On thing I often hear from people when I discuss the diversity and expanding the range of our hobby is :
“Well I’m afraid that I’ll get it wrong, or that I’ll be accused of appropriation. I’ll get it wrong and then people will call me a racist/sexist/etc.”
I get that fear, but it’s pretty irrational for two reasons:
1) Gaming is just not that diverse. There aren’t a ton of people from these groups that you’d be hearing from in the first place! Most PoC I know see media that we think is offensive and we roll our eyes, complain about it to each other, and go about our business. Who has time to educate and argue with people who are clearly uninterested in learning? How do I know they are uninterested in learning? Because….
2) Too frequently, criticisms based on culture are treated as invalid. Less valid than a complaint about mechanics, or a complaint about typos or any number of things. I see publishers savaged for things I consider far less important, but I see publishers bend over backwards to appease these. It is interesting when you posit that something could be culturally insensitive that the first thing that happens is now someone’s explaining to me how I don’t understand, and they don’t see, and now I’m the asshole trying to explain color to someone who doesn’t see color. Any complaints go immediately to how the person claiming the offense is actually the one inflicting harm, or is silly or stupid or politically correct ,etc. When this happen I know that it wasn’t a good-faith effort because the person in question is not actually taking in new information.
To be fair, I do see these feared blow-outs on occasion, but almost always these are proxy complaints. By proxy, I mean it’s often people not in the “aggrieved” group making a fuss. I get why that happens but that’s not a reason I’m going to accept for why people otherwise motivated to venture forth and make gaming material with a different perspective and possibly accessible to a new audience. If you can’t hear me explain to you why this thing you did misses the mark without instantly making it about your hurt feelings, I can’t accept that you were ever truly moving beyond your boundaries.
And hey! That’s fine. Build what you want, but don’t make excuses. Just say you are interested in making other things. There is a whole list of stuff I’m not interested in making, and I’m not going to apologize for it. But I’m not going to blame phantom causes for it either.
Still with me? Are you really interested in expanding your boundaries and making games about other cultures that aren’t just reskins of D&D? Cool.
The first thing we need is humility. You need to accept that you could get it wrong without breaking into cold sweats. You’d think that as a PoC I would feel more comfortable with the material that I’m working on, but I’ll share a secret with you: I’ve spent most of my life terrified of getting it wrong too! It’s not been until fairly recently that I have embraced the basic humility that allows me to risk being wrong without taking it personally. You try to get things right to the best of your ability. Do you flip out at an editor when they correct your grammar, talking about how they can’t call you stupid, some of your best friends are punctuation etc? Or do you accept that your work needed to be fixed, honestly try to understand, and move on?
Similarly here. Have humility. Be an arrogant jerk everywhere else but be humble when your work is assessed culturally.
Next: research! I think the links I’ve shown and the work we’ve done this month show plenty of ways you can convert a few hours into a productive bit of research for use in your games. The internet + your public library make this endeavor almost laughably easy, so do that. Get enough information to learn what actually is there. Don’t just fit another culture to your own preconceptions.
Last: read Writing the Other. It’s a great and short read that provides great guidance for when you want to stretch outside of yourself. This is meant for fiction writing, but it’s a very easy port to game design and GMing.
I know I make it sound easier than it is, but getting to it is not complex. It’s hard, but not complicated. Find all the information you can, but accept that you won’t know everything, or that your viewpoint could be obscured by your cultural perceptions. Expand your boundaries. Have fun!