For almost three decades, Dana Ebert has been immersed in the world of tabletop roleplaying games.
It began when Ebert and her brother stumbled upon a Dungeons & Dragons set from the 1980s tucked away in a closet. What kept her playing all these years was the freedom the game provided through its narrative gameplay.
“Storytelling is such a powerful medium for self-discovery,” she said.
Ebert is a co-founder of TPK Brewing, a brewery dedicated to tabletop roleplaying games opening in the spring in East Portland. It is also queer and BIPOC women-owned, with a goal of creating an inclusive and diverse space for Portland’s brewing and gaming culture.
She also thinks that the culture of roleplaying gaming is starting to change, opening up commercial and creative avenues for underrepresented enthusiasts who didn’t always feel welcome at the table.
“Large publishers are starting to diversify their pools of content creators and artists,” she said. “We’re seeing more diverse and inclusive artwork, and more situations where people of color are being invited to tell their own stories and participate equally in world-building.”
Amanda Cote is an assistant professor of media studies and game studies at the University of Oregon. She says because games were often marketed to young boys and men, it becomes harder for marginalized groups to fit within the community.
“Defining oneself as a gamer when you don’t fit the stereotypical identity of such can be a challenge,” Cote said.
In 2012, Cote interviewed women who identified as gamers. She found that while many enjoyed online gaming, they faced sexism and harassment. When she conducted follow-up interviews a few years later, she found that three-quarters of respondents who had never played the classic tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, had now taken it up.
Cote explains that because these women were playing the game in person, it changed their experience compared to online gaming.
“They had a little bit more control over who they played with,” she said. “If something negative happened, they could talk that out with other players and come to a solution.”
In the past, Ebert has written for Pathfinder, an offshoot of Dungeons & Dragons, and is in charge of gaming programming at TPK Brewing. She says a vital part of inclusive storytelling is for writers to be conscious of biases they may have.
“Older women in fantasy shouldn’t always be witches, just like nonbinary or gender-fluid characters shouldn’t always be robots or aliens.”
Dana Ebert and Amanda Cote joined Think Out Loud to discuss diversity in gaming. You can find the full conversation here: