Your Move: Creating Inclusive Gaming Spaces
As video and tabletop gaming continues become a greater part of our society and culture, creating inclusive game spaces has become the focus of both the game industry as well as game communities around the globe. Championed by groups like Your Move: Creating Inclusive Gaming Spaces, inclusivity insures that ALL people can enjoy the game. I caught up with group members Selvi Sri, Sylvia Gimenez, Maggie Riley, and Kathleen Donahue to talk about inclusivity, games, and how they hope to influence the community.
How did Your Move: Creating Inclusive Gaming Spaces get started?
Selvi: I was at Awesome Con in 2014 at one of the worst panels I’ve ever sat through. It was supposed to be about women in gaming, but it was really just a bunch of stereotypes and junk science. There were neuroscientists and game developers in the audience who were refuting what the speakers said, but they plowed through anyway. It was a mess! The woman sitting next to me and I were some of the most outspoken critics (not in a heckling way, but pushing back against the nonsense). The woman next to me was Kelsey, and we struck up a conversation. The next year, I emailed her and a bunch of women gamers I knew about sending in our own application. I left it kind of late (one week before the deadline) but we got it in on time and we were accepted! The first panel was me, Kelsey, Margaret, Sylvia, and Kathleen.
What makes an inclusive game space?
Selvi: That’s… actually a more difficult question than I first thought! An inclusive gaming space is where *everyone* is welcomed and treated with respect, so each person has a chance to learn, play, and enjoy games on an equal footing.
Sylvia: One that provides safety, respect and the ability to be listened to for all involved. That usually entails having clear policies and strong moderation. As we’ve seen in some online communities, the laissez-faire attitude towards moderation tends to create toxic environments.
Kathleen: In my store [editor: DC’s Labyrinth Games and Puzzles], we are very adamant about trying everyone kindly regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. We frequently announce these rules at the beginning of events, and we have many customers who now help us police the events. We also have language rules — no words worse than poop, butt or fart.
I try to hire women, people of color, and promote diversity in our hiring practices. We also try very hard to make new people feel welcome, by introducing them to games or to other gamers.
Do you feel like the game community is getting better about inclusivity?
Sylvia: Yes and no. While the rise of GamerGate and the continued normalization of online toxicity in particular can be disheartening, it’s really good to see communities, businesses and individuals banding together to try to create safer and more inclusive gaming spaces — online communities like r/girlgamers or r/ggoverwatch, stores like Kathleen’s Labyrinth, groups like DC Gaymers, etc... Seeing more and more game companies themselves take stands and address the issue — both with their policies and the contents of their games — is also encouraging.
Maggie: I think there has been a lot of real change over the past few years. As awful as Gamergate was, it really brought internet harassment (and harassment in all gaming communities) to the national attention and has sparked some meaningful response from certain gaming platforms. I think as the national conversation moves towards promoting greater diversity and social justice, gaming spaces will follow as well.
Whats your favorite game? Favorite gaming moment?
Silvi: I love Dungeons and Dragons, but my favorite game is usually the one I’ve just played! One of my favorite moments is when I was running a session of D&D Encounters (basically a pick-up game at a FLGS) and this little 10-year old boy looked up at me and said, “wow, you’re a really good DM.”
Maggie: Now you’re getting to the tough questions. If we’re talking RPGs, then my favorite is D&D. For card games, it’s bridge (I know, what a nerd!), and if you want to discuss tabletop games, my current obsession is Splendor. I don’t think I could name a favorite gaming moment; with my bridge club in college (told you I was a nerd) and my longtime D&D group there have been too many funny and awesome moments to narrow it down to just one!
Kathleen: Those are hard questions. I love so many games. Right now, I’ve been playing Raiders of the North Sea and Azul a lot. I just bought a demo copy of Sagrada so I’m hoping to play that today or tomorrow. I’m also going to start playing Civilization: A New Dawn with my son soon. My favorite game might be Iota, but no one will ever play it with me. I have so many favorite gaming moments it’s impossible to pick. I love playing games with other people. I think my favorite moments are every time I meet someone new because of gaming.
Sylvia: There are so many of both! One of my current favorite games is Overwatch. While it’s not perfect, the diverse hero roster and all the efforts at creating a positive, team-oriented game environment got me not only playing (my first multiplayer FPS) but also on mic — both are firsts for me in multiple decades of video gaming. One of my favorite gaming moments is more of a type than a specific story — those times when the party comes up with a perfect spur-of-the-moment plan (whether or not it coincides with what I/another GM had in mind), or when a role-play moment leads to a deeper realization about a character. As an example of the latter, in a Shadowrun campaign, I was playing a young corp-bred woman on the executive bodyguard/security executive track who was sent on an undercover mission to recruit and lead her first shadow team. As her player, I sometimes struggled to understand her loyalties and how they would manifest in her decision-making, which resulted in kind of waffle-y, sometimes inconsistent-seeming role-play (e.g., overly devoted to parents one moment, then to the corp the next). I put it down to her being a sheltered young woman who was still working things out, but that didn’t seem emotionally true to me. Then at some point, the group ended up taking a POW who helped them on a mission. Her refusal to abandon/betray the POW afterwards solidified something in the character to me — the development/emergence of a personal code of honor (however naive or impractical) that wasn’t dependent on any sort of pre-existing ties, and all the probably terrible implications for her in the game world. Everything about her suddenly clicked, and I never had trouble figuring out what she’d do again.
What in particular do you hope to accomplish with Your Move: Creating Inclusive Gaming Spaces?
Selvi: We hope to raise awareness about problems in gaming culture AND give people tools and strategies to combat them!
Maggie: The real point of our panel and activities is to get people thinking about what strategies they can use to create and find inclusive gaming spaces. Games of all types are part of how humans socialize — think about how many people gather for sports or even boardgame nights. And as kids, games are part of the way we learn, including basic social skills like sharing and cooperation. As teens and adults, videogames and PC games can be a way to isolate, but more and more they are a platform for people to socialize and cooperate virtually. To exclude anyone from these experiences cuts them out of a basic human experience. Gaming spaces are a microcosm of our society, so promoting inclusivity is super important!
Kathleen: I hope that we can continue to make people of marginalized groups feel comfortable enjoying gaming in public. I don’t ever want anyone to quit doing something that they love because they feel unaccepted. We should all remember to play nicely and spread the gaming love.
Your Move: Creating Inclusive Gaming Spaces, one of Awesome Con’s most informative and best loved panels, returns again this summer for a fourth straight year.
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