Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Appealing to Wider Audiences in D&D



Okay, what is wrong with this picture?  Lets count the ways.

* She's not wearing a bra.
yes, she isn't wearing a bra.


* She's fighting two werewolves.
Yes, that's right, she is definitely fighting two werewolves.


* Her figure is very fantastic and not very realistic.
Correct, her figure is fantastic, and so is her outfit.  Also the situation is unrealistic, and caters to men.  No woman would realistically fight two werewolves alone in the woods just to prove her womanhood, even if you asked her too.  If a werewolf is ravaging your house, your wife will scream like a girl and depend on you to save her, no matter how gun-ho and Red Sonja-like she presents herself. 


Okay, so lets talk about Sexism in D&D.  This has become a hot topic for this month.  Sarah Darkmagic has complained that D&D is sexist.  That it caters to one demographic -- white men who can't get a date even when they run around trying to decide who is better: Captain Kirk or Captain Picard.  I'm in that demographic and I find this talk stimulating, but what is the problem?

D&D is based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Norman, Frank Frazetta, Lanhkmar, Michael Moorcock, the Celtic Sagas, the Arthurian Romances, Greek Myth, Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian (there can only be one source for Conan spinoffs, baby!), and the Universal Monster Movies.  Okay, so that's not the problem.   The problem is how Dungeons and Dragons is marketed.  Sarah Darkmagic wants D&D to be marketed to a wider audience and she invokes Sexism to do this.

Why are you complaining that D&D is sexist in it's marketing when it is clear that D&D was originally inspired by the adventure tales of Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars?  Dungeons and Dragons is a quandary for those who are offended by it's art.  Who feel that they face sexism everyday and they want to escape.  But why invoke sexism?  What do you want out of D&D that it doesn't already provide?

Okay, Marketing is a problem.  But really, Dungeons and Dragons wasn't designed to hit the demographic of women that want to escape from Sexism.  It was designed for young men to live out their fantasies in Myth and Legend.  It's not a Romance Game designed for women, it's Dungeons and Dragons.  You go into dungeons, hit your enemy, defeat him and scour the dungeon for treasure.  So, you call for it to appeal to a wider audience.

Well, lets talk about that problem.  Too appeal for a wider demographic, say D&D players of African ancestry, you have to make up a world for them that appeals to them.  Perhaps based on Sub-Saharan Africa.  The first thing to do is get a writer who meets your top priorities -- a game writer that knows all about mythological sub-saharan Africa.

Have him produce a document, and then get artists who can draw sub-saharan Africa competently.  Then lay it out, get it printed, and distributed.  Writing a game setting set just in Africa would be pretty smart.  Not only are you widening your customer base, your traditional customers may buy a copy of the game.  They could set it in their own world and explore a sub-saharan Africa setting like the English and French did in the 19th Century.  While gamers of color would explore a setting they have a vested interest in.  No change there, since you can do anything as to portraying the natives.  beautiful black girls can still wear leopard skin bikinis or more traditional african dress and no one would really complain.

Sorry to bust everyone's bubble, but Atlas Games had released Nyambe: African Adventures for the d20 System.  The only problem, though, it didn't have the marketing power house of Wizards of the Coast behind it.

Perhaps Wizards of the Coast can't be bothered with such a niche product.  However, Nyambe is a complete campaign setting based on Sub-Sahara Africa and it's myths.

It's a setting that blends African myth and legend with high fantasy.  And by all rights, it did a good job.  But it didn't come out of Wizards of the Coast, that's the problem.  So, what about Paizo?

Paizo does have an adventure set in the Mwangi Expanse.  Here it is:

The adventure is designed around an awakened Gorilla and a Gorilla God.  However, all the major human actors are white.  Okay, so it's not a good example.  

What about a D&D campaign that doesn't carry the Sexism against women?  How about a campaign set in a Matriarchy?  Although it will satisfy a lot of women who complain about sexism in D&D, a Matriarchy culture exists only in a few remote centers of the world.  And everything is backwards.  Well, almost everything.  The women rule, and the cultures are generally seen as more egalitarian.  Again, a product Wizards of the Coast won't consider releasing.  A Matriarchal campaign, with a perfect or ideal Matriarchy at it's center, will have to be produced outside both Paizo and Wizards of the Coast.

How about Homosexual gamers?  Why not try to cater to them?  Even though D&D books are filled to the brim with Beefcake (even the Sorcerer, Hennet, looked like he could take on Redgar), focusing around homosexual gamers can be problematic.  What do they want to see to make them feel better?  Yaoi -- which is depictions of light-hearted homosexual relationships, or Guro -- which is much more grittier and can include male on male rape.

First of all, there are marking problems with both of these.  Yaoi, which is lighthearted, is aimed primarily at young women.  You can typically get beautiful men kissing each other and having a fulfilling relationship.  You put this into a D&D book, and you get some confused customers.  They want scenes of adventure, and not two men kissing each other and having a deep relationship with each other in order to fulfill a woman's fantasy.  So, that leaves Guro, where you have more realistic, more mature homosexual relationships depicted.  Really, from a marketing standpoint, do you really want to sell D&D books with this sort of imagery inside them?

D&D sells better with images like this:



Not this:



But this is how to market D&D better to appeal to a wider audience?  What steps can we take to make women, black gamers, and homosexual gamers feel better?  Well, if you try to make D&D appeal to everyone, it won't sell, ever.  You are lumping everything in, and the end result is a mishmash that won't taste good and will probably not appeal to anyone.

However, the Black Gamer market is definitely worthy to cater to with the existing D&D books.  All Wizards of the Coast can do is create a Sub-Saharan Setting, make it Black gamer friendly, and market it.  Sub-saharan Africa doesn't have to be a niche product, it can be a core product.  And even white gamers would buy a product if: the number of white actors in art is kept down to a minimum -- or even taken out entirely.  Wizards of the Coast can enlarge it's customer base if it does the demographic research among black gamers and white gamers.  Check to see if caucasian customers would buy such a product, and produce it and market it for 5th Edition.  I bet the customer base would increase.

Now about those that scream Sexism in D&D.  First of all realize that it's not only women who are discriminated against in the new Dungeon Punk style -- men are also.  Wayne Reynolds draws men with in human musculatures -- i.e. BEEFCAKE.  The style is so inhuman that his men look not in proportion.  Every time I look at one of Wayne Renolds' men, I have a dissonance disconnect.  Then there is CHEESECAKE in D&D, and it's over emphasized with the Dungeon Punk style, thats true.  But in Second Edition D&D, there is always good examples of women who aren't always there as eye candy.

So, instead of making a niche product that is based on the idealistic matriarchy (and that's putting it over the top), how about hiring a more varied artist base?  By having a varied artist base, you can't always guarantee that cheesecake will go away; but you will get less sorceresses in loin cloths and more women in full armor, or full dresses, or fully clothed. 

Finally, there is Homosexual Men.  If homosexual gamers are into yaoi and are more pleased by yaoi stories, they wouldn't be gaming in Dungeons and Dragons.  Homosexuals into yaoi are looking for something different.  They want deep character stories where the boys share their love at the end, than going into Dungeons and beating up on goblins.  That leaves Guro imagery. However, Dirk Benedict made the call that if the A-Team would be produced today, it would be called "the Gay Team."

So, to appeal to the Homosexual gamer, you need more pictures of male camaraderie. You don't need to dip into Guro -- where you get homosexual sex, sometimes of a rape nature.  And you don't need to dip into yaoi, which depends on deepened Character stories and caters more to young women than to homosexual gamers and aren't representative of D&D at all.

Of the three, to appeal to a wider audience, WotC just needs to do three things:

1. Produce a setting based on Sub-saharan Africa and leaving out caucasian genotypes or representing them at a bare minimum and have African genotype characters represented in the art overwhelmingly.

2. Take a more moderate approach to Art and in how men and women are depicted in the D&D books.  Less beefcake and cheesecake, and more realism.

3. Do not do yaoi, yuri, or guro, but put more pictures of an all male team in your books.  Or a team made up of tomboys so as to go for the gay and lesbian demographics.

4. finally, as to the last two, moderation is the key.  Sure, we want to see varied teams, but remember there are those that feel comfortable with a team of men being comrades, and those that are comfortable to see a team of tomboys try to make it in their world.

That's pretty much all that I have to say about it.  However, for those calling for change -- and to Sarah Darkmagic in particular, you have to realize that tons of market research went into D&D.  To get what you want, you also have to realize that market research has to be done.  To prompt such market research, go to GENCON and make yourselves heard.  Tell all your gamer friends to attend GenCon this year (if possible) and show the WotC representatives that people of all kinds play D&D.  Attend the RPGAs, hold games of your own, do everything you can to show that D&D has one true demographic -- the Creative, Scholarly, and Intelligent who want to play games catered to them besides Chess and Checkers.

4 comments:

Bill said...

The one I would question would be the Sub-saharan setting. I don't see the point of creating a whole separate setting when you could just move dark skinned individuals and african themed traditions into an existing setting. More moorish than 'African'.

But I'm not african-american so I can't presume to speak for the population. Probably the best thing a designer could do is ask.

Elton said...

Exactly. The point of the article is to show that if you want change, you can't complain to get change.

"I don't see the point of creating a whole separate setting when you could just move dark skinned individuals and african themed traditions into an existing setting. More moorish than 'African'."

Oh, people, why didn't you buy into Birthright?

Anonymous said...

If you actually knew any women, or gays, or black people, you would know how ridiculous and blatanly untrue your characterizations of what they want out of gaming are.

They want to roll dice and have a good time. Not look at dudes doing eachother.

You really need to stop goose stepping in your basement, and get out and actually meet people.

But we all know that ain't gonna happen with a religious bigot.

Anonymous said...

If you actually knew any women, or gays, or black people, you would know how ridiculous and blatanly untrue your characterizations of what they want out of gaming are.

They want to roll dice and have a good time. Not look at dudes doing eachother.

You really need to stop goose stepping in your basement, and get out and actually meet people.

But we all know that ain't gonna happen with a religious bigot.

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