Why is the board game so white and masculine? I’m trying to figure this out

Board games had a little cultural moment. They had known a surge in popularity at the start of the pandemic. A Statistical report predicts that the total board game market could reach US$12 billion by 2023.

It makes sense that board games have grown in popularity during the pandemic. Board games can provide relatively affordable and reusable home entertainment. Scrabble has been conceived by Alfred Mosher Butts during the Great Depression. Eleanor Abbott created Candy Land after contracting polio and spending a lot of time in hospital during the outbreak in the United States.

I’ve loved board games all my life and over the past 10 years I’ve spent my time browsing stores for the latest releases, becoming more and more addicted to watch board game channels on youtube and collecting games — a collection that has taken over many rooms in my house.

I regularly noticed that these friendly local game stores were filled with mostly white men, often alone, wandering the stacks. It made me wonder why is the board game so white and masculine?

As a doctoral student at University X and York University in their joint Communication and Culture program, I noticed a lack of contemporary research on board games, as most gaming research focuses on video games.

To fill this gap, I decided to spend the last four years of my life diving into the industry.

Socially shaped and constructed

The board game, like many other cultural spheres, has been socially shaped and constructed, with products created for an imaginary audience. The imagined audience for board games is, more often than not, an able-bodied cis, straight, middle-class white male.

The result of this social shaping was that board game spaces have, over time, become an exclusive reserve for this imaginary audience by default. Sometimes this type of social shaping, intentional or not, can create a vicious circle of exclusion for other identities.

By talking with members of the board game communities and examining the games themselves, I realized that there were significant systemic social, social, and economic issues that were limiting the widespread adoption of board games and the market growth.

My research argues that one of the key factors facing board games is the homogeneity of today’s board game design labor pool and limited representation on the products themselves.

I found that 92.6% of the designers of the top 400 board games on BoardGameGeek were white men.

92.6% of game designers for BoardGameGeek’s top 400 games were white male. (Tanya Pobuda)

The cover images on the boxes of BoardGameGeek’s top 200 ranked games with games such as dark haven (2017),Marvel Champions: The Card Game (2019), Terraform Mars (2016) and Through the Ages: A New History of Civilization (2015) leans heavily towards white males. Of the total of 1,974 characters analyzed in my analysis of board game covers, white male imagery was predominant.

Images of men and boys made up 76.8% of human representation on the covers, or 647 images in games like Great Western Trail (2016) and The War of the Ring: Second Edition (2012), compared to 23.2% of images of women and girls, which accounted for only 195 of the images counted as in games with more representation of genders like Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2016) and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015)

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Men have dominated the covers of the top 200 games on BoardGameGeek. (Tanya Pobuda)

White images were found in 82.5% of the images or 528 compared to the BIPOC images which were only 17.5% of the images or 112 images in total.

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White imagery dominated coverage of BoardGameGeek’s top 200 ranked games. (Tanya Pobuda)

Representation Matters

A lack of representation sends a message to potential audiences. But does this lack of representation matter to current society players?

I conducted an online survey of 320 respondents at the end of 2020. In total, 70.7% of respondents said they played board games at least once a week. More than half (53.5%) of the sample have been playing board games for 11 years or more.

I tried to obtain a diverse sample through extensive recruiting efforts, as I sought to hear voices not often heard in other board game surveys.

I retrieved a set of respondents who were primarily from North America (73.8%). The majority of survey respondents identified as female at 60.4%, including trans women who made up 4.9%. Over a quarter of my survey respondents identified as male at 25.3% and 9.4% identified as non-binary.

Most respondents were white (74.9%), while 20.4% identified as BIPOC. More than half of the sample (52.8%) identify as part of the 2SLGBTQiIA+ community.

Survey respondents shared that gender and racial representation mattered to them, in fact, it mattered a lot. Respondents agreed or strongly agreed (80.2%) that board games have a problem with a lack of equitable gender representation in game design and 84% agreed or strongly agreed that board games have a problem with a lack of fair racial representation in game design. .

Another overwhelming majority (83.6%) agreed or strongly agreed that board games have a problem with a lack of equitable gender representation in board game artwork. Similarly, 84% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that board games have a problem with a lack of fair racial representation in board game artwork.

The current reality? Despite the straight white men who make up about 25% of the US population — with the United States being one of the largest consumer markets in the world, and straight white males representing an even smaller share of the global market — they currently make up around 80% or more of representation in board games.

Do these realities – the board game industry’s persistent focus on a small population and its biased representation on products towards this small population – create the necessary conditions for market growth and expansion of the board game industry?

The answer can only be no.The conversationTanya A PobudaPhD Student, Graduate/Research Assistant, Communication and Culture, Metropolitan University of Toronto

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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