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Epic Losses

Essays

Representation Matters

O Updated
Representation matters
There Will Be Games

White, straight, cis men are everywhere - not just in board games. I'm one of them. My voice doesn't add anything new. My experiences may be unique to me, but they're probably not much different to those of every other white cis man. I may not be rich or live in luxury and I feel that I have put in the work to get to where I am in my life, but I have grown up with privilege - and that privilege has given me a headstart and opened up opportunities to me that others won't have had. However, this article isn't about me. It's about why we need more representation, more diversity and more voices from a wide range of backgrounds and it focuses on the board game community specifically.

When we hear "diversity", we tend to think of race and gender initially. That's no surprise, given the many recent events that have made headline news around the world. Racism and sexism are rife and go back centuries. While progress has been made, the road is still long and a lot more needs to be changed, as we all well know.

Black people, people of colour or indigenous people are still seen as inferior. The white colonialists have stripped their colonies of everything they have and that is rightfully theirs. Their resources, their people, their culture and their rights. People were forcefully removed from their homeland and transported across the globe to do the bidding of their masters. Now, these people and their descendants are seen as unwanted, almost as invaders of the white people's lands. Their rights are still not recognised and the abuse they and their parents have suffered continues to be downplayed.

While women's rights have improved, after long, hard battles fought and won by women, men are still seen as the stronger sex and still feel they have some sort of birthright to mistreat or abuse women. It's often swept under the carpet and ignored. "Boy will be boys" is one of the many excuses that allow men to continue their abhorrent behaviour.

The topic of gender has also widened its scope, of course. While it used to be about "men" and "women", it's now about a lot more than that. Male and female aren't the only genders and every gender identity needs to be respected and taken into consideration.

Trans people's rights, for example, are also still not recognised fully and trans people are still often portrayed as a threat to society and are treated accordingly. People pointing to biology to justify their transphobia are trying to hide behind science, when science itself doesn't fully understand how important chromosomes actually are in deciding what genitals a person ends up with and how much influence sex hormones have. What we learn in school biology about chromosomes is a huge oversimplification and we should not quote science when we have no experience in the field.

At the end of the day, what genitals you have has no influence on whether you have gender dysphoria or whether you decide to transition.

Sexual orientation is another thing that has been a matter of discrimination for centuries. Homosexuality is still illegal in many countries around the world and where it's not illegal, gay, lesbian, bi and queer people are still subject to abuse and brutal attacks. We are all becoming more aware of what is going on, but the situation is only improving marginally.

Religion and beliefs are another huge topic where a lack of understanding and misconceptions lead to distrust and hate. Culture goes along with this, of course, as religion is often deeply intertwined with it. Racism also tends to play into this, of course, because race is often used in place of religion or belief to justify why a group of people should be the target of hate.

To me, the term diversity also includes a person's abilities. Whether you're partially sighted or blind, deaf or hard of hearing, paralysed, an amputee or have otherwise lost the use of limbs, autistic, have learning or other disabilities, you should be able to have the same rights as everyone else. Yet, as we all know, access to services is often still not easy if you have some form of disability. You are often stared at or otherwise excluded. Again, things have been improving in many countries around the world, but there is definitely still no equal access to everyone.

So far I have listed the areas that diversity covers in the context of global issues and, of course, I've only scratched the surface. There is a lot more to discuss about these topics, but that's beyond the scope of my blog, let alone this article. Now it's time for me to discuss how the board game hobby addresses diversity and how it would benefit if it was embraced fully. I'm not going to look at diversity from a political or legal angle, but am trying to show how diversity will actually benefit us, as players of tabletop, board, card and other games.

Let's start with designers. You have probably seen the statistics and know that white, straight, cis men are still the biggest demographic in the game design space. Women, BIPOC or queer designers continue to represent only a tiny fraction. If the board game industry was able to increase diversity, and how to do that is, I think, the tricky part, and if we had more women, more black, more people of colour or more queer designers, we wouldn't only address the percentages of designer demographics, but we would actually increase the total number of designers overall.

I think, that's a point that many people don't get. The discussion is always around reducing the number of white, straight, cis male designers to allow more women, BIPOC and queer designers to enter the space, when in fact, it's all about increasing the number of designers overall.

The first and probably most direct impact of having more tabletop game designers is that we will have more games in our hobby. That means, as a consumer, I will have more games to choose from. If the mix of designers is also more diverse, which is what we're trying to do, then it means I have a wider range of types of games to choose from. Suddenly, there will be games available that match my tastes better, that have mechanisms or complexity or art or whatever it is I'm looking for in a game, that suit me more.

The other and maybe less direct impact of having a more diverse group of designers is that more people will see games that reflect themselves and their interests better. It means that our community will grow. Not only will more people buy games, which means more investment will go back into the industry, but the investment will more likely go to those diverse designers that attracted these new people into our hobby in the first place.

I think, that's a huge benefit, because it will start to create a feedback loop. It also addresses, at least in part, the concern that more designers in the tabletop game space create more competition that will force out other designers. I don't think the tabletop game market is saturated, at least not yet, but if it was, then growing the market by attracting new consumers of games is a way to help.

The other issue that having more BIPOC tabletop game designers will address is how racism, slavery and other issues are portrayed in games. It's great to see designers work on their games and try and change their setting, so that they no longer use a historic background, without even mentioning the atrocities that took place. However, having BIPOC designers create games that aren't set in the Caribbean is even better, and designers who know their history and their culture are much better placed to make games that respectfully treat what happened or how everything is portrayed. Speaking of culture, the issue of cultural appropriation will also be addressed by having more diverse designers in the industry, of course.

The benefits of having more women tabletop game designers are very similar. The portrayal of women in many games is still ridiculous. Just think chainmail bikini. Women designers will be able to address this and their life experiences will enrich the experiences that we, as players, will have playing their games.

The same goes for making our industry more gender diverse or if we have more designers with disabilities. Colour-blind friendly games are almost commonplace. Making games more accessible for partially-sighted or blind people is also improving. At the end of the day, everyone has something to add to the design process. Everyone's real-life experiences will influence the design process and it's important that everyone has a voice and an opportunity to grow our hobby.

Of course, it's not just about designers. Developers, illustrators, writers, publishers and everything else in our industry needs to be more diverse.

The problem is, how to attract a more diverse set of people into the industry, our community or our hobby in general. White, cis, straight men are much more likely to have had more opportunities to get into the tabletop game industry. It is more likely to have been easier for them to self-publish or set up a publishing company or get their game design accepted by publishers, etc. Others aren't usually so lucky and many are disadvantaged.

Money is one part of the equation and there are some groups who are trying to help people from an underrepresented demographic make their way in the tabletop game industry by supporting them financially. Time is another aspect, so providing free training, workshops, meet-ups, game pitching events, etc. is also important and again there are groups who do what they can to create these opportunities.

I'm sure there are more things that need to be done and I certainly don't have any answers. However, what I am trying to convey is that the board game hobby can really benefit from better representation and diversity. Our board game playing experiences will be richer, we will learn new things and broaden our horizons. We will be stronger as a community together. So, even from a purely selfish angle, you'd want a wider variety of people to be part of our hobby, so that you can have more games that do different things, giving you a much bigger choice.

As always, but especially this time, I would love to hear your thoughts on the things I tried to discuss in this article. What are your experiences in the board game community? How would change things? What other groups should we include in our hobby who haven't been part of it yet? How can we achieve that? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #326153 01 Sep 2021 12:48
I note that no one has replied to your essay, and in pretty much all respects I agree with you. I have started to look more into who designed a particular game as part of my selection criteria, as well as the characters available for players to use. These are not the most important criteria by any stretch, but with so many games around, they might be the final decider if I cannot decide between different options based upon other criteria. I play most things, and unless it is a historical game then I don't think there are many excuses for a lack of representation. Further to this, I also look at how representation has been included and whether this entrenches stereotypes or challenges them.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #326158 01 Sep 2021 13:32

Davidjc wrote: I note that no one has replied to your essay,

I feel like TWBG sends mixed messages about discussing socio-political content, which may result in folks being unsure of if/what/when they should opine. I have seen articles written (like this one) that would seem to be opening the door for discussion, but I've also seen people get lectured about their socio-political viewpoints from certain folks here.

Not to mention I would gauge the socio-political atmosphere here to be 90% homogeneous anyway, to the point where I would presume most are already "of the tribe" and feel no great need to merely nod in assent to most such content that is produced. When everyone in the house already eats Thousand Island dressing then no one feels the need to proudly declare how tasty it is.

p.s.
Thousand Island dressing is damn tasty, and you should totally try it.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #326159 01 Sep 2021 14:06
This essay got trolled on Twitter.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #326162 01 Sep 2021 15:25

fightcitymayor wrote:

Davidjc wrote: I note that no one has replied to your essay,

I feel like TWBG sends mixed messages about discussing socio-political content, which may result in folks being unsure of if/what/when they should opine. I have seen articles written (like this one) that would seem to be opening the door for discussion, but I've also seen people get lectured about their socio-political viewpoints from certain folks here.

Not to mention I would gauge the socio-political atmosphere here to be 90% homogeneous anyway, to the point where I would presume most are already "of the tribe" and feel no great need to merely nod in assent to most such content that is produced. When everyone in the house already eats Thousand Island dressing then no one feels the need to proudly declare how tasty it is.

p.s.
Thousand Island dressing is damn tasty, and you should totally try it.


It's funny ubarose got to this, I have been thinking about it for like the last hour so you certainly got to me, maybe I'm just in a dark place right now. I don't know how ubarose and Michael and the very, very few other people involved in the day to day running of the site feel as I literally only do the forums, so this is just my genuine feelings about stuff like this and the site. It may even piss them off, I have no idea.

My personal feeling about this sort of stuff is that the contribution we provide in this regard is via articles and the front page. Our front page gets in front of an infinite amount more eyes than the forum thread that follows it. If they were starting the site again, I probably would tell them not to bother having a forum or comment threads. Maybe a heavily moderated discord that consists of just straight completely arbitrary personal moderation when someone got a feeling. I did not always feel that way, I was a power of surfacing and countering ideas guy twenty years ago. But both professionally and personally, I have decided that the forum format and related adjacent formats are not effective in really doing anything at all about important issues that surface on TWBG in articles.

Professionally, we have learned through a building experimental and observational corpus of evidence that people do not change their mind about strongly held political or sociological views, no matter the nature of evidence, discourse, etc. Only no/weakly held positions are convinceable or affected by discourse at all, usually via the occassional affect by close friends and family. Thus, I consider the front page platform pretty important with respect to getting in front of eyes who may have only weakly held views. The forums? No. I consider it ineffective and pointless as a instrument of change. Only old people with strongly held opinions will engage in logging into a forum and getting into it politically. Worse than all that, the psychological rewards of intervening with your strongly held opinions, especially against the grain of the average opinion in a space, are pretty high. To me, the profoundly effective "debate me" culture in wide adoption has all but eliminated the point of these sorts of spaces even when large numbers of people mostly disagree with you. They won the open free speech version of the internet, because of the nature of human psychology and the instrinsic rewards of forum warrioring while still basically following the rules (e.g. civil discourse, etc). On a personal level, this has absolutely been borne out by the way the covid crisis has played out in my personal life and through the lens of online free discourse spaces.

The part that galls me is the practical appearance of "winning" when it's really just exhaustion. It's the wrestling the pig problem. The pig fucking loves it and everyone else just walks away silently a little more annoyed and frustrated than they were before. I take solace in the fact no one whose mind would be changed reads these sorts of spaces anyway but people do read the front page so it somewhat matters.

The criticism that I feel is most justified is the one made by I think Jur that we don't seek out and cover the things that reflect our values as hard as we should with actual shoeleather---the example was to go do a big interview and feature on a Zenobia award finalist. That reflects I think a lot of personal and emotional turmoil on the part of the tiny unpaid staff, but I think it's a legitimate criticism. But I don't have any more time or emotional energy to devote to the site than I already do, so I literally cannot imagine what the people who do a lot more work for the site (and $) feel.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #326163 01 Sep 2021 16:21
I am strongly in favor of diversity, and this hobby could definitely use more diversity in both players and designers. However, I also find the fixation on representation to be a bit troubling, because it implies that even a minority might think like a bigot at times. If a consumer can't fully enjoy a game, book, movie, comic, whatever because it lacks a character that shares their race or gender or religion or culture or orientation or handicap or whatever, it makes that consumer seem like a small-minded bigot who can only relate to people who closely resemble them. But maybe that interpretation is merely my luxury as a white heterosexual male. But when I was a kid, Black Panther and Luke Cage were two of my top five superheroes. I was less enthusiastic about female characters until I got older, and then I became very enthusiastic about strong women like Ellen Ripley and Misty Knight. And it admittedly took longer for me to embrace gay heroes like Leonard Pine or Detective Kima Griggs. But the point is that I don't need my heroes to look like me or be like me, and the concept of representation suggests that we should coddle people who are that small-minded, as long as they are oppressed minorities. The growing diversity in various mediums is great, but maybe the representation narrative is a case of good intentions gone wrong.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #326169 01 Sep 2021 17:19

Shellhead wrote: But maybe that interpretation is merely my luxury as a white heterosexual male.


DING DING DING.

You can find countless stories about how many people were excited to finally see a Spider-Man film, or play a Spider-Man game, that represented their background. It is vital that diversity become a focus until it's just second nature. I hope that one day it will just be something you don't notice, like good special effects. It will only be noticeable by its absence.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #326174 01 Sep 2021 22:16
I am like you. I don’t identify with characters based on gender or race or religion or ethnicity. I identify with characters based on their personalities.

It’s my personal opinion that this is a better way to view the world. But it’s something I would, isn’t it?

As I’ve learned in life, what little wisdom I possess, people need to be listened to and understood. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. But it helps to try, it helps to listen to them.

It really does make a difference for others to see people with similar backgrounds in positions of success or participation. It helps their sense of belonging, it helps them feel understood. It gives them ideas that they, too, belong and can be successful there. That’s fantastic. That’s what I want for everyone.

Diversity means more than just a checklist. Black, check. Hindu, check. Transgendered, check. I think people who don’t understand it see it in those terms.

Diversity means people with different experiences and ideas bring that with them. It creates an environment that improves everyone involved.

When I think about my own privilege in life, one of the biggest privileges I have ever had was living amongst diverse groups of people and working with them, too. That makes me incredibly fortunate and has given me a lot of personal opportunity.

To me, diversity is opportunity for everyone. I welcome it.
Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #326176 02 Sep 2021 02:22
Firstly, I would like to apologise to the site admin if my response to the essay raised unintended questions. My opening comment was an observation that the OP hadn't received any feedback (on this format it would seem - I dont use twitter) on their essay.

In part, I think the lack of response, raised by another poster, was mainly because most people on this website would concur with the views expressed by the OP, whether in whole or in part, and therefore didn't feel the need to respond. I just wanted to acknowledge the effort in putting the essay together by responding.

In terms of representation I can agree with those people that also raised concerns that a focus on representation could lead to a tokenistic approach in an effort to ensure that a full audience would be catered for. I certainly share those concerns, but when i think about growing the hobby and attracting new gamers from different backgrounds in, representation may be more important for building the magic theatre for new entrants as opposed to long term gamers. And more new backgrounds, the greater the chance of new boardgame visions being expressed through new game designs.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #326182 02 Sep 2021 09:32

Gary Sax wrote: If they were starting the site again, I probably would tell them not to bother having a forum or comment threads.

You could always do the old "Comments Are Closed For This Article" thing that plenty of sites do. That way you keep any discussion centered on gaming threads where there is likely less drama.

Forums are tricky in this day & age. It feels like BGG has become a masterclass in how NOT to run a website (the place is literally 90% forums, but is now ruthlessly modded to stamp out even the slightest whiff of anything they deem unacceptable, which these days is a LOT, so why have forums at all?) But running what are essentially opinion pieces with forums whose use is either discouraged or outright derided seems like a definite contradiction.

Admittedly I enjoyed ye olde days of forums, where they were the wild west & any putz with a keyboard could wander in & get smoked. But like you said, then you get the greased pig who simply exists to start shit (hello DWTripp in RSP for over a decade.)

I do feel like running opinion pieces with no feedback mechanism turns a place into an echo-chamber, and we've seen how easy it is on the modern internet to simply navigate from site to site and receive absolutely no information or data of any kind that threatens a person's previously held beliefs. Obviously MAGAs are Exhibit A for such behavior but in the past few years if all I did was visit TWBG and BGG, I would basically assume that all boardgamers ran LGBTQ soup kitchens named "Eat The Rich" where improper pronoun usage was punishable by immediate incarceration. And I'm fairly certain that is not the case.

p.s.
Thousand Island dressing is still rad.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #326184 02 Sep 2021 10:29
Gary, I understand where you're coming from. But I will point out that this sites front page has had a lot of lean years. At times the front page looked like a dead site with just a monthly post by Michael Barnes and Black Barney's shitty movie reviews. I wouldn't be surprised if the active forums are what kept Shellie from shutting off the lights during those periods. I've never thought the forum posts should be added to the articles and if you want to cut off the forums from the front page and add a discord link to the articles I say it's worth trying. Times change and websites need to change with them.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #326188 02 Sep 2021 12:26

Davidjc wrote: Firstly, I would like to apologise to the site admin if my response to the essay raised unintended questions. My opening comment was an observation that the OP hadn't received any feedback (on this format it would seem - I dont use twitter) on their essay.

In part, I think the lack of response, raised by another poster, was mainly because most people on this website would concur with the views expressed by the OP, whether in whole or in part, and therefore didn't feel the need to respond. I just wanted to acknowledge the effort in putting the essay together by responding.

In terms of representation I can agree with those people that also raised concerns that a focus on representation could lead to a tokenistic approach in an effort to ensure that a full audience would be catered for. I certainly share those concerns, but when i think about growing the hobby and attracting new gamers from different backgrounds in, representation may be more important for building the magic theatre for new entrants as opposed to long term gamers. And more new backgrounds, the greater the chance of new boardgame visions being expressed through new game designs.


Oh my goodness, absolutely no need to apologize. Taking the time "to acknowledge the effort in putting the essay together by responding" is very much appreciated. Our writers often feel a bit sad when their work doesn't get any comments. I always tell them that is is because they covered their topic so well that no one has any questions or anything to add, and that their readers agree with them. When someone like you takes the effort respond in such a kind and thoughtful manner it means a great deal to the writers.

Also, thank you for the concise summary of the ideas presented in this article and the primary take-away - "And more new backgrounds, the greater the chance of new boardgame visions being expressed through new game designs." People who respond to article titles and the other comments, without actually reading the article, should find it helpful.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #326189 02 Sep 2021 13:40
That Thousand Island dressing metaphor is so loaded with weighty interpretation that I'm almost shaking just considering them all :P

I feel that the best games that I enjoy seem to be the products of very small teams, if not individuals. Thus "representation" is kinda meaningless since there is no committee of diversity required or even desired, since this is a singular vision. The game product can succeed or fail on it's own merits.

Certainly the production team and marketing can tailor the visual aesthetic to appeal to the demographics they want, or risk alienating some if there is a misfire in the visuals. Higher the budget, the larger the print run, the wider the marketing net needs be cast. At least running the near final product by a diverse crowd can catch any missteps before they are pointed out to you on Twitter and the hordes gather, though that can be a capricious thing no matter what you do.

Since games are a luxury item I don't really see why they need to be held to any particular standard other than a basic "we didn't use a toxic dye on the meeples" safety standard. It would be interesting to see an industry accreditation system that specifically delineates theme, content, visual aesthetic, and production team requirements to meet a published, transparent, and well defined criteria. Would that be successful? Would game devs want to receive it? Would audiences at large select it over other games?