Gaming Gatekeeping and “Ableism”

Black Knight Security: The finest unnecessary gatekeeping this side of Camelot. No coconuts necessary…

If you’re reading this, role playing games are for you!

Here at Angel’s Citadel, we try pretty hard to remain (mostly) about the games. We want to make sure that the stories we all like to tell take center stage in our focus, and I think, for the most part, we do a good job. Lately, however, there are some issues that have come up in the greater gaming community that have weighed on Josh and I. We’ve talked about them together… extensively (because that’s what we do) and after quite a bit of deliberation, have decided to add our voices to the discussion. Last week, I talked about Roleplaying Safety Tools and Consent in gaming. Today, I’m bringing up the text hot topics. Gatekeeping and what people are referring to as ‘Ableism’. 

Gatekeeping: I’m not talking about computers, I’m talking about the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something. “None shall pass.” – Black Knight, Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail. If you think I’m making fun of the habit… I am. The only thing I can think of that would be funnier was the scene from Robin Hood Men in Tights with Little John and Robin of Locksley. “Pay the toll to cross the bridge into gaming.” Of course, the toll varies depending on who is holding the bridge.

Despite my puns, it’s not always so blatant. In some cases it’s the “I play the game this way and this is the best/only way to play.” Similarly, here’s another example, “If you’re playing the game RAW (Rules As Written) you’re wrong,” or “If you’re not playing the game RAW, you’re wrong”. Even if everyone is having fun, you’re wrong. No, that’s not a exaggeration, I’ve seen both sides of the RAW argument presented as being the only way to play properly. I’ve seen it, I’ve read it, I’ve watched a few live streams that did it.

Of course, it’s more than just how you play the game, it’s often the cliques, the ones who never really left high school behind. Those that bear their years of gaming as a badge and a reason for their behavior. Gatekeeping isn’t about race, sexuality, location or ability, it’s about preventing or blocking other people from being able to enjoy the game, or chiding them because they want to play the game differently. In the end, those that gatekeep are truly hurting themselves the most, because there are plenty of others out there that will welcome the new players with open arms. This leaves the gatekeepers in their only little fiefdoms with the few that agree with them.

Why is gatekeeping really so bad? Well, other than the fact that acting that way often discourages people from playing the game. Which in turn reduces the number of players and future GMs. It also reduces the bottom line for companies for specific games. Games that people could be buying and would be buying if they had the chance to play and enjoy. That favorite game enjoyed most… it won’t stay on the shelf, get a new edition or even get expansions if there is no money coming in. A company, or even an indie isn’t going to develop if there’s no Return on Investment. That means, games grow old and stale.

Ableism and Gatekeeping: Now, I’m going to poke this very touchy subject with a sledgehammer, or maybe just a ten-foot pole, depends on how people take what I say. Disabled characters – from the combat wheelchair to the blind characters. Just because a person isn’t, doesn’t mean they can’t. I mean, unless you’re going to convince me that you’re four foot tall with a massive beard and live in a mountain (dwarf) or a wandering forest dweller with pointed ears and live for centuries (elves) Then there is absolutely NO reason a person can’t play a disabled character. They deserve to have fun playing what they want to play. It’s not ‘cultural appropriation’ nor is it a ‘slight’ towards disabled people, this is people being made aware of the difficulties a disabled person face even today. After all, it took TWO world wars for the US to actually think about disabled people and start offering rehabilitation and it wasn’t until 1990 that the ADA (Americans Disability Act) was passed and signed into law. 

Additionally, on the other side of the argument, there is nothing that says that a disabled individual HAS to play someone without their disability. If your world is not big enough to contemplate disability, then perhaps you need to take another look at it and ask yourself if you’ve really thought things through. Characters with disabilities do NOT ruin games any more than characters traditionally thought of as “munchkins” do. Now, neither of these arguments is meant to suggest that everything must change or that everything that has come before must be thrown out. It is simply a call for compassion and understanding as people interact with the hobby we all love from whatever space they are in.

The next hot button I’m going to smash: LGBQT+. We’ve avoided this one, mostly because no matter what we say, somebody is going to get pissed off. I have a child that is going FtM. I’m proud of them for seeking what they need to be healthy. I’m not happy about the fact that they’re not protected. No matter what, you are human. So, now when it comes to gaming. Once more, you should get to play what you want to play. If you want to play an asexual male from Waterdeep who adopts small children to help them grow up, more power to you. If you want to play a lesbian who lost her lover to a supervillian and is on a revenge hunt to defeat the hero who didn’t protect her… Go for it. All that matters in the end is that you’re playing together and having fun together. 

Now, I know Josh and I have done a lot of talk about our gaming, what we like, but that’s the purpose of our blog. No matter what, or how we feel, we have consistently stated, ‘If everyone at the table is having fun. More power to you.’ Some people love grid game combat, others don’t. Some people like the freeform of LARPing, others like to run around in the woods and pretend to shoot zombies. We say, have fun with what you do, together.  Ultimately, I’ll simply repeat this because it’s important that you understand it: If you’re reading this, roleplaying games are for you! Happy Gaming!

  • Joann Walles

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One thought on “Gaming Gatekeeping and “Ableism”

  1. If I may add my 2¢ on the matter of gatekeeping, it also needs to be said that there’s a difference between letting people know that your game has a target audience and lording your relative power—emphasis on “relative”—over the hobby in your imaginary fiefdom. Or to put it another way, tabletop gaming can be for everyone without every game needing to be all things to all man. And if anyone from Evil Hat is reading this, just because the giants on whose shoulders you stand weren’t saints doesn’t mean they need to be buried.

    As for playing disabled characters, some games are going to present a greater challenge than others simply by virtue of being set in the kind of world that eats badasses for breakfast (not to mention the fact that TTRPGs are typically built on the assumption that your character is a cut above the rest). That said, if the player and I can find a way to make it work and they understand what challenges may await them and are okay with it, I say “roll initiative!”

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