Update: it’s been brought to my attention that this post has been interpreted as a criticism of Connections Online. That was not my intention. I apologise for upset resulting from my lack of clarity, and would like to draw everyone’s attention to the better-than-average stats for speaker representation at Connections Online, and the wider D&I efforts made by members of the organising team. I meant only to take the subject of WATU as a jumping-off point for a broader conversation about how all of us in wargaming have a part to play in improving representation.
Another Connections event comes around…and the initial vision of the panel I’m asked to speak at is to have a bunch of straight white men explain how women won the war and the importance of diversity.
Why is it so hard? Why are wargaming leaders still reacting with surprise when someone points out the abject lack of diversity in their plans, and sitting back helplessly waiting for women and minorities and heroic allies like Tom to come and diversity! for them instead of taking personal responsibility?
I love that people are talking about WATU. I love that men are talking about what women and lesbian and refugee and Indian and Muslim and Sikh and Hindu and disabled wargamers achieved with WATU. But guys: you absolutely have to stop congratulating yourselves on how awesome WATU was in place of doing anything to address the diversity problems in wargaming today.
It’s as simple as: straight white men, you have to step back and yield the floor.
If you support diversity and inclusion in wargaming you have to recognise that means you personally—as an over-represented straight white male—have to give up some of your time in the spotlight and make space for women and minorities to take the floor.
It’s not about someone else will take the hit so there’s diversity but I still get to speak 100% of the time I want to, it’s realising that when you personally hold forth on a subject, you personally are silencing a woman or minority wargamer by hogging the space—and you personally have to honestly consider:
Have I said enough already? Can I yield the floor to let someone else speak and not die (psychologically, professionally, literally—since we’re talking about scarcity and threat-focused mindsets.)
Does she/he/they know more about this subject than I do?Don’t be a Mansplainer, don’t presume to know more about a subject because you once held a book about it, don’t assume women and minority wargamers are less-qualified, less-experienced, or only here to do the secretarial work.
Does she/he/they have a different perspective to the same-old-same-old that straight white men have been focusing on since forever? Chances of this are extremely high. Women and minority wargamers experience so much in life that straight white men are oblivious to because it doesn’t happen to straight white men. That’s literally the unknown unknown you need to shut up and listen to, to learn something you didn’t already know.
Is she/he/they perfectly capable of making the exact same point I was going to make, thus scratching my itch that it be aired and making space for other people to contribute? Win win win. Seriously, what is wrong about this? The only reason not to like this scenario is if you’re more interested in who scores the conversational points than the actual furthering of knowledge/understanding/wargaming.
And before you cry “This is silencing men! The outrage!”
Of course that’s not what I’m advocating.
An idealistic rule of thumb: you have two ears, one mouth. If you’re a straight white man you could try yeilding the floor to women and minority wargamers 50% of the time you would otherwise speak. Yeilding just means giving other people who don’t normally get to speak the opportunity to go first—you may find they say everything and more you wanted to hear, you may learn something new.
Bare in mind, cognitive bias is such that when women make up 30% of a group they are perceived to be in the majority, and when they speak 17% of the time they are preceived by men to be dominating the conversation—so I think it’s incredibly safe to say just stopping to think and maybe letting a woman or minority wargamer go first is not going to cause the breakdown of society. You’d have to try excessively over-the-top hard to actually make space for women and minority wargamers to dominate a conversation—ignoring the fact that women are way more conscious of taking up more than fair space in a conversation than men are, and will yield the floor out of politeness before it’s genuinely silencing men.
That feeling you have? Of tensing up slightly at the thought of being silenced, the scarcity and threat-mindset, the need to be heard? The unfairness of it? …women and minority wargamers feel that all the time when straight white men interupt us, talk over us, don’t invite us to be speakers at conferences, have all-male panels discussing obviously women/minority interest subjects, or complain that wargaming should not be about gender or sexual orientation or skin colour or disability. Newsflash for you straight white men: it already is about those things, you just don’t notice it because you’re in the favoured group and don’t experience the being sidelined, ignored, discounted, and told to shut up and act like straight white men or go somewhere else if you don’t like it. Have you ever had to deal with work e-mails responding to your research/paper/presentation that is not engaging with content at all but an attack on your personhood, intelligence, legitimacy, and right to exist in wargaming? Because I have, and other women and minority wargamers get that while straight white men get to Advance Straight To Go and only discuss the merits of their work.
Before you cry “This is woke nonsense, unfairly priviliging minorities!”
Just stop. Stop and think about the ugly ugly thought behind the knee-jerk reaction to efforts to increase women’s and minority representation: that they’re taking our opportunities and giving them to under-qualified, inexperienced people instead. Presuming that women and minority wargamers couldn’t possibly be equally—if not more—qualified and experienced than straight white men.
I have a First in rocket science. Yuna Wong has five degrees. Look at WATU: everybody loves to say WATU was Roberts’ brainchild, his genius—he never rose above Captain, WATU was the highlight of his career. Syed Ahsan, Number One at the Bombay Tactical Table, went on to head the Pakistan Navy and hold senior government positions. It’s the same dynamic as the Tuskegee Airmen: barriers to entry for minority folks select for exceptional participants. Until gender parity and proportionate representation of minority wargamers is universal, across the board, at every wargaming conference and event, and discriminatory behaviour is a thing of the past, there is literally no danger of diversity efforts privilidging underqualified minority wargamers at the expence of mediocre straight white men.
I’m down with this, what can I do?
Use inclusive language: it signals to women and minorities that the space is welcoming. Historically these spaces were not, and the omission of women and minorities are welcome in the invite was deliberate, so it’s not enough to have changed your mindset without changing the language you use too. @ManWhoHasItAll would not be such delicious satire if we didn’t all buy into gendered presumptions about so many things.
If you don’t say “anyone who identifies as a woman” then trans women will not know if you mean they are just as welcome. If you don’t even make the barest minimum effort of “Please get in touch if you have accessibility needs so we can make this work for everyone” then you’re sending a message to disabled wargamers that we’re not even interested in trying when, in fact, you have a legal (and moral) obligation to make reasonable adjustments.
Allow women and minorities the space to step up—hold back the stampeed of men, because men will apply and volunteer and show up even when you explicitly say this is an opportunity for women. Don’t allow men to fill up all the spaces before women and minorities have had the chance to beleive you really mean they’re welcome. It’s not enough to say you accepted submissions regardless of gender etc, you actually have to make an effort to ensure diversity.
Invite women and minority folks directly—don’t assume a general announcement or group e-mail will actually come across as, “Yes, you! Reading this now, I want you!” Approach them directly, personally. If you don’t know who to ask, ask other people to recommend women and minority wargamers you could ask. Six degrees of separation, people.
If you—straight white man—are invited as a speaker or audience member, ask the organisers: how many women and minority speakers do you have? Are they here as experts in their own right, or are you just using them to facilitate men? Refuse to participate in manels. Refuse to participate in all-white panels. Point them at women and minority wargamers you want to hear from instead. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
Look at your panel, and your event as a whole: who are your speakers? Are they all men, are they all white, are they all straight/cishet, are they all non-disabled? …do they all look like you, in other words.
Doesn’t seem like a thing to you, because all you see are people like you, and unconsciously that gives your brain a rush of I belong here vibes. For women and minority wargamers it’s sending a message of exclusion. If you’ve ever been the only white person in a room, or the only man in the room, or the only non-disabled person in the room, or the only straight person in the room, you’ll understand it’s not about hostile behaviour or the intention to exclude, but that it feels uncomfortable to you because you stick out like a sore thumb.
You need diversity in your organising committee to get buy-in from diverse speakers and a diverse audience.
It is an absolute delight to join Women’s Wargaming Network gatherings and see 50/50 white and non-white attendees—in large part because Yuna Wong’s visible presence as founder of the network signals to black and asian wargamers this is a place you are welcome and wanted and will be respected. That’s at least half-a-dozen not-white US wargamers you could look to instead of piling all your diversity hopes and dreams into “Yuna! Come fix us, diversity for us!” That’s a whole cohort of smart, capable, diverse wargamers you could actively raise up instead of ignoring in favour of the same old guys.
Straight white men: diversity does not happen by magic. It does not happen by good intentions alone. It happens by conscious and constant effort by you personally. You have so much power to set the tone and influence others by your behaviour—you are already doing it. The question is who do you want to include?
Read more about the Derby House Principles for diveristy and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
Something that came up again and again in the excellent Connections North diversity panel discussion was the importance of empathy as a skill for wargamers:
Yuna Wong raised it as one of the top five skills she’d look for in a wargamer, and it’s certainly been my experience that the people who are great to work with are the people who get all the work
Paul Strong raised it in the power of narrative (and all wargames are a form of collaborative storytelling), pointing to the advent of the novel as a means for social change by giving people new perspectives
Brianna Proceviat raised it in answer to a question from Cath Jones about educating people about diversity and inclusion by flipping the power dynamic
And everything I’ve done this past year in support of the Derby House Principles has been successful because of empathy.
Isn’t it beautiful that what works to improve diversity and inclusion is the exact same thing that makes people good wargamers?
Key skills for helping a friend in a difficult time—and equally in red-teaming a hostile power without falling prey to stereotypes, reading the other players, and contributing to the game analysis and insights.
Why does it work for D&I?
Some years ago, I had to fight hard to get reasonable adjustments for dyslexia. Just a screen-reader, nothing earth-shattering, but between being good at my job and the perception that real dyslexics are functionally illiterate, it was incredibly difficult to convince people of my need. Facts and figures made no impact on people who perceived me as perfectly capable. What I needed was a way to make them feel how difficult and frustrating and exhausting it was to be working so hard to keep up.
Enter stage left a serious game about dyslexia, where, through the magic of science, I make a room full of otherwise competent adults lose the ability to read, write, and speak coherently, to remember anything, to recognise familiar objects, and even tell the time. It’s hilarious and stressful and eye-opening, and it literally works because it is a lesson in empathy.
People come away from this workshop having experienced dyslexia. Having felt the glare of the spotlight on them trying to read when reading is hard, or trying to make a coherent argument when they can’t find the words they want, or having stared and stared and stared at something that makes no sense at all while everyone else just gets it.
It literally changes people’s perception of dyslexia and disability (non-ironic feedback includes: “This saved my marriage. I thought my husband was doing all these things just to annoy me.”) And it does it because it makes people feel what it’s like. I don’t tell people dyslexia is frustrating, I make them frustrated. And the lesson sticks because it gets encoded with that powerful emotion…and also because it’s an absolute blast and a compelling magic trick they want to tell everyone about.
Enter the Derby House Principles
One of the first things that came up in Derby House Principles conversations was how to help smaller wargaming organisations talk about diversity when they don’t have anyone to speak to the experience.
The diversity card deck, inspired by Tom Mouat’s excellent Migrants card deck, is the diversity missing from the room. Players draw a card and relay the vignette to the group in the first person, as if it happened to them. That act of imaginative empathy: what if this happened to me? is followed by a group discussion of whether the same situation plays out differently for them and why. For a lot of men, it’s genuinely the first time they’ve even considered that these things happen, or what it would feel like to be on the receiving end. And it’s had such a massive impact on the culture where I work.
We went from a place where well-intentioned men would respond, “I’m sure it’s not like that,” whenever I said this is my experience as the only woman in the room, to one where they genuinely realised there could be another perspective. And it didn’t just convert the good-eggs. People who harrumphed loudly at the idea of the card deck found their wives or girlfriends looking over their shoulder, saying, “Yes. Yep. That too. Oh my god all the time. And that one,” and the clouds parted, the heavenly choirs sang, the god rays shone down, and they realised (gasp) all women and minorities are human beings with thoughts and feelings just like their significant other—and that people they care about suffer these indignities and incivilities and injustices all the time too. It has meaning because they’ve connected it to someone they care about, not the ‘other’.
Walk a mile in our shoes
Another big inspiration for me in experiential learning is Jane Elliot’s anti-racism work. It works because she makes people feel discrimination:
And the same leap of imaginative empathy is at work in the RPG Dog Eat Dog by Liam Burke. (More on my project to use that to start conversations about discrimination here.) What’s stuck with me most about the games we’ve played so far is that it’s the role-playing that makes it real to straight white non-disabled men—it’s feeling that awful sense of this is wrong and I am powerless, and tying themselves in knots managing the emotions of the dominant group when they’ve never had that perspective before, and being disabused of their naive ideas that minority groups just haven’t done it right so far and here comes a white/male saviour to show them the way… it’s the role-playing that makes them open their eyes and really hear what women and minorities have been saying. It’s the act of imaginative empathy that teaches.
Empathy is why nobody who plays this game can forget it.
How do we make more connections?
Another point made in the diversity panel was that the heavy lifting of D&I should not be left—or piled on—to the minority wargamers. That, by virtue of being the only woman, or BAME/BIPOC, or LGBT, or disabled person in the building, everyone expects them to lead on D&I and be the diversity, and do the hard work so everyone else can congratulate themselves that its being done without getting their hands dirty.
The biggest challenge of all of this has been how do I get men to talk about women’s issues, straight people to talk about LGBT issues, non-disabled people to talk about disability issues, white people to talk about race. Too often a minority person is left to do all the talking, all the leading, all the fixing. Silence is complicity. Even when I write an essay about exactly that…folks talk about it in private where nobody will disagree, not in public spaces, not to minority wargamers, not where it will make a difference.
Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s strength
The first time I saw the needle move was when a straight white man in a position of authority admitted on a VTC that he’d read a blog on Black Lives Matter and wanted to comment to show support but panicked because he didn’t want to say the wrong thing. That admission of vulnerability, I wanted to do better but I didn’t know how, opened the floodgates for others who’d been silent, who supported D&I but didn’t know how to show their support and were afraid to intrude on a space they didn’t think was theirs.
Men: you have so much power to set the tone and start these conversations, just by saying I don’t have all the answers but I want to learn. Worry less about saying the wrong thing. You only have to say I see you, I’m listening.
Make it easy for allies to show their support
The Derby House pins look great so people want to wear them.
I learnt the power of ally badges presenting to the board of executives. It just so happened a good number of them were wearing LGBT Ally badges. Walking into that intimidating space and seeing those silent messages of support—completely unrelated to the topic I was presenting on—was magic. Seeing people wearing Derby House pins—or “I’m not a dickhead” badges, as they’ve come to be known—is knowing who your friends are in a room full of strangers.
It’s possible to talk someone out of bigotry. Watching some of the D&I trolls see the light—go from posting misogynist nonsense to amplifying Derby House Principles messaging—has been a delightful, heartwarming, life-affirming D&I soap opera. It’s also been hard hard work. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a good-enough person to be able to meet trolling and bigotry with the compassion and kindness and patience required. Not because I don’t agree it’s the right way to achieve change, but because I’m human and flawed and quite frankly because it’s hard to treat people with the respect and dignity and compassion that they do not show in return. Being on the receiving end of trolling and just vile comments on PAXsims does not make me all that disposed to generosity towards the marginal comments and well-intended-but-oblivious comments and idiot-but-not-actually-bigotted comments.
Jamil Zaki: It can be really exhausting to empathise with people who are different from us. Especially if they have opinions that we might fear or abhore.
Laurie Santos: Now I try really hard to be an understanding person. And I truely beleve in the importance of Jamil’s battle for kindness. But almost every day I see some view online that makes me see red. When people seem to be so hateful, it’s really really hard to see them as deserving of my compassion or my emotional energy. I was surprised that the guy who literally wrote the book on empathy got exactly what I was saying.
Jamil Zaki: Trust me, I feel that way all the time. I still remember when the New York Times had this whole very sympathetic portrayal of a family in Illinois that happened to be Nazis. And I remember a detail where they were trying to humanise this family by talking about how they cooked their pasta and I just remember thinking “I don’t want to hear about your Nazi pasta. I don’t want to humanise you.” It’s exhausting to connect. And it’s especially exhausting to connect with people who say things that are awful and that don’t really deserve a platform.
Laurie Santos: I want to make sure that all this empathic labour is a bit more evenly distributed. That the hard work of deep connection doesn’t just fall to historically marginalised groups who’ve long been on the recieving side of all the injustice; these are the folks least likely to have the emotional bandwidth to make connections.
Empathy is a learnable skill, an improveable skill. Do it to be a better wargamer. Do it for a better wargaming culture. Do it for better wargame outputs. Do it for whatever reason you like, but please hear Yuna and myself when we say women and minorities cannot carry the whole D&I load for all of wargaming.
Now that the dust has settled on my Wavell Room and D&I in 2020 essays, I thought I’d address a couple of the points raised in response:
Straight white men have diversity too!
Yes, so do Ford Escorts. The red ones fade a bit, a family car gets more battered than a single-owner/occupant. But real diversity is having Vauxhalls and Puegots and Volvos and Fiats and Landrovers on the road. And “but what about men! Men are diverse” is just another way to shut down diversity conversations by keeping the focus on the people already in the majority.
The point of all these D&I conversations is that diversity of thought—which we all agree is good for wargaming—comes from diversity of experience, and while straight white men do have different life experiences, there is an order-of-magnitude difference in the life experiences of BAME/BIPOC people, disabled people, LGBT people and women: because they live in different neighbourhoods, go to different schools, come from different cultures, experience different challenges day-in-day-out, and have to deal with things that straight white men barely even acknowledge exist.
But the bar isn’t higher for not being a straight white non-disabled man!
Men (which, let’s face it, is 98% of you reading this): how often have you published an essay in a respected professional space and been met with a torrent of personal attacks, none of them addressing the points raised in the essay, all of them determined to prove YOU’RE WRONG to say any of it because you’re an idiot, because you’re a woman, a lesbian, the wrong class to be properly disabled, not disadvantaged enough, leftist, a victim, a commie, should be doing the dishes, know nothing about professional wargaming or war, and—apparently worst of all—can’t even make it clear you’re talking about professional wargaming not hobby gaming…by publishing in The Wavell Room: contemporary British military thinking. I’m dyslexic and even I’m left wondering which part of the website’s banner is difficult to read ?
Honestly men, how often do you receive hate for doing your wargaming job? Actual shut up and sit down hate, not polite or even heated academic debate, not I disagree so stop talking, actual nothing to say about the essay we’re just objecting that you’re speaking at all. I wasn’t even saying anything particularly controversial: that, when wargaming, we should respect the other players. Playing to win is fine; playing to win at all costs—to make the other people around you feel small—is not ok. It sucks to be on the recieving end of it, and it lessens the value of the game for all the reasons we use serious games.
Why is that even controversial? Treat each other with respect and dignity, like fellow human beings.
To which, a small and defensive minority of men lost their minds that my essay was not treating them with respect: that I used bad language, that I was offensive and confrontational. Again, I’m the dyslexic here, and it is remarkable to me how many people had trouble parsing the “arguing against D&I is” in arguing against D&I is the masturbatory indulgence of straight white men. To be clear: nothing in that sentence says all men, or all white men, or all straight men, are jerking off in wargames (except Jeffrey Toobin). But then, the people objecting loudly to the executive summary were just using “omg a woman used naughty words! I am offended!!” to justify arguing against D&I. Surprise.
And if you’re going to argue the language was the problem, not the message:
a) none of the words I used were actually swearing. Also there was an editorial process, and the language was deemed appropriate for the site and for the message, not gratuitous, not wanton, not offensive.
b) where is your moral panic over the actual swearing and foul language and vile attacks against my personhood in the comments in the Wavell Room, on twitter, or on PAXsims?
c) when you object to a woman “swearing” by actually swearing yourself in angry comments, boy do you look childish.
d) claiming the moral highground (the language is the problem!!) while abjectly failing to take the moral highground (I object to the language but want to engage on the points being made) is laughable, by the way.
The truth is it’s all Rule One: if the language was made acceptable there would just be something else they’d find fault with because it’s not the language that’s the problem, it’s the challenge to unquestioned male domination and the idea that men can’t just behave as they like when they like without consequences.
We have to talk about how angry women and minorities feel
I want to talk about power and comfort, specifically who has it and whose we are more concerned about, as evidenced by our actions. This might not be a comfortable conversation, but let’s think about it by way of an analogy to comedy:
while the popular conversation keeps talking about the victimhood of comedy, punching up, and punching down, I don’t think those terms are what applies at all. There is a much simpler way of framing the conversation of the goals of comedy, and it was said by the brilliant W. Kumau Bell:
“Who do you want to include? Who do you not want to include?”
These two questions are at the center of pretty much everything. From the way we use signifiers, to the politics of being PC, to the vehemence of being anti-PC, to who you want to make laugh in an audience. It’s all that simple question: who do you want to include? Because that’s when you start looking at your morality and your shape of interest. For instance, who do you want your joke to make feel more comfortable: a rapist or a rape victim? Answer however you wish, but it speaks to what you’re trying to do.
A small and defensive minority seem to think D&I is about excluding straight white men from wargaming in general and opportunities in particular. As far as I can tell there’s a deep-seated fear, particularly among hobby wargamers, that a queer woman has the power to take wargaming away from them and that my goal in life is to CONTROL HOW WARGAMERS ARE ALLOWED TO THINK…through the medium of an essay that literally—explicitly—made the point that domination in gaming is bad and not what I stand for.
Not to mention how laughable the idea is that a single woman is in any way able to exclude 98% of wargamers from wargaming. Or the part where the majority of my wargaming colleagues and friends are straight white men: men I like and respect and enjoy working with, who have mentored and supported me, and given me amazing opportunities to grow as a wargamer.
D&I is not about excluding men. It’s about not excluding women and minorities—who face considerable barriers to entry not faced by straight white non-disabled men.
A big theme in the diversity card deck is anger. Anger at not being listened to. Anger at not being treated like credible human beings or the subject matter experts that they are. Anger that it is literally not safe to be a woman in wargaming/NatSec at times. And above all, anger at a system that is more interested in the comfort of straight white men than the victims of their bad behaviour.
A system that requires women and minorities to put up and shut up or get out—change teams, roles, projects, capabilities, divisions, or sacrifice their careers, to escape.
I’ve heard from so many people who’ve said their bully wasn’t dealt with because:
he’ll be deploying as a reservist soon, and likely won’t return to the group or in a leadership position (haha, of course he did)
he’ll be taking early retirement soon (nope: still here)
it’s just how he is (boys will be boys)
he’s like that with everyone, it’s nothing against you personally
leadership/management didn’t hear the request for help to deal with the situation—assumed the victim was capable of dealing with it themselves, rather than thinking about why the issue had been raised in the first place.
Privilege and the comfort of straight white men
Privilege is being able to choose not to think about this, to choose when you think about this, and to put it down when you don’t like it right now.
Meanwhile, let’s think about
… the constant efforts women [and minorities] end up having to expend in managing, maintaining, and adjusting the egos of oblivious and self-important men, involving the continual work of imaginative identification, or interpretive labour. The work carries over on every level.
Women [and minorities] everywhere are always expected to continually imagine what one situation or another would look like from a male point of view. Men are almost never expected to do the same for women [and minorities].
So deeply internalised is this pattern of behaviour that many men react to any suggestion that they might do otherwise as if it were itself an act of violence.
I think people assume I am brave and unafraid to be vocal about D&I in professional wargaming. The truth is it is frightening and stressful, and speaking out like this has been career-limiting for me in the past. I am scared. I am angry. And I know from personal experience that there’s only so much a woman can push back before being put soundly in her place. I want that to change.
Psychologists created a study in 2015 to examine what happens when women and men become angry during jury deliberations.
They created a simulation that echoed the classic film Twelve Angry Men, in which a lone juror, Henry Fonda, gives an impassioned and angry plea for the innocence of an accused man. In the simulation, one “holdout” refuses to fall in line with other jurors and does not rein in his (or her) anger.
The “Henry Fonda” juror did well in influencing his peers. But “Henrietta Fonda” was not nearly as successful.
When men expressed anger, the subjects found them credible and changed their own opinions. But the angry women were seen as too emotional, so their arguments did not persuade the other “jurors” to change their minds.
Men can convince others that the cause of their anger is appropriate, and can persuade others to accept their arguments. An angry woman rarely gets that opportunity.
Men more often associate anger with feeling powerful, while for women anger is associated with powerlessness.
Anger is silent and isolating, destructive and even frightening.
Anger is a powerful emotion—it warns us of threat, insult, indignity and harm. But across the world, girls and women are taught that their anger is better left unvoiced.
Anger is reserved as the moral property of boys and men. It is a civic virtue in white men, criminality in black men, and distained in women. [And it’s ingratitude in disabled people.]
Women are taught to swallow their pride.
Anger is conveying what’s important to us—but people are more likely to get angry AT women for being angry than address their concerns. Men are rewarded for displaying anger, women are punished.
It is a system designed to disadvantage women when it comes to defending themselves and their own interests.
Societies that don’t respect women’s anger don’t respect women. The danger of it [to men] is that it shows how seriously we take ourselves. And that we expect other people to take us seriously as well.
Women and minorities are angry at being unjustly treated.
They are right to be angry.
Men: your focus should be on working your hardest to dismantle the man-made and man-supported system that is causing the anger, not policing their emotions.
That means stopping to think about whether the real cause of your anger is that the thing was said or done by a woman stepping outside the bounds of “acceptably feminine” by refusing to do all the emotional labour for you.
That means calling out misogynist and homophobic and transphobic and ablist and racist behaviour when you see it—in wargaming spaces, in comments, on twitter, in person.
That means amplifying the voices of women and minorities when they speak to their experiences of discrimination.
That means telling women and BAME/BIPOC and LGBT and disabled wargamers that you value their existence, their humanity, their right to take up space, and their contributions to wargaming—not just assuming folks know you’re a decent human being who thinks this stuff without ever publically expressing it.
The standard you walk past is the one you accept
I like this ballsy statement from former Chief of the Australian army, Lt Gen David Morrison:
If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. […] The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those, who by their rank, have a leadership role.
To everyone who liked and RTd my Wavell Room essay
Thank you, I appreciate the support.
Talking about D&I in safe spaces among people that you know won’t disagree with you is a start. It’s not enough.
How many of you pushed back against the trolls and the misogynism and homophobia directed at me for doing my job? (Shout out to Rex Brynen and Jeremy Sepinsky for being absolute heroes in the Wavell Room troll pit.)
How many of you read my new year essay—literally about how silence from the majority who support D&I is part of the problem—and said nothing to me, or in public, or to other women and minority wargamers in support?
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
Yuna Wong joked on a CNA Talks podcast about the value of drawing fire to raise awareness of a problem. Boy howdy, have I been drawing fire in 2020. And it’s terrifying. And I think it’s taken for granted that I take it on the chin for the good of the wargaming community—a collective sigh of relief that someone’s doing the hard stuff so the rest of us can remain at safe distance, and cheer that it’s done without having to feel uncomfortable. So let’s talk about that.
1. Some things I have done this year that scared the pants off me:
Becoming an editor at PAXsims
In the mid-2000s an internet stalker phoned up people me-adjacent on the internet to harass me by-proxy. Since then I’ve had almost zero internet presence to keep it from happening again. Agreeing to put my name and face on the internet was a non-trivial decision (you’ll notice my e-mail address is not included in my bio). Every single time I post there’s a panicked thought, what if this is the one—what if this is how they find me again. And that’s on top of all the normal publishing/presentation catastrophising that everyone does: what if I say something stupid, what if I get it wrong, omg everyone is watching. It doesn’t help that posting about D&I inevitably means the trolls come out to complain that you’re doing it wrong when you’re doing it exactly right.
Podcasts & YouTubes
Paul Strong and I did an LGBT History Month presentation on Queeroes: LGBT and gender non-conformity in the military. It came down to Paul didn’t want to speak for the LGBT community as a straight person, and nobody else was willing to co-present, so if I didn’t it wouldn’t happen. It’s one thing to give a queer rights presentation in person where you can be pretty sure the only people showing up have an interest in the subject. Putting it on YouTube—? Never read the comments section, just don’t do it. Wowsers. I had to leave my house for a walk I felt so uncomfortable after it went up, braced for the inevitable outrage: how dare I say Churchill was queer (true fact: he had sex with a man to see what it felt like…straight men tend not to do that), keep your sexuality out of wargaming, etc etc. Genuinely terrified for 24hrs over this, and definitely only agreed to do it because I don’t have to see or deal with the abusive commentards on YouTube.
This was horrid in so many ways: inevitably there were trolls who felt the need to complain loudly and incredibly childishly that the diversity in wargaming survey wasn’t in the least bit interested in their experiences. Trolling is an act of violence; the purpose is to demean and belittle and intimidate. It’s intended to frighten. And it’s pretty horrid to deal with it alone in lockdown, without other people around to drown out the trickle of rubbish with the overwhelming decency of the wargaming community.
Then there were the straight-up awful things people told me about. I was unprepared for the volume: well over 300 submissions in two weeks, from a small small proportion of the wargaming and NatSec community. I was unprepared for the level of fear in those submissions: the people who phoned me because they were worried putting it in writing would be traceable back to them. I was unprepared for the dehumanisation of women and minorities on display. I was unprepared to hear the worst stuff that didn’t make it into the deck because the victims were too identifiable: they were people I work with doing things I have done. My entire career I’ve been reassuring myself I’m safe in situations where I don’t feel confident or entirely welcome, and holy cow it’s literally not been safe to be a woman at work at times. That was shocking—frightening—to think it could have been me. And a kind of awful, scary, relief to see other women reporting the same kind of bullying, intimidation, and humiliation I’ve experienced.
The final terrifying was reporting back on all of this, braced for the backlash all the vignettes alluded to: that when you speak up about D&I you become the problem. I was expecting denial and gaslighting and anger in response. It didn’t come, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t frightening waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Pull your socks up on D&I.”
Actual words I used, briefing a cohort of very senior types. They’d agreed to play my serious game about dyslexia, they hadn’t agreed for me to cut it short to make room for a frank conversation about the diversity card deck and the Derby House Principles. I literally told people 6 grades above me they were doing it wrong and needed to act like leaders and I was absolutely bricking it. The 24hrs before and during and afterwards was I’m going to be fired on repeat. I do not like standing up to authority. I find it insanely difficult to be that assertive, mostly because I’ve been on the receiving end of some Really Bad Behaviour for plain existing as a woman in technology. I only did it this time because it was a virtual meeting and if any of the worst imaginings in my head happened, I could drop the call and not be frozen in the room while they yelled at me. (I’ve had meetings like that, for smaller perceived infractions.)
Why did I do these objectively frightening things? Because look around: who else is doing this stuff? When is it going to get better for women and minority wargamers if I don’t do something? Privilege is the freedom not to care about D&I: to know your voice, your views, your needs—people like you—will be represented even if you don’t show up, even if you hide at the back and say nothing because you don’t want to play big. Women and minorities don’t get that choice.
I’ve been trying to have the same slippery conversation all year. It goes like this:
There’s the bar for human neutral wargamers: do your job, do it good, get a gold star, congratulations.
And then there’s the bar for being a woman, queer, disabled, or BAME/BIPOC, where you have to do twice as much work for half the credit with less support and not complain lest you be accused of demanding special treatment or taking up the space of a more-deserving straight white non-disabled man.
And then there’s the bar for being the voice of D&I, where you have to do all of the above so you can defend your right to take up space at all, and on top of that do what the actual leaders—the wargaming royalty, the industry and academia and government seniors and executives—are not doing. All of them grades and grades and grades above your paygrade. You have to start all the really difficult conversations, provide moral leadership and deal with opposition to that leadership (bigotry, gaslighting from unthinking “allies”, concern-trolling on behalf of hypothetical victims, cultural lethargy and inertia, demands that you be endlessly patient and compassionate towards people who don’t treat you with respect or dignity in return)—and you have to do all this without authority.
It’s exhausting and so bruising. And when I say it’s a lot to ask, people shrug: then step back, look after yourself. But women and minorities don’t get to opt out.
We don’t get that choice.
The truth is I don’t want to be the leader. I never did. I don’t even want to be an editor at PAXsims. When Rex asked me to help write the Derby House Principles my first thought was you know that women and minorities are going to take all the backlash, and I don’t need that in my life. On a daily basis I’m putting up with crap because of this. I have experienced more directed-at-me or my actions homophobia since May than I have my whole life. Why is that ok? And before you shrug it off as a few bad apples and the trolls bleating as they’re shown the door—why is it ok that the whole of wargaming culture leaves me to be the leader and have the moral courage to say it’s not ok? Why are so many wargamers so ok—silently complicit—with queerbashing and racism and misogynism that the majority of voices saying enough and taking action for D&I are not white, are women, are queer, are disabled?
2. It’s time to have an uncomfortable conversation.
There’s a game that so beautifully articulates this slippery conversation that I haven’t stopped thinking about it—and haven’t been able to stop seeing it everywhere I look.
It’s an RPG called Dog Eat Dog by Liam Burke.
The setup is simple:
One person plays as the European colonial occupation of a pacific island, all of them. Everyone else plays as individual natives. There’s money: the natives each get a little, the occupation gets a lot. Players take turns setting a scene—the scene includes your character, and others you invite by consent…apart from the occupation who can crash a scene any time they like, and compel anyone to join a scene regardless of consent. And when there’s conflict over what happens next, control of the scene goes to whoever rolls highest—unless someone objects, and then the occupation take control no matter who did the objecting. Are you seeing the pattern here?
After every scene there is judgement: the occupation pays players for each rule they followed, and fines them for each they didn’t. Then the natives come up with a new rule based on what was just rewarded or punished in the scene. When the game starts there is only one rule:
The natives are inferior to the occupation.
That’s it. You have to follow this rule at all times.
The game ends when one side is out of money: if the natives run out of money that means all their leaders are dead and the culture has been suppressed. If the occupation run out of money that means the natives have been assimilated into the occupation’s society and granted autonomy…at the low low cost of their culture and dignity.
What this game does is perfectly capture the power dynamic involved in discrimination: the natives can’t win. The occupation has all the power to decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and is incentivised to use that power to take what they want without repercussions. They don’t even write the rules that the natives get tied up in trying to follow. The game presents you with a wildly unfair system and asks you to live within it as best you can—and it never ends well for the natives. You can’t cheat by trying to be nice: even a benevolent occupation is disastrous.
It is a stunningly good game.
A central conceit is inventing the native and occupying cultures during the game, which means there’s no historical/cultural knowledge barrier to entry—the game feels capital T true without being factual, which helps to provide a little distance from the true-to-life icky things the game is going to make you do. It feels horrible to kill natives because it is horrible and we should not feel ok about slavery and genocide and colonialism.
I’m working on a project to use this game to get straight white non-disabled men of influence to start conversations about discrimination. We’ve been playing different scenarios: same rules, but as well as occupation vs natives we’re playing ableist society vs the disability community, and heteronormative society vs the LGBT community and holy cow I can’t stop thinking about Rule One.
I can’t stop seeing it as the slippery sauce at the heart of every bad-faith engagement I’ve had on D&I issues. The same dynamic in trolls who say something offensive and then hit back with their right to equality and to be treated with respect and dignity when they’re criticised for it—asserting that their equality and respect and dignity is more important than that of the people they offended in the first place.
In the knee-jerk “straight white men have diversity too!” insistence that the diversity of straight white men is more important than any other kind of diversity.
In the reflexive “not all [men/straight/white/non-disabled people]” response which, regardless of intention, is keeping the interests and comfort of straight white non-disabled men front-and-centre in the conversation about the concerns of women and minorities—asserting that the comfort of said straight white non-disabled men is more important.
And the more I look the more I find it in my own unquestioned thinking: I have internalised Rule One. I’m not in the closet, but there are so many situations where I don’t even think I’m allowed to take up space.
A certain kind of person harrumphs loudly that LGBT issues are not relevant here and I just keep my mouth shut and keep my sexuality from offending their sensibilities in literally every work situation that’s not people I consider friends or a D&I conversation.
I don’t hide my disability but it is still difficult to say I am bad at these things and not feel shame, like it’s something I have to make up for—that I’m less-than because of it.
3. The system.
The genius of Dog Eat Dog is how it traps you in the system.
The occupation presents you with an impossible situation: in one game the character Mark danced with his same-sex partner on the street which upset the occupation’s sensibilities and they demanded that behaviour stop—stop flaunting your sexuality. Never mind the opposite-sex couples also dancing at the street party, never mind the not-actually-harming-anyone of it. You can see this is wrong. Every fibre of your being is this isn’t right and wanting to protest and demand—expect—the right to take up the same space as consenting hetero couples. And Rule One stops you speaking out because you’re wrong no matter how you phrase it, how reasonably and rationally and gently and empathically and not-aggressively, no-one’s-asking-straight-people-to-do-this-just-stop-policing-consenting-adults-who-aren’t-hurting-anyone you put the case across.
Rule One ties you up in knots, second-guessing everything you say and do because it might upset them. Because they have the power to decide everything, to hold you to a completely different standard of behaviour and gaslight you about how that’s really not the case at all.
Rule One means they never even have to use mean words or physical aggression for it to be intimidation. They can smile and say it nicely and it’s still a threat, it’s still an act of violence upon your person.
Rule One makes you blame the victim: if Mark had been less provocative we wouldn’t be having this argument, if he’d been more discrete, if he’d kept his sexuality to himself in a “family-friendly” environment—as if there was a right way for Mark to be when his expectation of equality is the problem. The same dynamic is at work when we blame victims of rape instead of the rapists, and when we decry taking the knee as disrespectful: there is never a right way to protest injustice. The injustice is the victim-blaming insistence that you’re wrong to say it’s wrong.
The system has its own priorities and they’re not yours if you’re a minority.
That’s how you can spend two years fighting for simple reasonable adjustments—just a screen-reader, it’s not rocket science—and lose them when the OS gets upgraded and have to start the whole bureaucratic mess over. And you’re doing it wrong to fail to deliver on your work in the meantime, hidden behind the gaslighty we won’t hold it against you but you literally can’t meet stretching objectives to qualify for performance-related pay or promotion. And your thinking goes am I not doing enough, to be worth supporting? Am I not good enough? Is all this Derby House Principles work and my technical ability not enough? Am I just a burden?
You internalise this. You internalise how you’re expected to give and not receive and not complain about it and in the end you stop even questioning the unfairness and you understand: this is all I’m worth.
(And I know this is a thousandth of the crap that BAME/BIPOC people get, and they can’t hide and opt out by passing as/being assumed straight or non-disabled.)
4. How hard it is to be a leader when you feel that.
It’s hard. Trolls want you to sit down and shut up. Unthinking people who like to argue for the sake of arguing can’t see that when you do that about D&I it’s indistinguishable from bigotry and trolling. The peanut gallery wants you to know how you should be doing more and better and not that way—without doing any of these hard things themselves.
And the vast majority of decent human beings say nothing.
That’s no big deal, surely? If they’re not actively against D&I they must be for it! Let me tell you a true story:
This summer, for the first time in my life, I heard a straight person value the experience of a queer person for being queer—
not look at that great thing they did, I guess it’s ok they’re queer too,
not I don’t see/think of you as queer (sexuality is not relevant here),
not consenting adults can have rights as long as they don’t upset others by exercising those rights.
Genuinely, the only positive-about-queer-people-being-queer that I’ve witnessed first-hand in 40 years has come from the LGBT community. Straight people have been more concerned with how upset they are about a queer person coming out or LGBT rights.
Imagine living your whole life being quietly told through action, inaction, what’s said and what’s not said, that a fundamental part of you—that you didn’t choose—has no value to the rest of society. At best is for ignoring and looking away from.
Rhetorical question: do you value queer people for being queer or just for all the ways they’re exactly like straight people and ignore the rest?
Rule One doesn’t care if you’re nice to people, if you personally treat everyone equally.
You have to understand how Rule One impacts the people in the system: how they’re forced to create and follow these rules and then get blamed for following these rules—for lacking confidence, for not putting themselves forward, for not elbowing their way to the front, for not playing big, for not feeling like they’re allowed to take up space.
People think I’m brave and courageous for doing this Derby House stuff and the truth is I feel so small and ill-equipped for the task and afraid. I don’t want to be the leader.
My whole career I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that my sexuality is not relevant, is not appropriate, has nothing to do with work and I should keep it to myself outside the company of other queers. Sometimes it’s been blatant. Sometimes it’s been a smile and a change of subject. More often than not it’s silence, that only queer people talk about queer issues—the same way white people looked awkwardly at each other and said nothing in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and waited for BAME/BIPOC folks to do all the talking, all the leading, all the fixing.
I’ve been cautious even bringing LGBT issues up in Derby House Principles conversations. I’ve been pointing to a dead lesbian in the history books to say look, we’ve always existed in wargaming, we’ve always been good at it instead of saying, look: I’m here and unapologetic—if you have a problem with that it’s yours to deal with, because I’ve internalised Rule One: your sex life has nothing to do with the workplace. But it’s got nothing to do with my sex life; it’s only ever been policing my right to exist at all as a lesbian. Straight people can talk about their parents or spouse or kids and there’s no STOP TALKING ABOUT SEX even though it’s undeniably happened.
I think people imagine that now there’s same-sex marriage equality has been achieved. I know everyone who played the Dog Eat Dog LGBT scenario looked at Rule One and was uncomfortable: I don’t think that, it’s not true. But really? Really is that the case?
“In Britain, legally speaking and medically speaking, you’re in a horrible situation. Trans adults here — we don’t have the same legal and bodily autonomy that other people do. If a woman goes through menopause and wants hormone replacement therapy, she can get it from a general practitioner. If I [a trans woman] want the same drugs, I have to wait to see a specialist and be diagnosed with a mental illness. If a cis person in the UK wants to get married, you need some ID. A cis woman can show her passport, and that’s enough. My new passport says F, but if I want to get married, I need to ask permission from the gender recognition panel to give me a gender recognition certificate. And it is notoriously difficult to get them to say yes.
Even as an adult, we do not have bodily or legal autonomy in the way that other people do. When we say we want informed consent [a system by which trans people can be prescribed hormones by self-identifying as trans], it’s painted as this radical thing. But it’s what everyone else in Britain already enjoys.”
“women have no value in relation to the fetuses in their wombs, though about half of those fetuses will turn into women who will, in turn, be assessed as having no value in relation to the next potential generation of fetuses. Women may be worthless containers of containers of containers of things of value, namely men. Embryonic men. Or perhaps children have value until they turn out to be women. I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me how these people think.”
And it’s the most relevant thing in the world to wargaming, because if you’re coming to the table within a system that holds the women or the queer or BAME/BIPOC or disabled players inferior, that’s going to affect who gets a say, whose ideas are listened to, whose opinions are given weight, whose insight matters. And if you’re coming to the game within a system that holds African or South American or Middle Eastern or Asian or refugee populations inferior to the western world, that’s going to affect what it’s ok to do and let be done to them in the game, the analysis, the policy, and ultimately in the real world to real human beings.
2020 is the year wargaming opened its eyes to diversity and inclusion.
2021 has to be the year you all play Dog Eat Dog and dismantle the system. Have a conversation about how hard it is to live in that system as a minority, how much effort is wasted managing the emotions of the occupying group. Turn awareness into meaningful action that understands the playing field is not level and just saying I’m nice to everyone or I’m going to treat everyone equally is only perpetuating a system designed to advantage the confidence of mediocre white men.
Honestly consider how Rule One informs your thinking and assumptions towards others and yourself. It’s not enough to just think you don’t follow Rule One, you have to tell people—straight white non-disabled men as much as women and BAME/BIPOC and queer and disabled wargamers. You actually have to show with your actions that you do value women and minority wargamers. You have to say the words. And not just once. And not just in safe spaces where nobody difficult can overhear you.
Or, how screwing up as Control can teach you moral lessons.
[Full disclosure: I was given a copy of this game for free in exchange for a review.]
We Come In Peace is a free-form RPG about first contact between two alien species with no prior knowledge of each other’s existance, language, or culture. To enforce that understanding barrier, the game is played without face-to-face communication between the teams. Control acts as a go-between relaying non-verbal messages, redacting anything with too much shared understanding between humans (numerals, icons, facial expressions, and gestures like thumbs up).
In person it’s played with the two teams in separate rooms, passing notes. We played over zoom, using a separate breakout room for each team, Control hopping between the two, and a shared slide deck so the teams could go full-Arrival with their attempts at communication.
The game is an allegory for a hidden scenario that only Control is aware of (until the debrief at the end), cloaked in enjoyable sci-fi buffoonery to keep the players and teams from bringing too much cultural hindsight and understanding to the table.
That means it’s Control’s job to take everything the players say, translate it into the hidden scenario to determine the outcome, and then back into the sci-fi allegory to communicate the effect to the players. Which is hard.
This is a game I learnt to play by screwing up as Control and seeing all my mistakes—and what would have made for better gameplay—in hindsight.
How did we do?
My intrepid space explorers did not start a global thermo-nuclear war, in fact the two sides ended having established a tentative trade agreement and cultural exchange…though one side thought they’d sent a hostage into orbit for four days and the other side planned to abandon their scientist planet-side indefinitely, effectively kidnapping the local…I think it’s safe to say we stored up a bunch of slower-time cultural collision consequences that would have ended badly for one side.
The teams did pretty well at establishing peaceful intentions, starting out sending mathematical sequences and sharing their words for basic chemical elements. We had a brief exchange of charades “we’re going to land our shuttle craft now, on that spot there…” before an historic meeting of both peoples and exchange of gifts. The subsequent trade negotiations almost caused an Incident when the message, “we’re sending two shuttles to harvest resources now, on these spots here and here…” was briefly misinterpreted as “they want us to leave our planet?!!” but cool heads prevailed.
It was interesting to watch the thought-process behind the communications with one team, and then hop across to the other team with the image and see their thought-process trying to unravel the message. The planetary civilisation were keen not to lose their new friends too quickly, so sent a message asking them to stay at least four days. The explorers got the days and the four, but didn’t know what to make of the rest so planned to do a midnight-flit on the third day to be sure of avoiding any unfortunate consequences of over-staying their welcome. That was the biggest misunderstanding we had.
Peace in our time, then?
Secretly we were all a little disappointed we hadn’t at least come to the brink of war.
My first thought was is this what happens when you put women in charge? Instead of establishing dominance, both sides tried extremely hard to understand the other side and understand how they might come across to the other side—gasp, leaders doing the emotional labour for a change…
My second thought was wow, this game is hard to be Control at. I was prepared for thinking on my feet, trying to relate the player actions to the hidden scenario. In doing that, I failed to communicate to both teams the sense of fear and isolation about their situation that should have been motivating a lot of their actions. The stakes of our game were we’ll make friends? when it should have been you face death and/or cultural extinction. The scenario is set up to pivot to that fear if one side opens fire (spoilers: the teams are wildly asymmetric) but neither side came close to aggression, and I really struggled to know if or when I should let on you can basically do what you want with impunity here. In hindsight I should have—but it’s also not that simple.
I don’t think it’s too spoilery to say the allegory is about racism—literally every alien encounter in science fiction is about how we treat people who are different to us.
But the game wouldn’t work with me just saying “haha you guys have all the power here,” because white supremacy and colonialism (and misogynism, and homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc) is fear-based: a fear that the oppressed group would do all the same bad things if the tables were reversed—that slaves would enslave the slave-owners if they were granted freedom instead of just, you know, living free. That women would treat men like chattle and unpaid household/caregiving labour if the patriarchy were dismantled, instead of just, you know, being equals. Supremacy feels precarious.
I didn’t want to dictate how the teams felt about each other. I thought that would be me influencing the game too much. I was trying to let the players decide how to react emotionally—and that was a huge mistake. I failed to communicate xenophobia to the teams: I was too focused on presenting the information neutrally within the allegory—what the equipment translated to—and I failed to account for the system and assumptions present in the hidden scenario that my players simply didn’t bring to the table because of politeness, decent-human-being-ness, Derby House Principles, or the game being majority-women and women being socialised to perform the emotional labour of any encounter.
In effect I ran a game of I don’t see colour.
By not manipulating the teams, our invented worlds didn’t include the seeds of racism to spontaneously generate cultural misunderstanding: both sides were too open to the other side being actual human beings like them, not less-than.
Racism doesn’t happen in a vacuum: people are indoctrinated into assumptions they don’t even perceive as racist. I don’t see colour only works in a world lacking existing injustice.
The default of the current system is the reproduction of racial inequality. To continue reproducing racial inequality, the system only needs for white people to be really nice and carry on – to smile at people of color, to go to lunch with them on occasion. To be clear, being nice is generally a better policy than being mean. But niceness does not bring racism to the table and will not keep it on the table when so many of us who are white want it off. Niceness does not break with white solidarity and white silence. In fact, naming racism is often seen as not nice, triggering white fragility.
We can begin by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race. We can attempt to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or through unequal relationships. We can insist that racism be discussed in our workplaces and a professed commitment to racial equity be demonstrated by actual outcomes. We can get involved in organizations working for racial justice. These efforts require that we continually challenge our own socialization and investments in racism and put what we profess to value into the actual practice of our lives.
This takes courage, and niceness without strategic and intentional anti-racist action is not courageous.
I had a conversation at work with a guy who was adamant that he treated everyone equally, and therefore was not discriminating against anyone. In fact he was quite insistant that actively making space for women and minorities in any opportunity was wrong and unfair and though he didn’t say the words, underpinning his argument was the assumption that making room for women and minorities would mean better-qualified men missing out. Underpinning his argument was the assumption that women and minorities could not possibly be as qualified as the men currently taking up all the space.
“Treating everyone equally”—not seeing colour, not seeing gender (or gender identity), not seeing sexuality, not seeing disability—is to deny the lived experience of being black, a woman, LGBT, or disabled: their culture, their value, and the real and tangible obstacles they have faced to get here. The reality is the women and minorities who make it to the wargaming table are very often more qualified and more able than the straight-white-non-disabled-men, because it’s been so much harder for them to get there.
So what can I do about that, as a white person, and someone who supports the Derby House Principles?
People whose careers center on examining and repairing racial inequality tend to say that being willing to see color, and talking about what it means, is one part of how white people can turn their black friendships into something that broadens their horizons on race.
We Come In Peace is a good game. It works well over zoom. We had a real mix of experienced professional to never-wargamed-before players and everybody got into it. The puzzle of how do we even communicate that intention was enjoyable to watch.
The explorer team have some great dynamics going on: it was relatively easy to establish this team’s mentality based on the breifing and sci-fi touchstones. The team breifing’s humour provided excellent direction for the players’ motivation without it feeling heavy-handed.
The planetary civilisation felt less developed in their breifing. I took this to be a reflection of them being somewhat at-the-mercy of the situation, but the fact that they didn’t clearly have a goal to pursue beyond reacting to the demands of the other side made for less interesting game play, or relied on the team to spontaneously come up with a goal in response to the arrival of this alien speicies. I suspect this is why we had a relatively peaceful exchange: our planetary team spontaneously chose the goal of mutual cultural exchange, ie of co-operation. In reality—and in keeping with the hidden scenario—they needed an overriding desire to preserve a clearly-defined way of life to create friction. Even something as simple as the aliens have shown up on a national holiday and we’re busy would have set that train in motion.
The Control guide instructions on the hidden scenario were a little vague: read up on the real-life situation on Wikipedia, and here’s a glossary for translation into sci-fi which is focused on the physical—what sending a shuttle-craft or using sensors really means in the hidden scenario. If the players invoked combat the cultural collision would be obvious. Beyond that it was lacking guidance on how to be the cultural misunderstanding. My best suggestion for how to play Control in this game is to think of yourself as the rogue unit in Arrival delivering the explosives.
This is a game I’ve learnt to play by doing it wrong the first time, and realising that my job as Control is to manipulate the hell out of both sides, to out-right lie to them about the other side’s actions and perceived intentions—because ultimately this is a game about the clash of two different cultures, and when both teams are actually made of humans with the same culture, that clash and wild misunderstanding is not created by pictionary alone; both sides are operating from the same concept of what good intentions look like.
I thought my job was to be a neutral party and see if they do or don’t start a war by accident. I see now my job is to do my best to cause friction at every turn and see if both sides can tell cultural collision (my manipulation) apart from hostile intent.
The Maritime Warfare Centre is tasked by Navy Command Headquarters to conduct Operational Analysis (OA) studies and trials/experiments for UK Maritime forces. The MWC is based within HMS COLLINGWOOD in Fareham and consists of around 100 staff from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, international exchange officers, MOD civilians, contractors and Dstl analysts.
Our colleagues in the MOD team at the MWC are advertising to recruit a new analyst to join the wargaming team. From the JO:
MWC Wargame Operational Analyst 2 (MWC-WARGAME OA 2) will work as part of the MWC wargaming team on a diverse and evolving range of requirements in support of RN tactical development. Their primary responsibility is leading and/or contributing to the design, delivery, and analysis of wargames (particularly a series of three annual games sponsored by the Fleet Commander), either individually or as part of a team, and the active development of wargaming methodologies and tools to support MWC activity.
The role would ideally suit someone with strong communication skills (both written and oral) who has experience of applying analytical methodologies to support decision making processes. Actively seeking opportunities to identify and utilise relevant wargaming tools (including software) and techniques used in industry and elsewhere in Defence, particularly the Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC) at Dstl, will also form part of the role.
While the focus of this role will be wargaming, the job holder will be part of the larger MWC operational analysis team which works across a variety of specialisations. As such, there may be the opportunity to support analysis of RN trials and exercises, either from the UK or deployed for short periods onboard RN or Allied warships and support vessels.
The Women’s Wargaming Network, launched by Yuna Wong at Connections US, now has a home at womenswargaming.org, where you can subscribe to connect with other women wargamers, and share your WWN-related news, events, and opportunities.
The Women’s Wargaming Network is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, professional and hobby wargamers alike. Our mission is to help women thrive in professional wargaming. It is not enough merely to survive as a woman in a male-dominated field: our goal is for women to bring their authentic selves, the full range of their talents and abilities, and their own vision and ambition to professional wargaming.
Our aim is to hold at least one zoom meeting a month. If you would like to present, have ideas about who you’d like to hear from, topics you’d like covered, or content you’d like to provide for the webpage, sign-up and get involved. We plan for events to be a mix of for-women and open-to-all (ie an opportunity for women to educate the wider wargaming community).
You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in wargaming here.
Everybody’s favourite WW2 Naval war correspondant, AJ McWhinnie, author of many marvellous articles on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, dropped this tantalising detail in an article for the Liverpool Herald:
And then, would you beleive it, I found photographs, while hunting-up evidence of the Bombay Tactical Unit.
Just as the WRINS have fitted into the life and routine of other Naval Specialist Schools, they have also become an integral part of the Naval Gunnery Training Establishment, HMIS Himalaya.
Secretarial duties, assisting Instructors in preparing syllabae, arranging courses, and correcting confidential books and publications of modern theories of Gunnery were taken over by the WRINS when men of the RIN were urgently required for War Service afloat.
Besides doing office work they also assisted in the actual training of officers and ratings in Gunnery tactics. Theoretical lectures on Aircraft Recognition, High Angle Firing, Ship Recognition, etc were taught with the aid of cinema strips and some of the girls worked the projectors as qualified cinema operators. This was a highly specialised job needing a background knowledge of Electricity and Sound but they soon studied and mastered the technicalities and became proficient in their duties.
Gunnery in its practical aspects was taught at the High-Angle or Anti-Aircraft School which is also a part of the Training Establishment. This is India’s most modern naval school of anti-aircraft training.
Here potential Gunners practised firing at target-towing aircraft and WRINS were employed on Radio Telephones, passing messages to aircraft from control positions and passing orders to gun crews to carry out different forms of drill.
Apart from these jobs WRINS of HMIS Himalaya carried out ordinance duties. They stripped complicated close range weapons and assembled them again after cleaning and maintenance, thus keeping the condition of the arms at the high level of efficiency which is essential for accurate firing and good results.
WRINS and How They Served
This passage in particular delighted me:
They worked the complex precision machines which calculate the speed, range, angle of sight and height of ‘enemy’ aircraft and predict their future movements. This information is transmitted down to the guns by means of electrical transmission units and pointers. When the practices were over the errors in ‘time lag’ and ‘aim-off’ were analysed by the WRIN assistants and later explained to the classes.
This was the apparatus the charming McWhinnie paragraph described, and I thought I’d go a-hunting for this RCNVR Lt. For about two-and-a-half seconds I was disappointed to find McWhinnie fallible; the Lt was not Canadian, nor had any RCN connections I could find. But frankly who cares WHEN NOW I HAVE VIDEO !!?
PAXsims is delighted to present some recent developments in the WATU story. If proof were ever needed that the Derby House Principles were well-named—over and above the queer Wrens, the RN officers unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury, and Wrens standing watch as Midshipmen on a Destroyer in the Med in 1943, whose diversity is what made WATU great—enter stage right, the Bombay Tactical Unit:
Pre-1944 RIN officers took their tactical training at Liverpool.
This is Pritam “Peter” Singh Mahindroo:
He joined the Merchant Navy at 16, and on the outbreak of war he tried to transfer to the Royal Indian Navy but was denied entry because, being Sikh, he refused to cut his hair. By 1940 he was in, with his turban on, and in 1942 he took the WATU course before escorting ships to the Atlantic Ocean as a Lt on INS Godvari.
A Victory parade was held in London on June 8,1946 in which representatives of the three Indian Armed Forces participated. The senior Indian Naval officer was Commander (later Rear Admiral) A. Chakravarti and the Naval Contingent was led by Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) P.S. Mahindroo. In keeping with the inter-service seniority in which the Navy was the senior service, the parade was led by the Naval Contingent.
Rear Admiral Mahindroo, who later commanded our first aircraft carrier Vikrant, reminisces on the occasion, “Needless to say, that as a turbaned officer leading the Naval Contingent, I was most prominent and I must have given hundreds of autographs amongst thousands of spectators who probably slept on the pavement for one or two nights to witness this historic parade.
Fearing imminent Japanese invasion in 1942, the Women’s Auxilliary Corps (India) formed to free every available shore-man for active duty. In January 1944 the WRINS formally stood up as its naval branch, as the focus of the war turned towards Asia.
43% of the officers and 77% of the WRINS were Indian, and among the junior officers 80% were Indian. The rest were Anglo-Indians (born in India of British descent; the white ruling class of Empire) and Brits—a combination of women stranded in the Empire by wartime travel restrictions, and women from Britain who signed up to the WRINS instead of the WRNS (applicants who didn’t quite make the cut for the RN were sometimes offered a more favourable position in the RIN, RCN, or other colonial navy…)
[Of course, Indians and Anglo-Indians were British Citizens; that’s how Empire worked. A fact conveniently forgotten by the hostile environment policy and Windrush scandal.]
The WRINS offered opportunities for “intelligent and well educated women and girls when they pass out of their schools and colleges … [for] cultured Indian girls and women … who have the interest and well-being of their country at heart.”
Chief Officer Cooper’s somewhat idyllic view of Empire certainly reflected attitudes of the time:
[Cooper’s spelling] Here Mohammedans, Hindoos, Parsees, Pathans, Anglo-Indians and British lived side by side in harmony, the only allowance made for difference in tase were the meals, two sets being provided.
For the Indian girls it was the experience of a life-time, broadening their outlook, and helping towards emancipation—so important for their future role in India.
During the three-day Mutiny in February 1946 it was significant that the WRINS in all the ports stood fast, and showed no signs of disaffection.
Cooper, Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service
Given that the chief grievance of the mutineers was poor treatment of Indian ratings by white officers, it suggests a white leadership (and of course, it was all white at the top) somewhat out of touch with the recipients of their colonial benificence.
Roshan Horabin, who was turned away from the WAC(I) because pre-1944 “they did not employ native girls,” talks about the class and race tensions at play:
I was educated at the Cathederal. And in those days there were only 10% Indians and we paid double fees. And although [an Indian] could be a prefect, you couldn’t be a head girl.
Roshan came from the upper-crust of Indian families, and socialised with Baronettes. Even so, she was once challenged by a police officer for using the “European” latrine instead of the “Indian” one.
He said, “These are the rules of the Empire and Indians do not go into British latrines.” People are shocked to hear this, and think Appartheit was only in South Africa. And I say no, in fact it was the whole of the Empire.
In 1942 she joined the Intelligence Division.
We had English people, Germans, French, and Mrs Smith who was a Colonel’s wife, in charge of my section. I think we had four Anglo-Indian ladies but they didn’t talk to Bina [the Honourable Bina Sina] and myself, they just spoke to the European lot. But the English lot talked to Bina and me.
Later when the WRINS began accepting Indian applicants, the Intelligence Division wouldn’t let her go. You can hear the whole of her oral history interview here.
The WRINS were immensley proud of their Tactical Unit contribution. In WRINS and How They Served, a two-page spread is devoted to explaining the purpose and details of the Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit, while the rest of the book has photographs and only brief captions at-best, glossing over the rest of the WRINS technical duties. (My particular favourite: Cypherettes at work. Because intelligence officers and backing vocalists are so very hard to tell apart…)
The Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit in Bombay trained officers of the RIN in one of the most thrilling and vital phases of sea warfare—the “Killer Group” tactics that played so large a part in the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic. Modelled on the lines of the Royal Navy’s famous Western Approaches Tactical Unit, this well-equipped establishment had WRINS assisting in the training of future commanding officers of HMI escort vessels.
WRINS and How They Served
Founding the Bombay Tactical Unit.
This is Cdr Arthur King:
The Tactical Unit was established in Bombay in 1944 and was disbanded shortly after the capitulation of Japan. As I was in charge of this unit it is of some historical interest that my thoughts on it should be recorded.
At the outset I should say that I do not have any clear idea as to why I was given this job. Certainly I never asked for it. But I have, nevertheless, for as long as I can remember, had an interest in naval tactics. This started when at school I read of Nelson’s conduct of his fleet. The positioning of ships to gain maximum advantage over the enemy was only achieved by a clear understanding of what was needed and how to use the elements—sea, wind, sun and moon—to gain the upper hand. A total understanding between the ships’ Captains was essential. Nelson developed this to the full, calling his Captains his “band of brothers”, and fostered this espirit de corps to a fine degree of understanding by calling them all together at every possible moment he could create.
In 1942, standing by HMIS Jumna building on the Clyde, a notice was circulated to COs of all escort vessels that they and their executive officers should attend as convenient at the A/S Tactical School located in Derby House, Liverpool, headquarters of Admiral Sir Max Horton, C-in-C Western Approaches.
There I met Commander Duncan
And this is the true joy of King’s account for me as a woman: to see the karma of the Williams’ biography of Captain Roberts, which mis-spelled the names of every single WATU Wren, repaid in kind by King persistently mis-remembering Roberts’ name as “Duncan”, and confusing him with his then-XO Lt Cdr Walter Higham, ex-submariner and ranking survivor of HMS Audacity:
There I met Commander DuncanRoberts, a dug out submariner who had been invalided out of the service in 1939 and recalled to set up a school to aquaint the Captains of the many escort vessels—sloops, frigates, corvettes—with the ways of the enemy they were going to face when they got out into the Atlantic, and how to deal with him. Technical schools had already instrcuted people in the mechanics of Asdic and final attack procedure, but they did not then have any experience of the tactics the enemy would use to get into the best position to get at the convoy. DuncanRoberts had made a study of such matters and had the added benefit of his Chief’s submariner’s mind.
The week-long course consisted of very few short lectures. Most of the time was spent playing games and analysing them. The “play area” was a gridded linoleum (has anyone ever seen lino of the quality provided to the Navy?) floor, with the pupils behind screens out of sight of the main plot, positioned at desks and fed with data—some relivant, some irrelivant—of contacts, signals, D/F bearings, etc, from which each had to decided his actions—signals to others, course and speed of his own ship, whether to move towards the convoy or to go to help some other ship in trouble, etc etc. All this was then transfered to the plot on the floor and success or failure resulted. Understanding of how best to achieve the objective of getting the convoy safely through was undoubtedly improved as the week went on. One was better informed of what the Germans were about and how they operated their “Wolf Pack” tactics. Confidence in how to counter-attack was gained. It was Nelson’s band of brothers again.
Then, in 1944,
I was somewhat mystified to recieve instructions to set up a Tactical Unit in Bombay on the lines of the Unit in Derby House Liverpool. The intention was that, as the war in Europe was approaching finality, Churchill and the War Cabinet directed that more effort had to be made against the enemy in the East.
And so, in July 1944, in company with Lieutenant Ahsan, DSC, and four WRINS—2nd Officers E. Donoghue, E. Staveley, J. West and E.A. Twynham—we set off in a York to fly to Liverpool. DuncanRoberts was still there—actually he spent the whole of the war in this appointment—and for six weeks we understudied him and his team.
In Bombay we set up shop. Our first location was above Mongini’s Restaurant in Hornby Road. This was all right for operation as it had the space and was properly fitted out, but it was hardly the place to keep confidential books. We were soon found a corner of the dockyard.
VE came and was celebrated. Then some months later Hiroshima and then Nagasaki were attacked by atomic bombs and the war was over.
In the weeks following, we in the Tactical Unit considered what we should do. There was obviously no enthusiasm for VR officers to spend time learning something they would never have to apply in practice. People all around us were just waiting for demoblilisation and getting bored. So we decided to set up demonstrations, using the facility of the large gridded linoleum floor as our stage. We read up on the confidential reports of the major Naval batles of the war and prepared our floor-show. “The Sinking of the Bismarck” and “The Battle of the River Plate” were presented by us in Bombay long before they were made into films! And we had large audiences, weighted from time to time by gold braid. Admirals Godfrey and Rattray both came along to see what we were up to, and made some complimentary remarks at the end of the shows.
Like this, I imagine, only with less YouTube and more pipe-smoking:
Was the Tactical Unit worthwhile? This is difficult to answer. Certinly if the war had developed into a long battle against the Japanese, who up to then had shown every sign of being difficult to move and fanatical in their resolve, then there would have been an enormous increase in military activity in this sphere with all important supplies coming by sea and therefore entirely dependent on Naval supremacy.
The Tactical Unit at Bombay would then have become, as was Liverpool to the Atlantic, the centre for updating intelligence of enemy tactics.
Show me the WRINS!
Oh, dear reader, I can do one better. Please be upstanding for 2nd Officer Staveley (now Puckridge), only the third first-hand account of WATU’s activities by a Wren (WRIN) in existance (Wren June Duncan’s memoire, and Lt Carol Hendry’s oral history being the other two).
Here are the founding WRINS of the Bombay Tactical Unit:
Pinch me. I am actually exchanging e-mails with a WATU Wren:
My father had just completed a 6-year Army posting to India when war broke out and we were unable to return to the UK because of the new travel restrictions. I enlisted in the WAC(I) in Bangalore in South India when the local women’s services commenced recruiting (had to back-date my date of birth by a year to qualify). After a few months in a Recruiting Office, I was asked if I would transfer to the Air Defence Unit, still in Bangalore. Later (sadly I did not keep a diary, so am imprecise about dates) I was asked to move to Cochin to work on Cyphers and from there was sent on an OTC and promoted to 2nd Officer, WR(I)NS. I was then sent to Liverpool Western Approaches Tactical Training Unit and, on completion of the course, was posted to Bombay to help with setting up a Tactical Unit there.
On arrival in Bombay from Liverpool I seem to recall working exclusively with the small group who attended the UK course, ie the four of us in the picture, the officer named King and another IAF officer [Lt Ahsan], and a lovely girl from India whose name I can’t recall.
When this was disbanded after VJ Day, I was posted as Personal Assistant to the Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer, Bombay, [Capt Nott] for a short while until I was demobbed in 1945.
2nd Officer Anne Puckridge (nee Staveley)
That lovely girl from India was 2nd Officer Kalyani Sen:
It was decided that four WRIN officers should be sent to the United Kingdom for a two months’ course at the Anti-Submarine Tactical Course at Liverpool. Those officers on completion of their training were appointed to act as “movers” at the Anti-Submarine Tactical School at Bombay. The Deputy Director WRINS, Chief Officer Cooper and two administrative officers also proceeded to the United Kingdom where they were attached to Women’s Royal Naval Service establishments and training centres for a period of two months to undergo a course of instruction in WRNS methods of administration and training.
The first Indian service woman who visited the United Kingdom was second officer Kalyani Sen, of the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service. With Chief Officer Margaret Cooper and second Officer Phyllis Cunningham she went there at the invitation of the Admiralty to make a comparative study of training and administration in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
There you have it. Women and minorities forging operational analysis. And casting gears for submarines, too (from Wrens in Camera by Lee Miller. Really stunning and unexpected photos of Wrens onboard ship and other non-clerical duties):
You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
The following report has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB126772)
Always wanted to be in a video game? Frustrated by the lack of diversity in COTS wargames?
This is your opportunity to be the representation you want to see in Combat Mission, a commercially available wargame used by Dstl and wider UK MOD to support analysis. It’s a fully 3D game all the way down to representing individual soldiers… You can see a quick overview here:
In light of the Derby House Principles, Tom Halliday at Dstl has secured support from the developers (Battlefront.com) and publishers (Slitherine) to implement more diverse people into the game. This will include adding BAME and female graphical representations to NATO forces, and providing Dstl the ability to add-in voice acting from diverse people.
That’s where you come in!
We are looking for diverse people to contribute their voice to this initiative. Please spread the word, you do not have to be a wargamer, defence analyst, or service-person. Friends and family are welcome too. Here’s an idea of how the pros do it [warning: language !] in Company of Heroes (we won’t be asking you to swear) if you need some inspiration.
Everyone who contributes will recieve a splendid campaign medal Derby House Pin, and have their voice immortalised within UK MOD wargaming analysis.
Who do we want to hear from?
Anyone who identifies as a woman:
another country/ethnicity accents not already covered (even if you’re not British)
any other under-represented group (eg LGBT+)
Those who identify as men and are:
another country/ethnicity accents not already covered (even if you’re not British)
any other under-represented group (eg LGBT+)
Countries the British Army recruits from:
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Brunei Darussalem. Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Ireland, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, and Zambia.
A note on age: as long as you sound like you’re between 18 and 55 you’re in.
What if I can do a few different accents?
If you can record the lines with different accents, that would be awesome. Please do a separate submission for each accent.
Note: this is not an invitation for white people to muscle-in on the representation space. Please no black-face voice acting, or bad approximations of accents that aren’t really yours.
What do I get in return?
Your voice acting will be immortalised in Dstl version of Combat Mission, a COTS wargame used by UK MOD.
The eternal glory of being part of a short film Dstl is making to publicise the new-and-diverse ORBAT and to celebrate the Derby House Principles in general.
The joy/pride/immense satisfaction of knowing you are playing a part in breaking down barriers for BAME and PoC soldiers, analysts, and gamers, by normalising the presence of female and ethnically diverse characters in computer games. Representation matters.
A Derby House Principles pin, which looks amazing on a pass lanyard. The Blue Peter Badge of wargaming ;-)
I’m in, how do I do this?
with Audacity & mic, or smart phone.
*.WAV, or if you’re doing it by smart phone I’ll also accept *.mp3 and *.m3a files (standard output from iPhone and android voice recorder apps)
Hang up a duvet in front or around you when you record if you can. This deadens the echo in the room. It will improve the quality of the audio enormously. There’s a nice demonstration of the effect in this video; you don’t need a fancy blanket, any kind of duvet works.
Have a real go at the acting if you can. The best stuff is likely to feature prominently in the film :D
Please do record three takes of each line, and doing each a little differently. It really helps us. We can pick the best performance you give us, and it also means we have an alternative for any stray noise/fluffed lines.
Please follow the naming convention in the instructions, it’ll make it much easier for us in the post-processing work. If you’re reallyreally struggling, just send me what you can, I’d rather have the voice acting than quibble over technical issues.
I’ve done it, now what?
Once you’ve recorded your lines, drop me an e-mail with a link to the files on your google drive/dropbox/other, or ask me to send you a link to my dropbox where you can upload the files.
Also let me know:
where to send your pin
what name you’d like us to use to credit your voice acting—if you want to be credited. If you’d rather not be named, you can either supply the most amazing stage name (points will be awarded for good puns) or we’ll put you down under “the wargaming community”.
Please complete and return the consent form or we can’t use your voice-recordings.
Combat Mission is becoming increasingly widely used within Dstl and also within wider MoD, such as the Fight Club initiative. This is a great opportunity to promote diversity and drive change in a way which normalises the fact that minorities and women both serve in the British Army. We cannot do this without your support (and the support of your wider friends and family if they want to contribute as well). As a straight, white man as part of a group in Combat Mission of other straight, white men, this is something we are literally incapable of doing ourselves but we really want to help to promote D&I as widely as possible.
Once I have your voice acting files,
Your name will only be used to credit you in the Dstl film if you choose to be named
Your address will only be used to post you a Derby House Pin
Your e-mail address will only be used to let you know when the film launches
Your personal details will be deleted once the above is done
Your voice acting files will not include your personal details.
You may have noticed that when disability shows up in the media, it’s:
Short hand for evil: Bond villains, anyone? Limps, scars, prosthetics, mental illness. The media uses disability to other the bad guy. Not cool.
Inspiration porn: the disabled character isn’t a person so much as their tragical experiences are the plot mechanic to spur able-bodied people to become better human beings. Me Before You pretty much takes the biscuit here, but most disability biopics fit this trope through condescension and “good on them for trying”. To quote my friend: don’t say it’s good because I’m dyslexic; say it’s good.
The Overcoming Narrative: because the most important thing in the world is for a disabled person to be cured of their disability. All disabilities can be magically cured if it suits the plot! Nobody needs to be ok about disability, because Real People pull their socks up and defeat it.
Exceptionalism: a trope common to all marginalised people, that we accept your disability (or blackness, or womanhood, or sexuality, or immigrant-status) if you redeem yourself through exceptional achievement. It’s not all bad, but it’s a toxic message when it’s the only positive portrayal of disabled people. It sends a message that you’re doing your disability wrong if you’re living a perfectly normal, happy and fulfilled life like 99% of the rest of the population.
Disability Issues Only: the disabled character only gets to have storylines about being disabled. Because that’s all disabled people do, right? They don’t have lives, or jobs, or partners/spouses and kids *eyeroll*
Like “the Gay Agenda”, folks with disabilities just want to get on with life the same way all you non-disabled folks do: go to work, remember to buy milk, collect the kids from school, and see positive representations of people like them in books, films, TV, and in the games we play.
Sara Thompson has created a ruleset for what’s basically a murderball chair, which levels the playing field for an adventurer with a physical disability: it functions as a basic melee weapon (with ramming, crushing, and side-swiping actions), it laughs in the face of steps and stairs (you know, like able-bodied adventurers do), and has plenty of options for upgrading and levelling-up with your chair as you adventure—mounted combat, being one with your chair as far as spell-casting goes, and pockets.
Sigh. If you’re genuinely asking this question, alas dear reader, you have the ableist mindset that sees disability as broken, undesirable, and to be avoided and put out of mind at all costs. Yes, absolutely, disability is hard and frustrating, and at times and in certain situations, limiting (though you’d be surprised how often it’s not the disability that’s limiting, more society, infrastructure and assumptions). But, you know, so is having ginger hair or an Essex accent, or being a woman in a male-dominated field, and nobody is saying “OMG why would you want to play as these things in D&D, what’s wrong with you? Don’t give them the rules, don’t let that be an option.”
I wondered how could I get abled folks to understand and see us as people like them? – Sara Thompson
Everyone plays D&D as a little bit themselves. Why shouldn’t disabled people have the same choice to play as all-the-way-themselves as able-bodied players, if they want to?
One of the ugly things about ableism is the assumption that disability must be eradicated. That’s like saying the cure for racism is to get rid of all the non-white people, which is just about the most offensive idea going.
I have received death threats, mockery, and vitriol from people who don’t want to understand why this representation is so important – Sara Thompson
Not all disabled people want to be cured of their disability. In part that’s because it’s not an option and it would be a pretty unhealthy mindset to live your life waiting on your legs to grow back, the injury to un-happen, or your genetic code to rewrite itself.
Then there’s the matter of identity: disability is a part of who you are when you have one, particularly if it’s something you’ve had since birth. Not all of that is good, but excising the disability isn’t a clear-cut thing either. Maybe more akin to amputating your cultural identity.
And finally, the ableist notion that disability must be cured is based on the idea that a person can’t be happy or fulfilled with a disability, and that s#$t doesn’t happen to able-bodied people alike—it’s like saying poverty is the cause of unhappiness, so rich people must not have any problems… they just have different human issues to deal with. Admittedly, there’s a lot to be said for not going hungry, but having food and money for the rent is necessary but insufficient to a good life.
Which is all to say, that disabled people exist, and they’re not going anywhere, and a lot of the time they’re happy and fulfilled and expect to be accepted in society like any other person on this planet. Which means seeing positive representations of themselves in games, and having the choice to play with core aspects of themselves if they want.
I had a chat with Sara over e-mail:
What led you to coming up with the combat wheelchair rules?
There were a lot of factors that led up to the chair’s creation. I’ve had experiences of asking Dungeon Masters if I could play a disabled character at their tables and was generally met with an awkward “Oh, yeah, there’s no rules for that so you can’t,” or the unsurprising method of “Okay, but you have to take all these negatives and/or penalties,” which isn’t an accurate portrayal of disability/chronic illness/neurodivergency at all.
A lot of my friends are also wheelchair users (both ambulatory and full-time) and it got me thinking about how we never see an adventurer in a wheelchair. We never see disabled folks represented as the capable people that they are – many of us, like me, have jobs and families and responsibilities. Our disability is just a part of us, and I think that able-bodied people don’t understand that. We are often seen as and used for pity or inspiration – there’s a real issue with inspiration porn in the media; look at Queer Eye’s episode about a disabled man, for example.
I wondered how I could represent us in D&D, how could I get abled folks to understand and see us as people like them?
Already, the average Level 1 character is above the typical NPC villager, so I decided to take inspiration from Paralympians. Essentially, I spent 6-7 months submerging myself into the culture behind wheelchair sports – I recommend to anyone that they watch some Murderball matches; they’re very intense! I made some very rough concept ideas which was Combat Wheelchair v1.0 and took feedback from wheelchair users in the community who play-tested it to tell me what I could do to better reflect a wheelchair inclined towards combat and adventuring. This feedback, along with the design for the basic chair being taken from sports chairs used in Murderball matches, was then put together and written up into what people know as the Combat Wheelchair v2.0 today.
What’s the response been?
The response in general has been overwhelming, regardless of it being good or bad. I never really expected the chair to take off and get as much coverage as it did. I posted it knowing that the people I made it for (wheelchair users and the disabled community) were the ones it would reach and I only cared for their reactions to it – I wanted more than anything to put positive and accurate portrayal of them into a game that has, for the most part, failed them on the representation front for the past 40+ years D&D has been running. But then so many people started RT-ing it, including writers at WotC and Critical Role’s DM Matt Mercer, and it suddenly had a lot of eyes on it.
In general, the response has been positive. For every 1 mean comment are 20 more that have kind words of support. But still, I have received death threats from sock puppet accounts, mockery for being disabled and making an item that doesn’t erase disability, and vitriol from people who don’t want to understand why this representation is so important. It has been a lot, but at the end of the day, it made the people who needed it and who I wrote it for happy, and that’s all that matters to me.
Where would you like to see the hobby in five years?
I would like to see our hobby and communities accept that a lot of the demographic of RPGs is disabled people – they are something disabled folks can play every week and, now that a lot of it has moved online, it’s become more accessible (not entirely accessible though). A lot of disabled people play ttrpgs and it’s time we all step up to acknowledge and work on bettering our games to represent everyone.
Anyone can be an adventurer.
What would you like straight-white-male wargamers to know about gaming from a disability perspective?
Don’t be afraid of disability; open up that dialogue at your tables. Talk to disabled folks about this and learn – there are a lot of free resources out there online for you to learn from. Stop treating representation of disabled folks as a threat and see it as an opportunity to learn, broaden your mindset, and help you become a better DM/GM and player. Disability isn’t a bad thing and it’s time we stop treating it like it is.
This is awesome, what can I do to make my games more inclusive?
The FATE Accessibility Toolkit is a great disability resource. It covers how to make your gaming table accessible to players with disabilities, as well as how to include disability in character design within the FATE system, which also translates well to other systems. You can buy a copy on DriveThuRPG.
If you want to get your learn on about disability culture more broadly, I recommend reading No Pity by Joseph Shapiro, a collection of essays on disability rights and history, and watching Crip Camp on Netflix, which tells the story of the 504 Sit In, the longest non-violent occupation of a U.S. federal building in history: 100 disabled people, supported by the Black Panthers, protested for 26 days for equal access to public services. Fun fact: disability equality is part of the anti-segregation ruling handed down in Brown vs Board of Education.
Read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
PAXsims and the Derby House Principles are pleased to present Paul Strong & Sally Davis discussing queer and gender non-conforming representation in the military, from ancient times to the modern day.
Hear how war and the military created gay culture as we know it, and how gay culture has in turn shaped the military and how we think about war. Spot a few familiar faces, from WATU Wrens to Alexander the Great, QueenKing Christina of Sweden, Lord Kitchener, and others.
Peter Perla raised an excellent question in the chat during the Connections North round up at Connections 2020: how do we move beyond just making statements of support for diversity and inclusion?
First recognise the challenge:
On a homogenous team, people readily understand each other and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive.
But [a]mong groups where all three original members didn’t already know the correct answer, adding an outsider versus an insider actually doubled their chance of arriving at the correct solution, from 29% to 60%. The work felt harder, but the outcomes were better.
In fact, working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it’s harder.
Honest consideration of our privilege. Not in an accusatory way, but to recognise the bigger patterns at work: if you don’t “see” colour you also don’t see the systemic biases faced by non-white people. You’re really saying you’re choosing to see them as white—which denies their identity, lived-experience, and gives you all the power to police what’s white-enough. It makes the topic uncomfortable for people to bring up at all. The same goes for gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
Engaging in acts of empathy towards others: shifting to a mindset of womens’/black/LGBT/disability rights and history are everybody’s rights and history too, not a niche interest. Women and minorities are expected to root for straight white male interests all the time, it’s time straight white men returned the favour. We’re a culture of red-teamers, what are we doing not searching out perspectives other-than-our-own? The diversity card deck is a good place to start.
Being ok with feeling uncomfortable. Women and minorities are expected to do all the emotional labour of keeping straight white men comfortable, that needs to stop. Step out of defensiveness when folks talk about the problem—expressing your discomfort by shutting down the conversation or protesting your personal innocence is cheering for the wrong side. Regardless of intention it’s keeping straight-white-male comfort front and centre in a conversation about the very real harms being done to women and minorities. Women and minorities aren’t the problem, it’s on everyone else to do the work of change.
Stop and think before saying or doing something potentially insensitive, or ask if or how you should proceed. Of course, awareness of what might be insensitive only comes from having engaged with minority interests and history to understand life from their perspective, and the humility to accept feedback about your unknown unknowns.
If you make a mistake, apologise, do better, move on. Be ok with admitting vulnerability, “I don’t know how to do this right, but I want to learn.”
You can read the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
The diversity survey results are in and have been compiled into a handy deck of cards. Instructions are included for a group activity, but in these socially-distant times they work just as well for solo reflection. No plans for hardcopy just yet, but feel free to print your own.
The featured vignettes are just a snapshot of the real things actually happening to women and minority professional wargamers and analysts that have been sent to me through the diversity survey. It makes for some sobering reading.
A few thoughts on the survey itself:
1. It’s bad for women. But there aren’t even double-figures when it comes to non-white wargamers.
Yuna Wong joked when she was asked about her experience and the interviewer caveated that he wasn’t expecting her to speak for all non-white wargamers, “It’s fine, the other one is ok with me speaking for him.”
I think it would be easy to focus on misogynism only, because there are more women to complain about it. Wargaming really needs to ask uncomfortable questions about what’s keeping it so white.
2. A flavour of responses that didn’t feature in the card deck:
“Please note that you can use quotes but I insist on remaining anonymous. I don’t fancy the vitriol and trolling.”
“My husband points out [the fact] that being female makes me diverse is damning.”
“The Connections Community looks very non-diverse, but actually they are quite inclusive.”
3. Men might be shocked to learn that women wargamers have to think about keeping themselves safe from sexual assault.
4. Things that are good:
Representation! At games and in games
Groups that are vocal about being inclusive
Supportive (male) colleagues who make space at the table
Being seen as a player not someone with a disability (or other minority)
PAXsims is proud to present the world-premier of A short film about WATU! Lovingly crafted from the historical record, contemporary footage, and the voice-acting skills of the Chelsfield Players and Dstl analysts.
A Filmed In Lockdown production. Written and animated by Sally Davis. Starring: Diana McDonnell-Pascoe, David Bacon, Jo East, Ken Clarke, Jeremy Lowe, James Edmunds, Anna Fothergill, Philippa Rooke, Emily Edmunds, Nick Barnett, Anne Allocca, Gill Bacon, David Childs, Maddy McCubbin, and the Admiralty Collection.