That Time I Accidentally Played Dungeons & Dragons With White Nationalists

We geeks are just better at being good people.

We're better than the jocks, the cheerleaders, the socs, the hierarchically and socially mundane. We transcend bigotry. If you like dwarves — who, after all, are clearly Scottish or something — and Minbari and so forth, how could we be preoccupied with silly pigmentation issues? How could we, who cheer when Éowyn slew the Witch-King of Angmar, doubt that women can do anything?

Or so the legend goes.

Years ago there was a game shop called The Last Grenadier in Burbank. north of Los Angeles. It was old-school gaming: dingy, cavernous, overpriced, a favored hangout for gamers of all sorts. I shopped there as a kid when the game Twilight 2000 referred to a dark future, not to an increasingly dim past.

On the brighter side, team, nobody can say we didn't find WMDs.

On the brighter side, team, nobody can say we didn't find WMDs.

The summer of 1991 I was back from college, waiting for law school to start, and working. Most of my high school friends were gone. Evenings and weekends loomed empty. I was more self-confident and independent than I was in high school, but let's face it: I wouldn't be hitting the bar scene. So I decided to go to some at the events at the Grenadier that got people together to form gaming groups. What better way to meet people and get back into a favorite hobby?

After a couple of events I fell in with a small group of other young adults who lived not far from me. We were similar in age — very early 20s — and similar in hobbies — video games and tabletop games and geek culture — so what could other differences matter? We started a group playing Dungeons & Dragons (second edition, introduced in 1989, still somewhat old-school) — young men, a couple of women occasionally, with free evenings and weekends. That led to more hanging out — meals, rented VHS tapes1, and so forth.

I had been parts of gaming groups growing up, and those groups were like many staffed by teen boys — raucous, overcaffeinated, cheerfully profane, immature in a polite-to-grown-ups sort of way. This was — different.

I'm a little slow on the uptake. So it took me a while to notice. I noticed that a couple of the guys would mutter and curse at the screen on the Star Trek movies we watched when a black character appeared. I noticed "Jew" used as a verb or adjective. I noticed jokes about Orks being on welfare and robbing liquor stores. I noticed that the D&D campaign seemed portrayed rather explicitly as a struggle of white humans and elves against a dark horde of black people and their inhuman allies. I noticed that the DM and players liked to talk about rape a lot — and in a sort of triumphalist "these are the spoils of war" type of way and not in a sort of real-war-is-ugly-not-heroic sort of way, either. One of the women joked along. Another stayed silent. That one dropped out eventually.

What did I do? Not much. I told myself that if I didn't like it I was just being politically correct. I told myself that I was being a snob — I lived in an expensive neighborhood and was about to go to Harvard and these guys were mostly in blue-collar jobs with some community college in a more working-class neighborhood. In an effort not to be classist, I persuaded myself that working class people must just talk that way about Jews and blacks and Asians and rape and so forth and I'm prejudiced if I'm not down with it. (Going to college in the late 1980s was excellent preparation for thinking about people that way, as was growing up in a neighborhood with no working-class people.)

I'd like to say that I noped right out of there with reasonable speed. But I didn't. I just ghosted them. I went off to law school at the end of the summer and never talked to any of them ever again. I didn't see any of them again until the late 1990s, when one was a peripheral witness in a civil rights cased I prosecuted involving some tweaker skinhead wannabees harassing a multi-racial family.

I cut off contact because they creeped me out — because some of them were starting to get an edge when they asked why I didn't laugh at a joke (I still remember some of those jokes, and no, I won't repeat them) or when they incorporated more and more racial imagery into gameplay, or when they became comfortable enough with me (or, more likely indifferent enough to my presence) that they started to talk about how Hispanics destroyed the neighborhood and Armenians couldn't be trusted and Asians were all cheaters and there should be neighborhoods just for white people, decent people, or maybe an entire state or region or something, and about how they were looking into groups of white people who felt the same way. I didn't say anything when they made one of the women in the group increasingly, visibly uncomfortable until she left, or when they made passive-aggressive increasingly open comments about race to the one Latino in the group until he left, or when they talked shit about people I knew and liked. Why not? Part of it was I was still growing out of shyness and geekery into self-confidence. Part of it was that I didn't have so many friends that it was easy to give up some. Part of it was that I accepted geek social fallacies, among them "there's no such thing as bad ideas" and "it's wrong to shun a group" and "don't be judgmental" or "there's something wrong with you if you can't get along with everyone." People take advantage of those fallacies to an incoherent and internally inconsistent extent, which is how folks convince themselves that it's judgmental and therefore morally blameworthy to think less of someone just because that person thinks that non-whites are inherently inferior.

Maybe these guys are still playing D&D, still making jokes about blacks and Orks having the same game stats, still making tables to roll for how many rapeable women are captured in the siege of a village. Or maybe not. I don't begrudge them entry into my hobby. I believe, adamantly, that the government should not punish them for their speech or beliefs. I don't dream about tracking them down and getting them fired from their jobs or shunned from their social circles. I remember some of their names but I wouldn't dream of naming them. I don't even wish that I had told them off: that would have been about me, not about them, and wouldn't have changed them.2 I do, however, genuinely wish that I'd gotten the hell out of that group much sooner. I wish I hadn't tried to convince myself that you can't expect any better from people who don't work in an office — Christ, what an asshole. I wish that I'd contacted the people who left the group and told them that they were cool and I enjoyed gaming with them and I hoped they found a group that wasn't full of racist creeper dipshits.

That's my experience. So, when people tell stories about encountering bigots and creepers and gropers and various other elements in the gaming community, my reaction isn't to assume they are lying.

  1. Bite me. You'll be old someday too and people will laugh at YOU.  
  2. Plus one of them totally lifted and would have probably enjoyed beating the shit out of me. He was the one who looked a little too intense when he asked if my girlfriend was a Jew.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Scott Jacobs says

    Bite me. You'll be old someday too and people will laugh at YOU.

    Lets be honest here, I'm pretty sure we all know I won't survive to old age…

  2. JohnBalog says

    Generally speaking, any time someone claims that a member of Group X is an asshole, I have no reason to doubt them. My skeptical hat only goes on when they claim that assholes are over-represented in Group X, assuming the group is normal social division (ie left vs right politically) and not neo-nazis or NAMBLA or some other inherently loathsome organization.

  3. Grenaid says

    So, when people tell stories about encountering bigots and creepers and gropers and various other elements in the gaming community, my reaction isn't to assume they are lying.

    Every group has bigots and creepers. I'm not sure what this adds, does any gamer seriously think our community is perfect? By the same token, I'm glad to see you had some decent people that "noped" out, even before you did. They too were gamers.

  4. Lawrence D'Anna says

    Exactly what JohnBalog said.

    It's never a surprise that assholes exist in a large, unselective group. Assholes exist everywhere. But 95% of the time when you read about assholes in gaming or tech, it's being used as supporting evidence for a narrative that says the culture of gaming or tech is sick, racist, and replete with assholes.

  5. says

    @Grenaid

    "I'm not sure what this adds, does any gamer seriously think our community is perfect"

    The problem isn't that some gamers think the community is perfect. It's that they remain ignorant to the faults present.

    Ken, I think you just conclusively proved that there are in fact worse things than having a huge Dark Elf fetish.

  6. Scott Jacobs says

    I'm not confident you'll survive until lunch.

    Shows what you know, Mr. Harvard Law – it's already after lunch here.

    /mic-drop

  7. Minocho says

    Ahhh, I feel your pain. As a geek woman into D&D, do I have some interesting stories. Being a female game master at gaming conventions provides the best ones, by far!

    I will say I have gotten over most of the geek social fallacies. I will now address social issues when I become aware of them (I am socially retarded, and therefore this does not happen as soon as I would like, quite often), rather than hunkering down and hoping they go away. Sometimes this involves leaving a situation. Sometimes this involves a conversation. The funny thing is how often I get labeled aggressive or intimidating when I bring up issues instead of hiding from them, now.

    I haven't run into an overtly racist group, though I've had some interesting individuals cross my gaming path. Maybe you never got back into gaming again, but I hope you eventually found a better group. It can be a great hobby to enjoy with the right group – as with most group activities, I suspect!

  8. says

    Maybe you never got back into gaming again, but I hope you eventually found a better group. It can be a great hobby to enjoy with the right group – as with most group activities, I suspect!

    My gaming group is currently three old married couples. DM is a profane and hilarious screenwriter. My wife, never a fan before, is hooked, and plays CN frighteningly well.

  9. chriscm says

    Shows what you know, Mr. Harvard Law – it's already after lunch here.

    /mic-drop

    **Tells time. Drops Mic.**

    This is what participation medals get us! The wussification of the mic drop!

  10. Castaigne says

    @Ken White:

    I shopped there as a kid when the game Twilight 2000 referred to a dark future, not to an increasingly dim past.

    Twilight: 2000! THE QUEST FOR GAS!

    Maybe these guys are still playing D&D, still making jokes about blacks and Orks having the same game stats, still making tables to roll for how many rapeable women are captured in the siege of a village. Or maybe not.

    Not. They've moved on to FATAL and RaHoWa. Maybe some Synnibar.

    Plus one of them totally lifted and would have probably enjoyed beating the shit out of me. He was the one who looked a little too intense when he asked if my girlfriend was a Jew.

    You gamed with Cernovich? Damn, that's hardcore. ;)

    More seriously, yes, it sounds like a Cat Piss Men experience. Doesn't beat the Brazilian Death Squad, but it's definitely in the category.

  11. TimothyAWiseman says

    @Grenaid

    [quote]Every group has bigots and creepers. I'm not sure what this adds, does any gamer seriously think our community is perfect? [/quote]

    I doubt any gamer that actually gives the matter some thought thinks the group is perfect. But, from what I've seen, we as a group tolerate it much more than many other groups do.

    What this adds is highlighting why so many in the group are hesitant to actually try to stop things like this. We have a fair number of introverts without a wide circle of friends (and even the more extroverted amoungst us may not have a wide circle of gaming friends). This means it may be harder to call out issues and risk losing access to that gaming group. It also adds a clear call to stop tolerating things like that. There's also a mildly interesting side note on classism in the article.

  12. Minocho says

    Not. They've moved on to FATAL and RaHoWa. Maybe some Synnibar.

    ***hisssssss!!!***

    <makes sign of the cross with fingers />

    No more mention of FATAL!!!

  13. Mike says

    In light of that, the whole episode with Clark seems a lot like history repeating itself.

  14. Drizzt321 says

    I think what part of the culture when you're younger is to try and embrace everybody, since we're all weirdos and outcasts, so we gotta stick together, right? And being not very self-confident and insecure, makes you gloss over those parts, or if you aren't one of the targets you just sort of try and hide your head in the sand.

    It's a shame, and unfortunately I know my younger self would sort of ignore and/or go along with some of that. But I can say now I definitely wouldn't.

    @TimothyAWiseman
    I think you hit on part of it, is as a group we tend to be more diverse (in various ways), and many try to just stay in the group in order to feel a part of something, rather than risk standing up and telling one or a few that this isn't cool.

    Also, the power of the Internets where generally people feel anonymous and able to say anything just to get a reaction.

    @Ken
    Need another occasional player? You guys meet all the way up in Burbank, right? Ugh, the Valley :P

    P.S. @Grandy, what's wrong with Dark Elves? :P

  15. says

    does any gamer seriously think our community is perfect?

    No, they just fervently deny every single instance of imperfectness and go on social media crusades against anyone who dares bring up problems.

    My skeptical hat only goes on when they claim that assholes are over-represented in Group X

    I'm kind of torn on this. On the one hand, yes, there are assholes everywhere and I don't think any given group (aside from groups that deliberately select for stuff like white nationalism, as you mentioned). On the other hand, geekdom is vulnerable to exploitation because of the Geek Social Fallacies, which are in turn prompted by the horrific formative experiences that many perfectly nice geeks had, which makes them understandably reluctant to identify problems within their own ranks. Then, on a third hand, I think many more "popular" groups are more systemically corrupt and vile anyway, so it's more just a matter of where the problem stems from.

  16. says

    I game with a diverse crowd of people from all walks of life, and there is a certain amount of tolerance for douchebaggery and fringe opinions. But we're all here to enjoy the game, so that tolerance only goes so far. A joke about how Trump is going to build a wall and make the Goblins pay for it–probably fine. A tirade about how immigrants are all criminals–"sorry bro, this isn't working out" and disband the asshole from the group with minimal fuss.

    Being an older gamer isn't so bad, partly because those complicated social issues are so much easier to navigate. In place moral quandaries is decisive leadership and a short list of names on my "no group" list.

    Where an older gamer like myself might secretly call for a vote of no confidence for the rogue player and kick him from the group, the shy teen geek just says "guyz I have to go eat dinner" and just disconnects. So at least the shy teens have evolved passive-aggressive ways of accomplishing the same thing.

    Guilds and groups led my older players tend to be well organized and are run just like companies in the real world, with similar rules. The bands of bigoted bullies are the exception and are generally shunned.

    You should come play with us on Project 99, Ken!

  17. says

    Ken, I think you just conclusively proved that there are in fact worse things than having a huge Dark Elf fetish.

    Excuse me dude but the preferred nomenclature is big beautiful dark elf

  18. Malakyp says

    @Castaigne:

    Now, now, Synnibar may be functionally unplayable, but it's not for that reason. The people described, though, are totally the target market for RaHoWa and FATAL. Indeed, the very existence of those two games–one, explicitly permitted you to be the "heroes" in a racial holy war (ahem, Racial Holy War); the other, filled with convenient mechanics for determining your enemies' (and your own…) anal circumference…–should be sufficient evidence that not all gamers are socially tolerant. Or functional.

  19. A.Nagy says

    .

    No, they just fervently deny every single instance of imperfectness and go on social media crusades against anyone who dares bring up problems.

    I think most of this is resistance from the community that wants to keep internet gaming the wild-west. While I'm personally pro harassment reporting and tribunals as I know exactly zero people who have been punished though these methods that weren't massive asshats. I know many friends that are worried it will slippery slope into a way more vast silencing conspiracy. This is often times pointed out along with instances of mass deletion and bannings of topics being discussed because people were "too toxic" and as a veteran of the 6th and 7th console wars it comes off as fairly weak.

  20. Minocho says

    Assholes are overrepresented in any group that it is hard to keep them out of.

    I might expand this to "Unpleasant people are overrepresented in any group that it is hard to keep them out of", because not all the problem people would be what I would call assholes…but here is some reason I can not hang out with them.

    This is why participating in convention gaming is where I get my best stories. Convention gaming is where you run into all the people that desperately want to play pencil & paper roleplaying, but have some issue that prevents them from being allowed to join a home game.

  21. Charles Farley says

    Excuse me dude but the preferred nomenclature is big beautiful dark elf

    OK, I admit, that got a chuckle out of me. A slightly ashamed one, as I mentally went back through my internal p0rn catalogue searching for that kink, and found it within about 5 seconds… >.>

    Anyways, in a futile attempt to add to the discussion: yeah, gamers can be racist assholes. They can be sexist assholes. A frightening proportion of them are asshole assholes. The question really isn't about the individuals though, and more around gamer culture: is there something inherent in the culture that perpetuates those stereotypes? Given how racist & sexist some of the source material is, I actually have to come down on the side of "Yeah, actually, they might have a point. It's certainly worth considering". Combine that with the recent activity from some gamers which is pretty much forcing me to re-evaluate my identity as a gamer, and it's becoming painfully clear to me that we have a long way to go to make our hobby as inclusive as it should be.

    Gaming has traditionally been where the outcasts land. Those of us uncomfortable in our own skin. Those of us who enjoy role-playing as a dwarf paladin with really shiny armour, or cyber-punks with ECG readouts in our eye sockets. I personally feel that making it exclusionary, saying that "This person isn't a gamer because of this physical or mental characteristic" is missing the point in spectacular fashion.

  22. King Squirrel says

    Test question for new players:

    Who is Drizz't?
    a) laaaame….
    b) the coolest!
    c) who?
    d) A traitor to a once proud race of superior beings, and what do you mean I can't play as an Illithid? I have a perfectably balanced table for tentacle based seduction right here…

  23. Richard Smart says

    Does the angst here turn on whether evil aryan racists, homophobes and similar execrable excuses for human beings deserve what might be called censorship?

    Because if so there is a gaming tale that bears retelling. Not that I know anything about gaming but my daughters do. So I'm aware that the developers of "Gone Home" withdrew from a prime publicity spot at PAX because they didn't like the (alleged) anti-transgender, supposedly anti-LGBT generally attitude of the PAX organizers including particularly the Penny Arcade people, and more specifically this:

    We were very excited when Gone Home was accepted by the organizers.

    But in the back of our minds all along, we’ve been bothered by the public stances that Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX’s parent organization Penny Arcade, have taken on a number of issues.

    First there was the entire “Dickwolves” debacle, during which Mike said that it “felt pretty good” to “support rape culture.

    Then there were the Penny Arcade Kickstarters, one of which offered to let backers pay them $7,500 to work as a Penny Arcade intern for a day.

    When critics recently raised objections about the over-the-top depiction of female characters in Dragon’s Crown, Jerry referred to opinions that differed from his own as “censorship.”

    And then yesterday a panel was announced for PAX Australia entitled “Why So Serious?” Its description initially included the lines

    Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?

    Soon after, it was changed to a less inflammatory description, but the fact that the original panel was okayed by Penny Arcade still stands.

    If you read the Wikipedia entry for Mr Krahulic you will find more ironies in this vein, cf. his and Jack Thompson's connections to the "I'm O.K – A Murder Simulator" game.

    Now, it bothers me that I too happen to think that what defines you as a male or a female is the genetic coding within each cell, or alternatively the existence of a little von Neumann reproduction factory within each female – not least because one of my daughters is lesbian while another emphatically is not, and I love them both dearly.

    And yes I'm aware genetic makeup may not be a terribly useful clue to whether 'male' means 'man' and 'female' means woman, if only because of the existence of anomalies such as XXY or XYY allosomes.

    Nonetheless, few in the past have been confused, and I predict when political correctness fashions or sensitivities change, few will be confused in the future, as to what constitutes a biological man and what does not. And in any time or place, the "majority opinion" will not, I predict, be censored.

  24. Paul says

    I read posts like this, and I can only wish I knew how Ken would play a Lawful Evil character, or a paladin with very carefully worded oaths that included third-party arbitration clauses.

  25. Simple Simon says

    D&D is four decades behind me but I do recall it involved picking races for characters which had different ranges for things like intelligence, charisma, wisdom and strength. I'm not sure which is more remarkable, that is hasn't been banned on campus, or some players are surprised that others believe in inherent difference.

  26. says

    @Charles Farley

    Given how racist & sexist some of the source material is, I actually have to come down on the side of "Yeah, actually, they might have a point. It's certainly worth considering". Combine that with the recent activity from some gamers which is pretty much forcing me to re-evaluate my identity as a gamer, and it's becoming painfully clear to me that we have a long way to go to make our hobby as inclusive as it should be.

    Well, Gamer culture is a subset of geek culture. In other areas of geek culture, I agree racism and sexism were problems. Some of it was generational – the DC stars all got their black face issues back in the day, for example. Some of it was just "this is sexist but the people creating and reading weren't getting it" (e.g. making a motivation for a comic book hero based on his wife or girlfriend being raped).

    But for the types of gaming we're discussing, this wasn't really accurate. Certainly not for video games, which were too abstract to really do anything like that at first and even then there were barely any offensive examples. As for the tabletop, Gygax was using both articles in his writings back to the beginning of D&D (and I'm assuming everyone else was copying this but can't recall). I think there was a chance to get more gals involved there but it came and went for a variety of reasons. Yes, horrible shit like FATAL exists. But there's nothing about D&D that especially invited problems (it did include a succubus, it's worth noting).

    Back to video games, the major game publishers missed a huge window, unfortunately. Where I grew up a lot of the girls loved Zelda and Mario and Tetris (not quite as many as guys who did, but it was sill the majority in my grade). Nintendo couldn't adequately follow up on that, though, and Sega certainly didn't do any better. The girls were largely left behind, and that does seem to have impacted the shape of gamer culture over the following decades.

  27. Murphy says

    @Richard Smart

    What's the problem with "I'm O.K – A Murder Simulator"?

    Jack Thompson(well known anti-videogames troll) proposed a ridiculous game fitting certain criteria re:murder etc and promised $10,000 to the charity of choice of whoever actually made it. Someone actually made it and he refused to pay. To thumb their noses at him the Penny-Arcade people donated 10K in his name to a video-game charity.

    Where's the problem?

    Slightly more detailed version of the "dickwolves" thing : They wrote a comic which relied totally on the fact that rape and torture is horrible, that anyone decent would help it's victims and the contrast with characters actions in games:

    http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/6/60551/1465892-dickwolvespt1..jpg

    anyone with half a brain can see it isn't a jab a rape victims.

    A particularly influential individual saw that it included the word "rape" and took that to mean they were *laughing at rape victims* and whipped up a nice little mob and made a lot of noise about how thus the 2 of them are morally responsible for people getting raped.

    Like anyone else they didn't much like getting blamed for rapes committed by other people and got a bit testy. in response they published this:

    http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/underwire/2013/09/PENNY-660×330.jpg

    that really got the shitstom going.

    her followers did some lovely things, including threatening to murder the authors families (aren't they lovely but they're the victims because different horrible people who happened to like penny arcade sent threats to prominent people on their side too so that means that they're morally in the clear.)

    The authors eventually got fucking sick of the threats and being called "rapists", "rape apologists" or similar and eventually ran with it with the "screw you" theme. Hence the “felt pretty good” to “support rape culture” quote.

    People started screaming that they were terrible people who “support rape culture” so eventually started waving their middle fingers at the (mostly universally despicable) people screaming that.

  28. Murphy says

    how come by post disappeared silently?

    I posted a slightly more detailed rundown of the PA "I'm O.K – A Murder Simulator" + dickwolves thing and it's silently disappeared in a puff of bits.

  29. John Henry says

    Reading things like this, I have a couple of reactions. First, I'm pretty sure guys like this (and guys like this) are overrepresented in gamedom. Which is a real shame. And second, I can understand why moderate Muslims don't do much public condemning of violent extremist Muslims: because so often the people asking you to do the condemning are the same people who want to ban your cousin from immigrating, put your mosque under FBI surveillance, and prohibit you from wearing a headscarf in public. Sure, we wish the scumbags within the fold would go away, but joining the crusade against them might not be our top priority.

  30. says

    @Murphy

    how come by post disappeared silently?

    It was in pending, and I couldn't see that it had ever been in any other state.

  31. Murphy says

    Fair enough, it initially seemed visible from my browser, then disappeared entirely for a while then reappeared with a note that it was awaiting review after I posted the query.

    I should have been more patient.

  32. PSniddy says

    Twilight 2000, a brutal game from a simpler time.

    We probably played it wrong, but we usually went in with a number of back up characters due to the high mortality rates.

    Good times. Good times.

  33. SomeOtherAlt says

    Try growing up white, working class and "different" in South Africa while Apartheid was still a thing that happened.

    Hoo boy. Thinking that you were the only one of your peer-group or family that was not a racist asshole was also a thing that happened.

    Should I have said more? Should I have done more? I was 16 when we had our first actual democratic elections in 1994, so yes. But as in Ken's story, things being complicated in real life is also a thing that happens.

    Things are much better now, not perfect, but much better.

  34. SomeOtherAlt says

    Does the geek group have more or less of this behaviour than other groups?

    Well, as a geek/gamer, atheist, and metalhead I can definitely say that I have seen and experienced it in these three groups.

    Do other "groups" have this issue or tolerate* this issue? I wouldn't know, I do not have much experience with them (e.g. I have never been part of the skateboarding crowd so I can't tell you much about how things are there).

    But I think it's pretty pervasive.

    * Heh. Tolerating Intolerance, weird.

  35. Daniel Weber says

    A group that is under attack, or thinks that it is under attack, will always circle the wagons. Attempts to pick off various members of the in-group will be seen as suspicious.

    This sucks because sometimes it really is that someone needs to be kicked out, and sometimes it really is that an outside group sees your whole culture as something that deserves to be destroyed and this is how they do it.

    Also, anyone who thinks Penny Arcade and Jack Thompson are on the same side in anything is someone who has shown up way late to the party.

    Also also, being attacked does not mean you are correct or valorous or heroic.

  36. Richard says

    @Murphy:

    If you make a post that has more than one hyperlink in it, it tends to go into moderation. It's annoying, especially if you like citing your sources, but I think it's part of an effort to block spam.

    I see that it has now been approved, and has multiple links in it, so that's probably why it disappeared.

  37. Argentina Orange says

    in Burbank. north of Los Angeles.

    Unpossible. I have been assured that racists live in "Jesusland," not the coasts. I've even seen T-shirts to that effect.

  38. Psmith says

    Try growing up white, working class and "different" in South Africa while Apartheid was still a thing that happened.

    Things are much better now, not perfect, but much better.

    This is not something I hear very often. I'd be curious to hear more.

  39. Daniel Weber says

    Also, small groups have bigger problems getting rid of problems.

    Imagine you are one of 4 openly gay guys in a small town. One of them is racist, another mirrors whatever he hears so seems racist too. The third is quiet about it and doesn't want to make waves. As the fourth, is it worth losing this social circle?

    Gaming is nowhere near the marginal community it once was. While 1e was nearly underground artist territory, 4e was pretty close to family-friendly, and encouraged you to get your young kids to play. You don't have to go hunting through desolate gaming stories to find a community these days.

  40. SomeOtherAlt says

    @PSmith

    This is not something I hear very often. I'd be curious to hear more.

    Sure, but about what specifically?
    1) Things being better
    2) Things not being perfect
    3) All of the above

    I should be able to answer 1 or 2 in less than 100,000 words for you.

    Briefly: Years and years of segregation, oppression and distrust does not just go away.

    This is the case everywhere. I could also say that things in the US regarding racism are "much better now, not perfect, but much better." And the US made significant improvements regarding race long before we did.

    Just think about it as: More badness more recently.

  41. princessartemis says

    Regarding the inherent sexism of the gamer source material…

    I grew up playing video games, rather than D&D and the like.

    There was Pac-Man and Mrs. Pac-Man. I played both. The geometrical shape in Tempest was just a shape. The shooter in Centipede was just a shooter. I don't remember if there was anything marking the frog in Frogger as male or female.

    The protagonist of Adventure was a yellow square.

    There was Zelda, Mario, Metroid. Metroid, of course, starred a woman protagonist kicking the shit out of dragons and monsters, and there was a code to let her be an even bigger badass by doing so lithely and efficiently without her heavy armor. I did not view this as "hur hur, she's naked," I viewed it as I can clearly see she's a woman, and she kicks ass.

    Super Mario 2 had Princess Peach as one of the playable characters, and I could never play the game right with any other character because she was clearly so much better at it.

    In all cases of Zelda, Link would be SOL if Zelda didn't help him, though I always wished there had been a game back then that starred Zelda as the lead.

    I also played Life Force a lot, and no one cares what color or sex the pilots of those ships are.

    So the source material…well, there were female protagonists in it long before we got to the jiggle-physics boobs, and there were plenty of protagonists that you could call whatever you wanted. This is what I remember about the beginnings of my hobby. It wasn't steeped in sexism. The princess needed saving sometimes and sometimes she saved the world.

    The exclusion came later, and I still haven't forgiven Lucasarts for declaring that Revan is anything but what we chose her to be.

  42. Murder Hobo says

    Charles Farley, can you give some examples to support this assertion?

    Given how racist & sexist some of the source material is, I actually have to come down on the side of "Yeah, actually, they might have a point. It's certainly worth considering".

    I know some such material exists, usually because it's a big enough deal that it makes the news in the community when someone publishes something controversial. But if you're going to make an offhand assertion like that, you need to show that the racist/sexist material has some sort of mainstream acceptance within the gamer community. Otherwise, your argument will be about as compelling as saying, "Look at how racist and sexist some of these books are. It's certainly time for the bibliophile community to take a long, hard look at itself."

    I suppose you can argue that accepting the common trope of different playable races with inherently different stat bonuses reinforces an important foundational assumption of racism, but if you're going to look things that deeply, you'll also have to consider the fact that tabletop gaming was one of the original murder simulators of the modern era.

  43. Psmith says

    @SomeOtherAlt, how have things improved since apartheid ended? I make no particular effort to keep up with the state of affairs in South Africa, but essentially everything I hear from there paints a picture of things getting worse. (ETA: though I just did a Wikipedia-level check and it looks like homicide rates peaked dramatically in the early nineties, maybe modulo changes in reporting practices.).

  44. Eric Atkinson says

    Ken and PZ Myers seem to have similar posts. Wonder why?
    When I was in college, I joined this science fiction group. Turns out they were all leftist nutjobs.
    It was fun to watch the group splinter and "eat it's own" for ideological impurities.
    #gamergate.

  45. says

    Ken and PZ Myers seem to have similar posts. Wonder why?

    We coordinated them at the meetings where we plot how to oppress straight white men and destroy America. Only Trump can stop us.

  46. Ken in NJ says

    Ken and PZ Myers seem to have similar posts. Wonder why?

    Because despite being an extremist douchebag, PZ Myers is still quite often right about many things.

    I know that may be difficult for someone uses the word "libtard" non-ironically to understand — there are many things that such people don't understand — but there it is

  47. Smutty says

    He used to white, working class and different. Since black South Africans came to power and reversed the reign of terror, he's white, working class and indifferent. HTH.

  48. Daniel Weber says

    The 1e source material was sexist in a way that your HR person at work would describe it, with topless women. I don't know about racist.

    The latest source material, at least as of 4e, is perfectly work safe.

  49. Anonymous says

    More posts about how any representation of sexuality in games is sexist. You never see this standard applied to, say, movies and books aimed at general audiences. Amazing how many people don't see why.

    Also I can't take anyone seriously who cites the "geek social fallacies" which seem to be a lengthy way of saying "geek culture should conform to mainstream culture" and "accepting THOSE outcasts is bad"

    If a story reads like the worst prejudices of tumblr put together, can't be verified, and the cops are mysteriously unhelpful (so as not to produce, say, court records to verify the story) maybe it's just a work of fiction. Blind belief is how we get lynch mobs.

  50. Charles Farley says

    @Murder Hobo

    Charles Farley, can you give some examples to support this assertion?

    Sure. The one example I was specifically thinking about is Tolkien's work – The Lord of the Rings in particular.

    Now I want to be absolutely clear here – I don't actually think Tolkien was racist (his letters pretty conclusively disprove this), or sexist in his own person. I respect the hell out of his body of work. However, he was also a product of his times.

    You can make a case that the imagery that runs through the books of the dark skinned, treacherous orcs & the swarthy, slant-eyed Easterlings & Southron peoples fighting against the noble, white skinned, humans & elves is actually inherently racist.

    I was going to break down sexism, but actually when I started to take a deep look at it I don't think I can actually support that claim. Sure, some bits and pieces are fairly sexist – the treatment of Arwen springs to mind. But against that we have Galadriel & Eowyn, both of whom break that mould into itty bitty bits.

    But the main point is this: orcs are evil because they're orcs. Elves are good because they're elves. We see some elves do evil (especially, again, in the Silmarillon) but they're almost invariably described as noble even when they stoop to things like the Kinslaying. Orcs? Would you care to point me at an example of redemption for an orc, because I can't think of one off the top of my head? Humans are more nuanced, especially in the Fall of Númenor, but again: while we see the corruption of those of noble blood, where's the redemption for the Easterlings & Southrons? Those of darker skin? Why is Bill Ferny described as untrustworthy looking because he was a swarthy sneering fellow?

    And, given that one of the major influences on D&D in the early years was Tolkien, I wonder how much of that possible bias has influenced gamer culture. That we possibly look at goblins begging on the streets and don't wonder how they arrived at that state of being, but instead of how much XP we'll get by beating them like a red-headed stepchild.

  51. Murphy says

    @Charles Farley

    I always assumed that that was intentional christian imagery.

    The silmarillion is a straight up copy of Lucifer's Rebellion, you've got Eru Ilúvatar as god, Melkor his fairest and most powerful Ainur (basically angels) who rebelled.

    The Ainur, Maiar and elves are all basically the same thing but with varying levels of power. They all go to the same halls if they die to await the end of time.

    The elves are basically the lowest tier of angels and Immortal just like the gods.

    Melkor and Sauron are fallen Ainur/Maiar who turned some of the elves to create the goblins and orcs by twisting and torturing elves.
    Again, strong theme of fallen angels.

    Elves can fall like angels but fallen angels cannot rise.

    Only mortal humans (and to some extent dwarves) have real choices in that world.

    … I never thought I'd find myself arguing the in-world theology of LOTR

  52. King Squirrel says

    @Charles Farley

    Those of us who enjoy role-playing as a dwarf paladin with really shiny armour,

    I remember pissing off more than a few players as DM by allowing dwarf paladins (and other "illegal" race/class combinations) in 2e. It was even worse when I allowed the non-human races to dual class (and humans to multi). "The rules! That's against the ruuules!!" 2e was still better about that than 1e though – at least by then a dwarf had rules supported choices for their class besides "dwarf".

    To this day, I still refer to elections as "rolling percentile dice on the harlot table" sometimes.

    I feel old.

  53. princessartemis says

    @Charles Farley, that argument can be made for sure, though I'd be more inclined to make it regarding the Númenoreans. Regarding Easterling and Southron redemption though, I'd suggest it was beyond the scope of the work, which is a mythological history of England and western Europe.

    Notably, though, Samwise Gamgee has darkish skin, being a Harfoot like the majority of hobbits rather than a Fallowhide (unclear how dark, but given hobbits specifically named one of their branchs 'pale-skinned', safe to say it was a noticable difference.) You could say it's still racism because his role was subservient (and Fallowhides as a rule were hobbitish upperclass) but you could also say (as I think) that he was such a remarkably selfless character that embodied the idea of agape love to the extent that he was able to take up the One Ring selflessly and then give it up of his own accord, which up to that point, only Bilbo of any creature alive had managed. So, while it's not commonly remembered that the Fellowship was not all one hue, there's an example of a dark-skinned fellow being vitally important in saving the world.

  54. Bloviator says

    I'm willing to believe such stories myself, but sometimes these stories turn into litanies of endless trouble coming from an equally endless stream of offenders, at that point, I put on my Girdle of Mighty Skepticism* and look for some kind of evidence.

    *I'm not really sure that the Girdle works, but I need to try something to negate the Bracers of Bottomless Faith.

  55. Tradegeek says

    As a kid of the 80s, I was told repeatedly in my all white nondenominational church that D@D was a gateway to satanism. Had they known it was a gateway to racism and bigotry, they probably wouldn't have had a problem. Yet another example how that church got everything wrong.

  56. Dormammu says

    @ Charles Webster

    "The latest source material, at least as of 4e, is perfectly work safe."

    4E? Dude, it's 5E now!

  57. Dan A says

    I discovered how rapidly to become unpopular in my gaming group many years back when my Wizard refused to solve a towns 'goblin problem' by casting Earthquake to collapse the caverns they were living in because it would kill the goblin children who were not responsible for the issues even if I accepted that the goblins were the culprits (which I didn't, the humans settled in their lands provoking the state of warfare). My group got really shockingly mad that I would bring the morality of racial genocide and murder of non-combatants into 'a game'. For the next couple months until I quit the group they went out of their way to (in character) be the most morally despicable the could be simply to spite me because I 'took things to seriously' even though before they'd played generichero27.

    These days I play with much nicer people who actually enjoy exploring complicated issues as part of our game and I'm much happier. I do regret that, like Ken, I ghosted though, unlike him, I wish I'd said something because it hurts my self-conception as a firm supporter of my beliefs to have wilted like that.

  58. Daniel Weber says

    Yeah, I'm behind.

    Also, what Tradegeek says about moral panics. Whatever kids like these days is going to be monstrous.

    Earlier I said

    This sucks because sometimes it really is that someone needs to be kicked out, and sometimes it really is that an outside group sees your whole culture as something that deserves to be destroyed and this is how they do it.

    Reading the headline of the article that prompted all this, it totally looks like the latter, not the former. That's just based on the headline, though. Often the headline that gets the most clicks is also the one that is the most divisive.

  59. cheftengu says

    @King Squirrel

    2e was still better about that than 1e though – at least by then a dwarf had rules supported choices for their class besides "dwarf".

    I actually didn't find any instances of "race as class" in my copy of 1e's PHB (admittedly, to my surprise).

    Of course, Thief is usually the only class non-humans and demi-humans have unlimited potential in, so there's that.

  60. says

    Race as class wasn't a feature of 1e/Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was a Basic Set (Holmes et al) thing. Though some retro clones have reintroduced it (there are essentially clones for 0e/1e/2e out there, including several variants for 0e/1e). Dungeon Crawl Classics actually puts it to interesting use (tremendous rule book, incidentally).

  61. Brandon says

    I never got into D & D, but I think my main issue is that I could never find a DM worth a damn. It honestly did not matter what I did in my first campaign, it was always wrong and always ended up with with my character in jail (where my cellmate wanted to murder me for no real reason I could learn), injured, dying or dead. That was not a fun experience and I never felt like I accomplished anything or that it was worth my time.

    My second DM decided it would be a smart idea to incorporate a relative newbie (me) with no experience at all into a long-standing high powered group and you can probably guess what happened from there.

    The others…yeah. One incompetent, one had no real story to go anywhere and one never got going because the group spent more time dicking around than attempting to actually do anything regarding the D & D session for two hours. Needless to say, I stopped trying to get involved and it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth for anything like it.

  62. King Squirrel says

    @Grandy
    Thanks for the clarification. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think I went from the boxes (basic and expert 1e) straight to 2e – not sure I ever played 1e advanced.

    @Brandon
    I was a pretty bad DM back then – only half way decent when using modules. Even then, I was a little too eager to sick Tomb of Horrors on players.

  63. Manta says

    "How could we, who cheer when Éowyn slew the Witch-King of Angmar, doubt that women can do anything?"

    I was always rooting for Sauron and his minions…

  64. echo says

    This moral panic is hilarious, but the best part is watching people like Ken making histrionic calls for a War On (White) Terrorism (in Gaming)! I hope someday he'll look back on this the same way most of the Satanic Daycare Abuse believers do: cringing every time he thinks of it.
    Or maybe he'll be one of the ones still preaching about it twenty years later, convinced if he just believes hard enough he'll uncover the truth our Vast Right Wing Conspiracy covered up?

    I'm assuming he wrote this because of that deranged tumblr post that blew up in the creepy side of tumblr, where all the bloggers have fifteen made-up pronouns and very strong opinions about Steven Universe fan art?

  65. echo says

    I've been reading you for much longer than that. The site's still worth visiting every few months, mostly for the occasional lawsplainer post and the vague hope of seeing another popehat signal.
    Your writing is so much more interesting when you take off the advocacy hat and actually talk about an issue, like you still do for lawsplainer articles. I guess a lot of this stuff is just too personal for you, and you've gotten into that weird constant angry-twitter-drama scene that turns everyone into petty slapfighting preschoolers.

  66. Murder Hobo says

    Ken, much love for linking that first ever echo comment. I can't put my finger on why exactly, but something in the way he wrote his comment just reminded me of a lot of self-styled intellectuals. Made it even funnier that he was laying into "intellectual liberalism" in particular.

    The juxtaposition makes you realize how much the quality of echo comments have declined since then, though I do appreciate the fact that instead of just setting up the lazy strawman argument, he actually looked around for a crazy personal who vaguely agrees with Ken in order to make a fallacy of composition/"Behold, your allies" argument.

    Personally, I like Ken's advocacy articles, even if I don't always agree with what he advocates. A huge chunk of the population is, to put it nicely, pragmatic about their principles. They don't take positions on issues based on principles, and follow those principles even when it's inconvenient to do so. They settle on their positions due to some haphazard mix of socialization and tribalism, find whatever principles are most useful to that position, and abandon them the minute it's convenient and they think nobody is watching. It's amazing how many people changed their minds about states' rights between DOMA and the antithetical Supreme Court ruling.

    Ken's a rarer breed. No matter how passionate he is about something (and it's clear he's quite passionate), he never advocates violating principles of free speech, rule of law, and a free market. But he does share his ideas on how to push your position within the rule of law, with your own speech, and your own choices on who you associate with and who you do business with. In a world filled with spineless neutrals who refuse to give voice to any of their opinions, or frothing mouth partisans all too happy to assert that their pet issue is so important that the ends justify any means, Ken's different.

    Which is probably why echo hates those posts so much. It's easy to support racism when it simply involves opposing misguided social justice types advocating speech codes or regulation of private businesses by criticizing their methods. When someone like Ken advocates small, reasonable measures, like criticizing the racist verbally, or refusing to hang out with the racist during your leisure time, it's much harder to oppose him without making it clear that you just think racists should get more respect.

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