Art Directing Inclusiveness

Inclusiveness in media is very important, and as today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States, it seemed like a great time to briefly touch on this. I honestly think most customers are fine with inclusivity, which is a good thing! I also think it's a relatively easy and natural thing to execute as a publisher or art director. After all, half of the population are female, for one, which means almost every game theme will survive the inclusion of women (Note: I went back and forth on this note, but I want to clarify that I used the word "survive" specifically to poke at idiots who think this is a bad thing). But, beyond gender, which is an even split, about 16% of the US is of Latino ethnicity and almost 13% are of African descent. 5% are Asian [Source]. That's a lot of people, and if that alone isn't sufficient, that's also a lot of customers

Cities? Space stations? Politics? Ninjas? Witches? Morlocks? Rat people? All of them can use women or darker shades of fur. Hell, even Star Wars and Mad Max are doing just fine with women and minorities included more. Who would have thought?

At this point, I've hired and directed artists about 7 times for board game projects. This doesn't include the dozens of digital titles of which I've been involved. For those, I'm not the AD, but as a producer I have been involved. I'm particularly proud of our work on The Sims 4 City Living. Therefore, I'm ready and prepared to give some quick advice on how to direct artists such that your game is more inclusive.


Here is what you say:

"Please be sure to include some women in the illustrations. Also, not everyone should be white."

That's it! It works! 

Furthermore, you can take additional steps to specify which characters are best for this. For example, in York I really wanted the infantry to look bedraggled and tired. Beards are a good way to do this, and most women don't have beards (though some do!). But, I thought it'd be fun to have a woman as the general, so I specified that, and it worked just fine. If your art team isn't comfortable making the decision, or isn't sure what you mean by the more open sentence above, feel free to specify for them. 

I'm not trying to make light of this topic. It's important. But, I am trying to point out how simple it really is to execute against this. The recent Star Wars, Star Trek, and Mad Max movies have been critical and commercial hits, proving that the market is more than accepting of non-white people doing cool things in space. 

One more thing...

One thing I will note, and I'm sure I'll anger a lot of people here (but please read it all as I may win you back over), I do think you can make an argument for not having as diverse an art set in order to maintain historical authenticity. Just as the battle of Waterloo was predominantly fought by white men (due to the populations of those countries and the fact that slaves weren't usually given guns), white dudes also weren't involved in the Qin wars of unification (aka Ancient China). Yet, Matt Damon is the star of an upcoming movie about the Great Wall of China. Hoo boy.

Before we add more diversity to Waterloo, I think we first need to tell more stories about historical events about non-white people. We tend to focus on Waterloo, because it's awesome, sure, but there's a lot of stuff we haven't yet tackled. I'm advocating we solve the root problem, which is to tell a broader slice of history.

In the same way movies have done a disservice to the contributions of non-white entities in historical conflicts, I think games have as well. Red Tails is a terrible movie (sadly) about the Tuskegee Airmen. I typed in "Tuskegee Airmen" into BGG and nothing turned up.

The 442nd Infantry Regiment was comprised of Japanese-Americans who fought in Europe in WWII despite their families being in internment camps. They are the most decorated unit in American military history for their size and length of service. I was not able to find a board game about them. I think their story is incredible, but also sad. Can you imagine fighting this hard for a country that has treated you so poorly? That's a story that should be told. 

Ancient Rome was incredibly diverse, with Mediterranean, Slavic, African, Persian, and other ethnicities building the empire. But, you normally see white dudes in sweet Centurion helms. 

What about the Buffalo Soldiers

There is some progress. Academy Games released Freedom: The Underground Railroad about the abolitionish movement. I haven't bought it because I don't love co-op, but I also find the subject matter incredibly hard to bear. Their excellent Birth of America series prominently features the Native Americans who had a big role in these conflicts. I have, and love, all of these games. GMT have released a few games now focused on the histories of Native American tribes, beginning with Navajo Wars. I'm a little sad they're solo games, as that's a deal breaker for me.

It isn't that we shouldn't create games about Vikings, or the 101st Airborne in World War II, or French Cuirassiers at Waterloo. It's more that we also need to tell more stories about groups who haven't had their chance yet. Adding an Asian man to Waterloo is a surface level change to a deeper problem. But, I'd argue it's easier to stand out making a game about a new theme and historical premise than making yet another game about the Battle of the Bulge (which had black men at it, by the way).

In conclusion...

Directing artists to be inclusive is really simple. Ask for it. Being inclusive about history requires a bit more work - the research, the design - but it's something the market is ready to enjoy.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a yearly tradition to uphold