13 December 2016
Mike Mearls explains changes to sexualisation in Fifth Edition as response to player demand
The lead designer of Dungeons & Dragons has spoken out on the improving gender equality in the storied roleplaying game’s rulebooks and supplements.
D&D’s Fifth Edition – released back in 2013 – was notably different in its approach to portraying female characters and monsters, with fewer bare breasts and fewer over-sexualised positions and costumes, while their male equivalents began to wear fewer clothes and adopt more suggestive positions to balance the gender scales.
This year’s supplement to the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, continues the progression towards gender equality, reducing – without removing completely – female sexualisation while introducing new male counterparts to traditionally sexualised D&D creatures such as the succubus.
Lead D&D designer and senior manager Mike Mearls discussed the ongoing changes in an insightful interview with Kotaku, referencing the RPG’s widening audience and its appeal to more than its straight male following of decades past as key to the improving fairness.
“We’re equal opportunity cheesecake merchants,” Mearls said – with ‘cheesecake’ a slang term for scantily-clad individuals, commonly associated with female characters. “We don’t assume heterosexual male players.”
Mearls appears to pre-empt potential backlash over the removal of sexualised characters and creatures from the game’s established universe, instead suggesting that sexualised male characters and monsters would simply be added to bring up the quota of sexualised monsters on both ends of the spectrum.
“The question shouldn’t be, ‘Why should we add an incubus [the male equivalent to the succubus] to our game?’” he asked. “The question should be, ‘Why was the incubus taken away?’ Why is only half of the succubus/incubus tradition being carried forward by so many games?”
It appears that it’s not just the game’s creators that long for better representation – D&D Fifth Edition’s creation was guided by the input of more than 175,000 suggestions from playtesters, who roundly called for fairer depiction of both sexes. In one specific case noted in the interview, the nymph was removed entirely from the game – not because it was sexualised, but because it was universally unpopular with players.
“When we considered the audience, we tried to think of how men and women would react, and make sure the reaction we elicited was in keeping with the monster’s character and the design intent,” Mearls added on the changes to the remaining creatures.
The full interview is well worth a read, offering some important discussion of the often controversial topic of gender equality in tabletop games.