Tabletop Gaymers has been a mainstay of the tabletop gaming circuit since its formation in 2013, working to facilitate awareness, connections, and safe spaces for gamers across the LGBT spectrum. As the biggest tabletop game in the world, their presence has been strong at GenCon since they were just a Yahoo group. Their “Queer As A Three Sided Die” is the longest running queer panel at GenCon, running since 2011, and often acts as a communal place for the queer gamers and developers to kvetch and critique an industry that was and remains dominated by straight, cis, men, (though us white gamers don’t get away scot free either).
I attended this year’s iteration on Thursday. Moderated by Tanya DePass (@cypheroftyr), founder and director of I Need Diverse Games), the panel also featured writer and game developer Crystal Frasier (@AmazonChique), Roll20 Production Coordinator Trivia Fox (@dark_deer_), and writer and culture critic Anna Kreider (@wundergeek). It was a Redditor’s worst nightmare: 2 enbies with bright colored hair and completely different presentations, a bi black woman, and a trans woman with her hair in bisexual colors wearing a The Last Jedi shirt; all walking into a room to talk about how they want to make gaming more diverse. It was glorious. You’ll be able to watch a full recording after the show, but below are some of the biggest takeaways from the 2018 iteration of “Queer As A Three Sided Die.”
1. Don’t Forget About The Queer POC’s
Tanya was not fucking around at this panel when it came to intersectionality. Almost immediately, she was willing to point out the rather monochromatic makeup of the room and the still underrepresented POC’s and especially Queer POC’s in gaming. While the focus of the panel was the LGBTQ community in general, ideas like fetishization of black men and women, servant POC tropes, and the general absence of POC game developers and writers at GenCon all were bubbling under the surface of discussion. Its clear that there could be three other panels on this topic that Tanya could host, so be sure to check out her work at INDG. But as it stands, it helped ground the conversation and kept the discussions from turning into an exercise in “oppression Olympics.”
2. You Have To Listen To Sensitivity Readers, Not Just Use Them As PR
Crystal, Anna, and Tanya all are veteran sensitivity readers, and they were passionate about the importance of a sensitivity reader for game companies and writers. These readers are given preliminary drafts of games or books to critique the author’s use of characters or plot points within the reader’s expertise. In a games environment trying to cater to LGBT gamers without hiring them (more on that later), it’s vital for devs to not just take advantage of sensitivity readers but to LISTEN TO THEM. It doesn’t matter if you show your accidentally transphobic or racist character to Crystal or Tanya, you’re doing nothing if you then ignore them. You also shouldn’t listen to a “sensitivity reader” if they don’t really fit the “sensitivity” they’re critiquing. Don’t send your nonbinary characters to, say, me for instance. I don’t really have the experience to speak to that (no matter how much white dude confidence I have). Instead, send them to Anna. Just please, PLEASE pay your consultants.
3. Humanize Your Trans Characters (And Don’t Fetishize Them)
Luckily, the culture has shifted to a point where the vast majority of writers have at least some awareness on how not to write trans characters (though there is a nagging trope that being trans is a symptom of demonic curses). But in many creators’ rush to present their characters in a positive light, they go all the way around the bend int over idealising them. The more benign manifestation of this is in trans characters who act as purely good, brave heroes who have no real personality beyond their identity (Crystal recounted how happy she was to finally get to write an trans character who was an ass hole in a recent Pathfinder adventure). But it also manifests in a grosser way, one that the panelists agreed is possibly worse than outright homophobia: fetishization. Never give your characters magic genitals, try to move them away from being “promiscuous,” and never make them some weird ethereal beauty due solely to their identity (but you can make them ethereally beautiful).
4. You Do Know Non-Binary People Exist, Right?
Gender isn’t a binary, my dudes. In real life, the community is beginning to understand that some people do not fit into the male or female label. But if the games industry has been slow to represent transgender characters, it has been absolutely glacial at representing their non-binary player base. When they do show up, they usually are shoved onto rock monsters, alien creatures, and the like. A non-binary player shouldn’t have to play a sentient ball of mud to come close to their existence outside of the gender binary. Get on it, people.
5. Don’t Keep Waving Magic Wands Over Your Trans Characters
An incredibly common trope in fantasy and science fiction, when handling trans characters, is to give them some sort of instantaneous magical gender switch. A belt that lets a trans man impregnate his partner, a ring that lets a trans woman fit the clothes she wants, etc. While the panel acknowledged the pure escapism of these story elements, they also discussed diversifying how creators represent the trans experience in their work. An example given was an alchemical solution that would, over time, allow a character to fully transition into their preferred gender. The important thing is to allow the experience to become more diverse and therefore more representative. We’ve had every kind of cis person in games, why not spread that diversity?
6. The Con Audience Is Not Your Whole Audience
At these panels, there’s sometimes a topic that makes even the attendees feel a wave of discomfort. That came near the middle of the panel, when the idea of privilege came up. It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back at the panel or at the con and say “we did it.” We came to this panel and we’ll solve the problems. But for every one person at GenCon, there’s hundreds of gamers who can’t afford to attend. But they still buy and play the games sold and discussed there and would like a say in how they’re represented. We as con attendees shouldn’t get to big in our breeches when it comes to our say in game development. If we’re lucky enough to be at a con, we should make sure we try to listen to our fellow gamers so that when we meet the people making our favorite games, we can advocate as unselfishly as possible. It’s important for the people making the games, from the big boys on top to the little fish just finding their places, to take into account what the players they don’t meet might be sensitive to as well. There is, though, an even better way to improve representation in games…
7. HIRE US
Throughout the course of the panel, the panelists referred frequently to the “same ten brown haired, blue eyed white dudes” being hired over and over to make games, even as companies pay lip service to increased representation. But if they really want experts on writing the LGBTQ experience or the black experience or the Asian experience…fucking HIRE them. Not just as sensitivity readers, not just as reviewers. Bring them in as writers, as designers, as artists. Let them catch your bullshit before it even gets out of the writer’s room. Let them pitch you their non-binary heroes, their big buff orc femmes, their rail-thin elf butches, their gay clerics, their black princesses.
If you don’t want to be left behind, let us work for you. Cause we don’t really need you. Queer people have a knack for telling our stories, always have and always will. We’ll tell our stories wherever we can and however we can. We’re not going to stop.
Be sure to check out Anna Kreider’s Patreon as well as her blog Go Make Me A Sandwich (particularly her takedown of D&D 5e’s horrifying handling of Curse of Strahd), Crystal Frasier’s website, Tanya at I Need Diverse Games, and Trivia’s Tumblr as well as their work at Roll20. And stay tuned for the full video of the panel, with a special cameo by yours truly.
Editor’s Note: We incorrectly used a pronoun in the above article. This has been corrected and we regret the error.