News and Articles

Roll for Belonging: Role-Playing Games and Inclusion in the Queer Community

October 11, 2023

By Hanine El Mir, 2023 Social Connectedness Fellow

Yen stands to the left of the dancefloor, backpack on her shoulders, tapping her feet every once in a while to the repetitive beat of the music. Her skin feels sticky, her friends are dancing in the middle of the bar as she watches, sober. She doesn’t look the way other attendees of the party do. She doesn’t feel it either. “I don’t belong here,” thinks Yen. Yen’s sentiment resonates with so many young queer people trying to find their way in life and their place in the community, all while reconciling it with their cultural backgrounds. On the one hand, home is defined as family. If so, “what does it mean when your home, filled with people of color, doesn’t recognize you as its own?” On the other hand, the idea of “found family” surfaces throughout various literature, spaces, and stories across the queer spectrum, and some people are turning to chill role-playing game hangouts as an alternative for partying.

However, when it comes to looking for alternatives to festivals, raves, and the night scene there is a lack of space to get to know each other and form new familial bonds. Queer youth who are uninterested in the party scene or would like a change in scenery once in a while, have less spaces made available to them, making them feel even less part of the community. Indeed, there has been a surge of young queer people on social media acknowledging that Pride events could benefit from being more inclusive to various interests. For example, clubs, pubs, and raves leave out Muslim members of the community, or those who choose to lead a sober lifestyle. So, where does that leave us in Canada?

Last year, P.E.I. Pride 2022 organisers decided to shift things a little bit to include different perspectives in traditional events, such as Pride parades and drag shows, that take place in June. The organising board wanted to remind people that “Pride was created by Black and Brown trans women,” as such, they wanted to centre BIPOC voices and experiences in their events. In addition to the parade, they had a park hangout and encouraged masking in their indoor events to be more inclusive of other members of the community. Several people have noted that they feel more comfortable in events where masking is encouraged because it allows their disabled or immunocompromised friends to join as well, without putting their lives in jeopardy. People with disabilities can be more at risk when catching certain illnesses and viruses than other members of the community.

Community centres in Montreal are leaning more towards organising movie nights and game nights for their members. Some are even hosting crocheting and knitting circles, and opting for tea instead of alcoholic beverages. A member of my queer embroidery circle stated that they felt more welcomed at such smaller-scale and intimate events, with masking reinforced, than at parties and parades. “It also leaves me time to get into bed by 10!” joked another. While these places are popping up all over the city more often these days, they still remain very underground for safety reasons.

During the pandemic,  while people were looking for alternatives to their social activities, sales related to Dungeons and Dragons went up by 33%. These sales involved starter kits for newcomers, as well as miniatures and more detailed equipment for seasoned players. The rise of tabletop role-playing games among queer people was made more attainable during the pandemic thanks to websites like and which have exported all the rules and player handbooks onto their platforms to allow players to create digital character sheets, use 2D maps and figurines, and most importantly play while socially distanced. This added an element of safety in which players could come out to each other without fearing backlash from people they knew in real life: playing, whether online or in-person, allows players to try-on different hats (or labels) then immediately disregard them if they don’t fit, especially if playing with strangers. If the other players were to judge you for coming out, severing ties with them would be much easier than cutting out a family member you have to see at gatherings. Simultaneously, certain dating applications witnessed another surge: 14% of the surveyed Bumble users’ sexual preferences had changed during the lockdown in 2020. Psychologists attributed this shift to people being left alone with their thoughts and given enough space to explore their identities. I would take it a step further and say that, in addition to being left alone with their thoughts, they were shielded from the immediate repercussions of exploring their new identities in front of people they already knew, unsure of their potential reactions.

People tend to come to tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons to explore identities that they would not have been able to be otherwise, in a playful way. When we play games, we imagine ourselves in the shoes of the protagonists, transform social identities, take on new roles. From seducing the innkeeper for a free meal and shapeshifting with the help of a potion, to theft and murder – literally anything goes! “I was repressing a hardcore crush on a close friend,” writes Rowan O’Brien for IN Magazine “Through my D&D character, I was able to act on the feelings I was having…albeit in a very campy and overexaggerated way”. Role-playing games help players unearth buried emotions and explore matter in their exploratory nature. Role-play is “a media, where a person, through immersion into a role and the world of this role, is given the opportunity to participate in and interact with the contents of this world”. The gamified experience not only allows players to have fun, but reminds them that actions they take in-game are fictional and that they wouldn’t be penalised for them by society’s stigma. Role-playing essentially means you can be anyone, scratch that – anything, you want.

Players also stay for the element of “found family” or “chosen family” that these settings bring, as a carryover. When turning to games, players tend to choose ones that would help them fulfil their “desire for something they could not have in real life either because it was not allowed… or because it was impossible”. Many people immerse themselves in games “to meet their social needs which they are unable to satisfy in the real world”. This, for a lot of LGBTQIA+ people can often mean a lack of a supportive family, which leads to them feeling isolated and alone. Elements of isolation and alienation, typically after having been shunned from their communities, flood the background stories of many characters and steer the narrative. The characters I come up with for myself have backstories in which they were left to fend for themselves from a young age and as a result don’t trust anyone they meet, until they meet that one group of adventurers. The background stories players come up with often supplement the homebrew storyline Dungeon Masters come up with, depending on how the person running the campaign wants things to unfold. Some Dungeon Masters work with their players to make the stories more cohesive and fit together like a puzzle: they encourage them to come up with motivations for their characters to be with this group, secrets that their peers will discover as the story unfolds, and incorporate elements from their characters’ backstories within the adventure’s lore. This gives players agency over the game they play and allows them to contribute to the actions that unfold when perhaps in real life it could be harder to control our destiny one hundred percent.

It doesn’t stop at backstories and homebrew campaigns. In fact, seasoned players can purchase supplementary material in addition to starter kits and guides, like “Adventuring With Pride” and its sequel “Queer We Go Again!” Both volumes are sourcebooks that contain customised storylines, new characters to either play as or get inspired from, and of course subclasses and races. This takes us back to the agency players are afforded in role-playing tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons compared to other formats of game and play. Players can use these pre-existing sourcebooks and pre-made characters for inspiration to add their own twists to the campaigns they play, without compromising any aspects of their identities. If there’s one thing that is guaranteed when immersing yourself into a role-playing tabletop game it’s that you can be anything, anything at all.

What about you? Have you considered trying your hand at a dice roll?


Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D. A., & Cook, M. S. (2009). Your second selves: Player-designed avatars. Games and Culture, 5(1), 23-42.

Meehan, A. “Queer We Go Again! is an LGBTQ+ sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons”. Last Accessed: 02.07.2023

O’Brien, R. “Dungeons & Dragons Can Bring Queer Fantasy To Life.” IN Magazine. Last Accessed: 23.05.2023

Saint Thomas, S. “If Your Sexual Preferences Changed Over Lockdown, You’re Not Alone.” Bumble. Last Accessed: 28.06.2023

Smith, J. G. (2019) Home and Community for Queer Men of Color: The Intersection of Race and Sexuality. Lexington Books.

Whitten, S. (2021) “Dungeons & Dragons had its biggest year ever as Covid forced the game off tables and onto the web.” CNBC. Last Accessed: 07.06.2023

Yarr, K. (2022) “P.E.I. Pride 2022 organizers promise a more inclusive community festival.” CBC. Last Accessed: 28.06.2023

Zagal, J. P. & Deterding, S. (2018) Role-Playing Game Studies. Transmedia Foundations. Last Accessed: 06.09.2023