When I started Engine Publishing in 2009, I committed privately to supporting and fostering diversity and inclusiveness in the books we publish. It’s a topic that has come up during the production of all six of our books, and over time my view of what that commitment means has expanded. What hasn’t changed is the “privately” part: I’ve always done it quietly.
My thinking was that doing the right thing trumped talking about it. What I missed was a third option, one I hadn’t considered until a few days ago: Doing what I think is right and talking about it trumps only trying to do the right thing.
The main reason I haven’t written a post like this before is because I’m not generally a toot-my-own-horn kind of guy. I don’t like doing it, and I thought talking about Engine Publishing’s approach to supporting and fostering diversity would come off as smug, self-aggrandizing, and crass. Two things changed my perspective on that.
The first was Bill Cavalier‘s series of tweets about opening up the clubhouse, which addresses the historically male-dominated boy’s club that was — and in a lot of ways still is — the RPG industry. He has strong words to say about speaking out, and that resonated with me.
The second was an email from onehundred-percent-done about the recent issue of a product called “Tournament of Rapists” appearing on DriveThruRPG, which sparked a conversation that led to me asking the question, “Is doing it and talking about it more powerful?” The response was “Yes,” which led to me writing this post.
Engine Publishing is committed to fostering and supporting diversity and inclusiveness in the books that we publish. This matters because gaming, as a hobby, is enriched when it honors and welcomes diverse perspectives, and all people, without discrimination, shaming, rancor, exclusion, or other negative behavior. Gaming is awesome, and everyone should be able to participate without exception.
I’m as mad about sexist, racist, homophobic, bigoted bullshit in the RPG industry as I am about it in real life. My wife and I are raising our daughter to understand that people are people, everyone is different, and it’s okay to be different. We want her to know that it’s not just okay to be whoever she turns out to be — gay, trans, whatever the case — it’s fantastic.
As a publisher, I approach inclusiveness, diversity, and acceptance with the same passion. It matters. What’s out there, in the marketplace, matters. Starting from the front cover, I want folks who see or read our books to see strong, empowered women, awesome folks with disabilities doing awesome things, people of all skin colors and ethnic backgrounds being kick-ass adventurers, and on and on.
I’m not perfect, and I will get things wrong. Starting with this very post, which I’m reasonably confident will mess things up right and left. Part of my commitment includes shutting my mouth and genuinely trying to see others’ perspective before opening my mouth again, learning from my mistakes, and wiping away my blind spots.
A word about responsibility
Lots of folks work on our books, but Engine Publishing is a one-person company, and that person is me. If we publish something, it’s my responsibility.
Full credit for embracing diversity and inclusiveness, however, does not reside solely with me. From art direction to artists to designers to authors, lots of people deserve credit for their excellent work in this area. I’m speaking about me and my take on things in this post because I don’t presume to speak for them, or for anyone else.
Pronouns in Engine Publishing books
All of our books alternate she/he and her/his throughout. The house style is to alternate by discrete “chunk,” usually a paragraph, provided no loss of clarity is involved (no switching genders mid-sentence, or the like). For example, if one sample NPC is male, the next sample NPC will be female.
I’m confident we haven’t gotten this 100% right, but that’s due to the number of authors involved and my failings as an editor, not to lack of trying.
What you’ll never see in our books is 100% he/his, an approach that I’ve always found particularly galling as a reader. “He” and “his” aren’t genderless terms. Using male pronouns to refer to everyone is an antiquated practice that needs to stop. (Singular “they,” although it makes me wince as an editor, is so much better than universal male pronouns.)
I’m not perfect about this, either: I’m still working to excise “guys” from my vocabulary as my default collective noun in casual conversation.
Engine Publishing covers
When designing a cover, we consider diversity, including but not limited to gender, ethnicity, skin color, and body type. We also don’t objectify our subjects. Ensemble covers feature a diverse mix of people. Solo covers thus far have featured women, because I think there’s a dearth of non-objectified, one-woman covers in the industry, and I want to help rectify that.
In my view, I got some of this wrong on Eureka’s cover, and I’ve worked to correct that in the five covers that followed our first book. Gemma, the African-American woman at the center of Odyssey’s cover, is paraplegic; in hindsight, I wish that her wheelchair was on that cover. For Focal Point, we featured both a trans woman (center left) and a woman with a physical disability (bottom right), and I hope we did so in a respectful manner.
Engine Publishing art orders
Our art orders for interior artwork require diversity. Like our covers, we shoot for a diverse group of people in our examples, and try to avoid objectification. The most common request I’ve made of artists when asking for revisions is “More diversity, please.”
I generally assess our artwork by gut feeling, which means I probably don’t work as hard to ensure diversity as I should. I’ve become more aware of this over the past six years, and am working on it.
I haven’t done as good a job as I should have on featuring LGBT characters in our books. Non-straight folks are present in examples, and among the cast of NPCs in Masks, but not as prominently as they should be.
Sexuality and sexual preferences don’t generally play a big role in the types of books we’ve published to date, but I see opportunities to highlight LBGT people in our artwork (for example) no matter what the topic, and this is something I will be doing in future books.
Room for improvement
Throughout this post I’ve tried to note where I see places Engine Publishing can approve. I’m a white dude who hasn’t struggled with poverty, so I have lots of blind spots — collectively, my privilege — to get past.
I’m committed to continued improvement in fostering and supporting diversity and inclusiveness, and I welcome your perspective on this issue.
Thanks for reading.