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Since remote gaming has now become a significant part of how we play board games, we have added a short cut to this forum in the menu on the left.

The Game Political

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23 Jul 2020 10:15 #312405 by thegiantbrain
Should these concerns be shoved aside for the sake of...

‘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.

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23 Jul 2020 19:13 - 23 Jul 2020 20:41 #312406 by Andi Lennon
Replied by Andi Lennon on topic The Game Political
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.
Last edit: 23 Jul 2020 20:41 by Andi Lennon.
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23 Jul 2020 22:18 - 24 Jul 2020 09:46 #312411 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic The Game Political
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.
Last edit: 24 Jul 2020 09:46 by Shellhead.
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24 Jul 2020 04:01 #312420 by We-reNotWizards
Replied by We-reNotWizards on topic The Game Political
Excellent Article, very thought provoking and well written. Thank you.

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24 Jul 2020 19:01 #312452 by jason10mm
Replied by jason10mm on topic The Game Political
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.

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24 Jul 2020 20:25 #312455 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic The Game Political
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.
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24 Jul 2020 21:32 #312456 by jason10mm
Replied by jason10mm on topic The Game Political
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.

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24 Jul 2020 23:00 #312458 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic The Game Political
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.
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24 Jul 2020 23:36 #312460 by jason10mm
Replied by jason10mm on topic The Game Political
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?

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25 Jul 2020 10:29 #312467 by Jackwraith
Replied by Jackwraith on topic The Game Political

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.
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25 Jul 2020 14:32 #312469 by ubarose
Replied by ubarose on topic The Game Political
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.
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25 Jul 2020 14:32 #312470 by thegiantbrain
Replied by thegiantbrain on topic The Game Political
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.
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25 Jul 2020 14:35 #312471 by thegiantbrain
Replied by thegiantbrain on topic The Game Political

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 ?
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25 Jul 2020 14:51 #312472 by jason10mm
Replied by jason10mm on topic The Game Political
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.

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25 Jul 2020 15:01 #312473 by ubarose
Replied by ubarose on topic The Game Political

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.
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