As RPG players and translators, we have often reflected on the importance that the world of role-playing games can have for groups who are often marginalised and discriminated against, and how responsible and attentive use of language is essential to more inclusive representations.
Role-playing games represent a good opportunity to explore aspects of our identity which are frightening or which we have not yet had the courage to deal with in real life. These types of games indeed give us the chance to create a character with the characteristics we wish, and to mould a fantasy world inside which it is possible to have many different personal experiences, and take on challenges and dilemmas within the confines of a safe space.
We decided to talk about it with the representatives of La Gilda, a project which has been involved in role-playing games and inclusivity for many years, and we thank them for the wonderful interview.
Hi! Can you introduce La Gilda to us?
Hi! It’s always a pleasure for us to be able to talk about our project and its history. La Gilda was created back in 2014, six years ago now, as a diverse group of people passionate about gaming and nerd culture who had chosen to get together under the banner of the Cassero LGBTI Center in Bologna, with the goal of creating an inclusive, safe space where anyone can feel comfortable in sharing their passions and expressing their identity. Right from the beginning, role-playing games and board games were wide-ranging tools for community aggregation and socialisation. Over the years the group has grown significantly, expanding both its resources and expertise, and constructing a close-knit network of relationships with many other groups in the Italian gaming community.
What does La Gilda do?
La Gilda operates at various levels. On the local level we organise meet-ups dedicated to board games, RPGs and videogames, held every other Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m. at Cassero LGBTI Center in Bologna. As well as this fixed appointment, we organise other periodic meet-ups and events for the purposes of socialising and spreading nerd culture.
La Gilda has good relationships with some of the major Italian boardgame and RPG publishers: we participate in trade fairs alongside them, demonstrating their games and at the same time bringing our values to the table.
We also organise events in partnership with other gaming associations and organisations, and we are constantly committed to sensitising the Italian gaming community. Finally, over time La Gilda has become a fully-fledged gaming workshop: through Kickstarter we have produced Lobbies, the first LGBTQI+-themed card game in Italy, which continues to give us great satisfaction but is only the first of many projects we hope to bring to fruition.
How does La Gilda bring the LGBT+ community into environments where it is not yet officially represented?
As previously mentioned, we do it by invading the most important meeting spaces for the Italian gaming community with our colour, pink. Pink for us is not just a colour, but rather a value, a political choice of visibility and an historical reference. We also do this in online and virtual spaces through further investigation and sharing of relevant content, for example gender representation in games or discriminatory behaviour at the gaming table.
We do it by creating new games, such as Lobbies, and ensuring that there are openly LGBTQI+ titles on the shelves of gaming clubs and shops. We also do this by gaining the respect of publishers and building relationships with all gaming companies and organisations.
How are the people who represent La Gilda welcomed in these environments?
I have to say that we have rarely been subjected to direct hostility: bigots are often cowards, and don’t have the courage to manifest their prejudices openly. We always claim pride in our identities when we present ourselves. Visibility is our strength. Over time, as we have gained trust and respect as a gaming group and association, we have gathered numerous expressions of respect. The most important feedback, however, remains that of the people who play with us, who feel welcomed and genuinely free, knowing that they are in a space where discriminatory and disrespectful behaviour is not allowed.
Do you manage to communicate with people and groups who are not attentive to the dynamics of inclusivity? Do you think it is also possible to sensitise discriminatory people?
It is possible, and it is one of our goals. La Gilda has chosen gaming as its main tool to generate social and political impact. We want to change the Italian gaming community, we want to help make it more inclusive, more open and united, and this is possible only through widespread sharing of values. Getting together around a table to play games is an action which requires the voluntary sharing of a system of common rules.
A level playing field is established at the gaming table. From this point of view, gaming is an egalitarian tool. Since everyone at the table follows the rules, there a no longer distinctions, for example of gender, ethnicity or perceived income. Gaming is therefore a powerful vehicle, a tool with great educational value, and this is the lever we aim to act on.
In your opinion, can the inclusion of marginalised groups in the stories being told help sensitise and provide the tools for understanding and accepting these groups by those who don’t know them? If yes, how?
Can it help? Yes, not only can it help, but it’s fundamental, essential, and we can’t put it off any longer. Not so long ago, when telling a story, or creating a videogame, the central figure, the main character, positive and heroic, had to be a white, heterosexual male. If the main character was a woman, on the other hand, she was necessarily hyper-sexualised: she was represented with tight-fitting, short clothes: just think of chainmail bikinis!
People whose sexuality did not conform to the hegemonic model were often represented as antagonists, deviants, eccentric and offbeat, or at best comic support characters. This model is wrong and can influence young people, who are bombarded with it from a young age, internalising stereotypes and suffering if they do not recognise themselves in those stories.
A correct representation of diversity is, in our opinion, now essential for a product, whether it is a gaming or entertainment product. Luckily, in the last few years we have seen some good examples, and if we continue on this path, we think it is possible that the younger generations, who have grown up with more liberal and varied models, can build a less discriminatory and patriarchal world.
At times, some players project their beliefs and prejudices into the game, which risks making the game an unpleasant experience for the other players. How does La Gilda manage the topics to deal with so that players feel comfortable and have fun?
For us, it is essential to set up a space in gaming events, meaning a “human space” and not just a physical space, which is completely non-judgemental, non-discriminatory, inclusive and respectful – a space where everyone can feel genuinely at ease in freely and spontaneously expressing their identity. A “safe space” is this and many other things.
Together with other groups in the Italian gaming community, Donne, Dadi & Dati in particular, we have undertaken research and analysis to define the path and the requirements for creating a “safe space”. This includes safety mechanics, for example, tools such as X-card, Lines e Veils and Session 0 for role-playing games.
But we are also talking about behavioural rules, attention, empathy and much more besides. A small and simple example is the coloured stickers we use during our events, which people can write their name on along with the pronoun they wish people to use.
From a linguistic point of view, what choices do you adopt for addressing gamers, player characters or NPCs in an inclusive manner? What do you think about the solutions adopted by some Italian players to neutralise the language – such as the use of an asterisk or U as a gender-neutral way to terminate words?
Thanks for this question, which would require an extremely complex and structured answer. La Gilda promotes the use of an inclusive language, which guarantees the “representation” we were just talking about to all persons.
Italian is a notoriously androcentric language: it does not have a neutral form, plurals are declined as masculine, and it poses a question of indivisibility to us. If we enter a room with 100 people in it, 99 of whom are female and 1 are male, we use the masculine plural when addressing or talking about the people there: the women have become linguistically invisible.
Without going into too much detail, as a group we use both masculine and feminine forms, so we talk about “giocatrici e giocatori” – male and female gamers – and use feminine articles to make grammatically masculine words feminine when using them to refer to females. The choice of using the “political” or “inclusive” feminine form is also common, meaning we use the feminine plural indiscriminately, overturning the Italian linguistic paradigm.
A further refinement of these rules relates to the inclusion of non-binary persons: in this case, the use of neutral forms is preferred, such as “the players”, “the people at the table”, “the person narrating” etc.
Finally, we could talk for hours about the use of asterisks or the at sign to replace masculine/feminine endings. In Italian, their use in written language allows us to express a neutral gender and represents the fastest and most inclusive solution, to all intents and purposes a non-binary termination. The problem with them is that they interrupt the sound of the language – as there is no phonetic translation, they are unusable in spoken Italian.
The -u suffix was introduced precisely for this reason, as it is the only vowel not used in Italian to express a gender termination. Essentially, we believe that it is important to be respectful of others’ preferences, for example making note of the pronoun which the people we are playing with prefer that we use to refer to them. As regards PCs and NPCs, it is up to the person narrating to incorporate and describe their linguistic gender preferences in the game as well.
Can you recommend any games which put forward dynamics other than the dominant ones?
There are many titles which allow us to reflect on topics related to discrimination, gender stereotypes and roles, the role of society towards the individual, and respect for different subjectivities. The tool which best permits us to drive this type of content is undoubtedly the role-playing game. For example, Avery Alder’s Monsterhearts is a queer game which talks about the busy lives of adolescents who are also monsters. Dream Askew, also by Avery, deals with a queer community surviving an apocalyptic scenario. Sagas of the Icelanders is not just a game “about the Vikings” – it also deals with gender roles. In Kagematsu, the gender roles are deliberately overturned. In Sigmata, we see the revolt against a totalitarian regime in a cyberpunk dystopia.
For those looking for something a bit lighter, in Big Gay Orcs we discover that orcs have a tender and passionate side, too. The Italian scene is well represented: Marta Palvarini’s DuraLande is set in a future characterised by a continuous economic cold war, while Stefano Burchi’s Stonewall 1969 tells the tale of a crucial episode in the history of the LGBT movements.
In the boardgame segment, the question is more complex. Publishers have become more attentive lately, we are seeing more diversity. From time to time we also see board games which cover topics that are important to us, such as Fog of Love, which has never been translated into Italian, that presents a love story between two people of any gender. But overall, representation in boardgames is often lacking or not central to the game. This is one of the reasons why we decided to create an inclusive boardgame ourselves which centres on the topic of identity. Lobbies aims to be an ironic and self-deprecating portrait of a colourful, multi-faceted community which celebrates diversity and makes it a founding value, but which is sometimes not without disputes. We decided to look for the funny side of such disputes in the game and create a product which is at the same time both challenging and fun.