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.
Many many times since I have been gone from Australia have I lamented my problematic feelings toward Australia Day. I still feel like I need to acknowledge this, and have it a spoken issue rather than one I would rather ignore. TL;DR: I love, but am frustrated by Australia.
There’s a lot of things I love about Australia. It’s a beautiful and unique country with a rich history of culture and nature. It’s where I’m from, it’s part of my identity and the history of my family, also (I am descended from both convicts and settlers from the UK). This doesn’t trump the issues that I feel passionately about, however, but needs to somehow exist along with them.
I am enormously privileged to have grown up a white Australian. It is atrocious how little education I got during my secondary schooling years about Indigenous culture, the Stolen Generation, deaths in custody. It’s a shameful part of Australia’s history that still plagues it now – I saw and took part in that racism growing up, and have seen it expand to impact the ‘multicultural’ society of modern Australia.
My politics are extraordinarily left and little-L liberal, so it’s no surprise that the political climate federally and also on a state-level makes me cringe. Australia’s PM, Tony Abbott, is an embarrassment to anyone who holds Australia dear and is doing what seemed impossible – making Australia seem even more culturally insensitive and anti-lower class than it ever has before.
I was lucky enough to find myself a path that meant a chance to study anthropology, ethnography and Australian Indigenous culture specifically. It opened my eyes to the fact that there need to be many caveats when you celebrate Australia Day. One important thing I keep coming back to is the historic and modern treatment of Indigenous people.
I reject the idea of Terra Nullius that was imposed legally in the 1800s in Australia, and is still enacted upon Indigenous Australians today through the structure of the social and healthcare systems in Australia. I recognise the claim that all of the unique Australian Indigenous groups have to their land and their culture and understand that although Australia was essentially conquered because of this idea of Terra Nullius, there can be a way that modern Australia can exist while allowing Indigenous Australians the right to proclaim their culture and connect with their land. Take a look and see the incredible richness of culture represented (fairly basically) in this language map (click through for more detail):
There can be no denying that Australia is what it is now, as a modern and multicultural society, tinged with xenophobia and nationalism. There is no reason this modern society can’t acknowledge the importance of pre- and post-European periods, understanding the importance and impact of it all. Yet even the current leader of the country essentially denies the fact there was a rich culture of people living there before Captain Cook arrived and everything changed.
I love Australia, I celebrate it in many aspects. I reserve the right to criticise it and the people who are from there, including myself – I still regularly need to register my privilege and background, especially being transplanted to Canada where there are many almost identical issues with the history and current leadership of the country. There is no point in my hand-wringing white guilt for the things my ancestors perpetrated (like the ‘father of Federation’, pretty racist dude Sir Henry Parkes) – I must acknowledge and feel regret, and hopefully make an impact with discussions like these. I will not be voting in elections at home anymore, unless I return home. I am encouraged by friends of mine who work toward an all-encompassing society that, while it is post-colonial, can recognize and work on fixing its flaws and can become a structure that supports everyone.
Australia, as well as being beautiful and culturally unique should genuinely be “the lucky country“. Stop the xenophobia leading to racial violence, the mistreatment of asylum seekers, and the lack of support for the lower classes and underprivileged that the current Federal Government seems to enjoy perpetrating.
Happy January 26th.
Feminist frustrations – how even the smallest things can overwhelm you when you’re under-represented.
I am happy to proclaim myself a feminist – I am an advocate of increased women’s rights, striving for the equality of sexes/genders. So it can get tiring when you speak out in favour of something that will benefit women where it hasn’t before, and there’s the cry of “you women want everything your way!” and claims that if women strive for increased rights/representation that somehow the feminists will have taken over and men will be lying weak in the gutters everywhere.
Nope. We just want a little more. To bring the levels to equal. To see ourselves represented well in media, politics and the like. This is still a struggle – surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, it’s hard to tell some days. Although they may seem like ‘unimportant’ issues, I think these few of recent examples of inequality of women’s access and representation are interesting. Looking at inequality in terms of these issues can be useful, and can help in understanding much broader, more serious issues in women’s equality in the world (for instance the ratio of actual rape cases vs false rape accusations and the weight/importance placed on the latter vs the latter, etc..)
Simon Pegg (English actor from Spaced, Shaun of the Dead et al) recently promoted the Everyday Sexism project on Twitter as he felt, quite rightly, it’s an excellent expose of the daily shit that is thrown the way of women. Unfortunately, someone decided to take offence at him promoting this highlighting of street harassment while women are raped elsewhere. Ultimately, his remark of “You start where you can make a difference” really hits home. The scale of issues like this is not the issue – nor is someone’s caring about both at the same time impossible. But street harassment can lead to much worse things, and starting at a point where you call that out is an excellent place to start, because it can change the way people are treated entirely, hopefully removing the progression of street harassment to rape.
Next up is a bit of an ongoing issue with the the International eSports Federation and their male-only Hearthstone tournaments. Women have a lot of barriers to access, and this is no exception when talking about eSports and gaming. The article on the Mary Sue that I just linked to covers the eSports Federation opening up their leagues to women, and also specifically creating women-only leagues too. Knee-jerk reactions about double standards will come out in response to this, but I think this article presents the necessity of the women-only league perfectly: “Women-only events help this slightly by both removing some of those barriers and fostering a community for an under-represented group to help find their place in the scene and establish a sense of togetherness for the people that fall into that group.” Ideally, when women don’t face barriers to access, then we can look at evening out the playing field. For now, these are excellent solutions that mean people are recognising inequalities.
Comedian/actor/writer Paul F Tomkins came up against some trollish business on Twitter (ah, Twitter – a minefield of misunderstanding and trolling) regarding one user’s response to a post from a woman somewhat sarcastically calling out the latest Planet of the Apes film for failing at the Bechdel test. You can read the exchange at the link there – mostly I find it super annoying and that’s kinda what most trolling leads to. What I find excellent, however, is his summary at the end of the post about women’s frustrations about representation in media – here’s a quote from it: “Guys, instead of thinking, “Hey, not everything has to be politicized,” try thinking, “I wonder what it would be like for me if the situation were reversed, and how I’d feel if in the vast majority of the entertainment I consumed, the male characters were few and far between and then mostly used as talking props & plot devices. I wonder if I’d get kinda tired of that and occasionally I’d say something, even a little joke, just to ease the annoyance a little.” I encourage you to visit and read the whole thing there at the end of his post, because this is exactly what I’m getting at with feminist discussions overall – I’m calling stuff out not because I want to have a total 180 and make women dominant, but I just want to have things make sense in rights and representation seeing as women are, y’know, 50% of the planet and all.
To me, these ideas aren’t radical. They’re ideas that will ultimately allow women and men to be more equal, to experience society at the same level. I don’t want women to have more or better opportunities than men – I just want us to have the same. And we’re not there – yet! So when someone in your life brings up feelings related to issues like the ones highlighted above, realise that to them it could be really important. It could be a way in which they feel like they’re being held back or underrepresented. Listen to them, and take that on. Talk about it with other people who might not see these issues as important either, and then we can create the seachange that we need.
Now, to end on a nice humourous note – here’s a couple of cosplayers who are taking a poke at Ubisoft for their recent claims of women characters being too hard to animate. I love them ❤