Accessibility as an ideal is more than readability

Continuing on the cool RPG blog carnival topic from Jacob Wood at Accessible Games, I want to talk a bit about an ideal of accessibility I don’t think we focus on enough in our roleplaying. And that’s encouraging the appearance of differently-abled characters in roleplaying worlds.

Accessibility is more than just making sure a product is readable and usable by the widest possible portion of your target audience. I think it is also about encouraging the representation of some of those same audience members in our game worlds. By inserting such folks into our stories, we make our worlds more inclusive, which hopefully brings more folks to play and use our products at their game tables.

Not all of us are blessed in the same ways with physical and mental capabilities, but the vast majority of characters we find in our game worlds are blessed with super strength or agility, magical powers, amazing technology, and more. We play heroes as larger than life to get away from our own limitations. I think that there is room for more diversity.

Let’s look at some examples from popular culture…

Bran-stark-and-hodor-issac-hempstead-wright-and-kristian-nairn-helen-sloanPerhaps you run across a character like Bran Stark from Game of Thrones, who lost the use of his legs in an accident (or you run across Hodor, a simple soul who does whatever he can to keep Bran safe). Or maybe you run across someone like Professor Xavier in the X-Men who also lost the use of his legs (though through a few variations in comics and the movies over the years, depending on which incarnation you read or watch). Daredevil falls into the same category. Or Stephen Lang’s “Waldo” – a wheelchair-bound former Regent of the Clippers for Baron Quinn on Into the Badlands on AMC. Or you come across a blind man such as Zatoichi, the blind blademaster, or a blind monk such as One Hundred Eyes on the TV series Marco Polo.

All of these characters have adapted to their disabilities and moved beyond them or adapted from birth. Similar characters might be fun to play in a campaign as well.

I would also like to see a more open approach to sexual preference or orientation in campaign worlds. It’s definitely portrayed to dramatic effect in the world of Game of Thrones – but  I think a more open world with characters across the LGBTQ spectrum would be fantastic to see in more published adventures. In my own life I’ve met some wonderful characters in the real world across the spectrum in recent years and would love to see how I can integrate them more into my own worlds.

mh_five_3_100Beyond the realm of physical disabilities and sexual/gender roles, you could also use diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, or even leprosy, to show how people deal with such challenges in a fictional world vs. our own. Would magic be used to eradicate such problems or would the costs be too great to consider broadly applying such remedies? Could governments or businesses use such a situation to their own advantage to further their political or financial agendas? Or would kindness prevail? How would survivors of such maladies adapt to move forward with their lives?

In all these cases, I suspect there would be parts of the fictional population who embrace the differences, caring for folks with kindness and love – and those who shun or destroy them because they don’t want their safe, closed, comfortable worlds and social norms to change. We can’t help but bring human nature into our game worlds. It’s who we are even as we strive to be better.

As GMs and writers, our game worlds should reflect, at least in some ways, the beauty and horror of the worlds we inhabit every day. Including people outside our normal spheres of human interaction would go a long way towards making those worlds accessible to a broader cross-section of human experience.

Please keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that we take it to ludicrous extremes – just that we include those people and experiences that we want to process or express in some way in our games. The Greeks had it right with “Everything in moderation.” Story has to come first, but I wouldn’t want to shy away from such areas if the story called for them.

I’ll emphatically add that it must be done in good taste if it’s done at all. The goal should be to discuss such topics from the point of view of fictional characters in a fictional world – not solving the world’s ills. But by representing such ideas in a safe environment, we can explore different ways of thinking about them – and that in turn may leak into the real world. Being exposed to new points of view may not change our own, but it may make us more accepting of our differences as members of the human race.

I can only hope that by creating an inclusive environment that we include a larger cross-section of people in our gaming, making our hobby and our relationships stronger in the long run.

Yes, I understand that this is accessibility in the broadest sense of the world, but I think it needs to be included as part of the conversation.

Thanks for listening. And thank you Jacob for opening this great topic! I’m not sure you expected my points of view as part of the discussion, but I am enjoying writing about these ideas!

Interested in contributing to this blog carnival or hosting your own? Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips fame is hosting the carnival archive these days and has a list of what’s coming next!

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