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board games, game group, social justice

Safe Spaces in Board Gaming

This week has been off. I have struggled to be productive in my professional life. I have struggled to do what I need to do in my personal life. I have missed my regular gaming nights. I have sat alone or with my partner processing and grieving the recent tragedy in Orlando, which targeted the LGBTQ+ Lantinx community. Such is life after such tragic events. It is hard to return to ‘normal’ (whatever that means) after a terrible hate crime and I cannot even imagine what some who’s identity is in that intersection of race and sexual orientation is going through.

In this post, it is not my intention to co-opt a terrible tragedy that targeting LGBTQ+ Latinx community. I will not forget or try to erase the identities of the community that is impacted. These events have caused me to reflect on a lot and process in various different ways. This tragedy does not belong to me and I will continue to support, ally with, and show my love for the communities impacted. With that, I want to share a piece of what I have reflected on in the past couple of days.

In this time, I have reflected on safe spaces and what that means to me as someone who holds marginalized identities. To me a safe space is somewhere I can fully be myself in all of my identities without the fear of hate, bigotry, violence, and intolerance. Somewhere I won’t just be tolerated for who I am but accepted and celebrated in the diverse experiences I bring. A safe space is somewhere I feel supported. Somewhere I don’t need to explain myself.

With the tragedy this past weekend, it shattered my illusions of safe spaces. Pulse, a gay night club hosting a Latin night, was seen as a safe space by many. In this country, marginalization turns into oppression which often manifests itself in violence. Brown, black, and queer people are often and disproportionately the targets of this violence, which is pervasive into these so called safe spaces we have created. I am slowly coming to grips with the fact there is no completely safe space for people who hold marginalized identities.

I am really conflicted in my thoughts because my gaming group has been a safe(r) space for me at times. I have good relationships with the people in my groups and when I am in the group I feel at ease, even if I am not able to express myself in the fullness of my identities. These experiences have motivated me to start my own gaming group in hopes of putting the community in the forefront, setting out direct community guidelines about creating a safe and inclusive space. While for the most part I feel safe in these spaces and even more safe in the space I created, I know I am not immune from the oppression and marginalization that is so pervasive. From language, to the theme of a game, to jokes… unconscious marginalization is more common than direct hate and bigotry. And even if I feel comfortable addressing these microaggressions in my own group, how do others in my group who hold a marginalized identity feel? Do they feel safe? I’ll never fully know or understand the experience of other folks with different identities than me and who am I to say the space is safe for them?

I constantly hear folks say… “My game group is inclusive and safe… My game store is inclusive and safe… My convention is inclusive and safe… It is for all people” But in my experience that is not  the case. People have spoken out about how unsafe they feel in certain spaces relating to board gaming (See the Latining post for one example) and there is STILL push back from all corners of the hobby. I don’t think we can promise completely safe and inclusive spaces because we are constant working in and against systems of power and oppression. But we can definitely be allies for each other.

What can we do? Listen to people from marginalized communities… people of color, queer and trans* folks, differently abled folks, women, the young and the elderly… And really listen to them. And believe their experiences. And stop erasing their identities. And if/when you get called out, fight against the natural defensive reaction and work with those people to create a space that is safer than before.

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