Over at the Hero System discussion boards, there’s been a long-running thread asking whether “people of color play role-playing games?” One vignette from a black gamer really struck me, and it’s full of grist for the social science mill:

IMHO, the reasons we don’t play is:

1. We don’t want to be a geek or an outsider. It is a social death sentence. The peer group is incredibly important. And so is a hard appearance.

2. When I started gaming, there wasn’t any black iconic characters, fantasy literature, major black characters in comics or sci-fi. There wasn’t much, if anything, representing us.

3. Usually you are introduced to the hooby by a friend or family member. Since you did have a black friend playing, odds are you weren’t going to play.

At least for this black gamer, there was a high cost of deviating from the norm of his sub-culture:

The black kids in my neighborhood resented me because I was singled out for special treatment. I would get to the local school and go into a special area with the rest of the “gifted” kids to await the bus that would take me to my actual school. And since I was the only black kid on that bus, I would hang around and socialize with the white kids there. This got me labeled as a sellout and token and all the other demeaning labels. Some of the neighborhood kids’ parents stopped inviting me to parties and gatherings, because my mom was supposedly “making us white”. To make things worse, because of the busing situation, my friends lived several miles away, so seeing them on a regular basis was not going to happen.

But the flip side is also mixed. While dealing with other non-black gamers, I have had to endure casual racism, stereotyping, and gross underestimations of my intelligence. But I love the hobby, so I continued.

In my book, that’s a happy ending. And I’m confident that the internet is going to make life a lot easier for the next generation of nerds of all races.