This Is NOT A Game

Let me start by stating one unequivocal truth: Black Live Matter. I’m starting with that, because if you don’t agree, or have some “all lives” retort building up behind your teeth, you can go now. In fact you can go and stop coming back; not only does this piece have nothing for you but this site is not for you.

The Rat Hole is not neutral in this because there is no neutral in this. You are either for the dignity and humanity of Black people or you are not. Remaining silent shows support for the status quo. A status quo which not only prioritizes white people but actively seeks to diminish and harm Black people for our benefit. “But Brent”, you say, “That’s all happening in the States. We’re in Canada, we’re better than that.” Nope, sorry, your copy of Canadian Exceptionalism XP is not supported by this device. And it is definitely not supported by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, folks who understand Canada’s record on anti-Black discrimination considerably better than most of us.

And you can be darn sure anti-Black discrimination has been in our hobby right from the jump. From a dearth of Black creators in game companies to the racial coding of monstrous species in games to maintaining a Eurocentric view except for the instances of cultural appropriation to add something “exotic” to a setting, the hobby has been hostile to any sort of Black presence. It may not have been as overt as “Blacks Need Not Apply” signs, but it was there.

And it’s still here. Yes, arguably, things have gotten better. But when it was so bad for so long, “better” is low hanging fruit. But don’t take my word for it. If you, as a member of our hobby, were going to get all Canadian about it and insist that we don’t have a discrimination problem in the TTRPG hobby and industry, Omega Jones (@CriticalBard on Twitter) hosted the #BlackAF Roundtable, featuring prominent Black creators such as Tanya DePass, Gabe Hicks, Brandon Dixon, Michael Sinclair, Honey and Dice, and Krystina Arielle. You can hear in their own words how the TTRPG hobby is doing as far as Black inclusion (spoiler: not as well as you think). In fact, I encourage you to go do that now and come back when you’re done listening.

Back? Great. So what can we do to help? Listening instead of trying to insert your self into the narrative is a good start. As a white man I will never understand the experiences of Black folx, but I can listen to them, believe them, and support them. Here’s a few ideas on how (and thanks to blacklivesmatter.carrd.co for most of the links):

  • Get Active: Obviously, if there are #BlackLivesMatter protests going on near you, take part if you are able. Show up and be heard, being careful not to speak over Black voices in that space. You may show up thinking you’re going to lead; suppress that. If you are just showing up now, the BLM movement has leaders already, so support them with what they need, not what you think they need. And of course, stay safe. Not just in relation to COVID-19; if you have watched the protests at all you’ve seen by now that the state and police will fight back. Even at the relatively peaceful protest here in Edmonton, there was still conflict with the police, so stay safe.
  • Donate: Times are hard, especially with COVID-19 related layoffs and work shortages. But if you have some cash to spare, donate to organizations supporting BLM as well as mutual aid funds. There are even ways to donate if you have no money; a number of YouTube channels are donating their ad revenue, so just having their videos playing on your screen helps increase their donations. But if you have just $5 I highly recommend buying the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality over on Itch right now. At the time I write this, the bundle has raised $1.8 million, with proceeds split between the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund (Itch is not taking their cut). Not only do you help worthy causes, but get over 740 projects to download and explore. Which reminds me: if you’re a creator, consider adding your work to a donation bundle like this, or organize fellow creators and offer your own bundle.
  • Sign Petitions: There are any number of petitions needing signatures and support, and spending a chunk of time doing just that isn’t nothing. Get your name on as many as you can and remember not to donate to change.org; none of that money goes to the cause the petition is supporting, it stays with change.org. So sign their petitions, but donate directly.
  • Support Black Creators: Follow them on social media, back their projects, buy their work, watch their shows, share their work, projects, and shows to spread the word if you can’t afford to buy them directly (and even if you can). If you’re in a position to hire Black creators, hire them. If you’re in a position to offer services to help them (layout, editing, and so on), do that. Don’t know any Black creators, or know a few and want to know more? Tabletop Mic Drop has a list to get you started, and they’ll be adding to it as time goes on so make sure to check back.
  • Educate Yourself: First, this does not mean going to the nearest Black person and asking them to teach you. Black people don’t have the bandwidth to educate you, on top of everything else they deal with. In the time it takes you to tweet at a Black person to ask a question, that same question could be typed in Google, so do that instead. Or start here. But do not, and I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT place the burden of your education on the Black folx around you. It’s your ignorance, it’s your blank spot, it’s up to you to fix it.

I’m just a writer here at The Rat Hole, so I can’t speak to the specific things this site is going to do going forward to address anti-Black racism in our hobby and industry. I’ll let my boss, Dave, break in at this point with a link to his thoughts, or an actual list of steps. [Editior’s note: I’ve put my thoughts are at the end of Brent’s column.]

But I can certainly tell you the concrete things I will be doing here. First, I commit to centering the work of Black creators in my consumption of games and media in the hobby. This means that, given a limited budget of time and money, I choose to put both behind Black creators first, everyone else second. And second, I commit to highlighting the work of Black creators in my articles here. Full disclosure, not all of my articles here relate to a specific game or project. But when they do I will use my space and whatever reach that affords me to focus on and promote Black creators in the industry.

I’ll be posting more about the things I am doing personally over on my site. The important thing in all of this, I think, is that this is not something which is going away. The sparks for these latest protests, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, are only recent tragedies in a string of tragedy inflicted on the Black community. They reach back into history and stretch before us as well; during the protests there have been more murders and violence against Black folx. It’s easy to stay in the fight when the fight is trending on Twitter. My goal, and you can take this as my third commitment, is to treat this as a marathon, not a sprint, and keep working until we value Black lives as we value our own.

As someone has said, better than I ever could: No lives matter until Black live matter. That is the goal and those are the stakes. Let’s get to work.

This is the part where I could put a disclaimer that Brent’s thought do not represent our site blah blah blah. Except they really do.

Brent is truly a social justice bard, and while we don’t always completely agree with his every position, I can’t think of the last time we outright disagreed. What he writes, has legitimately been a major factor in the policies I set for The Rat Hole. One of those policies has always been to put as few editorial restrictions on my team as possible and rarely have I ever asked them to put on kid gloves in their writing.

But this isn’t about Brent, nor is it specifically about me. It’s about listening to other people’s voices and supporting them. Brent and I often have different opportunities to use our privilege. Where Brent can seek out diversity, I rarely know who’s at the other end of a game sent to us. That being said, whenever possible I will always choose to support companies that support marginalized creators and there are numerous projects I’ve declined to review because the people involved do not feel the same.

I took a moment to look at my queue of games that we are working on. Of the companies and creators I have interacted with in person, I can say that they are a diverse group representing a large spectrum of nationalities, gender identities, sexual orientation, and racial backgrounds. I can not say for certain if they have Black creators involved, but I can be certain they have not intentionally excluded them.

Similarly, when I think about the projects I’ve looked at for other things, the only Black creators I can pinpoint are Anthony Moore of Limitless Comics, whose work I recommended before every knowing the colour of his skin, and the author Minister Faust. (So, if you are looking for Black creators those are a pair to check out for sure. Limitless Comics even has a Kickstarter campaign running right now!)

I say all of that not to focus on me, but to point out the systemic failure of gaming and creative industries. Last week The Rat Hole limited our social media output because there were more important things being said and I didn’t want to contribute to diluting those important messages. Whether that makes me a good ally for listening or a bad ally for not being vocal enough is not for me to say. I know for certain that I have not always been the best ally, but I will always do my best to be a better ally. I hope you feel the same, and do what you can to support change and a more inclusive future.