THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. FUORI DAL DUNGEON (‘Out of the dungeon’) edited by Marta Palvarini

Readers who follow my work will know that, recently, I have been more focused on translating games than novels (though the skills and expertise are the same, trust me). The role-playing world is one with a long, winding history, many thorny issues, and several springboards for wider conversations. Marta Palvarini, as the curator of the non-fiction book Fuori dal dungeon – Genere, razza, e classe nel gioco di ruolo occidentale (‘Out of the Dungeon – Gender, race and class in Western role-playing games’) has hit each of those milestones squarely on the head, in an intriguing and fascinating collection of essays and studies.

Four of the essays – the first section of the book in fact – are translated from English and can be found freely in their original versions online: ‘Out of the Dungeons’, ‘Privilege, Power, and Dungeons & Dragons’, ‘Role-playing Games as Resistance’ and ‘The First Female Gamer’. I will not be spending too much time on these for the piece, but I do want to highlight something game designer and author Avery Alder’s introduction mentions (my translation):

‘Stories help us understand the world. They suggest what shape and what meaning to give to our experiences, suggesting a path through chaos and contradiction. We never interact with a story as if it were a mere trinket, something entirely separate from our life. Quite the opposite: stories are part of the mesh which makes up our world, even the smallest tales, even the silliest ones. The stories we hear, and those we help to tell, give shape to the way in which we interpret our life as we progress through it.[…]
Role-playing games offer us a radical potential to create new roles together, to combine new identities and innovative perspectives, and to invent, as a result, ways of existing that do not yet exist.’

The historical approach of the first essays – and by historical I mean looking at how, historically, role-playing games (hereafter RPGs) have treated issues of identity, gender, race, ethnicity and so on – is perfectly complemented by the new additions in the latter part of the book. These are entirely new studies and essays on the medium from Italian authors and writers, part of the collective ‘Donne, Dadi & Dati’ (‘Women, Dice and Data’). Namely, the essays part of this section of the book focus on discrimination and RPGs (specifically in the Italian scene) and the analytical, quantitative and qualitative research done on the topic throughout 2018. The final three pieces are reports and analyses based on that research, on the following topics: Discrimination and resistance in Italian RPGs; The gaming table: a political space for defining power dynamics; Linguistic considerations. The penultimate is one with a strong opening, and is one of my favourite pieces from the second section of the book (my translation):

‘We live in a time of borders. Our identity is defined by a border set by the state, our existences are lived within spaces surrounded by fences, walls, gates and anything that can separate two places. We are so used to living inside borders that they have become a natural element of our landscapes.
There is also one other border, not entirely tangible but rather symbolic. To highlight what isn’t visible, however, we must change our perspective and shift the curtain, revealing the crowd beyond the stage. […] Borders are not something of Earth, though maybe they are human, much like tools and political institutions; they are social constructs, and as such, they are temporary and in a constant state of redefinition.’

The author, Roberto Lazzaroni, focuses on the various steps that form the creation of the gaming self; that is, the person we bring to the table at which we sit (virtually or physically) to play a game. He specifically highlights the fallacy of seeing gaming spaces as neutral, or as mere support for the game itself: the table is an arena, a theatre, a stage, and the players are actors, but also people; as people, we already exist within a number of social dynamics, networks and communities. A game may have a Game Master, or Storyteller, or Keeper or Narrator (or simply a facilitator), or it might not. It might have decisions based on dice rolls, card draws, or question-and-answer interactions to move the story forward or explore the characters. A game will set up a new space, and everyone opts in to its rules, together. A game is not just escape, though it can also be that. A game is not therapy, though it can provide a framework to explore a number of stories we may not be able to in everyday life. The gaming table forms a powerful ritual, a Magic Circle (as we are reminded by Palvarini in the afterword), in which players form new power dynamics, new social structures, and simulations of societal patterns. Discrimination within gaming spaces is a well-documented and unfortunate reality, as the DD&D research proves through the four essays; discrimination and othering has always been a part of these spaces, as the previous four essays explore. But with each piece, Out of the Dungeon shows a hopeful way forward, an alternative path, a better route which has been since the publication of the book well travelled (though we have still many miles to go). As Palvarini ends her afterword, she reminds us that all those power dynamics, all that social cargo, all the different elements that people bring with them when they sit at a table to play a game are still present (my translation below):

‘If the design bias becomes limiting, if the partial sovereignty of the Master becomes authoritarian, the group has full rights to leave the table entirely, the community has full rights to create new, different products, with a different bias.’

You may be asking, at this point: Alex, but aren’t RPGs just games of make believe? Do I need to know about numbers and discrimination to tell made-up stories? And you’re right. We’re just telling stories, entirely fabricated tales. But imagine, if you will, what you could make if you really believed that things could be different. That they could be better.

By Alex Valente

FUORI DAL DUNGEON

(‘Out of the Dungeon’)

edited by Marta Palvarini

Published in Italian by Asterisco Edizioni (2020)

Translations from Italian by Alex Valente


Marta Palvarini is an activist, player and independent game designer, with an interest in the history of role-playing games. She is the creator of Dura-Lande RPG and an editor for Mana Project Studio. She writes about urban planning, biotechnology, sustainability and feminisms..


Alex Valente (he/him) is a white European currently living on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ land. He is a literary translator from Italian into English, though he also dabbles with French and RPGs, and is co-editor of The Norwich Radical. His work has been published in NYT Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, The Short Story Project, and PEN Transmissions.


Read previous posts in The Italianist series:

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA FURIA (‘The Fury’) by Alessandra Carnaroli

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. SENZA RESPIRO (‘Breathless’) by Raffaella Mottana

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA GIOIA AVENIRE (‘Future joy’) by Stella Poli

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. PRIMA CHE CHIUDIATE GLI OCCHI (‘Before you close our eyes’) by Morena Pedriali Errani

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Clarissa Botsford. THE COLOUR LINE by Igiaba Scego – Igiaba Scego in conversation with Clarissa Botsford

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. TRE CIOTOLE (‘Three bowls’) by Michela Murgia

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA TRAMA ALTERNATIVA (‘The alternarive plot’) by Giusi Palomba

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA POESIA È UN UNICORNO (‘Poetry is a unicorn’) by Francesca Genti

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. IO SARÒ IL ROVO (I will be the thorn) by Francesca Matteoni

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THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. GLI AMANTI SOMMERSI (The Sunken Lovers) by Mattia Conti

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. TUTTA INTERA (In One Piece) by Espérance Hakuzwimana

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THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LA NON MAMMA (The Non-Mum) by Susanna Tartaro

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