Board Game Manager makes incredibly sexist comments and apologizes
Earlier this week span Designer Elizabeth Hargrave wrote a Twitter thread outlining a glaring problem with representation in the board game industry: namely, that there simply aren’t enough games that are award-winning and published that are designed by women.
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It’s not a difficult argument! Board games are a huge and social industry played by people of all faiths around the world, but as Hargrave points out, the nominees for Game of the Year – the biggest board game award, are chosen from among the developers of the biggest games of the year will have overwhelmingly were men:
The reasonable answer to that would be to say yes, that’s a problem! Board game design has traditionally been dominated by white males, but as the market has grown and evolved, it has failed to grow with the demographic of published and award-winning designers (you have to be the former before you can be the latter). More needs to be done to encourage more women — and more people who are not white men — to get into game design and publish their games because, as Hargrave says, “we’re limiting the intelligence and life experiences that go into it stuck.” Games” and “Our game selection is worse as a result.”
Alderac COO Ryan Dancey took a different approach. To avoid paraphrasing, I’ll just go his direct reply to Hargraves here in full:
I’ve accepted more than 1,000 game presentations since 2016. I would say less than 10% of these were from female designers. In fact, none of these were games that AEG would publish. We specifically invited female designers to submit entries. We have a publishable design –@elizhargrave‘s Mariposas.
There were a few pitches that came close; The most common was a woman collaborating with a male designer. There’s a team of two designers who pitch great, but their games are too easy for us. I know why we didn’t go ahead with those pitches, but at least they were in set pieces.
When I’m referred by a woman, the game usually falls into one of several broad categories:
* It’s a game about politics; In general, we don’t publish games about politics
* It’s a party game; In general, we do not publish party games
* It’s a pitch from a designer very early in his design journey and the game isn’t competitive in the modern market – it’s usually too similar to another game or very generic, or it’s more of an idea than a game design
I’ve never had a woman propose a war game to me. I’ve never been suggested a 2 player fighting game by a woman. I’ve never been suggested a giant battle robot game by a woman. I don’t actually think there’s a big market in these categories because there’s so much competition, but I wonder if a woman’s game design would be orthogonal to the existing designer patterns and produce something remarkable.
I think there is a significant gap between the time someone decides to become a game designer and the time they produce their first publishable game. Life in this gap consists of a lot of rejection and negative criticism. I wonder if this gap accounts for much of the missing female design cohort – women are socialized in the West to avoid situations where they face fairly harsh criticism of their skills and creative ideas. Men are wired to take a beating and move on. To fill that gap, you 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 for games that exist almost exclusively as crowdfunding projects. I know there are many more women crowdfunding game design and production who just don’t have any contact with publishers. It is in the nature of the SdJ that a crowdfunding game is effectively excluded from consideration.
To his credit, Dancey has since apologized and asked people to “hold him accountable.”:
Yesterday I took part in a discussion about the underrepresentation of women designers in the gaming community. It wasn’t my best moment. I am ashamed and angry at myself for the tone and content of my contribution to this discussion. It does not reflect my views and certainly not the views of the company I work for.
I’m sorry for the damage I’ve caused and for the offense I’ve committed.
This topic is very close to my heart and I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I have discussed both my original bad message and the aftermath with my leadership team and the rest of our organization, and I want to outline some specific steps we will take to achieve better results in this regard.
* We will actively reach out to designers from under-represented communities, especially women, and offer mentoring and development support for their projects, even if AEG does not publish games of this type.
* Some people have suggested various organizations that could benefit from our support. We will be proactive in reaching out to the groups that have been brought to our attention and will look closely at suggestions from members of those groups.
* Our goal was to release the very best games. We will expand this goal to help the people we want to do business with and provide more support to get them to a place where they will be seen and published.
Get back to me in a year and hold me accountable; I will provide updates as we make progress.
But the fact that he even thought about these things, let alone wrote them down publicly, let alone I’m answering directly to one of the few successful female board game designers really says a lot about Hargraves’ original points, not just about women but about other marginalized designers as well. Something The industry has had a hard time struggling with this in recent years.