23 June 2018

Transgender Representation in Board Games

I recently found an article on Transgender Representation in Board Games. When I first saw it, I thought, 'I'm not sure how to represent any particular demographic in board games. For example, when I play Power Grid, there are different coloured pieces for each player. There's no gender involved in that in any way!'

What I was forgetting was story-driven games, such as Betrayal at House on the Hill. Apparently, I still suffer the old person mindset of someone who grew up in the 80s with games like Balderdash, Scotland Yard, and Trivial Pursuit, along with still-popular classics such as Monopoly, Sorry, and Scrabble. These games have only colours, no characters at all. Even games that did include characters, like Cluedo/Clue, the characters were not a big part of game play. Although I always knew that the yellow pawn, for example, represented Colonel Mustard, it never felt like I was playing him as a character in the game. The disassociation between the characters and the game itself was pretty strong.

The only game I can think of that really involved gender at all was Life, which boiled everything down to incredibly abstract concepts of 'pink pegs and blue pegs.' There were a lot of games that used characters from existing franchises, such as Star Wars and other movies.

So perhaps I can be forgiven for not immediately thinking of character-based games.

But the article that made me start thinking about this pointed out three examples of games that involve characters, at least one of which is transgender. Specifically, it mentions Dead of Winter, Deadline, and Legacy of Dragonholt. Each of these games are based around a story of some sort.

What's particularly distressing to me is that I recently finished playing the campaign mode of a story-based game involving characters! As you've probably read recently, I wrote a two-part review of Near and Far, in which players take on the role of one of several characters. Granted, there's no background given for the characters, so their gender never affects the game at all.

Which make it easy to introduce transgender characters in a game. Since it's never stated that, for example, Tanian (from Near and Far) or Vivian Lopez (from Betrayal at House on the Hill) are cis-gendered characters, we can always imagine that they're trans.

A rectangular tile with the image of Tanian, an olive-skinned man from a generic fantasy setting, and the character tile for Vivian Lopez, a black-and-white drawing on blue paper of a non-descript female.

But that does seem like a bit of a cop-out, doesn't it?

That's what's so nice about games with deeper stories, such as Legacy of Dragonholt. Not only do the characters figure in the story, but their gender often has a lot to do with it. I won't describe what happens in Legacy of Dragonholt, in case you want to avoid spoilers. If you're already familiar with that game, or you don't mind spoilers, you can follow the link at the beginning of this article and read the overview there.

Maybe it's time I worked a little harder to break out of my old-fogey mindset of thinking in terms of colours as the only possible player representations in board games.

But the important thing is: we are starting to see some transgender representation. As is to be expected, it's coming slowly, and it's not always well done when it happens. But at least we're taking a step in the right direction.

So let's see some more, game designers! Let's work to develop some frequent and appropriate representation in more games! Because as we all know, everyone is welcome at the gaming table. And representation matters.

So with that, have fun playing games out there, and try to remember to make the world a better place through your games. But more than that,

Game on!

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