Today I went for a walk to get groceries, and decided to listen to music rather than podcasts for a change. Out of nowhere, I figured I’d search for the Giants of Science, a band from Brisbane that were prolific in the early 2000s. As I listened to their album History of Warfare, my brain was on fire with memories and all sorts of emotions about music.
I knew every single word without fail, and I haven’t listened to this band in a good couple of years now. I remembered all the sweaty shows I went to at the Zoo, the basement at the Alliance, the Healer, all the boat cruise gigs, so many little venues. And the Giants were far from the only Brisbane band I would go to see – I went to a lot of shows back then when I was young and without responsibility – Iron On, Turnpike, Extra Foxx, Gazoonga Attack, Double Chamber.. I saw so many shows I even maintained a website where I’d put photos and the like. It’s long gone now, but the Wayback Machine gives you an idea of how terrible at writing I was then. (And man it was weird having a website blog? I think by this point i’d mostly shifted to Livejournal, but hey.)
Back to the point – that I feel like, in a lot of ways my music tastes are stuck in the early-mid 2000s. I love all these bands that were never really known outside of Australia (or sometimes even Brisbane) – it’s hard to find them on streaming sites. It’s why I ripped so many of the CDs I had packed up in my mum’s garage. It’s a time capsule of great importance for me.
My early musical tastes were pretty much whatever was top 40. Once the national indie radio station Triple J was available where I lived, I migrated to a lot more “alternative” listening and got big into grunge. By the time I was out of high school, I made friends that had far wider and more interesting musical tastes – my BFF (BF at the time) got me listening to a LOT of punk. And then we moved to Brisbane together and would be at multiple gigs every week seeing these fabulous, loud guitar-driven bands – neither of us drank and I would turn up with my digital camera and be documenting to the Nth degree.
Every time I listen to any of these bands it feels like Brisbane summer. No matter how much time has passed, how many of these bands are non-existent now (most likely 99% of them), it’s this tangible link to that really formative time in my life. In the mid-2000s I started listening to the CBC Radio 3 podcast, which served up a load of fantastic Canadian independent music for me to learn about. That introduced me to one of my (if not my actual) favourite bands, the Weakerthans – along with Stars, the Stills, New Pornographers, Tokyo Police Club, Sloan and more. I think this is about where I stopped really having the energy to get into a lot of new music. My tastes are narrow, I will admit – I love guitar and rock music and punk. Indie rock more than pop. (I think the Magnetic Fields might be the outlier among this all.)
I don’t feel that struggle to keep up with what is good right now, to feel like I have my finger on the pulse. More than anything music is a comfort for me to fall back on, to be familiar and to be there when I need it. I’ll throw on some Canadian indie playlists while board gaming now, or if I’m cleaning around the house probably some instrumental ambient rock; when I’m reading, it’s jazz, especially. But in the sticky hot days of Toronto summer, I realize that I tend to lean toward the bands of my days of musical passion back in Brisbane. I don’t want to let go of it – and I realize, that probably, it’s always going to be tucked away in the back of my brain when I start up a song and start singing along. I’m happy here.
Everyone knows that any clothing women wear means that men will stare – gosh, it’s how the world works after all.
But what if you want to attend a convention and play some games? How about walking around an exhibition hall without being groped? You sleeve your cards for protection – why not sleeve yourself for the same reason!
Introducing: SACK COUTURE.
Using your choice of printing – or none at all – you can show your farming game love as well as hiding all of your bodily form so you can take your turn without being ogled!
Girl, take control! Be the belle of the convention and be sure to be ignored so you can just sit down and damn well game this summer. You deserve it.
Okay so yeah, it’s been a good long while, hasn’t it? At least I did sit down and play my last iteration of the game with real humans!! Wonderful ladies from the board game community here in Toronto. It was a heartwarming experience, and I got amazing feedback. Which I wrote down and sort of forgot about, then did a bit more at some point and now I’m sitting here tonight looking through scraps of notes, print outs of new things, and trying to sort myself out over the written stuff in notebooks versus the typed stuff I have saved online. Good work, self.
I think the two biggest things to come out of the playtest were: scrap the ‘timer track’ and just use the depletion of the food cubes used for bidding to pace the game – and have a game end condition based on # of public goals completed. That, and to have upcoming polyominoes available before you can bid on them, to plan ahead a bit – rather than fishing around in the bag to grab the polyominoes, I’ve made some cards with the shapes on them, and they’ll get flipped to determine which come out for bidding (Castles of Mad King Ludwig style). Otherwise I just needed to come up with more goals, which – by the looks of a Google Doc I just found haha – I have mostly!
I think streamlining the setup and turns has come a long way, I think just after looking at it so much. And I guess I took a step back and looked at the procedure of the game as a whole, because I’ve thought to add some round bonuses throughout, for people to rearrange their bowers slightly. This is how it’s going to roll:
- Deal out 3 public “optical illusion” goals, set the rest aside
- Deal 3 mates to each player – they keep 2, discard one.
- Distribute one set of food to each player (valued 1 through 5)
- Set up tiles for auction this round and upcoming – number of tiles is # of players +1.
- If you have one food token left, refresh your supply to full.
- Players simultaneously bid a value of food
- Winner of bid selects their tile, and the rest of the players select theirs by bid amount (ties resolved by player order); bids are spent. Tiles do not have to be placed adjacent to existing pieces.
- Check public goals for successes, and score. If someone has completed 3 public goals, the game ends.
- Start player passes
I suppose it’s time to get my goal cards and mate cards all together and put this in front of people, again. Honestly, my next biggest stumbling blocks are: do I hate this and think it’s not fun, and how can I overcome my impostor syndrome! We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, here I am trying to keep myself accountable. And also mildly panicked about taking part in a board game design panel later this week!
Back in the day when I was baking at a cafe, I developed a recipe for vegan (tofu-based) quiche. I’d been hunting it down for the pastry part of it recently and finally found it, so I figure why not share it with you lovely folks.
To start with, the crust!
113g Earth Balance
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp ice water
Cut together the flour, salt and Earth Balance until well combined. Add ice water and mix until well combined. Roll out and par-bake for 15 minutes at 350F in a non-stick or well-greased quiche pan. (I like the ones with the removable bottom, makes it all easier to deal with once the whole thing is finished.) When you’re par-baking, make sure to weight down your pastry with baking balls/pie weights – or if you’re cheap like me, pour some dried legumes in there (onto parchment paper!).
Next, the filling!
One packet of Mori-Nu silken firm tofu (12.3oz/349g)
15g arrowroot starch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
45g soy mik
8g Nutritional Yeast flakes
35g Daiya mozzarella vegan cheese
18g almond meal
Half a dozen large basil leaves, washed (plus fresh basil to taste for the final step)
2 – 2 ½ cups of diced vegetables (whatever mix!)
Two diced shallots
2 Tbsp Lemon juice
2 Tbsp seasonings/herbs/spices (whatever mix!)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Place the tofu, arrowroot, salt & pepper, soy milk, Nutritional Yeast, Daiya, almond meal and basil leaves in the food processor and blend well until completely smooth.
Saute your vegetables, shallots, lemon juice and other seasonings until everything is just cooked. Fold into the tofu mixture, along with the fresh basil to taste, and pour into a par-baked quiche crust.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Check the quiche and if the crust and top are nicely browned (not too brown!) then remove for the oven and let cool at room temperature before slicing.
Flavour suggestions – Tomato/Olive/Spinach, Red Pepper/Broccoli, Roasted Sweet Potato & Arugula, Spicy Zucchini & Tomato.
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I’m going to.. handwave away the personal recap of 2017, because it’s just too much to think about/write/read. SO. Here’s STUFFS WHAT I LIKED, 2017 EDITION!!! And yeah, there’s a couple of days left in the year. But let’s be real. This is close enough.
I’ve seen 46 movies this year. I’d hoped to break 50. Being with Evan has meant a shift back to watching more movies (and really, just as much TV), which has been great – being in a long distance relationship sucks, but it’s great to be able to watch movies with each other over that distance. As far as new releases, we didn’t see a lot together, but there were some great movies out in cinemas this year. Highlights for me: The Big Sick, Get Out, The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnorak, Logan, The Shape of Water. I think I need to revisit Blade Runner: 2049, but it might be on that list, too. Recent stuff that’s come out that I want to see, but am waiting for streaming release? Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are up there! I really did a lot more watching of 2016 and older stuff out of the batch of viewings this year. Best non-2017 one I saw? Probably Hush, or the Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
This was the year of new Twin Peaks, so that’s got to be my first mention out of the gate. Oh how I had waited – most of the time, not knowing it’d come. Some of the time itching to have it here. It was a strange ride, full of mystery and horror and humour and nostalgia and straight up weird shit. Can’t wait to go back and rewatch. PS. Thanks for being the reason I got to know Evan better.
Notable ongoing fave: Brooklyn 99. I binged because I couldn’t stop: The Good Place. I watched it all and I’m still not sure how I feel about: The Leftovers. My trashy watch: Riverdale. Oh no I need to catch up on: Mr Robot, Orphan Black. Started, and excited to watch more into the new year: Atlanta. Can’t wait for the new episodes of: Black Mirror, the X-Files!
I struggled to hit my goal of 40 books read this year. I just lost steam in the summertime, and it has been tough to get it back. I have tried to do a bit of reading to chat about with Evan – he encouraged me to read the Southern Reach trilogy (so far it’s just been Annihilation, but I’ll get there), plus we got to read Twin Peaks: the Final Dossier to talk about together! Overall, I think Annihilation was my favourite novel read, and as far as comics, Paper Girls was my new favourite read. Onto my backlog now, I guess! Which is full of great recommendations from Liz, whose Science Fiction Double Feature podcast has been a great source of nerding and great sounding books.
GAMEZ OF BOARD AND VID
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first, because I don’t play a lot of video games compared to board games! Much of my time has been all about Stardew Valley and the Sims 4, not to mention recently with Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. You may sense a theme.. Meanwhile, I really need to get back to the Witness for puzzly goodness. And with the new season of the X-Files looming, dive back into my investigation in Thimbleweed Park. I think if I can chip away at what’s in my Steam library after that, it’ll be a 2018 miracle! I was very good and did not bend to the Steam sales, pals.
As far as games go, well. Here’s a big ol’ article I wrote about this year in games. Bärenpark and Sagrada are my top picks if you don’t feel like clicking through, but there’s lots of stuff in there in many categories. I think my top 10 would be: Bärenpark, Sagrada, Castles of Burgundy Dice, Word Slam, Azul, Avenue/Kokoro, Favelas, NMBR 9, Fox in the Forest, Century Spice Road – Golem edition. What a great year of games. Meanwhile in pure lovely numbers (oh thank you Board Game Stats!):
- Games played, total: 546
- Games played, unique titles: 256
- Games played, new to me: 126
That’s pretty great for me! Plus I got to playtest a number of really great things, including legacy games which I’ve had enormous fun with.
Not to mention, conventions attended: Breakout Con, the Gathering of Friends, Origins Game Fair, Dice Tower Con, SHUX, Fan Expo, BGGcon, ummmm. Wow. That’s ridiculous. 2018 is going to be scaled back a BUNCH.. Actually, that’s a big fat lie. But at least a bunch of these are local or close to local? Flying to the US for cons is so hecking expensive, so that’s going to scale things back.
Because of Twin Peaks, I sought out a few related podcasts – ‘Diane‘ was one of the best. Articulate and intelligent, lots of amazing discussion and insights. Plus I love the ongoing series they’re doing now called the “Shadow Trap” all about monsters and whatnot. Good stuff. I have been super enjoying Tanis as always, for more spookies, and 99% Invisible plus Reply All remain general faves. I’ve also just begun listening to Ologies at the recommendation of my friend and co-host Erin, and it’s been a delight. Nerding out about sciences and disciplines is awesome, and the host is fun and has quirky asides and comes at it all with a fabulous attitude and humour. Also I love all of my own podcast’s network pals, so check ’em out: Inside Voices network.
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)