Back in 1998...
Back when I was 15, I got a hold of the 2nd Edition Player's Handbook. I made dozens of characters, each ready to face the darkness. Of course, despite spending days rolling heroes, none of them ever saw the light of day as adventurers. There just were not any reliable DMs in Smaller Town, Midwest. That would have also meant going outside my comfort zone, and for a really nerdy kid, that might have been a bit too much.
Regardless, like a good parent, my mother had a passing interest in what her child was doing and looked at the book. She didn't have a problem with the game itself, but she did make a passing comment. "It would be nice if women were included."
"Sure they are," my 15-year old self exclaimed socked at such an odd comment, "Let me show you."
I immediately started thumbing through the book... and for those who are familiar with the 2nd Edition book published in 1995, there are basically no illustrations of women doing heroic things*.
The best example I could find on short notice to show my mother was the lady creatures on page 211.
Needless to say, that didn't help my argument. "Shit," I said.
"Exactly," my mother retorted.
2014: Inclusion Matters
This is something that is important. I maybe didn't recognize it back when I was 15, but now I do. Inclusion matters.
Currently, in my group there are 4 women players. Imagine if the 5th edition Player's Handbook only included mustachioed white guys**. While I don't think it would prevent them from playing, it would definitely put a dampener on what was possible. Are women supposed to actually go out and adventure? The 2nd Edition Player's Handbook really doesn't show it. Only white guys with (admittedly, awesome) facial hair get to go out into the world.
Does the art forever determine who can play? Of course not, but it does set the tone of what is expected and that can have an influence, even if we don't want it to. In this case, the fantastic part of the world is simplified and reduced. With over half the population missing, it is no longer as imaginative as it could be. Lack of inclusion makes us all a worse off.
Even though art isn't a mechanic, the inclusive nature of the 5th edition Player's Handbook creates a world that is much more vibrant and exciting. In a sense it stretches the possibilities of what could be, invigorating the imagination and pushing into the realm of the truly fantastic. And for that, we should be thankful.
*My own unofficial survey shows that out of the 47 pictures of characters with genders, there are 6 with women (pages 78, 112, 149, 162, 286, 211) and 4 that are indeterminable (pages 17, 85, 100, 272). Pages 78 and 286 hold out the best illustrations as there are pictures of women doing heroic things like holding weapons or casting magic. So if we are super charitable and assume all illustrations that are indeterminable are actually women, women are included in 20% of the illustrations. If you want to count pictures were there are women doing things, you have 3; pages 78, 149, and 286, or a hearty 6%. The odds of finding one when you are trying to explain this to your mother when you are 15 basically reduce to 0.
There are also no groups of women (except for the summoned demons/whatever on page 211) and no female examples of a class or race.
**In the 2nd edition Player's Handbook from 1995, the PC Races and Class section includes 14 individuals, all white men. 9 (or 64%) have beards, goatees, or mustaches. You want to adventure? Start growing some facial hair, son.