Inclusivity: Making Everyone Feel Welcome In Your Board Game

I’m going to take a short break today from talking about printing to talk about inclusivity.  What do I mean?  More than just including everyone, it means that every single person that plays your game is not only welcome, but feels at home.  That is not as gargantuan a task as it seems at first. Inclusivity is NOT about people being OVERLY sensitive. It’s about showing respect to everyone and saying what you really mean.

Let’s dive in to gender.

Written words

The rules for Ventures in the Void uses “they/their” rather than the gender specific “he/she” – “his/her.”  To avoid repetitiveness I also employ “player/opponent.”   This is something that is relatively new to the writing world and technically incorrect when looking at APA/MLA writing styles.  My formal education is in Journalism and Communication so it took some getting used to.  The fact is, not everyone identifies as male or female. I do not, and never have, meant anyone any offense by my use of pronouns, so it is incredibly easy for me to make the shift to non-gender specific pronouns instead.

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When sending out rules for friends, family, and industry types to proof and generally peruse, I outright tell them that my intent in regards to pronoun usage and themes, idioms, phrasing, etc. is to be inclusive of everyone. Not only does that keep my more literary editors from marking every generic pronoun, it also leaves them free to point out any other issues they see as roadblocks to inclusivity in the writing. Everyone has a different frame of reference and thus everyone has the potential to be supremely helpful when looking for these issues.

Depictions / Art

Characters

My current “front burner” project is Ventures in the Void which will only have any humanoid characters if a stretch goal is met. Mechanics-wise they will just be a bonus once per game so won’t be necessary.  Some of my other games, however, are entirely based on the persona a player chooses to represent them.  Legendary Tales is a story telling game when you play a hero.  Since I’ll have my players taking on personas that I portray with art and express as specific genders I feel it is my obligation to at the very least have a male and female version of each hero.  Like I said, the very LEAST… I am currently contemplating how to thematically include non-gendered heroes as well.

Art

Unless we’re talking about a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic game based in humor, I think the days of mostly naked, ridiculously top-heavy, female characters is done.  There IS a time and place, but around an inclusive gaming table is NOT it.  That said, the male characters don’t all have to be brawny and intellectually challenged or wiring and geniuses either.  In general, I stay away from stereotypes.  They are just bad business.  Why take the chance of offending a potential player with your art, when really it was just laziness or a lack of creativity.  I KNOW coming up with 200 cards or pages and pages of art is challenging.  Again, this is one of those times I let my artist know up front that my intent is to be inclusive of everyone.  I want all genders, skin tones, body types, etc. expressed in my games if there are many opportunities for art.  If there are just a few (like say a 5-6 hero game) then at the very least I want mid-range body types, both genders (and one un-gendered character if I can work it in) and a variety of skin tones.

Language

Idioms and Slang

Chances are, if there is a slang word for a profession or nationality then it is derogatory.  Unless you actually mean “Hey, [insert profession/nationality], F You!” look it up first to be sure.  Watch using “female” as well.  Why? “Look at that group of males over there.” Sounds off, doesn’t it?  So don’t use “female” that way either.

By now, most of us have heard the story behind “rule of thumb,” just don’t use it. Lots of other idiomatic expressions are just as awful.  “Gyp/Jip/Jyp” is actually a derogatory term for Romani or Gypsies, just don’t use it. When in doubt, look it up.

[Bonus food-for-thought: When playing games – THINK about what you say.  Maybe you wiped the board with someone. You’re celebrating, you’re happy – so why bring rape into it?  Is rape funny?  You probably just answered “no.” So, why would you repeatedly chide another player by shouting about how you “raped them so hard?” See, now that you are thinking about it – you wouldn’t.  Let’s keep that away from the gaming table, shall we?]

Themes

Research

The biggest tip for keeping your themes clean of unintended slights is to research.  Historical themes are the exception that proves the rule I think.  Some parts of history are just ugly.  I am not currently working on any history heavy games – but I think sugarcoating actual events is a whole different matter. These games take a lot of research – just be sure to get your facts correct.

For the rest of us with non-historical games. Research, research, research.  Naming fantasy continents?  Look up the name you chose to see if it has a meaning already.  Same with ships, tribes, civilizations – anything you are getting creative with.

Welcome

Maybe I should have put this at the beginning, because if you’ve made it this far you obviously want to enlighten yourself on this subject.  So here it is: Inclusivity is NOT about people being OVERLY sensitive. It’s about showing respect to everyone and saying what you really mean. (ok, I DID go back and add that bit to the top!) I’ll admit that I’m educated and I surround myself with like-minded people.  We tend to speak tactlessly to one another because we take for granted that the person hearing us speak knows what we mean.  In reality, this is NOT a good thing. When bits of our vernacular are pointed out as “wrong” we tend to get defensive because we didn’t MEAN to offend anyone.  It’s HARD not to get defensive. At least for me, the reason I get defensive is that I truly didn’t mean to offend and I feel like I am being told I’m a horrible person because I did offend someone, or could have offended someone.  *Sigh* So the way I am proceeding with the distinct possibility that my words and art will be in print and distributed all over the globe (I hope!) is to educate myself and say/write/depict what I really mean.  Plainly: Everyone is welcome to play my game and I strive to only produce games that make them feel that way.

 

What did I miss?  What do you do to ensure your game is welcoming to all?

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