Sunday, April 8, 2018

Reason Magazine on Dungeons & Dragons

Reason has an article authored by C.J. Ciaramella entitled The Radical Freedom of Dungeons & Dragons. Ciaramella contends that “D&D is a deeply libertarian game.” I’m not convinced, but that’s another argument for another day.

What caught my eye was Ciaramella’s self-contradictory observations about the sexual politics surrounding the game. At one point, he observes:

Although advertisements for D&D in the '70s and '80s always included an obligatory girl player at the table, there was a chauvinistic attitude within the cloistered fraternity of war gamers that lady brains simply weren't wired to be interested in gold and glory. Internal and external surveys from the late '70s showed that the percentage of female players was in the low single digits; one didn't have to be proficient in the "investigation" skill to figure out why girls weren't rushing to play games that included a "harlot table" and where women in the stories were often little more than furniture on which boys could act out their less chivalrous fantasies.

It's an odd assertion. What are the odds that girls or women not playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were familiar with an obscure table buried in one of several appendices in the Dungeons Masters Guide? The table appears on page 192 of 240. And unless one knows where to look for it, it's hard to find, as there's no reference to it in the table of contents or index.

While the Harlot Table may be infamous nowadays, in the 70s and 80s—before the Internet—the only people who would have been familiar with it for the most part would have been those who used the DMG. A lot of the early-D&D-was-sexist talk is like this: it takes contemporary criticisms of the game and retrojects them into the past as if those criticisms were there all along. Can anyone cite a criticism of the Harlot Table as sexist that was made back in the 70s or 80s?

What’s odder still is that Ciaramella identifies an entirely plausible alternative explanation for why girls and women were not playing D&D in large numbers back in the day. In an earlier characterization of the three core books for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, he writes of the game that:

It looked, in other words, like what would happen if you opened up a preteen boy's imagination and dumped the contents on the floor.

Why would a game that resembled “a preteen boy’s imagination” appeal to girls and women to the same extent as boys and men? It wouldn’t, of course, and there’s nothing sexist about that, unless one thinks that a game should or must equally appeal to a preteen girl’s imagination. I don’t. Neither does anyone reasonable.

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