Published on September 12th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen



Last month we took a look at racism in board games, specifically the way that board games re-present worlds both real and fantastical in a white, euro-centric manner. We showed how the game Vasco da Gama whitewashes a horribly exploitative part of history, how Tiny Epic Defenders and Warhammer have erased people of color from their fantasy worlds, and how Warcraft presents Humans as completely European and non-Europeans as non-Human.

It’s important to note that the deficiencies we highlighted in these games are forms of racism. In the American national dialogue it’s common to take offense at the idea that we might be unwittingly participating in a system that perpetuates inequality, but if we are going to be able to critically examine the issues involved we need to get past that point of the conversation. It’s not my intent to call specific people racist, and I feel confident saying that white people who made the games mentioned above most likely don’t hate brown people. Regardless, the game production machine is currently producing games that contribute to the systematic alienation, erasure and stereotyping of people of color. This bias in our industry is what people mean when they talk about institutionalized racism, and we have the power to change it.

I’d also like to make it clear that the issues of representation aren’t only a problem when it comes to race. Sexual identity, sexual preference, gender, religious tradition and other ethno-cultural customs that aren’t necessarily tied to the way we look are all factors to consider. Race and gender tend to come up more frequently when talking board games because those topics are more easily seen just by looking at the game, but that doesn’t mean other areas of representation are not important.

Each game we make does not need to reflect all the different combinations that could make up someone’s identity, but as an industry it is important for the products we make to reflect the diversity of the people buying and playing them. What we need is diversity in games. Too many of our current game experiences are tied into a very specific cultural context that restricts what we play, and therefore what we talk and think about, to a narrow section of our shared world history.

Mat Goceng Card Game

One thing that can help combat the problem of representation is simple: more diverse games. We can support this directly in two ways: we can make games that take representation into account, and we can buy games that do so. In addition to making/buying diverse games, we can take this opportunity to use social media to let designers know that #WeNeedDiverseGames.

There is definitely a market for a wider range of themes and topics in board games. As the Indonesian company Manikmaya Games found when sending out review copies of their game Mat Goceng, American board game players are very receptive to settings that don’t get much attention State side. Manikmaya seemed pleasantly surprised that people outside of Indonesia would be interested and engaged in what is an important period in Indonesian history. That they were surprised means that we haven’t been loud enough in asking for truly different games.

pathfinder iconics

In the world of fantasy roleplaying D&D and Pathfinder are the big names in the room. In the past, fantasy art has been some of the worst in representing non-European cultures as being equal in value to European cultures. Dungeons and Dragons is only recently catching up to Pathfinder in regards to showing diversity of skin tone in their art. While the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook mentioned that elves have the same skin tone variation that humans have, that was never shown in the art published in D&D game books. Additionally, Pathfinder shows a much wider range of cultures and civilizations without segregating them into non-human parts of the setting.

With their recently released 5th Edition, Wizards of the Coast has made a better play at inclusiveness. The iconic picture of a human in the newest edition of D&D is a black woman, and even just casually browsing the book shows that the character art is much more diverse, both in terms of gender and other physical attributes. There has also been a widely circulated quote from the new 5th Ed Basic Rules that talks about sex and gender.

D&D gender sex 01 D&D gender sex 02

It should be made clear that including a better representation of race, gender and sexuality in D&D products is a result of fans demanding such for a long time. This isn’t just a cool thing that WotC thought to add in to the game- inclusion and diversity are ideas that people, both consumers and  content creators, have fought hard to get integrated officially into these products. While the above addition to the game isn’t perfect, increased diversity in these games represents a massive effort on the part of the tabletop community and it needs to continue to push forward.

One of the greatest features of our hobby community is that the media consumers are so close to the media producers that we can have an enormous influence over the products that are made. Make your voice heard- tweet or email your favorite table top company or designer and let them know that you’d like to see more diversity in the games they make, and use the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseGames. Be specific! If you would like to see more women in armor, say exactly that. Together we can be a voice for change in our hobby community.


About the Author

Luke Turpeinen

was raised by lava wolves deep in the Vesuvian sulfur jungles. He played board games with his family often. The discovery of games like Risk led him to the 1993 TSR classic Dragon Strike which fueled a life long love of games. Luke tends to like games that have high production values, quick-to-learn rules and hard-to-master strategies. Current Favorite Game: Argent: the Consortium.

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