I have this t-shirt that just has this pretty plain D&D logo on the front:

I think I actually got it free at GenCon when they announced 4th edition.  Being the actual words written out so clearly it’s pretty recognizable for what it is.  So a few weeks back I was wearing it while Jenn and I were getting breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.  The cashier was a young meek looking Indian girl, and despite being hidden behind huge glasses and a layer of bangs, I could see a certain excited sparkle in her eyes as we placed our order.  

As she took our order she told us effusively how she really wanted to play D&D but never had the chance, and how much she was looking forward to starting college in the fall where they had a real gaming club she could join so she’d get to play.  Groggy as I was and with this sizable chunk of her life story coming out all in one breath, my reaction was as subdued “Cool” as I grabbed my coffee and made way for the next customer.  It was cool though, and I wish I had been more on the ball or the store less crowded and I would have happily nerded out with her.

Cut forward to this evening as Jenn and I are grocery shopping (in the same shopping center as that very Dunkin Donuts) and I happen to be wearing this shirt again.  This time the cashier who I guess to be a similar age, or possibly slightly older than the Dunkin Donuts girl, told us about how she too wanted to play D&D but could never find a group.  Maybe I think she’s older simply because she had a harder punk edge to her look, with a mostly shaved head and a little ink showing, but she went on to say something like “it’s hard to find a cool group that’s, you know, not just a bunch of CIS white boys.”

I knew where she was coming from.  Certainly all of my own gaming groups have had a majority of white male players.  Also we cannot deny that gaming has a certain reputation for attracting people with a kind of 12-year-old boy personality type, regardless of actual physical age. While I’m sure that like all stereotypes there are countless examples that countermand this reputation, it does not make it any less intimidating for an outsider to try and join in without worrying about being judged for not quite fitting in.

What really pained me about this interaction though was the fact that I do pride myself on being pretty plugged in to the gaming scene.  Normally if anyone said “I’d really like to try D&D”, I’d have tons of suggestions on how to get involved.  But when presented with the extra constraint of “and not have to worry about being judged by my gender / sexuality / physical appearance” I found myself nonplussed.  What could I suggest?

There are two gaming stores in town that I’m sure run local events, but they do have that typical creepy basement feel many game stores have, and are usually full of, well, young white males.  Attend a local convention?  Yeah, there’s some diversity there and I know for a fact a lot of very cool gamers.  Also though I’m sure plenty of intolerant jerks that you’ll have to sift through as well.  Never mind that a giant hotel full of strangers well versed in an activity that you’re just trying to learn a little about can be crazy overwhelming.

I was struck dumb.  With Jenn and a couple other cashiers all chatting the conversation quickly moved away from the topic, and we left with our groceries and me not having said a single word about D&D.  It’s stuck in my craw now, and I’m trying to figure out what exactly could I do to help this?  And in fact, I find myself really kind of interested in finding some real practical way of encouraging some more diversity in this hobby I love.  I mean, clearly there are people in my very neighborhood just dying for a helping hand to introduce them to the game.

I could easily find a location to run some kind of intro game.  There are those two gaming stores I mentioned, but there’s also the local library which maybe presents a more neutral ground that’s less intimidating.  Finding something to run is easy.  How to present it strikes me as the hardest part.  How would you market this kind of thing to coax these proto-gamers out into the open?  What words could you put in a flyer or on the internet that would encourage them to see it as a safe place?  Where would you post the information, I mean besides that one shopping center down the road which is apparently a hot-bed for neophyte gamers?

I’ve seen attempts at this kind of thing completely backfire.  I remember Tim Kask ran a game at a local con that was billed as being for “Ladies Only.”  I know in his heart Tim was after the same kind of things I’m talking about here — he just wanted to introduce the game to a wider audience.  He got a lot of backlash on it though, and from all sides.  Perhaps his mistake was doing this at a convention, where presumably most attendees are already pretty comfortable with the hobby as a concept, and much of his target audience perhaps felt the tone a bit patronizing.

I’d love to hear thoughts.  What do you think people of the internet?  How would you go about setting up an introductory event for new players that have perhaps felt excluded from our hobby?  What if anything can you do to encourage a more diverse attendance?