I’ve been delving recently into some tabletop gaming forum posts from the last year or so, reading discussions on racism and the portrayals of race in RPGs. Naturally, this being the internet, parts of these discussions were crazy insane wankery, while other parts made some points I agreed with or at least mentioned incidents that hadn’t occurred to me (wow, there really were no Asian actors anywhere in Firefly!).
In turn, that led me to think about the photographic art in my recent Corporia RPG and how various races and sexes were presented in the near-future setting of ‘The City.’ I thought it might make a somewhat interesting blog post, so here’s how I approached that part of the design process.
Even in the early design stages, my ideal goal was to show a roughly equal mix of male and female individuals (heroes, villains, monsters, civilians, etc.) from ethnically diverse backgrounds. However, there were some distinct challenges to doing so.
Unlike perhaps 99%+ of published RPGs, I wasn’t using graphic artists or painters to create new art from scratch, in which I could dictate the character model for every piece of art. Instead, to supply the art in Corporia, I relied heavily on actual photographs supplied by various micro-stock photographers around the world (often in Eastern Europe). And because it would have been incredibly cost-prohibitive for me to commission new photographs, setups, and models for each piece of art, I was limited to tracking down just the right blend of existing material from various portfolios.
While I was able to find much of what I wanted to fit the themes (primarily people in business attire wielding swords and firearms), getting a good blend of human races that also fit the theme was more difficult. Even some photos that did fit the theme (such as an African-American man holding a longsword, and a Latina woman holding a tattooed skull) couldn’t be used in the core rulebook because the clothes didn’t fit the section that I wanted to use the photo in, or a text box (that couldn’t be moved) would have covered a significant part of the photo, or some other design-related reason. I went ahead and purchased some of these anyway, and plan on using them in a future supplement.
Occasionally, of course, I’d find a photograph that had a good model with good weapons, but was just boring or had a poorly rendered futuristic or magical effect. Those I simply didn’t bother with.
Sex (i.e., gender) was easier to deal with. After all, most of us males seem to enjoy watching an attractive woman kick ass, and photographers don’t seem to be particularly immune to this trend. However, I also specifically wanted to avoid the classic ‘chainmail bikini’ trope, and have all the women clothed in appropriate attire for the situation. Monsters didn’t always meet this criteria, either because there was body paint involved or because it was appropriate for the situation. The succubus (being a sexual predator) is naturally nude, and the woman turning into a werewolf in her shower is shown more for horror than titillation. There’s also a seamy city district (think the worse parts of Las Vegas) where the photo shows a partially clothed stripper from behind, performing for three private audience members (three men and one woman).
So in the end, if you were to go through each page of Corporia and catalog every human (full body all the way down to just a visible hand, ignoring the same model appearing twice), would you find a perfectly equal mix of fully-clothed genders from all races and continents? Well, no. You’d get this (assuming I didn’t miscount somewhere):
- Men: 79
- Women: 61
- African-American: 6
- Asian: 4
- European/American Caucasian (best guess): 114
- Hispanic/Latin: 2
- Other: 0
- Unknown race (fully clothed head to toe, silhouette, etc.): 14
Hell, I didn’t even come close, even with the best intentions. Of course, restricting myself by budget, by what was available/realistically possible, and by what I just thought looked cool meant that there was no way I’d be able to reach even a semblance of a perfectly diverse ideal for every model. Exactly what that ideal is (for any particular RPG or other piece of media), is too big a debate to have on my little blog. This post was just to share what I did, and how, and why.
Should I have a future project where all the art is illustrated and I have full control over every character model, we’ll see how well I do then. Hopefully much better…