Accessibility can mean many things. In the post by Accessible Games announcing this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme, Jacob Wood encourages us to think about what accessibility is. In particular, he gives the prompt, “What does accessibility mean to me?” I can break my answer into two themes – layout and morality.
Broadly, this is about how difficult it is for me to access the information I want. When I first read an RPG book, I look for things like indexes, rules summaries, appendices of important tables and keywords. These things don’t help me learn the game, but the make accessing the information during play faster. I want to locate quickly what it is I’m looking for.
When I’m learning a game I want accessible prose. As long as I can understand and believe the world you’re building, then go to town with your adjectives, similes and metaphors. Adding colour and description here makes your fiction more accessible. By contrast, my preference is for the rules to be written in blunt, unequivocal sentences. State things explicitly and be consistent with terminology. Perhaps using the word round dozens of times makes the combat section read slowly, but if you replace it with the word turn, action or go, you make the mechanics of your game less accessible, because now it’s unclear what you’re referring to.
A role playing game can be morally inaccessible. This is much more subjective than rules terminology or indexes. As a reader / player / game leader you will have some kind of emotional reaction to the culture or set of ethics of the game world. The more divergent that morality is from your own, the more effort is required to engage and role play. The game becomes less accessible. There are of course RPGs that are about the discussion and exploration of complex ethics. In these games the ethics are the subject of the game rather than an aspect of how you play them.
In writing Age of Legends my brother and I learnt a lot about Ancient Greek culture. Much of it is very interesting and a good chunk of it (particularly the myths and stories) are ideal for heroic role playing. There are, however, aspects that are highly objectionable to us. Women, non-greeks and slaves had little to no rights. Often they were treated worse than property and had no say in decision making.
If we reproduce such a culture for our game, we would be making it morally inaccessible for numerous potential players, ourselves included. It would not be a setting that we would want to role play in. So we changed things. Female champions of the gods are just as powerful and respected as their male colleagues. When describing the gods and their history, we avoided making reference to myths that featured sexual assault. We built our own version of Ancient Greece. A more accessible one.
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