Thursday, August 14, 2014

GenCon & Gaming's Race Problem

Image courtesy GenCon LLC
GenCon 2014 officially starts today. It's a four day convention that draws over 40,000 attendees to a celebration of gaming, from tabletop games, miniatures, war gaming, board games, collectible card gaming and the like. This year will be its 47th year of operation, making GenCon the longest running convention of its kind (Friend of the blog, Drew of Drew's Robots will be there showing off his walker robot throughout the convention, btw).

However, for all of its long and storied history, there is little doubt that its demographic makeup hasn't changed as drastically as it could have. As A.A. George writes, in "Gaming’s Race Problem: GenCon and Beyond" for
As a lifelong gamer, I am excited to go to GenCon. 
As an ethnic minority, I am apprehensive about going to GenCon. 
For all that GenCon offers, it lacks in minority gamers. Last year was my first GenCon, and as I explored the convention, I saw almost no one who looked like me. By far, the most visible minorities at GenCon were the hired convention hall facilities staff who were setting up, serving, and cleaning up garbage for the predominantly white convention-goers... 
... GenCon is emblematic of this problem. Of the twenty-seven Guests of Honor (in various categories), only two are people of color. The judges of the prestigious ENnie Awards for role-playing, hosted at GenCon, have been almost exclusively white since its inception. The same is true for the nominees and winners of the Diana Jones Awards. There may be more efforts to include people of color in gaming artwork, but where are the real life people of color on the grand stage of gaming? 
Furthermore, GenCon is disturbingly tolerant of deeply offensive material. Shoshana Kessock wrote about her experiences with Nazi cosplay and paraphernalia at Gencon shortly after returning from GenCon 2013, and I had similar encounters... GenCon has weakly worded policies to prevent these horrific violations, but it has failed to enforce its own rules.
There are lots of well-meaning gamers that say that race isn't a factor in what they choose to play or who they choose to play with. I've even heard a number of gamers insights that they don't even see color, just a gamer. A.A. George responds:
I’ve been told time and again by gamers, “I don’t see race” as if they were doing me a kindness. This is not enlightenment or progressiveness. It is ignorance. If you do not see race, you do not see me. You do not see my identity, my ethnicity, my history, my people. What you are telling me, when you say “I do not see race,” is that you see everything as the normal default of society: white. In the absence of race and ethnicity, it is only the majority that remains. I am erased.
He does have suggestions, however, on what allies, advocates and those that want to make gaming an open, inclusive and more accepting and diverse:
  • Listen. The Gaming as Other series is a great place to start. There are a handful of panels at Cons on the topic and I’ll be sitting on two of them at GenCon: “Why is Inclusivity Such a Scary Word?” and “Gaming As Other.” 
  • Keep engaging, listening and supporting. We notice your support and it gives us the strength to keep going. 
  • Hire more people of color and give them agency, visibility, power, responsibility, and credit in a wide variety of meaningful and important areas in your organization. Do not simply hire a token minority. Do not use people of color as a form of marketing. 
  • Reach out to minority groups and invite them personally to conventions. Your neighbors, your co-workers, the people at your church, all of them. 
  • Offer and play games that are actively and intentionally more inclusive.
These are all excellent starting points. I'd also encourage you to read the entire post of George's, because he addresses how fantasy gaming both helped and hindered acceptance his own identity.

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