Welcome to the latest installment of Dear Gaming As Women! We invite our readers to asks us anything – and we’ll do our best to offer informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining answers. In today’s letter, a reader wonders about interpreting blindess:
A friend of mine was talking about a character he created for a tabletop RPG. The character happens to be blind, so my friend says he always closes his eyes when he is in character. For some reason this bothered me, but I couldn’t quite explain why. I left it at that, but it made me wonder: how do we create characters that are awesome and interesting and, most importantly, different from ourselves, but make sure to be respectful of people with different perspectives than us?
Elin – I don’t find that he closes his eyes problematic by itself, it’s about how and why he does it. Does he close his eyes as a “funny” thing? That is probably not funny at all and quite disrespectful. But if he closes his eyes to better be able to get into the sensory world and perspective of someone who is blind? Then it might be really respectfully done and be a way to really try to explore how blind people experiences the world a bit differently.
The most important thing for me, to be able to play someone different from ourselves in a respectful way, is to do it in ways that aren’t just reproducing our biases and stereotypes about people. Take a look at Tyron Lannister for example: that character is a complete bastard, but he is a great character. He is a complex, fully fledged character, who is treated with respect. He defies the stereotypes our society has about little people, yet at the same time the series doesn’t make light of the problems little people can face in society (ableism, stereotypes about little people, not being seen as conventionally attractive, etc).
Avonelle – I have a few questions related to the discomfort you describe in relationship to his proclamation. I was playing through all the ways I’ve seen similar situations handled by players over the years, and I came up with a couple of scenarios.
Blind Blackface – You can’t paint your skin and know what it’s like to be African. You can’t put ear plugs in and know what it’s like to be deaf. You can’t emulate the effects of mutism by simply not-speaking. And certainly, if such an exercise is purely for entertainment, or worse, comedic value, I understand being uncomfortable. Perhaps a conversation about how being blind isn’t funny and closing your eyes and groping around dramatically is dismissive?
Heartless Disregard – I can deal with somebody roleplaying a limp or an amputation or other limitation when it’s done thoughtfully and regard to those who live in that reality. I don’t have the same comfort level when the roleplay becomes a caricature, or when it fails to explore the actual challenges faced. Play somebody with a disability, sure. Those citizens of the real world are contributing cast members in our daily life – let them be part of our play life. But don’t abandon the schtick when it gets inconvenient.
I suggest assessing where you are coming from in your objections – if he’s being callous, say so.
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