It’s the beginning of the year so we can start anticipating… Board Game convention season!!!! Judging from all the pictures, posts, podcasts, and videos last year, many people had a phenomenal experience at many conventions in 2017. And I am sure many of you are looking forward to more conventions in 2018 – I know I am! One of the topics that always comes up with conventions is inclusivity and diversity. I am always wondering what can convention planners do to make a space like a convention more welcoming for marginalized attendees. Here are eight ideas I have brainstormed over the past months:
- Non-discrimination policies
Most conventions have some sort of non-discrimination and harassment policy nowadays and after logging on to most convention websites, I can find it pretty easily. A policy first helps tell attendees what type of behavior is not welcomed at the convention and also provides a mechanism to hold attendees accountable. And that’s just it – there needs to be some sort of system for reporting that is easily accessible AND a clear way to intervene and deal with the issue. If there are no consequences and no clear way on how to report, then a convention might as well not have this policy. Oh, and please expand this policy to cover discrimination of all protected identities, not just sexual harassment.
- Market to signal what you value
A non-discrimination policy can start to signal your values as a convention, but tenants of inclusion, diversity, equality, justice, liberation (sounds odd at a board game convention but trust me), should be at the CENTER of your advertisement and marketing. By going to your website or picking up the convention guide, I should be able to see and feel like this convention really values all people participating in gaming and will actively create space for all people. I know board games are usually the center but we already know that…. So let us know that you care about all people and want all people at your convention.
- Select a diverse volunteer pool
Crucial. Volunteers represent the convention whether paid or not. First, it is always great to see yourself reflected in the convention staff – it will create a more welcoming environment simply by stating nonverbally and visually, “You are welcome here.” Second, certain participants might feel more comfortable approaching volunteers who may reflect their experience or pieces or their experience. This comes up for me when I think about participants seeking help and support when reporting harassment or discrimination. Identity does matter in many cases and a homogenous group of volunteers cannot cater to the diverse participants at a convention.
- Plan and host diverse and integrated panels and events
Instead of having that panel… “Women in Gaming” or something similar with another identity, integrate your panels and events to include marginalized people. When we create space for marginalized people, we can’t keep putting them on the margins – that is essentially what creating a separate panel and labeling it as “Women in Gaming” Why not include women, POC, LGBTQ folks, etc. in all of your gaming panels / events*? [*A point of clarification: Ensure you are not adding a token to your panel… we want diverse perspectives, not a single person expected to represent all X people in gaming] Your main panels with diverse participants create space that is centered in the hobby and will allow the sharing of lived-experiences of gamers from all backgrounds.
- Consider affinity spaces
My above point was to integrate and center marginalized folks more. But also realize that this could be really tiring for folks and they may need affinity space to recharge. When I say affinity spaces, I mean spaces where folks can self identify and enter a space to be with others who also self-identify with the identity. For example, I have seen game groups and game meetups for people of color and the LGBTQ community. This space is valuable. From personal experience, affinity spaces can be lifegiving in the middle of an event that could be draining. Should the whole convention be separated like this? No. But I think affinity spaces deserve consideration.
- Create quieter / less trafficked spaces
Not everyone loves the bustle of a large convention and some gamers can even be triggered by the large crowds. A convention is a large crowd 100% of the time no matter what time of day. This can be not only off-putting but exclusionary to gamers who would be triggered by a large crowd (think anxiety, PTSD, etc.). So how can we make a convention, which is getting a huge amount of people together to game, accessible to folks who may want to stay away from the large crowds? Intentionally create smaller and quieter spaces that gamers can access. I think this would be a huge addition to any convention, helping gamers avoid or navigate the business of the main hall.
- Look at cost
Hobbies by their nature are for the privileged with time and money. While it’s harder to control the time aspect, what you can look at as an organizer is cost. Personally, I think I am doing alright financially, but I still can only afford to go to a few local conventions each year. Between flights, hotel, food, and the convention registration, larger conventions and even some regional conventions are just out of my reach. I can only imagine a gamer with less financial flexibility. This cost barrier (along with the cost of games) is one of the largest reasons why board gaming is so exclusive – we have little socioeconomic status diversity. How do other systems help increase access to things that cost money? Subsidies. Some people pay more so that those without the money to do so can receive the same or similar benefits. Conventions recently have been offering “VIG” (very important gamer) passes that cost a lot more money than regular registration and often comes with some perks. This increased price could be used to subsidize a registration for a participant without the financial means to attend a convention. A radical idea yes, but it would make our hobby more accessible as it comes to socio-economic diversity.
- Critique your systems
Remember that racism, sexism, ableism, etc. is not just individual. While addressing individual issues at the convention is helpful for inclusion, it actually does not deconstruct many of the systems that may be ingrained in the convention or convention culture that supports oppression. It is okay to critique something that you enjoy. In fact, critiquing and initiating change shows that you care deeply about the community. I have recently been thinking through many of the frustrations around inclusion from a marginalized point of view and I see frustration that the hobby is not anti-[insert -ism here] enough. We are okay with the inclusion status quo but won’t take steps to question and push back against our hobby. We need push back. We need to disrupt systems of oppression and it starts with critiquing what is contributing to exclusivity and marginalization.
What do you think conventions can do to be more inclusive?