|Don't pretend you don't know who I'm talking about.|
Fast-forward to just a little bit ago. Nike, the colossal sportswear corporation named for a goddess of competition and victory, chose Kaepernick to be the face of their recurring "Just Do It" campaign that they've run for years now. The idea behind the campaign is to feature inspirational figures, and by choosing Kaepernick Nike pretty much backed what a lot of detractors refer to as the "SJW horse" in this race.
Why did they do that?
Well, it isn't because Nike is a high-minded entity with a bleeding heart who agrees with the spirit of Kaepernick's protest. Let's not forget that this is a massive corporation who still uses child slave labor to save on production costs while fattening their profit margins on overpriced tee shirts and shoes. Nike is in the business of making money, and its marketing and PR team is tasked with finding every possible way they can make themselves look good, increase their social currency, and keep people buying their products. Their marketing wizards cast the bones, crunched the numbers, and their conclusion was that in order to endear themselves to the younger generations of buyers (the ones that will be making them profits for the coming decades), it was a smarter move to endorse Kaepernick in a showy way than to come down in opposition to his protest, or to ignore him entirely.
And you know something? It worked. While there were viral videos of people burning their shoes or mutilating their shorts (Nike products they'd already paid for, mind you, so it had no effect on the company's bottom line), the real numbers were in their stock price and sales. Nike made huge sales in the immediate aftermath of this decision, and though there were a lot of existing customers who swore never to buy their products again, those customers were replaced several-fold by new ones who swore to buy Nike products today, tomorrow, and for years to come.
What Does This Have To Do With Tabletop Games?
I told you that story to tell you this story.
You see, hardly a day goes by where I don't see at least one gamer shouting in a forum or on social media about how RPG companies are, "ramming political correctness down our throats!" Examples of this typically include having multiple important depictions of non-white, non-male characters, references to a wide variety of sexualities and genders, and generally changing up the white male hero mold that's been standard since Tolkien. This happens in particular when it's announced that Dungeon and Dragons may have elves who can transition their sex, or when Paizo releases an adventure path where there's a sidebar about the half-elf bartender and her wife.
And these frustrations are typically met with a trumpeting war cry, "Who cares about any of this!?"
|Aside, you know, from characters who are all about justice and inclusion?|
From the perspective of the angry gamer, no one could possibly care. This is all just niche fluff that companies are wasting their time with. However, the real answer to, "Who cares?" is, "All the people invested in these issues, and who make buying decisions because of that."
The truth is that by including these elements that so many gamers object to, RPG companies are making a point to include things that were never previously seen in mainstream games. Things which are often ignored or left out by their competitors. This differentiates them, adds a unique selling point, and it sends up a signal flare to gamers who may have some of these qualities, and who wish they could get more representation in the medium. Gamers who think it's just dandy that lesbian elves can now just exist without being there for titillation, or as a running joke. Gamers who want to see characters who look like them, but who aren't a limited-edition, because-this-isn't-a-fantasy-European-setting option. In short, by including this bigger variety, RPG companies are increasing the size of their audience by increasing their in-game, in-world representation. They open doors to players who may feel unwelcome, and assure them that it's perfectly fine for them to play characters who aren't traditional fantasy mainstays.
Maybe these companies do it because they do, in fact, have a political agenda they're backing. Maybe they do it as a cynical cash-grab because they know it gets them attention and makes them more appealing to a bigger audience, and increases their sales volume. Whatever the reason, though, companies make decisions like this based on ROI; return on investment. Hell, that's one reason I put characters of varying ethnicities, genders, and sexualities in 100 NPCs You Might Meet in a Tavern. Because by explicitly acknowledging these aspects in your game, it both offers representation, and makes the thing you wrote stand out from the pack of competing products.
So if you are one of those gamers who threatens to jump ship, burn your books, or never buy products from a particular company again because too many NPCs were women, were gay, or had a specifically non-Caucasian appearance, remember this; there are plenty of other people who are buying it, otherwise they wouldn't make those decisions. By all means, be bothered by it, but realize that companies generally don't care about a screed left on Facebook. They care about numbers, and as long as your no is worth less than a dozen other people's yes, give me all of it, this direction of being specifically inclusive is not going to change.
And while you're thinking about that, maybe stop for a moment, and ask why you're so bothered by these things. After all, they haven't said you can't play the character you want to, so what's the big deal?
That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully it gave folks something to think about. If you'd like to see more of my work, then take a look at my Vocal archive, or just click my Gamers profile to see only my tabletop stuff. Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I'm always working with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and players alike!
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