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A digital artwork with slices of five images arranged in a fan. From left to right they are: a photograph of a character sheet with blue dice and a green pencil, The International Symbol of Access (a blue background with a white stylized image of a person in a wheelchair), a chaotic pile of dice in many colors and styles, splattered rainbow paints with a black and white drawing of a brain on top, and miniature houses with figurines of people in action poses.

A digital artwork with slices of five images arranged in a fan. From left to right they are: a photograph of a character sheet with blue dice and a green pencil, The International Symbol of Access (a blue background with a white stylized image of a person in a wheelchair), a chaotic pile of dice in many colors and styles, splattered rainbow paints with a black and white drawing of a brain on top, and miniature houses with figurines of people in action poses.

This series aims to identify ableism in the core content of tabletop role-playing games, including game mechanics and central setting elements. There will be brief discussion on the reasons these game elements are a problem. However the focus will be on identifying tools and options for ways that participants can alter these games to reduce or remove this ableism.

I want to be clear that this isn’t about proposing the one correct way to address these problems. Both experiences of disability and game play styles will vary from person to person. This is about people finding options for addressing ableism that work for them.

The first article of this series has been released, and the second is in progress. All of the remaining articles will be expansions of the mini-articles that are currently up in the “Challenges with Game Systems” and “Disabled Player Characters” sections of my “Making RPG Podcasts Accessible” resource document.

  1. Sanity Systems. The concept of insanity is a stigmatizing historic concept that has been largely replaced by the more accurate concepts of mental illness and neurodivergence. Tying a core game mechanic to the concept of “insanity,” and its opposite, “sanity,” gives this stigmatizing concept power that reinforces harmful stereotypes. This article focuses on the many options for addressing this problem.
  2. Ableist Monsters. Traits associated with specific disabilities are regularly used for monstrous and evil creatures. Not only does this reinforce negative ideas about disability, this also results in harassment and mistreatment of people with these traits. This article identifies disabled traits that are commonly part of stigmatizing depictions of monsters and presents a range of options for replacement traits.
  3. Game Mechanics that Treat Disability as a Limitation. Many of the game mechanics that exist for disabled characters create dynamics that reinforce negative ideas about disability. The most common problems are mechanics that fail to represent important experiences of disability, don’t represent disability accurately, create an incentive for players to engage in stigmatizing play, push players into portraying disabilities that they don’t know anything about, and use derogatory language for disability. This article explains where these game mechanics go wrong and discusses different ways to represent disability respectfully.
  4. Preventing Disabled Characters from Being Left Behind with Game Job Descriptions. In progress.
  5. Knowing When Characters Have Disabilities. In progress.
  6. Game Mechanics that Erase Disabilities. In progress.
  7. Creating Empowering Accommodations and Assistive Devices. In progress.
  8. Game Mechanics that Lack Options for Disabled Characters. In progress.
  9. Researching Disabilities. In progress.

6 Responses to “Addressing Ableism in Tabletop Role-playing Games”

  1. Matt Weber says:

    Hi, are you still working on this series? Because I’m a disabled gamer who has a lot to say on the topic of your putative second article, ableist monsters.

    • FayOnyx says:

      Matt,
      Thanks for asking! I am still working on this series. At the moment I have several large projects that I’m in the process of finishing up (including a new version of Magic Goes Awry) that are taking up my time and focus. As soon as that is done I will be coming back to this project.
      I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! One of my goals with this series is to include multiple perspectives and approaches to understanding and addressing these problems.
      Looking forward to hearing more from you,
      Fay

    • FayOnyx says:

      The Ableist Monsters article is up now. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts and experiences.

  2. Robin says:

    I’m working on a game system right now and I want to be sure I address disabilities as well as I can. I’ve certainly had my own challenges but that doesn’t mean i know what other peoples’ experiences have been so this has been very helpful. Thank you. I’m curious about what point number 2 will cover?

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