, Racial Findings. Why do we have brands which cater to non-whites; Colt45, Sean Jean, Newport, Cadilac?

The answer to that question and Gnome Stew’s own is. Because Societies, Cultures and People are created by the individuals who inhabit them.

End of story. Go Roll some 20’s G!


#9 Comment By RF On February 28, 2011 @ 5:56 am

(NOTE: I’m Black if it matters)

I think it’s very simple. The hobby started in a mostly white community that participated in a mostly white hobby from which RPGs evolved from. They had mostly white friends in mostly white suburban communities and they spread the hobby. Also, the families that tended to have the disposable income to spend on these hobbies were and are white.

Will it change? Not very much I think. But then again, I don’t think it has to. I find that most of the gamers I have encountered are nice people with open minds about racial diversity, even if they’re exposure to other races is minimal.

#10 Comment By Clawfoot On February 28, 2011 @ 6:58 am

In my experience, yes: the gaming community is white and male. Overwhelmingly so. My own gaming groups have a bit more gender diversity to them (it’s been about ten years since a game I was involved in was NOT at least 50% female — women have made up the majority of my games for the past decade), and although we aren’t entirely white, I can’t say the same for racial diversity as I can for gender.

In the wider world of gaming, however, the community is obviously and overwhelmingly white and male. In fact, just last month I saw that in Dragon magazine, there was a column written by a woman, which I was excited to see. I sat down eagerly to read it, but was sorely disappointed. The article talked about her engagement and upcoming wedding, and then answered a bunch of “mail bag” questions, almost ALL of which were variations on “my girlfriend/wife doesn’t like gaming! How can I change her mind?” I couldn’t help but think, “come on! Haven’t these questions been asked and answered a hundred times over in the past twenty years?! Are these really the only questions people can think to ask of a female gamer?”

This is why it’s difficult to get non-males and non-whites into the hobby. What few of us are here already are invisible, and sometimes treated like rare and exotic animals (or worse, rare and exotic children). We’re gawked at, treated like we don’t know what we’re doing or talking about, and that one element (gender, race, whatever) that makes us different tends to define us in the eyes of the majority.

One of my first forrays into the world of LARPing, for example, was rather unfortunate. The Storyteller treated women poorly, but only out of “respect.” He assumed we didn’t know any of the rules and so explained them in very simple language whenever he thought we needed it (which was often). He would not listen when we had a question about advanced concepts or how one rule interacted with another — he would dismiss our questions as too complicated for us by telling us not to worry about it and just enjoy the game. (Translation: you silly girls couldn’t possibly understand.) But, see, he was only trying to “help” us, so even those who saw what he was doing defended him when we complained.

There are even more blatantly hostile things keeping at least women out. Witness the alarming rate of sexual harrassment at gaming/geek conventions, and you might see another reason why women are a bit wary of joining this community in a wider, more visible way. The whole Penny Arcade/PAX “team rapist” Dickwolves tshirt fiasco is a very visible example of something that’s not so much keeping female gamers out of the community as it is actively chasing us out.

#11 Comment By xaktarsonis On February 28, 2011 @ 7:18 am

These comments are very good and really bring to light the history of our beloved hobby, However, I think part of problem lies in the art of the books. Until recently, the “mainstream” books have featured art that was wanted and accepted by a white audience. Fortunately this has changed in part due to the diversity of the demographic and in this has played a part in changing this demographic. both have affected the other and while this is only a small part, it does show the change over time in our hobby.

#12 Comment By Clawfoot On February 28, 2011 @ 7:20 am

I do also want to say that I’m very glad to see this topic come up. I know it’s not technically about GMing specifically, but it’s an important topic in general and I’m glad to see it addressed. Thank you for being aware of it and willing to acknowledge it.

#13 Comment By xaktarsonis On February 28, 2011 @ 7:26 am

@DnD101 – While i understand where you are coming from on your Tolkien reference he was involved in WWI and disliked allegory to the point that in his lectures he would rant against it. He preferred applicability or how things can applied to other ideas, objects, etc without being a 1 for 1 exchange, sorry to all you C.S. Lewis fans but the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe is prime example of allegory. Finally, Tolkien was concerned with there being no British myth, he borrowed from many other mythologies, in addition to creating pieces of his own. While many of these myths borrowed were of European origin, they were not exclusively so.

#14 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 7:32 am


I’m going down this a comment at a time, so forgive me if what I say is covered already. These racial questions tend to fill very fast Which should tell you something, by itself.

@Tariqk hit on something I’ve noted for a while now. It’s easy to get defensive about comments like that because we want to think of ourselves as inclusive, but there’s a lot to be said about how product is presented whether or not it becomes inclusive. A primary example I have is to point back at the main post example of 1997 Con stats versus today stats. Note that the large increase in female gamers comes on the tails of the shift to largely gender-inclusive grammar used in sourcebooks during that time. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this had a large hand in bringing more females to the table.

One of my biggest frustrations in gaming is, being a grammar nerd (and please forgive any hypocritical errors in this post LOL!) and having the traditional male-biased “he, him” terminology replaced by “she, her” at every bend. But I understand why it was done, and I rolled with it (though I contend that mixing it up from time to time wouldn’t be unreasonable).

Point being, with such a heavy push to get female gamers to feel included, it HAD results.
Now, if you want to see more minorities at the table, the next step would logically be to focus on cultural topics, terminology, and the like and start making replacements of those kinds in the sourcebooks as well.

#15 Comment By monkeyleader On February 28, 2011 @ 7:42 am

Our gaming group sort of bucks the trend, at least female wise.

When I first started into roleplaying (mostly Star Wars and D&D) it was definitely just white guys at the table. But, after meeting some interesting people at Sci-Fi conventions and as our group grew up and got spouses, our gaming table now includes 3 women (which is about half of the group).

As for tabletop gaming, I live in a mainly Asian community, so the racial majority at my local FLGS is Asian (in fact, the owner is Asian himself). I guess it really depends on what community you live in, and who your friends are that would dictate the racial breakdown of a particular gaming group.

#16 Comment By Lavachild On February 28, 2011 @ 7:42 am


I agree with your much of what you post. I’m a white liberal, half german, who appears to be half asian (hunnish ancestor, about 300 years back). I think it’s good to talk about where you are coming from in a discussion like this.
As a hun-american (barely), I’d like to remind you that Chinese, Mongols and other Asians have done Just Fine in terms of winning wars, including fighting the Korean war to a standstill and winning the Vietnamese. The Chinese have been fascinated by war and strategy for about 3000 years.

That being said, what DnD101 says about recruiting is very true. We tend to associate with those who share our cultural/racial (and even gender) identity. However, I play in a group that is 3/5th female, and as a DM, that means that I listen to their input and alter my game accordingly.

White privilege is a very real idea. In RPG’s it’s white male privilege. My female player was looking for a miniature. 98% were white, and 75% male. And of course, the only female figure had major cleavage.
With a look of resignation, she put up with that and ordered the figure. Does a white male player have to worry about finding figs that look like he does? About having to pick a mini who is massively hung? What if my friend had been black? It’s a minor issue, but these things come up again and again and it’s wearing.

Now what can we do to make the hobby more open? Well, I think we have been doing what we need to do: be enthusiastic, invite people whom you think will enjoy the game, and talk honestly about what they are interested in exploring and undertaking.

My point is, the experience of female players dealing with “male privilege” is a microcosm of minority players dealing with white privilege. Racial bias is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean our hobby is evil or racist or horrible, it is just is set up to be most comfortable to white males. I would prefer that we try to make it better, to work on losing some of the bias. The best way to do that, is to invite black, latino and female players into the game.


#17 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 7:57 am


I think you’re correct on race, but for gender, I have to disagree. I can’t count the number of times I’ve dug for minis and come up empty for male figures but had 3000 female versions of what I was looking for.

I think, at least in terms of WotC prepainted, they’ve made huge efforts to include female gamers. Almost too much so, at the detriment of male gamers.

#18 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On February 28, 2011 @ 8:17 am

Tariq said: “That being said, I’ve had a few minutes to think about it, and I note that the best way to deal with the fact that you may upset and offend people whose culture you’re not familiar with is to come to terms that at some point you’re going to screw it up.”

In an early work of non-fiction, Michael Crichton wrote about a trip to Thailand. He had been warned about three specific things he must not do because they were so offensive to the people of Thailand; one of them was to show the bottom of one’s foot or shoe, but I don’t remember the others. Needless to say, at one point not long after he arrived in Thailand he realized that he was doing all three things, all at the same exact moment. He survived, as did his hosts. (Note: Crichton was a loopy git at the end, but this story seems plausible enough to me.)

#19 Comment By Roxysteve On February 28, 2011 @ 8:29 am

I’ve been wondering the same thing myself for a while. My LFGS has an almost entirely non-black customer base. The owner doesn’t discriminate, and indeed, would welcome feet on his shop floor no matter what shade of melanin colors their skin. He has a few female regular customers, but not a half-and-half split. I also noted that a small game con last year in which I participated had racially skewed attendance (but plenty o’ women).

I skimmed the comments so far and got about what I expected. I have a couple of observations:

a) Without the *actual* (or estimated) attendance breakdown for GenCon 2010 no useful debate on it can be undertaken.

2) Gaming isn’t D&D. D&D isn’t even the most popular form of gaming these days – console gaming is, and when you add in that part of the hobby I’d guess the figures even out a bit (judging from an entirely subjective observation as to the usual population of the local Game Stops). I have a group of younger gamers in my Delta Green game for which this is their first non-console game experience. I too thought *everyone* knew what D&D was, but apparently not, anymore. Gaming society has punched through the D&D phenomenon and come out the other side, as it were.

$) Pen and Paper RPGs are a geeky corner of a geeky hobby. Like it or not, you are observing from within that group. It is absolutely not given that such a marginal population be expected to follow a global race and gender demographics.

As to the “why”, I’d hazard a guess that it it boils down to “better things to do with my time”.

Anecdotally, I can say that my experience is that if your RPG game centers on vampires it will attract more women than if it doesn’t.

#20 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On February 28, 2011 @ 8:32 am

I’m a woman, playing in an otherwise all-male group. The situation I describe below is starting to become a problem for me, and I wonder if a similar dynamic may discourage other women from playing RPGs.

There are times when I become very frustrated with my group. They seem to have a very different concept of roleplaying from my own. Almost no RP occurs except with NPCs. The PCs in our parties have as much common ground, understanding and knowledge of each other as do the characters in the first episode of Lost. Whenever I have my character try to do something that would alter this situation in some small way, the others in the group (including the DM) betray visible signs of impatience and in some cases actually interrupt in order to “get back to moving the plot forward”. When this happens I feel stepped-on, marginalized, and out of place.

Is this actually a gender issue, or is my group unusual?

#21 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 8:43 am

First question is what are you playing?
If it’s D&D, I’ll offer a similar situation at my table as a comparison.

We recently had a person of “old school” style gaming where the party interacts as you would like yours to. After an act he committed split the party, and ended the game, we argued for weeks about how to play. Blah blah blah, long story short, the thing we concluded was that our view of gaming focused on “teamwork” and “working together” and we looked past issues that might break the party. Unfortunately, this included roleplaying within. Looking over the course of game design, I discovered that starting with 3E D&D, the entire premise of the game was to work together and “push the story along.” it’s just inherent in the rules, and thus expected/understood that it’s how you approach the game. So, it’s really just 2 schools of thought coming together like a warm and cold front making a storm.

What I would suggest is that you actually present this question to the group and ask that more interparty roleplay occur. Or, in the very least discuss it so you are all on the same page as of what is expected at the table.

Our big failure in our table was that we just assumed everyone knew we would forego interparty roleplay in deference to teamwork and “pushing the story along.”
The result is a broken table and a lot of hurt feelings.

#22 Comment By failedoptimist On February 28, 2011 @ 8:53 am

As a long time table top gamer, PC loving/Liberal sort of fellow, and a social science grad student (with an interest in the study of leisure practices like gaming) I’ll offer a little bit of commentary on what has already been said and then my own take.

I think it is a fascinating discussion to initiate, and I think you are right to say this is a community where it will be taken seriously. But in large part a question like this will have different answers depending on what the question really means.

While I suspect my political and personal position is quite different from DnD101, I think the question of why would you think demographic parity with the population at large, or diversity in general seem important, has to be answered as part of this because what sort of answers you look for will be different. I, for one, think that pluralism and universalism as political components of being a cosmopolitan nation means that when we fail to have open access in one thing (like D&D) it represents a problem that repeats in other contexts. So if we are asking this question to look at a more general problem it will be a different questions and answers than if we ask it around issues of marketing and sales.

If we are asking simply, what are all the many complicated reasons that the demographics of table top role playing games the way they are, there will be lots of answers –because a great many factors contribute.

In looking at the above comments, I might pick out TariqK describing exclusion, however unintentional by individual gamers, the cumulative effect of what he calls “small things” which is almost certainly occurring, but again only a part of the answer. The reality is we all live in a world with divisions and preconceptions, and ones individual practices and ways of playing or responding to other players includes elements of this divison.

At the same time that exclusion, or for lack of a better term perhaps I can call it resistance, makes it harder for non-dominant people to participate, but only once they have already become aware of and potentially attempted to participate. If that was the whole story, you’d find lots of gaming groups full of the minorities we are saying may be excluded, they would just be playing separately from white male dominant groups, maybe with different books, and some different conventions, but they would still be playing this sort of group make-believe.

Exclusion and segregation is almost certainly a reality despite the best intentions about inclusion, but it isn’t a complete answer, for example I have known people who had an all girl gaming group, and I have known very mixed gaming groups in which it was an issue that people were insensitive (for lack of a better word. But in the end the larger problem seems to be a lack of draw to the style of game as a whole.
So if something is keeping the whole sort of game to be more limited to a section of the population we would need to look elsewhere.

Other commentators reflect a belief that participation and awareness of RPGs is based on who you know and exposure via social connection or networks, which is in no way contradictory, For example DnD101 gives a sort of history of D&D in order to show how it would have been slower to spread to other populations..I think this is probably part of the answer also, though I think the historical origin of the game has less to do with the network and social connection today, than other details. For instance where supplies are sold (in this case books), experience with other players, and how the game is portrayed in media all have effect on where social networks form.

I’ll use a simple example regarding gaming groups. When I was in highschool I played with a group that formed among many at the science and technology highschool that my brother attended. That group was fairly white, but somewhat diverse, involving a mix of asian and white, male and female, and had connections to a great many other gaming and science fiction fantasy social groups at the school. At the same time I attempted to start a gaming group among equally geeky incredibly white and privileged students at my highschool who had never been exposed to table top role-playing games. At the same time, though I met him in college, an African American friend of mine was at a predominantly Latin and Black highschool in the same city, and he played D&D with a group who had all started to play in junior high. I mean to say that past exposure isn’t solely connected to demography, and I would expect it is exposure (and what kind of exposure) that would turn out to be a particularly vital predictor of participation.

Similarly people have mentioned class, wealth, and free time concerns offer a structural barrier to participation, which can be both through not being connected to networks that expose you to gaming, and in making it appear less interesting or appropriate to a member of your group. These would need to be unpacked, for example while need to work would be higher among the poor, some professional jobs take up many hours. Would we expect to see Doctors especially medical residents for example playing D&D in their limited spare time? Money, well it is certainly important, but if you look at the number of units sold for video games (that can cost as much as the core books of an RPG), there may not be a huge gap here, certainly abject poverty would prevent purchase of books, but in some ways the very poor might find RPGs and their limited basic cost to make them a better choice than video games. On the other hand, among many gamers I know, the lack of money to spend on peripherals can be an embarrassment or social problem (books, dice, nicely printed character sheets, internet access to look things up, attendance at conventions, etc).

Then there is culture, and all the stuff we learn about how we should spend time, effects of perception of leisure time reading (fewer and fewer people choose to spend free time reading) and perhaps different willingness to engage with the school like elements of the game, which is connected to different groups having different social conventions about being a geek, how acceptable geek behavior is, and how much social pressure there is to spend your free time in other social activities. I don’t know the answer, but I’d say we need to accept the possibility of different sub-cultures (not some weird essential nature, just different learned expectations). What sort of literature one reads, for example is in part dependent on urban/rural and ethnic divides, I remember reading an article talking about the higher rate among college age African Americans of reading literature that is based or descriptive of their experience, rather than fantasy or very different real experiences. Whether that article was right I don’t know, but if there really is a learned preference than more realistic games might appeal more despite the general tabletop propensity for fantasy and science fiction. Similarly, there is a huge body of academic literature talking about the fact that women (and particularly young girls) are drawn to constructive video games, and games that replicate acceptable feminine behavior at a greater rate than other styles of games. Now, these aren’t to say every girl is like that, but that Farmville and games like that are marketed and used by girls at rates that far exceed combat and acquisition games… an observation again to explain in small part why there may be fewer women playing table top Rpgs.

Just some thoughts ( i am procrastinating real work).

#23 Comment By DrOct On February 28, 2011 @ 9:24 am

@Tariqk – Thank you very much for your comments, I pretty much agree entirely. I’m a white male, and I’ve been working really hard over the last several years to really unpack my own privilege, acknowledge it, and trying to be more aware of how I effect those around me, especially in unconscious ways. The key I find when discussing these sorts of things is for people to realize they aren’t “bad people” just because they make a mistake, often without realizing it, but that it’s important to be willing to acknowledge it and try not to do it when it’s pointed out to you, rather than getting defensive and crying that you aren’t a racist. Usually, no one is saying you are, just that you made a mistake. Acknowledge it, find out how you can do better and move on. This is true in gaming and in everything else.

I also want to add my voice to those who would like to see better (and more frequent) depictions of women and people of color in RPG products. I like the trend of alternating or using different pronouns, I’d like to see art and mini’s that includes more POC’s and that don’t only show women in sexualized positions and clothing. Things are slowly getting better but I’d like to see it improve more and faster.

I also absolutely agree that some of the reason for this is that the hobby started with white men, and they spread it to their friends who were largely white men. But it’s been a long time, I think it’s time we make the game a little more comfortable and approachable for others.

#24 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 9:30 am

I wonder…
It’s been pointed out a few times already here and I think it’s interesting and important to note that maybe RPGs just tend to appeal more to white males than others.
And what’s really wrong with that? Gangster Rap (for lack of a better comarison) appeals predominantly to younger black males. I don’t see a huge outcry to that to be more inclusive. Or Elle Magazine vying for more male readers.

Fact of the matter is, it’s a hobby that just doesn’t appeal to a lot of people to begin with. So what if only white males gravitate toward it? So long as the hobby isn’t being blatantly exclusive (and it’s not, as far as I can tell), then I don’t really see a problem.

#25 Comment By pingstanton On February 28, 2011 @ 9:43 am

Premise doesn’t exactly fit my experiences, but does skew that way.

* GURPS group in Oshkosh (1992): 11 white guys, 2 white women
* GURPS group in Milwaukee (2003-04): 2 black guys, 2 white guys
* D&D group #1 in NYC/NJ (2006): 5 white guys, 1 Asian guy
* Vampire group in NYC (2007): 5 white guys, 1 black guy
* D&D group #2 in Manhattan (2008): 3 white guys, 1 black guy
* D&D group #2.1 in Brooklyn (2010): 1 black woman, 4 white guys
* D&D group #2.2 in greater NYC (2010): 1 Asian woman, 1 Hispanic woman, 3 white guys

All players were college-educated, some with advanced degrees (Masters and PhDs).

Note: I count as one white male with BA degree.

#26 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On February 28, 2011 @ 9:49 am

@Spitfire665 – It’s a problem if one of the reasons non-white-males don’t gravitate toward it is also one of the reasons why those non-white-males who DO gravitate toward it find themselves dissatisfied and eventually leave.

For example, and to borrow the structure from “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”(see @2 above):

I know that when I roleplay a male character I will not be told with any regularity that my character is seen by an NPC as less important, notable, serious, deserving, etc. because of being male.

#27 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 28, 2011 @ 9:49 am

Martin shared an earlier version of this article with us gnomes, and I’ll restate/revise my feedback to him here for everyone else to consider.

RPGs were introduce in the mid 70’s less than a decade after the height of the civil rights movement took place. 50 years later we are a more diverse and fair society when it comes to race, but we are not a perfectly diverse and fair society when it comes to race.

Sexism and religious discrimination seem to fall along similar lines for the United States. In less than one hundred years we have made a lot of progress, but we still have not eliminated those problems. Things are getting better, but the issues have not been resolved.

RPGs were started by white guys in Wisconsin playing war games that traditionally were not marketed to women. Less than 40 years later we are seeing women and minorities participating in the hobby. That’s great. It isn’t evidence that we have resolved our cultural differences, or that we have equality of the sexes in our hobby. It is a sign that we are accepting of others. In general, we’re not excluding people on purpose. We are reflecting the trend of the larger society to which we belong. There is still work to be done, but at least we are doing it.

My biggest concern for our hobby right now is sexism. I am working on my own article about this, because I’m pretty tired of products showing all women as big-boobed scantily clad sex pots. It insults me as a male consumer, and it degrades women. Why does the RPG industry do this? The same reason other industries do it – that is how they sell to young men with high amounts of disposable income. How does it stop? When consumers stop buying and start complaining.

I’m not saying that our society should shun sexual images. I’m fine with pornography (another industry with companies that are trying to win over new markets by appealing to female consumers). I just don’t want it in my RPGs.

Don’t get me started on discrimination based on sexual preference in this society. If the government recognizes a separation between church and state and a marriage license is issued by the government that solves it for me. Two consenting adults can get married regardless of what sex they are.

Regarding both racial and social diversity, well I believe that will happen with racial and social diversity amongst game publishers themselves. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a radical book for its time that exposed whites to the tragedy of slavery. Richard Pryor’s comedy exposed whites to a very different view of race in this country. Maude was a television series that broke ground with a strong female lead dealing with difficult issues. The film Philadelphia brought much needed attention to homosexuals being discriminated against, as well as the suffering of AIDS patients.

These are examples of artists and their work changing their societies for the better. They are also examples of risk. No author, painter, actor, writer, or any type of artists creates without risk. We need more risk takers in the game publishing industry, and we need them to come from all walks of life. This will lead to the products that will attract consumers from markets other than the white guy market.

One last thing – why am I called white? I’m half Irish, and half Swedish. Those two nations do not recognize each as being the same culture, but here in the U.S. they are lumped together in the same batch of people and called white because they look similar. In fact, the Irish and the English who have a very spotty history with each other are thrown in that same generalized category of “white”. The same thing happens with Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc.

Yet in each of these groups there are very distinct smaller groups. A friend who is a dark skinned Puerto Rican does not identify himself as being black, but he gets lumped into that category by organizations in an attempt to recognize differences. People are being put into broad, general categories as an attempt to recognize diversity. Think about that.

My final point is this – get to know the individual first, and let that person identify which groups they consider themselves to be a part of instead of assuming that you know what group they belong to. You’ll start to recognize that we are diverse in ways that we don’t keep track of, and maybe that is the direction that we need to go in. Forget measuring diversity and just be diverse.

#28 Comment By monkeyleader On February 28, 2011 @ 9:54 am


I’ve noticed a recent trend in gaming products where the focus has moved away from the “white male” sterotypes and language, used to describe rules, actions and fluff.

My first experience of this was with West End Games Star Wars RPG. The core books were the first time that non male pronouns were used to describe how their rules worked. It was shocking at first to have a rule describe were a “she/her” was doing the action. And, I came to enjoy that aspect. In fact, it caused me to move away from my typical “white male” character that I usually play and actually play a non-white character. Not because of “white guilt”, but because of the background I read from one of the sourcebooks (put out by WEG) that made the race sound exciting, fun, cool, and challenging to play.

I can only hope that this trend continues to make gaming more inclusive.

#29 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 9:58 am

Fair enough.
I guess I just kinda grabbed onto an earlier comment along the same vein.

I guess my main point is that the hobby is so small a % of the population as it is, why alienate the people who support it just to grab a couple more people who don’t?

From a business standpoint, that seems counterproductive to me.

#30 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On February 28, 2011 @ 10:18 am

@Spitfire665 – But that’s starting with the assumption that there is no win-win solution — no way to stop alienating some without starting to alienate others. It also (apparently) assumes that the issue is with the RPG vendors rather than with the people who play it.

#31 Comment By DrOct On February 28, 2011 @ 10:20 am


I don’t think anyone is talking about trying to “alienate” anyone. Quite the opposite, it’s about making others feel more welcome, not making those who are already here feel less welcome. These things are definitely NOT mutually exclusive.

#32 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 10:22 am

Well, that’s definitely true. And certainly where I’m approaching it from.

I mainly jump back to my only point of reference, the gender shift of RPG publishing.
Again, I fully understand and support the shift.
I just wish it hadn’t been such a huge pendulum swing. Changing what is common and “proper” English grammar from male bais to female bias is too far in one direction.
I think it should be more mixed. That’s ultimately where I’m coming from in regards to “alienation.”

My concern is that of “how many do we lose vs how many do we gain?” And is it worth the cost? Tabletop RPGs are already suffering as an industry. Does it really need another obstacle?

(for the record, I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate here)

#33 Comment By Sarlax On February 28, 2011 @ 11:18 am

RPGs originated, as noted above, with white guys. (Or did they? Perhaps it’s worth examining this presumption). Similarly, a lot of the original computer culture was white-male dominant. There are legitimate questions about how hobbies transmit through social groups. There are plenty of interests that have crossed racial groups or gender divides (women watch pro-sports, white people listen to hip hop, take your pick). RPGs appear resist the kind of crossover that other hobbies have enjoyed.

Some of the resistance might arise from the external sources of inspiration to play or design RPGs. Although it’s as true now, D&D (the primary engine for RPG growth) was modeled on European culture. E.G., fascination with European wars and myths generated a lot of the initial interest in D&D. Other sources of external inspiration tend to be strongly white-male flavored.

Take a look at Lord of the Rings (especially on the screen). Comic books. Stargate. Buffy. While none of these sources of inspiration are demographically homogenous, they are strongly flavored. Much of the fun of RPGs is taking on roles that have inspired us in other media. The sources that inspire RPGs suffer from pretty limited diversity.

There’s also the problem of internal representation. Echoing Patrick, the art in games tends to skew in a certain direction. Take something like Forgotten Realms, which features of humans transplanted from different continents and planets living side by side for centuries. This ought to produce a huge variety of races (and it’s purported to do in a lot of the books), but consider the art. The only question of appearance is usually how tan the hero is going to be. We all know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but really, most people would be less inclined to buy something from a series of books which is almost monolithically representative of a different group.

#34 Comment By Clawfoot On February 28, 2011 @ 11:26 am

The whole “it’s the small things” has a lot of merit to it, and it’s not just limited to the artwork in the rule books or miniatures in our favourite games. Sometimes it’s even right here, in Gnome Stew.

A couple weeks ago, there was an article by Don Mappin called “Learning From… Tron: Legacy.” It was a good article, though not exactly directly relevant to my particular interests, but I read most of it anyway. What made me stop reading was the picture of Quorra and the comment, “We’re a little past halfway in the article and your interest might be waning a bit. Thus, I now provide a picture of Quorra. Yum. Quorra.” It was striking that the very next sentence was, “Know your audience and cater to it.” It had never been quite so explicitly stated that an article was not for me. In that moment, that article and thus Gnome Stew itself was explicitly and deliberately Not For Me. It was for heterosexual men, and nobody else.

In hindsight, I should have mentioned it at the time. I am grateful, however, for the opportunity to mention it now.

Although I know it wasn’t the intent, that statement and that picture made me feel both ignored and unwelcome. I know it was an attempt at humour and a way to make a point, but it fell quite flat for me.

Anyway, I just thought I could use this to point out how incredibly pervasive this kind of thing is, that it can and does happen all the time, everywhere, even when those who do it do not intend it and would be aghast to hear that they did it.

I am not angry, by the way, nor am I jumping up and down, frothing at the mouth, and screaming “you guys are sexist a-holes.” I’m just pointing out that yeah, the community is very much white and very much male, and the evidence is often directly in front of our faces.

#35 Comment By black campbell On February 28, 2011 @ 11:52 am

My groups have had at least one woman in them since about 1984 — often two. Usually, that’s about 30-50% depending on the size of the group. I’ve have several black players, but they were the only one at the time, several Hispanic gamers.

Location and genre of the game setting seem to have a lot to do with demographic makeup of the groups. There do appear to be more women and “minorities” interested in gaming of late, but that’s just anecdotal observation on my part.

#36 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 28, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

@Sarlax – If we are defining the start of RPGs as being D&D and the group of creators behind that product being responsible for its invention, then they were white guys. I’ve met with a number of people who were part of the first group to play the game, and they are white guys. The pictures they showed me were of white guys. I live very close to where the game was created, and it is a predominately white community and was even more predominantly white back in the 70s. Having never asked “Was there a non-white guy, or female in the group of the original D&D players?” it is possible that I am missing some information, but the evidence that I have is pretty convincing that I’m willing to say “They were white guys.” :)

#37 Comment By Drone On February 28, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

If it matters I am of mixed “Race”.

I think that this is an incredibly important question and one that for the most part this community has handled respect and thoughtful consideration.

Over the last 22 years I think that gaming has undergone some dramatic changes. My table alone has changed from 6 white males and myself to a group consisting of 3 people of color, 2 white males (one of whom is gay and 1 gay female. While I recognize that this is not the norm (although it represents my neighborhood fairly accurately) it is encouraging that the hobby I love appeals to people who come from such different backgrounds.

Slightly off topic I remember what our female player said to us the second time she gamed with us. “You guys are pretty cool. My girlfriend said I shouldn’t come here alone. Walking into a strangers apartment filled with men I met online isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do.”

#38 Comment By Sarlax On February 28, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

@Patrick Benson – Sure, but note that I questioned whether the origins of RPGs are with white males, a broader question than, “Who invented D&D?”

I raised it because there’s sometimes a strange originalist presumption that people who feel excluded from an activity shouldn’t expect anything else if the activity didn’t begin with them. I don’t think it’s being said here, but a similar discussion on WoTC’s D&D boards did see the sentiment as it related to art. Effectively, the argument was, “You don’t have to play D&D, and you shouldn’t complain if the art shows a bunch of white people.” The ancillary arguments were that if particular groups didn’t like the way a game was presented, they were free to make their own.

I brought it up to help avoid the trap that “RPGs are part of white male culture.” Well, in a technical sense, they might have been invented by white males, but broad elements of such games (group storytelling, cooperative play) long predate white guys like me.

I also raised it somewhat in response to the topic of white privilege. As it applies to RPGs, I think I’d frame the dubious notion as, “RPGs were created by and are currently dominated by white guys, so if someone wants to play, they should conform to the expectations and norms white guys.” E.G., don’t complain about chain mail bikinis and Nordic knights, since, hey, that’s part of the package.

#39 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 28, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

@Clawfoot – I don’t know if you read the comments for the Tron: Legacy article, but the “sex sells” issue was brought up there. I wish you had commented on it, because that kind of feedback is great. It challenges us, and I for one feel that it is only through challenges that we improve.

#40 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 28, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

@Sarlax – Gotcha’, but there is a point where a new product or concept must be recognized. RPGs obviously were a result of how people socialize, and that socializing crosses many boundaries. But the guys who put it together into that package that we recognize as RPGs were white guys. Just like hip hop and rap are recognized as being invented by young urban black guys in Brooklyn, NY. The music, the use of spoken lyrics, and many other aspects came from a much broader scope, but we need to recognize a point of origin for a particular product or concept and not just say “well the broader aspects of it have existed for years as part of many cultures”. That statement may be true, but RPGs and hip hop and rap were still invented by individuals who saw a way to pull together those broader aspects into something new.

#41 Comment By Spitfire665 On February 28, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

@Patrick Benson

And it’s quite interesting to compare the two (RPGs and HipHop) because they both kinda got their starts in the 70s, but really hit their heyday in the 80s. To me, that more than anything reflects the cultural divide that really set them apart. There’s crossover into each, but each really does sorta hold its own “culture” (if you will) that was set during that time frame.

#42 Comment By Joe_Sixpack On February 28, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

@tariqk: Thank you for naming privilege.

@Spitfire665: I do not think your devil’s advocacy is useful. The industry can and will face the obstacles of racial and gender inclusion:
1) Because to do so is just.
2) Because to do so is marketable.

#43 Comment By Cnor On February 28, 2011 @ 5:16 pm


And, as more evidence, the prologue he wrote in the version of the book I have states that it wasn’t, so…

#44 Comment By Cnor On February 28, 2011 @ 5:19 pm


“In addition all three of these groups are hated by Progressives and Social Elitists.”

What are your definitions for these?

#45 Comment By Clawfoot On February 28, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

@Patrick Benson – I wish I had commented then, too. Staying silent when issues like that come up does nobody any favours. However, I’ve found that making a comment like that when not invited to often evokes that defensive, “you’re too sensitive” kind of reaction, and to be honest I don’t always have patience for it. This article and thread, however, is very respectful and feels like a safe place for this kind of feedback, so I took the opportunity. Better late than never.

Again, thanks to the ‘Stew for examining this issue. And now that I know for sure that it IS a safe space for voicing concerns like this, I’ll be sure to do so if it ever happens again.

#46 Comment By gremlin1384 On February 28, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

Throughout my life, I have met more and more female gamers. In my early years gaming in junior high and high school, nearly all of my gaming friends were, as you say, white males. However, my current group is actually split 2/3 female, my previous group was 50/50, and my college groups tended to be balanced or weighted to female. I don’t know whether it’s peculiar to the communities I’ve been in, or that the hobby is spreading across gender lines, but I haven’t seen this tendency past my high school. Just my two cents.

#47 Comment By Martin Ralya On February 28, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

I have a day job, so I queue up my articles in advance and don’t have a chance to comment until late in the day that they appear. I knew this would be a hot topic, and I hope no one interpreted my absence from the comments as a deliberate absence — I wish I could follow threads like this “live,” but it’s not an option.

I’m thrilled that this thread went exactly where I hoped it would go — in all sorts of interesting, thought-provoking directions — and went there respectfully and without rancor. I never miss a chance to point out the intelligence and maturity level of the Gnome Stew community, and this is a perfect demonstration of that. Thank you for devoting a slice of your day to shedding some light on the different aspects of this complex issue!

@Clawfoot – I’m sorry that the Tron: Legacy article offended you. I’ve known Don for years, and that certainly wasn’t his intention. I appreciate you pointing it out.

Points that resonate especially strongly with me:

– White dudes invented gaming, shared it with other white dudes, who shared it with other white dudes… That seems to make sense on an intuitive level.

– Artwork and other subtle and not so subtle cues don’t exactly welcome in women/minorities. As a publisher, I use 50/50 male/female pronouns and ask for diverse, non-cheesecake art; as a freelancer, I wrote my pieces this way whether I was asked to or not. This stuff is small, in some ways, but it matters.

– Gaming as a hobby seems to be figuring out how not to turn away women, but isn’t doing nearly as good a job at not turning away minorities — and both efforts could be more widespread and further along.

– Lots of external inspiration for gaming tropes, as well as licensed properties and iconic characters on TV and in movies, are white. I hadn’t considered this at all.

– The Gnome Stew authorship is indeed a sausage fest. Expansion, if it happens, should be focused on recruiting women and people of color.

#48 Comment By Palindrome On February 28, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

First off: Thanks, Gnomes and commenters, for making this blog an awesome, incredibly useful resource! Even though I’ve never commented here before, Gnome Stew has been invaluable in getting me started as a fledgling GM.

I felt compelled to reply here because it looks like only a couple of other women have replied so far, and most of the conversation has focused on race (which is also very interesting and worthwhile, of course). I don’t feel that I’m very qualified to discuss the racial issue, but I might be able to add a bit to what has already been written about the gender issue.

I want to say right away that I would never, ever presume to speak for any woman besides myself. That said, I wonder if styles and genres commonly seen in RPGs might have something to do with how included or alienated some women feel when it comes to various gaming systems and/or gaming groups.

I noticed that Roxysteve commented way near the top of this long column of comments that women seem to be more interested in plots that center around vampires. I’m not quite sure how that comment was meant, but I found it amusing because I think there may be a grain of truth to it. I, at least, am more interested in stories (books, movies, TV, and RPGs) that could fit into the Gothic/horror genre than in either swords and sorcery, high fantasy type stuff or straight sci-fi. Now, I enjoy dark fantasy even if it has a pseudo-Medieval setting, and gritty sci-fi is one of my favorite genres, but I think you can see how that doesn’t really broaden my preferences all that much.

I don’t mind playing straight-up fantasy games, and reading a basic sci-fi book every now and then is fun and relaxing, but, for me, those genres get boring quickly because (whatever the medium) they tend to focus on external “cool stuff” — be it a magic item of awesome and mysterious power, the hero’s super-cool signature move, a futuristic gadget — rather than on internal and/or interpersonal struggles and innovative, complex stories.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I’m also not saying that you can’t have a game with most of the hallmarks of a traditional fantasy game that also includes tons of complex social interactions and psychological conflicts. I’m just expressing what my overall impression of these genres has been based on my experiences.

In a lot of ways, I’m not a very stereotypical female (I do strenuous physical labor for a living, for example), but I DO fit some stereotypes I’ve heard when it comes to female role-players: I’m a words person much more than I am a numbers person, and I value stories over “stuff.” For me, the experience of playing an RPG is very much about creating an interesting character with as much depth and history as I can give him or her, exploring the thought processes and internal conflicts of this fictional person, and navigating/weaving an interesting, and hopefully in some way innovative, story. My character’s stats are just a way of summing up a few of her characteristics. Her skills, feats, and talents are just shorthand for some of the special training and other experiences that have helped shape her throughout her life.

Anyway, the point of all of that was just to suggest — at the risk of sounding like I’ve internalized the oppressive dogma of the patriarchy or something — that on balance (though certainly not always), women might be looking for different things in RPGs, and getting different things out of them, than men. Of course, there are as many ways to enjoy RPGs as there are people who play them, and I think the best groups are the ones take into account and balance the parts that most appeal to all members of the group, regardless of gender, race, etc. At the same time, however, I think many people (perhaps especially people who know of RPGs, or have dabbled in them a bit, but wouldn’t call themselves gamers) automatically think of the standard, “stuff”-based swords and sorcery genre when they think of RPGs. For anyone who is more interested in stories than in “stuff” and numbers, I can see why that might be a turn-off.

Just my two cents.

#49 Comment By reemul On February 28, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

I think it also depends on the game. To a certain degree this is self-selecting, as everyone *expects* D&D to be a bastion of white male geeks. Other games may be seen as more welcoming to diversity (true or not).

In my personal experience, D&D (and now Pathfinder) are mostly white, though the percentage of females is rising. (Skewed somewhat by married couples, where only one may be really interested in playing.) Indie games are more diverse, especially the ones the lean more roleplay vs. wargame (and, least like a computer game). All the way down the weird spectrum to White Wolf’s Storyteller system, which at least locally seems to be the most freak-friendly. I know that campaigns I’ve been part of in that system have by far been the most diverse, across multiple gaming groups. The *truly* exotic lean toward LARP. I’m apparently way too normal looking for the local LARPs I’ve been to (ha! if only they knew!), and have been made to simply feel unwelcome for it. I hope at the other end of the spectrum that I wasn’t one of the ones who made the LARPers feel unwelcome at a D&D table.

#50 Comment By reemul On February 28, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

Just to clarify, freak-friendly isn’t my term, it came from some of my more exotic gamer friends as a self-description. I have to admire the courage of some of my friends who have chosen a difficult path, even if I personally disagree with the choices that got them there. (Riding bulls on weekends also made a friend listen to music I didn’t like, wear clothes I thought were weird, talk about things I wasn’t interested in, and do something I thought was frankly stupid. But I’m still friends with him, too.)

#51 Comment By AquaFox On February 28, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

I’m an Arab foreigner. I live in the US. I have a student visa. I also frequent a gaming student organization.

I am more of a GM than a player but I am not GMing any games this semester. The 4th ed game I’m in has six players. An arab foreigner guy (me), a black girl, three white guys and one gay white guy (if that matters). Diversity is very common place for me. Maybe that’s because I’m in a University that I can find this kind of diversity?

#52 Comment By Spitfire665 On March 1, 2011 @ 7:07 am

Something you said here, and something that keeps popping up throughout these posts that really resonates with me is motivation for playing.
And I keep going back to _Robin’s Laws of Good GM_ in my head.

In the end, all the imagery, all the grammar, all the fraternistic joking aside, if the story is good, and the table is open and accepting, then just grab an SRD (which has no imagery and no fluff to muck things up) and just play the game.

I mean, we talk about RPGs like they’re some exclusive “White male-only” club. But what I keep hearing is that it’s not the games that are exclusive. It’s the marketing. And that all falls back on whatever company pushes the product. I’ve never known a gamer who would turn someone away from a table for any reason, other than being a jerk. So, is it really RPGs that are exclusive?


#53 Pingback By RPGs General/Other D&D / RPG News for Tuesday, 1 March, 2011 – EN World: D&D / RPG News & Reviews On March 1, 2011 @ 7:19 am

[…] Why are most gamers in the U.S. white and male? Gnome Stew asks an open question to the gaming community. […]

#54 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On March 1, 2011 @ 8:13 am

Palindrome@48: Some of your comment may be related to what I wrote @20. I’m looking for more interaction between player characters, and I’m not getting it in my current all-male-but-me group. That’s a play style issue and I have a feeling that there is probably a correlation with gender. Spitfire665@21 tried to respond but seems to have jumped to the conclusion that I was talking about conflict between characters, which I was not.

BTW, I’m glad some of the commentors started talking about race — up to the midway point it was all about gender.

#55 Comment By Spitfire665 On March 1, 2011 @ 8:16 am

Sorry, I was probably not clear enough.
The example situation I described was both between characters and players.

It started with characters, but ultimately ended in a player fallout that turned out to be centered upon different expectations at the table.

I think today’s Gnome Stew post (which references your question directly) really sums up what I was trying to say nicely. You should check that out.

#56 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On March 1, 2011 @ 8:27 am

DnD101@8: I merely skimmed your wall of text the first time around and missed your little dig at Progressives and Social Elites. I have no idea who or what the latter reference means, but my own little D&D 4e group of six (and sometimes seven) is 100% Progressive in politics.

In any case, I’m fairly confident that we will be able to talk our vast network of radical feminist, gay, black, latino, native american, union-joining, hollywood-living weirdo friends from actually launching The Anti-Regular-White-Guys-Who-Just-Want-To-Pretend-To-Be-Elves-Sometimes Jihad that is currently scheduled for next Friday. We just need more time. But to be on the safe side, you might want to keep a safe distance from any and all Progressives until further notice. One hundred miles ought to be enough. I would suggest the Pitcairn Islands, but I believe they have fairly strict immigration policies.

#57 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On March 1, 2011 @ 8:35 am

Spitfire665@55 — Oh my goodness! I didn’t realize that Patrick had followed up on my comment with an entire article. Now I feel silly…

Sorry if I seem to have jumped on you. It’s just that several of my own group members interpreted my request for more inter-PC roleplaying to be about wanting more conflict, and that’s the farthest thing from my mind. In fact, I believe that the interaction I am looking for would actually result in a tighter, more cohesive party.

#58 Comment By Spitfire665 On March 1, 2011 @ 8:38 am

LOL, it’s not a problem at all. I didn’t take it that way. But i do think Patrick’s post today is spot-on.
You just gotta talk it out. It probably won’t be comfortable, but if you truly feel alienated, it’s definitely something that needs to be addressed. No one should feel that way at a table. I know when I’m GMing and I find out someone feels that way, I feel like a complete failure for not doing my part.

Maybe you should direct them to this site, too. As an icebreaker. :)

#59 Comment By JONATHAN JACOBS On March 1, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

Nice post Martin. I don’t have anything to add really (I mostly agree with DnD101 above) – but I do think it’s interesting that Race in RPGs must be on the brain. A few days before this post, The Grumpy Celt posted a similar post – but more towards the characters in the game being mostly all white (a reflection of the player base no doubt).

In case the other commenters / readers here are interested:


Cheers — JJ

#60 Comment By MonsterMike On March 1, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

I have nothing original to add on the subject of this discussion. However, I would like to say how refreshing it is to see a thoughtful, civil discussion on the internet about the topic of race, gender, equity, and opportunity that does not devolve into a screaming match. You should all be congratulated for being the cream of the internet crop.

I wonder how many of us have used RPGs to explore issues of racism or other forms of inequality by proxy. Has anyone ever put a tavern in their world where the barkeep refuses to serve ale to dwarves?

Naturally, the tavern would serve gnomes.
Stewed or roasted. :)

#61 Comment By DnD101 On March 2, 2011 @ 1:52 am

Sorry I turned off the subscription to this post because so many posts were coming through.

@Lavachild – Thanks Nick for acknowledging some fair points of my post and shining light on the recruiting part. I really feel like the game has moved far beyond the historical reference and “period” I highlighted. Though as you state RPG Culture does need much more inclusion for Women, at least without making them feel like prey. It can be quite sickening as @Clawfoot points out.

@xaktarsonis and @Cnor – You are correct Tolkien, WWI, disliked allegory. Along with the other points on no Brit Myth and borrowing, I was aware, just sloppy. My Tolkien reference was simply representing Arnesen’s suggestion to Gygax of applying Tolkienesque elements to Chainmail creating D&D. Thanks.

@Cnor – The intended definition of Social Elitist; Any who considers their own present or future perceived culture superior to another’s and seeks to destroy or change it out of existence. “I know, anyone influenced by their Ego…Most of Us” 😉

@TwoShedsJackson – My “Progressives and Social Elitists” comment was a dig though not one of much conviction. The statement is not so much directed at progressives, as Social Elitists (definition see above) that call themselves progressive. As if association with a group that actively pushes society forward justifies their own flavor of hate.

You provide an excellent example of this by suggesting, perhaps in jest, my need for distance or protection from your group of “progressive” players and your recommendation for my deportation. In a thread focused on inclusion you reveal your lack of commitment to such with haste.

Unfortunately the “progressive” group you align yourself with in your post, reference in other posts and which is highlighted today on Gnome Stew. Appears not to be as inclusive or tolerant as you outline and suggest, at the very least with the direction you or your motivations attempt to influence or direct your own game, players and perhaps others.

I have spent a great deal of my life in game shops and gaming groups so I am obviously no stranger to diversity and inclusion. Our culture is saturated with, has drawn upon and continues to propagate amongst MANY culturally “taboo subjects” of Fantasy; Demonology, Vampirism and Sexual Exploitation, of not only Women but Sex-Starved Teens and Adults as well, look no further than the cleavage in most Fantasy Art. A Conservative Bigot is not going to be happy in the Gaming Industry for very long. So I reject your indirect associations and assertions.

The “dig” along with my initial position against political rhetoric and objection to the use of “White Privilege” vs. “Environment of Origin” certainly has left my post appearing very Conservative. Though one could easily identify a Liberal narrative in “White Guys = WAR” as @Lavachild pegged, though from a different angle of making sure Asians got their due props as War Mongers. Very Nice. Cheers!

Unfortunately while objecting to, I ended up pushing political rhetoric myself. So that sucks, but it is to be expected when we discuss sensitive and politically entangled issues like gender, race and culture in our society. @tariqk – My Appologies.

So @ALL Keep it REAL and love your brother and sister gamers.

May OUR culture and all those who inhabit it today, tomorrow, and forever continue to dream, tell stories, live adventurously and recruit any and ALL possessing imagination and a desire to see worlds and realms unseen.


#62 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On March 2, 2011 @ 7:25 am

@DnD101 – The gist of my comment was that 1) a huge percentage of RPG players are progressive, 2) non-progressives, RPG players or otherwise, have nothing to fear from progressives because we aren’t out to get them, and 3) you are surrounded by progressives and would have to go to outlandish lengths to avoid being so. I don’t know where you came up with deportation.

In any case, yes, Peace.

#63 Comment By Airk On March 2, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

I really didn’t want to get say this, and I’m almost certainly not the person who should, but DndD101 – in addition to the factual errors in your post which you have already acknowledged, there’s a lot of passive aggressive antagonism. Perhaps your “digs” were originally all in good fun, or to prove some important point, but they come off self righteous and better-than-thou.

Amidst an entirely civil thread that discusses some potentially very inflammatory issues with surprising rationality and introspection, there are three posts that stick out as antagonistic and belittling of others: Two of yours, and one when TwoShedsJackson rose to your bait. I hope this is not your intent, but I request that you try to read your posts as they would be read by people who don’t know you, so that we can avoid any more of these “digs” that are so easily misconstrued as insults. Thank you.

#64 Comment By Badjak On March 2, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

I’m a white male and I play in a group with two women, two African American men and two other white men. Also one of our group is gay.

It’s interesting that no one has brought up the Drow or Duerger, or other races that define themselves as the “dark-skinned EVIL version of” often times leads our group into some uncomfortable conversations.

There also was a hilarious moment when our DM was reading through the Dark Sun module where one of the WOTC quotes was something like “Thri-Keen love to be slaves, it fits their natural disposition…” To be honest that statement went right over my head, and then the player sitting next to me whose African American just starts laughing like crazy.

So in terms of “unpacking the baggage” there is certainty a lot in the D&D lore that could probably been seen as “unintentionally” racist. And sexist for that matter.

Last,since we were talking about hip hop (which I incidentally am a huge fan of) and cultural genres, both of the African American gamers that I play with basically got involved in D&D through Anime and video games. This actually is great because it means that the games we play tend to have a lot of cross-genre influences (Naruto ninjas hanging out in Faerun for instance) which has been a breath of fresh air for me as someone whose been playing for ten years now. It’s nice to get away from that LOTR feel for awhile.

#65 Comment By Uller On March 2, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

Why are most RPGers white and male? Why does it matter? I guess I have never in my life looked around a room full of my friends, colleagues, teammates, brothers-in-arms, etc and said “you know we are just too ” I see people. I thought that’s what MLK wanted us to see. I guess not?

Gaming is cultural just like any other entertainment activity. Look at sports. I coach youth ice hockey in university town. Our local rink fills up with Asians for public skates and free-style sessions. When it comes time for hockey tryouts or to watch a game…it’s almost all white kids (we have two asian kids out of about 80 in our association). It hasn’t got crap to do with “white privilege”. No one that I am aware of has ever denied an asian kid from playing. It has to do with white kids grow up in households where the parents have an interest in ice hockey and the asian kids tend to not…Nothing sinister, nothing wrong…people make choices and those choices are influenced by all kinds of factors.

#66 Comment By DnD101 On March 2, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

@Airk – Thank you for your advice I will reflect on it when making future posts.

I do however think it is incorrect to say that I put forward “digs” plural. The only “dig”, as TwoShedsJackson originally label it, was the ‘Social Elitist’ comment which I clarified, when requested.

I also don’t think that my post should be labeled ‘un-factual’ simply on the grounds of an error in Tolkien’s Bio, his work did, and continues to, play a significant role in the inspiration for our hobby, which was my only point.

As far as asserting that I might have laid ‘bait’ for confrontation. There is no merit for that. Many posts in this thread could insight objection and negative response. Though mine, due to it’s length and style, received them.

Yes, there are at least three antagonistic posts which you point out belong to myself, TwoShedsJackson and my response to an attack directed more at myself personally than my post.

TwoShedsJackson and I clarified and acknowledged one another’s positions offered peace and moved on. @TwoShedsJackson thanks for your follow up post, reasserting your most important positions and offering closure. I do wish you and your group the best at the table.

Again, @Airk I will reflect on your advice when making future posts.

In closing, I hope it can be recognized that with the exception of my open rejection to the assertion of “White Privilege” and a flippant comment on Social Elitism my post was little more than a historical first-person perspective on the Mid-Western birth of D&D and how it shaped the past and present environment of our game, which received more, if non-committal, positive response than negative.

Truly I love D&D and ALL who play it. I simply might have left out the response to what felt like a “Blame Whitey” mentality developing early in this thread. I stuck my neck out and received what could be expected.

I will practice greater caution, though I doubt too many political/social issues of this weight will raise their heads in the general DM/GM posts regularly provided by Gnome Stew.

Be Well.

#67 Comment By Smon On March 3, 2011 @ 1:58 am

Perhaps ironically, most of the US gamers I’ve played with here in London have been either east-Asian or elite Latinos (one was an ex NASA rocket scientist!), and over half have been female.

What I would suspect is that tabletop RPGs appeal mostly to whites and east-Asians, and often the best-educated and highest-IQ among those groups. It would be interesting to see numbers of north-east-Asian origin (Korean, Chinese, Japanese) gamers compared to white gamers in the US, my suspicion is that they would be over-represented, not under-represented, compared to their share of the population. A lot of other more cerebral activities break down that way. By contrast videogamers are likely to be distributed more evenly amongst the US population, although probably skewing more heavily male, and not restricted to higher education & IQ within racial population groups either. The non-Asian minority US gamers I’ve encountered have also tended to be upper middle class and highly educated, often professionals like lawyers.

#68 Comment By Spitfire665 On March 3, 2011 @ 6:56 am

While I’d be the first to echo and support your sentiment here, I think the question is more to the degree of “is there anything in our game we love so much that is turning non-white males” away from it?

Ultimately that’s what is trying to be sussed out in this debate. As far as I can tell in reading this, there is and there isn’t. It seems there’s plenty of diversity in RPGs when those non white males who do participate look past the things that turn away everyone else.

I’ll be the first to agree that the misogynistic nature of D&D prior to and even still after the shift to 3rd edition could potentially turn away the more sensitive female potential gamer. But they’ve taken steps to get around that, and I applaud it. It’s only really through discussions like this, though, that we might be able to see things that we take for granted that might be an unintentional turn-off for non-white males. Because, as you said, we don’t see that it’s broken, so why bother tinkering to fix it?

But that’s the question at hand. IS it broken? Maybe not. But if it is, then maybe it would behoove us to do something to rectify that.

#69 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 3, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

@Spitfire665 – Re: “is there anything in our game we love so much that is turning non-white males” away from it?

Yep, that’s a great rephrasing. Look at the current state of affairs in RPGs and in the hobby as a whole (or the state in the past few years), not the origins of gaming, and this question really comes into focus.

#70 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 4, 2011 @ 7:24 am

@Martin Ralya – But that is completely different from what you asked. You asked “Why?” and to find the answer to that question we must look into the past to determine how the current state of affairs came to be.

Now if you are asking “How can we change most gamers in the U.S. being white and male?” then we should look at what we do that is excluding others from the hobby. But a necessary question to be asked is “Why should we change anything?”

Too often the answer to that question is the easy “Because it is the right thing to do.” That is a lazy bullshit answer. I don’t care how many movies or television shows portray a noble hero standing up for truth and justice tell us otherwise. Doing the right thing is subjective, and I won’t accept that as an answer.

If the reason to be more appealing and inclusive is to attract more potential customers to the industry, or to expand upon the ideas and concepts of game design to generate a larger variety of games with, well I think that those are real reasons to seek greater diversity. They provide incentive. They make the switch from subjective idealism to tangible benefits.

So I see know reason to give someone grief for asking the legitimate question of “Why should this be done?” It is a question that should be asked, and a question that deserves a strong answer based on reason. Tell gamers that it is the right thing to do and some will support you, but show gamers how it benefits them directly and a great deal more will respond (especially publishers).

#71 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 4, 2011 @ 7:28 am

“So I see know reason…”

Sleep. I now see a reason for sleep. My brain no worky to wells with none.

#72 Pingback By News from Around the Net: 04-MAR-2011 | Game Knight Reviews On March 4, 2011 @ 8:49 am

[…] question… Why are most U.S. gamers white and male? He raises some very interesting points here. The demographics alone are enlightening. How do we diversify the gamer population? (Though I have […]

#73 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 6, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

@Patrick Benson – No, not directly my question, but I see it as a subset of the second part of my question. Anyhoo, semantics aside they’re both interesting questions (to me).

#74 Comment By Nojo On March 20, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

Check out the marketing our hobby puts out, posters, book covers, the illustrations in our game books.

Most of the game books on my shelf are full of pictures of white males acting heroic with some sexy white chicks in support.

It’s really weird in modern or SF games. I can see a fantasy version of England is going to be pretty darn white. Once you get in the modern world with global travel, games should look multi-ethnic. In SF future with centuries or more of mixing it up, we shouldn’t put out books of the amazing adventures of White Men in Space!

If we want our hobby to grow, we should change the look and feel so everybody can feel included. Not to be PC, but to add new players, new friends. To keep our hobby alive.

#75 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 1, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

I just stumbled across this, and found myself (a white guy) in complete agreement with this line:

“(The female panelists’) take on female characters was that it was fine for female characters to be obviously sexualized – as long as they have something else going for them. It turns out that I’m more bothered by sexual pandering than they are.”

More here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/8728-Experienced-Points-A-Male-on-Females-on-Female-Characters

#76 Comment By Techieninja On April 18, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

Late, I know. Apologies.

Until very recently, I’ve had almost the opposite situation in my gaming crew. Out of the six of us, the only males that were in the group was one of the GMs(who has since moved away and chosen me to be his successor), and me.
The thing I noticed about our group is that all of the female characters (played by the females of our group) played traditionally more masculine characters. When we played Pathfinder; one was a bipolar ranger, one was a frightening fighter, and one was a blood-thirsty barbarian. I played a (I’ll admit it) rather delicate rogue and the other male, who happened to be playing at the time, played an intellectual druid.
This also happened, though to a lesser extent, on my first campaign when we played Exalted. The character played by the male was more intellectual than physical, and a majority of the females played, again, more traditionally masculine rolls; and even the one that took the more traditionally female roll could grow disproportionately huge wooden claws.
The demographic in these two games gave way for some very fun and interesting gameplay, and very funny mental images (one of the females played a 14 year old girl wielding a huge battle axe. It was awesome.)

#77 Comment By albertcarruthers On July 28, 2011 @ 11:45 am

I’m late coming to this discussion, but I think it’s important to note that you forgot a couple:


And I know it’s hard to gather data on things like this, but my general impression in gaming is that players (and their characters) are assumed to be heterosexual and gender-conforming. This is, as others have pointed out, a problem because it alienates people that would otherwise want to play RPGs, to use them to have fun and explore potent issues in their lives.

I once spoke with a female friend who had the impression that roleplaying games altogether (and DnD in particular) were unreflective events used to enact fantasies of physical and sexual dominance; jokes about rape were commonplace and content consisted almost entirely of violence. She spoke of feminist European games she had heard of that allowed women to explore self-confidence and power without fear of male domination or reprisal.

@Spitfire665, I think you’re right that some hobbies won’t appeal to certain demographic groups. This is especially the case when they are embedded with narratives of violence, power, and control that are repugnant to people that experience marginalization and subjugation daily.

The RPG gender/race gap isn’t about “natural” divisions between male and female players like word/number or talking/fighting. It’s about telling stories that upset people.

#78 Comment By Laraqua On February 12, 2015 @ 4:57 pm

There are also lots of little details that really stand out to various minority groups in the games themselves. Take D&D 3.5, for example, where every race creation diety out of the major races were male except for a single female goddess who didn’t create her own race … she stole pieces from everyone else’s races to make her own.

So … those gods modelled on the half of the human population that gives birth are incapable of creating life and must steal it, while those modelled on the half of the human population that do not give birth are the more creative life giving ones?

There are *lots* of examples of issues like these that are hard to notice if you’re not directly affected by it.

I can say, however, that Pathfinder does much better with it though too many of their countries are sexist to allow women to comfortably roleplay without having to constantly be “the exception”. So while they’re more conscious of the situation, it’s also harder to ignore in the game as Brevoy, Ustalav, Cheliax, Druma, Taldor, and dwarves are all patriarchies, especially when you read the novels, and even Varisia skews toward patriarchal.

On the note of race, how many gods in these books are shown in a range of skin tones? In truth, there should be a Calistria / Heironeous for every nation. Plus, most non-humanoids in 3.5 at least that have a black and a white option (i.e. Drow) have the black option innately evil.

It’s hard to see why these taken for granted elements would be deal breakers unless you invert it. Imagine if you could very easily pick up a fantasy novel and find only one or two male characters in it. Imagine if a game line had only black characters in it. You *might* choose to pick it up out of curiosity, but would you feel truly welcome? Would you feel like it was *for* you?

It’s like how toy companies colour something pink if they don’t want boys to have it. These tribal markers tell non-majority members to stay out, but they’re so unintentional and even counterproductive so we think it can’t be real. Toy companies just want to sell toys so why cut off half the market? D&D 3.5 did make conscious efforts to include women. Yet the markers are still there and have an effect.

In the end, they reinforce the message that: “Oh, people like me can’t be heroes….” and you start to shut down and tune out.

The lack of tropes and media support for it also means that GMs tend to have more male than female NPCs, especially for bit characters and the nameless support (that army is a 1000 men strong so I guess I can’t join them then without being weird). Since your co-players are generally male as well you get to literally be an exception both in-game and out-of-game….

I’m white, so I can’t speak for people of colour, but I imagine they have a similar – if not worse – experience.

#79 Comment By Laraqua On February 12, 2015 @ 4:58 pm

Pathfinder has done really well, at least, to include LGBTI characters within their game. Wrath of the Righteous is a really good example of it. Hopefully it will become more and more commonplace….

#80 Comment By Laraqua On February 12, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

I can’t speak to your friend, but when I make those jokes it’s often because I feel really exposed and visible so I make the jokes that I feel like everyone is thinking. It’s kind of a defence mechanism.

It *doesn’t* mean that everyone is being mean or making me awkward, as I’d drop out if that were the case but it does indicate I’m on the verge of not going.

I experienced this with a boffer sport (i.e. not roleplay) and everyone there was great and neat, but although there were a few other girls there I just didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there.

It had absolutely *nothing* to do with my co-players who really did treat me like one of the guys, but I lacked a lot of the formative experiences they had which made me feel like an extreme n00b, i.e. little to no competitive sport or mock fighting experience.

But yeah, I’d chat to him about whether he wants it included in the game and what he wants to see. He could genuinely love playing in a world of stereotypes, which could create an interesting campaign of stereotypes of all sizes and flavours! Or it could just be his way of laughing it off.