I want to relate a brief story about a racially problematic thing that happened during a game in which I played via Gauntlet Hangouts and then share my reflections on that event and its wider implications. Before proceeding, I should mention that I am a white man.
Here’s what happened: We were playing a game set in a modern urban fantasy setting. The GM (a white man) created a minor NPC — on the fly, I believe — and described her as a “sassy black woman.” I was stunned in the moment and said nothing, even though I felt this was an offensive racial stereotype. I was not able to address the issue until a roses & thorns debrief at the end of the session. We had a short but fruitful conversation in which one other player also contributed. Fortunately the GM took my point in a relatively non-defensive manner. We eventually came to a consensus that his characterization of the NPC was indeed an offensive stereotype and that reliance on such stereotypes is a lazy way of fleshing out NPCs.
Here are my reflections on what happened:
The X-card isn’t always enough to address problematic content. In my example, the X-card was available, but I choked in the moment. This was a failure on my part, and I am working on getting better at responding to problematic behavior as it occurs. However I don’t think this problem is unique to me. Also a player from a marginalized group may hesitate during game play for legitimate reasons (e.g., fear of being dismissed) and miss the window of opportunity to invoke the X-card. For this reason, I think it would be a good idea to encourage GMs to conduct roses and thorns debriefs at the end of sessions and explicitly encourage players to reflect any content that they feel was problematic in regards to race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
Also, I was fortunate in having a GM who did not respond defensively to my feedback. From my past experience calling out white people about racially problematic behavior, I know this is not always the case. As such, I think it would be good to have some basic written advice on how to raise and respond to such issues — for example, the distinction between intent and effect: just because I expressed my discomfort with the GM’s characterization of that NPC doesn’t mean I’m accusing him of being a bad person or having bad motives. Hopefully, this advice will help guide conversations in a productive direction so that the person receiving the feedback will actually understand the problem and can avoid similar problematic content in the future.
Finally, I think what happened in my example is relatively common — that is, it is probably easy for a GM to fall back on stereotypes when they are creating NPCs on the fly. I think it would be useful to compile a list of such pitfalls and ways to avoid them. In the example at hand, just being aware of this tendency and consciously checking yourself: Am I inadvertently reproducing a stereotype? If yes, then switch it up: Instead of another nerdy Asian character, make them debonair and suave!
I’d be very interested in hearing what people think about my reflections on this example. What do you think about these proposals: 1. encouraging debriefs to address problematic racial & other content, 2. creating written advice on how to give and receive such feedback, and 3. compiling a list of common pitfalls & ways to avoid them?
In case it’s not clear, I really loving gaming at Gauntlet and want to see it become even more awesome. I know that Jason and Kate are working hard at increasing diversity. I’d like to see the wider Gauntlet community pool ideas and energy to support this effort so that our community is as safe as possible for old & new members from marginalized communities. Thanks for reading!