The Thoughts #14: Diversity in Fantasy

I always like to think that if I was some kind of published creator (whether it be novel, show, film, etc.), there would be a wide array of characters that are so diverse that it would be a masterpiece of art and would be hailed as the turning point of diversity in media.

And I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre partially because it celebrates diversity by allowing creators to play with all kinds of uniqueness that’s not necessarily found in reality, essentially creating their own worlds, as diverse as they want.

A big takeaway from diversity in media is just getting more of these creators as non-white. Creators of Color, if you will. However, as a consumer, that’s beyond my realm, although I can continue to give my voice, celebrate diversity, and support these creators.

That being said, I’ve found one avenue where I can be a creator (in this context, I create a lot of shit, “everything is art” etc., but a lot of it is consumed by me, myself, and I for my own pleasure. In this case, it’s creating for myself and others).

As you may or may not know, I’ve had the pleasure this month of playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time, and I’m definitely addicted. We can get into the details in another post, but long story short, I’ve been creating my own world to play around in.

As a start, I decided to omit racism from the game, for better or worse. I knew that saying “there’s no racism in this world” would erase a lot of the socio-political intricacies, take away a lot of the struggle, strife, and, dare I say, beauty in overcoming these tribulations. I hate to say this, but it almost felt akin to saying “I don’t see color” and I definitely don’t want it to be that way. Rather, I want it to be an embrace of diversity- a world where your color/race doesn’t matter because it’s not associated with negative stereotypes. I was tired of the idea that, for example, “elves hate dwarves, but aww, how endearing, here’s two of them who are friends.”

This led me to do more research into representation in these types of situations. I looked at the people in my city, the people I see every day, my group of friends, and my D&D group. Diversity abounds and it is glorious! I’ve been lucky in this regard.

I knew I wanted to reflect diversity in the world and I came across a dilemma. I didn’t want to just add people of color for the sake of it. I didn’t want to just thrown in some token people of color to fill a quota. I didn’t want to misrepresent. But then again…it’s my fantasy world, not based on anything at all. And then again, I think of the times I see Asians on TV and I just get so excited because representation is important…and then bonus if they’re a fleshed-out character.

With literature (and imagination), if the race/color isn’t mentioned, it’s up to the reader to imagine how they picture the person. There’s beauty in that. It allows the consumer to envision their world in yours, and there are consumers who imagine these characters as default white. And then what if your novel is made into a movie or show and suddenly everyone is white because well, you didn’t specify. What if I could explicitly force diversity by stating the color of the skin?

We run into a slew of problems, though to be frank, I think they’re all outweighed and solvable in a D&D setting.

“Skin color isn’t important to this character, so why bring it up.” In real novels, I would say the best way to bring this up is through culture. Bring up the culture and describe the character in other ways. Then again, I also think it’s okay to just say, “hey this guy has light brown skin, some freckles, short curly blonde hair, and a square jaw.” Not in those words, because that’s not good for literature (it works for D&D though). Literally, just describe the appearance as is without saying any food metaphors. Skin color is important because representation.

“A lot of authors write what they know.” Yes, this is important. Writers are heavily influenced by the way they were raised and the people they were exposed to. You don’t want to be racist by appropriating, stereotyping, or misrepresenting. That’s hard, but the bottom line is to do research and talk to people different than you to get their perspective. But it’s a shit defense because your book is not just filled with cis straight white men. In terms of D&D, I don’t know shit, so I get to make everything up. I make up all cultures and colors and everything. If you’re making a game and basing it on a real world setting, why not change it up a bit. I don’t get the argument that “this fantasy world is based on this setting so everyone is white.” It’s literally a fantasy world, make it up.

“I’m not adding [this] person just to do it, that would be tokenism.” Is tokenism a word? I don’t know if I’m using that properly in context. But anyway, that’s a nice sentiment. Buuuut, representation matters. Sure, the person is a “minority”, so they’re not the “target audience”, but like imagine if you were that person and you see yourself represented in the media and it’s great. For D&D, everyone’s a fucking token, so deal with it. Everyone has special race, class, what-have-you.

“How do I describe a race without being racist?” Son, describe the culture. Don’t use food metaphors. Literally state the country. In D&D, this is more of a problem, because there are no Asians because there’s no continent of Asia in this fantasy world. How do I plan to represent diversity? Well, I’m still trying to figure this one out, but I think I’m just going to describe the physical traits, as that’s all I can do. I run into the problem of, “well, is race and diversity just changing skin tones?” It’s more complicated than that obviously, so I’ll just have to put in more thought.

My goals are to make a diverse group of NPCs for my PCs to interact with (and for them to not interact with if they never go down that path); and not just that, but to represent them in ways that they are real…not caricatures, not stereotypes, but real people whose lives continue outside the story of the players. They’re dynamic, flawed, amazing people and I hope to bring that to my world. Of course, this expands into diversity in other aspects of life as well (sexuality, income/class, gender, etc.), which weren’t really the topic of this post, but tangentially, they were indeed.

Of course, I would like to hear all your thoughts on the topic as well. I came in to this, admittedly, very confused where I stand. And in many ways, I still am. The best I can do is to try and learn as much as I can about it.

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~ by Btab on 24 September 2016.

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