Today is our country's holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.; a great man who preached peace, brotherly love, and economic equality and social justice for all. As with his predecessors (Jesus, Gandhi, etc.) he was murdered for espousing these beliefs.
Why are people such assholes?
Today, I am celebrating MLK's birthday in my usual style...hanging out at home, drinking coffee, doing a little reading, a little writing. Yes, I am about as self-centered and lazy as the average person when it comes to enacting social change in the world (or even my own neighborhood). At least I went to church yesterday...maybe I'll get around to mailing the Washington Council of the Blind this check I promised 'em last month (the envelope is sitting on my kitchen counter). *sigh*
Back to the subject of MLK: my friend, Jon, knows I play (and write sometimes) role-playing games and still respects me. He himself has never played Dungeons & Dragons (or any RPG), though he knows what it is. He's only a few months younger than me, and grew up in Chicago...closer to the D&D Heartland than I ever was as a child. But he is much more of a "sports guy" than myself...probably something to do with being from a town that has two baseball teams and hockey in addition to the Bears and the Bulls...and in addition to talking NFL (he's a Seahawks fan these days), we see eye-to-eye on most of our political and philosophical idealogies, even if he is a damn atheist.
I asked him why he'd never played D&D, or if he was interested in gaming sometime and his response was something along the lines of the game being a bit too "caucasian-centric" for his taste.
[Jon, I should note, is caucasian himself...however, he is very deeply interested in promoting racial and ethnic diversity whenever possible. Call it a personal cause of his, in addition to promoting the Cubs]
I was a bit taken aback by this, but it is true that most everyone I've gamed with has been a whitey like myself. My wife is, of course, an exception but she's hardly what I'd call a gamer (she's played more as a favor to me than out of any actual interest in role-playing).
Now I'm sure part of this has to do with the town in which I live. Seattle has a significant non-caucasian population, and the African-American population is equivalent to the country's average (about 10-11%)...but the level of diversity here is nothing compared to other large cities in the U.S., like Chicago, New York, L.A., D.C., Cleveland, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, etc. Yes, we have a larger percentage of Asian-American folks than some of these towns....but, you know, despite having many friends in high school and college who were of Asian ancestry, all the people with whom I gamed were white-white-white.
Not that non-caucasians don't role-play...I've seen them at the local conventions (in very, very small numbers...). And I would guess many "folks of color" have the same interest in fantasy and magic and swords and such as their pasty, European cohorts. It is fantasy, after all.
Still, at least out here in Seattle, there would seem to be an "under-representation" in the role-playing community. Other parts of the country? Well...
I am currently thumbing through my copy of Haven: City of Violence, an RPG from LPJ Design. LPJ Design is Louis Porter Jr., an African-American gamer, born in Chicago and currently residing in Florida. An independent game designer since circa 1997, LPJ has continuously put out material, both in print and PDF form, for 15 years. That's before D20 and the OGL made it easy for people to jump into the industry.
Haven: City of Violence is LPJ's first full-on RPG, now (unfortunately) only available in a D20 format (downloadable at RPGNow). My copy is pre-D20 and despite having the 90s penchant for extensive skill systems, there is a decidedly "old school" flavor about it. Indeed, Mr. Porter writes in the first sentence of his introduction:
"When I first started working on this game, I wanted to make a game similar to the old TSR role-playing game of the early 80's, Top Secret."
You can see the influence of Top Secret, right down to the cumbersome melee mechanics of that game's 1st edition, throughout the game system. Haven: COV models the ultra-violent, ambiguous morality tales that were so popular in the 1990s...Frank Miller's Sin City is the immediate reference point, but the Hong Kong action of John Woo and films like New Jack City and The Crow would also be influences. Haven is subtitled A Role Playing Game of Modern Violence and that theme is readily apparent in the tone, the setting, and the artwork found throughout the book. If anything, the game is more "mature" (as in "not for children") than even the sometimes-cartoony-inspirations on which it's based...but still, the thing is a bit over-the-top (which is par for the course with the RPGs of the '90s, if you ask me).
Unfortunately, despite its Old School influence, the system has the over-complicated nature I've come to loathe in most games of the last 20 years. Character generation is point buy and looong, which renders a game with high mortality rates a bit silly...same with the over-detailed combat system (the "example of melee combat" takes up close to four full pages of text). If I was still of a mind to play this type of ultra-violent modern game the setting isn't too bad (a pastiche of a variety of things, though well thought out), but the system would need to be stream-lined or discarded entirely for something quicker and easier.
Of course, I'm not as into this kind of thing as I once was (I don't listen to Nine Inch Nails anymore, either) and the "Evil versus Evil" thing seems, well, a little passe at this point anyway (i.e. anti-heros versus "real evil" has been done to death, in my opinion). Still, I've seen worse games, and for 200 pages (10% of which is an adventure, and much of which is devoted to artwork), the book feels positively "lean" compared to some of the bloated monstrosities found on the game shelves.
But that's not really the point of the post...the point is that there are people of non-white European ancestry working and gaming in the RPG industry, and while I may be a little geographically isolated, it's something to keep in mind when designing games. Interests can be similar (certainly I was looking for something like Haven: COV back in 1995), and despite disparate backgrounds, everyone is equal when it comes to the playing field of imagination (the usual arena for the table-top role playing game).
Role-players...living the dream of Martin Luther King. Ha!