Jul 262011

EDIT: Thanks everyone for the lively and educational conversation today. I am worried that we’re soon going to veer into This Is On The Internet So It Can’t Ever Stay Wonderful territory, so I’m shutting off comments at this point. I’d like to keep the excellent conversation the way it is, largely unblemished and full of good reminders for anyone looking into the topic. Thank you again, I really appreciate the effort and thought folks have brought today.

I’m going to talk about my personal experience with privilege and publishing a little, and in doing so on the Internet I recognize I’m taking a big fat gasoline bath and asking folks to strike a match. With that in mind, I ask all of my readers who feel moved to respond here to focus on being positive, constructive, and open with those comments. I’m going to keep a close watch on that as well, and hopefully not strike any sparks while I’m at it myself.

This post was prompted by this tweet coming across my radar earlier this month:

Privilege is like one-way glass: transparent to those who have it and all too obvious to those who do not. - @progressscholarI am by most all perspectives mister privilege: white, male, middle class, and so forth. So when I see something as incisive as the above, it hits home as one of those crystalline truths that doubles as an uncomfortable diagnosis of my state.

As a publisher with privilege, I’ve certainly goofed up in looking straight through that glass. Spirit of the Century — over five years old now — is pretty whitewashed as far as the art goes. I think we did slightly better on gender thanks to Sally Slick’s portrayal, though a big internet blow-up at the time around the depiction of women in SOTC showed me that no matter how decent of a job I thought we did, the one-way glass kept me from seeing the ways in which we fell down. I was not well equipped to hear that at the time and it all turned into a nasty meltdown. I still carry that meltdown with me today as a reminder of what not to do when someone points out the effects of my privilege. But more on that in a moment.

I’ve been looking for ways to address those failings since, though the projects started to do so have had troubles making it to publication. Bruce Baugh’s New Horizons got canceled after a long period of development, in great part because the early 20th Century was not a particularly great time to be a minority group and it became incredibly fatiguing and depressing for Bruce to try to navigate paths of heroism through the research. Jess Nevins’ tour of global pulps outside of America, Strange Tales of the Century, has been spinning around in editorial stasis due to limited resources on Evil Hat’s part — many of the delays have had to do with making the Dresden Files product line happen. Thankfully, we will get to feature a more diverse cast of heroes and heroines in our upcoming SOTC-derived Race to Adventure board game, and we do hope to get STOTC out there eventually.

But I’m sure I’ve goofed in other ways, too, both in and out of the SOTC-verse. Frankly it’s difficult as hell — and this is where the uncomfortable diagnosis of that tweet above is also a strength for me. I absolutely need to put in the hard, careful work of examining art and text for the presence of privilege. But I also need to recognize that I will fail at addressing it fully because I’m trying to hunt and kill something I can’t see or hear. But just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean I can’t learn to read lips. I have to make the effort because I love and respect Amanda, and Quinn, and Steve, and the Daniels, and all the other wonderful and wonderfully different-from-me gamers I know. I want to be worthy of them, and if I don’t make a real and honest (albeit inevitably flawed) attempt to counteract the privilege I bring to the table, I won’t be. I’m far from where I need to be on that point. But every year since Evil Hat published Spirit of the Century, I’ve taken a few steps closer to it. Miles to go before I sleep and all that.

All that said, here’s what I want folks to bring as a take-away from this post, and the quote that started it all:

To the extent you are privileged, recognize that there’s a high likelihood you can’t perceive its presence in the things you create. It’s important to figure out how to counteract that, and it’s rarely as simple or reducible as “well, I got my gay/female/black friend to read it”. People will come along and point out where you’ve goofed, and no matter how much you’ve vetted the material, how much you’ve tried to see the unseeable part of you, they’ll probably be right that it’s there. Listen to these people carefully. Welcome them and do your best to learn how they see. They are bringing you a gift and an opportunity to learn. As someone who’s lived with privilege, there is no better opportunity to grow new eyes and see the world how you, alone, can’t.

[Substantially revised paragraph follows] To the extent you lack privilege, I’d ask you to recognize that those who have it may well be baffled when you point out where the issues to arise. If you want people to work at counteracting the effects of their privilege, to create diverse and inclusive games and other entertainments, it’s possible to help them do that. I don’t think that showing them your (very justified) anger, or flinging labels at them (“racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, etc) will create the change we both would like to see. While it’s absolutely my job as someone who enjoys privilege to work on recognizing it and circumventing it, I can say that over the last five years especially I’ve watched what happens when that tactic is employed, and inevitably the privileged party digs in its heels, goes on the defensive, and shuts down. That’s not going to get you what you want and deserve. You have no obligation to teach the privileged, for certain. But please realize that many of them, myself included, would welcome it if you’re willing. If you are willing (and thank you for that), think instead about how to help the blind woman see, the deaf man hear. As someone who’s lived without privilege you can’t help but hear the roaring awful sound of its presence, but the guy who lives inside of that presence simply does not hear it. If you are able and willing, help him hear, even if it’s by proxy. Of course this won’t always work. Many aren’t ready to hear the hidden message of the world. In the end, the privileged need to learn to have empathy for your experience, and many of them are willing to make that effort but are terribly uncertain of where to start. If you think you can offer some empathy in kind, I’m confident a bridge can be built. A little safe harbor to understand the problem, to learn how to see it in the first place, will go such a very long way toward preventing it in the future. If you’re able and willing, please provide that harbor. In the end, the “one way glass” metaphor doesn’t help us at all unless all people in a discussion keep in mind what it looks like from both sides of the pane.

When it comes down to it, as a publisher and a person I might have privilege, but that doesn’t mean I lack interest in inclusion, in diversity in the things I help create or bring to market. To get right down to the brass tacks, as a publisher, I need to have an interest in it, I need to learn how to hear and see what I’m normally unequipped to perceive, because there’s a wider market out there than the white male gamer, dammit. And if I let myself walk around with the blinders on, I’m going to miss them entirely, or find them but lose them to the expression of privilege. That sucks, and it doesn’t create the kind of gaming world I want to play in.

I’ve been learning, and I’ll keep trying to learn.

If and when you can, please, gently, teach me.


  63 Responses to “My Privilege as a Publisher”

  1. Fred, you are awesome. Much love and respect for you and the Evil Hat crew.

    I don’t have much to add to this piece other than to say it all starts when we are willing to think better (if not the best) of each other. If I can assume that you do things for reasons other than malice, and if you can do the same of me, then we can understand each other and come together.

    The internet makes it hard sometimes, but also it makes it possible! Maybe you and I would never have gotten a chance to talk and eventually meet if not for these intertubes.

    There has been a lot of drama on both sides, but I think that it’s time those who care about another way reclaim the battle in the name of love and sanity. This is a great first step.

    Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Quinn. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond so soon after the posting. Puts any “should I have…?” doubts to rest, which is a real gift.

      The single biggest fault I see happen in any conversation about privilege is the failure to recognize the one way glass phenomenon, on BOTH sides. If you and I tried to have a conversation about, say, Nyambe, and neither of us recognized that I don’t (and possibly can’t) perceive the same things about that game as you do insofar as race is concerned … we’d have a pretty hard time speaking the same language to one another. But, insidiously, we’d start out thinking that we were speaking the same language. It just gets all fucked up from there.

      I’m really hoping I can hold progresscholar’s quote close to my heart for as long as I can. It feels revelatory and obvious at the same time. A good sign.

  2. *hugs* Fred, thank you so much for writing this. We are all going to make mistakes. That’s part of the reason I dislike the labels and banners so much, as useful as they might be as shorthand. I understand why they are tempting. They get the anger out and sometimes seem to be the only things that work. But I personally am a huge fan of understanding, of the sorts of conversations you mention and that we’ve had. I’m not sure this helped but I felt the need to say it.

  3. Well said, sir, well said. If everyone took a little time to consider another’s point of view and give a little love & mercy to their fellow man (woman), the world would be a better place.

  4. Very honest stuff, Fred. I’m impressed.

    I have found that the best strategy to break these things (based on my experience with feminism) is to replace everything you are doing with a minority and then argue yourself into using a dominant.

    So if you create all your characters as women, and have to justify making on a man, the final product will be much more inclusive than if you do the opposite (i.e. I should use a woman here for inclusivity sake)

  5. I’m going to take a slightly different take on this. Spirit of the Century is a loving look at the serials of the post-World-War-1 era. Those serials, like it or not, portray women in a different way than how we perceive them today. That’s part of the flavor of the game. It’s not the game’s fault that heroines of that era weren’t written in the same way as heroines of today’s era. If I were to write a game about Mark Twain’s books “Tom Sawyer” or “Huckleberry Finn”, would anyone expect me to put a post 1960’s take on racism or gender inequality, or would I be doing the material a disservice by baking modern views into something that was trying hard to show that there was inequality, albeit from a historic perspective.

    My modern perspective wishes nothing but equality for all, regardless of gender, race, or creed. However I think that if we are truly to roleplay and play a game set historically, it’s exceptionally difficult to bring the baggage of our modern views into historical settings. That’s where fantasy has an edge on historic roleplaying; the scourges of past sins need not be applied to the fantasy worlds.

    • It might be my eternal optimism, but I think it’s safe to assume most people understand the historical argument. If one wants to create a game that holds true to historical elements, fine, make that game. Just don’t expect everyone to be happy or satisfied with it or want to buy it, just like moving away from those elements will make some people unhappy. But to me, it doesn’t sound exactly like that is where Fred wanted to go with SotC. (Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong, Fred, if I am.)

    • _Arkham Horror_ adapts some crazy racist shit yet manages to present an extremely diverse field of playable investigators; it’s not impossible to have a game about a historical era that doesn’t internalize the prejudices of that era.

    • I think we knew we were “going with history” to an extent, but frankly we should’ve had a better eye on what that entailed for the product. I think you can embrace history (this is the world that was) but open the door for diversity. Lots of players like playing the exceptions to the rule anyway.

      But there’s also a question of whether or not it really was “the rule”. Racism and sexism were certainly present in the pulps, as they were in society of the time, but Jess Nevins’ project has also shown me that the world at large was crazy diverse with its pulps all the same.

      Where we sinned with SOTC, I suspect, we sinned by treating pulp as a thin veneer that didn’t need a lot of attention paid to it to get to the thing that at least was what brought me to the party — the system. As a result a lot of the setting elements were looked at too casually, and so equality and diversity within the PCs and PC stand-ins at least weren’t given appropriate attention.

    • If you want a historical game game that does not acknowledge troubling race/gender/class/etc issues, there are plenty of them out there. It’s massively easy for people with privilege to live in a world in which they just don’t have to think about that sort of thing.

      SOTC, which I loved, did a lot of that. It wasn’t malevolent, it was ignorant. There was very little talk of race issues *of the time*, the vast majority of the characters presented were white, or of the “race neutral” type that defaults to white. You don’t need a modern sensibility for that, you just need historical honesty.

      If you set a game in a time period where white men are dominant, and don’t talk much about the hows and the why’s of that, and how it affects non white male characters, you’ve failed a substantial part of the potential audience, and at the same time, continued to establish RPGs as a setting that’s not really welcoming to non-white non-males.

  6. I like this post. I’d like it more if you have just omitted the paragraph that starts “To the extent you lack privilege,” though.

    • What an incredibly one-sided post that would have been, then. Frankly, I would not have posted it without that paragraph, full stop.

    • (To clarify, I think looking at the one-way glass without recognizing the effect that both sides — the transparent and the highly visible — produce, would fully miss one of the points I had in writing this. I don’t like leaving assumptions unspoken. So the paragraph had to be there, even if it’s not the best of the set.)

    • In context it appears that you are saying “I have blinders that make it hard for me to see things, but when you point those things out to me the burden is on you to be deferential, courteous, and respectful of my feelings. I badly need to have these things I can’t see pointed out to me, but I know the best way to be told about my blinders and if you tell me about my blinders in an insufficiently gentle way, I’ll react badly and it’s your fault I’ll react badly because I’ve reacted badly in the past and you know that and I’m warning you now about how badly I’ll react, so you can be sure I’ll react badly, so when you coach me, which is this thing I need you to do, you better do it right.”

    • I suppose that’s one way to read it. I’m not sure it’s the most charitable way to read it, though, and it’s certainly not accurate to my intentions (you portray me as ascribing blame to others for my reactions; I see no such activity in the paragraph). So it goes, with text!

      EDIT: I should speak more directly to my intent with that paragraph, perhaps — there, I’m looking to say, “Hey, be aware that this sort of thing can cause people to dig in their heels, and it’ll be perfectly human if they do. Studies suggest that’s exactly what happens in such a circumstance. If you’re interested in keeping that from being the reaction, here are ways to think about how to do it.” No blame. No “it’s your fault if I turn into a jerk”. I’m responsible for my own reactions, even if I’m not necessarily in full control of them. There are ways to bias which reaction comes up, though, and I don’t think I’d be serving the community building I’m looking for here if I failed to discuss them.

    • I think when you list negative consequences of failing to take your advice, and then couch that advice in imperatives (“the privileged party digs in its heels, goes on the defensive, and shuts down. This will not get you what you want… Coach him. Be a teacher. Help him hear, even if it’s by proxy”) you are, in fact, putting the onus on the subaltern group, and in that sense, the blame on then when conversation fails.

    • See my edit to my comment above this one. I fully support your right to read the paragraph however you care to, but I do not feel that digging further on this branch of the discussion is going to be fruitful.

    • as a person to who the last paragraph would apply to in some major ways, I liked it. The truth is that no one like being called a bigot. KKK members will resist the claim, and they more or less define it!

      I’ve seen so much of that language break down communication. All too often I see people (often times not even in the groups that might be offended by a particular work) jump in and escalate the dialogue and raise the tensions around a particular subject so “subject matter experts”, aka people lacking privilege on some level, aren’t able to really express their real thoughts. They find people they are talking to are so used to being called names before conversing that they are extremely sensitive and gunshy to having actual conversations with people willing to give them some credit as human beings. As a black man I can’t express my thoughts without many people freaking out and being oversensitive to it.

      Like it or not, calling someone’s work racist/sexist/whatever is a very polarizing opening shot. If someone were to call me a racist for making a book with majority black characters, I wouldn’t like it very much. If someone were to lead out with allegations of sexism in a work I did, it would similarly put me on edge. Especially if you could explain it in a way that doesn’t use loaded terms.

      Because let’s be honest: most of the time I see these terms thrown at people, it’s people who actually give a crap about the issues. I see way too many people use the privilege issue as a sword to cut people of good conscience.

      So, having said all that, I think it’s fair to ask someone to go easy. I think a charitable read needs to be the default in these circumstances, on both sides of the glass.

    • This entire post is awesomely insightful and honest, though I have to agree with drunkencarp on some points. I do not think the “To the extent you lack privilege” paragraph should be omitted entirely–indeed, as someone privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, it made me consider how I respond from both sides of the glass–but it does seem to (as usual) place the burden on the person who lacks privilege.

      Imploring people to refrain from expressing their true emotions because it makes you upset and defensive is yet another example of privilege. When I read “Coach him. Be a teacher,” my first thought was “I don’t want to be a f*cking teacher all the time.” It’s exhausting!

      It’s also unfair to expect others to take on the responsibility of teaching while coddling/pandering to your feelings. Because, trust me, the experiences that come with learning you are NOT privileged are not lessons taught with kindness and empathy. That sh*t is harsh, and often starts at a very young age. Why should your lesson (as a grown man, no less) be taught any differently?

      So, when people get pissed, let them be pissed. It’s upsetting! You’re allowed to get defensive, too–heck, you’re human. But after we’ve gotten that out of our systems, let’s BOTH talk and teach and try to understand. It’s the only way.

    • Mia, did you read the clarification I added to the original paragraph? I’ll repeat it here:

      “EDIT: Seeing some of the comments this paragraph has gotten below, I need to say this: I have no expectation of education. I do not demand that you do so. I place no burden upon you to do it. But I think it’s still helpful and useful to understand what reactions can be provoked by certain communication strategies, and how different strategies can avoid those reactions and potentially give rise to more desirable ones. The one-way glass metaphor offers us no fruit if both sides miss out on what it means for the other guy in the conversation.”

      Since your comment arrives after I put that into the post, I’m a little bit at a loss … it sounds like my attempt to address & clarify your concerns already didn’t do the job at all. Can you show me where this added clarification I’ve made fails to remove the notion that I’m placing a burden instead of politely asking to consider the other guy’s perspective, and if you’re willing (and only if you’re willing) offer some help?

    • Hm, okay. I’ve done a reworking of the paragraph again. I think it reads more awkward in language but closer to the intention I originally had. Hopefully fewer folks will find issue with it in this form.

    • Thanks Propro. I agree that’s required reading, but I have to recognize, I *have to* point out, that from the perspective of behavioral psychology, studies show that getting angry at someone about their perspective only cements that perspective. Expressing that anger has a place, for certain! But I remain unconvinced that it’s constructive to wield it if you are someone who wants the person to change. If you don’t give a fuck, rage away! But I have to worry, because the science suggests it to be so, that change won’t come as a result. I want to help the angry people find a way to achieve a goal of change, though. Or else there will continue to be plenty of reasons to be pissed.

    • I appreciate the revision.

  7. Fred, I think you make a very important point in looking at privilege from a variety of viewpoints – I am, in fact, female, but in my view this does not make me particularly unprivileged as I am white and, most importantly, middle class.

    I may be lucky that the people in my life have never made being female a liability, and I don’t doubt that some women are not so lucky. But I think the vast majority of my privilege comes from the many benefits of being middle class which typically brings with it a certain amount of education and, well, privileges. Honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be unable to feed my children, to not be able to get them the basic things they need for subsistence. And I feel lots of sympathy, but I can’t truly feel empathy because I can only guess at what that’s like. And I would inevitably portray that incorrectly with mistaken assumptions if I tried.

    Most of us in this industry carry a certain amount of privilege with us – if you’re reading this on your own computer and you have a little spare money to spend on games occasionally or spare time to spend on a hobby you love, chances are you’re toting some privilege around.

    Maybe I’m totally sticking my foot in it here, but it bothers me to see “privilege” so often reduced to male vs. female, straight vs. gay. Being middle class gives me so much more privilege than being female can ever take away from me.

    • I certainly didn’t mean to do some sort of reduction of the issues to the race/gender/orientation labels. But it’s certainly true that those labels are more facile — at least for me — than the labels for talking about economic advantage, I think. I completely agree that economic advantage is a huge factor in creating privilege.

    • I didn’t feel that you did reduce it to that – If anything, you opened it up in a way I haven’t seen. That was primarily a reflection of how I see many of the conversations about privilege go, but yours is different and I appreciate that.

    • Yeah, one issue with socio-economic labels is often that class can be masked or is harder to see without conversations with people. I spent a lot of time in college learning about these issues, in part because as someone who came from a lower class/poor background I was just finding out about the academic side of them for the first time and I was suffering from a lot of guilt because I was living better at my nice college than my family was back home. On top of it, other students who came from a background similar to mine own often assumed that I must be part of the middle or upper classes due to my attendance at the school. They didn’t realize I was getting more in scholarships than my parents made in a year.

  8. I think you might still be too hard on the people trying to give you feedback. I haven’t seen a lot of the feedback given to you, but I’ve seen with other developers someone will say “the artwork is sexist on such a such a page” and the developer seems to read that as “you’re a sexist jerk”. The developer isn’t listening, and is instead overreacting. This is despite the same developers often taking other forms of criticism of a more “neutral” nature (say talking about the readability of the layout, or page reference errors, or game system issues) rather well.

    • Honestly, from my own experience, I find it nearly impossible to take a comment like “this thing which you took a part in creating is sexist/racist/etc” as anything other than a statement of extreme denunciation, even when it’s not. If that’s meant to be a gentle message, I’ve rarely seen it expressed such that it’s rock solid clear it’s gently said. If it’s valid to say the developer is overreacting, then it’s equally valid to say the critic isn’t communicating well.

  9. There’s something I’d like to add which has taken me a long time to learn: it isn’t my job to educate you.

    The one-way glass metaphor is apt, because it’s something you never see (but can think about when you choose to) while it’s something I see all the time. I get tired of interacting with it. I get tired of being complimented for my English skills or asked where I originally came from (even after I answer “Canada”). I get tired of having all eyes snap to me when I walk into a room because I’m one of the few women there. I get tired of explaining why rape jokes are not okay. I get tired of saying, “No, that thing is not gay. I’m gay. It’s not okay to say that.” I get tired saying, “Look, when you say, ‘Real women have curves’, you are deliberately splitting women into two categories: real and not real. This is not okay.” I get tired when people assume I have something intelligent and positive to say about Communism when Communists slaughtered my family in Cambodia.

    So, sometimes, when someone says something which is (even unintentionally) racist, sexist, classist, etc – I just throw my hands up in the air and say, “I can’t fight this fight right now.” I don’t want to help. I can’t help. I’ve been at this my entire life, and I’m tired of being the lesson of the day.

    That’s why, Fred, I think it’s really good that you’ve put this out there, and you’ve said, “I’m going to put effort into this.” Because I have seen far too many privileged people sit back and say, “Hey, I’m privileged so I can’t see this stuff. You’ll have to educate me.”

    So, thanks. Thanks for being willing to pick up that lesson book yourself.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Kimberly. I do try to be respectful of the fatigue you’re talking about — that’s part of why I don’t think combating privilege in my own work is as simple or as easy as “I’ll ask my black/gay/female/poor friend”. Yes, I can ask them, but maybe they’ve already smacked into the wall of privilege 100 times this week and aren’t in any sort of mood to help out. I need to do the work myself as much as I need to be shown the way.

      It’s definitely not your job to educate me. I mean to imply no burden of necessity there. That’s why I ask for help at the end of the article — because education is something I need, but can’t expect, in addition to the work I do on my own.

    • One of the things that I think is hardest to learn is empathy. It’s hard to be empathetic when someone is saying something you’ve done is racist/sexist/classist/etc and is angry. It’s hard to remember that your black/gay/female/poor friend cares enough about you to put things to you gently, but others have no particular need to do so. All they’ve felt is that stupid one-way mirror bashed into their heads. Again.

      The best allies are the ones who have learned to empathize. The ones who can say, “Okay, it’s clear that you’re hurt and angry. That’s totally legitimate and I didn’t mean to do that. I’m sorry you’re hurt and angry.” You don’t have to agree with their assessment of your work. But that defensive “But that’s not what I meant!” is the wrong foot forward. It’s not empathetic. It says, however unintentionally, “But you don’t understand me! You should understand me first.”

      You know what’s a sad? I realized that, as I was writing this, a part of me dreads the fact that you might decide to shut me down. It’s not like you haven’t been polite and I respect that this is your space so you can do whatever you want here. You should own this space and I don’t begrudge you the ability to control what goes on here. But I’ve been shut down so many times because I have not managed to express something perfectly that just writing this makes me brace myself a little, as though I expect being shut down as an inevitable result of even talking about it.

    • I don’t see anything angry, abrasive, or unconstructive here, Kimberly, so there’s nothing to prompt me to shut this part of the conversation down. I’m enjoying it. 🙂

      The point about empathy has been brought up here and elsewhere. In the end, I think that’s the primary thing I’m advocating for. Empathy on both sides. The whole education thing is, really, optional, a volunteer effort to be made only by the willing.

      I certainly hope that empathy makes it more likely that the volunteer effort will happen — I’d prefer a world of well-understood folks who themselves understand what’s gone wrong, but “well understood but still baffled” is a good first step.

    • I was more inclined to read this as “look, this is what’s happening on their side of the coin; make of it what you will,” rather than an order to make them see what they’re doing. You can’t control them, you can only control yourself. Whether you decide to do anything about it is entirely up to you. Sometimes, the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no. But it’s always helpful to have insight into what may be motivating the opposite party. Even if it makes you cry inside.

    • Sherrie, I think my main issue is that in the original version of the paragraph (without the added clarification), I used imperative language on the assumption that folks would understand those words in a “if you’re willing, if you’re already inclined to make the effort to understand the other guy, if you genuinely want to change his perspective and opinion, consider taking these actions” context. I’m clear that multiple readers are NOT taking it that way, even though it seemed really obvious to me at the time I wrote it. Still mulling on what to do about it — I hate the idea of changing the as-published text beyond those added sentences at the end, but that may be the only way to head off these readings of what I wrote.

    • A reworking of the troublesome paragraph has been edited into the original post.

    • Kimberley, I’d just like to make two quick points.

      First, it is very difficult for those of us with privilege to educate ourselves about the lack of privilege. Even those of us who want to learn to be inclusive can’t always figure out how. Especially when any rule more specific than “be empathetic” is likely as not to come with exceptions that are fraught with peril. And the exceptions are obvious to you, but frustrating to us. While I certainly understand that you get tired and frustrated, we really do need the help.

      Second, I’d just like to point out that there are ways to really multiply the effect of your education. Shouting at idiots on an MMO is unlikely to do much more than make one guy pause. Taking the time to talk to game developers, though, can start a change in the whole gaming culture. One of the frequent refrains in the “sexism in gaming” arguments is the inertia. Gamers are mostly men. Game developers are mostly men. Men tend to be sexist, and be blind to sexism, due to the one-way mirror issue. Gaming develops a sexist culture, which drives away women. Gamers and developers continue to be mostly men.

      If rational, polite, and aware people like yourself can engage the game developers on the issues, maybe the games themselves will become more inclusive. Various minorities will feel more welcome. Once their numbers rise, simple selection will mean more minority game developers. Which begins the positive feedback loop of training the rest of the rank and file gamers that prejudice of whatever stripe doesn’t have to be the default state.

      I’m not going to ask you to educate me, because I’m not worth your time. Fred, though? He’s totally worth your time.

    • “If rational, polite, and aware people like yourself can engage the game developers on the issues, maybe the games themselves will become more inclusive.”

      Lugh, I don’t think you meant it, but this statement bugged me a little. As a woman who is starting in game design and freelancing, it feels like a bit of a wall suddenly with me on one side and “the game developers” on the other. To be honest, I’m not even sure there is a lack of female developers out there to really get this process started (although we can always use more), just that they tend to be less obvious because the conversations on The Internet often drive them away and that’s where we do so much of our work. And people tend to want to work with people they know, and many of those groups have a bias towards sameness (sometimes for good reasons).

    • Lugh – it strikes me as a little sad (as in “sorrowful”, not “pathetic”) that you are telling me that a way of amplifying my message is to get a white straight guy to spread it. And I know you probably didn’t mean it “that way”, but it is what was said. The thing about not meaning it “that way” is that I’m not telepathic and, too often, it really is meant that way – and not only that, it works that way. I can talk until I’m blue in the face and I will be labelled whiny and an attention-seeking liar. Bring in one of the privileged pack to say the exact same thing and it’s suddenly inspirational.

      That is the culture that the underprivileged live in. All the time. No wonder we aren’t all rational, polite and aware. No wonder we foam at the mouth.

      Yes, Lugh, it’s difficult for the privileged to become educated. I respect you enough as a human being to think that you can manage if you try long enough. Don’t be dismissive of being empathetic – it’s the best thing you can do and the hardest thing to achieve.

    • Kimberly, so far it seems like you’re using a lot of negative terms to describe yourself that no one here in this current discussion is using to describe you. I think you’ve made your point with those, and I’m finding it’s hard to form a clear reaction or response to the points you’re making while you wave those terms around. Could you at least drop that part of the conversational tactic, here? I think it would help.

  10. Thanks for tackling this and being so brave given how sensitive this topic is.

    I’ve worked a lot with anti-racist organizations all over the world and would like to share my perspective of what privilege is. It’s a tricky subject.

    “Male” and “White” are not privileges. They are attributes. Privilege may or may not be associated with these attributes as dictated by context. It’s the contextual attitude towards a person being male or not male that defines the privilege, not the physical fact of being male. Context is key. Privilege is almost meaningless without context. Everyone can and probably has privilege.

    Often this context depends on time period, geographic location, on culture, and a whole series of other factors. The concept of “white” and even the way we discuss race is very North American. In America, people are considered “white” that are not considered “white” in other countries. Context matters.

    It’s also important to be careful when labeling anyone as having privilege as it can become borderline prejudice. Statistical averages may not apply (and then there is a question of what these averages are based on, how applicable and how up to date they are). Again, context matters.

    Ultimately, it’s a lack of empathy, not privilege that is the problem. Sometimes having privilege means you have a blind spot that blocks empathy but that isn’t the case for everyone who has privilege. And a lack of empathy could be attributed to a wide array of causes, only 1 being privilege but there are many others.

    • Thanks for the clarification. It’s definitely a tricky subject.

      I think at least from a “lay” perspective, the difference you’re talking about could come across as a matter of semantics — that was my gut reaction when I read your comment until I took some extra time to think about it. At the least, some of the things you call attributes have high correlations with privilege, and carry at least some native context, but as you say, that carries some borderline prejudice with it.

      I’m not dismissing the comment, though! I think the conversation absolutely should proceed with an understanding of the subtleties you’re talking about. I also think folks will continue to use attributes as signifiers of a particular context of privilege, and I don’t want them to feel they shouldn’t contribute if they do.

      Read charitably, everyone. Not everyone is at the same depth of familiarity with the topic. 🙂

    • Often this context depends on time period, geographic location, on culture, and a whole series of other factors. The concept of “white” and even the way we discuss race is very North American. In America, people are considered “white” that are not considered “white” in other countries. Context matters.

      Secondhand anecdata, which may or may not back-up ashardalon’s point:

      My friend Ben’s wife was born and raised in Germany. When talking about how the Swiss interact with the Germans (in general), she declared it to be “racism” — which threw Ben, an American, for a loop.

  11. I enjoyed your post, Fred. It’s heartfelt and encouraging, and I’m glad you wrote it.

    The “To the extent you lack privilege…” does bother me a bit, though. I share the same slew of privileges that you do, and it has been pointed out to me that the tendency of the privileged to both expect others to educate us and to have it couched in ways with which we are comfortable (while our actions often, inadvertently or otherwise, step all over the feelings of others) is itself an act or privilege to which we are often blind.

    I have said similar things to that paragraph more than once, so I understand what you meant by it and what you are trying to achieve. I feel it only fair to point out, though, that those whom you are addressing in that paragraph may be among the least likely to take it that way.

  12. This one strikes a heavy chord with me.

    I am white and male. I agree with the idea that any privileges that these two factors have granted me would not be apparent to me.

    But I was not always middle class, and I am not satisfied with staying middle class either. In my family you were not expected to go to college. A nice government job after high school was the target to aim for. We had used cars (like a decade old), never new. They were mice in the house, we had to shower in the basement because we could not afford to fix the pipes in the bathroom, and while the other kids wore new Nikes you had hand-me-down shoes with thinning soles.

    I busted my ass to go to college. I didn’t really know how to get there, because the public schools that I attended did not expect me to go to college. No scholarships, no grants, and no one explained to me how to get a student loan because no one that I knew had ever applied for one.

    So I busted my ass some more. I worked and attended school and paid my tuition every month with a check that never bounced. And I was pissed that here I was working harder than others and having to see some of my fellow students arriving in new cars that their folks had bought for them as high school graduation gifts. Who the fuck gives an 18 year old a car, much less a new one? And there I was waiting outside for the bus in a Chicago winter where the windchill can reach -75 F on a bad day.

    Life was not fair at that time IMO.

    But I made something of myself. I’m doing very well even in this bad economy. I also developed an advantage, because I could work harder and longer than others. I had to in order to graduate and pay for my tuition. I was now being promoted past those people whose parents had bought them cars as a gift. And while my brothers did not graduate from college, they both have moved up in the world as well due to their own efforts and hardwork. My parents finally but their first new car in 1996, and still have it because it runs great even though they could buy another new car these days. The bathroom was eventually remodeled and everything works fine.

    And I could see that, yes they were privileged but now that I was ahead of them career-wise I now realized that they did not understand that they were. Plus, they weren’t evil, selfish, spoiled, or anything else like that. Maybe some were, but that also existed among the poorer people that I grew up with.

    Did I move up in class all on my own? No. I had the support of my family. My parents did what they could to help me. They may not have paid for college, but I’m sure that I would not have graduated without their help.

    And now I have to deal with people who think that I got “lucky” from both camps (not many, but some). I was “lucky” that I went to college, and I am “lucky” that I could surpass a person with a “better” upbringing in my career (a wealthier upbringing does not equal a better one).

    I guess all I can add to this is that inherited privilege is something that you might be blind to, but when you earn a privilege you are not blind to it at all. And when someone else assumes that the result of your hard work is luck instead of effort, well that just puts a bitter twist on everything. I don’t want to teach those people. I don’t want to explain how I got to where I am. I just want to leave them behind and keep them out of my life.

  13. Okay, so, I had to talk to Rob before I left a comment, cuz that’s how we roll around here. 🙂

    When I think of sexist, or sexism, or exclusionary, or anti-community, the last person who comes to mind is “Fred Hicks.” I cannot think of anyone else I know, except maybe Rob, who is more committed to building community, making the community open, fostering happiness through gaming, and bringing people in to the hobby. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as you do to spend the time listening to people, paying attention to feedback, and putting that feedback into practice.

    I never got the impression SotC was full of sexist tropes and I’ve read through it three times cover to cover. Perhaps my skin is thick and my filtering mechanism is highly tuned, but honest to God when I see this come up I am completely mystified. It’s a two-fisted pulp game! With two fists! It has two-fisted gorilla justice — does that mean you are anti gorilla?

    Evil Hat games are wonderful. People love them. I personally adore FATE in all its incarnations. I have sold them to friends via word of mouth. It’s good stuff and everyone knows my bar is high.

    Keep doin’ what you’re doin’ and making awesome stuff for the community and making the world a more awesome place.

    • I’m not mystified. The points that were made back in 2006 had merit. We portray two women, one as a sexualized femme fatale, one as a rosie the riveter type (the heroine). Both are white, as are most all of the human characters depicted. Our heroine is as often imperiled as not, and could and should be shown in positions of strength more often. I could have done better with the art direction, and didn’t. I’m certainly glad that many of my friends are disinclined to see the problems, because I like it when my friends are happy with my work, but that doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there.

    • I just want to say that I <3 Fred, Rob and the rest of the Evil Hat gang. They've done nothing but support me.

  14. I’ll summarize some of the points of some of the discussion so far:

    – No one is obligated to teach
    – No one is obligated to be polite
    – Everyone has the right to be angry when offended
    – Anger doesn’t change minds
    – Teaching does

    I don’t think any of these points are at odds with one another. A lot of it revolves around the right to be angry when given offense (intentionally or unintentionally).

    I’ve got a longstanding relationship with anger. I get angry very quickly, and I’ve gotten specifically angry with some people with enough regularity that they’ve privately confided to me that they are afraid to participate in this discussion because I might fly off into a rage.

    Here’s some of what I know about anger.

    Anger has a place and a purpose. The expression of it can achieve at least two positive things, even. It can bring people who share the same perspective together (you’re mad? i’m mad too!). It can also let off some highly poisonous stress — it’s a pressure system, and can be kept at safe levels if it’s given a vent.

    But anger draws lines. It separates. It builds walls. When someone offends you, you’ve got every right to show them your anger, and no obligation to be polite to them. But a wall is built between the two of you when that happens. That wall makes it clear that it’s us vs. them, and so long as you’re okay with the world working that way, fantastic! You are making that anger work for you.

    But at some point you might want to change things from “us vs. them” to “it’s all us”. At that point you’re either going to have a big fat wall that you helped build to climb over, or you’re not.

    As an angry person, I encourage folks to think about when those walls are really needed. And if they are, then by the gods, let me be the first to help you lay down the bricks and mortar to build them. Walls separate us from one another, but they also offer defense and safety. Walls aren’t evil. They’re just hard to bridge.

    But if those walls aren’t really needed — if you have a genuine interest in bringing about a change in “them”, that wall’s only going to harm your mission. So in the end, whenever someone calls (or at least whenever I call) for some politeness, it’s a request — not a demand — that you help yourself reach your goal. It’s not for the guy who pissed you off. That guy’s just the trigger, the target. You may well owe him nothing. But do think about what you owe yourself.

    You need not teach. But maybe you don’t need to be a bricklayer either.

  15. I think we did slightly better on gender thanks to Sally Slick’s portrayal, though a big internet blow-up at the time around the depiction of women in SOTC showed me that no matter how decent of a job I thought we did, the one-way glass kept me from seeing the ways in which we fell down.

    This is EXACTLY the right response to criticism on this sort of topic: “Huh, I didn’t notice that. I’m sorry, I was blind to that. I’ll try harder next time. Thanks for pointing that out.”

    I want to live in a world where it’s not hard for people to do that when they encounter criticism from a group they have privilege over. And yes, Fred, even when that criticism is angry. If you want someone to teach you using non-angry words, seek them out and be humble. Because THEY are not going to seek YOU out. (It never works that way, except in movies made by clueless privileged Hollywood sorts where Noble Savages seek out Spiritually Bankrupt but Badass Warrior White Guy and elevate him to Spiritual Badass who Saves the Day.)

    And learn to hear and respect the angry voices while you’re at it.

    *cough* Avatar* cough*

    • If only I’d had the 5-years-since perspective then, to respond the way that I do now. But I didn’t, and it all went to hell.

      That said, if folks want the right to be angry and offended, then I must also reserve my right to be angry and offended in response to their anger. Which is what I am getting at about building walls, in the comment right above yours. I will certainly try to read past the anger when I can, but I can offer no guarantees. We’ll both have to put in an effort if we want to see past the angry shit and do something real and positive about it.

    • I don’t think it’s ever too late to recognize a mistake, and apologize.

    • I’ve been doing THAT for years now, yeah, drunkencarp. But anger digs deep grooves that aren’t always easy or possible to fill.

    • That said, if folks want the right to be angry and offended, then I must also reserve my right to be angry and offended in response to their anger.

      And, of course, you’ll be backed up by staunch hordes of people who look just like you. Ever see an angry feminist in a conversation with a man who’s been thoughtlessly sexist? Expect several dozen men to jump *all* over her.

      That’s the problem with an angry response to someone with justifiable anger at what you’ve done (even if it’s unintentional) – you can’t exist in a vacuum. You’re part of a system that’s encouraging the status quo, and you’ll get supported by that system, and you’ll support that system every time you lash back out.

      Anger on your part in this sort of situation helps maintain privilege, and beat down the non-privileged. It’s really hard not to have anger, especially when you’ve been dealt with harshly, but your privilege is going to make that a different thing than when someone non-privileged comes to you with anger at something you’ve done. For you, the consequences are not the same.

      The system already supports games like SOTC being just the way they are. So where are the real consequences for getting angry at someone who calls you out on race issues and does so in an angry way?

      You have the “right” to do so, of course. But I think your use of the word “right” is not helpful for this debate. We’re not talking first amendment rights, we’re talking justifications, and privilege vs non-privilege. The non-privileged have a good reason to be angry, based on generations of oppression. Your reason is: someone finally got angry at you for being an unwitting part of that oppression.

      Which is more justified? If you back down and swallow your anger, are you loosing out on anything useful to yourself? If they back down, they really are loosing out on an expression of anger that means that the world has been treating them and people like them badly for centuries.

    • All fair points, none of which I’ve refuted. All I’ve said is that anger justifies anger. It perpetuates. The only way to rise above it is not to wield it. Period.

    • How infuriating. 🙂

  16. Tracy,

    First, “game developers” is a generalization, and subject to all the exceptions every generalization must be. As a member of the minority group of female developers, you would naturally fall into the group we want to nourish and grow, not educate.

    Second, that only applies to the topic of sexism (and, from your other comment, classism). You *do* still suffer from privilege on the topics of race, sexuality, disabilities, etc. All of us are privileged in some way.

    • I don’t know, I thought that maybe Kimberley Lam was a fellow designer/developer/freelancer/whatever-you-want-to-call-it too. Instead of saying that she was part of that group, the sentence defaulted to her teaching the group, the other, and that bugged me. I didn’t think it was intentional and I’m not making any accusations. I’m just being honest.

      I’m sure everyone has some privilege and lacks it elsewhere. I never said I was without privilege and yet you felt the need to point out that I’m privileged somewhere. Why?

  17. I bought SotC because it didn’t deal with any of the issues that you’d mentioned. My buddies and I had pretty much burned out on controversy after playing White Wolf games for a few months, currently we’ve switched to D&D and I’m trying to weasel in SotC when that wraps up.

    If you want to push my boundaries a bit, that’s fine as long as it’s interesting. If you go too far outside my boundaries then I’m probably not going to buy what you’re selling because it lacks the elements of the familiar which make it accessible.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Doug.

      That said, if you’re equating creating a diversity-supportive product with controversy, I reject that. (I’m not clear if you are. It’s a possible reading.)

      And if you’re equating creating a diversity-supportive product with creating a product that goes “too far outside [your] boundaries”, well, you’re not going to be very happy with my future plans. (Again, not clear you’re saying this, but it’s a possible reading of your text.)

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