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Subject: Bechdel Test of Boardgames rss

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Bill Cook
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Just curious if anyone has ever created the equivalent of a Bechdel Test for boardgames?
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Jay Jasper
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I don’t know, but it seems like the bar would be pretty low. Are there ANY women characters? Are any of them wearing appropriate clothing for their assigned role?

Just like the actual Bechdel test, it doesn’t take much to pass it, & yet so many fail.
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Russ Williams
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Almost every film has characters, but most games don't. So the test would presumably need to consider only the relatively small subset of games which have characters as game elements. Otherwise e.g. Go and other abstract games fail a test which requires there to be a woman character, as would e.g. most economic games, wargames, word games, party games, dexterity games, etc.

Further pondering: what if characters are not game elements per se, but appear as flavor art (on the box cover or board etc), e.g. in many euro games? Arguably then at least one should be a woman for a Bechdel test.

(And there is the issue of wargames portraying a historical battle with soldiers, who were pretty much men... e.g. World War 2 battles like in Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, etc.)
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Perhaps if they include female names in the rules explanations? "Bob went first and took 2 dollars. Sally went next and claimed the trade action."
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Ren
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russ wrote:
(And there is the issue of wargames portraying a historical battle with soldiers, who were pretty much men... e.g. World War 2 battles like in Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, etc.)

The Bechdel test doesn't account for that. A film set inside a men's prison, where all the characters are men, would fail the Bechdel test. So if there was a boardgame equivalent of the Bechdel test, I assume wargames would fail it.
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Jay Jasper
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Ren3 wrote:
russ wrote:
(And there is the issue of wargames portraying a historical battle with soldiers, who were pretty much men... e.g. World War 2 battles like in Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, etc.)

The Bechdel test doesn't account for that. A film set inside a men's prison, where all the characters are men, would fail the Bechdel test. So if there was a boardgame equivalent of the Bechdel test, I assume wargames would fail it.


However, contemporary wargames set in Afghanistan & later should, because women have certainly been fighting in them, officially or not. And many countries have included women in their militaries, in dangerous positions, for decades longer than the US.
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Bill Cook
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Ren3 wrote:
russ wrote:
(And there is the issue of wargames portraying a historical battle with soldiers, who were pretty much men... e.g. World War 2 battles like in Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, etc.)

The Bechdel test doesn't account for that. A film set inside a men's prison, where all the characters are men, would fail the Bechdel test. So if there was a boardgame equivalent of the Bechdel test, I assume wargames would fail it.


The Bechdel test is never meant to be an absolute standard of goodness or badness. You can argue that there are good reasons why a particular film fails. But when you look at the overall picture it's telling that there are hundreds of films that have "good reasons" to fail, but almost zero that fail a reverse Bechdel test.

We'd probably see the same thing if we had a boardgame Bechdel test. And the takeaway isn't necessarily game designers = bad. Hopefully, the takeaway is that there must be a huge number of stories about women that aren't being told and provide a giant pool of stories game designers can turn to if they don't just want to retell the same old story.
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russ wrote:
Almost every film has characters, but most games don't. So the test would presumably need to consider only the relatively small subset of games which have characters as game elements. Otherwise e.g. Go and other abstract games fail a test which requires there to be a woman character, as would e.g. most economic games, wargames, word games, party games, dexterity games, etc.


Possibly testing the inverse might be easier, here. IE., not whether women are excluded, but whether they are included where appropriate.

That is to say 'if the game has gendered characters, does it include playable female characters along with playable male characters'?

(I don't think DonkeyJay's additional qualifier on dress is really even needed, as it isn't in the original Bechdel test either. That is, that test isn't a check on whether a movie is some kind of equality statement or anything, just...'are women even meaningfully there other than as set pieces?')

EMBison wrote:
Ren3 wrote:
russ wrote:
(And there is the issue of wargames portraying a historical battle with soldiers, who were pretty much men... e.g. World War 2 battles like in Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, etc.)

The Bechdel test doesn't account for that. A film set inside a men's prison, where all the characters are men, would fail the Bechdel test. So if there was a boardgame equivalent of the Bechdel test, I assume wargames would fail it.


The Bechdel test is never meant to be an absolute standard of goodness or badness. You can argue that there are good reasons why a particular film fails. But when you look at the overall picture it's telling that there are hundreds of films that have "good reasons" to fail, but almost zero that fail a reverse Bechdel test.

We'd probably see the same thing if we had a boardgame Bechdel test. And the takeaway isn't necessarily game designers = bad. Hopefully, the takeaway is that there must be a huge number of stories about women that aren't being told and provide a giant pool of stories game designers can turn to if they don't just want to retell the same old story.


Exactly this - 'failing the test' doesn't mean anything about that movie. The entire point of the test is to just get people (well, men) to think about something in a way they probably haven't before by merely putting themselves in someone else's shoes.

As you say, the 'reverse Bechdel test' is basically passed by every single movie - IE., does a movie have named characters that are men, which talk to each other about something other than women? I mean, yeah, that's every movie made (with startlingly few exceptions). That the reverse is not true, despite women being half the population, is just...something worth thinking about and discussing. (But, again, not an indictment of each and every case where it isn't true - certainly, it SHOULDN'T be true ALL the time, just as the gender-swapped test shouldn't be true ALL the time. But that more things should pass than do pass is all the 'test' is trying to bring attention to.)
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Abraham Quicksilver
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Are there two or more female characters?
Are those characters heroes, rather than damsels in distress?
Are they dressed properly?


But, not do the rules use “she” etc.
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M. B. Downey
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FiveThirtyEight did an interesting story on finding new versions of the Bechdel test. Some of what they did could be applicable here.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/next-bechdel/
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russ wrote:
(And there is the issue of wargames portraying a historical battle with soldiers, who were pretty much men... e.g. World War 2 battles like in Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, etc.)
No time for a proper post, just quickly responding to this post: No, that is not in fact a problem. The Bechdel test for films is not intended to assess single movies, just to give an overall picture of the represetation of women in the the movie industry as a whole (I think this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Bechdel test). A boardgame Bechdel test should do the same. A war game with no women would fail it, and that's fine. War films without women fail the movie Bechdel test, too.

Edit: Oh, completely ninja'd by Ren. ninja
Should have read the full thread first.
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The purpose of the Bechdel Test is to determine if a movie contains female characters in the true sense of the word, i.e. women who aren't just used as props.

However, I'll go out on a limb here and claim that the lion's share of all characters in board games are merely props - literally pieces that are moved around in a more or less mechanistic game. Imho, that makes the application of a Bechdel Test equivalent somewhat pointless.

And in the few cases where boardgame characters are actually more than that, which probably would be games that are so heavy on the storytelling part that they'd be crossing over into the RPG genre, I don't see why the standard Bechdel Test wouldn't be applicable.
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Ryan Keane
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I thought it would be interesting to test my top 10 games:
Britannia - pass? Boudicca is the first Leader that appears, but that’s it. But I imagine lots of women and children migrating throughout the game. How else do you get population growth?

Maria - pass. One player plays a female leader of the Holy Roman Empire. The whole history is about a woman taking the throne and other leaders thinking she is weak. Winning as Austria is the most satisfying.

Memoir 44 - fail

Imperial - fail? No human presentation.

Flamme Rouge - fail. No attempt to represent female pro cyclists.

Merchant of Venus - pass? I can’t recall if the human images depict a female, but some of those aliens look “female” to me. In my head, I’m kind of thinking Star Trek future with gender balance.

A Game of Thrones - pass. Strong female characters in the books, and reflected in the game.

Agricola - pass. Good amount of art and occupations with females as key part of the farm.

Hansa Teutonica - fail? It’s basically abstract.

Above and Below - pass. It’s seems females are pretty equally presented on tiles and in the stories.

Over all, pretty good in my opinion. A&B is most corollary to movies - designers of this type of game have an easy choice to make whether to incorporate females in their design. Historical wargames and abstracts are basically pre-destined to fail the test, but I would love to see more like Maria that tell the history of female leaders. Sports game are harder - a designer has to consciously decide that despite the unfortunate fact that male athletes are much more prominent today in most sports they will highlight female athletes as well in their game.
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Olli Juhala
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Just remember that the Bechdel Test is a test like Godwin's Law is a law. It's a rhetorical device meant get people thinking about representation, rather than actual way to measure representation. Individual instances failing or passing the test are meaningless, when the point is to look at the big trends of whether any or most things pass or fail the test.

So for board games, a comparable test would depend on what sort of representation you are looking for -

Here's a couple: If the game deals with colonial economies, does the game give any kind of voice or agency to the colonized, or only the colonizer?

If the game has gendered representation, does does it give equal agency to all genders?

If the game has repsentation of women, are the women represented to women, or are they represented to men. (Which is a fancy way of saying are they meant to be identification points for women, or titillation points for men?)

And so on. There really isn't a one test, it depends on what you want to look at.
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Chris Farrell
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I don’t think you need a Bechdel test really to see the situation is absolutely dire. You just need to ask, “has this publisher, in their entire history of existence, published even one single game with a woman as the sole credited designer?”. For hobbyist game publishers, the answer is very likely to be no, even though they may publish 10-20 games a year.

In many creative industries with dire representation numbers, you’ll see a couple forward-looking companies and other creators making fairly serious efforts to recruit and mentor women or other underrepresented groups as designers or writers. The fact that most of the major hobbyist labels - FFG, AEG, alea, Z-Man, Queen, Kosmos, Rio Grande - have, to the best of my knowledge, literally never in their entire history published a single game where the sole credited designer is a woman and that fact does not even seem to be generally considered a problem, that’s how criminally bad the situation is.

The Bechdel Test works because it’s simple, obvious, and yet such a huge number of movies fail it. It also works because movies kinda have to have women in them for various reasons, so you can see how it works out. Boardgaming is not even to the point yet that you can come up with something like the Bechdel Test because when it comes to representations of women, there is barely even anything to test.
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I think you can apply the Lauredhel test for toys to many board game boxes and rule books.

Quote:
1. One or more girls, playing;
2. with no boys around; and
3. with something that is not related to domestic work, mothering, being sexy, or ponies.


Or, moving beyond tha packaging, and using Russ' caveat above that the game must contain "characters" of some form, one could try using the Haislett-Peaslee test (originally developed for video games)

Quote:
Also known as the "Bechdel test for video games"

1. Does the game have at least one playable character that demonstrates a gender identity outside of normative masculinity?

2. Do(es) this/these character(s) have access to the same range and level of abilities, upgrades, weapons, and status improvements as other playable characters?

3. Can this/these character(s) pursue a goal beyond killing a foe or rescuing a female?


~
cfarrell wrote:
I don’t think you need a Bechdel test really to see the situation is absolutely dire. You just need to ask, “has this publisher, in their entire history of existence, published even one single game with a woman as the sole credited designer?”. For hobbyist game publishers, the answer is very likely to be no, even though they may publish 10-20 games a year.


For years, I used to submit suggestions to the Dice Tower, during crowdfunding, website, youtube posts, etc, to suggest a "Top Ten Games by Female Designers". I never received a response or acknowledgement of those - not that I really expected one, but I have to say I'm surprised it hasn't even been brought up in the last 6+ years. I remember a forum post from years and years ago, Tom said something along the lines of "I can recognize a game by Knizia or Chvátil or Colovini, but I don't have a clue about women designers."

(I don't remember the exact designers named, but the "don't have a clue" sticks out in my memory vividly).
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M. B. Downey
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downeymb wrote:
FiveThirtyEight did an interesting story on finding new versions of the Bechdel test. Some of what they did could be applicable here.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/next-bechdel/


Since a lot of these are about who is behind the camera, we can use similar metrics:

How many non-male playtesters are there?
How many non-male artists are there?
How many non-male designers are there?
Which pronouns are used in rule books?
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downeymb wrote:
downeymb wrote:
FiveThirtyEight did an interesting story on finding new versions of the Bechdel test. Some of what they did could be applicable here.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/next-bechdel/


Since a lot of these are about who is behind the camera, we can use similar metrics:

How many non-male playtesters are there?
How many non-male artists are there?
How many non-male designers are there?
Which pronouns are used in rule books?


I fully agree about the rulebooks. It would be trivial to use gender neutral pronouns. I would estimate that 95% of the games I own use only male pronouns. If the Blechdel test is designed to generally illuminate the disparity in representation in film, I think the representation of women playing, rather than their representation as characters in games would be most likely to shed the same light (although art and representation have a long way to come as well).
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To me, the point of the Bechdel test is that it sets very low requirements and still lots of films fail it. To that end I would suggest something like this (only for games with characters, no point applying this to abstracts)
1) There are at least 2 female characters
2) who are appropriately dressed for their role / don't exist solely to titillate
3) can be played, if there are playable characters.

Point 2 is to exclude characters such as the woman in Room 25 whose power is basically that she's a femme fatale and she can make other characters walk towards her. It can probably be worded in a better way. And I think the test should ask for at least 2 characters. Most games have 1 token female.

I tested this on the top BGG games, with the caveat that I haven't played all of them so I had to sometimes make an informed guess.

Gloomhaven: strong pass (half characters are female, all appropriately dressed)
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1: strong pass (half characters are female, all appropriately dressed)
Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization: fail (the only female leader is Joan of Arc)
Twilight Struggle: pass (Iron Lady & Yuri and Samantha cards)
Terraforming Mars: fail?
Star Wars: Rebellion: pass (Leia Organa & Mon Mothma)
Terra Mystica: debatable whether any of the 3 female factions are appropriately dressed
Scythe: strong pass (half characters are female, all appropriately dressed)
Great Western Trail: fail?
7 Wonders Duel: fail?
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indigopotter wrote:
Perhaps if they include female names in the rules explanations? "Bob went first and took 2 dollars. Sally went next and claimed the trade action."

Maybe it's better in english, but in German rules most of the times the player is still referenced solely as a man ("Der Spieler", "er"). I'm not sure how often english rules use the term "he" to reference to the players...

I think with the names in the explanations it does get better with newer games. But it would be really interesting to test a number of rules for this! (and maybe good/bad each publisher is considering this question)
 
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cfarrell wrote:
FFG, AEG, alea, Z-Man, Queen, Kosmos, Rio Grande - have, to the best of my knowledge, literally never in their entire history published a single game where the sole credited designer is a woman

You can remove Kosmos from that list. A quick look showed Alles Banane!. OK that is a kid's game. But I can't believe it is the only game in the 86 or so pages where your criteria is true. When it comes to euro and heavier games designed purely by women then these are very hard to come by.
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indigopotter wrote:
Perhaps if they include female names in the rules explanations? "Bob went first and took 2 dollars. Sally went next and claimed the trade action."


I borrowed Dominion from a friend. My daughter was visibly annoyed when I read aloud the exclusively male-gendered instructions.

However, we liked the game enough to buy our own copy. When I went shopping, Second Edition was available. We were all gratified to discover the careful, balanced use of pronouns in the Second Edition rule books.

I took this as a generally hopeful sign.
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SJS1971 wrote:
indigopotter wrote:
Perhaps if they include female names in the rules explanations? "Bob went first and took 2 dollars. Sally went next and claimed the trade action."


I borrowed Dominion from a friend. My daughter was visibly annoyed when I read aloud the exclusively male-gendered instructions.

However, we liked the game enough to buy our own copy. When I went shopping, Second Edition was available. We were all gratified to discover the careful, balanced use of pronouns in the Second Edition rule books.

I took this as a generally hopeful sign.


Agreed. I've found that writing in the second person or imperative can remove 90% of all gendered pronouns. Using a third person plural will do the rest.

Or, in American English, it is becoming more acceptable by the month to use they/them as a singular pronoun. It grates a bit to my English professor ears, but language is a living construct, and the overall effect of this change is good, IMO, so I am working very hard to get over my internal cringe at the inelegance of the sound.
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Tom Scutt
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cfarrell wrote:
...
FFG, AEG, alea, Z-Man, Queen, Kosmos, Rio Grande - have, to the best of my knowledge, literally never in their entire history published a single game where the sole credited designer is a woman and that fact does not even seem to be generally considered a problem, that’s how criminally bad the situation is.
...

Totally agree with your post. However, it's worth pointing out that Nikki Valens is the sole credited designer on FFG's excellent Legacy of Dragonholt
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wombat929 wrote:
SJS1971 wrote:
indigopotter wrote:
Perhaps if they include female names in the rules explanations? "Bob went first and took 2 dollars. Sally went next and claimed the trade action."


I borrowed Dominion from a friend. My daughter was visibly annoyed when I read aloud the exclusively male-gendered instructions.

However, we liked the game enough to buy our own copy. When I went shopping, Second Edition was available. We were all gratified to discover the careful, balanced use of pronouns in the Second Edition rule books.

I took this as a generally hopeful sign.


Agreed. I've found that writing in the second person or imperative can remove 90% of all gendered pronouns. Using a third person plural will do the rest.

Or, in American English, it is becoming more acceptable by the month to use they/them as a singular pronoun. It grates a bit to my English professor ears, but language is a living construct, and the overall effect of this change is good, IMO, so I am working very hard to get over my internal cringe at the inelegance of the sound.

The singular they had been in use for centuries before being proscribed in the 1800s by grammarians who wanted to mimick Latin which only has gendered pronouns, so it's not precisely a new evolution. Shakespeare and Austen used the singular they.

But I agree with you. If a designer finds this too cumbersome they always have the option of using the imperative or second person.
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