The round of atrocities which have led to wide-spread protests in support of #BlackLivesMatter and defunding police, also caused the TTRPG industry to take a hard look at its history of systemic anti-Black racism. Many companies, streamers, and other hobby notables were quick to show their support, helping to raise funds and outlining tangible ways in which they were going to move forward in support of Black people in the industry. But one voice was conspicuous in its absence.
Finally, on June 1, weeks after the protests began, Wizards of the Coast tweeted out their response from the D&D account. For anyone expecting full-throated support in line with so many other, earlier, TTRPG industry messages, the post seemed more like a, “Oh, by the way…” No where did it actually say Black Lives Matter, instead landing closer to All Lives Matter in it’s blandness. It was a statement long on sentiment and short on specifics, disappointing given how long it took for WotC to release a response in the first place. (In order to be fair, WotC did send a linked tweet with the BLM hashtag…twenty minutes after the initial tweet went out. So at least somebody though that was important, if only as an afterthought.)
Since then WotC has done a few things that seem to show active support; they hosted a fundraising stream featuring Black creators, charity bundles were pulled together on DM’s Guild, and their twitter account was RTing a number of other BLM events and initiatives. Still, this was all facilitating other folx actions; helpful, but amongst all the promotion for D&D Live and various Magic: the Gathering events, I waited to see some direct action from the company itself. I mean, in this same amount of time Itch and the TTRPG community were able to raise over $8 Million dollars. Surely WotC, backed by a major corporation like Hasbro, could manage something of a similar scale?
Fast forward to June 17, when WotC tweeted out another statement. While it might have appeared they were doing little, that was because they had been listening. Okay, not a bad thing, listening is the first step to learning. And in a linked page on their website, WotC laid out what they learned and what they were going to do about it. I’ll let you read it yourself.
My overall impression is that, while it gives the appearance of being much longer on actions than sentiment, it’s a lot of stuff the community has been asking for since well before the current protests. Criticisms of the biological determinism embedded in D&D go back years and decades, and when WotC is finally stirred to action? They’re going to do better in future books, fix problem areas in specific current books when they reprint them, and will release a supplement to fix the core character build process. The first one should be a given, and is arguably the lowest bar to clear given their track record. The second is great, and has apparently already been done for a few books, but no mention of what they’re doing for folks who already purchased the books (apparently there is something happening for those folx, but it should be on the statement page, don’t make people hunt to find it).
The last one, however, raises red flags for me. Why a supplement? Why not just update the core rulebooks in the same way you are doing with other sourcebooks? If they truly believe this is the path forward, why create a “separate but equal” set of rules that will inevitably cause issues in the community going forward. Any long time gamer can tell you, “supplemental” rules are optional rules. If they aren’t wholeheartedly adopted by WotC and incorporated into the DM’s Guild and Adventurer’s League, then this is just performative and WotC is trying to have their cake (that they didn’t even bake) and eat it too.
Now, let me take a moment to extend legitimate praise to WotC for hiring sensitivity readers for their upcoming work. That is an excellent step, and while it should have been done much sooner, the fact that they have done it is a positive sign. Hopefully it is something which continues once attentions wain.
The statement ends on a seeming commitment to hiring more diversely, which on its face would seem like a positive thing. And certainly a more diverse freelancer and staff pool is a good step. But there has been no mention of dealing with any of the systemic issues inside WotC/Hasbro’s office culture, issues which have led directly to some of the problems WotC is arguably trying to fix. As well, WotC and Hasbro continue to be silent in the face of calls to fire Mike Mearls and fix their harassment problems. So any diverse folx hired are coming into an environment which does not appear to value them enough to protect them, or support them with an equally diverse management.
On top of that, no where does this statement mention the faint bit of action present in the June 1 statement, the promised donations to three agencies. By now someone in the Finance area at WotC/Hasbro should have been able to blow the dust off a calculator, figure out a number and a sufficiency of zeroes to follow it, and be able to announce it. That they haven’t at this point, while instead pushing third party initiatives through DM’s Guild and DnD Beyond, concerns me.
I have tried to be optimistic when it comes to WotC/Hasbro. In the face of everything I hoped they might actually take some sort of action befitting an industry leader. They were so proud of all those survey numbers they talked about a few months back, after all; all those folx playing their game, how wide their impact is spread. I’ve been waiting for a roar befitting a dragon. But in this time of crisis, with people in the community they so proudly tout facing bigotry, hatred, and in some cases, death…well, we get this.
But hey, it’s a start. At least they’re still listening, right?
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