The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Breaking the chain in ‘gatekeeping’ one fandom at a time

Maya Oclassen

“Doctor Who,” “Star Wars” and “Dungeon & Dragons” — what do these shows, movies and games all have in common?

These high-fantasy fictional worlds are all enjoyed by straight, white men.

Finding a place among these fandoms can be difficult for a Latine woman like me. As a fan of tabletop and online games, it can feel isolating as many minorities are often excluded from these communities because they don’t see themselves represented. 

Pop culture titles such as “Magic: The Gathering,” a tabletop game, and fighting games such as “Mortal Kombat” often have a large online and in-person community that can limit who gets to be a part of that fandom or “gatekeep” the community from utsiders. By withholding information, refusing to teach people new games or outright refusing entry into a group, fans are bluntly gatekeeping.  

Paul Booth, a professor and associate dean in the College of Communication, describes gatekeeping as a way for some fans to “preserve and protect” the “core” of fan identity from others.

However, fans’ methods of conserving their chosen media can harm people looking to find a place in their fandom of interest.

“Every fandom has gatekeepers,” Booth said. “Some are more visible than others because the fandoms are larger, but gatekeeping is a part of fandom. We always try and create boundaries around what we think of as our own fandom.” 

Booth says gatekeeping can be incredibly toxic to fan communities, as “true fans” want to police boundaries — deliberately “excluding voices from fan communities” and therefore silencing “less-privileged voices.”

As a woman of color, playing tabletop games such as “Dungeons & Dragons” or online games such as “Tekken 7” allows me to explore communities outside my comfort zone.

In online gaming communities, it’s easy to hide behind the screen pretending to be someone you are not — acting stronger by using demeaning words and purposely excluding individuals based on sexuality, race or gender. 

As a fan of popular games, movies and shows, I am well aware of gatekeeping in fandom communities and the toxicity it brings to many groups as I encountered many boundaries surrounding online and in-person games.

Levi Baer, a former adjunct professor from the College of Communication, has seen many instances of gatekeeping in online and in-person tabletop game communities.

Baer notes that gatekeeping women from the online gaming community becomes a joke in itself, forcing women out of a connection with people with similar interests. By refusing to acknowledge a woman’s skill set or intelligence in games, gamers, particularly men, call attention to women in gaming negatively. 

“The term ‘Gamer Girl’ arose from the online gaming community as a way to single out women,” Baer said. “It was a phrase that was supposed to note that it is hard for women to exist in those spaces.”

Gatekeeping in the tabletop gaming community can be especially difficult for women and minority groups trying to find a place among those with similar interests. As a man, you can walk into conventions, tournaments and game stores with no one batting an eye or questioning why you are there. 

But as a woman in gaming, especially a minority woman, you get stares or degrading comments about how serious you are about the game and its fandom.  

As most tabletop games are in-person, finding a community that promotes diversity and inclusivity can be challenging, as many group leaders do not consider minorities when creating their community. 

With games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dungeons & Dragons” having a fan base consisting of dedicated, loyal players, connecting with groups as a female player is challenging because I know exactly what being associated with the negative stereotype women gamers face, as I have entered tournaments and conventions outside of DePaul.    

“If you walk in the door, and nobody looks like you or sounds like you or acts like your dresses like you, you have nowhere to gravitate,” Baer said. “How am I supposed to speak to that space? How am supposed to integrate into that space?”

 Fans of these popular titles may not realize the hurt they are causing by gatekeeping a community. Booth believes “true fans” are trying to protect the community by maintaining the status quo — sticking to what makes them feel comfortable in their community. 

“Gatekeeping is just about maintaining boundaries,” Booth said. “Sometimes we need gates. It becomes negative when those gates are used to repress or deny populations.” 

 As a college student, finding a common interest among my peers can be as easy as striking up a conversation. But as fandom communities continue to grow, joining groups can be intimidating as individuals may not want to open their groups to “new” members. 

“We are told that it is an open-door place — that anyone can come in,” Baer said. “But everything is like this classic, old-school version of people maintaining the original status quo. They are there to gatekeep what it’s like for people to come in the door.”

 Breaking away from the harmful, toxic relationship we have with gatekeeping is the first step in creating a lasting bond with people who share the same interests.

As individuals in fandom and gaming communities, we must open doors to anyone interested in trying out new games and entertainment. We have all experienced gatekeeping and exclusion at some point in our lives, but it needs to stop.

 “Try to put yourself in the shoes of others,” Baer said. “We need to welcome people with all identities and take a step down from the seat of power.”

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