Chris
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Hello everybody!

I wrote a lenghty blog post about the representation of different genders and ethnicities in board games and I would like to discuss this topic with you. You can find it here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/5448/ramblings-about-industry

I would love to hear some feedback on the article and hear your opinions on the matter.
Please stay respectful and polite.




The whole blog post:


Gender and race stereotypes and representation in board games
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Disclaimer: Discussing the representation of different genders and ethnicities in the same article is highly problematic. The history of discrimination against women and the history of discrimination against people of colour are different. I will do it anyways because I did not want to choose one or the other nor write two articles that are quite similar. I am aware that this leads to a superficial analysis but I hope I can make my point clear.



The Representation of different genders and ethnicities in board games is a topic that is not discussed very often and when it is discussed it often ends with a discussion about “Political Correctness”. I do not like that term because it is pejorative and implies that a proper representation of women and POCs would be excessively liberal.

I do think this topic is very important. I have a lot of female friends who love board gaming and more often than not they find themselves playing a game with an awkward representation or an underrepresentation of women. The same applies to People of Colour who love board games. You might argue that the target group of many board game companies (and video game companies) is still white males which I think is true, but that is not the point here. Just because a product is marketed for a certain demographic group you don’t have to accept sexism or racism by any means.

What are the worst offenders and what are examples of games that got it right? I have not played every game and these are just examples. Feel free mention some other offenders or good examples in the comments.


The Bad:
Colt Express / Various Family Games: The thing that strikes me about many games is how few playable character are actually women or girls. I hear you saying: “Well, a girl could play a male character, what’s the deal?” The deal is that most of the time, women or girls don’t even have the choice between a male or female character. There are one or two characters (one of them is always pink) and if there are more female players… well, pick a male character. It is perfectly fine for a female player to play a male character if she is not forced into playing one. This is also the case with Colt Express which is clearly marketed for families with at least one boy (because Wild West = Boys). There are only two female characters while one being of course the lady in pink. Cheyenne is badass though and she is a great example of a female character I want to see more of. Family games are really problematic in the sense that certain gender stereotypes are forced upon children who are not yet able to reflect them.

Zombicide: I know this game is not supposed to be realistic in any sense but why does almost every woman in this game have so much cleavage. Do you need to look overly sexualised while fighting zombies?

Most Fantasy Stuff: Give women proper armour. Additionally there is no reason why there can’t be any PoCs in fantasy games besides the saber swinging camel riding desert guy or the voodoo priestess. European knights were mostly white males, yes, but I’m talking about the typical medieval fantasy setting. It’s not necessary.


The Ugly:
Small World: This one is a terrible offender but you might not see this at first glance. First of all, almost all of the races from the base game are depicted as male except of course the all-female Amazons who don’t care about proper armour and wear almost nothing. The “Be Not Afraid” expansion adds Barbarians who are depicted as females however again without proper armour. But the worst thing is, they add a race called Pygmies. They could have invented a new fantasy race or use an already existing one but they chose to include Pygmies. If you are not familiar with the term: “Pygmy” is a pejorative term for a real existing ethnic group whose average height is rather short. In Africa they are systematically discriminated, held as slaves or killed in genocides. And in the game they picture them as small black human beings with big masks dancing around a fire. How is this not outright racism?! How could they think this could be acceptable by any means?

Cards Against Humanity: I could write a whole article about this “game” and why it is unacceptable. This game is nothing more than disguising racial, sexist and homophobic slurs as “black humour”. It shocks me that so many people actually seem to enjoy this. “It’s just a game, dude” is what I hear all the time when I criticise this and this makes me so angry. Some jokes are not acceptable by any means and this does not mean, I have a bad sense of humour. There are jokes about rape, ffs!


The Good:
After reading these bad examples, which are some good examples of female representation and/or representation of different ethnicities.

Coup Rebellion G54: This game does it right and is so careful with not using any stereotypes. Gender and ethnicities are represented almost equally.

Dead of Winter: This one is great, too. You can have female and male characters and they included a lot of PoCs as well. In addition they are all interesting characters.

Legends of Andor: Here you can choose between the male or female version of a class. Both are equal. Very good choice to include both sexes. Fantasy world without PoCs though.

Skull King: This one is a small card game like wizard but I think it is done really well. There is an equal amount of female and male pirates.

Pandemic: Like Dead of Winter, they did a great job. Scientists are not only white males.

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends: Except for the green deck, every other deck consists of strong female and male characters. (The green deck is kind of strange though. I know this is supposed to be a fantasy race but why have the females be so naked and why do plant people need breasts in the first place?)


The Unclear:
I do not know where to put something like Archipelago. This is “Imperialism Simulator” after all and oppressing the indigenous population belongs to the theme. Do I think it is necessary to represent the revolt track with a black meeple and the population track with a white one? Not really. I am torn apart on this game and you could argue either way.

The slaves in Five Tribes are being replaced by Fakirs in the next edition. I think this is an excellent choice they made. The slaves are not necessary for the game and they don’t add anything. Before you come with “but in history there was slavery”: This is a fantasy setting. We are in a world called Naqala where Djinns exist. This is not historical at all.


Thank you for reading this wall of text. I hope I could bring across the importance of this topic and make aware of the improvements that can be made in our beloved board game industry to make games enjoyable for as many people as possible. Feel free to discuss but please stay polite, on topic and be respectful.
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Boaty McBoatface
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Good this is the right place.

Why can't female barbarians be depicted like make ones.

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CCMoriarty wrote:
Some jokes are not acceptable by any means and this does not mean, I have a bad sense of humour. There are jokes about rape, ffs!


Hi, I've some jokes about your post but first I'd like to run them by the joke police, in case any of them are too bad, impolite or 'unacceptable' by any person on earth. Could you give me directions to the nearer Humour Station, please?
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mazmaz wrote:
CCMoriarty wrote:
Some jokes are not acceptable by any means and this does not mean, I have a bad sense of humour. There are jokes about rape, ffs!


Hi, I've some jokes about your post but first I'd like to run them by the joke police, in case any of them are too bad, impolite or 'unacceptable' by any person on earth. Could you give me directions to the nearer Humour Station, please?
Yes, just follow Jade Goddeys caner ridden corpse, you cant miss it.
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Adrian Hague
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Can you add Chess to the 'Good' section? She's waaay more powerful than the King.
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AdrianPHague wrote:
Can you add Chess to the 'Good' section? She's waaay more powerful than the King.


She also has to work more and harder though...
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dennisthebadger wrote:
AdrianPHague wrote:
Can you add Chess to the 'Good' section? She's waaay more powerful than the King.


She also has to work more and harder though...
Neutral then, of course assuming she is not a gay.
 
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And sometimes it gives us a very nice tale of successful class upward mobility!

But then again, I'd guess the OP doesn't like very much that black pieces are not on equal terms as whites... whistle
 
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mazmaz wrote:
And sometimes it gives us a very nice tale of successful class upward mobility!

But then again, I'd guess the OP doesn't like very much that black pieces are not on equal terms as whites... whistle


Nope, still on the plus side - that's just modelling the inequality of society.
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dennisthebadger wrote:
AdrianPHague wrote:
Can you add Chess to the 'Good' section? She's waaay more powerful than the King.


She also has to work more and harder though...


It does strengthen the stereotype that behind every successful strong woman there is a slow-moving, lazy male who gets all the credit.
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slatersteven wrote:
Good this is the right place.

Why can't female barbarians be depicted like make ones.



Not cool, man...

Rationality Suspended Please
 
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JJRR_Esq wrote:
slatersteven wrote:
Good this is the right place.

Why can't female barbarians be depicted like make ones.



Not cool, man...

Reasonableness Suspended Please
Why, by suggesting that barbarians are usually represented as half naked regardless of sex?

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I think there should be more female characters in games. I usually pick them because if I am going to be looking at a character portrait all game, I'd rather it be fun to look at.

And, I think the whole issue is overblown. My daughter plays a lot of games, the lack of female roles didn't dampen her enthusiasm. But if someone wants to get upset over it, more power to them.

 
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Shushnik wrote:


You love the trannies?
 
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Not enough games which address which bathroom would be appropriate based on how the character self-identifies.
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CTRL + F "problematic"
Only two results (not counting the tag)? Not too bad I guess.
 
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CCMoriarty wrote:
Cards Against Humanity: I could write a whole article about this “game” and why it is unacceptable.


Unacceptable? Come on.

People have different standards for humor. A lot of people are "anything goes" when it comes to humor. CAH is no worse than an episode of South Park or any other form of humor that pushes the envelope. As long as you're playing it satirically, then there is nothing unacceptable about it. And I've never seen a group play CAH as if they seriously supported the risque views in the game.

The game is unacceptable TO YOU. Don't push your puritan standards on everyone else.
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Might I pose that racial stereotypes exist because a given race TENDS to exhibit a certain trait and using that is a rapid form of identification and label without having to go in depth in describing something is a means of more efficient communication?

Example:
We need to have some race that is small, comes in great numbers, and is usually cannon fodder.

We can create the Miphorgen, or we can just say "goblin".

Are ALL goblins short cannon fodder? For the purpose of most modern fantasy games, yes.

What if we start turning the tables?

We need a woodland humanoid that excels at foresty things and bowmanship.

I bet we could say that's an elf.

Can ALL elves shoot a bow - probably not. But it's a shorthand for a game.

Eliminating 'stereotypes' is a damaging concept which would mean each game would have to have it's own completely new mythology.

Stereotyping is not a bad thing. It is a way of saying "This usually exhibits that".

Are all drow evil? Well, I guess not. But without having to read a series of novels explaining why some may not be, the stereotype, particularly in gaming, makes sense.

Some games create whole new mythologies from scratch. But there's a whole lot more games with orcs.

There really is no reason not to apply stereotypes, even to non-fictional classifications. It is handy. It is fast. Once you understand it is a way of communicating without having you read a whole backstory, you realize it is the most efficient form for gaming.
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Geosphere wrote:
Might I pose that racial stereotypes exist because a given race TENDS to exhibit a certain trait and using that is a rapid form of identification and label without having to go in depth in describing something is a means of more efficient communication?

Example:
We need to have some race that is small, comes in great numbers, and is usually cannon fodder.

We can create the Miphorgen, or we can just say "goblin".

Are ALL goblins short cannon fodder? For the purpose of most modern fantasy games, yes.

What if we start turning the tables?

We need a woodland humanoid that excels at foresty things and bowmanship.

I bet we could say that's an elf.

Can ALL elves shoot a bow - probably not. But it's a shorthand for a game.

Eliminating 'stereotypes' is a damaging concept which would mean each game would have to have it's own completely new mythology.

Stereotyping is not a bad thing. It is a way of saying "This usually exhibits that".

Are all drow evil? Well, I guess not. But without having to read a series of novels explaining why some may not be, the stereotype, particularly in gaming, makes sense.

Some games create whole new mythologies from scratch. But there's a whole lot more games with orcs.

There really is no reason not to apply stereotypes, even to non-fictional classifications. It is handy. It is fast. Once you understand it is a way of communicating without having you read a whole backstory, you realize it is the most efficient form for gaming.


It becomes problematic though when a certain "race" (fantsy race) is not only shown to have negative qualities (the sterotyping) but also to have similarities with real world races, ethnic groups or minorities...
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What does a female goblin or Dwarf look?, why do we have to assume that you cannot be female and be short, fat and have beard?
 
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dennisthebadger wrote:
Geosphere wrote:
Might I pose that racial stereotypes exist because a given race TENDS to exhibit a certain trait and using that is a rapid form of identification and label without having to go in depth in describing something is a means of more efficient communication?

Example:
We need to have some race that is small, comes in great numbers, and is usually cannon fodder.

We can create the Miphorgen, or we can just say "goblin".

Are ALL goblins short cannon fodder? For the purpose of most modern fantasy games, yes.

What if we start turning the tables?

We need a woodland humanoid that excels at foresty things and bowmanship.

I bet we could say that's an elf.

Can ALL elves shoot a bow - probably not. But it's a shorthand for a game.

Eliminating 'stereotypes' is a damaging concept which would mean each game would have to have it's own completely new mythology.

Stereotyping is not a bad thing. It is a way of saying "This usually exhibits that".

Are all drow evil? Well, I guess not. But without having to read a series of novels explaining why some may not be, the stereotype, particularly in gaming, makes sense.

Some games create whole new mythologies from scratch. But there's a whole lot more games with orcs.

There really is no reason not to apply stereotypes, even to non-fictional classifications. It is handy. It is fast. Once you understand it is a way of communicating without having you read a whole backstory, you realize it is the most efficient form for gaming.


It becomes problematic though when a certain "race" (fantsy race) is not only shown to have negative qualities (the sterotyping) but also to have similarities with real world races, ethnic groups or minorities...
For example?
 
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Geosphere wrote:
Might I pose that racial stereotypes exist because a given race TENDS to exhibit a certain trait and using that is a rapid form of identification and label without having to go in depth in describing something is a means of more efficient communication?

Example:
We need to have some race that is small, comes in great numbers, and is usually cannon fodder.

We can create the Miphorgen, or we can just say "goblin".

Are ALL goblins short cannon fodder? For the purpose of most modern fantasy games, yes.

What if we start turning the tables?

We need a woodland humanoid that excels at foresty things and bowmanship.

I bet we could say that's an elf.

Can ALL elves shoot a bow - probably not. But it's a shorthand for a game.

Eliminating 'stereotypes' is a damaging concept which would mean each game would have to have it's own completely new mythology.

Stereotyping is not a bad thing. It is a way of saying "This usually exhibits that".

Are all drow evil? Well, I guess not. But without having to read a series of novels explaining why some may not be, the stereotype, particularly in gaming, makes sense.

Some games create whole new mythologies from scratch. But there's a whole lot more games with orcs.

There really is no reason not to apply stereotypes, even to non-fictional classifications. It is handy. It is fast. Once you understand it is a way of communicating without having you read a whole backstory, you realize it is the most efficient form for gaming.


New idea for a game: everyone is assigned a fantasy race but their character sucks at their stereotypical strength. Together, these characters band together... and form a support group. Whoever acquires the most shame and self-loathing points wins.
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dennisthebadger wrote:
It becomes problematic though when a certain "race" (fantsy race) is not only shown to have negative qualities (the sterotyping) but also to have similarities with real world races, ethnic groups or minorities...


OK, I really, really want people to think about this.

Why is it so bad? Why is indirectly insulting someone due to a stereotype such a terrible offense?

Statistically, men are stronger combatants. Enter Rhonda Rousey. On a huge bell chart, even she would not deny that on the whole, women are physically weaker.

Just because a general fact might be uncomfortable to should not be
unmentionable.
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slatersteven wrote:
dennisthebadger wrote:


It becomes problematic though when a certain "race" (fantsy race) is not only shown to have negative qualities (the sterotyping) but also to have similarities with real world races, ethnic groups or minorities...
For example?


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FantasticRacism

I'm sure you've also come across discussions regarding racism in Lord of the Rings, right? You know, the white/good people vs the brown/dark/evil people and all that stuff?
 
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