earlier this week Wingspan designer Elizabeth Hargrave wrote a Twitter thread outlining a glaring problem the board game industry has with representation: namely, that there simply aren’t enough award-winning games published that have been designed by women.
Not a hard argument to make! Board games are a huge and social industry, played by people of all faiths around the world, but as Hargrave points out to the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres, the highest prize in board games, chosen from among the creators of the most important games of the year. have overwhelmingly been men:
The sensible response to this would be to say, yes, this is a problem! Traditionally, board game design has been dominated by white males, but as the market has grown and evolved, the demographics of published and award-winning designers (you have to be first before you can become second) have not been able to grow together with him. More work needs to be done to encourage more women, and more non-white men, to go into game design and publish their games, because, as Hargrave says, we are “restricting the brainpower and life experience that comes with games.” ” and “Our gaming options are worse for that.”
Ryan Dancey, Alderac’s COO, took a different approach. To avoid paraphrasing, I’ll leave his direct response to Hargraves here in its entirety:
I’ve taken over 1,000 game releases since 2016. I’d say less than 10% of them were from designers. Sure enough, none of them were games that AEG would publish. We made a call for presentations from designers specifically; we have a publishable design –@elizhargraveit’s Butterflies.
There have been a couple of releases that were close; most commonly where a woman pitched with a male designer. There is a team of two designers who pitch very well, but their games are too light for us. I know why we didn’t proceed with those pitches, but at least they were in the ballpark.
Usually when a woman pitches me, the game tends to fall into one of several broad categories:
* It is a game about politics; In general, we don’t publish games about politics.
* It is a board game; In general, we don’t publish party games.
* This is a story from a designer very early in his design journey and the game is not competitive in the modern market; it usually looks too similar to another game, or is very generic, or is more of an idea than game design.
A woman has never thrown a war game at me. A woman has never proposed to me a fighting game for 2 players. I have never had a giant fighting robot game thrown at me by a woman. In fact, I don’t think there’s much of a market in those categories because there’s a lot of competition, but I wonder if game design by a woman would be orthogonal to existing design patterns and produce something extraordinary.
I think there’s a significant gap between the time someone decides to try becoming a game designer and the time they produce their first publishable game. Life in that gap consists of a lot of rejection and negative criticism. I wonder if that gap represents a good part of the missing female design cohort: women are socialized in the West to avoid situations where they are subjected to some pretty harsh criticism of their creative skills and ideas. Males are socialized to take the hits and keep going. Bridging the gap is how to turn someone into a “real game designer” who gets paid for their work and creates designs that are attractive to publishers.
So far, we haven’t seen many awards being considered for games that exist almost entirely as crowdfunded projects. I know there are a lot more women designing and producing games through crowdfunding who just don’t connect with publishers. The nature of the SoJ is that a crowdfunded game is effectively excluded from consideration.
To Dancey’s credit, he has since apologized and asked people to “hold him accountable”:
Yesterday I participated in a discussion about the lack of representation of women as designers in the gaming community. It was not my best moment. I am embarrassed and angry at myself for the tone and content of my contribution to that discussion. It does not reflect my views and it certainly does not reflect the views of the company I work for.
I’m sorry for any harm I’ve caused and any offense I’ve given.
This topic is extremely important to me and I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I have discussed my original poor message and the consequences with my leadership team and the rest of our company and want to outline some concrete steps we will take to do better in this regard.
* We will actively connect with designers from underrepresented demographics, especially women, and offer mentoring and development support for their projects, even if AEG doesn’t publish such games.
* Some people have suggested various organizations that could benefit from our support. We will proactively reach out to groups we have been made aware of and aggressively pursue releases from members of these groups.
* Our goal has been to publish the best games, we are going to expand that goal to help and provide more support to the people we want to be in business with to get to a place where they are seen and published.
Come back to me in a year and hold me accountable; I will provide updates as we progress.
But the fact that he was originally thinking about such things, let alone writing them publicly, let alone responding directly to one of the few successful women designers in board games it really says a lot about Hargraves’ original points, not just about women but other disenfranchised designers as well. Something the industry has been struggling with a lot in recent years.
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