Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Being a Geek a "White Kid" Thing?

Back in May Daniel Jose Ruiz wrote an article for The Millions titled, Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race, in which he tied being a geek to being white and then attempted to illustrate how difficult it is to be non-white in the larger geek culture. It's a fairly interesting read though I disagree with many of his suppositions that he attempts to establish as facts of the culture and hobby. 

There are two passages in particular that I find myself disagreeing with as I find Ruiz conflating a racial bias with a situation wherein people have no interest discussing the subject at the gaming table. In the first he wrote: ". . . I can run a D&D campaign about how poorly certain races like half-elves are treated, and my group will rail against the injustice of it all, but if I bring up any real-world situation of inequality, I get the cold shoulder at best or at worst booed down and given “focus on the game” lectures. As Junot Díaz allegedly said: “Motherfuckers will read a book that’s 1/3 in Elvish, but put in two lines of Spanish and [white people] think we’re taking over.” . . ." (Ruiz).

In the example that Ruiz provides the problem is not one where his players refuse to explore racial injustice in their games as they openly discuss and become motivated to work against the injustice that half-elves experience but rather one in which they don't want to have real world situations brought into their games. I completely understand their reticence to have real world events intruding on their game's escapism - which is precisely what Dungeons & Dragons is for many of us: escapism. When Ruiz forces them to confront situations going on in the real world he's intruding on a game that allows them to get away from all of that for a few hours. He's violating the social contract of the game where we get together and escape from the real world to loot the dragon, kill the girl, and save the treasure. 

Ruiz went on to write: ". . . But growing up around my more working-class family, I was teased for reading, and I was especially teased for reading books like Redwall or Lord of the Rings. That fantasy crap was for losers, gueros, and jotos. Some of my family even thought that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satanism and possession . . ." (Ruiz). The supposition here is that this was a unique thing to happen to him because of his race. It is not. Lots of people are teased, called names, and have their sexuality questioned because of the things they like that others do not. It is unfortunately a part of growing up and a side of things that I worry about constantly as my son quickly approaches school age.  

I don't know why it happens but people often attack others when they don't understand what they're doing. Read a big book and you're a nerd. Love the wrong thing and you're a faggot. Spend too much time doing something others don't understand and you'll find yourself ostracized and treated like you're somehow less valuable then they are. 

People are shit. 

And the worst thing about that is that you won't be able to get completely away from them as you get older either. You'll run into terrible people everywhere you go and there is no underlying reason that will explain away their awfulness. You can blame it on your race, your financial background, your social status, your political affiliation, the way you look and it won't matter one damned bit. They'll still be shit. 



Works Cited
"Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race" The Millions, May 11, 2017, http://www.themillions.com/2017/05/dragons-are-for-white-kids-with-money-on-the-friction-of-geekdom-and-race.html. Accessed June 19, 2017.

14 comments:

  1. My experience is that D&D appeals to kids who like to read & who are also into--or at least not opposed to--the mathematics that underlie the game. This tends to involve good students because you have to read bunches of giant books if you want to become proficient. So to the extent that studiousness correlates with race, there is probably some truth here. But an even slightly deeper look shows that really, studiousness correlates with class, which is where SO MUCH of our current racial conversations go off the rails.

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    1. Dan your comment and Jarrett's work really well together. Like bookends to a conversation. That said I think that the economic class issues that our nation has been steadily developing over the last seventy years are about to become the major issue of the next hundred years - if we manage to overcome them.

      It's a dangerous road we're on.

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  2. I read and enjoyed Ruiz's article.
    This past school year I had 75 middle and high school students gaming (about half playing D&D at some point) in our school library and cafeteria. I thought quite a bit about who found our games accessible and who might feel excluded / not be able to readily picture themselves involved. Relative to our school population, we had higher student representation from our special education and autism programs, we were just slightly lower in terms of female students, students from lower economic percentage groups were well represented but not quite proportional with our school as a whole (around half), and while all of our building's ethnic groups were represented, they weren't completely proportional (particularly when sorted by gender). Part of my take-away has been that the portal through which you come to gaming can (unintentionally) filter potential players. When I have an African American girl running a table, the number of African American girls participating increases. Prior social relationships trump this--existing friendships are the biggest factor. We don't use chunky rulebooks ... many of my players are below grade level in their literacy skills and economic class tends not to be a determining factor for participation. If, however, students came in through the portal of already reading and enjoying fantasy, my group would skew toward white, affluent families. Nothing new here. Marketers, politicians, and social scientists have known since the dawn of time that people drift toward places where they already see themselves reflected / represented.

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    1. First, that makes sense and is one of the reasons why I kind of dig the hell out of the way that the art for Dungeons & Dragons (and RPGs in general) has begun to represent more races: it helps expand our player pool. And that can only be a good thing.

      Second, you run an after school RPG program? Did I forget this? Have you written about this and I've forgotten? How could I forget this?

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  3. Gaming is still a social activity, and real world topics/issues bleed into conversations just like talking about the latest reboot of Star Trek might bleed into a conversation while you're all playing a game of Talislanta. Are real world issues any more relevant to Talislanta then Star Trek? No. So dismissing Ruiz'es example as intrusive is a weak rebuttal when we're essentially talking about a hobby that is built off of communication.
    To say these things, prejudice and discrimination, don't exist within gaming culture as a whole is also short-sighted and naive. In my high school there were boys who wouldn't play with girls, which sounds idiotic but it happened. I've also met hispanic and black gamers who felt that they weren't welcome at games when they were younger because older players seemed to be unusually harsh with them or ignored them.
    As often as gamers are portrayed as being socially inept, D&D is still a social hobby, and even if games are an "escape" you're still sitting around a table of "real" people. Your attitude toward what Ruiz perceives is exactly the sort of behavior he's imploring you not to have: casual dismissal.

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    1. ". . . just like talking about the latest reboot of Star Trek might bleed into a conversation while you're all playing a game of Talislanta. Are real world issues any more relevant to Talislanta then Star Trek? No. So dismissing Ruiz'es example as intrusive is a weak rebuttal when we're essentially talking about a hobby that is built off of communication . . ."

      Let me put this another way. If we were gaming and you were to bring up politics, and in particular President Trump's latest scandal, I wouldn't be willing to have that discussion at the table. There are places for us to have conversations that might be tense, or difficult, and the gaming table is not that place. Don't get me wrong: I have no problem discussing real world racial prejudices and injustices over a beer or while we're having a meal. I just don't want to have that conversation when I'm trying to figure out where the treasure is and why our thief keeps snickering to herself.

      ". . . To say these things, prejudice and discrimination, don't exist within gaming culture as a whole is also short-sighted and naive. In my high school there were boys who wouldn't play with girls, which sounds idiotic but it happened. I've also met hispanic and black gamers who felt that they weren't welcome at games when they were younger because older players seemed to be unusually harsh with them or ignored them . . ."

      I never said that racial prejudice and discrimination don't exist within the gaming community.

      ". . . Your attitude toward what Ruiz perceives is exactly the sort of behavior he's imploring you not to have: casual dismissal . . ."

      I am not casually dismissing his claims of experiencing racial discrimination. I am recognizing that what he perceives as occurring solely because of his race where he wrote, ". . . But growing up around my more working-class family, I was teased for reading, and I was especially teased for reading books like Redwall or Lord of the Rings. That fantasy crap was for losers, gueros, and jotos. Some of my family even thought that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satanism and possession . . .," happens to people of all races - and happened to me. I too have had those very same insults (though spoken with a southern drawl and in English) hurled at me for liking the things I like. It isn't a uniquely racial occurrence.

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    2. " If we were gaming and you were to bring up politics, and in particular President Trump's latest scandal, I wouldn't be willing to have that discussion at the table. There are places for us to have conversations that might be tense, or difficult, and the gaming table is not that place."

      That is weird. Talking about the latest news is literally one of three default conversations people, and presumably friends, have when socializing.

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    3. I never said that we didn't talk about the news, just that we don't talk about politics. For most of my friends politics is something that they either don't care about or tend to become uncomfortable discussing. So while I have no problems discussing it in general at our gaming table we avoid the subject so they're not bothered.

      Actually now that you mention it our default topics tend to be local news, sports, family, food, movies, and the kids. A lot of the people I game with are parents to young children so kids dominate our conversations. After that we tend to vacillate between sports, movies, extended families, local news, and what we're going to eat after the game (or what my lovely bride is cooking while we're gaming - she's pretty excellent).

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    4. But aren't news and politics almost one and the same? If I look at the front page of my local paper and ignore the sports taglines...
      1) My state senator is one of 4 Republicans refusing to sign off on the GOP health care overhaul
      2) My state governor signed a law the prevents 16- and 17-year olds from obtaining work permits
      3) My state's supreme court ruled that golf professionals can sue the city I live in

      All of that sounds political, and that was just the top headlines from my newspaper today.

      Since you and your gaming buddies have kids, I imagine you possibly talk about school and education, and maybe you live somewhere that you don't have to worry about funding for your kids' school or if they're eating healthy meals at lunch time or changes to the bus system that interfere with your work schedule, but if you did then all of that is tied into politics too (one of the people I game with is a teacher who works with economically disadvantaged kids so I hear about the struggles of working within the education system alot and I've known him for almost 20 years, his complaints always boils down to somebody who has never worked with kids or worked in education is appointed by a politician to make decisions that affect thousands upon thousands of students).
      I don't know what "news" is to you, but you seem to think that politics is somehow separate from the way we live our lives. In general, what is happening within our government, and even just the way the administration of our government is managed, affects all of us all of the time (e.g. construction, local law enforcement changes, water utility maintenance, etc.). I'd love to know how you can engage in conversations week after week with people you call friends and miraculously avoid discussing anything even tangentially related to "real world" issues and/or politics, because that is weird.

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    5. "But aren't news and politics almost one and the same?"

      No, they are not. We tend to focus on news that doesn't have a political element to it because politics, as I said previously, is a topic that several of my players prefer to avoid. So instead of focusing on things with a political slant we talk about things like who's pregnant; who we know that's hooked on drugs; who's overdosed; who's looking for work; which factories are have good times and bad; who's the latest of our friends to get cancer; who died recently; the crackheads living next to Biggboy; which drugs are moving into the area again; and so on.

      "I don't know what "news" is to you, but you seem to think that politics is somehow separate from the way we live our lives."

      You seem to be looking for an argument that I'm not making. Check out my twitter feed on the left hand side of the page and you'll find me often discussing and retweeting news about politics and making political statements of my own. I am not at all shy about discussing politics. My players are and I respect their wishes because they're my friends.

      "I'd love to know how you can engage in conversations week after week with people you call friends and miraculously avoid discussing anything even tangentially related to "real world" issues and/or politics, because that is weird."

      I never said we didn't talk about real world issues. You are forcing that into my comments.

      I have no problems talking about politics but my friends and players aren't like me in that regard. Many of them become uncomfortable around the topic so I avoid it out of respect for them. There's nothing weird in that.

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    6. To put it another way: it sounds like you do have conversation about issues that affect you and your friends personally, but when it comes to issues that affect people who aren't you or your peer group, you don't talk about them and/or you're willing to shut down conversations about them. Which, again, is the whole point of Ruiz'es article.

      I'm not trying to have an argument with you. I just think your statement about not discussing politics is weird. I game with Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Communists, and Nihilists, political and sociological topics do come up and I've never seen a discussion get heated over it - with the exception of the teacher I mentioned above, who only gets upset if somebody mentions that teachers get paid too much and that's only ever happened once.

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    7. "it sounds like you do have conversation about issues that affect you and your friends personally, but when it comes to issues that affect people who aren't you or your peer group, you don't talk about them and/or you're willing to shut down conversations about them."

      Here's the thing Patrick, as I have said repeatedly, I am more than willing to discuss politics. I do it every day on my Twitter, as well as, at work; however, many of my friends and players aren't comfortable with such discussions so we don't have them at the gaming table. I respect their requests on this subject.

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  4. I try to discourage politics at the game table. Here's why: either the players all agree, in which case it's a boring exercise in Two Minute Hate against someone; or they disagree, in which case you're no longer having a game session but a political argument. I don't think anyone's opinions have ever been changed as a result of a political argument at a gaming table.

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    1. Political discussions - especially between people who believe differently about a topic - are a very good thing to have . . . along with a beer and a meal. While you might not change someone's mind in having that discussion you will have exposed each other to the other point of view and that's an incredibly valuable thing as it keeps us from thinking of the other guy as some sort of alien monster bent on the destruction of our nation. Not every discussion is about changing someone's mind, often it's just about discussing the topic in the open so we can come to a consensus and find the best answer between our opposing positions.

      All of that said, my players and friends aren't as open to discussing politics as I am. It makes many of them uncomfortable and as a result we avoid the topic at the table.

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