State of the Philippine TRPGS “Nation”: Gatekeeping, Gatecrashing and Some Unsolicited Advice from an RPGSEAer.

The original version of this post can be found on Twitter. If you liked this, buy me a Ko-Fi. If you want to check my games out, they’re all on Itch. If you want me to keep doing what I am doing, consider becoming one of my patrons.

There’s me, manning my booth at Gamers and Gaming Meets’ Session Zero, the Philippines’ first mini-convention centered around indie ttrpgs game design.

So, folx who are in common Discords or met me during Big Bad Con 2019 may have heard me say things like, “all this support is overwhelming and means more than you think”, or “the communities down in the Philippines don’t actually support us until we’re international”. After some thought, I’ve decided to write my two cents on this down, with some great insight from my friend Mahar Mangahas.

Fair warning. This article is going to involve some heavy talk regarding patronage culture, gatekeeping, cults of personality, and maybe even touch upon the scary concepts of colonization and imperialism.

There’s no kind way of saying it. For most Filipino consumers of narratives and pop culture, a creator must be “international” to be “relevant”. Now, obviously this is a weird idea. What do you mean by “international”? What are the goal posts here? What qualifies, what does not?

Now, based on personal experience, the rubric for International as Relevant is:
1.) Part of a Kickstarter or similar project put together by someone White.

2.) Part of a multinational company or collective. The whiter, the better.

3.) Endorsed by a peer, who has been endorsed by someone from abroad. The whiter, the better. We use the term “peer” here loosely. What is usually the case is that this “peer” considers themselves to be better than you, usually because they happen to have been in the industry longer.

What does not seem to count:

1.) Publishing by yourself on platforms like Itch. It doesn’t matter if people bought your stuff — unless they’re “known” creators. Known = see Items #1 and #2 in the previous list.

2.) Endorsing yourself through Patreon and other funding platforms.

3.) Endorsement from a peer who is abroad but not “known”. Known = see the previous item.

4.) Producing “small” things, like micro-RPGS, game tools, safety tools.

5.) Being a woman or queer. Yes, this is still a thing most of the time. To make matters worse: tokenization remains strong.

Do I have evidence of this? Yes.

I have heard of my peers being excluded from projects and opportunities simply because they didn’t qualify according to the three rules of International as Relevant. I was, on one count, told to my face that Sinta Posadas, a friend of mine, wasn’t going to be credited by name on a project they worked on because they “weren’t known” by the author — who preferred, instead, to name an “international” peer who graced the project by making a module. Said author also ignored the fact that my peer had also made a module. I mean, it was their game, right?

Here’s their original Tweet thread about it. It took them a lot to decide to step forward.

I think you can all see how problematic this is. We’re relying not on ourselves to determine whether our work is any good, but on the tastes and sensibilities of people who do not know our lives, do not understand our context, and are not privvy to our realities. In essence, we’re buying into extremely colonial/imperial structures. We are also wholesale contributing to hierarchies that don’t make any sense, my favorite being “There Can Be Only One” or “The Token Filipino”.

“But why can’t you make your own Kickstarter, Pam?” There’s the thing. We CAN’T. Kickstarter does not support the Philippines. This is just one of the many barriers that are in place that prevent those of us from self-publishing on an international scale. Even crowdfunding platforms like GoGetFunding tend to have no support for us. Recall, y’all: I was on GoFundMe to drum up funds for my BBC 2019 journey.

So, prior to the explosion of communities through Twitter and Discord, many creators were, whether they liked it or not, placed in direct competition with each other for visibility and support. The usual reaction to this scarcity, unfortunately, was to pull the ladder up once you had the spotlight. There was — is — this prevalent belief in what me and others call the Old Boy’s Club of TTRPGS/Video Games/etc that if they shared their design paradigms and contacts, they will lose opportunities and work for themselves.

A nasty side effect of this is that creators who are desperate to get their names out there will turn a blind eye to the abuse, bullying, and gatekeeping done by those in power. I’ve many a story as a community point person in Manila, but perhaps that’s for another time.

Some of you asked me and Mahar, at BBC19, “what took Filipinos from the Philippines so long to come around to a convention like this?” Others have asked, online, how RPGSEA just “suddenly” exploded. Let me remind you: Ben Chong said it so well during our RPGSEASts panel. We’ve always been around. Just, now “white people” are noticing us.

As for what happened to creators like me and Mahar… well, we were shoved out, blocked at most every turn. The gates only busted open when the centers of power were disrupted by Twitter, Discord, Itch, and so forth. And that still took a lot of work, mind you. A lot of yelling into the void, a lot of producing if one even has the time, a lot of pushing, a lot of emotional labor.

Of course, money, exchange rates being what they are (y’all the Philippine peso on average is 50 pesos = 1 USD) and zero presence of big companies is another issue. Also, since we’re on the topic: there ARE existing monopolies for big franchises that matter to us geeks, who happen to be controlled by Old Boys.

So, this is a right and sorry mess. One does wonder why we even allow foreigners to dictate what’s good for us and what isn’t. I don’t have a good answer for this — perhaps there isn’t a singular answer, but several possibilities. Mahar, though, has cited that perhaps it is because we don’t have good standards locally. We don’t actually trust ourselves to produce good things, so we need a “bigger person” than ourselves to do it.

This, too, merits an entirely new post, but for this discussion let’s leave it at: we tend to off the cuff assume that a work is only as good as your patron says it is. Filipinos have a very strong patronage culture in place, where it’s less your skill and more who you know that gets you places. You tend to have just two options: become a mini-me of one of the big fish locally, or — surprise, surprise — get recognized “internationally”.

Creators like myself are trying our best to challenge the status quo by focusing on two things: defending our spaces from bad actors even at the risk of your reputations and career, and uplifting each other. We hope that by constantly tagging each other’s stuff and drumming up the hype, EVERYONE on our end will get more visibility and support.

The Patreon support, the Itch money, the leads, the podcast features, the scholarships… they’re absolutely invaluable to us, especially now that we’re finally standing at the gates. Many of us continue to have no support locally, likely for one or a mix of these reasons: because we still don’t fit the International as Relevant paradigm, because the Old Boy’s Club does not approve of us/feels we are “competition”, or because we chose to fight against bad actors in our community.

A big way of supporting us, as well, is letting us define ourselves, and listening to us when you do. Don’t just hire us only to disregard what we are saying. Hire us because we belong at your table. Ask us what we think of things, participate in conversations we control. Don’t demand that we educate: watch and learn for yourselves.

Give us the tools and the access: leads, opportunities, design software, equipment, means for us to be on platforms that actually bar us at the moment (and maybe even forever). Let us have our place, as we choose to have it.

I’m not sure when this will change. I might not even see the day where I’ll fully benefit from this. But the work can’t stop until the power structures change.

Many conversations happened on Twitter as a result of this post. If you want to do some reading, I’d strongly suggest that you check these threads out.

Mahar Mangahas provided further context, with tags to examples, of many of the things that I spoke about. Note, as well, that yes: he was one of the victims of abuse by an “internationally recognized” designer from our end.

Zedeck Siew, a wonderful designer from Malaysia, also had his two cents to chip in on the matter, specific to their context.

I will add more to this post in the future if other threads or posts crop up.