Narratives of Culture & Marginalization

Narratives.

 

At the end of the day, being a marginalized person means being forced into being a participant in a narrative without your consent or control. You weren’t asked if you wanted to be part of the story of black folk in America, or of neuroatypical narratives in the zeitgeist right now.

 

You weren’t asked if you wanted to be part of the history of women’s struggles (as a woman, even the choice to entirely reject feminism is still engagement with the narrative) or to be a little gay mote in the sweep of queer narrative to date.

 

We do the best we can. Some do better than others. Some stand high above the tidewater line of those narratives, while others are swept under before the know what is happening. But all marginalized folk are *part* of these narratives whether we want to be or not.

 

For the longest time, though, straight white cisgendered male able-bodied, neurotypical people have not had a default narrative. For some reason, it was given to each of them to make their own narratives for themselves.

 

But today, they’re getting a narrative, too. Those of us who have had marginalized narratives thrust upon us are looking outward as well, and saying that the thrust of our narratives has had to come from somewhere, and we’re all comparing notes and coming to come conclusions about where that’s come from.

 

Straight white dudes are *pissed* off these days, because they’re experiencing – in many ways for the first time – having a narrative pushed on them, and they don’t like it. Every single one of them is engaged with this narrative: striking out at those who are placing that narrative back in their laps, denying that they’re part of it, owning that narrative and trying to make it better.

 

Hell, some of them are even diving straight into it, embracing the role of subjugator and Otherer by taking that narrative to its fascist end-game; “If you say I’m these things, then watch me be those things to a degree you never anticipated” more and more of them seem to be saying.

 

But it’s a tipping point, no matter what else it is. Because we’re all part of a shared narrative now – even when those narratives are all still awful in their various ways, and there is still definitely inequality between them. And maybe we have been for a long time, and will continue to be for even longer yet.

 

These narratives, though. They’re stories that define us, in many ways. And we’ve got to keep examining these stories and freeing ourselves from these stories, and finding ways to stop telling them about other people.

 

Stories are powerful. Narratives are the engine on which the vehicle of culture depends for forward movement, for better or for worse. We need them, and if we have to rely on the creative of lazy, cruel stories to keep the momentum going, history has shown that we’ll do just that. We need to learn how to step back, to divorce ourselves from our cultural laziness, and take the time to lovingly craft healthy narratives for ourselves and everyone else, as a means of curing that tendency.

And we need to develop these narratives with intention instead of laziness, to create them using craft that helps us drive towards a better future, rather than to craft them with assumptions and prejudices and hand-waving generalizations. We have to be deliberate in our creation, to aim for empathy and community. We have to turn the rising tide that swamps everyone into the one that lifts everyone instead.

We’ll do that in a hundred different ways, but ultimately those ways will be in service to a narrative. And we’ve got to craft that narrative deliberately, with the brightest, shining-est parts of what make us human, rather than the impulses from which our selfish, reductive, bigoted urges are derived.

Gen Con 2017

Industry Insider
I have been invited to be part of Gen Con’s 50th Anniversary as one of their Industry Insider programs! I’m tremendously honored to have received such an invitation, and I really do think these panels are going to be a lot of fun.
See the Schedule below for when those panels are taking place!

Schedule
My Gen Con schedule looks like this for this year!
Thursday
12pm – 4pm Green Ronin Booth Duty
5pm – 7pm SEM 17113265 Queer As A Three-Sided Die
7pm – 10pm Gaymer Gathering
9pm – 11pm VIG Mixer Party @ Oceanaire Seafood Room (30 S. Meridian)
Friday
12n – 1pm SEM17121713 The Heroes We Deserve
1.30pm – 2.30pm Book Signing
3pm – 4pm SEM17121696 How To Teach A Game
5p – 6pm SEM17121709 Right There On the Table Sex & Sexuality in Gaming
8p ENnies Awards
Saturday
10am – 12pm Green Ronin Booth Duty
12.30-1.30 Book Signing
2pm – 3pm SEM17112892 The Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting
5pm – 6pm SEM17113265 Queering Your Setting
8pm – 11pm SEM17103840 Candlekeep Presents (Just attending this one!)
Sunday
10am – 12pm Green Ronin Booth Duty

GaymerX 2016

I will be acting as a Boss of Honor for GaymerX’s gaming track once again this year!

SOLVE ET COAGULA: Now Available!

Hello, friends.
I just released a new PDF on the DM’s Guild – Solve et Coagula: A Practical Guide to Alchemy.
It provides some solid rules on playing alchemist characters, with lots of new alchemical equipment, tools for those that enjoy playing characters who craft alchemical items, a smidge of alchemical history for the Forgotten Realms, advice on making adjustments to several Backgrounds to play a variety of different kinds of alchemists, PLUS three entirely new Character Archetypes based around alchemical themes: the College of the Great Work for bards, the Mountebank for rogues, and the Azoth-Infused for sorcerers!
Check it out!

GenCon 2016

I’ll be at GenCon this year – find me at the Green Ronin booth (1421) in the exhibitor hall, when I’m not running games! What games? Glad you asked!
Sacred Band: The Indy Event: Friday 1p – 5p. The Sacred Band deals with the potential disaster of an Event in Indianapolis! Featuring the characters from Joseph Carriker’s novel.
To Catch a Flown Crow: Sunday 11a – 3p. A band of Night’s Watch Rangers & Wildlings work together to catch a turncloak Night’s Watch brother & bring him to justice!

Queer Design & DMing for RPGs: Some Advice

I originally wrote this as a reply to a gentleman who is giving a panel in which he wanted to touch on queerness in gaming, in terms of what to keep in mind, what to consider, and what to avoid. This was my response to him, which I figured was useful enough to keep around.

So, in my experience, when we’re talking about queer sexual orientations in particular, it’s important to emphasize that our identities are more than just what goes on “in the bedroom.” I cannot tell you how many folk like to go to the “Well, my game doesn’t really use sexuality at all, so I don’t include gay people because I never include even straight romances, so there’s no problem.”

 
The part where that unravels, usually, is when I express interest in their fascinating setting where everyone reproduces by budding, and there are no marriages or spouses of any kind.

 
The fact is that stories as simple as “the king and his queen sit next to each other on the dais” is the introduction of heterosexual identities into the narrative. Most people don’t *see it* that way, but that’s part of the culture we live in, whereby the traits of heterosexual pairings are considered “normal” and not even remarked upon. It’s not *bad*, but it’s important to acknowledge.

For designers and GMs, I feel like the most important thing you can do is based on the game you are working.
 
If the game is set in our world, there really ought to be queer folk in it. Queerness ought to be character-focused first. It is best to avoid tired stereotypes, yes, but by and large this works best by the “surprise yourself” sort of route. Don’t set out to create a queer character – unintended biases will creep into that. Instead, just create a character, and when you’re done, make it part of your process to ask what their orientation is. If you find yourself saying things like, “Well, s/he’s obviously straight”, those are often the best ones to make queer (which should definitely include genuinely bisexual characters; bi-erasure is a very real thing). Challenge expectations.

 
It’s important at this point to remind folk what representation does. In a cast of characters, if you have a single character of any minority, you have made that character the Atlas for that identity – narratively speaking, they’re basically holding the entire queer or black or disabled or female world on their shoulders if there is no one else. That’s not always bad – sometimes your cast is limited. But you need to be aware of it, because whatever you say about that character will be interpreted as being said about their minority group as a whole. It’s why stories in which the only queer character is a villain are Bad News, because beyond notions of queer-coding villainy, it’s also basically saying “gays = villains”. Diversity divides that burden up some, and frees you up to employ a bit more actual leeway in the dynamics of characters.

 
Now, if your design work is not just characters in the “real world” (where we generally have an okay idea of where and how queerness impacts the culture), the designer and GM really needs to spend some time thinking about where alternate sexualities come into play in that culture. How do queer romantic bonds form among folk from that culture, how do they demonstrate it, what are the rituals that acknowledge it, how does the rest of the culture respond to it? All very important, because in addition to making sure there is “space” for queer folk in that culture, you are also adding interesting setting detail, and that’s a good thing. I also look askance at any fantasy setting that has room for talking dragons and the resurrection of the dead, but a total absence of queerness.

 
By and large, I recommend inclusion of queerness not come with assumptions of prejudice and cultural antagonism. That said, though, I wouldn’t call homophobic cultures verboten. Instead, a culture’s ingrained homophobia – like other cultural traits like racism, sexism, slavery, and the like – should instead be clarion calls for the PCs to change that world. The designer should not assume that their reader is going to pick this out, though – call it out.
 
Likewise, the GM should not assume their players will pick up on that. Before a GM brings a homophobic setting to the table, they really need to have a very directed and pointed discussion with everyone at that table about that. They need to make sure everyone is comfortable with that sort of game, and should have a very clear discussion about how acceptable having actual homophobic PCs is (the default answer should be it is not, by and large). Even at a table where you “know everyone really well” and feel like you’re “adult enough to maturely roleplay that”, not only do you run the risk of someone who is not yet out suddenly finding the game to be a threatening place, but you are also contributing to what is called the normalization of bigoted thought, in this case homophobia.

I’m including a page from my personal wiki (please feel free to give excerpts) where I did some intentional cultural design work around various ways of expressing queer sexualities: http://oakthorne.net/wiki/index.php?title=Sexuality_in_Liminal

OrcaCon 2017

I have been asked back to be a guest at OrcaCon 2.0 for 2017! Last year’s event was an amazing hit, and an absurd amount of fun, and I have every faith it’ll be just as awesome this year.
They are running a Kickstarter right now, and one of the sponsorship options involves me running a D&D 5e game, set in Waterdeep, the City of Splendors in the Forgotten Realms!

Thirty Years a Gamer

Spring Break, 1986.

 

Thirty years ago, my mom took some work out on South Padre Island doing cleaning in the aftermath of the Spring Breakers who make it out there every year. As part of that process, she discovered something some university student had left there – the red box of Dungeons & Dragons.

 

I was twelve at the time, and already reading all the fantasy I could get my hands on, so she saw something she figured I would really like, and brought it home to me. I read through it, and was hooked immediately.

 

As of this year, I have been playing role-playing games for thirty years. It has been a focus of my creative efforts (written and visual), an escape for a queer kid trapped in poverty in a Texas border town, a source of hours of fun that didn’t involve drugs or alcohol in a time and place where there was almost no chance of getting out of childhood without a heavy dose of both, a place where I met some of the people I still cherish to this day, and ultimately, the focus of my vocation as an adult.
I’ve been a gamer longer than I’ve been a writer. I’ve identified as a gamer long before I identified as queer. It’s been a part of who I am for so long that I don’t actually have a good memory of a time when I wasn’t one.
And I owe it all to that red box my mom brought home, and to that forgetful (probably hungover) college student that forgot to check his bedside stand’s drawers and grab that red box when he was packing his rented condo room after Spring Break.