The Shut Up And Sit Down Board Game Conglomerate (aka a bunch of nerds who make game reviews) had their first convention at the start of October, and I went! It was in Vancouver! YAY!! 3 days (over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend) and about 800 people, and a heckload of fun. WHAT DID I DO??
There were so many panels. Like, all day every day so many panels. I went to only a few, because I gamed so many games the rest of the time. (See below.) I went to the opening ceremony to see the crew & their guests, and that was nice. The calm before the storm, or at least the calm before the sleep deprivation. The other two I just attended were the Cardboard! with Rich Sommer podcast & Tuesday Knight Games podcast recordings. Both were good fun! Rich had Rodney Smith, Paul Dean & Phillipa Warr up as guests and chatted a bit then did audience Q&A. I can’t find a link, though. Alan from TKG had a quick run through of guests come up and join him, with some chatting about games and sharing spooky stories. So fun! You can listen here.
THEN. I got to take part in a panel/event thing! Designer Grant Rodiek asked some industry friends, which somehow included me, to help out/”judge” his design jam panel “Design With Your Hair on Fire”. It was without a doubt the most fun design event I’ve been a part of. It was a packed room – split into about 8 or so groups of varying sizes. Each group got a stack of cards with words, had to combine two to end up with a title for their game, grab a bag of random components and then had 60 minutes to make a game. YEAAAAHHH!! So great. The overwhelming majority of attendees were gamers with no former experience in game design. They all took to it like naturals. At the end of it there were playable games! Vampire Weekend, Bearistocracy, Volcano Garden, Speedo Oligarchy, Breakfast Treachery.. and more. I was so impressed with so many! And the range of stuff was great – there was a dexterity game, a social negotiation game, some things that veered more towards light strategy. It was fantastic to see the results of this jam. I kinda want to see this sort of thing run at every convention.
I felt like I played a lot more than this, but BGStats tells me 24 plays, 10 new to me. I suppose for 3 days that’s not too shabby. I played a mix of stuff people had with them, a few titles from the library and a couple of things I brought. Overwhelming fave was Castles of Burgundy Dice Game still, because I am enamoured. Had a lot of fun teaching Broom Service the Card Game to folks too! And getting a game of Capital Lux in at least once that weekend – plus having the artist, Kwanchai Moriya, sign it! YAY.
So, new to me:
- London – oh my gosh this is punishing but excellent. Hard decisions and timing in a game of building up London after the great fire.
- Bruxelles 1893 – possibly the silliest fun I had playing during SHUX, which is kinda ridiculous considering this is a heavy-ish Euro game. But yeah. I love having goofy fun with friends while playing good solid games!! I enjoyed this quite a bit, with the spatial aspect and the worker placement and art sales and the like. Good things.
- Wind the Film – Evan describes this as Bohnanza meets Lost Cities which seems apt. Hand management to create sets of shots for points. Delightfully good.
- Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes – Nice mix of tile laying and area control with a bit of resource/goal management. I like the setting, just not keen on the total absence of any mention of indigenous people in that area…?
- Tokyo Highway – omg this dexterity game is maddeningly hard but also very good??
- News @ 11 – Such a fun social/improv game! Cards with random prompts are handed out and you’re then directed to give a quick news segment by the lead anchor using those words. HILARITY ENSUES.
- A Dog’s Life – of course I was gonna try this one. Delightful art, cute stuff, fun light pick up & deliver game.
- Between Two Cities – somehow I’d never tried this?? It was really good!
- Deadline – ooooh hardboiled cooperative fun! The way this plays out is very Grizzled-y in its card play, but unfolds like a mystery, giving you new leads whenever you successfully investigate. This was awesome. Would play again A++
Oh, and I also played Twin Peaks the Murder Mystery Game for the first time, and we definitely modified the rules a BUNCH as we played cos, ya know, early 90s roll and move.
Oh my gosh I saw a lot of great people. I got to introduce Evan to pals of mine, and see good friends at the same time. Friends from other cons I go to, from Twitter, a couple of listeners of Greatway Games (yay JC and Kayla!!) some of the SUSD crew, a couple even from the SUSD forums! I did a rubbish job of the latter in general, considering I was the one that started an “introduce yourself” thread and then just failed at meeting people because i’m terrible at remembering faces, and the like. I did meet the lovely Lisa Pope, one half of the behind the scenes organizing team, plus Alex & Michele a couple of cool volunteers though. The amount of people at the con was great, but I think I still just went “aaaah people everywhere who are they” most of the time. OOPS. Also thanks to Ben for the coffee hookups, hell yes.
Thinky thoughts to end on
I had a great time, but I have regrets! I wish I’d demo’d more games, seen more panels, had more time etc etc etc. It was all over in a flash, and there were a LOT of people I saw but just never played games with, which is the saddest thing. Sometimes my brain is all “they’re busy!!!” and sometimes it’s like “omg you’re not in the cool club nobody likes you!” which always comes up in the post-con sads. Gonna try and aim for that not to happen for BGGcon. Also on top of that all, saying goodbye to your long-distance sweetie at the same time as the con ends and all that, oof. I don’t recommend. I can.. not avoid that for BGGcon though. Oops.
Anyhow, despite all of that, I look forward to another SHUX. Perhaps next time I’ll do my Calgary/Banff visit in addition to soaking up the Vancouver goodness.
As someone who’s been involved in gaming from primarily a tabletop perspective, it can make me laugh a little when I compare the issues surrounding gender in board/hobby games and the tabletop gaming community to those of, say, video gaming as a whole. But it’s all relative – the size of our hobby and how popular it may or may not be doesn’t diminish the experience of women and other minorities in the hobby (and of course, I am only able to speak from my perspective as a woman, not from any other). If you know me, I’ve been fairly vocal about this over the last few years of being active online talking about board games & the hobby overall (either on Twitter, here on my blog, or shows/podcasts). I’ve been tinkering this post for a while – many parts of it are influenced by occurrences over these few years to paint a larger picture of my experience. I mentioned my intention to publish it soon on Twitter, and internet pal Matt Thrower reached out to me, saying he’d been thinking about writing on a similar topic – but felt the perspective of someone living the experience should be heard, rather than his.
We chatted back and forth a little, and Matt shared with me what he’d started with and I’d like to share this particular section to illustrate a number of things: the excitement about games and play that anyone can experience, the despair at not feeling included when acting on that excitement and my hope that this can change. Because I was a wee kid like Matt’s daughters once, who loved LEGO and Barbie and Masters of the Universe and the Goonies and the Babysitters Club and.. You get the idea. We’re complex creatures with enjoyment that transcends our gender identity. So, here’s Matt:
When I told my daughters about HeroQuest, I could see the fires being lit behind their eyes. I described how I’d pretend to be an evil wizard and how they’d explore my dungeons, defeat my servants and plunder my treasure. I explained the story would span from game to game and the characters would slowly gain power and unveil mysteries. They couldn’t wait. Then, when I got the box down from the loft and they looked at the cover and rummaged through the figures, disappointment. Where, they wanted to know, were all the girls?
When I was younger, I played a lot of card games and board games like Monopoly, Game of Life and Scattergories – fairly innocuous, but still generic where there were representations of people (especially the heteronormativity of Life). I didn’t truly get into gaming until I was a couple of years into University and a friend of a friend asked if I’d like to join them for a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Having grown up a fan of fantasy and adventure stories, I fell hard for D&D for its theme and the rich opportunities for play. After a while of playing in campaigns run by friends, I found my university’s gaming club – not only did that expand the group of people I played with, but also my exposure to gaming beyond ‘what’s in the box’. More source books, more campaigns (even like the worldwide campaign Living Greyhawk) as well as art and miniatures. The latter, combined with a primarily male gaming group, led me to some realizations about gender and gaming – both in game and out of it*.
While most of what I experienced was positive, it was easy to see where D&D as a game could fall into stereotypical divides with representation – some of the earlier book art and other visual materials** leaned quite heavily on women being busty, or scantily clad. Not quite the sexual violence that has popped up in RPGs and tabletop miniature games since, but I do recall the frustration of trying to find miniatures that I was okay with using for some of my characters. One early rogue of mine was based on a famous female pirate Mary Read and it was tough to find an analog for her and her appearance among the chainmail bikinis and flowing (yet revealing) magician’s robes.
While those issues would come and go, I never really had much issue with the way the D&D core rulebooks treated or represented women, and Wizards of the Coast have only gotten better at using more inclusive pronouns/language, a variety of illustrations and the like. And throughout all of my RPG experience (mostly D&D, a few one off games of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Werewolf & the like) I never got the impression that these games were made for men. I may have been lucky thanks to my introduction to the hobby – it was quite rare I was the only woman in a game – but I do think that due to their malleable nature and large settings, inclusivity in-game wasn’t a tough goal, and the open nature of play and role playing (as well as running games) wasn’t targeted quite so squarely at men.
So, whereas D&D had been so customizable with the type of character you played (how you wanted to represent them, their skills and quirks, and the like), board games were quite a different experience for me in the early 2000s when I first tried Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne. They tended toward European/Medieval sorts of settings with primarily white (often grumpy) men on the covers & in the art. I enjoyed the games, but those artistic elements were far removed from what I’d seen in D&D. With a more open format tabletop game, there’s so much that you can you to include different types of people (even when based on historic places and periods – because surprisingly there were women and people of colour in those, too!) – but I didn’t see that with board games so I stopped looking.
But even though I wasn’t actively looking, I started to notice that – primarily in the fantasy or horror genre games that were being produced more and more from the time I started board gaming – there were finally some women being portrayed in games. And, unlike I’d experienced in the variety of D&D, it was all fairly samey – busty white women who were scantily clad, and yet still not a great leap forward in actual, playable women characters. The cultural commodification of women’s appearances was being used liberally without much thought to women who may actually want to play the games***.
None of the people I played with ever really discussed this, and the treatment I got was certainly nothing less than welcoming during that period for me – it was a great campus gaming group with a few other women (so at least I wasn’t totally alone) and mostly friendly folks. I continued playing D&D, and getting to know a few more board games. I played casually for a few years until I left university and wasn’t finding the time I needed once I didn’t have the game club at my fingertips. It was never the people I played with or the games I played that provided anything that I could blame on stopping gaming – I just had no time. (Ah, something every gamer can identify with!)
As years passed, I was still consuming a lot of geek cultural output that arguably had the issues of representation that I see now in boardgaming. Comics, even great indie comics, had a lot of driven, strong men and occasional super women. Films for nerds like me didn’t really offer a lot in the way of women to be inspired by (and I’m glad I didn’t think about those films passing the Bechdel Test at that point), but somehow I expected all this – expected it why, exactly? Because of the pervasive narrative that these things are for men. “Comics have been made for men, why do you think the women look that way?” and “Women wouldn’t see these movies, why do there need to be strong (or any) female characters?” are the types of things you’d see floating to the surface of discussions online.
I never, ever thought I’d hear this sort of thing in the tabletop gaming hobby. Even though I was a minority due to my gender back in my D&D playing days, it was never once stated to me that D&D was a “guy’s game”. I think my only memory from the early 2000s with an indication that I didn’t belong was the time I walked into a Games Workshop store and every one of the male employees didn’t know what to do with themselves when I was browsing, asking about games, chatting about Bloodbowl. That didn’t exactly encourage me to spend any money on Games Workshop products, but I still felt tabletop gaming as a hobby didn’t buy into the idea of gendered games.
Slowly, slowly it filtered through to me. Starting with assumptions on the games I’d like to play without asking me. Thinking that because I was a woman who wanted to play board games there would be themes more interesting to me than others, or that I’d need a lighter/easier to understand game. I brushed it off at first, as I was meeting some great people as I got back into the board gaming hobby. A close group of friends who were like-minded and shared my hobby. Every time I would join a larger group, there’d be these offhand comments – as time went on, I became almost attuned to them, picking them out in conversations near me between other gamers.. The attitude became hard to ignore, expressed as constant microaggressions**** towards myself and other women in gaming.
As I became further invested in board games once again as my hobby, I looked for people on social networks to chat about games with, too. I had long been on Twitter & the likes, following the streams of my interests to where they’d take me and to whom they’d take me. I found a lovely and growing community of board gamers on Twitter. Many folks were just enthusiastic in their interactions and it was great to connect with them – I also found a lot of other folks who were out there creating board game media content on a regular basis, and it was astounding to see the number of shows and podcasts discussing gaming. Mind you, these were primarily created and run by men in the hobby – not surprising to me, but disappointing. I was looking for news and info on games themselves and not the context in which they are created and exist. (Not yet, anyhow.)
[June 13 2017 – Note: the next few paragraphs are really being used here as contextual examples. I didn’t name anyone because I don’t feel like it’s necessary – I’m not out to point fingers, just use the discussions as examples of how pervasive stereotyping and these sorts of things are. Thanks!]
I was unsurprised when, a while back, a live video show hosted by a panel of primarily male gamers started talking about the game Rococo in gendered terms. While a couple of the male panelists did make a point that it shouldn’t matter that the game centres around dress/clothing making and it’s ridiculous that “men get scared that they’re doing something feminine,” it was insinuated that one of the female panelists liked the game so much simply because of its theme. One (male) host questioned why a publisher would make a game with that theme seeing as the primary audience for board games is male, and when it’d be easy enough to make a game about farming or mining for resources. Later, another of the panelists decided to mention Brew Crafters as a great example of a game for “manly men,” again creating assumptions of the interests of board gamers based on their performative gender. I think the real issue at play here is not having “themes for men” and “themes for women,” but just interesting themes that gamers can decide upon themselves. We have enough “manly” themes like (according to some) farming and mining and brewing, why would publishers need to market more? If they want to diversify their audiences and sell more games, wouldn’t providing something different help?
I gotta say – I don’t like dressmaking OR beer. I love horror and surrealism and suspense and fantasy and bean farming and deep sea adventuring… Well, what I mean is – my interests are varied, as far as life and board games. I love Patchwork, but not quilting. My days aren’t spent building up estates in France, but my favourite game is Castles of Burgundy. There’s nothing about those interests that is informed by the gender I identify with. While some people have been conditioned to understand the world via gender stereotypes, I think that we can do better in the board gaming hobby – pick a game based on your individual interest, regardless of gender – don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. And don’t’ try to tell anyone else otherwise, if they’re playing a game that surprises you. Let folks try things, let folks find what they enjoy without being guided by assumptions.
In a fairly recent episode of a well-known board game podcast (with one female co-host), there was a discussion inspired by a game review of Kingdom Death: Monster. The representation of women in the art of this game was one of the key points that game out of the discussion. A quick scan over their recent Kickstarter page gives a pretty good indication of what that representation is – almost entirely sexualized and violent – whereas the male characters are portrayed in regular poses and are fully dressed (and by their horror-fantasy nature, reasonably violent also). The cast of this podcast discussed if they felt the representation was okay – there were a couple of comments regarding how unbalanced the visuals of characters was, . A number of comments were made that the women could stay represented that way if the men were equally, also. Disappointingly (to me), the female co-host remarked that she figured there were more important things to worry about than the representation of women in game art. Of course, I have to accept that also, not all women will be bothered because we’re not a homogenous blob of beings.
So – thinking about the fact we’ve come some way (in that yes, there seem to be a few more women showing up in game art), we need to break beyond these sexualized, stereotypical visualizations of busty, feminine women (there have been a number of other minis games pop up on Kickstarter since KDM that have been similar in their sculpts of women – the few women that appear). We can have those women portrayed, along with the huge variety of others along the spectrum of ‘femininity’. Let’s also think about the way we can have women not just be a set-dressing in games, but be part of the story and have more women as playable characters in games! Publishers like Portal Games and Plaid Hat Games are great examples of game creators who are inclusive of gender in their games. There are double-sided characters, so you can play as a man or a woman (for instance, in Robinson Crusoe) and there are games like Dead of Winter that have a huge spectrum of characters to choose from that cover not just a great spectrum of gender, but also age and race. The latter is really important – thinking about gender as a spectrum rather than a binary means a lot to representing all sorts of people. Where are the non-binary characters and people in art in our board games? Not to mention where are the people of colour in our board games? Where are the representations of disabled people in our board games? It’s just not showing up enough.
We can do better, and we can start in the smallest of ways: feedback and thoughtful discussion. When I see the use of terms like ‘whore,’ ‘bitch-slapped’ and ‘pimping’ being used by gamers or even publishers/designers, I point out clearly how these terms are gendered and have a history of problematic use, and are likely to be alienating to any number of fellow women gamers. When I am disappointed a new game has one token female, stereotypically represented, I talk about that with other gamers to hear their thoughts, and I’ll reach out to the publishers. When there is great, sensible and diverse art to represent women (have you seen Ashes, for instance?) I’ll put that out there for other gamers to see as a positive influence to change this hobby. Because while it’s easier to vent about the things you’re upset about, it’s important to find the things that will uplift us and share that.
I believe we’re better than reducing women to caricatures. I believe it should be easy to include women in games and represent them sensibly, as the treatment of men has been – a full spectrum of types. I want to hear more men talking about this, and encouraging a shift to this – and I want to hear all people listen to when women talk about this without dismissing because we’re “taking things too seriously” or “there are more important things”. I’d love to have allies of women speak out about these things, because our voices are often not valued or welcomed. The cultural representation of women has an enormous impact on the treatment of women generally. We can do better in board games – both on cardboard and in life. Let’s make it inclusive and welcoming by its nature. It’s beyond time we saw this happen.
* I even ended up doing an ethnographic study of one of my regular D&D groups based on the play of character genders & how that related to the player genders. Anthropology students, am I right?
** Not always produced by Wizards of the Coast, but peripherals that other companies produced.
*** See also: comics, film, etc – where women may as well be replaced by lamps for all the decoration they do and none of the interaction in the story.
**** ‘a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype’ (Dictionary.com)
Oh boy, it’s been a while! About 6 months. Things have percolated a bit in my brain, but I have only just finally tried to get some of it out onto paper. I needed just few things as a basic structure to tangibly poke stuff around on a table. So these are really basic ideas, which will very much need tinkering and fine tuning, but so far I think it’s a reasonable start. Whether or not after the start it keeps going or gets scrapped, who knows!
To start with, I have decided on some random public goals, as well as the “mate” cards which will be private – players will get 3 of those and choose two (scoring their choice at the end of the game, this is my attempt to offer a little flexibility). I have a Patchwork-esque time track right now, in which players will move to gain certain values of food (representing the bird’s time spent finding better food). Those food tokens will be used in an auction phase bidding on objects to place in your “bower”.
This is the “time track” – with the available objects for the auction round. I also have a few spots along the time track that are similar to the single tile patches in Patchwork – I think in this I’d like them to be bonuses for the last player to pass them over as a bit of a balance for not taking so many food tokens.
There’s my attempts at the public goals and mate cards. These are all really off the top of my head so they need a lot of work. But it’s just to get an idea of what I’d have players aiming for. A little set collection, a little puzzley stuff.
And here’s the “object” tiles! The idea is to have 3 types of objects which would be worth different values, but I haven’t exactly worked that into any of the cards yet (other than generically mentioning type). I’d like them to represent different things like, the garbagey blue things like plastic caps etc, and then the shinier nice things like glass etc. I know I had an idea earlier about birds being able to use one of their own feathers in their bower, but right now I’m not sure what function that could have. Still thinking!
I guess it’s time to show this to people? aaaahhhhhhh!
So, much of the content I’ve been creating of late is surrounding board games. Back in the day I used to write a lot more about music & movies, but I feel like those things aren’t hobbies now but just part of life. Board games are a hobby, a passion, and I love to share my thoughts on all aspects of them, even though it’s not my job to do so. I say “creative” output because none of it’s really creative but I don’t know how to describe it? Ha! My nerd sprinklings? Geeky missives? Anyhow, here they are!
I’ve written a few articles here on this blog, where I feel like I can be as divisive as I like and own the responsibility for that – “Why I’m Not Here To Ruin Your Fun” and “Don’t Bring Gender into Board Games“. But I like to have somewhere a little more appropriate for long-form personal stuff like “I Guess Board Games are my Valentine” and personal con write-ups. And let’s not forget the languishing design series, ha!
For the last few years I’ve been a contributor at the Daily Worker Placement blog (as well as running the Twitter and helping a bit with the Facebook account). My writing is a bit all over the place there – some stuff about conventions, a little on apps, and some stuff like the series of survey infographics I published after taking a big survey of gamers. I like the freedom I have there to write about what I really want to, and I really like that we’re having the reach we do.
A little under a year ago, Games on the Rocks started up – I’d been inspired by certain pub meetups (Vegan Drinks, and Drinking About Museums) to try something similar. But instead of in-person, I’d be doing it with my far-away pals Suz, Maggi & Steph via the internet! So each week we have a bit of a chat about what we’ve been playing, and a topic of some sort (game themes, conventions, and the like) – we even had a live play through of an app (Mysterium) on our last episode which was really cool. Every (other-ish) Friday we go live on the Meeples Included Twitch and there’s an archive of broadcasts on YouTube. We even managed to live-Periscope an episode of the show from BGGcon which was one of my highlights of the trip.
My most recent project is a podcast, Greatway Games. This is my “different” style of content regarding board gaming as a hobby, which is so refreshing! Along with pals Erin & Adrienne, we spend about an hour each episode (1 per month) on a topic that is broadly about the hobby rather than reviewing games & the like. For instance, conventions, teaching games or comfort games! We also approach recording a little differently than most, adding a personal touch with a mood check-in at the start of each episode, a Pet Corner where we update you on all our lil cutie pies, and a segment we definitely took straight out of Pop Culture Happy Hour – what’s making us happy! Recording these is one of the highlights of my month. We’ve also been doing mini episodes to come out mid-month for Patreon backers too, if you can’t get enough. Almost all include Jake barking in the background at some point *facepalm* OH! And I run the Twitter for us too 🙂
tl;dr: board games are great and have also connected me to amazing people that I love and I’m grateful for that!
Last week I was listening to the “romantic” episode of Tuesday Knight Games podcast, where my pal Stephanie chatted with hosts Alan and Sean about gaming and romantics, and Valentine’s. Lots of chatting about what games are good for dates, romantic things related to games and gaming and the like. I got a little wistful, because I recently split with my partner, Adam. We met when he was working at a board game cafe and I was a regular customer, and our love of games and vegan baked goods brought us together. And while I haven’t experienced any other romantic relationships originating out of board games, I have created a lot of fast friendships.
The TKG podcast crew and Stephanie chatted a bit about the social aspect of games, how it gets people together and can create or maintain social relationships. When I first got into modern board gaming, it was because I’d joined a tabletop gaming social group at my University, and it offered up some great opportunities for us to chill out and game as a break from study. D&D was my major social gaming outlet at the time, but as time progressed I became more and more about playing board games with friends. Especially after moving to Toronto, I spent a lot of time at the board game cafe here and met my then-partner, and a bevy of great folks I know to this day. Which is no small feat as someone in her 30s; it’s always been hard for me to make and keep friends and doubly so as I’ve gotten older.
On top of the local folks I’ve gotten to know over the years, there’s been a big slice of new folks come into my life via board game conventions and the board game corner of Twitter. A little like going to camp, cons are these things where you spend a few kinda intense days with folks and then become penpals (aka Facebook friends) and then catch up at next year’s con. Twitter, for me, was the big factor in me getting to know so many of the rad friends in my life right now, especially. People I talk to every day, who I rant to or celebrate with or just send GIFs back and forward to brighten each other’s day. They fill up my heart and I am so grateful to know them – because of the internet and board games! It’s almost unbelievable.
Best of all, recently I’ve been playing board games with friends at work – sometimes at a pub get together, or if we manage to have time to take a proper lunch break. We sit around and have a little fun, escape our to-do lists and relax. It’s a nice way to spend time with people I don’t see often during the day, and get to know them better.
All the connections that board games have made for me, I could never have in many years made on my own. I love board games – and not just playing them. They’ve brought me fun and friends and for that I think they deserve a nice box of chocolates and a bottle of wine. And I just wanted to tell you all how great board games have been to me ❤
Earlier this week during debate in the US Senate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a speech in which she read a letter by Coretta Scott King (civil rights activist and Martin Luther King’s widow). After the incident, a comment was made: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” That last part really rang true for me and got me thinking about how I persist in my life – and quite often within board gaming. I speak out frequently regarding making board games an inclusive hobby, where everyone feels included and can play without feeling shut out. Warren’s example has inspired and motivated me to share – and keep sharing – my views on board games, safe spaces, and pushing for inclusivity without alienating the creators of content that we love so much, and fellow gamers.
Now, here’s the thing: there’s this hierarchy of privilege – and if you don’t see it, then you’re likely up near the top. I readily admit I’m up there as a white, middle class person. And when you’re up near the top it is tough to hear and believe criticism without it feeling like it’s being aimed at you personally. Believe me, I know what this feels like. And by golly do I ever try and be so diplomatic much of the time when I’m offering up criticism of board gaming. So recently I reached this brick wall moment where I realized, no – I have to persist. So I went off on a bit of a ramble on Twitter:
Of course it’s difficult to hear criticism of the hobby you love. But gosh, please understand we love it too. We want positive change.
If a woman says “It’s unfortunate how the women are portrayed in this game”, LISTEN TO HER. You can still hear that AND play the game.
It’s tough going on a ramble on a platform with a 140 character limit, but this succession of tweets got a lot of my point across. We are at a point in board games where media’s reached this sort of critical mass of overwhelmingly positive representation in reviews, etc, and it’s because so many of us are in it for the passion of it – we play the games we’re likely to love, and spend the time writing about/making videos and podcasts about the games we enjoyed. We want to spread the love. This isn’t our day job.
And then, people like me come along with the “hmm, doesn’t the representation of women in this game seem problematic to you?” or, “I understand the need for a resource in this game but it’s not “historical” so perhaps we could look at something other than slaves.” And then, as a man, or as a white person you automatically think “I’m not the bad one here!” I know you’re not. I’ve met a lot of people through board gaming and dog’s honest truth there are very very few deliberately malicious people. However, we’re a pretty homogeneous group of folks, so bringing up issues of race, gender and otherwise can put people on edge in their safe hobby space.
Did you know this hobby’s my safe space, too? The place that I go to have fun, enjoy a game and generally ignore the societal and political structure of the world? So when I see a game like – as an example – Conan.. Do you not think that it drags me back into the real world, where women are still treated as objects? Sexually vilified and seen as conquests? Where I’ve broken out of the having fun part to the “oh this is how the real world works too” part. You probably don’t think that. And you probably think, “Why can’t she just realize this is a game?” Therein lies the magical mutual inclusivity of being able to have fun playing a game but also being critical of it, as mentioned above. I will persist in mentioning these things until the people with privilege will start to notice them too. And maybe their purchasing habits will change, or they’ll start talking to other gamers about the content and portrayal of people in games. Or even giving publishers feedback!
Let’s not think that being critical is negative. Please let me make clear to you that when I see a publisher doing the inclusive thing by using neutral pronouns in their rules, or having a great balance of genders to play (bonus points for a non-binary selection), I will go out of my way to tell them. I want them to know that the choices they’re making mean something to me, a hobby gamer. I want to see me in games. I want to see the world I live in portrayed in games. I want to see everyone given a fair chance in games. And that’s at the table, too – be it as players, or designers.
Luckily, there’s a lot of industry folks who are actively encouraging women to get into game design. Groups such as the Game Artisans of Canada, UnPub and the like are willing and open and encouraging of all sorts of folks to get involved in the design process, and are there to support them with advice and help. Getting a diverse group of people involved in game design will be a slow burn, but I hope to see it have a positive impact on the industry overall.
I’m not here to ruin your fun. It’s my fun, too. But we all have to realize that things change. And that means our hobby, too. Listen to the people at the table with you when they have a criticism. Listen to your pals on Board Game Twitter when they mention something that bugs them about a game because of the portrayal of race or gender (and the like). Like I have said many times, and definitely in the above – that doesn’t mean we have to trash a game right there and then! Learn to take on those criticisms and think broadly about them – especially how they fit into the larger context of the world outside our hobby. We need thoughtful, honest and critical views of the hobby right now, before it becomes a homogeneous mass that can never be cracked and enjoyed by anyone who presents differently to the norm.
Let’s face it – we’re all likely to learn something from these experiences, while still being able to enjoy board games. Maybe you’ll learn more about the people of colour in medieval periods, or the role of women in Istanbul’s grand bazaar! Honestly, maybe you’ll just enjoy laying some tiles, placing some workers and rolling some dice – because we’re all here for that. But some of us want to be seen and heard, too.
In the first part of 2015, I read through the first 5 issues of the dystopian comic Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Valentine DeLandro. Each of the single issues was a stark story about a prison planet where women are sent for being “non-compliant” to the patriarchal standards of the dystopian society of the setting. Be thin, be beautiful, be feminine, be what men want – or be sent to Bitch Planet.
In the back of all these issues, past the fantastic faux vintage advertisements, there was always a short word from Kelly Sue, then a fantastic essay on feminism from a new writer each issue. Every issue, plus these essays, were like a giant feminist slap reminding me to stay aware, to fight inequality and strive to be intersectional. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, you should read this comic series.)
In addition to the essays, there were letters pages and a little section dedicated to showing the photographs people had Tweeted out of their NC tattoos. For the first time in my life, I saw a simple image that I would be proud to have on my body permanently, that would remind me every day that I am non-compliant just by being me, and that I won’t stop. So I got that tattoo, 3 months ago now.
Almost every day I see Kelly Sue on Twitter sharing someone else’s tattoo. Each one is its own little fuck you to the world. Even though there’s been some criticism (mostly from men) who think getting the tattoos isn’t wise, there’s still a tonne of us out there getting them. And Kelly Sue had this to say in her remarks at the end of issue #4:
I cannot say it any better than that. Kelly Sue and Valentine have created this incredible focal point for us all, and every morning I look at it in the mirror and try to hold my head high. I remind myself that it’s very okay to be non-compliant, and it’s the only way the world will change.