Graduate student Giuseppe Femia's exploration of tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) isn't just about winning or losing— it's a quest to create a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable space that resonates deeply with players from all walks of life. By looking at the creation of queer rhetoric through role-play, Femia identifies the reparative value that TTRPG’s – such as Dungeons & Dragons – can provide queer communities.

“Through queer performativity, members of the queer community have the chance to accurately represent ourselves and overwrite the more harmful stereotypes that are associated with us. As a queer individual, how I tell my story is critical to my self-representation, as no one can tell my story better than I.”

Supporting queer identities

Femia’s work focuses on reparative play, an extension of reparative reading, a practice which focuses on framing stories with the intention of constructing an optimistic future. In his research, he observes the significant value of TTRPGs in identity formation and the opportunities for self-expression and representation. This is of particular importance for queer players as it offers a space to engage with scenarios they may not encounter in their daily lives.

Cartoon avatar of Giuseppe Femia

Giuseppe Femia’s avatar

“Through embodiment of a character set in a more accepting world, players can enact reparative play to give an accurate and positive representation of themselves while promoting alternatives to heteronormative culture."

Femia highlights that reparative reading allows individuals to see potential changes in the world and to bring these ideals to fruition. By extending this to TTRPGs through reparative play, TTRPGs provide a venue where individuals can construct progressive narratives and explore successes and failures both as players and characters.

“These liberating actions taken by role-players allow for the cathartic experience known as emancipatory bleed,” says Femia. Through generating solutions and enacting their autonomy, he emphasizes that the narratives created in TTRPGs promote healing and allow players to resolve tensions they experience in the real world.

Challenging pedagogical boundaries

As a doctoral candidate in English Language and Literature, Femia reflects on his career aspirations, citing an enthusiasm for teaching. He believes in the transformative power of education, a belief reinforced during his graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. After graduation, he hopes to secure a tenure track position as a professor of game studies.

“It’s fulfilling to see students succeed,” Femia shares. “Sharing knowledge and helping others apply it to interests they are passionate about is something that resonates with me greatly.”

Part of his teaching philosophy involves incorporating the lessons and methodologies he’s learning from TTRPGs. He believes these games can offer innovative ways to engage students, particularly in exploring complex sociocultural issues. His hope is to introduce this dynamic, immersive approach to the classroom, pushing against traditional pedagogical boundaries.

Forging ahead

Femia’s research and teaching aspirations are more than an academic pursuit. They are an appeal to game designers, players, and enthusiasts to acknowledge the diversity of the TTRPG community and to embrace this in game narratives. Femia hopes that his research will help leverage TTRPGs as tools for social analysis, promoting narratives that resonate with a broader spectrum of players and to remove barriers that prevent the creation of more inclusive gaming spaces.

“I see my work as the continuation of a call for greater diversity in TTRPGs," says Femia. "The future of game studies is now, and I am excited to see how it plays out.”