A Moment of Understanding

I have a quick story and commentary for you based on moment that occurred at the Protospiel San Jose event.

There is a great deal of good talk right now about being inclusive in the gaming hobby, particularly for women and people of color. It's a good topic.

I'm a little reluctant to write this post, because I don't want it to come off as me, the publisher, trying to wield this for my own good to sell copies. I'm trying to be sincere and helpful here, so hopefully that feeling doesn't come across.

I've thought about the structure of this post a bit, and I think the best way to share it is to quickly write the story, then provide my commentary.

The Story

Protospiel San Jose was this past weekend, April 15-17 at the excellent Game Kastle store in Mountain View. I have attended all three years as it has become one of my favorite game events. Each year I've participated on a panel that is always a bit ad hoc. It typically focuses on game development, design, publishing, and of course, gobs of Kickstarter questions. We usually provide our own questions, but often take questions from the audience. It's a good panel.

The first year I was just on it as a participant. Last year I was asked to moderate it, which I did. This year I emailed the event organizer on a Monday or so and said "Hey, can I help with anything?" He responded "Yes! Do you want to setup the panel." I said sure, and asked him for names. He sent me the list, I reached out, boom, we have a panel.

The folks on the panel are good, qualified local folks. People who are published designers, small publishers, someone who works with distribution. In the past we've had David Sirlin and Ted Asplach and the guy from Slugfest Games, so a decent pool of expertise.

Just before the start of the panel while we're getting our mics setup and people are beginning to filter in, a woman in the front row asked me: Why aren't there any women on the panel?

Editor's Note: Because there are a lot of stereotypes and cliches around this situation, I want to be clear. The woman was not angry, hostile, or rude with her question. In fact, she could not have been more polite and respectful in how she asked it. It was an honest question, fairly asked.

In response, I didn't have a good answer. I said something along the lines of: I don't know why. That's a good question, and I don't know.

We have the panel for 90 minutes. We answer lots of questions. It's a good, solid panel and once again I'm glad to have been a part of it.

Afterwards, I find the woman. I thanked her for her question and apologized for the fact it was a panel of six white dudes. I noted that I didn't actually know any local female designers or publishers, but also, that that wasn't an excuse.

Just as a note, the women I game with don't design, and 99% of my gaming is at work or at my house.

I told her that the panel was very last minute, but that next year I would plan for it and I would seek out a more diverse group of panelists. I was sincere and she seemed to appreciate it.

Overall, I think it was a very positive experience.The situation could have been better, but I recognized this and sought to fix it. Next year, I shall.

The Commentary

A great deal of the commentary around being more inclusive of women and other minority groups often focuses on correcting the negative elements, namely the bigotry and misogyny. If we're conducting triage, I think that's the right place to start. But, and this is the crux of this post, progress and fairness does not simply trend towards neutral. It cannot merely end at "Hey, I don't have to sit at a table with offensive language," but must strive towards "Hey, I have the same shot as everyone else here."

Everyone at the panel was qualified to be there. But, 50% of the population is female. The Bay Area has an enormous Asian population, a large Hispanic population, and a large black population. Our panel was not indicative of our customer base, the design base, nor what the future of publishing could be. What does it say to the female designers in attendance if they see the same gatekeepers in tabletop that they see in corporate America, politics, television, and more?

A frequent counter to having minorities be chosen is that it's a compromise of quality, or that you'll weaken the product, in this case the panel, for choosing by skin tone and chromosomes, but not merit. But, the panel wouldn't have suffered! For one, you don't need 6 people saying the same thing. You don't need the same perspective. It also simply preserves the status quo. If your product suffers based on making good choices, you need to work harder.

A useful addition to the panel could have been aspiring and hardworking designers who aren't yet published. We may have discovered how different backgrounds foster different ideas. We could have spoken to artists and more visually oriented folk to find out how they pursue creative ideas.

One of the reasons I thought this post was useful was just how blindsided I was by the question. If I had asked a bunch of people and they said no, that's one thing. But, it didn't even occur to me! And, I'm proud to say it normally does. My boss, bosses boss, and bosses bosses boss are all women. Half my direct reports are women. I seek out diverse artists as a publisher and strive to have diverse presentation with my games. But, here, I just didn't even think about it. Life is broad and complex, and it's useful for us to keep our eyes and minds open so that we can continue to make this a better place for everyone.

The good news is, this is an easy problem to solve. At least in my case. I look forward to next year's panel and hopefully I can populate it with a group that represents our community.

Comments

As a black person and my being from the US , I do feel that minorities are not well represented in the board game community as well as it could but I do not see this being because people are being blocked somehow to be part of gaming events , designing groups and thinks like that . I just see a hobby that it is not as popular amongst minorities as it is to white males right now but I do sea change in that , lots of females playing and talking about Boardgames and that's great .

Definitely can be a challenging thing to address, especially by us 30-something white male designers. If the Cardboard Edison industry report demographics are to be believed (http://cardboardedison.com/reports/), we have a long way to go for more level representation. But I appreciate shining a light on the issue so we can see past our biases.

But the protospiel was, I think, a pretty great living example of diversity in design. Among racial and female minorities were Matt, Gabe, Karen, Rohan, Sarah, Victoria, Ben, Ka, Candy, Luke, Katherine, Shannon, Charlette, Ali, John, Kathryn, Ting, other Ali, and more. Sadly there wasn't enough time in the weekend to play everyone's games, but there's strong representation out there (at least in the bay area).

I know the tendency is to populate panels with "experts", and it's a good idea to do so for the benefit of the audience and bolstering attendance, but I do like the idea of diversifying the panel (or panel schedule) by involving unpublished designers, developers, and others in the industry to broaden the kinds of information and insight we get at these events.