Heard of Roll Inclusive? Well, if you read German and are invested in diversity in games, there is a Kickstarter campaign to produce a 320 page essay collection about and by marginalized people in the gaming community. Covering topics ranging from representation, the affects of stereotyping, world-building without enforcing harmful stereotypes, and more, the book will have at least 17 essays from as many contributors. The Kickstarter funded after 6 hours, and they’re now unlocking extra content and nano-games as stretch goals. While they are currently only producing the book in German, they’d like to look into getting it translated into other languages eventually.
Frank Reiss, one of the editors, took the time to answer a few questions about the project and his own gaming journey.
What inspired your love of gaming (assuming you love it, of course)?
I’m a tabletop roleplaying gamer and videogamer for about 25 years now. What I really loved about RPG (both analog and digital) was the huge possibilities of stories to tell and the ability to take part and have an influence on (at least parts of) those stories. Especially in tabletop RPGs, there simply was no limit on what kind of worlds to experience and characters to play, that got me hooked right away. I played a lot of classic fantasy TTRPGs like the German flagship Das Schwarze Auge, but then at some point switched to other games like D&D, Shadowrun, Numenera, among others. My preferences in RPG evolved over the time, while my general love for the hobby remained unchanged. Even today, what I love most about RPGs is the ability to tell any story you like to, create worlds, societies and characters that are only limited by your imagination and can be as remotely or as vastly different as you like from anything you experience in your everyday life.
What spurred your foray into the game industry?
For the most part of my gaming career I was just a player or game master for TTRPGs in my home group. Only in the recent 1-2 years I became a little more involved with the gaming scene by connecting with peope via social media. Even then, I simply went to conventions and met new people. A year ago, I began to discover more and more web articles, blogs, panel talks and the like on representation of marginalized people in RPGs. As as queer person myself I immediately got interested in the topic. At that time I knew a lot of indie-rpgs that dealt with queer themes (like Monsterhearts 2) or tried to get good representation of marginalized folk in their mainstream products (Numenera or D&D 5 for example), but the overall lack of recognition of this important topic, especially here in Germany, inspired me to seek out people who shared the interest in changing that. Roll Inclusive is the first project I work on as a professional writer and editor (I work as psychotherapist and supervisor in my everday life). I’m also writing my first contribution for a German fantasy RPG at the moment and if people like my work, there may be more in the future 😉
How did you come up with this project idea?
The lack of good representation in rpg products was something I noticed over the course of my gaming career, although for a long time, that was “normal” for me. As part of a marginalized community myself I didn’t expect to be represented in the media. That expectation changed a lot when videogames like Dragon Age or Mass Effect allowed same-sex romance option or there were games like Gone Home that focused on queer experiences. RPG like Numenera which explicitly took a stance for diversity in their game worlds. I then began to realize that the claim for adequate representation is something I can expect even from mainstream publishers. With two like-minded people that became friends over the course of this project, Aşkın-Hayat Doğan and Judith Vogt, we hosted the first German panel on diversity at a convention last year. The feedback was (against our initial expectations) overwhelmingly positive, so we wanted to do more. That lead to the idea of a collection of essays on diversity and representation in tabletop roleplaying games. We contacted lots of authors (many with diverse backgrounds themselves) and now we are 14 people contributing to this project, each one writing from their perspective (as people of color, as queer people, as people with disabilities,…) and from their professional backgrounds (as historians, as illustrators, as psychologist, as social worker,…). The project went live on Kickstarter last week and funded in under 6 hours, which was something we never expected to happen.
What are you hoping for most with this project?
I (and I think I can say that for my co-editors Aşkın and Judith as well) hope the project raises awareness for the need of good representation in the German RPG community and in people working for publishers as well. I now there a people who do not see the need to explicitly include marginalized people in their products or in the stories they tell at their home games. With Roll Inclusive we wanted to make the hobby more welcoming and accessible to everyone, not just to people who have been part of the community for decades. We also think that playing rpgs (like watching movies, reading comics of playing videogames) can change the outlooks people have on marginalized folk, so Roll Inclusive is also a way for us to support acceptance and inclusion from our niche in society.
How has your personal identity shaped the games you create?
As I do not have much experience as a professional writer yet there is little I can share at this point. When I am designing for an rpg product or preparing sessions as a gamemaster for my home games I try to feature a good amount of diverse characters with different ethnic backgrounds, genders and the like in important and relevant roles. My goal is to kind of normalize the appearance of marginalized people in stories by putting people with all kinds of diverse backgrounds in positions of power. They have to be part of our stories despite the fact that they are in some way different from the dominating group of people in game worlds.
Anything else you would love to share?
At this point our project funded and we unlocked a whole lot of stretch goals. That is amazing and I think it shows the interest but also the necessity for us gamers to talk about representation, inclusivity and how we can make the ttrpg hobby a safer place for everyone. Nevertheless I really hope we can recruit more people to the cause, even inspire publishers to think about inclusion in their products. Maybe not just by including a diverse cast of characters in their products but also by thinking about publishing formats for people with disabilities, by making conventions safer spaces or by actively recruiting more diverse authors.
As of January 31, there are 27 days left on the Kickstarter, and they are currently 250% over their initial goal.
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