This RPGaDay topic is timely. One of the ways that we pay tribute to people in creative fields is via awards. Most people living above ground know about the Oscars, the Emmy awards, the Man Booker Prize, and so on. There are several awards in the field of tabletop roleplaying as well. Normally they’re handed out at major conventions, but obviously the pandemic has forced some changes there this year.
While the concept of awards is solid, I personally dislike them in practice. Yes, they can validate a creator and their work in the eyes of the public. They can help people to discover works they might never have heard of otherwise. I can also gesture broadly at all of the problems that have become painfully obvious over the past decade. My issues mostly come down to the formation of toxic cliques that control the narrative, determine who’s in and who’s out, and direct the content.
If you want to win an award, you can cozy up to the clique and win their favor. That’s the obvious, high school stuff. It’s why when a committee is made up of a certain demographic, the winners tend to be from that same demographic. Historically (or as some prefer to spin it, “traditionally”) this means Straight White Guys.
What gets overlooked is how awards shape the type of content being created. Jess Nevins wrote an outstanding Twitter thread about how for decades the Joseph W. Campbell Award shut out a whole range of science fiction. If it wasn’t the sort of pulpish thing that Campbell would have published in Astounding, it wasn’t considered. The recent change to the award’s name addresses the fact that Campbell was a highly problematic fascist, but the alteration from the Campbell Award to the Astonishing Award keeps the content perception problem at least partially intact, if only as an unspoken bias.
And then there’s the bungling of this year’s Diana Jones award. I think you should just read the piece that Misha Bushyager wrote about it. I know that some people still won’t get it. What she’s saying will either be outside of their lived experience, or they just won’t want to understand.
They start by sending her an email addressed to a different Black creator. The notion that all Black people look alike was a favorite “joke” of my racist uncles when I was growing up, so I understand her frustration. That the award is being given to the concept of “Black creators”, rather than consulting with said demographic to find a specific game by a specific creator to honor, is othering. Having a separate logo for “honorees” distinct from “winners” when Black creators are, so far, the only people with that distinction, obviously conjures up the rhetoric of “separate but equal” rationalizations.
The old (bigoted) argument goes that awards are based on merit, so if Black/female/LGBTQ+ people aren’t winning it’s because their creative work isn’t that good. Which skips right past the part where award committees control that narrative, “proving” that people aren’t “good enough” by not giving them awards. Ugh. When attempts are made to balance the scales by, say, adding more diversity to award committees and ensuring that there is more diversity among nominees, the bigots will argue that people are just being handed things.
I think that Misha makes it abundantly clear in her piece that she’s not down with tokenism either. She states that she doesn’t want to get an award just because she’s Black, or a woman. She wants it because her work is outstanding and she deserves it. The reason she ultimately declined to be honored, I think, was precisely because it made her feel like a token.
A Tribute to Clique Members
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A bunch of right-leaning fans and creators think that an award committee has a left-leaning bias. They only pay tribute to people in the left-wing clique. So they hijack the awards, stack the nominees in their favor, and game the system so people in their clique win. Everyone screams because the process is obviously broken, if it can be subverted like that. The underlying arguments come down to how one clique can stay in control and keep the other clique out. Very few people are talking about the real issue, which is the that any group of people has that much control over who’s in and who’s out.
I think that the situation is getting better. A lot of awards are putting processes in place to ensure that there is more diversity. It’s been a hard sell, both to the bigots and to the people used to being in power. This is something that will take time. But I think in the end it will be worth it. Imagine a world where award winners really were the best in their field, and not the favorite of a few elites. Until then, I have no interest in awards.
#RPGaDay2020 – Tribute
RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.