Black Representation in the DND Nerdspace (and why I’m hesitant to play)
When you think of tabletop role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, what image comes to mind? Obese, acne ridden men huddled around a table in their mother’s dimly lit basement? The cast of Critical Role? The kids from Stranger Things?
My love of tabletop games started my junior year in college. I was at Barnes and Noble. I had just finished looking through the comics section and made my way up to the front of the store. Waiting for my friends, I began to absent mindedly browse the games section until one of the games, caught my eye. Dice Throne. I picked up two of the rectangular boxes and read the back.
On the bus ride back to campus, I told my roommate at the time, Im gonna get that game and we’re gonna play it. It looked so cool.
Now in my senior year of college, I frequently invite my friends over for game night. Almost every Saturday night, we play a variety of tabletop games, all from my budding game collection. 5 Minute Dungeon, Dungeon Mayhem, Munchkin, Here to Slay. All DnD adjacent games. Now with all that in mind, you may have some questions like: WThy bring all this up? Why tell us about your board game addiction? What does any of this have to do with DnD or representation?
That anecdote ties into the main topic of this article, the main question I have been asking myself for a while, Why haven’t I taken the plunge and gotten into DnD? If I like games similar to DnD, that have elements of DND in their gameplay and esthetic, then why not go out and buy a starter kit and play already. The short answer is simple. I don’t have enough friends.(That was a joke btw.) It’s because black people don’t play DND.
Now, before you go into the comments saying that you have black friends that play DnD or you are a black person that plays DnD, let me explain myself first. I want you to go to Youtube and search “black people DND”, I promise you the first video you going to see is All Def Digital’s video, Black People play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time, followed by a sketch by Key and Peele about DnD, and finally two videos with panels of Black DnD Content Creators. The rest are gonna be miscellaneous videos about DnD but not specifically showing black people playing DnD. This is the problem. This is my issue. This is why I haven’t played DnD yet.
The lack of representation in this corner of nerd culture is wild to me, because when it comes to various other fandoms in nerd culture from those into comics and manga, to Japanese anime and American cartoons, to video games, and to those who love hearing about the latest MCU or DC Universe tv show or movie coming out, there’s usually always someone that looks like me in those spaces.
Being both a student who’s majoring in Mass Communications with a Concentration in Broadcast Media and a budding content creator, I tend to pay attention to what’s happening on Youtube as well as other new media platforms. I currently run a podcast called the Anything. Period Podcast, where my cohost and I talk about the importance of representation as well as other nerdy, geeky, things we’re passionate about. Now that that shameless plug is over, I wanna get to the meat and potatoes of what I’m trying to say in this article. After playing all those DnD adjacent games, I wanted to dip my toe into the world of DnD. I looked online for videos of campaigns and podcasts to listen to. After some time, it became clear to me that there were very few, if any, BIPOC(Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people in these campaigns aside from celebrities like Terry Crews and Vin Diesel. I just wanted to see people that looked like me playing DnD and enjoying the adventure. It felt lonely and demoralizing. It felt like I was the only one who was interested in playing this interesting and creative game, where you can be and do anything. I felt like throwing in the towel, until I found out about Rollout from UpUpDownDown, WWE Superstar Xavier Woods’ gaming channel.
Seeing Xavier Woods and Ember Moon(to the right of Woods) play DnD week after week made me feel valid in my interests. Not only were they playing DND, but they were genuinely interested and invested in the campaign, which got me even more excited to play the game.
Many times, as black people, when it comes to spaces that we aren’t traditionally dominant in or aren’t shown to be popular in, we tend to avoid it. We are told the only way to make it out from the bottom is to either be good at sports, school, or music. Outside of that expectation, some black kids would make fun of you if you watched anime, or watched cartoons past a certain age, or read manga, or listened to anything other than what was popular at the time, until they found it cool and was popular to do so. I could go on and on, but the point being is that for those kids were were picked on, who were made fun of, they were expected to conform to be what was shown for them to be, and what was expected of them to be, sometimes by their school, by their friends and family, but most importantly by society and the media at large. When I think about the people in my generation, who grew up to be the content creators of today, making content about their favorite anime, video games, comics, etc. , I’m glad. I’m glad because I know how powerful it is to see that there’s people that look like them that are interested in the same things they are. Its inspiring to see them healthily nurture those interests that have and have those said interests validated.
I want to leave you all with this. I got my friends into tabletop games because I introduced them to games that I liked and that I thought were cool. Now, we can’t get enough of Dice Throne, 5 minute Dungeon, and Here to Slay. I helped influence my friends and showed them how fun and cool tabletop games could be. I plan to do that with DnD, whenever I get around to it. To the black people reading this, don’t be afraid to go into spaces seemingly thought to be for white people, aka “some white people s**t”, especially if your interested in it. Secondly, I know we’re always gonna be down for a game of spades and Uno for game night, but don’t be afraid to try new things, even if the people you’re gonna play with give you the side eye. You never know it might just end up being in your game night rotation for years to come.