Forbidden: Role-playing the -isms
There’s been a fair amount of discussion lately about sexism and racism in role-playing games. We populate worlds in our mind where chainmail bikini-clad barbarian babes battle people of a different colour for riches and glory, or so it seems if you take a simplistic and stereotypical view of the hobby. Yes, role-playing games are sexist and racist, but only if you want them to be.
Our fantasy exists because our reality shapes it. We see ourselves in our characters through a glass darkly, and they reflect something of our subconscious self. Deep inside we want to Control, Defend, Lead or Strike and that’s reflected by our choice of character class. Most of us are a bit of all four, and which class we choose depends in part on where our mood takes us. Role-playing lets us loosen the social screws a little and do things we wouldn’t normally be permitted to do in real life. Let’s face it – killing and looting is usually frowned upon in modern society, but in RPGs it’s a full time occupation.
It’s the same with racism & sexism. Yes they are wrong, but they exist in the real world and are an intrinsic part of our cultural history whether we like it or not. Our hobby lets us explore that in a way which isn’t going to get us locked up or beaten to a pulp. We can label entire races of people as being Evil; it’s up to us whether to accept that as the norm in our gameworld, or challenge it. A scenario involving a tribe of Goblins who are quite nice but just want to be left alone makes a welcome change to all that slaughter. This hobby lets us decide whether to accept the -isms of our own societies, or meet them head on.
I think the bikini-clad barbarian stereotype has worn a little thin. She’s wearing a bikini just the same as the Conan-esque male barbarian cuts his swathe wearing only a loincloth – what’s the problem? A female barbarian is an empowering figure and every bit the equal to any man. We live in a world where stick-thin-and-big-breasts is seen as “attractive” (here’s a hint: it isn’t. Give me curvy any day!), and the trope only carries that across. The fault isn’t with the fantasy world. It’s with the real one.
Talking of which, I’ve never understood how people can be offended by bare flesh. Underneath all these clothes we’re all naked, and we’d be a sorry mankind indeed if we didn’t find the naked form attractive. Beauty should be cherished, not criticised. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cause earthquakes. It seems that if you showed a picture of a nude women slitting the throat of a man, more people would object to the nudity. Go figure.
Anyhow. Am I sexist? Probably. Racist? I dunno. My hobby lets me explore that.
And that’s a good thing, right?