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The Game Political

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The Game Political
There Will Be Games

‘Don’t get Politics in my game’ goes out the cry. It rings out during debates over diversity, games set in less than savoury periods of history, and ideologies overt and subtle in the world of tabletop games. This voice is getting louder and louder as boardgames shake off the cloak of being a niche hobby and make their tentative way to a more mainstream audience. As the number of people playing boardgames grows, more and more questions are being asked of the creators intent: the message the game is trying to convey. On top of this we are waking up to the idea that maybe diverse genders, sexualties and people of colour should be seen more on front of boxes and behind the scenes at companies. More questions, more probing of the status quo.

Should these concerns be shoved aside for the sake of ‘just playing the game’? Isn’t such criticism fundamental to the growth of any art form? Let’s take a deep breath together, and dive into some murky depths.

Defining the issue

This is a thorny subject, so let’s establish some ground rules. First of all we need to look at what is being said by those who declare ‘Don’t bring politics into my games’ (or words to that effect). Turning for a moment to the Oxford English Dictionary for a definition:

Politics: relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group

Fundamentally we are talking about ideas, and of course people are going to argue about them. Unfortunately a lot of the time what they are arguing for is the status quo, as if politics has never existed in boardgames until this moment.

Since we first started making art the act of creation is one that expresses ideas. Ideas of place, of people, of lived experiences. We cannot separate politics from the act of creation, as one influences the other. From hanging portraits in a gallery to the latest blockbuster, our creative acts are imbued with the ideas, and politics, of their creators.

A foundation for discussion

I think we can agree that Boardgames are a creative endeavour, and I have argued that the creative act by its very nature is political. It therefore follows that boardgames are political.

Why then do we have voices telling us to get politics out of boardgames? My experience of seeing this said generally comes in one of two cases: when a company seeks to include more diverse voices, art, or to represent a particular political point of view more overtly, or when the game is coming in for criticism. It is the latter that really interests me (though we will come back to the former).

Games Political 01Are they art?

We’ve established that boardgames are political due to being a creative act. Are they art? That is a much trickier question to answer with any certainty, so let me answer it from my own perspective so we can move on.

I think we all recognise that individual components of a boardgame can be recognised as art: the illustrations, miniature design, graphic design, writing (both technical and creative). Therefore the whole that is created out of these elements, can also be seen as an art form. Simplistic maybe, but as I said this is my point of view. I think boardgames are art.

Art that is never seen, experienced or consumed, is art without purpose. Art needs interpreted, it should have emotional impact. To me the greatest sin a piece of art can commit is to not move me at all. If I watch a film and my reaction is a shrug of the shoulders and ‘meh’, then it has not done its job. Even films I dislike have provoked a strong reaction at least. Art should provoke a reaction, even if it is just in one person. If it provokes a reaction, it is likely to receive criticism as well.

On the defensive

When something we love comes in for negative feedback, it can feel like an attack. We take it personally. I get that, I’ve been there myself. We rage against the idea that the thing we love is not perfect, and one of the ways that happens is to call foul on the idea of ‘bringing politics into games’. This seems to be especially the case when that criticism is to do with the treatment of different cultures, people of colour, and diverse genders in games.

Curiously you don’t see this happening when Twilight Struggle stood colossus like atop the BGG top 100. Twilight Struggle is a game about a literal political fight (the Cold War). Did anyone shout ‘Keep politics out of my games’ when this happened? No. No they didn’t. How many wargames are there? Think war isn’t political? Where are these angry voices everytime a new wargame hits the market? Silent as the grave. Watergate, a current favourite of mine, has had a rapturous reception across the critical spectrum. I don’t recall seeing a single person saying ‘get politics out of my games’ despite it being about a political scandal. The moment someone says ‘could we please have a non-sexualised female miniature’ or ‘what about representing people of colour in your art’ then it’s all loud hailers and signs.

Watergate Twilight StruggleGet politics out of games! Wait......

I think I’ve amply demonstrated that these comments do not come from a place of wanting to get ‘politics’ out of games. It’s about prejudice. White prejudice to be exact. All white people have it, myself included. We are conditioned in a certain way of thinking about other cultures and societies in such a way that we must always ask questions of ourselves and the games we play. I’ve been doing my best to educate myself about the struggles black people have endured, and I recommend the documentaries ‘I am not your Negro’ and ‘13th’ as good places to start. I have also been reading ‘White Fragility’ by Robin DiAngelo and that has given me a lot to think about.

If we want the hobby to grow it must represent all people. I can find myself everywhere in the hobby because I am a white, CIS, straight male. If you are not that, then your representation in the hobby is poor, bordering on non-existent. This is changing, albeit slowly. If you are represented in the hobby, you can use your voice to lift up great examples of inclusive practices, to shout about the designers, artists, developers who do not fall into the norm of the hobbies demographic. You don’t need to be an influencer or reviewer, every voice helps.

Asking questions of ourselves, being critical of our own choices and actions is paramount. Such a course keeps us honest and stops us slipping into the outright discrimination that is ever prevalent in our culture and the hobby. I hope to do better myself in the future, and where I can will endeavour to highlight voices from a different cultural background to my own, whatever form that culture takes.

A critical moment

As critics start to ask hard questions of the endless colonial themes, the lack of racial & gender diversity both on the front of the box and behind the scenes, we must be accepting of these questions. If we want the hobby to grow and expand, we must listen to diverse voices, for we will only be enriched and strengthened if we do. Now is not the time to be afraid of these questions.

It will be painful, there are choices to be made that may make us feel uncomfortable, but we can make those choices together, as a community. We can choose to lift up a diverse range of voices. We can choose to ignore those who would foster hate and division. We can choose to welcome the whole world to sit round a table with us and chuck some dice. But we must make the choice. We must actively choose these actions. If we do not then boardgames don’t deserve to grow at all.

There Will Be Games
Iain McAllister  (He/Him)
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Iain McAllister lives in Dalkeith, Scotland with his wife Cath and their two dogs, Maddie and Gypsy. He has been a keen member of the local gaming scene for many years setting up and participating in many of the clubs that are part of Edinburgh's vibrant gaming scene.

You can find more of his work on The Giant Brain which publishes a wide range of articles about the hobby including reviews, previews, convention reports and critique. The Giant Brain is also the home of the Brainwaves podcast, a fortnightly podcast covering industry news that Iain hosts with his friend Jamie Adams.

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Articles & Podcasts by Iain McAllister

 

Iain McAllister
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Articles & Podcasts by Iain

 

 

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Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312406 23 Jul 2020 19:13
It's a truth writ large that 90% of the people decrying any sort of 'political intrusion' into any sphere tend to harbour some pretty suspect beliefs. In took about 30 seconds for the "Everything Board Games" fb page to go from "No Politics" to flat out MAGA Uh-Rah bullshit once these types felt empowered by the 'No Politics' hammer being used to quash any progressive discussions about the wider world or games in that context. The term 'politics' is in itself woefully inadequate to encompass what is in effect an examination of wider societal issues and by compartmentalising such a broad sweep of ideas and experiences in the linguistic prison that such a term engenders it only makes them easier to dismiss en-masse as some kind of fusty buzzkill rather than..y'know...our lives.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #312411 23 Jul 2020 22:18
When I was growing up in Indiana, I was often told that it was impolite to talk in a social setting about religion or politics. I guess I am fundamentally impolite, because I have always disregarded that guideline as an unwelcome imposition on my freedom of speech. But I guess a lot other Americans were raised with the same idea, because Americans in general have trouble discussing either topic with people who don't share their beliefs.

This idea of "don't get politics in my game" feels like a similar sentiment. I might agree with that statement in a narrow, specific case where an expansion adds a political dimension to an existing non-political game. Like say for example Magic: the Gathering suddenly decided to release a new set where red mana also powers cards introducing greed, racism, and fascism to the game.

But if somebody is whining about an existing game including politics, they should fuck right off. Wargames absolutely should include politics, because what would World War II be without Nazis and their fascist friends? Other games like Kremlin, Junta, and Die Macher are also explicitly about historical political topics. And there are other board games about more contemporary politics, like This War of Mine and War on Terror. If somebody doesn't want to play games with those particular politics, they are certainly free to one of the other 100,000 board games published in recent decades.

As for larger social issues that might be addressed as also political, the same. Don't want to play a game about colonialism? Then don't. Don't want to play a game because it doesn't represent a particular gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever? Then don't. Play one of the many other games. It's true that board games remain primarily of, by, and for the white, cisgender males of the world, but that has been starting to change in recent times, and I welcome that change.
We-reNotWizards's Avatar
We-reNotWizards replied the topic: #312420 24 Jul 2020 04:01
Excellent Article, very thought provoking and well written. Thank you.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312452 24 Jul 2020 19:01
Phew, this is gonna be a meaty topic for discussion!

There are games about politics (like Twilight struggle) but then there are games getting politics injected into them (like wanting diverse ethnic and gender representation in a game about WW2 paratroopers for example). It doesn't make sense if it doesn't match reality, at least if the game is trying to recreate a historical event (but paratroopers versus Cthulhu, go ahead and mix it up all you want).

But is this really a problem? Almost every game I can think of is abstracted to the point where sexuality and ethnicity is meaningless (aside from art). Lots of games use meeples as androgynous anonymous tokens. There is no gender or ethnicity in power grid or many other euros.

Most games that we are thinking about right now are actually creations of small teams, if not individuals. They are products of their experiences. We are not thinking about Sorry, Monopoly, chess, or cards against humanity. For whatever reason, these games are overwhelmingly made by white males. But there is nothing stopping women or BIPOCs from kick-starting their own games. Heck, it seems like 95% of the new games coming to market are coming from that place. So it is really a creation AND demand problem from what I can tell.

So if a northern europe themed Viking dungeon crawl is 100% white dudes as characters (because that seems to be the historic truth) is that really a problem? Or is it an issue because there are no 100% black African themed dungeon crawls to compete with it? Games can be very successful appealing to just a small parr of the market, if you keep your costs low. Kickstarter is a good example, lots of those games only sell to a few thousand people. They don't need to appeal to EVERYONE, especially a demographic looking specifically for their specific characteristics to be front and center. Only the largest most expensive properties can really afford to do that (like DnD), or a property set in a period where it makes sense (like Cash n Guns) to integrate it organically.

So I think it is the "PC checklist" idea that 'politicizes' games and creates a negative reaction, even if the end goal is noble one. It's the thought that the games design was compromised just to pay token tribute to some checklist lest it risk extortion by a tiny but very vocal minority.

But where does it end? Should a game about pre-columbian mesoamerican tribal conflict include groups not historically present just to appeal to players of that group? Can a person not of that specific culture even create a game like that anymore? It seems to me that we are seeing a return to segregation (moreso in areas like acting at the moment) rather than a shared broad cultural experience.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #312455 24 Jul 2020 20:25
I think you're missing the point. It isn't about historical veracity. It's about the here and now, especially for younger people. Think about the gaming groups you see at your local store and how many of them are populated almost exclusively by White males. Yes, there may be one person of color here or there and occasionally even a woman(!) but, by and large, the audience for this niche hobby is dominated by people that look like you and me.

Now, imagine you're not one those White males and you drum up the courage to sit down in that place to play a game. When you're presented a character to play in, say, Runebound: is there anyone who looks like you? Or is it, just like the room you're sitting in, the exclusive province of White males? There's nothing wrong with making a game about Vikings that's populated by Scandinavian men... but there's also nothing wrong with representing some of those men as women, not only because it might be more comfortable for a woman at the table to play as a woman in the game, but also because it's actually true in many Scandinavian societies that the women fought right alongside their brothers, fathers, and husbands.

The point is to broaden the range of what is depicted in our little niche so that said niche might expand and feel more welcoming to people who don't look like you and me. And not only that, but it's also a good idea to broaden the very concept of what makes someone either a hero or simply someone who has agency over their own actions. Play enough games as someone of a different gender or a different color and it's at least a first step toward seeing oneself playing said games right alongside those people of different genders or different colors. You may not have a problem with that experience, but many, many people do. Just as an example, Uba has been in these kinds of threads more times than I can remember, mentioning just how unwelcome she has felt in certain situations or, almost as bad, ignored in those situations when mostly White males talk over her or ignore her input. Getting people to understand that their stereotypical notions of women and/or non-straight and/or non-White people is a gradual process. Since the means of communication that we're mostly concerned about on this site is game design and game play, I see no problem in starting within our own community to effect that change.

But it goes beyond representation within these games. Despite your assertion that anyone has access to Kickstarter, it's not always the case. It's now a professional service to design KS campaigns so that they get noticed. Those campaigns designers require funding. Said funding is far more available to... stop me if you've heard this... White males. Lack of access to capital is one of the main impediments to business creation by people of color. It's mildly insulting to suggest that "Anyone can do it!" when statistics demonstrate that that is clearly not the case. It may be the case for you and me, but that's a measure of who we are within the scope of our society and culture. Those not like us, quite simply, do not have that luxury.

As noted here already, most people say they don't want "politics" in their games because the act of questioning the status quo makes them uncomfortable. We had a writer here who questioned Uba's decision to black out the site in support of BLM and the protests because he said games were his escape and he didn't want to have to be "confronted" with the real world when it came to his leisure time. Well, he has that luxury. So do you. So do I. But many other people do not. That's what we're trying to change.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312456 24 Jul 2020 21:32
I appreciate your response but it doesn't jive with my personal experience. Both game groups I've been involved with were 50% women at least, and not just wives tolerating th3 experience for their men. Game cons I've been to, while not 50%, were at least 30% women and again, not just wives and girlfriends. So I gotta think that if women were DEMANDING female centric games there would be choices for them.

Instead what I see is that most games, or at least a lot of them, are gender neutral enough that women feel perfectly fine playing them. There are enough ways to play that even if there are unwelcoming game groups, just a little bit of research will find better ones.

Even in the south I don't see many black gamers. As to why that is, I suspect there just aren't many in general, I don't think board games are a part of that culture. But I don't really know beyond the very few vocal folks I hear about.

So I understand the complaint that games don't represent a specific group outside of white men. But I also don't see a real issue with it as most games have no ethnicity or gender bias outside of some artwork on the cover. Even if the game is viticulture in 18th century or whatever, the cover art has no relevance to the gameplay.

A good game is a good game. Doesn't matter who designs it or what the art looks like. Games should be free to depict who and what they want and let the market decide if it is successful. Games shouldn't be beholden to some checklist of inclusion to avoid social media criticism unless it is egregious (like ghettopoly or 1st edition cash n guns). If gamers keep buying the same damned Lovecraft and Norse themed games over and over while ignoring Arabic, African, and Latin themed games then that is just a function of our market demand and indicates an immaturity in their market.

Blaming customers for not supporting some arbitrary list of underserved groups seems counter productive to me. I'd rather see sites like this signal boost games from unconventional developers instead of guilting the core base that has done nothing wrong.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #312458 24 Jul 2020 23:00
First off, suggesting that things don't exist because you haven't personally experienced them generally won't help your argument. As the old saying goes: "The plural of anecdote is not data." There is, in fact, plenty of data that demonstrates the greater difficulty of women and people of color in gaining access to markets, being paid the same for the same work, and on and on. This is our reality. It's the same reality that dictates the fact that you've probably never feared for your life when encountering a cop, while Black people suffer that fear on a regular basis.

And no one is blaming customers for anything. What most people are saying about the game industry in particular is that there is value in encouraging the participation of people of different backgrounds and different identities than simply resting on that which has been the standard: White men. One way to do that is to not be afraid to question the presentation of games and their varying elements, such as characters in Runebound

Just FYI: Board games are a part of everyone's culture in this nation. That's American culture. So "that culture" is our culture. It's the same in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Joe Gomez, who plays centerback for my club, Liverpool, makes several thousand pounds a week. But he still hangs out with his childhood friends a lot of the time; most of them Black, as is Joe. You know what they do? Play Monopoly. Pretty ruthlessly, according to him.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312460 24 Jul 2020 23:36
Well, we know for a fact that there is no gender pay gap and I'm not sure police law enforcement has a role in board game participation so I'm not sure where you are going with that. Anecdotal experience surveying the game hall at dragon con is about as scientific a survey of gamers as you are gonna get, its ALL anecdotal experience!

Board games are a leisure activity. I don't think there are broader social implications if a specific leisure activity doesn't appeal to every demographic. Do I want everyone to feel comfortable at the game table? Sure. If everyone isn't represented I don't think that speaks ill of the hobby however. Games are just a medium for communication, it is the people at the table that are really the ones having the conversation.

Go take a long look at your game collection and think about which ones actually dismiss any specific demographic. If you do find a game that does, was it published in the past 10 years? Why do you still have it on your shelf?
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #312467 25 Jul 2020 10:29

jason10mm wrote: Well, we know for a fact that there is no gender pay gap


There are a ridiculous number of studies on this phenomenon that are easily accessible on the Web. You can start here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_pay_gap

jason10mm wrote: and I'm not sure police law enforcement has a role in board game participation so I'm not sure where you are going with that.


It's an analogy meant to demonstrate the difference in social comfort levels in American society between White people and those who don't share that skin color. If you're going to be deliberately obtuse, we might as well stop this conversation right here.

jason10mm wrote: Anecdotal experience surveying the game hall at dragon con is about as scientific a survey of gamers as you are gonna get, its ALL anecdotal experience!


I'd be willing to bet a fair amount that publishers have done some actual market research about who buys their games and that major cons like Dragon Con have also done some research about who comes through their doors.

jason10mm wrote: Sure. If everyone isn't represented I don't think that speaks ill of the hobby however.


No one is "speaking ill" of anything or anyone. Suggesting that things could be improved isn't an attack. It's a suggestion, in the same way people suggest that the rules or components of a game could be improved. Anyone perceiving that as an attack may be trying too hard.

jason10mm wrote: Go take a long look at your game collection and think about which ones actually dismiss any specific demographic. If you do find a game that does, was it published in the past 10 years? Why do you still have it on your shelf?


Don't try to misdirect. No one was talking about any game directly dismissing any demographic. No one is playing games about the Klan (that I know of.) The issue that's being discussed is the lack of representation, not the pointed exclusion of it.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #312469 25 Jul 2020 14:32
I don’t want some little token cardboard woman shoe horned into a WWII paratrooper game. That’s small potatoes bullshit. We are beyond that.

I want a game about the WASPs where ALL the characters are women. I want them all to be realistically illustrated, with no male gaze in evidence. And I want a couple of those characters to be lesbian coded.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #312470 25 Jul 2020 14:32
I'm glad the piece has started such an interesting conversation and I agree with pretty much everything that Jackwraith has pointed out.

A couple of points.

If the representation isn't very diverse, and recent articles about the diversity on board game covers say it really isn't, then customers don't have a choice to support what they want. No one here is blaming consumers for making the 'wrong' choice. What we are saying is that representation of different genders, sexualities and races is an achievable goal and doing so grows the hobby as more people can see themselves represented in games. Consumers need to have the choice to make in the first place.

Look at something like the Arkham Horror LCG. Lovecraft was an awful racist and misogynist, yet that game has an amazingly diverse cast of investigators in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. It is possible for games companies to make their games represent 'humanity' as a whole and not just white men. Doing so will encourage more people into the hobby and that can only be a good thing for growth.

It may have taken a long time but do you think Marvel would have made Captain Marvel without their being demand for more female superheroes, or Black Panther if they didn't think it would sell? Critics and consumers can change what a particular hobby looks like, but we also need companies brave enough to make the changes as well. It's a little Catch 22, I'll admit.

The point of the piece was to call out the fact that 'get politics out of my game' is most frequently used to suppress often uncomfortable questions about race and gender in games. Those raising these points are often dismissed as Social Justice Warriors, or overly sensitive. It's ridiculous when we have games where people can play literal nazis, that we can't have a discussion about 'maybe you could put a woman on the cover?'.

Critics need the space to be able to ask these questions. If everytime we do it is dismissed as 'everything is fine' or 'that's not my experience' then nothing will change. If you've seen lots of groups with 50% women in it then you are doing better than every boardgame convention I've attended and I've attended a lot. Even something like UK games expo which is great at encouraging families and women to attend, is still majority white, middle aged men.

I think things are starting to change for the better, and that publishers are starting to listen to a more diverse audience. There will always be resistance to change, but I for one look forward to seeing more diverse voices round my table, designing the games I play, and attending the conventions I love.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #312471 25 Jul 2020 14:35

ubarose wrote: I don’t want some little token cardboard woman shoe horned into a WWII paratrooper game. That’s small potatoes bullshit. We are beyond that.

I want a game about the WASPs where ALL the characters are women. I want them all to be realistically illustrated, with no male gaze in evidence. And I want a couple of those characters to be lesbian coded.


100% agreed. I would play that game any day. Have you seen Night Witches ?
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312472 25 Jul 2020 14:51
Even your own link (as much as a wiki is an authoritative source) uses an adjusted pay 'gap' of 5%. Hardly an amount that ought to suppress women from creating or playing any games they want. I don't think that is a valid excuse for a lack of female game content. Nor do I think police activity somehow suppresses black would be gamers. I just don't think board games in general appeal universally, particularly relatively expensive hobby games, it is more of an economic disparity than an ethnic one I think (I doubt you will find many copies of gloomhaven in a rural West Virginia trailer park either).

I think this is a marketing tactic if anything. Were I to design and market a hospital simulator board game today I would lost certainly want to make sure there was a diverse roster of characters. That not only mirrors reality but it also broadens appeal as wide as possible. And it feels organic to the theme. If I was doing all the art myself and realized that all the doctors were white men, all the nurses were white women, and the support staff (housekeeping, maintenance, etc) were ethnic minorities, well, there is a problem. And I'd rightly assume the game would be blasted for this art choice (although in the 89s, 90s and probably early to mid 2000s this wouldn't raise an eyebrow) and sell poorly. But if the game was a hospital in 1880s England, then the character options might be limited for historic accuracy unless realism was not required and a more modern mix of characters was selected for marketability. See where I am coming from?

So when I see calls for "more diversity", I gotta wonder exactly how that is intended to come about. Is there a checklist of "required diversity" that just be applied right before final art approval? Is Stone Age going to be cancelled because it forces heteronormative behavior on the player via the love shack?

Diversity should be organic from the start. It will fill a demand if the audience is asking for it. I think almost every game is already there unless you just want to ban European themed games entirely.

I'm still curious about what games from the past 10 years DON'T appeal to a broad player base. When I see these types of concerns I'm always wondering if it is just smoke or if there is a fire.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #312473 25 Jul 2020 15:01

thegiantbrain wrote:

ubarose wrote: I don’t want some little token cardboard woman shoe horned into a WWII paratrooper game. That’s small potatoes bullshit. We are beyond that.

I want a game about the WASPs where ALL the characters are women. I want them all to be realistically illustrated, with no male gaze in evidence. And I want a couple of those characters to be lesbian coded.


100% agreed. I would play that game any day. Have you seen Night Witches ?


Yes. There has been a lot of buzz about Night Witches in my circle. RPGs are way ahead of board games regarding representation. Unfortunately, I not much into RPGs. Although I’d be into being a member of an all female RPG group - haven’t had that since high school.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #312476 25 Jul 2020 15:29
Wow, I think Jason just got himself Reply Guy bingo. Congratulations.

jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312478 25 Jul 2020 15:35
Heh heh, well we all know internet forum discussions are 70% taking the piss, 25% didn't read the OP, and 5% earnest concern. If we all just replied "ditto" then it wouldn't be very fun, right? :)
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #312479 25 Jul 2020 15:58
But, people have been talking the piss on some topics for so long that we have heard it all already. I would rather hear an original, authentically felt thought or idea.

I had a really interesting discussion with a man who confessed that he felt put off by the Wonder Woman game having no male characters. And another discussion with a different man about how important it was to him that his game group provided a supportive, all male space, and how he felt he had lost something as women joined. Both were rather surprised at their own feelings, and discussed them honestly and good faith with out “talking the piss.”
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312480 25 Jul 2020 16:07
Well, despite jackwraith dismissing your anecdotal experience, I think this is a real part of male psychology. We want and probably even need male bonding time. Men go out fishing, hunting, golfing, etc and I don't hear much from women about trying to 'invade' those spaces. Same with board games. You can label it 'toxic masculinity' as a way to trivialize or dismiss it, but it is still there. I just had a beer in a brewery where I could watch a dozen men play Warhammer. They probably wouldn't exclude a woman who wanted to play but at the same time they had a male bonding moment because it was just men. This is important and I think most men want this at least some times.

But I also want to share my hobby with my wife and my daughter, so I certainly acknowledge the need for games that serve all of humanity, even while I cherish the handful of games that speak to me as a man (mayhap an adolescent one!) that I might not share with the women in my life.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312484 25 Jul 2020 17:06

ubarose wrote: I don’t want some little token cardboard woman shoe horned into a WWII paratrooper game. That’s small potatoes bullshit. We are beyond that.

I want a game about the WASPs where ALL the characters are women. I want them all to be realistically illustrated, with no male gaze in evidence. And I want a couple of those characters to be lesbian coded.


See, this illustrates my point about token representation. If there was a WW2 paratrooper games that just checkboxed in Hispanic, black, Indian, Arabic, and Aboriginal chracters and half were women and a quarter were LGBT+, it wouldn't satisfy you. You want a game about YOU, and WW2 paratroopers ain't it. and you SHOULDN'T HAVE TO SETTLE!!

So games have to speak from a place of authenticity. Some will be for you, some won't, and the vast majority are so abstracted that it doesn't really matter. I'd rather have games that absolutely aren't for me but strike to the core of others (and vice versa) than all games get focus tested into homogenous mediocrity like a Netflix original.

I have spoken.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #312486 25 Jul 2020 17:41
I feel like I've seen and been in this argument so many times it's rote, so it feels pretty circular, but I don't want to leave uba to have to make this point by herself as I think this is what she's getting at, and she can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

I find your continued examples using historical wargames, *in this conversation,* to be a straw man. Maybe there's someone out there making this argument (these people want a trans woman with pink hair in my non-fantasy historical game with the 101st airborne division), I can't speak to it. But in general, I see people making this argument around non-historical games. Alt-history, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. So in the context where we've allowed for lion people or some alt-history world 1920s with squid people, we're in a context where you as a designer can choose to diversify. And many people would welcome being able to play someone who looks like themselves. But we often see fantasy games that don't really do this or do this in only a token fashion. So that's one area of contention.

If I'm engaging specifically your point about historical wargames, since I play a lot of them, the experience can still be weirdly white male focused. It isn't typical that we see POC colonial French or UK forces even though they were a huge portion of the troops---1.5+ million of Indian troops fought in the Commonwealth armies in heavy fighting in main theaters. How often do you see a US civil war game where the Union is using freedmen either directly fighting or even featured extensively in the background images around the game? I do not, typically, yet by the end of the war 200k union soldiers were black, around 10% of the union troops that fought.

On the other subject, I just read it again. I don't know what you're trying to say about male bonding and boardgames or maybe we just fiercely disagree. I categorically reject the idea that the reason women don't play WH40k or whatever is because of any particular characteristic of the subject matter or that they wouldn't like it as "one of the boys." In my experience, it's because those spaces are weird and uncomfortable for women. My spouse loves gaming but has talked to me about how uncomfortable walking into games stores is re: the people there staring at her and how she is treated differently. The idea from my perspective is to wipe that sort of stuff out of the hobby so a woman can come into a game store and feel pretty cool about playing some WH40k with whomever is there. And having armies of characters that look like her or someone that she can think of herself as could really help that. But if you yourself want to play WH40k with your boys, that's great! I don't think the discourse around this is about trying to figure out how to get someone else into your group of male friends who bond and have beers during a game. My read is that it's to create an environment around the hobby where women feel more comfortable getting together and doing the same thing if they choose to as well---and feel welcomed to try the aspects of the hobby that they may have been put off from due to the culture around gaming. Maybe where you live the environment around gaming isn't pretty intimidating re: gender and race. Great, I have no idea! But around where I am, and I hear this from people I know, this is not a hobby that is very welcoming.

Also, to your other more off topic point, just my personal experience growing up in the midwest US and having rural, gun-toting in-laws from the great plains, there are a lot of women who love hunting and fishing in the US but are completely alienated by the macho, toxic masculinity of the hobby and actual comments and harassment they get when they do engage in those activities.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #312487 25 Jul 2020 17:43

jason10mm wrote: Well, despite jackwraith dismissing your anecdotal experience, I think this is a real part of male psychology. We want and probably even need male bonding time. Men go out fishing, hunting, golfing, etc and I don't hear much from women about trying to 'invade' those spaces. Same with board games. You can label it 'toxic masculinity' as a way to trivialize or dismiss it, but it is still there. I just had a beer in a brewery where I could watch a dozen men play Warhammer. They probably wouldn't exclude a woman who wanted to play but at the same time they had a male bonding moment because it was just men. This is important and I think most men want this at least some times.

But I also want to share my hobby with my wife and my daughter, so I certainly acknowledge the need for games that serve all of humanity, even while I cherish the handful of games that speak to me as a man (mayhap an adolescent one!) that I might not share with the women in my life.


I very much respect and support this. This is not toxic masculinity, which is the toxicity in our culture that makes men more likely to suffer from stress related physical and mental health illnesses. This is what helps men live long, and happy lives. Friendship and bonding is so important, and so much of our culture impedes men from forming and maintaining those friendships and support networks. I know that many of my male friends find this in their hobbies.

About 10 years ago, when women started showing up at board game club, the guys started up a “poker night” at someone’s house. After a while we finally told them that it was okay to come clean and call it what it was - it was their guys board game night. Us women folk who worked mom hours had already been getting together on the regular in the afternoons for years to play board games. So now they call it invitation only “insert game name here.” We have an unspoken agreement that every so often they proffer an invitation to one of the women folk, and we sadly must decline because we already have plans.

I don’t want there to be fewer games that speak to you, I want there to be more games that speak to me, and to others who are different to me. I think there is plenty of room for it. Board games are for everyone, but not every board game is for every gamer. You are right, that if designers try to tick off the boxes and try to make a game that speaks to everyone, they will end up making a game that speaks to no one.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312489 25 Jul 2020 20:47
To ubarose, I'm not quite certain that you are being serious, but if you are, then thanks and I agree.

To Sax, I use historical based games just to prove a point. Those games usually bank on at least some level of historical accuracy so you are correct, if a Civil War game is modeling a specific battle where a colored unit was present, then I would expect that unit to be depicted, at least to the same degree as other units (lots of these games use generic unit icons so the ethnicity of the combatants is largely invisible). And if it uses minis, like Battlecry for example, well, there are only so many molds and I'd understand if they went with an image representing 90% (95% if you count the rebels) of the soldiers. But by all means, call out a game that ignores prominent BIPOCs that ought to be there.

But this criticism isn't just levelled at wargames. It is about box art representation like the OP mentions. So games like Caylus, Carcassonne, Viticulture, etc. These games are thematically placed in an era of white presenting europeans and the box art usually represents that. But the GAME ITSELF often has no gender or ethnicity. This is true for virtually every game I can think of. Toss out the box and the game is just the game. The tokens are red, green, blue, and yellow. Or they are minis and quite frankly, those are often just grey or the same primary colors as meeples. It is only the card art that shows a level of detail to really determine a tokens ethnicity (and even then, that can be a stretch for a fantasy race), much less their sexual orientation.

So why are folks clamoring for specific representation in games? Do they want an ethnic themed monopoly (those exist I believe) or just a game with a theme that resonates with their specific group? If so, then I agree that games have largely stagnated on the same couple of safe themes that folks seem to buy over and over.

I'm still waiting to see examples that illustrates that this is a problem beyond artwork however. This isn't really an issue with GAME MECHANICS. I can think of only a few games that expressly force heteronormative behavior. Stone Age, like I've already mentioned, maybe Life if they still use blue and pink plastic sticks, and Village, which IIRC had lineage as a main gameplay component. I'm sure there are some strategic conflict games that have dynasty matchmaking and whatnot as well. But virtually every other game I can think of has no sex whatsoever and I don't think artwork alone can depict LGBT+ without some pretty egregious stereotypic artwork (or a lore blurb I suppose). Same with ethnicity. I don't know of many games that specifically highlight ethnic differences between players or game tokens other than in a specific conflict (A US versus Japan WW2 game or Puerto Rico for example) if you take the art out of consideration. So prove me wrong on that point.

Ethnicity in games is mostly just a matter of artwork. And I think that has largely been rectified in the past 10 years. A lot of games have a very limited budget so they can only depict so much variety but the 2 games I've played most recently, Tiny Epic Tactics and Dungeon Mayhem, still manage to have a diverse cast within the limitations of what they can do. I think the message of diversity has been received. So again, show me that this is a CURRENT problem with game art.

Folks will bitch when something they are used to gets changed in a seemingly arbitrary way. This is true across all pop culture, not just games. Diversity is best introduced via new, original, and exciting characters rather than altering an existing IP just to adhere to a checklist (though in my experience when done really well no one complains).

I'm all for games from new and innovative sources. I just think that effort is better spent finding and boosting those types of games rather than decrying the state of current game offerings from the Asmodee monolith.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #312492 25 Jul 2020 23:44
If you open a bar that exclusively serves gin you’re going to attract gin drinkers. If somebody suggests adding beer, it’s very safe to say, “but everybody here likes gin.”

I think the big majority of the hobby game industry is only selling gin.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #312494 26 Jul 2020 03:25

jason10mm wrote: Even your own link (as much as a wiki is an authoritative source) uses an adjusted pay 'gap' of 5%. Hardly an amount that ought to suppress women from creating or playing any games they want. I don't think that is a valid excuse for a lack of female game content. Nor do I think police activity somehow suppresses black would be gamers. I just don't think board games in general appeal universally, particularly relatively expensive hobby games, it is more of an economic disparity than an ethnic one I think (I doubt you will find many copies of gloomhaven in a rural West Virginia trailer park either).


Even at 5% this is a huge amount of money over the course of a working lifetime. It is not only money that stops women being more involved in the hobby as well. If women see the hobby as dominated by white, male gamers then it doesn't seem very inviting does it? There are loads of societal reasons that women have less free time as well, but that is a debate for another forum.

Board games don't appeal universally? Maybe not all but they absolutely can. See families buying copies of scrabble, or trivial pursuit or more mainstream games to play at christmas. The hobby side of board games often forgets that side of tabletop gaming and surely some companies must want a piece of that action. This appeal can come down to different themes, see the success of something like Wingspan.

jason10mm wrote: Diversity should be organic from the start. It will fill a demand if the audience is asking for it. I think almost every game is already there unless you just want to ban European themed games entirely.


No one's asking to ban games here. However, most euro games have white men on the cover. There are more animals on covers than women or people of colour. Try to think for a moment how you would feel if you couldn't see yourself in the hobby. If you didn't feel represented in the art or design decisions of a game. The call for diversity isn't one that calls for the banning of games, it calls for the inclusion of people. People are asking to be included in our hobby, and it is so simple to include women and people of colour by making different choices in art, in actively welcoming them into our gaming groups, and encouraging them to take part. Alongside this comes the need to criticise games that should go further, or have questionable stereotypes portrayed. Every form of art needs this, and boardgaming feels like it is just realising this. As I say in the article, it will be difficult and there are hard questions to be asked, but I believe they are worth asking so that the hobby can continue to grow and welcome everyone to the table.
Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #312495 26 Jul 2020 04:21
I have been back in the hobby for about 10 years now, and have played game or set up groups in Europe, West Africa (where I was working), and New Zealand where I am from. Playing board games in West Africa was a wonderful and enlightening experience. I was working in Abidjan, and with a Belgium colleague we set up regular board game Saturdays. Most of the participants were expats from other parts of Africa or Europe, and many had never played modern board games before. My own observation was that most people really enjoyed the games, and that it was a lack of exposure (and resources) rather than a lack of interest in gaming that is generally the barrier.

Generally speaking, playing board games requires either discretionary income or discretionary time or preferably both. Whilst a lot of modern board gamers mention playing games with families in their youth, those families had discretionary time and resources. BIPOC families probably had lack of discretionary income whereas women often had a lack of discretionary time as well as gendered role expectations. These conditions led to an overwhelming predominance of white males in the hobby, which, in turn, led to many more white male designers designing on themes that appealed to this target market. But, with changing social conditions, expectations, and exposure, boardgaming has the potential to be much more accessible. But this requires much more in the way of representativeness in games. If you can identify with the theme or a character, it is much easier to enter the magic theater. If you have a bigger pool of players that are women or BIPOC, then it is likely that there will be more designers with these backgrounds as well. After all, most designers were gamers once. Bigger pool of players, bigger pool of designers, bigger choice of themes, better hobby. (A wee bit simplisitic perhaps).