In a town near where I grew up is Old Economy Village, a settlement created in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. With many of the original buildings still standing, the Village has been designated a historical site where local elementary schools take field trips each year. While going into detail about the the town’s water pump or printing press, the tours downplay the reason why the founding group – the Harmonites – died out.
They were a religious sect that believed in celibacy. No sex, no kids, no wonder they’re no longer around.
The Harmonites proved that you could exist – even be somewhat successful – without the infusion of new blood. But it won’t last. Whatever the organization, be it a religious sect, a fanbase, a hobby, it must continue to grow or it will die.
As I write this, there is an interesting rift happening in the Star Wars fan community. A section of the fandom – I don’t know how large a group because how do you measure such a thing? – is online and very vocal about their displeasure and distrust of Lucasfilm’s direction for the franchise. I won’t go too deeply down that rabbit hole but their complaints usually coalesce into three main points:
- The Last Jedi was at the least not very good, and at the worst a betrayal of the original characters. The fallout was evident in the underperformance of the Solo movie five months later.
- The President of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, has leadership flaws as was displayed by her hiring and firing of multiple directors and the carte blanche permission she gave to director Rian Johnson to divert from – some may say throw out – the original plan for The Last Jedi.
- The effort to widen the multi-cultural presence in the new Star Wars films has taken precedence over storytelling.
Depending on who you read or watch on YouTube, arguments concerning these and other points can either be reasoned, well supported and well thought out, or vicious emotional profanity laden attacks that oscillate between trying to be funny and trying to destroy.
Whether the arguments are civilized or not, and whether you feel the points are valid or not, there is a distinct sense of ownership these fans have over the franchise. That the people in charge are only in charge as long as they produce what the fans want. The palpable glee that’s present in their reporting on the rumors that Kathleen Kennedy is about to be fired is proof of that. These commentators refer to themselves as the rebellion and her firing would be akin to the destruction of the Death Star.
Vitriol like this couldn’t happen in the gaming community could it?
Some feel it already has.
Female gamers being discriminated against isn’t anything new. This is especially prevalent in online gaming. A quick search on Google for female gamers comes up with suggestions for “female gamers harassment”, “female gamers abuse” and more hopefully, “female gamers fight back’. An article on PMNewswire.com entitled “The movement #MyGameMyName addresses the abuse and oppression suffered by female gamers” notes a study from Ohio State University found that “a great majority of women that play games for at least 22 hours per week have experienced some form of harassment”.
Board gaming isn’t immune. There were accusations of sexual harassment at the 2018 Origins convention in Columbus Ohio. As described in an article on polygon.com and posts in social media like Facebook and Reddit, women who game aren’t taken seriously by male gamers, are assumed to just be tagging along with their male partner, considered to be either stupid or not gaming savvy, and are aggressively hit on or otherwise treated inappropriately.
Is there any wonder why men dominate this hobby?
I am a (as of yet unpublished) game designer and I’m currently under contract with a publisher for one of my designs. I didn’t design my game with the hope that only men will play it. When it’s released I hope everyone no matter their age, gender, race, creed or country of origin plays it. And frankly I’m bothered by the idea that someone might tell a female gamer that it’s not for her because of its theme, setting, or complexity. I’m the designer and I’m telling you that if you want to play my game, you’re welcome to. I can’t imagine a designer, publisher, retailer, or frankly fellow gamer take any other tact than that.
The maid of honor in our wedding is a gamer. She and her husband have gamed as long as I have known them and guess what, their kids – one boy and one girl – game too. That’s where tomorrow’s gamers come from and that’s how this hobby will sustain itself. Our hobby can’t be seen simply as that event Dad goes off with the guys to do every so often. It can be, and should be, a shared communal experience for everyone.
The idea that people – mostly male but also some female – have where gamers have to fit into a particular gender or class is shortsighted and Neanderthal thinking. That’s right, women can also contribute to this. I host a board game night at work that is open to everyone and in the two years of its existance, only one woman attended one session. It’s perceved as a “guy thing”. If this mindset perpetuates, like the Harmonists, we’re not going to make enough new participants to maintain the hobby. Keep thinking like that and our days are numbered.
Luckily the gaming culture is beginning to change. New game themes and iconography are becoming more inclusive. The old mindset is still there – it’s not going to change overnight – but it is dying out. Still, not every game will be played by everyone. But I look forward to the day when that choice is made by the individual gamer based on their personal preference, not forced down upon them by some societal arbitrary condition like their gender.
Let’s bring board gaming into the 21st Century. Together.