Like my article before, on Geekdom and Broflakes, tabletop roleplaying games have been a microcosm of the divisive politics and social issues plaguing our society. From the OSR vs. Storygame divide (one I still don’t fully comprehend) to accusations of bigotry and sexual assault, TTRPGs haven’t been immune to controversy.
Like GamerGaters, Sad Puppies, Star Wars “purists,” etc., the industry is rife with the worst movements or individuals. Internet trolls and faux-centrists spout the same rhetoric as white supremacists and the alt-right in their bid to keep “social justice warriors” out of their hobby.
Luckily, as the movie, television, and video game studios reject their worst “fans,” so too does the RPG world. Things may not be perfect in this corner of geekdom, but the recent backlash has shown that the vast majority (from gamer to designer) is simply done with a segment of the population.
Although recent events have been the most tumultuous, the beginning of the end was seen in #DnDGate; a weak attempt to copy GamerGate into the RPG community. The claim was that Wizards of the Coast and D&D were “infiltrated” by leftists, progressives, and social justice warriors, who were twisting the game to their agenda.
Given who led the charge, and how much these individuals supported the original misogynistic movement, this ridiculous claim wasn’t shocking so much as eye-rolling. Especially given the “agenda” of things like inclusion, diversity, and encouraging ethical behavior aren’t exactly controversial (and are supported by most people).
Those responsible found that they didn’t have the influence they thought, as their tweets and blogs were not met with the support they had hoped to garner. Instead, they faced ridicule, mockery, and people twisting their hashtag into something amusing (or even beneficial).
This pushback was just the latest, as the RPG industry had long been handling a lot of controversy and nonsense. The biggest issue over the past year involved the attempted resurrection of a favorite RPG and the complete failure of its designers and writers.
In 2015, White Wolf (which hadn’t really been an independent company since 2006) came back as a subsidiary of Paradox Interactive, with the goal of starting the 5th Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. Although ended by the original company in 2004, the line was so popular it spawned a 20th-anniversary version in 2011 (by Onyx Path Publishing), and the reins were handed over to “new” leadership.
Unfortunately, by 2017, the controversy had already begun with an Alpha Playtest that included a pre-generated character that was essentially a pedophile. Further Beta releases of material only furthered the backlash, with the use of charged language (like “triggered”), false equivalencies (comparing neo-Nazis to social justice advocates), and similar passages that seemed to cater to the faux-centrist, Internet troll, and alt-right crowds.
White Wolf defended itself vehemently, denying association with any bigoted movements, ideologies, or groups; instead, contributors (like VtM founder, Mark Rein-Hagen) doubled-down that they were just being edgy and presenting Vampires as monsters. They even promised to make alterations and include new chapters encouraging responsible and inclusive gameplay; of course, it was too late for the books already on shelves, so everyone would have to wait for the PDFs, or later print runs.
Suffice to say, the “fixed” books didn’t really do the job, and the added material was often full of the same dog-whistles and snarl words. The authors left in much of the charged language (and made even worse mistakes), crossed lines the OWoD avoided (like blaming real-world atrocities on the supernatural), and even encouraged irresponsible, “edgelord” gameplay because “it’s just a game” and “no one will judge you.”
White Wolf once more promised to do better, but when another sneak peek came out where the author (Rein-Hagen, again) used the real-life Chechnyan gay genocide as a plot point and cover-up for Vampires, the RPG industry was done. The backlash was swift, and Paradox stated it was looking into addressing the issue and “restructuring” leadership of their subsidiary.
Recently, Paradox announced the future V5 products were on hold, the offensive material was thrown out, and the subsidiary would be rolled back into the parent company. White Wolf was dead once more, and the “edgelords” who’d created this travesty were (probably) jobless.
Honestly, the response to V5 was understandable, given most Vampire fans weren’t the right audience for such nonsense. The World of Darkness had its origins in the counterculture of the 1990’s, which (while not perfect) was relatively inclusive, open-minded, and progressive.
In contrast, the Old School Revival/Renaissance (OSR) has gotten a bad rap thanks to some of its proponents and writers, not to mention the behavior of their followers. Like GamerGate, this “gaming movement” has been associated with doxxers, harassers, bigots, and the worst types of gamer; unlike GG, you can divorce the tenets of OSR from those individuals and find a legitimate idea underneath it all.
The fact that the OSR boils down to a specific approach to playing RPGs doesn’t detract from those reprehensible people who associate themselves with, or champion, the concept. Too many OSR blogs or books included bigoted and hateful language and evidence of harassment by OSR “fans” existed.
In response to this poor image of the movement, Stuart Robertson — OSR author and designer of the popular OSR logo — spoke out against these individuals.
Robertson’s full post on his page indicated that the logo is copywritten and licensed, and he had full rights to remove others’ use of it because of moral infringement. Further, he used Canada’s Hate Speech laws as an example of transgressions that would not be tolerated, including anyone using the logo in conjunction with racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, homophobia, or any other bigotry.
The support for Mr. Robertson has been outstanding, especially from the OSR community where many are tired of the hate and behavior from some peers or authors. By limiting their use of the logo, and making a flagrant stand against those beliefs, the industry can cleanse itself of a toxic corner and bring the OSR into a more positive light.
Like our society and politics, the RPG community had us concerned with how divisive, ignorant, and extreme we’d become. From the controversies surrounding the OSR to the ignorance and “edgelordiness” found in the new White Wolf, the vocal minority of trolls, faux-centrists, and bigots seemed to be winning out.
Luckily, like other parts of pop culture and geekdom, the industry has taken a stand. We will tolerate these toxic individuals and their behavior no more than we will the worst Star Wars “fans” or video game players.
We still have a long way to go, as RPGs struggle with representation, behind-the-scenes and at the table, and they must battle hateful and ignorant rhetoric reinforced by the Internet. There’s plenty of optimism, however, seeing major companies or figures take a stand and help keep the RPG community on the right path.
For those making these decisions, thanks for rolling those nat 20’s and critical successes. Let’s keep our dice pools ready for the next threat.