When Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) listed a women’s only board game design contest in July 2018 (here’s the link), the contest was shared by multiple websites and game design forums. I’m a member of several of these forums, and the backlash was eye-opening.
Heated discussions on social media can turn ugly. Many of the people who shared this contest—not expressing that they supported it or why, even though sharing the contest was a form of support—had to delete their posts within hours. Some reshared and disabled comments so internet trolls couldn’t respond. A lot of what these trolls said isn’t repeatable, but there were some sentiments—that weren’t overtly sexist—that occurred frequently and here are two of the most prominent.
1) Women should challenge themselves and submit to board game design contests that are open to everyone.
2) Contest or Design Group “Fill-in-the-blank” is better because it’s truly inclusive.
Let’s start with the first comment. Who says that women aren’t participating in other board game design contests? There aren’t as many women game designers as men board game designers, it’s a male dominated field, but I’ve heard of at least a handful of women board game designers who submit to plenty of other design challenges and contests. There have been several women who’ve won. There have been a few female designers who were part of blockbuster tabletop games like T.I.M.E. Stories. These voices are unique in part because they have different life experiences, and the board game community could and should do more to give these voices a platform to be heard.
I don’t just design board games. I also write fiction, non-fiction, and poetry and submit to various literary journals. Many of these journals will have calls for submissions from minorities, and a similar backlash can occur. I’m not sure why. There are countless journals to submit to that will accept entries from anyone. If I see a listing for one that doesn’t apply to me, I skip it or if I know someone that the listing would apply to, I let them know about it. It costs me nothing. But the opportunity for someone else, especially someone who belongs to a minority, could be invaluable.
I know of hundreds of board game design contests. AEG’s Women Game Designers Wanted listing is the first time I’ve seen a woman specific challenge. It costs nothing to support this contest, but a lot can be gained.
The second comment type is more insidious. It accuses the contest of not being inclusive and devalues it, but the people who made this type of comment never have to worry that Design Group “Fill-in-the-blank” has no one else at the table who looks like them. Sure, everyone is welcome in Design Group “Fill-in-the-blank,” but some people feel more welcome than others. There’s a reason contests that encourage minorities to participate exist. They’re needed.
Most people in the board game community would agree that more women designers are needed, but despite what the backlash would suggest, a contest like AEG’s might bring more women to the table and make the hobby more inclusive. It helps to normalize women tabletop game designers. The more women who join the table, the less contests like AEG’s needs to exist. But even if minority contests persist, what does it cost someone to ignore the contest if it doesn’t apply to them or send the listing to a friend?
That second type of comment might do more damage to distance women game designers from the hobby. The writer of that type of comment doesn’t understand the obstacles for a woman designer or doesn’t care. If one doesn’t have someone like one’s self at Design Group “Fill-in-the-blank,” one is less likely to join. It’s intimidating. Having a minority specific design contest is more inclusive. It leads to a minority being less of a minority by positive normalization.
As of this write-up, AEG’s Women Game Designers Wanted is still open (until the end of November 2018). I encourage everyone who can apply to apply. And if the listing doesn’t apply to you, share it with a friend.