Recently, Restoration Games posted a series of tweets in support of Omari Akil and BG Brothas, his publishing company, who has just released their debut game Rap Godz. Restoration applauded Omar’s work and ingenuity, while focusing on the importance of introducing his perspective as an African American into the board game industry. They communicated how much better off the industry is when we have a variety of perspectives and world views contributing and participating in the collective effort of producing excellent and engaging board games. Omari and his company’s focus on games that are themed from their lived experience as African Americans is a monumental step towards this collective effort.
This sentiment is important and has been echoed throughout the industry in various arenas. Elizabeth Hargrave, designer of Wingspan, has been vocal about the need to expand the reach of the board game industry in order to be more inclusive, particularly of female and non-binary people. Her recent success has provided her with a platform to advocate for change, and she has done an excellent job of expressing her support of female and NB designers. She has also created an analytical presentation about strategies to involve female gamers in the hobby, which I highly recommend.
As the inclusion of people from diverse racial backgrounds and gender expressions has emerged as a central issue in the gaming landscape, many of us have begun to ask the question of how we can help to be a part of the solution. I have a certain degree of access to the hobby as a designer and a frequent host of community gaming events, and I want to use that position to support non-traditional gamers and to make the industry more accessible. This intention is mirrored in many of my white male friends throughout the industry.
But, a big part of this effort of making the gaming hobby more inclusive is for white people like me to educate ourselves about the societal and systemic barriers that keep marginalized groups of people on those margins. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t understand what the problem is or where it comes from. It can be intimidating, because, speaking for myself, I was never confronted with race as a child, and have had to learn how to engage in dialogue about race and gender identity as an adult. Not being socially conditioned to have conversations on these things, or to be teachable and empathetic towards those with different experiences, means that diving into the necessary self-education on the history of inequality in this country can be intimidating. There is an ocean of history, literature, angles, and experiences that need to be processed in order for a deeper understanding to develop. But understanding the way the world works as someone who has benefited from privilege is crucial. It will equip us to be empathetic and welcoming hosts for those who don’t share our story, as we provide space for them to experience the beauty of the board game hobby.
As an industry, it’s time to embrace that. It’s more than asking our friends who are of a different racial or gender identity or expression to come to our game night. While that’s important, diving into a vigorous pursuit of self-education and self-improvement so as to understand the reason that racial and gender identity divides exist in the first place is essential. Welcoming non-white, non-binary, non-male people into white, binary, male spaces to experience what is traditionally a white, binary, male hobby isn’t necessarily the best approach and may not yield the best results. Rather, learning to create welcoming spaces, learning what that means, and supporting those who are creating new and beautiful things from fresh and diverse perspectives will be what propels this hobby into the changing landscape of this new and inclusive decade and beyond. May we all commit to that.