Companies like Paizo have done a really good job of including a variety of people in their products. In non-Earth RPGs you don’t have the same ethnicities that you do on Earth, but often the people in those non-Earth environments reflect qualities of Earthly human ethnicities. For example Keleshites are a generic analog to cultures of the Middle-East. There are hundreds of ethnicities in the region, but they are categorized together due to a shared set of values. An Iranian and a Saudi would likely have differences in diet, community, language, and religion, but those differences would be more similar to each other than if they were compared to a person from East Asia or Southern Africa. This is why we group them together, for ease of identification.
I’m not here to talk about Paizo’s’ representation of people, but about the player base for RPGs like Pathfinder. Despite all the work done by these companies, tabletop RPGs players-bases are mostly White and I want to discuss a little bit about why that may be. Full-disclosure, I have no hard data to back any of these statements up, but I do have some personal experiences in my local RPG scene to help explain some points I’ll make here.
Why Don’t People of Color Play Pathfinder?
The short answer to that is we do, just at lower rates than Whites. My local PFS community is relatively small (maybe 60-70 total members) in a city of 1.5 million. In my two years of attendance to games at least twice weekly to different parts of the city I have met a total of 7 Black RPG players who come with varying frequency, with a mythic 8th I’ve never seen before but have heard of. Our local PFS community is wonderful and welcoming to everyone, so the community doesn’t seem to be scaring people away. So why in such a big city are there so few People of Color playing Pathfinder?
I live in the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a minority-majority city (A city where there are more People of Color than Whites) with a total population of 1.5 million spread into more than 60 neighborhoods. These neighborhoods form the boundaries of where people feel comfortable exploring. It can be a challenge to get people to try and get out of their comfort zones to go experience new things. While this may seem just part of common reluctance to do uncomfortable things, the neighborhood divisions in Philadelphia can feel like a high wall to people, In my professional career we go into neighborhoods to give assistance, but if we ever vacate a neighborhood, it’s unlikely those people will visit us as a site a few neighborhoods over. This relates to Pathfinder Organized Play attendance in that only a handful of neighborhoods in Philadelphia have stores that offer RPG products or playspace and even fewer of the stores are in neighborhoods that are minority-majority. This may not be a Philadelphia only issue, other cities have their own array of neighborhoods, and even people in the country may have perceived borders.
Availability of Gaming Stores
To piggyback off the last heading, there are only a few stores in Philadelphia that host Pathfinder Society. A few more offer D&D Adventure League but in total the stores that offer RPG organized play can be counted on two hands with a few industrial accidents. There are a lot of stores that offer similar hobbies like card and board games that don’t offer RPG merchandise. This reduces exposure to those styles of games for the people with those style of gaming stores in their neighborhood. Some of the reasons I’ve heard for the lack of RPG organized play space are; not enough physical space, lack of profit from hosting groups, and groups being rowdy or disrespectful. These are all legitimate reasons for stores to avoid hosting RPG play, but it lowers community exposure to those games as a whole.
This is not a distinctly minority issue. In fact, on a recent Know Direction Perram spoke about the challenges of starting a PFS game day in a low-income region of Kentucky. Income (and lack thereof) hampers people’s abilities to start new hobbies. Sure, the core rulebook may only cost $20, but $20 also buys 3 boxes of oatmeal, 2-10 packs of ramen, 4 boxes of pasta, and 3 pounds of ground beef for the week. There are people everywhere who would like to do all sorts of hobbies if they only had the means. Using Philadelphia as an example the median household income in the city is just under $37,000. On the map below, only one of the stores in Philadelphia that offer regular organized play resides in an area where the median household income is less than $40,000. Those lower income neighborhoods without game stores are also minority majority, limiting lower income minorities access to places to pick up the hobby and play. Regardless of race, Philadelphia itself is poor for a large city with the median household income being almost $6,000 lower than Baltimore. Limited income creates limited accessibility to hobbies.
Eurocentrism of Golarion and General Disconnect from Fantasy as Culture
In the United States, all non-Native Americans are immigrants from somewhere. When people immigrate they tend to keep the stories, folk tales, and legends of their homelands. In many of those cultural works things common to RPG settings exist; castles, kingdoms, dragons, mythical beasts, and magic. These things exist in non-European culture, but not with the same significance. Since so many facets of fantasy RPGs are tied to one culture, it can be hard for people outside of that culture to see the significance. As a personal example the folk tales and stories I heard growing up weren’t of fantasy tropes, but stories like John Henry and his Steam Shovel, biblical stories, and inspirational tales of bonded people standing up for themselves. While great fantasy fuel, they were stories that boosted human achievement over divine or magical intervention (Save for the bible).
This is all based off my personal experiences as a black guy to help explain a phenomenon I’ve witnessed and heard other people wonder about. I think to help grow our hobby we have to be aware of barriers to entry for the hobby for all sorts of people, not just people of color. The more people at an organized play table the better right? (Well, 6 is fine. But more tables is even better!) This is by no means a complete list or peer reviewed in any way, and if you have anything to add please put it in the comments below. It may help some of your coordinators figure out how to boost engagement with a dope hobby