When I accept books or board games to review, I do a small amount of preliminary research to see if the game, book, author, designer, publisher, etc. aligns with the values and goals of my blog. Usually I do not find much out, even in this day and age when it seems to be okay to show your hate on your sleeve. Once in a while I do find something that is a deal breaker. One example came up while I was asking authors of color if they would be willing to be featured in a blogging event I was hosting. I got one response and as I looked into the novel, I found that the message was oppressive and hateful to trans folkx. While I wanted to feature authors of color, I could not feature this particular author and wrote back explaining why. But more often than not, I find a general bio or description of the company with no indication on where their philosophies might lie when it comes to inclusion of all gamers. This poses an interesting dilemma as my blog focuses heavily of social justice and inclusion. I tend to take an “assume good intentions and address the impact” approach. But…
What happens when you find out a truth that conflicts with your values and goals after publishing or supporting a company/author/designer?
This exact situation happens to me on occasion in both the books and board game world. I may reference in vague terms different situations I have been in but…this post is less about specific incidents and more general look at inclusion as it comes to working with different folks across the industry.
In one particular situation, a friend, who also sees inclusion as a top priority in the board gaming hobby, sent me a message and an article focused about an incident that was marginally related to a post. After reviewing the article, I was very troubled with what I read and it pointed towards a perspective I not only disagreed with but I found to be discriminatory. I took some time to reflect on this new information and the post I published. I stood by what I wrote in my initial post and I felt I needed to respond to the information I found out. The action I took was to outline an article to talk about confronting problematic things when they come up and my thoughts around an inclusive hobby.
I want to recognize that this is not new and this article does not outline all the problematic stuff with broad game companies and content creators. Just last year, Academy Games hired a PR person named David Lowry. Lowry is no longer with the company but he was well known for decrying diversity in videos and around the Twitter community. There comes a moral decision to make for content creators and consumers. Do we continue to buy games from Academy? Do we continue to review and promote their games? Many podcasts and review channels still did without a second thought while a small minority refused to go anywhere near Academy Games. I own one Academy game – Freedom: The Underground Railroad, which is often hailed as a groundbreaking, educational, diverse representation game (which it can be but be on the lookout for a future article titles “White Saviorism Masking as Diversity”), but after learning about the hire, I really stopped paying attention to Academy Games (side note, Lowry actually published a overwhelming positive review of Freedom despite his outcries about diversity). Money tells me a lot about the mission and values of a company and institution. So if the company is paying someone who is known to be discriminatory and oppressive, I can only assume that’s what they support as well and I will not stand for that in board gaming. As I stated, Lowry left the company – I am not sure the reason behind him leaving but I am still hesitant about Academy Games in general. Companies and content creators take on the burden of the views and values of who they associate with and hire and need to be accountable.
Back to my reaction and thought process when I am in these situations.
I find myself in an interesting position because I care about inclusion and to reach that end goal, we need everyone involved and engaged. Now there are some who will never join the conversation and never think that inclusion is a positive thing. But there are many folks we can bring back into the fold of our inclusive community. A lot of questions come up for me as I think about my relationship or potential relationship with this small gaming company moving forward:
- What is our responsibility to create a truly inclusive community?
- How can we talk about impact of words and actions instead of fighting over free speech and ideologies?
- When does inclusion work cross the line and is more harmful (to marginalized folks) than helpful?
- How can allies with privilege step in to share the work that marginalized folks do daily?
- How do we approach inclusion with an intersectional lens?
- How do we acknowledge that the board gaming hobby was founded on privilege and how that disproportionally excludes certain groups of people?
I think question number two is the most important to achieving the goal of an inclusive community. It is easy (and I recognize sometimes necessary) to burn an individual, block them, and shut them out as a hateful bigot. A lot of the time these folks who do or say hurtful things are not hateful bigots but come from a different frame and set of lived-experiences. I have no idea where the the majority of people in this hobby come from. I have no idea what experiences they might have that results in an incident I find harmful. But there is a framing experience, there is a socialization process for everyone that shapes how one approaches life. This does not provide an excuse for the behavior BUT understanding other folks’ lived-experiences gets us closer to our goal: inclusion. It changes the conversation from “You are wrong” to “Your lived-experience is true and valid AND the impact on other people is harmful.” I can do much more with the latter than the former.
I want to make it clear that as a marginalized person, it is okay to opt out. We need to opt out sometimes for our own health and wellness. Plus it is not solely one us to change the culture around inclusion and social justice. It is not solely on us to change systems and institutions founded on racism, sexism, etc. AND opting out and expecting change to happen in our communities is unrealistic. It just is. I have heard the mantra time and time again:
Do your own work.
Which I agree with to an extent – folks need to take responsibility for their own understanding of difference and the impact of their identities. But if we rely only on that mantra, nothing will change. Actually, I think the state of inclusion for all people will get worse. Back to question number 1, what is our responsibility?
Designing opportunities for play (e.g., board games) for as short as 15 minutes has shown through research to build empathy between people (look out for a more in depth post exploring this in the future with actual links to the research). If we are in a hobby that is conducive to building empathy across different lived-experience, why aren’t we leveraging this? Here is what I do know: I know many people who hold views I disagree with and I find harmful. I know I love board games and gaming can be a way to try to build empathy with those folks. I also know that we can come to understanding of each other and recognize how our individual views might harm the other person.
The conclusion? Maybe the way forward is not about shutting people out. Maybe this is time to reach out and ask the tough questions about my concerns and then listen. Actually listen to the response.